As many as two-thirds of the 280 Catholic parishes in Boston are working with the archdiocese to find a solution for their financial difficulties, according to church officials.
Houses of worship across the commonwealth have been closed for close to two months since Gov. Charlie Baker issued a stay-at-home advisory and closed non-essential businesses in mid-March. The lack of weekly collections has made it difficult for some parishes to cover their expenses.
“The financial consequences of the suspension of Masses has been dramatic and onerous,” Terry Donilon, spokesperson for the archdiocese, said in a statement on Wednesday. “While some number of our parishes were struggling financially before the virus and had been borrowing from the Archdiocese to make ends meet, a much larger number of parishes is now suffering from the sharp decline in donations.”
Donilon’s statement came after Boston Archbishop Cardinal Sean O’Malley suggested last week during an online web conference that parishes may want to consider merging to make up for financial shortfalls brought on by the pandemic.
Donilon stressed that no parishes are being forced to merge.
“The Archdiocese is working with parishes to prevent a situation where they are forced to close their worship sites because they can’t pay a utility bill or are confronted with a major repair essential to safe operations such as a blown boiler, that they cannot fund,” he said.
Margaret Roylance, a long-time member of the Catholic lay-group Voice of the Faithful, said her parish, Our Lady Help of Christians Parish of Newton, formed a collaborative three years ago with Sacred Heart Parish of Newton Center.
Roylance said the suggestion to merge parishes that are having financial problems is a viable option, but that she doesn’t see it as a directive to close parishes.
“I’m not a cheerleader, necessarily, for the archdiocese in this case, but I'm heartened by their approach,” she told WGBH News.
Roylance says the collaborative she’s involved with is essentially two separate parishes with two separate parish councils. She said the two parishes have come closer as communities, “but the key is having a good pastor.”
Father Paul Soper, secretary for evangelization and discipleship for the archdiocese, said unlike a collaborative where parishes keep their assets and obligations separate, a merger would create a completely new parish.
“In a merger, both of the parishes stop existing and a new parish is established, and that new parish absorbs all of the assets and all of the obligations of the two previous parishes,” Soper said. “So, on the day that a merger starts, Parish A ceases to exist, parish B ceases to exist, and a new parish C begins to exist.”
In recent years, the “the merger option had been introduced … on a case-by-case basis to parishes that were experiencing significant financial strains at that time,” Donilon said.
Parishes in Somerville, South Boston and Lynn merged prior to the crisis to “solve their financial barriers and in those cases, parishes are seeing the benefits,” he added.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Father Paul Soper's last name. It is Soper, not Sopher.