Diocese of Columbus Announces Church Closures

The Catholic Diocese of Columbus in Ohio has announced plans to close 15 churches as part of a strategic reorganization and merger initiative. However, Bishop Earl K. Fernandes has emphasized the potential for growth and encouraged greater involvement of lay Catholics in shaping the future of the Church.

Bishop Fernandes expressed his commitment to fostering growth within the diocese, stating, “I am determined to prevent a prolonged decline and instead work towards expanding the Church, not for personal recognition, but for the glory of God.” He emphasized that the reorganization plan aimed to find the best possible solution for the entire Diocese of Columbus.

The bishop underscored the importance of an engaged laity who share responsibility for the Church’s mission of evangelization and collaborate closely with the clergy to ensure the future well-being of their parishes. The Diocese of Columbus currently serves over 278,000 Catholics across 108 churches spanning 23 counties in central Ohio.

The need for these changes arises from declining church attendance, a shortage of young priests, and population shifts both in rural areas and within the Columbus region, according to WOSU 89.7 NPR News. Additionally, two Catholic schools will be closed as part of this reorganization effort.

Despite these challenges, there are also signs of growth within the diocese. Bishop Fernandes highlighted an increase in the number of Spanish-speaking and French-speaking African congregants over the past decade. Moreover, the diocese has seen the enrollment of 15 new prospective seminarians this year, although their ordination will require several years of study and preparation.

Bishop Fernandes noted that Columbus is experiencing growth as a city with numerous employment opportunities in the Midwest. However, like many other dioceses, it faces the challenge of an aging clergy. Therefore, action was necessary not only to address the diocese’s contraction but also to advance its mission of evangelization.

The bishop expressed optimism that the planned changes would pave the way for a brighter future for the diocese. He envisioned parishes that, in 10 or 15 years, would not merely maintain their current status but actively engage in evangelization and discipleship. Bishop Fernandes envisioned a “culture of vocations” within the parishes, complemented by beautiful churches and inspiring liturgical experiences.

Bishop Fernandes acknowledged that the diocese had a disproportionately large number of aging clergy, with 12 parish pastors over the age of 70. He stressed the importance of allowing these priests to enjoy a well-deserved retirement and acknowledged the need for energetic and capable leaders who can help parishes unite, evangelize, and minister to multiple communities.

To address the changing landscape, religious orders are increasingly involved in serving various parishes, especially those catering to ethnic communities and Spanish speakers. The Catholic Times, the diocese’s newspaper, reported that Capuchin Franciscan priests would join the diocese this summer to support two churches within a newly merged parish.

The diocese’s reorganization process, known as “Real Presence, Real Future,” began in 2019 under the leadership of Bishop Robert Brennan, Bishop Fernandes’ predecessor. The initial draft of the reorganization plan was released in the fall of 2021, and final recommendations were presented to Bishop Fernandes in the fall of 2022. Adjustments were made based on feedback from parishioners and priests, resulting in the current plan for church closures.

The Diocese of Columbus shares a border with the Diocese of Steubenville. However, a proposal to merge the two dioceses, which was under consideration in November 2022, has been put on hold.

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