When Liberal Churches Have to Close

You may be a good soldier, but the closing of churches that preferred politics to the gospel makes you feel like an avenger.

By Peter Wolfgang Published on June 30, 2017

I have lived my entire life as a Catholic in the Archdiocese of Hartford. On June 29th that archdiocese closed dozens of parishes.

The parish where I was baptized, another parish where I made my First Communion, a third parish where I was confirmed and married: all gone, or soon to be gone, or merged. So are three more parishes where our seven children were baptized, made their First Communions and were confirmed.

My sympathies are largely with the archdiocese. There are 545,000 registered Catholics here, but only 122,000 attend Mass on Sunday. The missing 423,000 include members of my extended family and almost everyone with whom I grew up. Their absence saddens me more than do the closed buildings.

But I have strong feelings about the parish closings too. To borrow the taxonomy of the brilliant and blunt Anthony Esolen, I am mostly soldier with a little avenger mixed in.

When Persecution Comes

In “What Will You Do When the Persecution Comes?” Esolen laid out four Catholic reactions to external pressure against — and internal strife within — the Church: the Persecutor, the Quisling, the Avenger and the Soldier.

We certainly have plenty of the first two types in the Northeast. It’s no coincidence that Esolen’s two examples for the Persecutor are from Connecticut and New York.

Parishes that were hotbeds of dissent helped bring their own closings on themselves. I can’t help wondering how things would have worked out if they had chosen a different path. 

I strive to be the one good type Esolen mentions, the Soldier. But I confess that there is a little of the Avenger in me when I read of some of these parish closings. Particularly when I read Hartford Courant columnist Susan Campbell’s tearjerker about the closing of one liberal parish.

It is a wonderful thing that this parish fostered upward mobility for the local Hispanic community. But you know what else a Catholic parish is supposed to foster? Catholicism.

We don’t read a lot about that in Campbell’s column. Instead we read that “conversations rarely strayed from politics” and that “It was all politics.” The priests preached liberation theology while the laity “went along that ride with them.”

So, I ask myself: Should I really feel bad that we’re losing the church that helped form the politics of former Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez? This was the pro-abortion, pro-same-sex marriage politician who pulled out of a state Capitol prayer event, at the request of his gay constituents, rather than be seen in public with me. (He later went to prison, though not for that.)

Mostly Soldier

Should I feel bad that we’re losing the church where the laity “went along that ride” with the priest that was teaching liberation theology?

I do, actually. I feel bad.

Look at the church in the photo accompanying Campbell’s article. It’s beautiful. I hate that it’s closing. Because I’m mostly Soldier, I view every parish closing as a defeat. I pray that the archdiocese’s pruning leads to new growth.

But because I also have a little Avenger mixed in, I can’t help thinking that parishes that were hotbeds of dissent, parishes that helped launch only politicians who oppose Church teaching, helped bring their own closings on themselves.

And I can’t help wondering how things would have worked out if those parishes had chosen a different path. Imagine if those parishes in the Archdiocese of Hartford had spent the last 40 years fostering the Catholic orthodoxy of Pope St. John Paul II and the liturgical solemnity of Pope Benedict XVI.

Where would we be right now?

Where Would We Be Right Now?

Every parish might have reverent music and children who play for hours after Mass in the church’s backyard, like St. Mary’s Church in Norwalk.

They might have the renowned Catechesis of the Good Shepherd religious education program for children and the faithful Frassati fellowship for young adults like the Dominican-run St. Mary’s Church in New Haven.

They might have the vocations-fostering homeschooler community whose young men serve at the altar every day like the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford.

The Archdiocese of Hartford today might be a model of the proper implementation of Vatican II, like Cracow, Poland, under the future Pope John Paul II. Or the Denver of the early 2000s under Archbishop Charles Chaput.

Many fewer parishes would be closing today. Many more people would be at Mass. How much better a moral and spiritual condition might Connecticut be in right now?

We’ll never know.

The Avenger in Me Says

The Avenger in me says that the Archdiocese of Hartford has 85 fewer parishes today because some of those parishes thought that liberation theology was more important than the theology of the body, that the spirit of the age was more important than the spirit of the liturgy, and that the culture of death was more deserving of political support than the culture of life.

In the end, it was their own parishes that died.

The Soldier in me remembers that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” May the death of these parishes produce the fruit of a New Springtime of faith for the Archdiocese of Hartford.


Attorney Peter Wolfgang is president of Family Institute of Connecticut, an organization dedicated to encouraging and strengthening the family as the foundation of society. Follow him on Twitter at @Peter_Wolfgang. Follow the Institute at @FICAction.

