Saints in storage: inside Pittsburgh’s warehouses for used religious items

Another sign of the times, from Pittsburgh: warehouses for used tabernacles, statues and religious items:

As a seminarian, the Rev. Joseph McCaffrey knelt before a tabernacle in the chapel at Mercy Hospital, where his mother was being treated for a brain tumor, and prayed for her recovery.

Later, when he was named pastor of Ss. John and Paul Church in Marshall, he noticed that same tabernacle — an ornamental cabinet used to store the Blessed Sacrament — at his new church.

And when it came time to build a new Sts. John and Paul Church building, he “knew that was going to be in there.”

The practice of reusing religious items is a common one among Catholics. The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh has two warehouses — one an old church — that house aging, unused religious articles and statuary. The buying and selling of sacred items, called simony, is forbidden by the First Commandment, the Catholic church says.

“We’ve found some creative ways to reuse things,” said former Pittsburgh priest Daniel DiNardo, now a cardinal who heads the archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. In the past two decades, the number of Catholics in the archdiocese doubled to 1.4 million. DiNardo, who arrived there in 2004, has dedicated 11 new church buildings.

As Western Pennsylvania‘s population declines, so have the number of Catholics, from 815,719 in 2004 to 673,201 in 2008, the latest year for which figures are available.

The Pittsburgh Diocese has closed 17 parishes and established seven new ones over the past decade. Unused items from those churches are stored in hopes that other churches will use them.

“We have moved quite a bit of items, some to new churches — Sts. John and Paul, St. Francis of Assisi in Finleyville and St. Joseph in O’Hara,” said Joseph M. Kubiak, facilities coordinator/inspector, who maintains the inventory for the Pittsburgh diocese’s property planning department.

One diocesan warehouse holds smaller items, such as chalices and candles; the other contains larger items such as pews, altars and statues. One wall holds nothing but candlesticks and chalices. Some of the inventory is damaged, such as a statue of Jesus missing its hands.


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9 responses to “Saints in storage: inside Pittsburgh’s warehouses for used religious items”

  1. That would be so interesting to visit. I’d better not, though. I might come home with a life-sized archangel statue. I’m glad these items are being recycled in a good way and being given a second chance.

  2. I wish there was a way that these things could be re-used across diocesan boundaries. Some diocese are growing and have new chapels or churches that are rather barren, waiting for donors to provide for things, like stations of the cross, etc. It’s a shame to buy new things when perfectly good things go unused. There has to be some way around the simony issue as well so that the diocese could be justly compensated for their willingness to part with the items.

  3. Calling Ed Peters:

    Would it be simony if the diocese required a donation to help defray personnel and storage costs associated with the safe keeping of these sacred objects?

  4. Well, this is sad but demographics is king. I have relatives near Pittsburgh. The kids cant wait to leave. There is just no good living to be made any more.

  5. I’ve been to a Catholic goods store that has a large room filled with used items such as statues, candles, tabernacles etc. and they are all for sale on consignment. How can this be? Wouldn’t this be considered simony?

  6. Ed Peters — our Canon Lawyer among the regulars here on the Bench –can comment if he wants but here’s my read.

    “Simony” does not apply to religious objects that do have a fairly well recognized economic value based upon the materials and effort used to create them. In fact, some parishes have gold items that were moderately priced when purchased a century or so ago but now are kept in locked-safes because the value of the gold alone may well be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

    What “simony” does refer to is those religious activities which have no economic value based upon materials (and effort used to create them) so much as have an artificial economic value based solely upon the greed of the clergy.

    In the Middle Ages in Europe, for instance, everyday common folks rarely received the “Last Rites” because the cost was far above their means. That might explain why the term “Last Rites” is no longer used.

    Where this gets a bit complicated is in the “stipend charges” that parishes and dioceses commonly publish. In most I have seen, Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals have financial costs listed. I recently asked a deacon about some of this and his reply was that his diocese has a listed “stipend” for Baptisms but only maybe one fourth of the families pay it (none are ever refused because they cannot pay). He also said that his parish has a flat charge for weddings (whether a simple ceremony or a more elaborate Nuptial Mass) and those are always paid. The stipend for funerals are actually charged to the family in their Funeral Home bill and the check to the parish comes from that source. In all three cases he described, the fees are paid to the parish and not to the person of the clergy.

  7. Sounds pretty right to me, F. 1917 CIC 727. § 1. By divine law, simony is the studied will to buy or sell for a temporal price an intrinsically SPIRITUAL thing, for example, Sacraments, ecclesiastical jurisdiction, consecration, indulgences, and so forth, or temporal things so connected with spiritual things that without the spiritual they CANNOT exist, for example, ecclesiastical benefices, and so on, or a spiritual thing that is, even in part, the object of a contract, for example, the consecration of a chalice consecrated in sale. § 2. By ecclesiastical law, simony is to give temporal things that are attached to spiritual ones for other temporal things that are attached to spiritual, or spiritual things for spiritual things, or even temporal for temporal if, in so doing, there is a danger of that irreverence toward spiritual things that is prohibited by the Church.

  8. According to the 2004 and 2011 issues of the Official Catholic Directory, the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s Catholic population declined from 815,719 to 656,303 (or 19.5%) over that 7 year period. However, those same issues of the OCD also cite a 3.1% increase in the total population of the area (from 1,906,504 to 1,966,067) over the same time period.

    Blaming the loss of Catholics on “shifting demographics” would seem to imply that Catholics have been leaving the area en masse, only to have been replaced by a slightly larger number of non-Catholics.

    Is there any evidence for such an exclusively Catholic exodus from the Diocese of Pittsburgh, or might something else be going on there?

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