"I recognize the dilemma of expanding expenses and a diminishing priesthood, but exemptions can be made. I believe closing of historically significant neighborhood churches is a major contributory factor in the decline of our religion. I urge the Archdiocese to reconsider its decision." - Louis Bretagna, petitioner for Our Lady of Peace, East Manhattan, New York
A recent update from Bishop John O'Hara, Director of Strategic Pastoral Planning, was sent by email on 9 September to all pastors to distribute to parishioners in the Archdiocese of New York. Some pastors, like Father Bob at St. Ursula's in Mt. Vernon, New York, posted the message online:
"Cardinal Dolan is in the process of reviewing the recommendations that were presented to him by the Presbyteral Council that took place on June 30, 2014 and July 1, 2014. Since that gathering there have been several developments.
"The pastoral planning working group has offered a few additional suggestions for consideration based on further input from vicars and pastors, and these have only been recently presented to His Eminence for his reflection.
"The Cardinal will also be heading to Rome in early October to participate in the Synod on the Family, and did not want to leave the Archdiocese so soon after the announcement is made.
"In light of these developments, the Cardinal feels it is essential that he has more time to consider carefully and thoroughly evaluate all that has been handed over to him. Hence, the announcement of the Cardinal’s Making All Things New decisions will be postponed to the beginning of November. The original date set to make the announcement was the end of September.
"I gratefully ask that you share this information with your parishioners."
Communications, or lack of communications during the process, have given rise to many emotions - fear, a sense of impending loss, and even anger among parishioners at various churches in the archdiocese throughout the process.
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal published last December, archdiocese officials said closures would largely happen in Manhattan and the Bronx but declined to provide specific churches that would be closed in 2015. Although the process took several more months to complete, parishes reacted to initial recommendations they received from the Archdiocesan Advisory Group. Closures were also anticipated in other counties under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of New York, including Westchester, Orange, Rockland, and Duchess counties.
In the parish of Mt. Carmel in Tuxedo, Orange County, New York, the cluster group first made the recommendation that the parish remain independent. "Our reasoning behind making the recommendation to stay open and independent is that we have strong finances, growing attendance, a strong likelihood of population growth due to development, effective administration, active members and societies within the Parish, and a long rooted history as a beacon of Catholicism in the Hudson Valley," their core team wrote on the parish Facebook page.
But the Archdiocesan Advisory Group didn't see it that way. They recommended action be taken to “consolidate the two faith communities of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Joan of Arc with a possible new name at the location of the current St. Joan of Arc, no later than July 2016.” The parish and cluster group, finding this recommendation unacceptable, began to prepare a rebuttal, knowing that it would be the last round for their input in the Making All Things New process.
Similarly, in Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, New York, the five churches that constituted Cluster 60, voted for collaboration. The Archiocesan Advisory Group, however, had very specific recommendations:
- Model Three - Consolidated Parishes: The 2 faith communities of St. Joseph and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel will be consolidated, with a possible new name, at the site of the current Mt. Carmel (depending upon a structural and long term maintenance appraisal)
- Model One - Collaborative Parishes: Among the new parish community, St. Martin de Porres, Holy Trinity, St. Peter and St. Mary
The Archdiocesan Advisory Group based their rationale on, among other things, the Parish Verification Data Form, parish finances, and proximity to other parishes.
In their rebuttal, Cluster 60, disagreed with the consolidation and stated that they did not understand how the Advisory Group came to their recommendation to consolidate St. Joseph and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. One of the significant reasons offered in their rebuttal was that the church of St. Joseph served the Polish American community, not only in Poughkeepsie, but in the surrounding Mid-Hudson region, including maintaining a St. Joseph's Polish cemetery. The report states that St. Joseph's church is financially stable, and that Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is taking steps to reduce their debts.
In early July, Cardinal Dolan wrote about the process in his blog post, saying, “In a few cases, the recommendations of the clusters and the advisory committee about parish mergers were not accepted. However, 90% of them made eminent sense, and got the council’s support.”
To date, there is no complete list that identifies the affected parishes. For many, their last communication may have been their own rebuttal of the preliminary recommendation of the Archdiocesan Advisory Group.
As long as the decisions are postponed, there will be people who interpret the Cardinal's remarks and writings as a sign of hope, and pessimists who will view them as "writing on the wall." The truth is, no one really knows what those decisions will be, or which churches are on the block.
"Yes," Cardinal Dolan said, as reported in Catholic New York, "we’re already getting blistering angry complaints—even though no decisions have yet been made, and even though most of the complainers did not participate in the fourteen-month process of consultation we’ve just completed. I anticipate even more controversy as we move ahead."