The Buffalo Catholic Diocese will soon begin making decisions on consolidation plans for its current 161 parishes and 34 schools in Western New York, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger told The Buffalo News on Thursday.
The first of those decisions could come “within months, if not weeks” after diocese officials reach out to Catholics throughout the diocese, the bishop said.
While not disclosing any specifics, Scharfenberger said some of the diocese’s churches and schools are likely to be consolidated to save money.
“I don’t want anyone to fear that specific churches have been earmarked, or that any decisions have been made already,” the bishop said. “But there will be some sacrifices. That is inevitable.
“Do three or four parishes that are right next to each other all have to have a 9 o’clock Mass every Sunday morning? It could be that, because of economic realities, some church buildings will have to be deactivated.”
The bishop added that he favors the “consolidation” of some parishes and schools, as opposed to “elimination.”
The bishop announced the formation of a Diocesan Renewal Task Force to look at best practices regionally and nationally and learn how others with diminished financial resources and reduced church and school attendance have carried out the work of evangelization, education and service.
Members of the task force include: Fred Attea, attorney; James Beardi, chairman of the Diocese Finance Council; Deborah Brown, pastoral administrator of St. John the Baptist Church in Alden; Deacon Timothy Chriswell, director of permanent diaconate; Carrie Frank, member of Diocesan Finance Council; Maureen Hurley, co-chair of the task force; Rev. Peter Karalus, vicar general of the diocese; Msgr. David LiPuma, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Basilica, co-chair of the task force; Sister Mary McCarrick, chief operating officer of the diocese; J. Brian Ruh, pastoral associate of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Williamsville; Joan Thomas, interim superintendent of Catholic Schools; Eileen Warner, director of parish engagement; and Rev. Bryan Zielenieski, vice chair of the Presbyteral Council.
A letter from the bishop will be read at all Masses this weekend, discussing the task force’s work.
Over the next few weeks, the diocese will sponsor a series of online “listening sessions” that will allow local Catholics to express opinions how consolidation should be handled, the bishop said.
Consolidation options have been studied by the diocese since late May.
Scharfenberger said financial pressures on the diocese – including its bankruptcy case, hundreds of lawsuits claiming abuse of children by priests and the Covid-19 pandemic – have forced the diocese to take a wide-ranging look at all its operations and find the best ways to spend limited funds.