Philadelphia, Pa., Jun 4, 2013 / 12:07 am (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Sunday announced the merger of 24 parishes into 10, saying the changes will “ultimately strengthen parish communities.”
“It is hoped that the result will be revitalized parishes throughout the archdiocese that are better equipped to meet the spiritual and pastoral needs of future generations,” the archdiocese said June 2.
Parishioners at the merging parishes were told about the changes at weekend Masses and in mailed letters. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput approved of the changes, which were recommended by the archdiocese’s strategic planning committee.
The archdiocese said the mergers were driven by factors including demographic change, a decrease in Mass attendance, a lack of priests to staff the parishes, and “increasing economic challenges.”
The merged parishes are in a dense urban environment and most are under three miles from each other. Some parish churches are one mile or less from each other. Mergers affecting five other parishes were announced last week.
Father Thomas M. Higgins, a pastor at Holy Innocents Church in northeast Philadelphia, commented about the changes in remarks to CatholicPhilly.com.
“As painful as it is, it needs to be done,” he said. “We're doing something today that should have been done 20 years ago.”
Holy Innocents Church, with a weekend Mass attendance of about 1,200 people, will merge with three other parishes. Two of the parishes have weekend Mass attendance of about 200 each, while the parish has weekend Mass attendance of about 100.
Across the archdiocese, the mergers mean parishioners will attend daily and Sunday Mass at the church of the newly formed parish. The former parish church will remain open and maintained as a worship site. The pastor and the newly formed parish council may decide to use the former parish church for Sunday Mass.
Parish pastors may choose to use the sites for weddings, funerals, feast days, religious devotions and ethnic celebrations “for the time being,” the archdiocese said.
The newly created parish will assume all parish property, assets and debts of the former parish. The new parish will also have responsibility for all parish sacramental records.
Merging parishes must form a transitional team to assist in the process. The mergers will take effect July 1 and signify that the number of parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will decline to 236.
The archdiocese’s pastoral planning initiative will consider the future of more parishes in fall 2013.
Several dozen Philadelphia Catholic schools have closed in recent years due to factors that include declining enrollment.