BOSTON — Archbishop Sean O'Malley met with 600 priests Tuesday to outline plans to close parishes -- a move he acknowledged was accelerated by the $85-million sexual abuse settlement.
"I want the Catholics to realize we are family and we must see ourselves as something bigger than our own parishes," O'Malley said.
With declining church attendance, a shortage of priests and a struggling financial condition, he said the Boston Archdiocese is left with no choice but to close parishes.
The archbishop said he does not yet know how many or which churches will be closed. He said priority will be given to churches serving new immigrant communities and parishes with schools. He plans to seek input from parishioners and clergy to make recommendations on how the parishes could be consolidated.
The first wave of closings will come June 1, followed by more Aug. 1 and a third group Oct. 1.
"There are so many familiar associations with a particular parish," he said. "It is a very sad moment, but unfortunately, it's a very necessary one."
A number of factors will be considered in making the decisions, including weekly Mass attendance and the "sacramental index" -- or how many baptisms, marriages and funeral services are performed in the parish. The condition of parish buildings also will be considered.
Some priests estimate that 50 or 60 of the 360 parishes in the archdiocese could close.
Priests who attended the meeting with O'Malley appeared resigned to the closings. The meeting came two weeks after the archdiocese announced plans to sell the archbishop's hilltop mansion and 28 surrounding acres to help pay for the settlement.
"Everybody knows this has to happen," said Father Robert Bullock, president of the Boston Priests Forum.
Church closings are not new. In the last 20 years, about 50 churches have been closed in the archdiocese, O'Malley said.
The archbishop insisted that churches are not being closed to pay for the settlement with more than 500 victims of clergy sexual abuse.
However, he acknowledged the closings were "accelerated" by the financial difficulties facing the archdiocese.