Some Catholic churches in Manhattan could be closed as the Archdiocese of New York implements a strategic plan to consolidate the churches. Shifting populations, limited resources and fewer priests are among the factors driving the consolidation. At one midtown church facing possible closure, parishioners pray for a miracle.
The Church of the Holy Innocents is the only church in Manhattan offering a high Latin Mass every day of the week. It is such a rarity that many travel across the New York metropolitan region for the daily 6:00 pm service. Edward Hawkings makes the trek every day despite his disabilities, because the Mass inspires his soul.
“The Mass takes us to a different place. We concentrate at the Mass. It requires a great concentration. It lifts us up. It brings us to a different level, removes us from the world,” said Hawkings.
But this church, and others in Manhattan, are at risk. A program called "Making All Things New" by the Archdiocese of New York is evaluating the membership, ministry and fiscal solvency of the churches under its jurisdiction. Based on the results, some communities might see their churches closed as part of a consolidation.
The potential closure of Holy Innocents signals a larger problem to Thomas Basile, who has been coming to this church since he was a child. “It seems to me almost like someone is intentionally dismantling the Catholic patrimony of this city. This is basically a Catholic city with a Catholic history," said Basile.
The parishioners in Manhattan once made up 25 percent of the Archdiocese's population, but now they account for only 12 percent. That and the dwindling number of Catholic priests are just two reasons why the Archdiocese has to make hard choices, said communications director Joseph Zwilling.
“Any kind of change is always difficult. We understand that it’s difficult especially for people in their parishes who love their churches, who love the way things are, who don’t want to see any change. And we understand that. But we also realize that if that church is going to effectively meet the needs of the people, it has to meet the needs of the people as they exist today,” said Zwilling.
But some Manhattan Catholics fear that their historic, city churches - built on valuable real estate - are only on the chopping block to improve the Archdiocese’s finances. “The financial condition of the Archdiocese somehow may be corrupting decisions to make decisions to sell churches,” said Hawkings.
Zwilling denied that claim. He said the Archdiocese spends $30 to $40 million dollars a year to subsidize churches that cannot pay their debts, an amount that is unsustainable. The sale of a church will be the last resort, Zwilling said, and even when that happens the proceeds will be used for the parishioners.
The Archbishop of New York, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, is currently evaluating the program’s final recommendations and is expected to announce a decision in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, the parishioners of Holy Innocents pray for the future of their church. On the Feast of Corpus Christi, an annual celebration of the Eucharist, they took their faith to the streets as proof that the city is still home to a vibrant Catholic community.
Daniela Schrier writes for VOA, from where this article is adapted.