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Archdiocese confirms apparent murder of Mexican priest

Tijuana, Mexico, Oct 16, 2018 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Tijuana in northern Mexico has confirmed the death of Fr. Ímar Arturo Orta, who was allegedly murdered on Oct. 12.

 

According to local press, the priest had been missing for three days when his body was found by authorities in an abandoned car with several bullet wounds.

 

An anonymous official from the state prosecutor's office who was not authorized to speak publicly about the incident has said that the priest’s death is being investigated as a homicide, according to the Associated Press.

 

Fr. Arturo is one of at least 26 priests who have been killed in Mexico since 2012, when President Enrique Pena Nieto first took office, and the seventh priest killed this year, according to reports from the Catholic Multimedia Center. Two priests in Mexico are also currently reported missing.

 

Father Ícmar Arturo Orta was pastor of St. Louis King of France parish in Tijuana, Baja California state.

 

In a statement published on October 14, Archbishop Francisco Moreno Barrón of Tijuana expressed his "deep sorrow" over the death of the priest. He told Catholics that as soon as he had reliable information regarding the circumstances of Fr. Arturo’s death he would make it public, and he would also inform the faithful of the funeral arrangements once they were made.

 

The archbishop told the members of St. Louis King of France parish that "the death of Father Arturo is a great loss for our archdiocese, but above all it is a very great affliction for you in the parish community.” He said that he knew the parish community will keep the memory of their priest alive.

 

"You will keep him alive in your mind and in your heart," Moreno said.

 

"May the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Loreto, patron saint of our Archdiocese, accompany you in this painful moment, and may you also be assisted by the care and intercession of your patron, Saint Louis of France."

 

In an Oct. 15 statement, the Mexican bishops expressed their sorrow at the loss of Fr. Arturo and assured Catholics of their prayers and support for the investigation of his death.

"We ask our Father God for the eternal rest of Fr. Ícmar, and that the Lord grants his family and his parish community the strength and consolation of faith and hope," the bishops said.

 

"We trust that the competent authorities will clarify what happened to our brother priest, and act accordingly," they said.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Brazilian bishop says basic synod theme is how to pass on the faith

Vatican City, Oct 16, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Brazilian Archbishop Jaime Spengler said Tuesday he believes the question at the foundation of the Synod of Bishops’ debates so far has been how to pass the Catholic faith on to young people, specifically in the face of the challenges posed by contemporary society.

 

“I think that the basic question, which passes through all the discussion both in the synod hall and in the smaller groups (the language circles) is a very simple question, that is: how to transmit the faith to the new generations,” the archbishop told journalists Oct. 16.

 

In a press briefing just past the halfway mark of the Synod of Bishops’ ordinary general assembly on young people, faith, and vocational discernment, the archbishop noted two “phenomena” which present challenges: the great scientific and technological change of this era, and globalization.

 

“What counts in this world is productivity, consumerism, and earnings,” he said. “This reality strikes at the most profound values of our culture. It takes the lives of our young people.”

 

“How can the Church, how can we pastors, respond to the necessity of young people that… live this reality daily?” the archbishop asked.

 

Spengler also noted that an issue of importance in Brazil is drug use, which he said affects many young people and families, and which he would like to see discussed more at the synod than it has been thus far.

 

Cardinal Peter Turkson, speaking during the same press briefing Oct. 16, said he would like to see the synod help young people develop a “manual of life.” Everyone needs guiding principles, he explained, but often these are dictated by modern society, not by the Church or by good families and teachers.

 

Cardinal Louis Sako I, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon, said he has been keeping careful notes on the synod in Arabic to share with people in the Middle East, since for those who speak no other languages, it was their only means of following the synod’s progress.

 

He described the meetings as a miniature version of the universal Church and a school, saying everyone has “learned a lot from each other.”

 

The Chaldean patriarch noted this was his fourth synod, and said this one is very different, particularly “in the way in which we are reasoning and analyzing all the challenges that the young face.” Though he said he had hoped for a larger presence of youth, noting that there are just 34 young adult auditors and over 260 bishops.

 

He said in the synod hall and small groups they have discussed the hopes, dreams, and fears of young people and that he sees reasons to hope: “I think at the end of the tunnel there’s a great deal of light.”

 

Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, announced that the synod fathers will have the opportunity to take part in a short pilgrimage toward the end of the assembly.

