Seismic shifts reshape US Catholicism

National Catholic Reporter

Jan. 17, 2012
By Tom Roberts

Archbishop Charles Chaput’s announcement Jan. 6 that the Philadelphia archdiocese will be closing schools in record numbers during the coming year (see story) was the latest and loudest rumble in a series of seismic displacements that are permanently reshaping the look of U.S. Catholicism.

What is happening in Philadelphia follows the same script, fashioned by demographic shifts and economic need, that has been in use throughout the Northeast and Upper Midwest. The drama may differ in particulars from place to place — some bishops might accomplish the grim task with more pastoral sensitivity than others, some may involve the larger community more deeply in the decision-making process than others — but the results are pretty much the same. From Philadelphia to Newark, N.J., New York to Boston, Cleveland to Chicago to Detroit and beyond, the church of the immigrants is going the same route as the old industrial America of our forebears. The huge plants — churches, schools and parish halls — markers of another era, like the hulking steel mills and manufacturing plants of old, can no longer be sustained. There aren’t enough Catholics left in those places, not enough priests and nuns and certainly not enough money to maintain the church as it once was.

According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington, the church in the United States has lost 1,359 parishes during the past 10 years, or 7.1 percent of the national total, and most of those have been in the Northeast and the Upper Midwest.

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