Archdiocese of Seattle announces final plan to consolidate Catholic parishes

Feb 7, 2024, 4:34 AM | Updated: 4:38 pm

The Archdiocese of Seattle recently announced its final plan that will see dozens of Catholic parishes in Western Washington consolidate.

The consolidation will see 136 parishes become 60 parish families, according to a letter written by Archbishop Paul Etienne. (A PDF of the letter can be viewed here.)

Each parish family will decide how to use its facilities, whether they’ll be used for mass and other church events, repurposed altogether or closed down completely. These changes will go into effect July 1. (A PDF of the list of parish families can be viewed here.)

“It’s been coming for a long time,” Rev. Jay DeFolco of Holy Cross, in the Lochsloy area between Lake Stevens and Granite Falls, told The Everett Herald. “I feel good about the process. I understand the needs, the shortage of priests is growing and it’s getting more challenging to be able to meet all of the needs of our community.”

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The creation of the parish families came after a year of consultation with parishioners, priests, deacons, school staff, the archdiocese’s Presbyteral Council and an oversight council, the Archdiocese of Seattle said in a statement that accompanied the announced list of parish families.

“Parish families were developed based on parishes’ size, geography, cultural and ethnic makeup, financial health, school presence and other considerations,” the statement reads.

Why the move to parish families is being made

A report released by the archdiocese in June 2023 titled “Current Reality Presentation” illustrated issues with an overall decline in mass attendance, priest numbers and funding. (A PDF of that report can be viewed here.)

The Catholic Church has been documenting declining numbers for some time. The archdiocese found mass attendance dropped 15.5% between 1999 and 2018, according to numbers reported in a 2021 piece in The Seattle Times. Catholic marriages also declined by almost 46% and infant baptisms dropped by 21.5%. Meanwhile, the numbers cited in that piece reported Western Washington’s population grew 28.4% over that time period.

The archdiocese’s 2023 report states mass attendance was down 11% between 2010 and 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The 2023 document also stated that 11% of 161 priests were eligible for retirement and 36% would be eligible within 10 years. Meanwhile, the archdiocese estimated two ordinations per year.

Looking at some financials, the organization also reported 64% of parishes were operating at a deficit.

In the summary of its 2023 report, the archdiocese stated that “pastoral resources are declining, and current structure of parishes and pastors is not sustainable.” It also explained that “parishes are ‘living beyond their means,’ while struggling to support staff, ministries and outreach.”

According to the Pew Research Center, 61% of Washington residents identify as Christian, while just 17% identify as Catholic. Evangelical Protestants represent the highest percentage of Christians in Washington (25%) with Mainline Protestant the third-most at 13%.

Looking more at those numbers, 32% of the state’s population identifies itself as non-religious or “unaffiliated,” while people who identify as Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu or any other world religion represent just 6% of the people in Washington.

Contributing: Steve Coogan

Frank Sumrall is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read his stories here and you can email him here.

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