Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Process of Parish Closings


This is a relevant topic now, and it will be certainly in our Archdiocese in the years to come as the Archdiocese continues it's examination of how the Church currently finds itself structurally in each of its deaneries.  The next phase sees the process kick off in Indianapolis, and it appears that all four deaneries will examine their infrastructure at one time given the interconnectedness of so many of the parishes in the Indianapolis area.  While some are clearly opposed to the process of examining how we are structured, and looking at ways to share ministries and realign ourselves to be more properly structured going into the future, I am a big believer in the process and don't believe it is being done solely because of priest numbers but because good stewards should always be looking at how resources are being used, and good stewards are always looking to see if there are ways to more effectively use the limited resources God has given us.

In my attempt to educate myself to be in a better position to help answer questions and help minister to the people at Holy Rosary parish, I have first of all learned that there are two different things that can be closed, depending on the situation:

1) A "parish" can be closed, but the Church can be left open or
2) A parish can be closed, AND the Church can be closed

In most cases where dioceses around the country are undergoing the same process as the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, the dioceses have elected to close both the parishes and the church buildings.  Good questions arise:

1)  What happens to the parish's history?   
          The parish closed sends all of its sacramental records and so forth to a "receiving parish" - a parish that the parishioners and the diocese together have chosen as the most logical neighboring parish.  The parish boundaries of the parish that is closed may be redrawn among several parishes, or the parish boundaries may simply completely pass over into the care of a single neighboring Church.

2)  What happens to the parish's financial assets/debts?

          The parish's financial assets or debts are assumed by the receiving parish.  The assets used to pass to the diocese, but in 2006 Rome issued a ruling that says that all of the assets must go to the receiving parish.  This was to keep dioceses from simply choosing to sell off lots of property to raise money for itself.
          A pastorally sensitive thing that the Archdiocese of Indy is trying out with Holy Rosary is to also offer to split up the assets and divvy them out percentage-wise to all of the parishes that people will choose to land.  The difficulty is that some parishioners don't know where they will land just yet, but the idea is that we survey every parish family and ask them to choose which of the neighboring parishes they would like to go to.  If 15% say they are going to go to parish A, and 60% say they are going to parish B, then parish A would receive 15% of the assets, and parish B would receive 60% of the assets.  This could prevent a fight over "where all the money is going" because instead of a lump sum of assets and property going to one parish, it would be divvied up more justly.

3)  What happens to a parish's buildings?
          The receiving parish is now the owner of the property (although the Archbishop technically owns all the land and buildings in the Archdiocese), and the receiving parish is usually tasked with selling off the buildings if they were closed, or maintaining the buildings if they are not closed.  It can be a financial burden in the short term for a receiving parish to assume maintenance and bills from another campus, but I would imagine the diocese would typically help if it became burdensome to the receiving parish. 

4)  Where do the parishioners go?
          While Canon Law states that we all are to go to the Church whose parish boundaries we live within, does anyone pay attention to that anymore?  I think especially in the time of a closing, it would really be up to the parishioners to land wherever they felt comfortable.  I think given all of the attacks on the Church from the outside world, the bishops have (I think rightly) chosen to make the parish boundary issue one not worth worrying about.

More to come from my research on the issue of parish closings, appealing a closing, and Canon Law to come