While church attendance in beleaguered Boston appears to be improving, the story further south is less encouraging.
From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Kim Simmons-Dimpter was the sort of lifelong Catholic who attended Mass every Sunday, volunteered at religious classes, and even tried to persuade her teenage son to get out of bed and go to church.
But when Holy Rosary Church in Cherry Hill closed in 2009, and Simmons-Dimpter and her fellow parishioners were directed to another church three miles across town, she drifted away.
“I can’t even tell you the last time I went” to Mass, she said recently. “The fact it was across the street was really convenient. Plus my kids have a lot of extracurriculars. It’s not any one reason.”
Since Camden Bishop Joseph Galante began merging South Jersey parishes three years ago in what has become a model for dioceses nationwide, Mass attendance has fallen substantially, according to data provided by the diocese.
In the fall of 2006, a year and a half before Galante announced that he planned to reduce the number of parishes by more than a third, the annual fall Mass count was 114,000 parishioners. Last fall, the count dropped below 100,000 in the diocese, which stretches across southern New Jersey.
“Yes, it’s disappointing,” Galante said Tuesday. “But the diminution in Mass attendance didn’t happen overnight, and I don’t expect that overnight it will suddenly recover.”
A former undersecretary at the Vatican, Galante has made the issue of helping parishes overcome a priest shortage and falling attendance his signature mission since taking over the Camden Diocese in late 2004. In his first year, he went out to the churches, sometimes visiting four in a week, and concluded that downsizing was the only option.
With fewer parishes, fewer priests are needed and money is freed for professional ministers to provide services such as marriage counseling and youth ministry.
Also, having fewer empty pews could liven up Mass, drawing the younger demographic the church has been struggling to retain.
The problem Galante was trying to solve was one that church leaders across the United States are struggling with: how to get Catholics to church in a culture that is increasingly secular.
And the Catholic Church’s ongoing sexual-abuse scandal has pushed many Catholics away, the bishop said.
“It provided a justification for people who were already shaky in their faith,” he said. “We haven’t done a good job giving people a grounding in the faith.”
The percentage of Catholics who attend Mass weekly has fallen to 31 percent, from 62 percent in the 1950s, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.