Galante Relents on Some Parishes

By Adam Smeltz

August 27, 2008

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Two more South Jersey parishes will retain their independence, bringing to 68 the number of parishes under a revised plan to reorganize the Camden Diocese, Bishop Joseph Galante announced Tuesday.

The revisions also will allow at least a half-dozen more churches to continue hosting worship services, Galante said. He also announced the appointment of 41 "priest conveners," pastors who have been named to help lead parishes through the merger process.

Galante said that in tweaking the plan, he responded to new information that parishioners have shared with him since April 3, when he announced the initial concept. Mostly through mergers, that plan would have left the diocese with 66 parishes in two years -- down from the current 124.

By the time the reorganization is completed in 2010, the Camden Diocese should have 37 merged parishes, three parish clusters and 25 standalone parishes, according to diocesan plans.

"People have an emotional attachment to their parish, to their church," Galante said Tuesday. "I would hope they would see that more than 100 of our churches are remaining open for worship."

Church leaders have said the reconfiguration is necessary for the diocese to reinvigorate its ministry, especially as the number of available priests dwindles. The number of active diocesan priests in the area is expected to fall from 165 to 85 or fewer by 2015.

Under the revised plan, St. Joseph Pro Cathedral in Camden will remain a standalone parish and not merge with the St. Cecilia and St. Veronica parishes in nearby Pennsauken. Galante said the Pennsauken parishes wanted to be their own entity. In addition, he said, merging the Pennsauken parish with St. Joseph would have created two elementary schools in a single parish.

Also, St. Katharine Drexel in Egg Harbor Township and St. Vincent de Paul in Mays Landing will remain as standalone parishes. They were to have merged.

Galante said their merger had been planned only after environmental concerns undercut a new building project for St. Vincent de Paul. That project has since regained its footing, he said, eliminating the need for a merger there.

In Haddon Township, the St. Vincent Pallotti parish is still bound to merge with St. Aloysius in Oaklyn. But Galante said St. Vincent Pallotti church "will be a worship site to ensure that the parishioners in the configuration are being fully served," according to a prepared statement.

Galante said a committee has found that St. Vincent Pallotti church has better parking and access for the handicapped.

Reactions at St. Vincent Pallotti were mixed. Parishioner Ed Pierzynski, who with other church members has asked the Vatican to block the merger, said Galante has not been "really open or transparent" about why the St. Aloysius building will be the primary worship facility.

"It still leaves us open to being closed," Pierzynski said. He said that he and other parishioners will not relent in their appeal before the Vatican, though Galante said the appeal has no standing because he has not yet issued a formal merger decree.

In Camden, changes announced Tuesday will uphold the merger of the St. Joan of Arc and St. Bartholomew parishes. But in a new development, St. Bartholomew will host the parish and retain a worship site.

The merged parish was to have been situated at St. Joan of Arc, where some St. Bartholomew parishioners said they received an icy reception.

Galante said he recognizes the historic value of St. Bartholomew.

"It was established primarily for African Americans because they had had problems going to other churches," he said. " . . . I think the strong feeling of some people that their heritage was very much at that location -- I can appreciate that and I can understand that."

Several other merged parishes will retain more churches as worship sites, including those in shore towns. More permanent decisions about those Jersey Shore churches will be made by parish leadership, once the new parishes have been formalized.

In Clayton, a merged parish that includes the Nativity, St. Bridget and St. Catherine parishes will keep St. Catherine as a worship site.

Robert Walsh, co-chairman of the Council of Parishes of Southern New Jersey, said his group is not fully satisfied by the changes. He said 32 South Jersey parishes belong to the council, an opposition group that has challenged many of the merger proposals.

"In many ways, what (Galante) released today -- and I don't mean to be arrogant -- is nothing more than a bait-and-switch to appease parishes that were considering civil litigation against the diocese," Walsh said.

Diocesan spokesman Andrew Walton rejected the notion that the changes had anything to do with avoiding litigation. He said Galante's decisions are grounded in careful review and a hearing of "legitimate concerns."

Galante, in announcing the appointment of 41 "priest conveners," said those conveners are likely to lead the new parishes once he formalizes the new parishes by decree.

In the meantime, "current pastors and administrators will remain in place . . . to oversee the pastoral care of the people as parish life continues," Galante wrote in an open letter to parishioners. Walton said about 60 percent of the priest conveners are already based in the parishes they will serve.

"We need to reach out to Catholics who no longer worship with us for whatever reasons," Galante said. "And we need to attract others. That's done through service and ministry at the local level, through the parish."

Staff writer Jim Walsh contributed to this story. Reach Adam Smeltz at (856) 486-2919 or


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