Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Worldwide the Catholic Church continues to explode in numbers. But despite this it is a fact that at times a branch of the Church can simple shrivel alarmingly. Nowhere is this most sadly exemplified than the first lady of the Church France. And with all of the reports of parish closings and cutting back of services in the Diocese of Cleveland it may seem like that is happening here. Somewhere around 50 parishes are closing, many of our parish schools have closed and some still will. Some services are cut back. In fact, this coming weekend a local parish will close (St. Hedwig) and the pastor will come and be in residence here at St. Sebastian with Fr. Pfeiffer and myself. It is a legitimate question to pose: are numbers are dropping and we cannot afford to “keep up appearances.” Are we dying?

There is good news and bad news here. First the bad news. It is not the Catholic Church that is shrinking it is north east Ohio. The growth rate of north east Ohio in general has been 0 to negative. This is most dramatically seen in Cuyahoga county (home of our See) where the population has plummeted. It is not that Catholics are disappearing it is that people in general are moving away and among them are Catholics. We statistically shrink as the population shrinks.

So in 1970 there were approximately 915,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Cleveland. Now there are only 735,000 in our eight counties. That is a drop of 180,000 Catholics. That number alone represents a hefty number of parishes. Not only is that a drop in need for services it is also a dramatic drop in people who fund those services.

But the people of the diocese have been very generous. In the past 6 years offertory collections have risen yearly 1.5% to 2%. In these tough economic times that is commendable. However expenditures have risen yearly 4% to 6%. That is a trend that cannot be sustained forever.

One can look at this then and say that the diocese is not withering, it is resizing to the reality that exists for Catholics in north east Ohio today. That is not to say that what is happening is not without controversy. But that discussion is not in the scope of this particular article.

This is necessarily a tragic (though it is sometimes sad) story. We are responding in hopes of remaining strong. And there are areas in the diocese that are growing where parishes continue to grow (sometimes too much!) And our major seminary has more men studying for the priesthood than it has in ten years. There are 32 theologians, 28 for services in the diocese of Cleveland, two for the Diocese of Daegu, and two for the Congregation of St. Joseph.

May God bless us in our mission even in these challenging times.


ck said...

Not to be a downer, but this made me think of the parable of the talents. “OK France, you buried your coins, so I’m taking yours and giving them to Uganda where they know how to invest.”

I also think women religious have been fooled into thinking their roles in schools were not important, so the schools are now dying without them. And since education is the only way to produce an active Catholic, the churches become abandoned too.

The churches are standing-room-only on Easter. I think there is great hunger to be closer to God, but no one knows how. It’s impossible to answer a call that is too weak to hear or too unclear to understand.

Anonymous said...

Have we contracepted ourselves into near oblivion? My home town used to have three functioning Catholic churches. But now, the three are being combined into one. If the town was adequate enough in which to live during the Great Depression, I can't imagine that in the 1960s and 1970s, suddenly almost two churches' full of people had to move to New Jersey and Connecticut in order to get jobs.

Odysseus said...

Be not afraid. We are building new churches out west. Take a look at this one in the neighboring town. It is cruciform, with the apse, nave, alcoves for the various saints and the Virgin, bell towers, facing East and everything. I haven't seen such a thing since my Medieval Humanities class in college (and those were just pictures!)

Anonymous said...

In my hometown there were once 6 Catholic Church (most only count 5 but there were 6.) Most of them were never very large - around 200 families at their zenith in the first place. Now there are 2. It is a combination less priests, of people in general moving away but Catholics in greater proportion moving - not only for jobs but better school systems, retirement - following their adult children to be closer to grandchildren companies moving in droves - rubber companies, steel companies - PPG, B & W, all these huge companies are either non existant, mere shells of their themselves and others paying comparitively poorly.

To be quite honest I am surprised (and glad) that there are still two parishes in my hometown.

And yes, this happened since the and even during the 60s and the 70s.