The Archdiocese of New Orleans is expected to announce mergers of several parishes this weekend as clergy sex abuse lawsuits mount, according to reports emerging Friday evening.
The plan, resulting from a quiet, months-long consultation phase, includes a number of Black Catholic parishes.
The archdiocese, which filed for bankruptcy in 2020, has not yet released the full details but told local media outlets that internal discussions on parish viability began in 2016 and “have been ongoing.”
"The impact of the [bankruptcy] on parish pastoral planning is limited to the fact that the administrative offices of the archdiocese, because of its own financial situation and its need to maintain a balanced budget, can no longer supplement parishes and ministries that are struggling financially.”
The churches already revealed to be merging are three Black parishes in the city’s Gentilly neighborhood: St. James Major Catholic Church, which had been rumored for closure for years, Transfiguration of the Lord, and St. Gabriel the Archangel.
That number is expected to increase as of Saturday evening, when the archdiocese will reportedly make an official announcement of all affected parishes. At that time, pastors will also be allowed to begin reading letters detailing the plan during vigil Masses.
It is believed that the mergers and closures are more closely related to sex abuse lawsuits than the archdiocese has revealed, including a plan to sell parish properties to pay settlements to survivors.
In 2020, just before the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy, Archbishop Gregory Aymond told local Catholics their donations to parish churches would not go toward settling clergy sex abuse claims. This summer, however, as costs mounted, Aymond said local parishes and schools would have to bear some of these costs.
A source close to this weekend’s closure announcements said that proceeds from parish sell-offs would go toward any outstanding debts held by the churches in question.
“All remaining funds would be deposited for the use of the newly formed parish,” they said, noting that a combined parish would “open under a new name at a chosen location.”
Since the Chapter 11 filing, the archdiocese has already closed two Black Catholic schools in New Orleans, prompting protests as well as legal action. The two schools in question, both in the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans, were St Rita and St. Joan of Arc. Earlier this month, Ascension of Our Lord School in Laplace was slated for closure at the end of the school year.
This week, the archdiocese sold the St. Jude Community Center, a food distribution outfit used by the neighboring Black parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church (which houses the International Shrine of St. Jude). Also on the market is the Bishop Perry Community Center, named after the late Auxiliary Bishop Harold R. Perry—the first African-American Catholic prelate in modern history.
Parishioners affected by this weekend’s merger announcement will meet in the coming weeks to determine which of the parishes in a given merger will become the sole remaining worship site.
In previous months, parishes in the archdiocese had submitted “pastoral plan[s]” to help the archdiocese determine where mergers were needed. According to one priest in the city, these were intended to “prove viability based on ministries, sacramental life and, of course, finances.”
"Some parishes have the people and others have the money.”
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.
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