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Archdiocese announces final parish reorganization plan

Published: Dec. 1, 2021 at 9:43 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 6, 2021 at 8:14 AM EST

Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr announced Sunday he is ready to move forward with an ambitious restructuring program that will impact every Catholic parish and school across 19 Ohio counties.

The reorganization, known as Beacons of Light, will consolidate the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s 208 parishes into 57 “families of parishes,” which will begin sharing priests, staff, facilities and other resources early next year.

Over time, church officials expect those parish families to become single parishes, eliminating more than 70% of the archdiocese’s parishes and setting the stage for the possible closure of churches and schools.

The impending changes are in response to a declining number of priests and to demographic shifts that have left some churches and schools with fewer Catholics to support them.

Archbishop Schnurr: ‘Work of the church is never complete’

Schnurr, who has acknowledged the changes will be challenging, told Catholics in a recorded message Sunday that the restructuring was necessary and ultimately would “enable us to form stronger parishes.”

“The work of the church is never complete,” Schnurr said. “The work of Beacons of Light will have a powerful and a positive impact on the future of this archdiocese.”

Schnurr also discussed the restructuring program Sunday during Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter in Chains in downtown Cincinnati.

“The Lord has blessed us in the work that we have done,” he said.

Following Schnurr’s announcement Sunday, the archdiocese unveiled the final version of the Beacons of Light plan, which first was presented in October and then underwent revisions based on input from parishioners and priests.

The final revisions did not fundamentally alter the reorganization plan – it remains one of the most dramatic in the archdiocese’s 200-year history – but they did shuffle some parishes and schools from one family to another.

Church officials said they made the revisions for a wide range of reasons, including geography, ties to parochial schools, cultural similarities, connections to religious orders and long-standing relationships between parishes.

More than 7,800 Catholics weighed in on the plan during the three-week public comment period, said archdiocese spokeswoman Jennifer Schack.

She said the input “brought a fresh set of eyes and brought to light the local considerations that were important to collectively get to a stronger arrangement.” Church officials made 27 changes to the plan based on that input.

“We hope the open comment period made it a plan that everyone can embrace,” Schack said.

The final version of the plan eliminates what had been the largest family of parishes, located northeast of Dayton, which included 11 parishes in Champaign, Clark and Logan counties. That parish family now is split into two.

Other parish families expanded, most notably in the south region near Cincinnati, and the total number of parish families across the archdiocese’s 19 counties was reduced from 60 to 57.

The archdiocese posted the final version of its plan on its website at noon Sunday, along with information about how and why it undertook Beacons of Light.

Cincinnati diocese reorganization: What are the next steps?

It took more than a year of planning for church officials and outside consultants to come up with the maps of the parish families, but much more work remains to be done.

The first step is to disband existing parish councils and create new ones that will represent all the parishes within each family. The next is the appointment of pastors in February and March to lead each family.

The most visible change, at least early in the process, will likely be to Mass schedules. Pastors and parish councils will have to decide which churches get which Masses to accommodate everyone in the new parish families.

Harder decisions will come later, when those same councils and pastors will consider whether to close or consolidate schools and churches.

Schnurr has said those decisions will not be made by him or by anyone at the central office of the archdiocese. “Some family of parishes may come to the conclusion that we really don’t need all of these campuses,” Schnurr said in October. “That is going to be a decision by the family of parishes.”

The Rev. Jan Schmidt, who oversaw Beacons of Light, urged Catholics on Sunday to get involved with the process of bringing the parish families together.

“The hard work now begins,” Schmidt said. “This is not going to be easy for any of us.”

Some Catholics and lay organizations, including members of Voice of the Faithful, have complained that the archdiocese should have involved more parishioners earlier in the process. Schack said church officials also heard some of those complaints during the public comment period, but most Catholics, enthusiastically or not, understood why the changes were being made.

A 177-page report prepared earlier this year for the archdiocese found Mass attendance declined 22.5% between 2010 and 2019, Catholic school enrollment fell 14% over the same period, and the number of priests, which has been declining for decades, was projected to drop another 18% by 2031.

“Should we not do this, we would be basically managing decline,” Schack said. “That’s not fulfilling the mission of the church.”

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