The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York announced plans Sunday to close 31 churches as 112 parishes merge in its latest restructuring efforts.
The plan -- dubbed Making All Things New -- will affect churches across New York City as well as those in Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Dutchess, Sullivan and Ulster counties upstate, according to Joseph Zwilling, an archdiocese spokesman.
The mergers will bring about different outcomes: 64 parishes will combine to create 31 new parishes, with one church in each to cease regular Mass and sacrament celebrations by Aug. 1, 2015, Zwilling said. Another 48 parishes included in the plan will meld, making 24 new parishes, with all churches remaining open for regular mass and sacraments.
The changes are expected to be completed over the next 10 months on a parish-by-parish basis. There are 368 parishes and an estimated 2.8 million Catholics in the diocese, Zwilling said.
"This time of transition in the history of the archdiocese will undoubtedly be difficult for people who live in parishes that will merge," New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan said in a statement. "There will be many who are hurt and upset as they experience what will be a change in their spiritual lives, and I will be one of them. There is nobody who has been involved in Making All Things New who doesn't understand the impact that this will have on the Catholic faithful. It will be our responsibility to work with everyone in these parishes so as to help make the change as smooth as we possibly can."
Zwilling denied financial reasons are behind the move -- which comes two years after 26 Catholic schools were shuttered in the archdiocese -- but said there are concerns about the number of priests remaining in the archdiocese as they age and congregation growth due to the influx of immigrant populations.
"It's a question of the size of the parishes and the congregations," Zwilling said. "By combining these parishes, you're combining their size and their presence together is stronger."
The proposal will be reviewed by the priest council of the archdiocese before a final decision is reached, officials said, with the final arrangements to be set in the coming months. Uses for the unused churches have not yet been decided, Zwilling said.