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Issue Date:  April 18, 2008

-- CNS/Octavio Duran

Franciscan Fr. William J. Weiksnar blesses palms prior to a Palm Sunday Mass outside St. Anthony of Padua Church in Camden, N.J., last year. St. Anthony is one of the 22 parishes that will not be restructured under a diocesan reorganization plan announced April 3.
Two dioceses face major changes

Two U.S. dioceses -- New Orleans, La., and Camden, N.J. -- announced major reorganizations in early April that will see a significant number of parishes closed or merged in each jurisdiction.

New Orleans will see 33 parishes closed, reducing the number of archdiocesan parishes to 108. The mergers, closures and shared-pastor arrangements reached far beyond the Hurricane Katrina flood zone to touch parishes in relatively undamaged communities.

Bishop Joseph A. Galante of Camden announced a reconfiguration plan April 3 that will reduce the number of parishes in the diocese from the current 124 to 66 over the next two years.

Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans called the downsizing “a pivotal moment in the history of the archdiocese.” The archdiocese reports it has 385,000 Catholics served by 334 priests.

Fr. Michael Jacques, one of the architects of the process, said the archdiocese does not yet have a plan for selling any of the churches. Hughes said he prefers to find another ministry-related use for them, followed by some civic use “for the common good,” reserving sale for commercial use as a third option.

No parochial schools will be closed, but none will be opened in the foreseeable future, Hughes said.

Church planners said the reconfiguration was required in the face of Katrina’s massive damage, which has left communities thinly populated even three years later. The storm stripped the archdiocese of 20 percent of its Catholics, forced the migration of thousands of families from one part of the archdiocese to another, and left the regional church with $120 million in uninsured flood damage.

Citing the need to bring new vitality to parish life, Galante said parishes in the six southern counties of New Jersey would be reconfigured into 38 merged parishes; three parish clusters, involving a total of six parishes; and 22 standalone parishes.

Galante said the reconfiguration came in response to population changes, a decline in religious practice, fewer priests available for ministry, and changing pastoral priorities.

Camden has about 500,000 Catholics, with a growing Hispanic population. Currently, 162 diocesan priests serve in parishes, but this number is expected to fall to 85 by 2015.

Galante said the reorganization would help revitalize parish life by “combining human and financial resources in a way that ... better serve the needs of the people.”

-- Religion News Service and Catholic News Service

National Catholic Reporter, April 18, 2008

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