Facing huge debts, Buffalo Diocese studies possible mergers of churches, schools

Buffalo News

May 22, 2020

By Dan Herbeck

The Buffalo Catholic Diocese has begun an initiative that will focus on re-envisioning its mission, which could result in consolidations that would merge some churches and schools.

No specific plans have been made regarding the 161 parishes and 34 elementary schools currently in operation in the 8-county diocese, but Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger said the diocese will work with pastors and other church leaders to decide what steps should be taken.

Scharfenberger indicated that there is “a great likelihood” that some Catholic schools and parishes will have to merge with others.

He told The Buffalo News late Friday that financial pressures on the diocese – including its bankruptcy case, hundreds of legal claims alleging abuse of children by priests and the Covid-19 pandemic – have forced the diocese to take a wide-ranging look at all its operations and find the best ways to spend limited funds.

Scharfenberger also acknowledged that the dwindling number of active priests in the diocese makes it difficult to keep all churches open.

While the diocese said it currently has about 360 priests, the bishop noted that most of them are either retired or semi-retired.

“We’re reviewing our core mission and purpose,” the bishop told The News. “We’re going to identify what is essential to our mission and put all our weight behind what is essential. I have read stories saying that one-third of our small businesses may not survive because of Covid-19. I have thought that our parishes have a lot in common with small businesses.”

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