U.S. Catholics pray for more priests

Tue Sep 16, 2008 9:55pm EDT
 
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By Jason Szep

WELLESLEY, Massachusetts (Reuters) - The sign outside St. James Church in the affluent Boston suburb of Wellesley sums up Catholicism's deepening struggles in the United States.

"Still searching for a priest," it reads. Another sign affixed to its thick doors pleads: "Save St. James."

Facing dwindling congregations, shifting demographics and a drain on cash from settling sexual abuse lawsuits, Roman Catholic churches are shuttering at a quickening pace in a traditional stronghold, the U.S. Northeast.

The trend underscores a growing problem facing the U.S. Catholic church: too many parishes in the Northeast and not enough for growing Hispanic populations in the Southwest.

In Massachusetts, the Diocese of Worcester -- which covers New England's second-largest city -- shut five parishes in July. The neighboring Diocese of Springfield said in August it would shut 10 more parishes and nine buildings by January 1.

Camden Diocese in New Jersey said in April it would close nearly half of its 124 churches within two years. Dozens of parishes in New York state are being shut.

Bishops cite a number of reasons -- from rising heating costs to aging priests and the steady decline of the Irish and Italian immigrants who transformed Boston from overwhelmingly Protestant to largely Catholic in the mid 19th Century. Today, Mexicans are the top immigrant group in the United States, bringing an influx of Catholics to the Southwest.

"Our present infrastructure isn't sustainable," said Msgr. John J. Bonzagni, director of pastoral planning at the Diocese of Springfield, which expects to have 25 fewer priests in just seven years.   Continued...

 
<p>A sign seeking a Roman Catholic priest is pictured outside St. James Church in Wellesley, Massachusetts August 25, 2008. Facing dwindling shrinking congregations, shifting demographics and a drain on cash from settling sexual abuse lawsuits against priests, Roman Catholic churches are shuttering at a quickening pace in the U.S. Northeast. REUTERS/Jason Szep</p>