 

Organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, it will take place on the morning of Oct. 25, and consist of prayer while walking around 3.7 miles along part of the “Via Francigena,” or “Way of St. Francis,” near Rome.

Saginaw bishop dies after battle with lung cancer

Saginaw, Mich., Oct 16, 2018 / 11:37 am (CNA).- Bishop Joseph Cistone died in his home Tuesday morning, the Diocese of Saginaw has reported.

Local officials told reporters they received a 911 call from the bishop’s home Tuesday morning, adding that first-responders found the bishop dead upon their arrival. The diocese said in a short statement that the bishop had died in his home during the night.

Cistone, 69, announced Feb. 1 that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer, after undergoing tests for a persistent cough he’d experienced for months.

“The good news is that, since I have never been a smoker, it is a form of lung cancer which is treatable and potentially curable,” Cistone wrote in a February letter to his priests.

He announced at that time that he would undergo a treatment plan involving both chemotherapy and radiation. On Oct. 1 the diocese announced that the cancer had spread to other parts of Cistone's body, and that he had begun an aggressive course of chemotherapy.

Diocesan officials said that the bishop was scheduled to undergo a cancer-related medical procedure today.

Cistone was the sixth bishop of the Saginaw diocese, and was appointed there in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI. Originally from Pennsylvania, Cistone was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1975, where he also served as auxiliary bishop from 2004-2009.

In March Cistone’s home was raided by police, along with the diocesan chancery and cathedral rectory. Saginaw County’s assistant prosecutor at the time criticized the diocese for failing to cooperate in police investigations.

Police said the raid was executing a search warrant believed to be related to allegations of sexual abuse made against two priests of the diocese. One of those priests, Fr. Robert DeLand, will face a criminal trial next year.

The diocese said Oct. 16 that information about Cistone’s funeral will be released as soon as is possible.

 

A synod summary from the Polish synod fathers – Oct 16

Vatican City, Oct 16, 2018 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The synod of bishops on young people, the faith, and vocational discernment is being held at the Vatican Oct. 3-28.

CNA plans to provide a brief daily summary of the sessions, provided by the synodal fathers from Poland.

Please find below the Polish fathers' summary of the Oct. 16 session:

Education in values, the formation of young leaders, immigration, and the Christian ideal - these are some of the topics discussed during the morning session of the Synod of Bishops, on October 16th, and mentioned by Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki in his summary of the day.

During this morning’s session, the third part of the Instrumentum Laboris was discussed. After the introductory speech on the last part of the working document, the participants' reports on the topics addressed in this part were presented. The interventions highlighted the need for young leaders, the necessary formation of young animators, and drew attention to young people's’ political interests, which should also be taken into account.

Some interventions also addressed the issue of immigration. “Much has been said about being close to young people coming to our countries from Africa, so that the Church may welcome them with love, but also so that this may be an occasion to engage in dialogue with Muslims,” noted Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, the President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference.

During the session, some also spoke about the education of young people. “Not only in terms of the transmission of information but in the sense of an education in values. Attention was also paid to the value of catechesis in connection with Lectio Divina, with retreats for young people in the parishes,” said Archbishop Gądecki.

It was pointed out that the young themselves are the most effective witnesses for other young people. The important role of popular piety, which helps to experience religiosity, was recalled too. The question of volunteering, especially on the international level, was also raised.

Attention was drawn to the need for clarity in the transmission of the faith. “It was said that the Church should present the Christian ideal, and not just be immersed in difficulties. She should not renounce to the idealism of the young, because that is what attracts young people the most,” Archbishop Gądecki summed up.

Jesuit superior says pope is not the ‘chief’ of the Church- What did he mean?

Vatican City, Oct 16, 2018 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal, superior general of the Jesuits, said in an interview Monday that Pope Francis consciously calls himself the Bishop of Rome, instead of using grander titles.

"Very frequently we forget that the pope is not the chief of the Church, he's the Bishop of Rome," Fr. Sosa told EWTN in an interview Oct. 15.

 

"As the bishop of Rome, he has another service to do to the Church, that is, to try to [bring about] the communion of the whole Church."

 

By convoking the youth synod, taking place in Rome Oct. 3-28, Francis is exercising his role as pope by bringing together a group “of his own peers” to make a “contribution to the communion of the whole Church,” Sosa said.

