We know that Catholic archdioceses throughout the country have had to close churches within their jurisdiction.
We know that the reasons for the closings are related to shifting population patterns, financial troubles and a shortage of priests.
We know that since Hurricane Katrina, other religions have seen some of their buildings closed locally because of population loss.
We know that to many people, a church is a place they want to avoid.
Yet we also know this about churches, especially in post-Katrina New Orleans:
They are an energy center for the neighborhoods, a part of the landscape and culture.
Churches are links to the city for many generations of people, places where family marriages and burials where held; where relatives went to school; where love was first sparked at dances in the gym.
To many people, especially in Catholic New Orleans where there has historically been a large native base, the history of their lives traces through the neighborhood church.
Instead of following the template established by other jurisdictions for closing churches, the Archdiocese of New Orleans could have made a strong statement for the recovery by being the exception. It could have created a new model by establishing a face-to-face dialogue with interested parishioners and sincerely trying to create partnerships to save the churches.
Not all parishes were salvageable, but some were. Because of its resistance to dialogue, the Archdiocese has alienated some of the people who care the most about the church.
We know also that the Archdiocese knows that it can last longer than the resistance and that sooner or later those who care about the churches will tire and the resistance will go away. Therein lies the tragedy – matters that are personal and spiritual to parishioners, and that are critical to neighborhoods, have been reduced to strategic standoffs by the church.
Last Christmas Eve, midnight Mass was held at Our Lady of Counsel Church. Recently a throwback CYO dance enlivened the neighborhood around St. Henry’s Church. Both are Uptown churches that could have survived. There was money; there was willingness by parishioners to develop a plan. Citizens of a democracy are accustomed to there being channels of communication with people in authority but the church isn’t a democracy, yet it cannot survive without its parishioners.
We know that archbishop Alfred Hughes faces the argument that if he reverses himself about some churches then he might have to do the same with all closed churches. But the argument is spurious; some former parishes clearly cannot support themselves but those that can deserve a chance.
We urge the archbishop for the sake of the city, if not his archdiocese, to change his position, meet with parishioners and try to save the churches.
Last Christmas Eve the Mass at Our Lady of Good Counsel ended with a chorus of “Silent Night.” It was meant to be a carol, not a prophecy.