Montclair Local’s coverage of discord at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church regarding its merger Immaculate Conception Parish (to form St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish) has been long on amplifying discordant voices at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and short on describing the underlying causes behind scores of Catholic parish mergers throughout the United States.

As the former executive director for Diocesan Planning (from 2008 to 2014) for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Metuchen, I feel it’s important to look at the causes of these mergers and not get sucked into that tired narrative of the wicked bishop and his pastors persecuting the embattled parishioners. It’s simply incorrect.

A hundred years ago, the U.S. bishops set up ethnic or “personal” parishes as a way of responding to waves of Catholic immigrants. They neither anticipated the current mobility of Americans nor the assimilation of the grandchildren of the founders of these parishes into American society. The result across New Jersey and other northeastern states has been a gradual diminishment of membership in ethnic parishes like Our Lady of Mount Carmel, formerly an Italian parish.

Add to that the growth of secularization in the United States and the significant drop in the number of men seeking ordination as Roman Catholic priests, and you end up with a dramatically unsustainable situation. So, the members of St. Teresa of Calcutta parish who worship at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church want their own priest? Get in line! Who doesn’t want that? Don’t they know there’s a priest shortage?  In some states, Roman Catholic priests pastor as many as five parishes at the same time. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parishioners have it pretty good, sharing the Rev. Benny Prado with one other worship site within the same parish.

What is most troubling is the way these parishioners have focused their anger and grief at Prado, who has tried to be a shepherd to both communities, neither of whom asked for this “shotgun marriage.” It seems that nothing he does will satisfy the loudest voices. It’s not his fault that many Italian Catholics either left the area or left the Church, leaving a small congregation of (mostly) elderly people that is simply unsustainable. At the end of the day, that is the cause of this unfortunate situation. It’s nobody’s fault — and it is unfair to blame the priest assigned to cultivate a new Catholic community from this union of parishes.

Jeffry Odell Korgen

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