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  • Patmos

    ““unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.””

    Except Jesus was righteous, and died so that we may live through the promise of the Holy Ghost. Doesn’t sound like these parishes served God, and so I kind of doubt their death will bring about much of anything, unless people start getting back to his Spirit anointed word.

    • Rick-Susan Decker


  • Ed of Ct.

    I live in Naugatuck Waterbury area. Despite a INCREASE in Population in Naugatuck from 15-30 thousand residents and Waterbury from 90 to one hundred and Fifteen Thousand residents over the last decades there are a Huge decline in Rc novus Ordo churches. Most of the population increase have been in Hispanics and Lebanese immigrants here. Yet there has been a decline in the RC faith here. ……. I joined a Maronite church. Parish is thriving and our Pastor is having to cover Waterbury Hospitals due to shortage of Novus Ordo priests. Almost ALL of the dozens of Friends ,family members -Children nieces and nephews etc. cite the unwillingness of RC clergy to act upon or remove Homosexual predator priests from ministry until lawsuits and bad press forced them to act on clearly HOMOSEXUAL pederast priests. Very Sad. Obviously few if any of my family or friends have any interest in the RC faith at all now. .

  • Barbara Anne Tullock Nadon

    I attended a pastoral planning meeting in our CT deanery. A liberal priest had his representatives all fired up to protest. He himself said the answer was female ordination. It was a sad testament to the state of the Church in Connecticut. This problem is 50 years in the making. Prayers for all those who lost their parish or the Church. We lost two and merged the remaining two. Our Pastor consecrated our new parish to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and we prayed a Litany to our new patron saint, St. John Paul the Great. Pray for us.

    • Richard Malcolm

      Even if he *could* somehow ordain women, that would not supply the other thing Hartford is running out of: laity, and the support they provide to keep up the Church and its staff and services.

  • smk629

    Thank you for this very thought provoking article. I am a member of the Diocese of Cleveland, and we went through the same thing 7-8 years ago. My own parish merged with another parish, one mile away. Our parishes couldn’t have been more different.

    My original parish was much like that described in the article. Liberal political homilies were the norm, which was unpleasant and unsatisfying, as much as conservative political homilies would have been. We parishioners need only turn on the television if we want politics – we are there for spiritual nourishment and worship. We loved our pastoral staff, but politics created a barrier between us and to God. We were also a magnet for the Hispanic immigrant community, and for the inner-city homeless population. We still are, and it is a great blessing.

    Our sister parish, with which we merged, was very conservative, and smaller. They had a parish school. Their Masses were a bit different. They skipped the Sign of Peace, and they used their altar rail for Communion. They were a little more introverted that we were, but they were very good, kind Catholic people. Their pastor urged them to obey the Bishop and accept the merger, and to look on it as God’s wish for them to go forward. Most of them did, as did we.

    When we learned we were to merge, parishioners from both parishes prayed a Rosary novena, which went on for a good 15 months. It was very loosely organized. Whoever wanted to participate did, and no one kept tabs on anyone. We knew the merger was unavoidable. But we also knew we needed a good, faithful pastor to lead us, and we knew we all needed to accommodate parishioners from both parishes, who were going to be our new family. While we waited for the merger to go through, which took some time, we attended Mass at each others’ parishes and got to know our future fellow parishioners. It was a painful process, but there was also joy.

    We were abundantly blessed. In the midst of other, far more contentious and ugly mergers, ours was unusually peaceful and loving. It took a lot of prayer and time, and it wasn’t without missteps. But we were blessed and grateful. We were sent an exceptionally able and faithful pastor, who seemed to be custom ordained for us.

    Unfortunately, in my opinion, 2 years later we were unmerged on the orders of the Vatican, which agreed with a few parishioners who lobbied for it. Most of these same parishioners did not return to support the newly-reopened parish, and it is limping along with one weekly Mass attended by less than 100 people. The rest of us stayed with the merged parish, including me. We continue to share our excellent pastor. But perhaps it is all God’s plan.

    I do not think anything happens without some good coming out of it. Our merger was not a mistake. We are still a family, but it is an extended family instead of an immediate family. We are all better for it. Much of the credit goes to our faithful pastor, but most of it is because I think God heard our prayers. Anything God touches always has some hope and good attached to it.

    I sincerely ask for God’s blessing on the Archdiocese of Hartford. I ask for your prayers for the Diocese of Cleveland, that we may be sent a faithful bishop who is truly a good shepherd. I also ask for your prayers for my parish and our sister parish, and our parishioners and pastor. – Susan, ofs

  • RT Neary

    Very well written. Quite similar to what has transpired in the MetroWest area of Greater Boston.

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