The Baltimore Archdiocese proposes closing 40 churches. A fourth are Black.

Black Catholic Messenger [San Francisco CA]

April 20, 2024

By Nate Tinner-Williams

Most of Charm City’s historic Black Catholic parishes are on the chopping block in an archdiocese mired in legal troubles due to clerical sex abuse.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has released a new proposal that would cut the number of parishes in Baltimore City by nearly two-thirds, from 61 to 21. Black Catholic churches make up a quarter of those to be closed in the plan, which has not been finalized.

The archdiocese, the nation’s oldest, says the April 14 proposal—part of a sweeping diocesan realignment—is the fruit of extensive consultation, which will continue in the coming weeks.

“After nearly two years of listening, study, prayer, analysis and community weigh-in, the Seek the City to Come initiative has entered into the public comment phase. A recommended proposal was developed for the Catholic Church in Baltimore City to include investment and ministries, the realignment of parish communities designed to offer a strong sense of belonging for all and the merging of parish campuses,” the chancery posted on its website.

“The proposal is the culmination of visits to 61 parishes in the city and some immediate suburbs and input from thousands from our parish communities.

The archdiocese has announced hybrid public comment sessions for the coming week, including for citywide concerns as well as targeted sessions for specific ethnic and language communities. One for Black Catholics has been scheduled for Tuesday, April 23, at St. Frances Academy in Johnston Square at 6:30pm ET.

Black parishes slated to close in the tentative proposal include Baltimore City’s St. Ann, St. Wenceslaus, St. Peter Claver, St. Pius V, St. Veronica, St. Cecilia, St. Edward, Immaculate Conception, St. Joseph’s Monastery, and Blessed Sacrament. Several other parishes with significant Black populations are also included.

“All of the Black churches will be affected in one way or another,” said Ralph E. Moore Jr., a parishioner at St. Ann Catholic Church in East Baltimore who says its proposed closure came as a shock.

“We are easily one of the strongest, most effective congregations in the city. It’s surprising that we’d be closed.”

Concerning the idea that Black and other non-White Catholics are being “short-changed” in the realignment process, the archdiocese says they remain committed to fostering and welcoming diversity.

“Throughout the listening, visioning, discernment, and modeling process the needs of Black (Hispanic/Ethnic) parishes has remained prominent,” they wrote. “Our reimagined, realigned, and revitalized parishes and ministries must be beacons of radical hospitality, welcoming all and actively bringing Christ’s healing presence to those in need.”

Ahead of next week’s listening session, some Black Catholics have already formulated plans for a response to this week’s proposal, hoping to salvage their physical worship sites in Baltimore City. 

Among them is St. Ann, which hosts an active social justice ministry and has gained national attention for its advocacy for African-American Catholic saints. It is currently part of a tri-parish pastorate with St. Wenceslaus and St. Francis Xavier, all of which are administered by the Josephites. Though St. Ann has an estimated 45 regular attendees at weekend Mass, parishioners say there are reasons to keep the parish open.

“St. Ann Church is a resilient congregation that has responded with creativity and courage with challenge to its very existence when threatened to be closed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 1994,” St. Ann parishioners wrote in an 8-page counter-proposal obtained by BCM.

“We call upon the Archdiocese of Baltimore to reconsider and rescind the first draft of the Seek the City to Come’s plan to have St. Ann close and move its congregation to St. Francis Xavier Church.”

The proposed changes in the archdiocese’s urban core come after years of declining Mass attendance and contributions, with the chancery reporting an estimated 5,000-8,000 Sunday Mass attendees across the County—and some outside estimates reaching as low as 2,000.

The archdiocese also faces mounting legal troubles related to clergy sex abuse, which precipitated a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in fall 2023. The Maryland General Assembly passed a law last year that allows for alleged victims of child sex abuse to sue accusers without regard to the statute of limitations, a move that has resulted in numerous lawsuits against the Catholic Church. 

Having already paid more than $13M in payouts for abuse claims since the 1980s, the archdiocese sued several of its insurers in late March over failure to cover additional claims—just weeks before releasing the new proposal for parish closures.

However, like several U.S. Catholic dioceses that have recently announced parish and/or school closures, Baltimore’s says its legal woes have no connection to its realignment plans.

“One does not relate to the other. The Seek the City process began long before the passage of the law lifting the statute of limitations and the subsequent filing for Chapter 11 reorganization,” they wrote in a FAQ section for the proposal released this week. 

In addition to the Black Catholic listening session, city-wide sessions for “Seek the City” are planned for April 25, 29, and 30 at various locations throughout Baltimore City. Comments can also be submitted remotely via livestream or by emailing

Following the additional consultations, Archbishop William Lori is expected to announce final decisions in mid-June, with changes to go into effect at later dates with specific parish needs taken into consideration.