 

“Fr. Sosa is certainly correct to say that the pope is the Bishop of Rome, but it would be a mistake to infer from that title that the Holy Father is merely ‘first among equals,’” Chad Pecknold, Associate Professor of Theology at the Catholic University of America, told CNA.

 

Pecknold told CNA that popes often and correctly speak of their “brother bishops,” but that the Petrine office is unique.

 

The pope “holds an office of supreme authority over every bishop in communion with him, and of course over the faithful too. It isn’t a charism of dominance but of paternal care - the popes traditionally use the title ‘servant of the servants of God.’”

 

Sosa said that because Pope Francis feels each bishop is responsible for his local church, this synod, in which Church leaders come together to discuss and decide church affairs, is an expression of dialogue and communion between all of the bishops.

 

Pecknold agreed that the world’s bishops are each truly invested with the authority to govern, teach, and minister to their own dioceses. But a bishop’s ministry must always be done in union with the pope, who, he said, “is the visible center of communion for the universal Church.”

 

“The worldwide college of bishops exists in what the Church calls ‘hierarchical communion’ with each other and with the head, the pope. When the we talk about authority of the college of bishops to teach or lead, the Church is always careful to emphasize that this is only possible in union with the pope, who is the head of the college,” Pecknold explained.

 

In his interview, Sosa also explained that the collaborative work of the synod is a work of discernment, something he said was very important to Pope Francis.  The Jesuit superior said that although the concept of discernment is a key feature of Jesuit spirituality, the act of listening to the Spirit has been a part of the Church’s for a long time.

 

“Discernment is the way that this communion [of the universal Church] can be made and how the Church will find the structure to reflect a Church that is open to that synodality,” Sosa continued.

 

“Because the Church is supposed to be governed not by men but by the Spirit. So [the Synod of Bishops] is not a kind of parliament, where you have to have a majority or minority, but we all together try to listen to the Spirit. And that's what discernment teaches us to do.”

 

In comments to journalists Oct. 16, Cardinal Louis Sako I, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon, echoed this point: “The synod is not a political parliament, is a synod of fathers, teachers,” he said. “What can we give, what can we offer the young, the faithful?”  

 

The Synod of Bishops, which was established by Pope St. Paul VI following Vatican Council II, was created to continue the collaborative effects of the council fathers.

 

The Code of Canon Law defines it as a work of “collaborative assistance” to the pope’s ministry, and stresses that it exists to “foster unity” among the bishops, including with the pope. It also states that the synod is itself a creation of papal authority, deriving its legitimacy not from the bishops attending but from the pope who called them to the session. Whether a synod session’s conclusions are deliberative or consultative is explicitly up to the pope, who decides how much of his own authority to delegate to it.

 

In this sense, Pecknold told CNA, it functions nothing like a parliament.

 

“Parliaments are political, legislative bodies,” he said.

 

“The Synod of Bishops exists to foster unity and to give the pope the benefit of their counsel. In that sense, their job isn’t to pass this resolution or block that one - it is to work together to advise the pope as best they can, and that is a work of communion and service, not confrontation.”

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

On Oct. 16, Roman Catholics celebrate the life of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the French nun whose visions of Christ helped to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart throughout the Western Church.Margaret Mary Alacoque was born in July of 1647. Her parents Claude and Philiberte lived modest but virtuous lives, while Margaret proved to be a serious child with a great focus on God. Claude died when Margaret was eight, and from age 9-13 she suffered a paralyzing illness. In addition to her father's death as well as her illenss, a struggle over her family's property made life difficult for Margaret and her mother for several years.During her illness, Margaret made a vow to enter religious life. During adolescence, however, she changed her mind. For a period of time she lived a relatively ordinary life, enjoying the ordinary social functions of her day and considering the possibility of marriage.However, her life changed in response to a vision she saw one night while returning from a dance, in which she saw Christ being scourged. Margaret believed she had betrayed Jesus, by pursuing the pleasures of the world rather than her religious vocation, and a the at the age of 22, she decided to enter a convent.Two days after Christmas of 1673, Margaret experienced Christ's presence in an extraordinary way while in prayer. She heard Christ explain that he desired to show his love for the human race in a special way, by encouraging devotion to “the heart that so loved mankind.� She experienced a subsequent series of private revelations regarding the gratitude due to Jesus on the part of humanity, and the means of responding through public and private devotion, but the superior of the convent dismissed this as a delusion. This dismissal was a crushing disappointment, affecting the nun's health so seriously that she nearly died. In 1674, however, the Jesuit priest Father Claude de la Colombiere became Margaret's spiritual director. He believed her testimony, and chronicled it in writing. Fr. de la Colombiere – later canonized as a saint – left the monastery to serve as a missionary in England. By the time he returned and died in 1681, Margaret had made peace with the apparent rejection of her experiences. Through St. Claude's direction, she had reached a point of inner peace, no longer concerned with the hostility of others in her community.In time, however, many who doubted her would become convinced as they pondered what St. Claude had written about the Sacred Heart. Eventually, her own writings and the accounts of her would face a rigorous examination by Church officials. By the time that occurred, however, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque had already gained what she desired: “To lose myself in the heart of Jesus.� She faced her last illness with courage, frequently praying the words of Psalm 73: “What have I in heaven, and what do I desire on earth, but Thee alone, O my God?� She died on October 17, 1690, and was canonized by Pope Benedict XV in 1920.

