Part 15: Recognizing our realities

Friday, January 15, 2016 - Updated: 6:00 am
By Bruno Bonacchi

Part 15 of a weekly series.

When Bishop David Zubik was installed at St. Paul Cathedral as the 12th bishop of Pittsburgh on Sept. 28, 2007, he asked us if we were excited about our Catholic faith. What he wanted for the Church of Pittsburgh is to be a "Church Alive!" with vibrant ministry and evangelization. To help realize that vision, he began a planning effort called On Mission for The Church Alive! It is important to recognize our current realities as we pursue that vision:

Reality 1 — Fewer people attend Mass on a regular basis. In 2000, nearly 250,000 people across the diocese attended Mass weekly. In 2015, that number was a bit under 150,000, a 40 percent decline.

Reality 2 — There are fewer priests to minister in our 200 parishes as well as our region’s hospitals, nursing homes and prisons. As Father Mark Eckman outlined in last week’s On Mission column, the number of active priests in the diocese is projected to decline from the current 225 to approximately 125 by 2025 — less than 10 years from now.

Reality 3 — Many of our parishes are struggling financially. Despite the decline in Mass attendance, parish income has remained relatively stable due to the generosity of our parishioners. However, as we all experience in running our households, parish operating costs continue to increase. Over the past three years, the number of parishes in the diocese that ran operating deficits (their expenses exceeded their revenues) increased from one-third to nearly one-half of our 200 parishes. Some of these parishes consistently run deficits and have depleted the savings they had built up over the years to pay their bills.

Reality 4 — The number of school-age children in most of the six counties in the diocese continues to decline, affecting enrollments in public and Catholic schools. In the 2000-01 school year, approximately 24,000 students attended 102 Catholic elementary schools. This year, there are about 12,000 students in 59 Catholic elementary schools, creating a challenge to keep tuition at affordable levels and at times placing additional pressure on parish finances.

Reality 5 — Parishes in affluent areas generally have more resources and are able to provide a greater breadth of ministry than parishes in less affluent areas. As a result, the ministry and services available to parishioners and communities is uneven and often dependent on the affluence of the neighborhood where the parish is located.

The result of these trends is that, in too many parishes, revenues from offertory and fund-raising are used primarily to meet the day-to-day operating expenses of the parish. Fewer and fewer resources are available each year for ministry and evangelization.

In order to achieve Bishop Zubik’s vision of a Church Alive! for all people of the diocese, it is critical that we address these realities during the On Mission planning process. That means that all of us need to pray, study and work together to determine how we can increase resources for ministry and evangelization. This is important not only in our local parish community but for all the people of the Church of Pittsburgh.

Bonacchi is the chief financial officer of the diocese.

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