The faithful departed

It wasn’t that long ago that the Roman Catholic church was a spiritual, political, and social force in Massachusetts. With the influx of European immigrants beginning in the 19th century, Catholic churches peppered the landscape, with even smaller towns having multiple parishes.

But since the turn of the century – and the bomb that was the clergy sex abuse scandal – the church has been diminishing in both size and clout. Not only are churches continuing to be closed or merged, Catholic schools are shutting their doors as well, forcing parents to either send their children to public schools where they don’t get the type of education the adults want or find the money for other private schools.

The Boston Archdiocese has closed or merged nearly 150 parishes since 2001. Declining attendance, much of it due to backlash against the way the church handled the clergy sex abuse scandal, resulted in a dramatic drop in revenues to sustain the churches. Cardinal Sean O’Malley, a confidant of Pope Francis, has announced a plan to form collaboratives between churches that will trigger moving and sharing priests among remaining distressed churches.

In Fall River, Bishop Edgar de Cunha announced the diocese is launching a review of all 82 of its parishes with some church closings likely. In many of those parishes that will close are schools where students will be forced to either find seats in other Catholic schools or return to the city’s public classrooms.

The Fall River Diocese, which stretches from North Attleboro to Provincetown, has 17 elementary schools, three high schools, and two schools with grades 7 through 12. But the diocese, which has about 6,400 students, is already beginning the transition.

Officials announced the elimination of grades 5 through 8 at the St. Margaret Regional School in Buzzards Bay. Those students whose grades are being cut have been given the option of attending another diocesan school in Hyannis, a long ride especially come late spring and early fall, due to Cape traffic, for parents who will have to transport their children to the schools.

But in a 2016 report that foresaw much of this, the reasoning for consolidation could be applied to all Catholic schools.

“The move from religious to lay teachers and administrators has added to (diocesan) school costs,” says the report. “As a result, many schools are struggling financially. Increasingly, the struggle to keep tuition within reach of families while providing a high-quality education and compensating staff at a just and competitive level is a fundamental challenge to the business model of Catholic education.”

Boston Archdiocese officials are feeling the same pressure. Marian High School in Framingham, thriving for decades since it opened its doors more than 60 years ago, announced it will be closing at the end of the school year because of declining enrollment. The incoming freshman class would have had just 16 members, which would have brought the school’s enrollment down to a projected 185, down from 221 this year. At its peak, Marian had more than 900 students with waiting lists from area towns.

Church officials and priests recognize that diminishment of the faithful and say their plan moving forward is to recapture that tie the church had with parishioners for centuries.

“In the church, we call it the new evangelization — an outreach to those Catholics who have fallen away or are disconnected with the life of the church,” says Rev. Paul Soper, the Boston Archdiocese’s secretary for evangelization and discipleship and director of pastoral planning. “If we only stick with what we’re comfortable with, we’re much more unlikely to think beyond the concepts we are comfortable with.”

JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

Sen. Karen Spilka and Senate President Harriette Chandler agree Spilka will take over as president the week of July 23, the hectic last week of the legislative session. It appears Spilka plans to leave her old post as chair of the Ways and Means Committee unfilled. (CommonWealth)

State Sen. Walter Timilty said he doesn’t believe his colleague Sen. Michael Brady, who is facing a second offense drunken driving charge, should resign and applauded Brady for “facing the challenge” by seeking treatment. (The Enterprise)

Military records at the Concord Armory dating back to the early 17th century will be moved to the state archives in Boston when a planned $8 million expansion is completed. (MetroWest Daily News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Springfield housing officials get a search warrant and inspect South Congregational Church, where a Peruvian woman has sought sanctuary from federal immigration officials. The inspectors find minor violations. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump wants to escalate the trade war with China, seeking an additional $100 billion in tariffs. (Time)

Career officials and even Trump political appointees at the EPA have been demoted, marginalized, or forced to resigned for questioning Administrator Scott Pruitt’s lavish spending and traveling habits. (New York Times)

Trump said he didn’t know about the $130,000 payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels by his attorney. (Associated Press)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren offers tempered remarks on the deployment of National Guard troops to the US-Mexico border, a posture Joe Battenfeld thinks is part of an effort to broaden her base. (Boston Herald)

