BUFFALO — Parish and school mergers may be in the future as the Diocese of Buffalo feels the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

The diocese can’t afford to continue its subsidy of Catholic schools in the current environment, according to a news release issued Friday afternoon.

An immediate process is needed among school leaders to assess the implications, according to the release. They’ll need to work to develop options for continuing Catholic education across the diocese.

The effects are also being felt by individual churches.

“The emergence and continuing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated financial challenges confronting parishes as well as Diocesan operations,” the release reads. “In light of a sharp decrease in parish revenues, as well as an anticipated decrease in donations to the annual “Fund for the Faith” appeal, the Diocese will be identifying options for potential mergers of parishes and schools, as well as identifying partnerships with other organizations and donors committed to Catholic education and the ministries determined to be vital.”

The news was included in an announcement of an initiative aimed at re-envisioning the diocese’s mission and fostering its renewal.

It describes “a thorough assessment of all Catholic ministries and operations,” looking closely at the current arrangement of churches and schools. Resources would be examined to see if they could be shared more broadly, while financial and operational strengths and weaknesses would be determined.

Decisions would be made about the long-term viability of churches and schools, along with other programs carried out at the diocesean level.

“The very harsh realities that have caused so much hurt and disappointment and damaged credibility in recent years must in no way obscure the vitality of our parish communities,” said Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, the diocese’s apostolic administrator, in the release. “It is in these vibrant parish families that we see such remarkable determination to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ in conspicuous ways that lift and empower others, while creating hope and opportunity among those most in need.

“This initiative to bring about renewal across our Diocese is all about creating greater reliance on one another, and creating even greater impact by combining our resources and harnessing the abundant expertise, talent and zeal of our people to bring about immense good,” he continued.

The Buffalo Diocese includes 161 parishes, 49 Catholic schools, more than 360 priests, 546 women religious; 129 permanent deacons; and 571,000 parishioners. It filed for bankruptcy this past February amid the ongoing clergy sex abuse scandal.

(Editor’s note: A previous online version of this story featured a photo of Notre Dame High School in Batavia. The school is independent of the diocese, including financially.)

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