A Boston Herald article says decision-making about parish closings will start in local “clusters.” The clusters are small groupings of parishes based on location. For example, here in Salem we have the Salem Catholic Collaborative that gathers all the parishes of Salem. In places where there is one parish per town, the cluster may encompass several towns.
The article says that the clusters will make the initial recommendations for closings to the archbishop, hopefully with the input of local Catholics. That process has been used before, most recently here in Salem, and I’m not sure it’s going to avoid the rancor they hope it will.
In Salem, about 6 or 7 years ago, the cluster was asked to determine whether one of the six parishes should close. Everyone knew that St. Mary’s Italian should be the one. The congregation was tiny, the pastor was near-retirement, it sat less than a quarter-mile from four, larger parishes. But the debate lasted for years as the people of St. Mary’s fought tooth and nail. They said the process was biased against them from the start, that other parishes or the archdiocese wanted the valuable property, and so on. Eventually, St. Mary’s did close last year, but not without hard feelings. Even now, a lone woman stands in front of the church every day at lunchtime with a sign that says “Jesus loves St. Mary’s.”
I think that scene is going to be repeated a lot in the next few years. Nobody likes closing parishes, but I have to hope that the process unveiled next Tuesday is better than the old one.