Excerpt from The Windsor Star: Empty pews worry Bishop Fabbro
A new in-depth report on the state of the Roman Catholic church, released Thursday by the Diocese of London [Ontario], paints a picture of waning faith and points to a need for rebuilding, says Bishop Ronald Fabbro. "I found this report hard to read," the bishop wrote in a message to all clergy and church employees that accompanies the 65-page document. "Many of us are saddened by the losses our Church has experienced in our own lifetime."
Fabbro goes on to state the study, which was begun last fall and includes data, analysis and projections on everything from attendance at mass to technology and volunteerism, should not be seen as a "source of discouragement" but as a tool to understand the trends, the rapid changes and point to solutions.
Among the report's findings is that church attendance for diocese churches in Windsor and Essex County has dropped by six per cent in the past three years. That compares with a 3.5 per cent decline in other areas of the diocese. The report also showed there are about 450,000 Catholics in the diocese but average weekend attendance is only about 14 per cent of that population. There were 120 parishes in 2010, down from 171 in 1975.
Data on sacraments, from baptism, confirmation and marriage to funerals also shows "constantly declining" participation, with numbers off by more than 18 per cent in some cases since 1975. The declines have begun deepen after 1993. The report blamed declining birthrates and smaller student populations in Catholic schools for some "but not all" of those losses.
Fabbro was at a loss to explain the reason for the higher percentage locally, but suggested part of the problem may have begun with church reorganization which has seen many parishes close and others consolidated since the 1990s. He said that work is more or less complete now and the remaining parishes are being readied to serve into the future. That, he said, will begin the process of rebuilding.
He also blamed part of the decline on the ongoing controversy over the sexual abuse of children by priests, which, the report concludes "has also led to a loss of trust in the moral authority of the church" and priesthood. "I'm committed to making sure that the church is safe for children," said Fabbro, when asked about the long-lasting impact of sexual abuse cases. "That's essential and we have to continue to be vigilant."