“Buckling under the weight of declining church attendance and sex-abuse settlements, 20 of the 53 parishes in the Archdiocese of Moncton face closure or possible closure this year, according to Archbishop Valery Vienneau.
One parish has already been designated for closure and 19 others have been given one year to show they can maintain enough active parishioners to assure the “vitality” required to sustain a financially viable parish.
The archdiocese has paid out $10.6 million to victims of sexual abuse. Those payments have added to financial pressures caused by fewer churchgoers, shrinking offertory collections and fewer volunteers to run parish programs.
In response, the archbishop is asking individual parishes to take action to save themselves.
“Many parishes are in financial difficulty or are low in personal resources,” said Vienneau, who visited the distressed parishes this year. He met with priests and parish council members to devise a survival strategy.
“We examined each parish’s unique situation and came up with a plan of recovery,” he said. “We looked at the vitality, viability and accessibility of each parish.”
The archdiocese will check in with the parishes in a year from now to see how they have improved.
There are currently 56 lawsuits against the Catholic Church in New Brunswick. Victims generally receive between $15,000 to $300,000 in settlements depending on the severity of the abuse, their age when it began and how long it lasted.
There have been 32 lawsuits filed against a single Archdiocese of Moncton priest, Fr. Camille Leger — and more keep coming in. Leger, former pastor at Sainte-Thérèse-d’Avila parish in Cap Pelé from 1957 to 1980, died in 1990, before any allegations were filed.
Victim payments and legal fees have forced the Archdiocese of Moncton to reduce staff from 19 to 10 employees. According to Revenue Canada, the archdiocese has operated at deficit two out of the past four years.
Fr. Phil Mulligan, pastor at Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Riverview, N.B., views this crisis as an opportunity to show stewardship.
“Nothing is written in stone,” said Mulligan.
He calls this an opportunity for parishes to focus on community building.
“When it comes to raising extra funds, it goes deeper than fundraising. Anyone can cut a cheque and make it out to the church. That doesn’t build a community. Even for parishes that may not be on the chopping block, we need to take this as a sign that we cannot sit around idly. As clergy and parishioners, we need to ask ourselves what more can we give to our church communities.”
So far, one parish closure has been confirmed. After 106 years, St. Timothy’s Parish in Adamsville, N.B., will close its doors for good this spring. According to Vienneau, the closure is a result of low attendance.
“There are only 15 or 20 people who attend Mass regularly at St. Timothy’s,” said Vienneau, who presided over the final Christmas Mass at St. Timothy’s.
Although the closure is not ideal, Vienneau says parishioners at St. Timothy’s have options.
“One of the questions the archbishop asked was, should your parish close, will parishioners have access to another church nearby?” said Mulligan.
According to Vienneau, St. Timothy parishioners are used to driving out of town for groceries and appointments, so getting to weekly Mass should not be a great hardship.
Moncton is not the first archdiocese to run into financial issues. Nearly a dozen American dioceses have filed for bankruptcy following sexual abuse scandal lawsuits, including the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2004 and the even larger Archdiocese of San Diego, which filed in 2007. The Catholic Church has spent $1.269 billion on settlements in the United States alone.”