By Larry Brooks
To fret over a church’s demolition is to lose sight of what’s important. Letter writers – many of whom are Catholic – complaining about the possible demolition of St. Ann Church reveal a misplaced concern about both the religion and the organized church. Worrying about a church building’s demolition is worrying about the effect, not the cause; about the symptom, not the disease.
A parish’s buildings are built by and for the parishioners, not the church hierarchy. The church offers its parishioners a sanctuary, worship services, sacraments, even social events. Through donations of money and, in years past, labor, buildings were constructed and maintained – utility bills paid, roof and boilers replaced, wood and plaster repainted, etc. It is a bottom-up process, not, as some people think, top-down from the Vatican and diocese.
The practice of the Catholic faith in the United States is in decline. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of U.S. Catholics who consider themselves “strong” members of the church has never been lower than in 2012. Four out of five Catholics who come to our pastor requesting once-in-a-lifetime sacraments – baptism, wedding or funeral – do not regularly attend Mass, volunteer or donate regularly. This type of practice will not sustain a parish. Catholics who blame the diocese should make their accusations in front of a mirror.
Lest readers think this doesn’t affect them, consider this: The Catholic Church in Western New York has always had a tradition of serving the weak and oppressed, the meek and the poor. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s central dining room on Main Street serves more than 90,000 meals a year and its various parish conferences help hundreds more with bedding, appliances, clothing and food.
Catholic grade and high schools as well as three colleges and one area university are an excellent alternative to public and private schools. The only alternative to Kaleida’s for-profit health system and the public ECMC hospital is the Catholic system with the area’s highest-ranked hospital, Kenmore Mercy. Catholic Charities serves 130,000 people in eight counties regardless of creed. Should the Catholic Church ever suffer a serious decline, then the burden of serving all these people, and others, would fall on others or else these people would not be served at all.
This issue brings to mind an early George Carlin routine. Al Sleet, the hippie-dippy weatherman, turning to the weather radar, points out a line of thunderstorms and says, “But right behind that is a line of Russian ICBMs, so don’t sweat the thunderstorms!” Likewise, church demolitions are like that line of thunderstorms; it’s the crumbling religion behind them that’s important.
Larry Brooks is a member of his parish’s council, a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and a Eucharistic minister.