Follow the $$$ (and other things)

300px-NS_AparecidaTime for a journalistic confession. I do not think that I have ever read a story about Catholic leaders making decisions to close a bunch of Catholic parishes (or Catholic schools, for that matter) that did not leave me profoundly frustrated.

Trust me, I know that we are dealing with complex stories. I know that these sad, painful and even tragic administrative decisions are caused by a number of different facts.

Yes, this has something to do with the priest shortage, with the declining number of men who are available to serve at -- in many parts of the nation -- an increasing number of NEW altars in growth areas. That means closing some churches.

Yes, the economic times are hard and this is affecting many churches, especially in oldline liberal Protestantism.

Yes, the Catholic church's large footprint in ethnic communities with limited resources is a factor.

Yes, the economic impact of The Scandal has played a role in many closings in recent years.

Yes, the plunging birthrates in many urban and suburban Anglo parishes has to be playing a role in several of these trends, the falling tide that is affecting many boats. It doesn't help that the mainstream press rarely, if ever, mentions this reality.

So check out this report from the Miami Herald. I am sad to report that the editors seem to have settled for the economic angle -- period -- when covering the decision to close 13 churches in the Archdiocese of Miami. Thus, we are told right up front:

For months, Bernadette Poitier has prayed alongside members of Overtown's St. Francis Xavier, hoping a miracle would spare her Catholic church from closing down.

But in a matter of weeks, her spiritual home of the last 30 years and one of South Florida's oldest churches will be no more as the Archdiocese of Miami continues to make severe financial cuts amid a recession in which it has lost millions of dollars.

"It's painful. It's not fair,'' said Poitier, 54. "What are we doing for the poor?''

Thousands of Catholics across Miami-Dade and Broward counties, some on the verge of tears, listened Sunday as pastors read a letter by Archbishop John C. Favalora announcing plans for the rapid closure of 13 churches by Oct. 1. ... Many of the churches, which the archdiocese says have struggled to support themselves and in some cases have been loaned up to $1 million over the last decade, are located in poor, minority enclaves or serve elderly populations.

The archdiocese will lose two Haitian parishes and two historically black parishes, leaving only one surviving altar rooted in the unique culture of African-American Catholic worship. The goal, administrators insist, is to produce more churches that are ethnically mixed, with diverse congregations.

But there is a number in this story that really hit me hard, especially after years of reading stories about the large number of mainline churches with between 50 and 100 active members that still are open for business.

At Our Lady Aparecida, a 1,667-member Brazilian church with buildings in Hollywood and Pompano Beach, the mood was somber Sunday as the Rev. Volmar Scaravelli announced the news. Members will be asked to attend St. Vincent in Margate.

"Many live in that region of Margate and Coconut Creek. For some, it's a little inconvenient,'' Scaravelli said. "For the group that lives in Pompano and doesn't drive because they don't have driver's licenses, we'll have a bus and a van to transport them.''

This Brazilian parish is closing and it has 1,667 members? Clearly we need more information. What is going on in terms of attendance? How many young people and families are in this parish? How many priests and deacons serve there? How many vocations has this parish produced in, oh, a decade? Is there a school there?

You see, it's never just the economy. It's never just the crisis in clergy vocations. It's not just the birth-rate and it's impact on the school.

The Herald cannot do this kind of in-depth analysis of each of these 13 parishes. But it can did at least one or two layers under this flat claim by church leaders that money is the solution to all the problems that are behind these closed altars.

Image: Our Lady of Aparecida.

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