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Baltimore Archbishop William LoriLifeSiteNews

(LifeSiteNews) — The Archdiocese of Baltimore plans to eliminate 40 of its 61 parishes in the greater City of Baltimore area, in a consolidation plan that would shutter the city’s oldest continuously operating Catholic church and other historic sites.

The archdiocese issued on Sunday its “Seek the City” proposal, which plans to reduce Baltimore churches to 21 parishes at 26 worship sites. Low Mass attendance, maintenance costs of old churches, and “multiple unmet opportunities to better serve the needs of the broader community” were cited as the reasons behind the plan, CBS News reported Tuesday.

The schools paired with these churches will remain open after the parish consolidation, which is planned to begin in June. Among the churches being shut down are St. Vincent de Paul Church, which was dedicated in 1841 and is Baltimore’s oldest Catholic Church in continuous operation; as well as the historic St. Wenceslaus in East Baltimore, and St. Pius X in Towson.

We do need to do something because we’re not the church we used to be,” said Bishop Bruce Lewandowski, Vicar for Baltimore City. “And by that, I mean the church has decades ago when we had tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of Catholics in Baltimore.”

The move signals a historic low of church attendance among Catholics, not only in Baltimore, the oldest Catholic hub in the U.S., but in the West as a whole. The city of Baltimore has seen a particularly steep decline over the years – according to The Baltimore Sun, in a city that once had 250,000 Catholics, now only about 2000 Catholics regularly attend Mass there.

“We have more funerals than baptisms,” a woman from a city parish told the Sun. The Archdiocese of Baltimore has itself reported that funerals outnumber baptisms and converts combined at 33 other churches in the city.

The archdiocese has also shared that a sizable drop in church attendance occurred after church closures during the COVID-19 outbreak, with 20 percent of Catholics in the city attending Mass in 2019, versus only 9 percent in 2022.

According to Bishop Lewandowski, some churches may be repurposed, while “some of the buildings will be closed and some of them will have to sell,” CBS News reported.

Archdiocese officials say the consolidation process began two years ago, and is unrelated to their bankruptcy filing in September, which news outlets have noted occurred ahead of the October enactment of the Child Victims Act, which eliminated the statute of limitations in child sexual abuse claims.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore will be holding public comment sessions this month, so that local Catholics can weigh in on the consolidation plans. They will be taking place at the following times and locations:

  • Thursday, April 25, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Archbishop Curley High School, 3701 Sinclair Lane, Baltimore, 21213
  • (Spanish) Monday, April 29, 7:00 – 8:30 p.m., Our Lady of Fatima, 6400 E Pratt St, Baltimore, MD 21224 – Spanish language ONLY.
  • Tuesday, April 30, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Mount Saint Joseph’s High School, 4403 Frederick Avenue, Baltimore, 21229