Bishop DiMarzio on Reconfiguration in the Diocese

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio explains how Brooklyn and Queens diocese is making painful cuts —    By Bishop Nicholas Dimarzio (Nov 21, 2010)

 As great cities change, so do their institutions. In recent decades, the Diocese of Brooklyn – consisting of 197 parishes in Brooklyn and Queens – has witnessed significant population shifts in our neighborhoods and places of worship.  As Catholics move out of various neighborhoods, their ethnic and religious composition changes. Many dioceses in our region of the country face similar challenges. To our regret, such changes have contributed to a decrease in church attendance and the underutilization of many church buildings. In some parishes, churches built long ago now face insurmountable costs of repair. Besides all this, the recent recession has placed financial stress on individual parishes and the diocese overall.

 The diocese has not stood idly by. We have a proud record of working closely with all of our individual parishes to help keep them vibrant and to grapple with change.  In celebration of Jubilee Year 2000, the diocese forgave all parishes and schools of their debt, totaling more than $118 million. Between 2001 and 2009, the diocese paid an additional $78 million in aid and grants to parish schools and churches. Further, parishes now owe more than $21 million in unpaid bills. This adds up to more than $217 million provided by the diocese.

 Sadly, the institutional pressures became unsustainable. Over the last few years a number of parishes in the diocese have merged and churches have closed. Despite these actions, the financial stress faced by many parishes remains severe.

 In an effort to address this dire situation, we took action nine months ago by convening a planning commission comprised of 42 people – clergy and laypersons alike – to analyze the pastoral and financial viability of our parishes.

 In an intensive and inclusive strategic planning process, the commission is working closely with all 197 parishes to explore ways to put parishes on a solid footing and to promote the long-term sustainability of the diocese.

Each parish began the process by engaging in an in-depth self-study. All parishioners were encouraged to participate. The commission works intimately with pastors, parish staff members and the lay leaders of each parish’s financial and parish councils to study Mass attendance, trends in sacramental celebrations, growth in the number of parishioners, building maintenance issues, budget deficits, income, clergy availability, demographics and geography.

 We are striving to make as few changes as possible, but we are committed to doing what is needed to ensure the vitality of our parishes – to honor our 157-year heritage – and to rededicate our energies and resources to meet the spiritual needs of our people.

 The diocese recently began to share the results of the first phase of the planning process. Sadly, some closures and mergers will occur, based upon the commission’s recommendations to me. Moreover, we will be announcing additional phases of the reconfiguration in the months ahead.

Putting our challenges into perspective, the diocese has provided the parishes announced in the first phase of planning with more than $14 million in subsidies over the last decade. To continue at this level would jeopardize our mission of providing vital social services and meeting the spiritual needs of the people of Brooklyn and Queens.

 Whatever changes may occur, we will maintain a strong Catholic presence throughout the diocese.

Our hearts are filled with love and empathy for parishioners who may face the merger of their parish, or even the closure of their beloved church building.

 We are working closely with those most affected by the changes in a pastorally sensitive way. Indeed, all of us involved in these decisions feel the pain of this process. We are listening to the Catholics of Brooklyn and Queens, asking for their ideas, and relying upon their guidance.

 My decisions are based solely upon the commission’s recommendations to me. All input comes to me through the commission from members of our diocesan and parish communities.

I wish to assure you that these are the only constituencies to whom I am listening – with no account to any political interests or considerations.

 Once the reconfiguration is complete, we will be able to take comfort in knowing that the wonderful and rich legacy of the Diocese of Brooklyn will persevere.

 Standing on a firm, fresh and new foundation, all members of our diocesan community will together envision a strong and exciting future, confident that we can address the long-term spiritual and institutional needs of the entire diocese for many decades to come.

 DiMarzio is Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes Brooklyn and Queens

 Link to op-ed:      http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2010/11/21/2010-11-21_a_catholic_future_for_the_city.html