Mass exodus: why are they leaving the Church in Buffalo?

Mass exodus: why are they leaving the Church in Buffalo? April 17, 2011

It’s a problem a lot of Catholic dioceses are facing, but it seems especially acute in upstate New York.

From the Buffalo News:

More people in Western New York adhere to Catholicism, by far, than any other faith, but clergy sometimes joke that the area’s second-largest denomination also is Catholic.

Its members just don’t show up for Mass.

Often called nominal or cultural Catholics, they identify themselves as part of the faith tradition, but mostly stay away from church.

Some of them will find their way back into the pews today for Palm Sunday and next weekend for Easter Masses, when many area churches get their biggest crowds of the year.

But few are likely to return in the following weeks.

Even though Catholicism requires weekly Mass attendance, Catholics by and large don’t consider it sinful to miss Mass, according to survey studies by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

Priests say they see people all the time who lose their spiritual footing and gradually slip away.

That happens most frequently when a person or a family moves and doesn’t quickly connect with a new parish community, said the Rev. Michael H. Burzynski, pastor of St. Mary of the Cataract in Niagara Falls.

“The first week they feel guilty. The second week they feel less guilty. The third week, it doesn’t bother them at all,” Burzynski said.

American bishops have been trying to get their arms around the problem for years, and the trend appears to be unrelenting, particularly in old Catholic strongholds in the Northeast.

“We’re getting more and more like the European church,” said the Rev. Martin Pable, a Catholic author and the recent keynote speaker at an evangelization conference at Christ the King Seminary in the Town of Aurora. “The fall-off rate is not as much as the European church, but we’re on the same track.”

Consider the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, which encompasses eight counties in Western New York. The estimated number of Catholics in the diocese dropped by 12.7 percent from 2000 and 2010 — more than four times greater than the region’s general population loss.

Even worse, parishioners “registered” at parishes in the diocese declined by 19 percent.

Fewer than three-quarters of all of the area’s Catholics — 466,785 individuals — now are registered in parishes, down from 578,088 in 2000.

Continue here for the rest.

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9 responses to “Mass exodus: why are they leaving the Church in Buffalo?”

  1. Vox Populi – people are voting with their feet.

    Eleven parishes have condensed into five yet Bishop Edward U. Kmiec still lives in a 11,000-square-foot mansion on Oakland Place — the most expensive home in all of Buffalo while church property is sold off to pay for abuse settlements.

    The ‘Church’ needs to be cleaned out of it’s current leadership which brought dishonor and disrepute upon the religion. Bishop Mansell actually refused to identify accused priests to police.

    For more reading check the histories of Revs. Bernard Splawski, James Spielman, Robert Wood, and William White from the Buffalo Diocese for example.

    The sex abuse scandals was the cherry on top for most people in their attending church and donating to parishes.

    And it still continues. Buffalo Bishop Edward U. Kmiec just suspended a Cheektowaga pastor Rev. David W. Bialkowski for — you guessed — allegations of sex with a young boy.

  2. “Eleven parishes have condensed into five yet Bishop Edward U. Kmiec still lives in a 11,000-square-foot mansion on Oakland Place — the most expensive home in all of Buffalo while church property is sold off to pay for abuse settlements.”

    Getting rid of that would be one method of public witness, followed by genuine repentance. The first would be the symbolic, the second the essential.

    This is very sad to read, but I must believe and hope that God is in all of this suffering with us and that a smaller church might invite us to other gifts, not yet known.

  3. I’ve been to Mass in Rochester, which I’m told is as bad as Buffalo. If the liturgy is in as bad a shape in Buffalo as it is in Rochester, I almost don’t blame people for staying away.

    I’m talking YouTube-level liturgical abuse. Thanks, Jadot-bishops.

    Maybe some actual Catholic bishops will be appointed there soon.

  4. I was just reading an article in our local Spanish-language paper about Latino Catholics who are joining the Mormons here. Many of them tried to cling to Catholicism for its traditional significance in the cultures they had left behind, but they found in their new LDS churches a more meaningful worship experience and–more than anything–a group of people who seemed to care about their everyday concerns and needs. Something similar seems to be happening in upstate NY.

