Is the Catholic Parish in Crisis? by Timothy P. O’Malley

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Churchgoers sitting in the pew

By Timothy P. O’Malley, Public Discourse, Feb. 22, 2021

Timothy P. O’Malley is a faculty member at the University of Notre Dame in the McGrath Institute for Church Life. He is the recent author of Off the Hook: God, Love, Dating, and Marriage in a Hookup World.


The future of the parish depends on taking Catholic belief and practice more seriously, rebuilding neighborhoods of solidarity within the parish, and proposing Catholicism as integral to human flourishing.

In my doctoral program at Boston College, the predicament of the Catholic parish was a frequent topic. At the center of the sexual abuse crisis, parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston had seen precipitous declines in Mass attendance. Many parishioners refused to contribute money to their local parish, fearful that it would be used to pay off lawsuits.

Sexual abuse crisis or not, parishes in Boston were going to change. Parishes were established in the city during the zenith of Catholic immigration to the United States. A church on every street corner might have been necessary in 1900, but it was unsustainable in 2006. Even with a slight uptick in vocations to the priesthood, it remains impossible to sufficiently staff each parish in the Archdiocese. This dilemma will exponentially increase in the coming decades, as older clergy retire.  …