As attendance and revenues decline, 3 Camden County parishes put on notice

Posted: March 15, 2014

CAMDEN COUNTY Faced with low Mass attendance and declining revenues, three Roman Catholic parishes in Camden County may be facing consolidations or other changes.

Letters were distributed last month to parishioners at St. Joachim and St. Rita parishes, both in Bellmawr, and Emmaus Catholic Community Church in Mount Ephraim notifying them that changes were likely, Peter Feuerherd, a diocesan spokesman, said Thursday.

"There are issues that need to be addressed," Feuerherd said, though the letters from the parishes' pastors do not offer specifics.

The parishes have eight churches that serve a dwindling and aging population, he said. None has a parish elementary school.

The pastors were unavailable for comment Thursday.

"The ultimate question is, what is the future of the Catholic ministry in those areas?" Feuerherd said.

He said diocesan officials hope the parishes will develop recommendations to address the attendance and fiscal problems. Although there is no timeline for reaching a decision, he said, "there is an urgency."

St. Rita's and Emmaus were formed as a result of mergers in 2010, and St. Joachim through a consolidation in 2011. Then-Bishop Joseph Galante closed or merged nearly half of the 124 parishes in the diocese in the hope of creating a smaller but more vibrant Catholic community.

The restructuring met with resistance and anger from some churchgoers. At the time, the merger was the most sweeping consolidation of any Catholic diocese in the United States.

Today, the diocese, which includes Cape May, Atlantic, Cumberland, Salem, Gloucester, and Camden Counties, has 70 parishes and an estimated 500,000 members. Sunday Mass attendance hovers around 23 percent, though the exact size of the membership is difficult to measure. The diocese estimates it is home to 100,000 Catholics relatively recently arrived from Latin America, many of whom do not register with a parish.

856-779-3814 @mlburney

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