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Catholic Church Makes Hard, But Necessary, Decisions

It’s going to be a difficult summer for members of some Catholic parishes in the wake of the decision by the Buffalo Catholic Diocese to close and merge several churches.

According to a fact sheet provided by the Buffalo Diocese, 59% of the 160 current parishes within the region report a negative net operating balance – 49% of the parishes report a decline in registered households. The average age of the diocese’s priests is 76 and by 2030, 63% of priests will be older than 65. There was a 24% dip in marriages between 2020 and 2023, and 59% of parishes report a “steady decline” in baptisms.

Nothing is final yet. There are going to be meetings to review the diocese’s recommendations, with decisions to be made between Aug. 15 and Sept. 1.

These closures are, unfortunately, driven by the church’s inaction over the past few decades. Sex abuse lawsuits drove some away from the church. Society, as a whole, is moving away from the major religious sects. In U.S. religion today, “the most important story without a shadow of a doubt is the unbelievable rise in the share of Americans who are nonreligious,” said Ryan Burge, a political science professor at Eastern Illinois University and author of “The Nones,” a book on the phenomenon, according to the Associated Press. .

The nones account for a large portion of Americans, as shown by the 30% of U.S. adults who claim no religious affiliation in a survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Other major surveys say the nones have been steadily increasing for as long as three decades. In addition to atheists and agnostics, the “nones” include a group who say they are “spiritual but not religious.” Most don’t like organized religion, its politics and social stances. That’s according to a large majority of nones responding to the survey.

Whether one agrees with the diocese’s decisions or not, it’s obvious something has to change. Clinging to its old footprint will lead to churches going bankrupt. Parishioners are going to see changes – whether they see them now or in a few years.

What the church is doing is making a hard, but necessary, decision. If our county’s population continues to decline, Chautauqua County’s schools, governments and organizations will have to make similar hard, but necessary, decisions.

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