In major break over Ukraine, Russian Orthodox Church splits from Constantinople

Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct 15, 2018 / 05:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow has cut ties with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, claiming his recognition of an independent Orthodox Church in Ukraine departed from Orthodox Christian norms.
 
Metropolitan Hilarion, who heads foreign relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, said Russian Orthodox leaders decided to “break the Eucharistic communion” in response to actions it called “lawless and canonically void.”
 
“The Russian Orthodox Church doesn't recognize those decisions and won't fulfill them,” Hilarion said in Belarus after a meeting of the synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.

“The church that acknowledged the schismatics has excluded itself from the canonical field of Orthodoxy.”
 
“We are hoping common sense will prevail and that the Constantinople Patriarchate will change its relations to existing church reality,” Metropolitan Hilarion said.
 
The break comes in response to the decision of Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the “first among equals” leader of the global Orthodox Church, to issue a statement Oct. 11 confirming plans for an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church and restoring ties with the previously schismatic Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate.
 
The announcement also removed the traditional right of the Russian Patriarch to ordain the Metropolitan of Kyiv, a move which observers predicted would be perceived as a deliberate slight to Moscow. The right dated back to a canonical letter first issued in the year 1686.

Archbishop Yevstratiy, chief spokesman for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate and whose rehabilitation by Constantinople contributed to the current break with Moscow, said the Russian synod’s decision was a move towards “self-isolation.”
 
Writing in a Facebook post, he said “Sooner or later this will be fixed and the Russian Orthodox Church will return to communion.”

According to the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Press Service, Yevstratiy claimed that Orthodox Christians must choose whether to follow the Russian Orthodox “into schism” or “remain in unity with the Ecumenical Patriarch (Bartholomew I of Constantinople) through the Local Ukrainian Church.”
 
Among the backers of Constantinople’s move are Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who is running for re-election in March 2019. He had previously asked the Patriarch of Constantinople to grant independence to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, the Associated Press reports.
 
While the recent push for an independent, autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine emerged as a serious movement in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it gained further momentum following the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, and Russian backing of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine in response to the unseating of Ukraine’s pro-Russia former president Viktor Yanukovych.

The Russian Orthodox Church, which claims traditional and canonical authority over the Orthodox community in Ukraine, has denied taking political sides in the conflict and said it has worked for peace in eastern Ukraine.

The Russian Church has also voiced concern that the Constantinople patriarchate’s actions could deepen religious divides in Ukraine and inspire breakaway branches to take over church buildings, Reuters reports.

Kyiv, now the capital of Ukraine, is the site of the 988 baptism of Vladimir the Great, Grand Prince of Kiev, which resulted in the Christianization of Kyivan Rus', a state whose heritage Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus all claim.
 
Orthodox Christians in Ukraine have recently been divided into three separate groups.
 
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate effectively declared itself independent from Moscow in 1992, and is considered by the Russian Church to be a schismatic group. Until now, the other Orthodox Churches have recognized Ukraine as under Moscow’s jurisdiction and honored the excommunication.
 
The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, re-founded in 1990, is similarly seen as a breakaway group.
 
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is under the authority of the Russian Church and has been the officially recognized Orthodox Church in the country.
 
Patriarch Bartholomew’s plan to create a single, self-governing Church in the Ukraine, led by its own patriarch, is motivated by a desire to unify the country’s 30 million Orthodox Christians. The Russian Church sees the move as an infringement of its jurisdiction and authority.
 
