If you want to rankle the average Catholic, conservative or liberal, talk about closing his/her parish, particularly if it is a chosen parish rather than just a geographic parish. For any readers who aren't Catholic, as Catholics we are all part of the same Church, led by the Pope, who is assisted locally by the bishops. The bishop's corporate arm, the diocese, owns all church property. The bishop is the one who decides where priests will be assigned. It is the bishop's job to make sure I have a church at which to attend mass and to make sure a priest is there, if possible.
Unfortunately, for many reasons, we have far fewer priests now than we did 50 years ago. From the 1970's onward, few men have become priests. Men who became priests in the 1960's and before, if they didn't leave in the 1960's or '70s are now reaching retirement age. This has led to a shortage of priests. Parishes, like mine, which used to be staffed with 2-3 priests are now down to one. Dioceses are forced to decide how to best allocate manpower. In many cities, including mine, there are many inner-city parishes which used to serve large populations which now are far smaller than their suburban counterparts--and within a few blocks of another parish in the same situation. Bishops in many dioceses, including mine, have made the decision to close some of these parishes. Sometimes money is the reason--aging congregations which lose members every year and are unable to pay the bills are often first on the chopping block but I suspect every round of church closings hits a parish or two that is financially viable and those are the ones that make the news. Those are the people who camp out in the church, who call in the media and who fight the bishops all the way.
Conservative blogger decry many closings as being the result of a generation of neglect of the faith. They suggest that the bishops recruit priests from conservative religious orders, particularly those devoted to the Latin mass. Rightly so they critise the closing of churches of beauty while ugly suburban parishes are left alone. Liberals see church closings as proof that the Vatican has to change its ways and ordain women and/or married men--or at the least, appoint lay administrators to parishes served by sacramental ministers who serve several parishes or have other weekday jobs.
The big talk radio station here was discussing church closings this morning. The personalities both claimed to be Catholic. Here in New Orleans, the reorganization plan was announced a couple of months ago. Most of the parishes to be closed are those which, for all practical purposes, have been closed since Hurricane Katrina. However there were at least two open and financially viable parishes on the list. These two parishes are within blocks of each other, in a wealthy area. They are also within blocks of the parish into which they are merging. Even combining these three parishes, the parish will have less than 1000 families, whereas most suburban parishes are close to 2000 and there is one parish that is predicted to have over 5000 families within a few years. I'm sure it is tough for these people to lose their parish,but I have to wonder where they expect the archbishop to find priests for three parishes within spitting distance of each other when he can't find parochial vicars for parishes with twice the population of all three of the parishes put together? As someone from across town it looks like a bunch of rich folks who are used to being able to buy their way who, because of the priest shortage, aren't going to be able to have their way.