PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania (ChurchMilitant.com) - On Saturday the diocese of Pittsburgh released its reorganization plan, On Mission for the Church Alive! clustering 70 percent of its parishes, merging 188 parishes into 57 multi-site parishes, and reshuffling what few priests are left. The diocese will be organized into four vicariates, each with its own set of multi-parish clusters.
One parish cluster, the New Castle Area listed in the fourth vicariate of the diocese, is a merger of seven parishes. There are also three clusters of six parishes and five clusters of five parishes. Besides St. John XXIII, the Traditional Latin Mass parish for the diocese, the only parishes left unmerged and not included in any cluster is St. Philip Parish in Crafton, which is already a merger of two parishes a mile apart, Ascension Church and St. Philip, and St. Katharine Drexel and Southeast Washington County.
Meanwhile, the diocese is hosting and promoting a speaking event with Leah Libresco, a contributing writer at the liberal Jesuit publication America. Libresco has publicly stated that she is in favor of "civil gay marriage."
In 2017 the diocese was anticipating the number of priests to plummet from 211 to about half — only 112 — by 2025. Currently 200 priests serve the diocese with 42 of them over retirement age and 15 expected to retire in October, a Diocesan official told Church Militant.
Other alarming figures include the fact that Mass attendance is down by 40 percent and Catholic school enrollment has been slashed in half since 2000. The number of Catholics has declined since 1980 by one third.
Bishop 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 actions of the bishop may suggest otherwise.
In September, Church Militant reported that the diocese of Pittsburgh was conducting a charismatic worship event dubbed “Festival of Praise,” which CBS Pittsburgh called "a raucous, hand-waving affair that doesn't even look Catholic at all." The diocese is hosting another Festival of Praise event on May 19.
On April 4, 2017, 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 picture of what may be the future normal.
Corrections have been made to this article: St. Katharine Drexel is unmerged with any other parish in the Diocese. Updates on numbers of priests serving the Diocese and expected to retire have also been added.