Detroit's Archbishop Allen Vigneron will meet tonight with a 21-person panel to hear recommendations on realigning the area's six-county archdiocese in the face of an expected priest shortage.
The average age of the Detroit archdiocese's 293 priests is 62, according to the Free Press, and the archdiocese estimates it will have 30 percent fewer priests in the next 10 years.
The panel represents parishioners and is an effort to include the church's laity in decision-making.
"Undoubtedly, I will receive some recommendations for some parish clustering and some mergers, with the closure of some worship facilities, but I have no plan in my back pocket," Vigneron told the Michigan Catholic in late October.
Rev. Donald Archambault, who currently services two churches, St. Gerard and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in northwest Detroit, told the Free Press that changes would be difficult, but necessary.
"It's like when families merge. Nobody wants to move out of the house, but they realize for the future of the family, it's the best thing to do," Archambault said. "We built these buildings for much larger congregations. There once were 1,500 families at St. Gerard and 1,300 at IHM."
Miguel Rubio, who belongs to Our Lady Queen of Angels Parish in southwest Detroit and is working with the panel, told the Michigan Catholic that there is an urgent need for Spanish-speaking priests. "If the priest doesn't speak Spanish, people don't attend Mass," Rubio said.
The inclusion of parishioners in the realignment plan may be due to memories of a simlilar round of church closings in 1989. Around 30 Catholic churches shut down in Detroit at the time, according to the Free Press, and the announcements of the closings generated much pain and controversy among the archdiocese's laity.
Edward "Chip" Miller, chairman of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, said the panel's proposals had "been shaped through the use of data," explaining that participants have had economic data and housing data, as well as data -- both sacramental and financial -- on each parish to work with, the Michigan Catholic reports.
"The archbishop will look at the two. And in some cases, they will align. And in some cases, they won't, and that's where some decision will have to be made," archdiocese spokesman Ned McGrath told the Free Press.Vigneron will make a final decision on the archdiocese's realignment in February. The panel's recommendation will be available for viewing on the archdiocese's website at aodonline.org.