There are about 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide. The Orthodox Church split from the Catholic Church in 1054.
 

 

Thousands gather in L.A. archdiocese to celebrate St. Oscar Romero

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 15, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Thousands of Catholics in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles gathered in the cathedral on Sunday to celebrate as Oscar Romero was canonized in Rome.

St. Oscar Romero was canonized by Pope Francis Oct. 14, together with six other new saints. That same day, an estimated 3,000 people gathered at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles for a Mass and celebrations.

Romero, who was the archbishop of San Salvador in the late 1970s, had been a major voice in defense of human rights for the Salvadorian people, especially during the early stages of the country’s civil war.

Before the liturgy Sunday, Salvadorians performed traditional dancing, while clips of Romero’s recorded homilies and speeches could be heard over the loudspeakers.

The inside the Cathedral was decorated with images and photographs of the newly minted saint, including a picture of Romero during one of his famous radio broadcasts and an image of the 250,000 mourners who attended his funeral at San Salvador’s Metropolitan Cathedral.

The Mass was celebrated, in Spanish, by Auxiliary Bishop Alexander Salazar. The homily was given by Deacon Ricardo Villacorta, a Salvadorian immigrant who left the country during its civil war.

Saint Oscar Romero was shot while celebrating Mass in March, 1980, during the country’s escalating civil war. Romero was an outspoken critic of political injustice in the country and of the violence affecting the lives of ordinary Salvadorians. 

In a homily the day before he was martyred, Romero admonished soldiers to follow God’s law over the orders of their superiors.

“This was a very brave act: He told soldiers they have to act from their morals, and not just follow directions from their superiors,” said Rich Villacorta, son of Deacon Villacorta and an archdiocesan employee, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Doris Benavides, associate director of media relations for the archdiocese, told CNA that a

majority of the attendees were Salvadorian. She said that after Mass many participants reflected about the difficult years of violence in their home country and spoke of their closeness to the new saint.

“Very touching,” she said. “I think it was one of the most joyous, happy Masses I’ve seen…even when they were reminiscing and talking about the past they were really happy, happy now that they have a saint that…many of them knew, many of them touched.”

The Archdiocese has a large community of Salvadorians, about 200,000 people, said Benavides, noting that some of these people sought refuge in United States during the civil war, had worked with Romero during his time of ministry, and had even received the sacraments from the new saint.

“These are people who were the poor,” she said. “At that time, even when the Church was going through many phases and difficult times [of the war], they felt the presence of their Archbishop.”

Benavides said that Catholic Charities of Los Angeles continued to welcome refugees from El Salvador, and several other countries experiencing political turmoil. She said that although their reasons for seeking asylum may be different, these people had access to legal, housing, and financial help through the help of the archdiocese.

“The war today is hunger, poverty, and organized crime. So people are running away from the country still. They are seeking asylum again, for other reasons.”

Washington archdiocese releases the names of 28 accused clergy

Washington D.C., Oct 15, 2018 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- Just days after Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl as Archbishop of Washington, the D.C. archdiocese has released the names of 28 former clergy of the archdiocese who had been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse of minors dating back to 1948.

Three priests of religious orders who had previously served in archdiocesan parishes or schools were also included in the release.

The posting of the names on the archdiocesan website Oct. 15 marks the first significant act by Cardinal Wuerl as interim administrator of the archdiocese which he led until Friday, and is the culmination of an internal review of archdiocesan files first ordered by Wuerl in 2017.

“This list is a painful reminder of the grave sins committed by clergy, the pain inflicted on innocent young people, and the harm done to the Church’s faithful, for which we continue to seek forgiveness,” said Cardinal Wuerl. He also noted that there had not been a credible allegation of abuse of minors against a Washington priest in nearly twenty years.

“Our strong commitment to accompany survivors of abuse on their path toward healing is unwavering, but it is also important to note that to our knowledge there has not been an incident of abuse of a minor by a priest of the archdiocese in almost two decades. There is also no archdiocesan priest in active ministry who has ever been the subject of a credible allegation of abuse of a minor.”

A press release by the archdiocese underscored the existing safeguarding policies in place in Washington, which include an annual, independently audited report on its child protection work posted on the archdiocesan website and in the Catholic Standard newspaper.  

