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Since the 1960s, Detroit's Catholic parishes have been enduring death by a thousand cuts.
As prelates Cdl. John Dearden, Cdl. Edmund Szoka, Cdl. Adam Maida and Abp. Allen Vigneron rose up the ranks of the archdiocese, its parishes and people — indeed, the entire city — have suffered a moral and physical decline, making Detroit famous around the world for misery and murder.
Now, Abp. Vigneron is in the process of executing his latest plan — amalgamating the 216 remaining individual parishes of the diocese into 51 units (which are euphemistically being called "families of parishes").
This latest guillotining is scheduled to take place in two fell swoops, or "waves" as the archdiocese is calling them. The first wave is to begin in July; it will have predictive value for how the second wave will play out.
Detroit Catholics are heartbroken — and angry — as they become aware of the real reasons for the cuts. Indeed, many are no longer accepting the statements of their ecclesial leaders with blind faith.
One Detroit priest (asking to remain anonymous) told Church Militant:
The Roman Catholic Church from the start, a gift of the first French settlers to the Detroit area, was key to the growth of Detroit, to the great metropolis that it became in the 20th century. The eradication and demise of the Roman Catholic Church in Detroit prefigures Detroit's total dissipation into the backwater that it now is. Just a casual drive along Eight Mile [Road] these days is an illustration of what Detroit is without God, just one pot store after another, interspersed by strip clubs.
"Without God, Detroit is now a soulless wasteland," he added.
Affected parishioners — even those too young to remember the city filled with churches — have expressed their heartbreak. One woman who looked to be in her 30s told Church Militant that her "heart is broken" to see churches consolidated and closed or sold to other religious groups or secular entities.
She explained that her home life had always been full of dysfunction, but she felt she could count on her parish to steady her.
"Not anymore," she said, laying blame for the collapse of the Church (and the city) squarely at the feet of the archdiocese. "How can something thrive when those in charge are hell-bent on its destruction?" she wondered. "Magnify my case with every other resident of the city and you see what we got — it's evil."
In the 1950s and 60s, Detroit was a city of neighborhoods and traditional families. Each neighborhood had a Church, some a mere block or two from another — St. John Cantius in old Delray, All Saints in the heart of industrial Detroit, St. Martin of Tours in the southeast corner of the city, St. Stanislaus a stone's throw from the Detroit Institute of Arts, St. Teresa of Avila off Grand River Avenue, St. Agnes off West Grand Boulevard, and on and on.
Some, like St. Boniface off Michigan Avenue, were demolished — even after it had been placed on the national registry of historic places in 1989.
The names of the parishes themselves served as a living book of saints for the faithful — a glimpse of the community of Heaven on earth.
Many parishes had grammar and high schools taught by nuns of various orders (such as Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Felicians, Sisters of Mercy and Dominicans) passing on the Faith and the sacred, reminding their students that wherever Holy Mass is celebrated, the angels always sing in praise.
This is more than a case of mere nostalgia. It is not coincidental that the city collapsed when the prelates stopped serving God. It is causal. The spiritual vacuum created by the prelates' 50-year maladministration of the archdiocese has ushered corruption and unhappiness into every cell of the city.
The sacred spaces of the churches aren't just disappearing; they are taking with them the very concept of "sacred" itself.
Prelates often claim a lack of vocations and dwindling numbers of parishioners make the cuts necessary. Twenty years ago, investigative reporter Michael Rose, in Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption Into the Catholic Church, explained how traditional Catholic men are screened out during the seminaries' application process and then demoralized into leaving if they manage to get accepted.
"The fact is that many qualified candidates for the priesthood have been turned away for political reasons over the past three decades," Rose wrote. "Systematic, ideological discrimination has been practiced against seminarians who uphold Catholic teaching on sexual issues; dissenters from Catholic teaching — including teaching on homosexuality — have been rewarded."
David Gordon, author of Rules for Retrogrades, recently tweeted: "The priest shortage is synthetic — of the Church's own making: My friend, a straight, masculine, faithful man (M.A. theo from Franny, J.D. from my law school) just got inexplicably turned down for seminary. It's absurd."
Church Militant recently presented a Persecuted Seminarians Summit featuring nine ex-seminarians who were persecuted — and kicked out of seminary — for their orthodoxy.
As to the dwindling number of parishioners, when did a priest last deliver a homily against contraception and abortion without being chastised by Vigneron or his ilk? How many souls were denied life and baptism into the Church as a result of clerical sins of omission?
And the biggest elephant in the room (which is not mentioned on the "families of parishes" webpage) is the millions of dollars paid out by the archdiocese in secret settlements and lawsuit awards to victims of clerical sex abuse. The source of this money, of course, was the largesse of faithful Detroit Catholics.
Detroit was once known as the "City of Churches." The seeds of Detroit's reputation for piety were sown with the French settlers' 18th-century construction of a humble chapel dedicated to St. Anne, the mother of Mary, on the shores of the Detroit River.
All this begs a terrible question: Which church will be the last standing before the prelates' final cut?
"The Church is suffering: She is trampled on, and Her enemies are within. Let us not abandon her," Cdl. Robert Sarah, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship, has warned as though he were speaking to the Detroit faithful.
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