1 in 6 Go to Mass, Data Show
Parish Closings, Attendance Linked

By Michael Paulson
Boston Globe
January 30, 2004

About one in six Catholics in the Archdiocese of Boston attends Mass during any given week, a weak attendance rate that contributes to the need to close parishes, the archdiocese said yesterday.

The figures confirm the archdiocese's estimate that participation in Mass dropped by about 15 percent as a result of the clergy sexual-abuse crisis that began in early 2002.

For the first time, the archdiocese released attendance figures for most of its 357 parishes as well as for the number of key sacraments performed at each church, publishing the statistics in today's edition of The Pilot, the archdiocesan newspaper.

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, the archdiocesan spokesman, said the church decided to release the attendance figures, which the church previously considered confidential, as well as the sacramental numbers, in an effort to help people understand the need for church closings and to help local groups of churches begin their conversations about which churches should close.

"We decided to make them public, because people need to have information in front of them in order to make a reasoned decision," Coyne said. "These statistics will be used in the process."

Coyne said the size of a parish and its sacramental activity, such as baptisms and marriages, will be factors in deciding whether to close a parish, but not the deciding factors. The archdiocese has given the 80 geographic clusters of parishes until March 8 to recommend which should close. Each cluster must recommend at least one closing. Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley will make the final decisions.

Coyne said many clusters are beginning their local conversations about church closings, and the archdiocese is satisfied with the pace of the process. He said O'Malley plans to give a major address about the consolidation process Wednesday evening, on Boston Catholic Television.

The statistics released yesterday were not complete, because 39 parishes did not participate in the archdiocesan census of Mass attendance, which is conducted each October. Parishes are supposed to submit to the archdiocese their average Saturday and Sunday Mass attendance, based on the average head count during all October weekends.

The statistics indicate that in October, average weekend attendance at Mass at the reporting parishes was 304,000. By the archdiocese's own count, there are 2 million Catholics in the archdiocese.

"Generally, we've been seeing a decline for several decades, but it was accelerated across the board by the abuse crisis," Coyne said.

A lay group monitoring the consolidation process, Voice of the Faithful, welcomed the release of the statistics, but called for more.

"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.

The archdiocese is moving with unprecedented speed to reduce the number of parishes by an unspecified but substantial amount because of the shortage of priests, insufficient money, demographic shifts, and the decline in attendance at Mass.

According to the Globe's analysis of the new numbers, looking only at those parishes reporting attendance in 2000 and 2003, about 19 percent of Catholics attended Mass in October 2000 and about 16 percent in October 2003.

The archdiocese has not publicly released the 2000 numbers, but the Globe obtained them from a church source. Comparable head counts for other dioceses nationwide were not available.

Globe correspondent Bill Dedman contributed to this report. Michael Paulson can be reached at For statistics by parish, see


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.