Monday, August 22, 2005

Nuns, priests, faithful beg: Don't shut Detroit churches.

This article on the front page of today's Detroit News highlights local Catholics' efforts to prepare for a likely round of parish closings expected to be announced in coming months. Many fear that the closings will dramatically reduce the Catholic Church's presence among and ministry to the people of inner-city Detroit. Though Detroit's Cardinal Adam Maida has emphasized his commitment to the Motor City. However, many parishioners' confidence in the Archdiocese was shaken by a round of parochial school closings announced in March; most of the schools targeted for closure were in Detroit or inner-ring suburbs and served mainly low-income and minority students, deepening fears that deeper cuts may be on the way. As reported in today's News, various groups composed of clergy and laity alike are brainstorming ways to ameliorate the impact of parish closings - by urging the Archdiocese to consider a wider range of criteria in its pastoral planning process - and to fight particularly harmful closing decisions - by adopting some of the same tactics Catholics in the Archdiocese of Boston used to seek the reversal of some parish closures. In other words, these Detroit Catholics are simultaneously hoping for the best and bracing for the worst.

Cardinal Maida faces a gravely poignant dilemma, one that raises tough questions about the mission of the local church. Though the challenges of shifting demographics and declining priestly ranks are not unique to Detroit, Motor City Catholics nonetheless find themselves in a particularly difficult situation. Simply put, few American cities have as many parishes and as few Catholics as Detroit does. While parishes in outer-ring suburbs are stable (or even growing), inner-city churches that once counted thousands of parishioners now get a couple hundred - and sometimes many fewer - attendees on a Sunday. Though many Detroit parishes have almost negligible congregations, these churches continue to serve their neighborhoods in important ways : with parochial schools that provide an alternative to a failing public system, with soup kitchens and drop-in centers that offer food and shelter to the homeless, with an institutional presence that brings hope to areas beset by decline and despair. Detroit's inner-city parishes meet human needs that go beyond denominational boundaries, providing an array of irreplaceable services to their predominantly non-Catholic neighbors. This isn't the kind of impact that shows up on a sacramental index or weekly collection records, but it remains an indispensable means of bearing witness to the Gospel and helping to build God's Kingdom in our midst.

At a time when its human and material resources are being stretched thinner and thinner, the Church in Detroit faces a difficult task in fulfilling the mandate of the Gospel. Can the Archdiocese continue to meet both the sacramental and the human needs of its people? Must the Church's understanding of "its people" limited to Catholics alone, or should it include the many non-Catholics who benefit from the Church's presence in Detroit? These are tough questions to answer, and my prayers are with all who must grapple with them. At the same time, I'll also be keeping a watchful eye on the parish reconfiguration process, so you can expect further posts on the subject. AMDG.


At September 02, 2005 3:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, for one, would especially welcome the immediate closing of both Our Lady of Fatima and St. Leo's parishes. A defrocking of their respective pastors would be an added bonus.-Diogenes Jr.


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