Vatican halts plans for parish closures and mergers

Some planned parish closures and mergers in the US St Louis archdiocese have ground to a halt following appeals and a Vatican directive.

Pastoral planning

The proposed parish closures and mergers were part of a major archdiocesan pastoral planning initiative.

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski announced the parish closures and mergers a year ago in a plan called “All Things New”.

Fewer people were attending Mass, he explained.

Furthermore, parish boundaries hadn’t changed as shifts in population from the city to surrounding counties eventuated.

He said the archdiocese planned to close 35 churches by merging them with neighbouring parishes, and to merge 15 others to create five new parishes.

All up, 50 of the archdiocese’s 178 parishes would not continue in their present form.

He stressed that the “All Things New” plan sought to create a sustainable future for the archdiocese.

Wide consultation

Feedback was an important part of the decision-making process.

Before announcing the changes in May 2023, the archdiocese held 350 listening sessions. There was at least one session in each of the 178 current parishes.

Additional feedback came from 70,000 Catholics in the archdiocese who participated in a survey. Besides this, feedback from 18,000 school parents, staff, teachers, donors and community partners was garnered.

The archdiocese also held focus groups and talked with civil and business leaders.

Parishioners appealed

Soon after the diocesan announcement about the planned closures and mergers, twelve parishes decided make an appeal to the Vatican.

The planned mergers were put on hold pending rulings from the Vatican Dicastery for the Clergy.

The Dicastery would be looking at two factors in particular.

Canon Law says:

  • A diocesan bishop has the authority to alter parishes but only for a just reason specific to each parish
  • Concern for souls must be the principal motivation for modifying a parish

Vatican ruling – yes, no

The Vatican has announced its decisions concerning some of the twelve parishes. It is still studying the remainder.

In one case, the Dicastery found no just reason under Canon Law for one of the parishes to merge with two others. It was therefore unable to sustain Rozanski’s decree.

It said while these parishes would retain their status as three separate parish communities, all three would remain under their shared priest’s pastoral guidance.

The ‘no just reason’ criterion also saw plans for a proposed parish closure cancelled. The plan had been for the parish to merge with an adjacent one.

The Vatican dicastery upheld Rozanski’s decree however for a parish to be subsumed by another.

The ruling means the parish closure actually occurred some months ago – effective from 1 August 2023. The parish school is set to close this month.

Moving on

The “All Things New” plan changes, as originally presented, would have left the archdiocese with 44 fewer parishes – down from 178 to 134.

Even with the appeals and the Vatican decisions to date, the original plan is largely intact.

It will be completed in 2026.


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