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CURRENT ISSUE:  February 20, 2006VOL. 44, NO. 4Oakland, CA

New Orleans Archdiocese to close 30 of its churches

The Archdiocese of New Orleans will indefinitely shutter more than 30 badly damaged churches, consolidate dozens of parishes and elementary schools, and permanently close seven parishes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The casualties include historic St. Augustine Church, founded in 1841 as the mother parish of black Catholics in New Orleans. The church will remain open for a weekly Mass, but its parishioners will become part of a neighboring parish.

“This plan calls for self-sacrifice in service to the common good,” said Archbishop Alfred Hughes.

Before the hurricane in August, the archdiocese was home to an estimated 491,000 Catholics in 142 parishes.
Hurricane recovery is well under way in many of the Church’s suburban parishes, but damage is deep in much of New Orleans, Plaquemines Parish and St. Bernard Parish.

Six months after the storm, 35 parishes have no worship life whatever, the archdiocese said. Meanwhile, the archdiocese faces uninsured losses of $84 million, Hughes said.

Officials said the reconfiguration represents their best attempt to ration scarce insurance money and concentrate rebuilding around centers of vitality in a severely flood-damaged region.

It also reflects the extent of the storm damage, which affected nearly a third of the Church’s 1,200 buildings across the eight civil parishes that comprise the archdiocese.

For instance, in St. Bernard Parish, the plan consolidates what were once eight churches into one. Plaquemines Parish will have two working Catholic churches where there were once five. And in New Orleans, 24 damaged churches will be consolidated into 11.

In many cases, damaged churches will be shuttered and parishioners told to attend a neighboring parish with more residents or a greater chance of recovery, officials said.

Those dormant parishes will continue to exist on paper, but will not reopen until a returning population can call them back into service and repairs can be financed, Archbishop Hughes said.

Streetlights illuminate damaged homes in the upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans. An estimated 330,000 people displaced by Hurricane Katrina have not decided whether to return permanently to the city.


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