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Seattle Catholic Archdiocese plans to consolidate parishes across Western Washington

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The Seattle Catholic Archdiocese is working on a plan to consolidate parishes in the region.

"The very practical thing that we are doing is forming 'parish families,'" said Archbishop Paul D. Etienne in a video announcing the effort which they are branding "Partners in the Gospel."

"Parish families" means bringing two or more parishes together. The Archdiocese of Seattle says the reason for the consolidation is multifaceted and strategic and that officials are developing a plan to re-envision parish life due to the impact of the pandemic and a drop in parish giving.

The Covid-19 pandemic did have an impact on attendance, and numbers have recently rebounded, but not to pre-pandemic levels. On top of that, fewer people are going into the priesthood across the nation.

Caitlin Moulding, CEO for the archdiocese, says attendance at Seattle-area Catholic masses has been on the decline. Fewer people means less parish giving. That places a financial strain on the archdiocese's ability to operate and maintain its facilities. The Archdiocese of Seattle operates more than 150 parishes and other Catholic sites across Western Washington, from Bellingham down to Vancouver, and throughout the Olympic Peninsula.

"When you have a parish that's struggling, you can't invest in faith formation programs and social justice programs, things that really bring the community together," Moulding said.

In addition to a decline in parishioners, Moulding said there has also been a drop in available priests.

“So today we have 80, diocesan pastors, and in 2036, we project that we will have about 66," Moulding said.

That's an 18% decrease in priests.

Parishioners will be given multiple forums to provide feedback on the new proposals for consolidation this fall. The consolidation is expected to take effect in the summer of 2024.

"All of the parishes within the archdiocese, the a vast majority of them anyway, will become part of a parish family that includes two or more other parishes," Moulding said. "And they will be served by one pastor and one or more parochial vicars, and that that's basically an assistant priest ... and over a three-year period ... they will determine how they will become one canonical parish."

In the meantime, the Archdiocese of Seattle will be communicating with Catholics about how they feel this plan should form.

KUOW's Dyer Oxley contributed to this report.

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