    Many years ago, when Catholics in northern cities gathered for traditional forms of worship, the experience served to bond already tightly knit ethnic communities. Those communities have been dispersed now, and their descendants live in more heterogeneous and secular environments. A few cling to (and even long for) traditional forms of worship in the hope of reclaiming a remembered experience of community. Others simply stop worshipping altogether when they realize it no longer binds them to a community. They experience no connection to others–and therefore no meaning–in the anonymity of large and increasingly consolidated parishes.

    One comment on the site of the original article touts campus Newman groups as a model for worship-with-community-building that might better serve today’s Catholics by inviting them to form new Christian communities in the secular world. The enthusiasm such groups can engender among their members is evident on the site It seems like a good model for renewal of modern parish life.

  5. Despite a weak real estate market, the Buffalo Catholic Diocese has had surprising success in selling its closed churches — often hulking, high-maintenance, heat-draining structures. To date, the diocese has sold 38 of the 77 church properties it closed during a three-year downsizing plan that began in 2005.

    Toward the end of the closing process, Buffalo Bishop Edward Kmiec established a “Church Property Re-use Committee,” made up of developers, real estate brokers, architects and preservationists to come up with ways to market the properties.

    “Our bishop is big on collaboration,” said diocese spokesman Kevin Keenan. “We’ve sold to Muslims, we’ve sold to Buddhists,” said Keenan.

    “Our bishop didn’t want our priests to be circuit riders,” said Keenan.

  6. When I’m in the pews with the flock, and not assisting at the altar as deacon at Sunday Mass, I sometimes take an informal head count of the adults in the six pews ahead of me. The adult gender breakdown usually comes out close to 25% male, 75% female. I commend the book by David Murrow, “Why Men hate going to Church,” Nelson Books (2005). Murrow blames religion’s feminization of Jesus in great part for the gender imbalance. He writes:
    Although these images [of Jesus] are comforting, they do little to suggest masculine strength and resolve. Bruce Barton attacked these holy pictures: ‘They have shown us a frail man, under-muscled with a soft face—a woman’s face covered with a beard—and a benign but baffled book.’ Jesuit priest Patrick Arnold laments Christ’s frequent portrayal as a bearded lady.’ ”
    I commend this book to any and all who are concerned by the drop-off in church attendance and participation.

  7. I’m from the Buffalo Diocese. Why don’t people go to church in my parish – they are taking their kids to hockey practice and/or working. Then, there are the young families who lived together. Our priest wouldn’t marry them unless they separated before the wedding. They left. Then, there is the fact that many of them have been told they don’t have to go. The cathecism program leaves much to be desired. I could go on with a whole host of reasons. There is no easy fix to any to them unless we all rediscover the reason we belong to the church – God.

    Somehow He always seems to be missing from the discussion. No one seems to have a sense that God is real, that sin is real. Church seems to always be discussed in terms of organizational issues. Religion seems to be discussed in terms of a Sociological category. We don’t seem to really discuss the spiritual in all of this.

    And, my guess of thirty plus years of adult experience in the Buffalo Diocese – our rolls have been inflated for years. I know the Diocese had me listed in three different parishes. I wonder how many times they did that too…..

  8. PS to the Buffalonians for whom the sex abuse cases are an excuse. I don’t know his whole record but we must remember that Bishop Head was public on several of the priests who were offenders. Not all bishops covered up every case. Perhaps – there is more complexity to it? And, are you leaving because of organizational issues or because of your faith? The two are different.

  9. Response to Mary #7

    “I know the Diocese had me listed in three different parishes. I wonder how many times they did that too…..”

    That may well have been true in the old “hand-written-records” days. I did some checking today and my diocese uses a commercially available software package and all parishes have it installed. If a person/family changes parishes, their complete file is cut from the old parish ata-base and pasted into the new one rather automatically.

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