PITTSBURGH (ChurchMilitant.com) - The diocese of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania will lose about half its priests in the next eight years, according to projected statistics in its diocesan restructuring plan.
Alive! appears next to the words "Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh" at the top of the diocesan website, referring to the parish closures and mergers that will take place starting in 2019. The program is called "On Mission for the Church Alive!" and involves preparations for continuing a pattern of decline that has been ongoing in the diocese for the last several years.
Of the current 211 priests serving the diocese of Pittsburgh, 86 of them are over the retirement age of 70. The diocese plans within the next eight years that the number of priests will plummet to 112, nearly half the number now. The 188 parishes in the diocese will also be reduced to an as-yet unknown number to cope with the priest shortage.
Diocesan spokesman Bob DeWitt told Tribune Review, "What we're revealing at this time is that this is going to be a phased implementation. All the priests and deacons are going to be assigned at once, and they'll go into the parishes, but the changes won't take place at the same time."
Other alarming figures include the fact that Mass attendance is down by 40 percent and Catholic school enrollment has been slashed in half, down by 50 percent, since 2000. The number of Catholics has declined since 1980 by one third.
One parish, St. John XXIII, offers the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) and is pastored by a priest who is within 10 years of retirement age. The parish was instituted less than six months before the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) bought and renovated the downtown parish of St. James. Church Militant has commented on the deleterious effect of the SSPX drawing faithful away from diocesan-approved TLM parishes, and a source inside the diocese has told Church Militant this is the case with St. John XXIII parish.
Bishop David Zubik, who inherited the crumbling diocese from former Pittsburgh head Bp. Donald Wuerl (now the cardinal-archbishop of Washington, D.C.), addressed concerns about the parish restructuring last year.
"The No. 1 priority has to be, 'We need to make our worship better,'" Zubik said. "Second of all, we need to do the best job that we can to get not only more ordained leaders, but we really have to open up lots of doors for the lay leaders of the church."
More recently, the bishop spoke in a video published in March about the role of evangelization in taking on the current drop in sacramental life and participation.
"To be on mission for the Church alive, means quite simply, we need to be excited about our faith," Zubik commented. "We need to be excited about our relationship with Jesus, we need to be eager to show it, and we need to be eager to share it."
It's not clear if in referring to one's "relationship with Jesus," the bishop necessarily means an active sacramental life in the Catholic Church. Past and recent actions of the bishop may suggest otherwise.
On April 4, the bishop participated in a ceremony commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant revolt. Zubik remarked at the time, "We all bear responsibility for the divisions that exist within us, but once we open up to the power and the love of Jesus, then miracles can, in fact, happen."
In August 2014, Bp. Zubik was present at a Protestant revival event hosted by Evangelical Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, called the Three Rivers Festival of Hope. Bishop Zubik gave the opening invocation on the Sunday following the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady. The Knights of Columbus also provided ushers for the Protestant event.
The website for "On Mission" does not mention the potential role of contraception, abortion, divorce or other social ills as a factor leading to a scarcity of young families replacing older Catholics in the diocese. Church Militant has often commented on the existing demographic winter in the Church in the United States, and the impending effects are becoming more visible in dioceses across the United States as an aging population of Mass-going Catholics begin to pass away. Pittsburgh serves a stark picture of what may be the future normal.