CNA Staff, Nov 30, 2020 / 06:08 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Pittsburgh has announced that it will initiate its third round of parish mergers early next year, reducing its current 107 parishes to 81.

The mergers will take effect January 4, creating 14 groupings of parishes from 40 current parishes. The merger is the most recent step in the diocese’s “On Mission for The Church Alive” initiative.

“This is a pivotal time for our diocese as we plan for the future of the Church of Pittsburgh,” Bishop David Zubik said in a Nov. 28 statement.

“Southwestern Pennsylvania is radically different than it was 100, 50, 20, even 10 years ago, yet the work of the Church and our call from God to bring His love to everyone continues as strong as ever,” the bishop said.

“As we address the challenges we face in the Church today, the witness of working and growing together reflects the unity of the Body of Christ that is essential to our mission.”

Among others, the new parishes will include Mary, Queen of Peace, which brings together the parishes of Saint Mary of the Mount and Prince of Peace; and the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, which brings together the parishes of Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Joseph, and Saint Margaret Mary.

Each merger is taking place following consultation with parishioners, and a request by the priest-administrator of each grouping, which was approved by the diocesan Priest Council and Vicars General.

The merger is the latest step in the “On Mission for The Church Alive” initiative, which is reorganizing what began as 188 parishes into what ultimately will be fewer than 60 parish groupings.

The diocese’s strategic planning initiative began in 2015 in part as a response to declining Mass attendance, the financial struggles of some parishes, and fewer priests.

The situation was exacerbated by the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, which detailed sexual abuse allegations in six of Pennsylvania’s eight Latin-rite dioceses, including Pittsburgh. CBS Pittsburgh reported earlier this year that since the report’s release, Mass attendance had dropped 9% and offertory donations declined 11%.

In a letter to parishioners, Zubik stressed that the mergers, while difficult, are necessary to strengthen the local Church’s ministries and make them more effective for the future.

“This has not been a simple task. Jesus never promised that it would be easy to carry his message of love and mercy to others. He was clear that sacrifice would be necessary,” the bishop said.

“However, you are positioning your new parish for more effective ministry by addressing financial needs, sharing resources and allowing your clergy to focus on the spiritual work for which they were ordained,” he continued. “With your faith in Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, I invite you to warmly welcome and serve each other as you become one parish family.”

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