ELECTIONS

Warren says at a Dorchester town hall that she “plans” to serve a full six-year term if reelected this fall. (Boston Globe)

Republican US Senate candidate John Kingston bashed Donald Trump fiercely during the 2016 election, dropping his Republican party registration and trying to recruit an independent candidate to run against Trump, but he’s singing a Trumpier tune now in his GOP bid for office. (Boston Globe)

Beacon Hill Democrats, who have played friendly footsie with Charlie Baker throughout his first term, have not exactly helped set the table for an aggressive challenge to the Republican governor from the Democratic nominee this fall. (Boston Globe)

David Bernstein wonders whether progressive votes could splinter among four Suffolk DA candidates and hand the Democratic primary to Greg Henning, the one candidate who says he would have voted against Beacon Hill’s big criminal justice reform bill. (WGBH News)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Justice David Lowy of the Supreme Judicial Court rules that the Berkshire Museum can move forward with the sale of its artwork in a bid to raise $55 million the facility believes it needs to put the institution on solid financial footing. (Berkshire Eagle)

A survey released by the Chronicle of Philanthropy shows donors are the source of two-thirds of sexual harassment complaints among nonprofit fundraisers.

EDUCATION

The chief academic officer at the College of the Holy Cross defends, on academic freedom grounds, the work of a religious studies professor whose writings characterized Jesus Christ as a “drag queen” with “queer desires.” The professor’s writings were highlighted by a conservative student newspaper. (Telegram & Gazette) The National Review wonders why a Catholic school would even hire such a professor.

Two Boston Public Schools headmasters have been placed on immediate leave, but school department officials aren’t saying why. (Boston Globe)

UMass could take over Mt. Ida College, a struggling, small private school in Newton. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

HIV cases among injection drug users are soaring in Lawrence and Lowell. (Boston Globe)

Our Bodies, Ourselves, the iconic Boston-based “bible of women’s health” that has been updated and reissued every five years since its introduction in the 1970s, will cease publication after its next issue and move all online due to financial pressures. (Boston Globe)

Patients and researchers are hoping for positive results from the first stem cell-based drug therapy for late-stage ALS, which is being tested at six sites across the country, including Mass. General Hospital and UMass Medical Center. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

A new system making it possible for planes to land in low-visibility conditions at Worcester Regional Airport is expected to attract more flights. (Telegram & Gazette)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Ken Driscoll of Solect Energy said the governor’s clean peak strategy needs a tweak. (CommonWealth)

The Braintree Conservation Commission will develop a plan to allow bow hunting of deer prior to the fall hunting season on lands controlled by the board in an effort to thin the population. (Patriot Ledger)

CASINOS

The state gaming commission hires a Canadian firm to investigate the finances of Wynn Resorts. (Boston Herald)

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe plans for a casino in Taunton are foundering. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A judge ordered the dismissal of 11,162 convictions tainted by former state drug lab chemist Sonja Farak. (MassLive)

A Supreme Judicial Court decision holding that Massachusetts law enforcement officials are not required to hold immigration detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement is having an unexpected side-effect. ICE officials have responded by not releasing any detainees for state court appearances — even in a child rape case — because they don’t know whether they will get the detainee back. (Salem News)

While many are applauding the criminal justice bill hammered out by the Legislature, don’t count Bristol Sheriff Thomas Hodgson among the fans. Hodgson called some of the measure’s mandates dealing with corrections “outrageous.” (Standard-Times)

A Raynham woman who was the clerk for the Easton Planning Board and served as the treasure of a public employees union for four South Shore towns pleaded guilty to stealing more than $60,000 from the union and was ordered to make restitution and serve three years probation. (The Enterprise)

MEDIA

Who’s writing the editorials at the Boston Herald? No one’s talking. (CommonWealth)

This is interesting. The news surfaced on Monday at a meeting of the Fiscal and Management Control Board but the Globe waits until Friday to report it. Here’s the Globe’s Friday story on an increase in bus driver absenteeism at the MBTA, which is causing a rise in missed trips.  Here’s CommonWealth’s story from Monday on the same issue.

An Eagle-Tribune editorial criticizes the practice of charging whopping amounts of money for public records.

“I walked in, and kapow!” veteran radioman Rod Fritz tells Herald columnist Jessica Heslam, describing his unceremonious firing from WBZ radio. A Herald editorial offers him a salute.