The empty pews of Boston

The empty pews of Boston

The Archdiocese of Boston released statistics on all its parishes yesterday in preparation for parish closings, but the Boston Globe chose to focus on the drop in Mass attendance. In the archdiocese only 16 percent of baptized Catholics attended Mass on average in October 2003. That’s down from 19 percent in 2000. Nationwide, in the 1950s about 75 percent of Catholics attended Mass every week. By 1970 that had declined to 66 percent, to 53 percent in the mid-1980s, 40 percent in the mid-90s, 37 percent by 1999. Again that’s nationwide. In Massachusetts, the second-most Catholic state (after Rhode Island), the numbers, as we see, were much worse. What are we doing wrong? Obviously, the Scandal has something to do with it, but the problem predates that.

This is a Catholic problem, by the way. Overall weekly attendance at a church, regardless of denomination, was 41 percent in 1937 and it was 41 percent in 2001.

In any case, the figures for each parish are available on the Archdiocesan web site. At a glance, it doesn’t look promising for my parish, Immaculate Conception, Salem. Our attendance is low and the number of sacraments is low (except we outpace all of them for weddings). St. John the Baptist is very low, but that’s a Polish parish with an immigrant Polish congregation. God, I hope they don’t close Immaculate. I won’t go to St. Anne. It’s one of those modern church-in-the-round type of places. Yuck.

Back to the newspaper article, guess which group is the only source quoted apart from the archdiocesan spokesman. You only get one guess. That’s right! Voice of the Faithful. Only now they’re “a lay group monitoring the consolidation process.” Once again, we ask who appointed them to represent us? They are self-anointed busybodies who don’t represent the faithful, but only their own liberal wants and desires. They have the usual complaints.

“It is positive that the archdiocese is in a mode where it understands that it has to provide meaningful data related to parishes as part of this process, but the data they’ve provided only relates to the criteria they’ve defined,” said Steve Krueger, the organization’s executive director.

Krueger called for a public release of parish financial resources, proximity to other parishes, and parish outreach programs that could be harmed by church closings. He said the pace of the process, which requires cluster recommendations by March 8, is too rapid for meaningful lay input.

What he means is that the pace is too rapid for them to organize lobbying tactics to keep open the parishes they want and close others. By being seen to control the process, VOTF can regain the mantle of being the “new power” in the archdiocese, as opposed to the archbishop. Of course, the data that Krueger wants released is a smokescreen. That stuff can be hashed out in the cluster meetings. Parish councils know what the parish outreach programs are, they know the financial condition of their parish. They certainly know how close they are to other parishes.

But VOTF wants the data for themselves. They want to make the decisions, not leave it up to the individual communities involved. In other words, it’s the same, old power grab.

[National statistics are from this article.]
  • The parish census is taken every October. Someone from the parish counts how many people attend each Mass for the four weeks of October and then the average is calculated.

    I know they pick October because it’s not Lent or Advent and it’s not during vacation time. But it does benefit the parishes of Salem a little because the city is packed full of Halloween visitors during the month.

  • It is indeed different. Many parishes were created to serve specific ethnic enclaves, sometimes right on top of each other like here in Salem. So an “Irish” parish was right down the street from a “French” parish and an “Italian” parish and so on. But as everybody assimiliated, and especially after Vatican II when such artificial divisions were removed, there came less of a need. Additionally, these many parishes served a primarily urban population, but in the 60s and 70s, there was a massive movement to the suburbs and there were fewer people to serve.

    Most of the small parishes, ironically, are in the old, big cities where those ethnic divisions were most visible and the populations were greater, while the big parishes are in burbs where everybody went.


    I don’t see what geographic distribution has to do with it. The statistic measures the country as a whole. And you assume that everyone who attends Mass is not a Catholic who’s thrown away the Bible and doesn’t believe or understand the Church’s teachings. If we were to factor that in, the numbers would be even bleaker.