So, here’s the reason (yet another excuse) that there was no post yesterday. We had a Presbyteral Convocation, aka a murder of crows, aka a meeting of the priests of the Diocese of Cleveland, which took place at our seminary. Before taking off, I had to do my morning chores including feeding and airing out the dog and go to a Finance Council Meeting. My car was pulled out and parked in a strategic direction for quick escape.
After, there was just enough time to make it home, eat, and then it was time to hear confessions, have benediction, and finally, bless our new pipe organ. (No, not that one. Another one. I think I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.) After all of that I was of little use save as a throw rug or door stop.
The meeting concerned the future of ministry in the Diocese of Cleveland. “The sky is falling,” so what are we going to do? What follows is a brief overview of the first couple hours of the meeting - largely consisting of statistics. (Two hours in I leaned over to my table partner and said, “information overload.”)
In the 1960s, 50% of all Catholics in the United States lived in a triangle whose points are roughly Chicago, Washington D. C., and Boston. So this is where all of the churches, schools, religious mothers houses and the like are concentrated. Today, only 25% of all Catholics live in this triangle. We moved with the Social Security set hitting such places as Florida and those searching for their first jobs heading to such places as North Carolina (like my nephew. I mean, come on! Who lives in N. C.? I hate driving to Cleveland to see people - so N. C.?)
Anyway, this means that in parts of the country, they cannot establish parishes quickly enough. Church and school buildings are appearing as quickly as Christmas decorations at the mall the day after Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, in the magic triangle, we have a lot of giant buildings that are as empty as the Rubber Bowl on a Saturday night.
Cleveland is not doing too poorly YET. But we are going to retiring huge classes of priests in the near future. Right now we have 256 priests. By 2040, unless we really do something, it is predicted that there will only be 140. In 1970, that means there was one priest for every 1,694 Catholics. In 2040 it is predicted that it will go to one priest for every 3,251. (Double! But that is approximately the year I supposedly retire.)
COMPARING CLEVELAND TO THE U. S.
In the United States we have OUTSTANDING service to our Catholics as far as parish and priest availability per Catholic is concerned compared to most of there best of the world. I often wondered why the older generation of the Valencheck family did not go to Mass very often. It was because in Slovenia, there was not a priest who could make it to the village very often so they only went a few times a year. This is not terribly unusual around the world. No priests = no Mass.
In the U. S. we have a ration of priests to parishes 1 : 1. In the Diocese of Cleveland it is 1.4 : 1. If we close no parishes by 2040 it will be .8 : 1. Ouch.
The average amount of weekend Masses at a parish in the U.S. is 3.6. In Cleveland it is 3.8. Seating capacity at your typical Catholic Church in the U. S. is 523. In Cleveland it is 663. The average weekend attendance nationally is 1,004. In Cleveland it is just a bit over 900. The average number of registered households in Cleveland is 1,439. St. Sebastian seats 800, has a little over 1,700 households, and has a slightly higher weekend attendance rate than the national rate.
702 weekend Masses are offered here with 159,000 Catholics (or 23% of all Catholics here) attending. 1,090 day Masses are offered every week.
The Diocese is over represented in both white and African American populations. Nationally the Church is 61% white and 13% black. In Cleveland, we are 73% white and 18% black.
This is the county in which St. Sebastian is located. We are about 20% Catholic having had a 7% growth in the number of Catholics since 1971 with the over all change in population of this county holding at 0%. The confirmation rate of those baptized Catholic is the highest in the diocese.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Don’t panic. Trust in God and pray. This is the continuous story of the Catholic Church for 2,000 years. First we are here, and then we are over there. We adapt and cope.
Next, promote vocations. No way around this one. We have 80 men studying for the priesthood for the Diocese of Cleveland right now. That is nice, (even great compared to MANY dioceses) but it’s nowhere close to replacement levels.
Evangelize, evangelize, evangelize. Although the overall population of northeast Ohio is dropping, the Catholic population is leaving at a greater rate! When was the last time you invited a neighbor to Mass or parish event? When was the last time you spoke to someone about your faith? We are horrible at this in general but we need to get over it.
Expect non-clergy and religious Catholics to take on a MUCH larger role in the life of the parish and the diocese. And we must make a serious evaluation of all of our venues and services. Do we need to have them all? What is our core mission? What can/should we give up?
Bring jobs to northeast Ohio. What I hear over and over again is how much millennials love Akron/Cleveland. There is so much here. So much to see and do. But we don’t have the jobs on which to raise a family.
There is hope. There is also a lot to do RIGHT NOW so that we do not panic later. It is not (as it appears here) that there are less Catholics. The Catholic population in the U. S. is exploding. It is just in the magic triangle where the concentration is spreading out to the rest of the country. The dam has broken. There is not less water, there is just less water behind the dam. The water is spreading out across the valley with more on the way. How do we adapt to this new reality?
I just thought to add that in spite of what you read up above, Catholic priests have the among the highest "job" satisfaction rates in the country. We might be tired, but we are (generally) fulfilled and most of us would not trade it for the world.