MONONGAHELA – Bishop David A. Zubik said Monday he will dissolve a Roman Catholic parish in Monongahela unless its two congregations set aside their differences on how to survive under a priest shortage and shrinking church base.
Zubik made the announcement during a town meeting in a Monongahela church, saying he concluded from a parish survey its members would be in a state of “disunity” regardless if the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh closes one of two churches in the small city, keeps them both open or creates one parish for the entire Mon Valley in Washington County.
“There is a significant division in the parish,” Zubik said in the Transfiguration worship site on North Main Street.
He said he doesn’t want to dissolve the parish, but there must be unity within the church.
“If I have to I will,” Zubik said.
Members of the nearby St. Anthony’s worship site carried out protests after Masses there were suspended in May 2012. The decision followed a merger of the two Monongahela parishes to form the St. Damien of Molokai Parish.
The recommendation resulted from a study begun in 2007 to look at the declining economy in the area and determine the best solution for the future of the two city churches.
The St. Anthony’s congregation expressed to Zubik they didn’t want the fate of that building decided by the local priest, but rather by him and the diocese.
“It was easy to see the two congregations cannot reach a consensus,” Zubik said. “A church isn’t about buildings.”
The Rev. Ronald P. Lengwin, diocesan spokesman, said the diocese has not come up with a clear reason why the parish is splintered.
“I don’t think there is a simple answer,” Lengwin said.
He said there are historic ethnic differences as the Transfiguration church was organized by Irish immigrants and St. Anthony’s has Italian-American roots.
“Are there remnants of that or a fondness to past building memories?” he said.
Zubik gave the nearly 300 people who attended Monday’s meeting a Nov. 4 deadline to send him letters expressing solutions to becoming a unified parish and also to give him time to “think this through.”
“I realize this is a tall order,” he said. “I will disregard any pleas to save a building.”