Sunday’s announcement is the result of more than two years of work, Schack said, and organizers have compiled information from entities within the archdiocese, worked with a consulting firm, and had countless hours modeling the “Families of Parishes” map. It also included receiving and reviewing 7,800 comments provided by people after the draft was unveiled in October.
Shack wouldn’t say what changes were made ahead of the Dec. 5 release, but said, “There will be changes throughout the archdiocese, so it’s not one area that needed more consideration for improvement than others. But there were local considerations throughout the archdiocese that were adjusted.”
While the church is still focused on evangelization, Schack said the issues addressed in Beacons of Light won’t be solved by efforts to bring former and non-practicing Catholics back into the church.
One of the biggest issues driving Beacons of Light is the overall decline in priests (more young men are entering the priesthood but it takes time after graduating to learn to lead a parish as a pastor). But there are other issues spread throughout the 19-county archdiocese. It’s a stark reality that shows the church needs to do something to help it grow.
Other issues include:
- The total population of the 19-county archdiocese grew between 2010 and 2020 by 3.1%, and it’s projected by 2025 to grow another 1.3%. However, registered Catholic households have declined by 6% over that same timeframe.
- The decline was felt prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mass attendance declined by 22.5% between 2010 and 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Sacramental practice, including baptisms, first communions, confirmations and weddings, has declined by 19.4%.
- More than a third of church facilities, on average, are utilized, according to the Archdiocese. A decade earlier, it was closer to half.
The “Families of Parishes” plan will also call for only one church in a “family” to be a parish, while others will be downgraded to a chapel or oratory, which means they won’t be open regularly for Sunday Mass.
There are 160 active priests serving parishes in the archdiocese. The plan calls for 60 “families,” with one pastor per family, with the remaining serving as vicars or associated pastors.
But Schnurr said those decisions, which church will remain a parish and which will be reduced, will be made by the respective “families.” Decisions on schools will also be made by the respective “families,” according to the Beacons of Light website.
“[S]chool leaders have been engaged in the planning process. Catholic elementary schools are a direct ministry of individual parishes or grouping of parishes and play a vital role in parish life. After the Families of Parishes are implemented in July 2022, the Catholic schools will be included in the pastoral planning within each Family,” according to the archdiocese.
The Cincinnati Archdiocese Catholic school system is the fifth largest in the country with more than 40,000 students in 110 schools.
Schack said there was “quite a bit of range” with the feedback, with people offering criticism and relaying concerns to people. There were also hundreds of recommendations on improvements to the map, and all were “thoroughly reviewed.”
But the most are classified as general questions regarding Beacons of Light.
“They wanted to let us know what they were thinking about Beacons of Light and that was totally valid, and all that information was kept as well,” Schack said. “That was helpful and appreciated.”