Catholic bishop outlines plans for change

May 20, 2016
Bishop David A. Zubik addresses reporters Friday in Pittsburgh. - Natalie Reid Miller/Observer-Reporter Order a Print

PITTSBURGH – Parishes in Washington and Greene counties are among the first to experience changes before implementation of “On Mission for the Church Alive!” – the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh’s initiative to address drastically declining congregant participation.

Bishop David A. Zubik, who outlined the plan for the next several years Friday atSaint Mary of Mercy Church, said initiatives in Washington and Greene are pilot programs that would be assessed for their effectiveness.

In Washington County, churches are adopting a model in which deacons are responsible for administrative aspects of running parishes. In Greene County and the Mon Valley, parishes are adopting team ministry models in which religious leaders are responsible for more than one parish.

Mass attendance continues to fall, leading to financial struggles among the 199 parishes in the diocese, covering Washington, Greene, Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties. According to the diocese, about 247,000 attended weekly Mass in 2000. That number dropped to 149,000 in 2015.

In addition, the diocese is concerned about declining number of priests. In 2000, there were 338 active in ministry; in 2015, there were 225. The projected number of active priests in 2025 is 112.

A fundraising campaign raised more than $230 million in pledges. The next phase of the initiative is for parishes to consider model plans, taking their community’s needs, resources and clergy into account. Parishes will work to submit a final recommendation to Zubik by the end of 2017.

A big obstacle to change, said Zubik, is parishioners’ reluctance to give up their places of worship.

“The church is not the building,” said Zubik.

The bishop said final decisions regarding closures and mergers of churches and schools have not been made, but they’re “a very real possibility,” he said.

He urged Catholics to get excited about their faith.

“I don’t know all the answers, but I do know the answers are out there,” he said.

Natalie Reid Miller has been with the Observer-Reporter since 2013. A native of Burgettstown, she primarily covers Washington and surrounding communities. Natalie has a writing degree from the University of Pittsburgh.

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