The numbers are stunning.
Since the year 2000, Mass attendance in Pittsburgh, PA has fallen a whopping 40%. That translates to around 100,000 fewer people. K-8 Catholic school enrollment did even worse, dropping 50%. And the number of priests in the diocese fell by a third, from 338 to 225. If trends continue, the diocese expects to have only 112 priests by 2025.
The steep drop-off has also led to financial problems. Almost half of the diocese’s 200 parishes operated at a loss in 2015.
The diocese has been in decline for a while. In 1980, there were 914,000 Catholics; today, the number stands at 632,000. The decline is at least in part due to a decline in the population of the area.
How is the diocese responding?
“The No. 1 priority has to be, ‘We need to make our worship better,’” Bishop David Zubik told a local newspaper. “Second of all, we need to do the best job that we can to get not only more ordained leaders, but we really have to open up lots of doors for the lay leaders of the church.”
He elaborated on what he meant, explaining their parishes needed “better homilies, better music and more people.”
Bishop Zubik is also leading a reorganization plan that will involve the closure of some parishes, as well as leading the formation of a comprehensive plan to grow their churches with the help of a commission called “On Mission.”
“We have to be creative in forging new ways to engage young people, and people who have felt they are not welcome in our church or who have chosen a different path,” said Kathy Buechel, chairwoman of the “On Mission” commission. “We’re thinking of this as an opportunity to reawaken the spirit of the Church.”
In a letter to his diocese, Bishop Zubik said that the new initiatives would help them to be “able to take up the task that our beloved Pope Francis calls us to take up: to seek out and welcome back those who have left the church; to seek out and welcome all those who do not know God in their lives; to seek out and support all those trying very hard to live their faith.”
“Yes, we are ‘on mission’,” he added, referencing the name of the commission. “We are on mission to be Catholic in the truest sense — a church universal, a church without borders, a church that always invites and never rejects. We want to become more a church of mercy, offering divine mercy, divine friendship.”
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