A sad story about Detroit’s urban Catholic churches was passed to me by a reader. The Detroit Free Press is reporting that:
Archbishop Allen Vigneron is reviewing recommendations to close up to 20 churches in Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck, and about 30 more in the suburbs. The pending closures — which are expected to be finalized this month — could shrivel the church’s urban footprint to nearly one-third of the 112 parishes that existed in Detroit and its enclaves in 1988.
This story is not new. In Michael Weldon’s “A Struggle For Holy Ground”, he writes that waves of church “consolidations” began in the Catholic Church in the 1960’s. By 1988, when the archbishop of Detroit announced the closing of forty-six urban parishes, an era came to a close for American Catholics. The pattern of extraordinary growth in population and institutions had ended. An era of consolidation replaced the age of expansion.
Sadly, the intertia for closures has been accelerated by financial crises faced by the church at every level. Local parishes report that the diocese is motivated only by financial losses. But the diocese could make the same claim about local churches: one Detroit parish, Madonna, reported it owes the Diocese $1.4 million. I have read elsewhere that Catholic Dioceses waited decades before closing many urban churches that had long since become insolvent. Meanwhile, dioceses such as Boston have reportedly closed churches to raise capital for their mounting legal obligations in the wake of clergy sexual misconduct cases.
These sweeping closures remove a lifeline of support for urban centers that have already been devastated by economic blight. Who is to blame? In the Free Press article, author Jason Berry is quoted as saying that demographics, economics and mismanagement have all played a part:
“This phenomenon is national in scope. The downsizing that we see the church undergoing is partly driven by financial mismanagement,” Berry said. “But it’s also driven by bona fide social realities and demographics. It’s almost like two tectonic plates pushing against each other.”
Perhaps the saddest part of this story is the feeling many parishioners and even priests have that their churches are closed by a higher level of the church that is not sensitive to their need for self-determination.
Have you seen signs that churches are pushed to close because of the financial crises of their judicatories? If debt were not an issue, how could the wider church support ministries in urban areas where the need for a church presence is so great? Do you know of any place where suburban and urban churches are teaming up for mutual support? Or where urban churches transition into social service ministries?
Thanks to Judith for passing this story to me!