Kim Viti Fiorentino, Chancellor and General Counsel for the archdiocese, said that while survivors of abuse should remain the first concern of everyone, it was also important that Catholics in the capital’s archdiocese understood the efforts being made to ensure that “there is no safer place for a young person than in an Archdiocese of Washington parish or school.”

The Archdiocese of Washington adopted its first a written child protection policy in 1986, with a Case Review Board operating since 1993. Following the adoption of the Dallas Charter and USCCB Essential Norms, the archdiocese has also had a Child Protection Advisory Board with a majority of lay experts as members since 2002.

While the release of the names of credibly accused clergy comes at the end of a year-long process of review, it is final authorization by Cardinal Wuerl as archdiocesan administrator instead of archbishop makes for a conclusion few would have foreseen only months ago.

Ordinarily when a diocese is between bishops and under the care of an administrator the principle of nihil innovator  - nothing new - applies, though in this case Cardinal Wuerl was not so much innovating as bringing to a close work he had already begun.

 

This article has been udated to reflect a clarification by the Archdiocese of Washington made after publication.

Pittsburgh Diocese begins years-long parish consolidation process

Pittsburgh, Pa., Oct 15, 2018 / 04:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An interim Mass and confession schedule went into effect Oct. 15 in the Diocese of Pittsburgh as the six-county diocese moves to condense its parishes into groups, with the eventual goal of creating new multi-site parishes.

Bishop David Zubik announced in May that the 188 parishes of the Pittsburgh Diocese would be combined into 57 multi-parish groups. After parishioners from each former parish build relationships with each other, each group will become a new parish between 2020 and 2023. Parish groups have been assigned a designation of A, B, or C, with the goal of forming a new parish within two, three, or five years respectively.

A team of clergy, led by a pastor and including parochial vicars, parish chaplains, and deacons, will serve the needs of each parish group during the transition, with retired priests assisting as they are able. The number of Masses available each weekend will depend on the number of priests assigned to each group, since no one priest may celebrate more than three Masses per Sunday according to canon law.

Though Bishop Zubik has not yet specified which church buildings will remain open and which will close, the parish groupings include recommendations for the total number of buildings and priests the group should share. Each new parish could eventually consist of multiple church buildings, but the clergy leaders of each individual group will be ones to make that recommendation to the diocese.

The Pittsburgh Diocese last went through a major restructuring during 1992-94, when the diocese shrank from 333 parishes to 218.

The current consolidation plan is a response to declining Mass attendance overall and the financial struggles of some parishes. Materials provided by the diocese show Mass attendance down nearly 40 percent across the board since 2000.

In addition, the diocese had 338 parish priests in active ministry in 2000, compared with 211 in 2016 and 178 today. The diocese estimates that with priestly retirements and an average of four ordinations per year, the diocese will have just 112 priests by 2025.

The purpose of this restructuring, spokesman Father Nicholas Vaskov said in a statement, is “transitioning from maintenance into ministry and mission”: a shift from pouring resources into church buildings that may not be having success and putting those resources toward ministry and evangelization.

A five-year diocesan planning initiative called “On Mission for the Church Alive!” began in April 2015 with a year of prayer for the whole diocese. Since the second year of the program, over 300 parish consolidation meetings have been held and more than 30,000 religious, clergy and laity have participated and offered input.

The diocese used a list of 21 criteria developed after the meetings to create the parish groups. The criteria specified, among other things, that the parish groups should not exceed one priest per 2,400 Sunday Mass attendees, and that the groupings must allow enough space for new Sunday Mass attendees, and anticipate sustainable growth for the next 20 years. In addition, parishes in dire financial need would not be grouped with other struggling parishes, and nor would affluent parishes be grouped together, unless a sound alternative financial plan is put forward.

The current plan to consolidate was conceived prior to the Aug. 14 release of a grand jury report that uncovered sexual abuse allegations against 300 Pennsylvania priests - including 99 from Pittsburgh - dating back to 1947.

Bishop Zubik told CNA in May that he hopes that this consolidation of communities will be an effective tool for evangelization, generating excitement within the Church and strengthening resources to be used for outreach programs.

“By consolidating the resources of parishes in a grouping, what we’ll do is make sure every parish has all of the programs that it needs to be a parish so every parish will have a religious education program, every parish will have some association with a Catholic school, every parish will have an organized program for reaching out to the poor,” Bishop Zubik said.



Correction 10/16: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the diocese's last major reorganization was between 1989-98 instead of 1992-94 . It has been corrected.