Slope church merger is off, but others are coming

Mass mutual! Two Slope Catholic churches to merge
Community Newspaper Group / Julie Rosenberg

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

A Park Slope church merger has been postponed — but other chapels will be eliminated as the Diocese of Brooklyn scrambles to cut costs.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio announced that the proposed merger of St. Augustine’s and St. Francis Xavier churches, both on Sixth Avenue, has been put on hold “pending further analysis,”

Church officials made the announcement in March, but relented after intense lobbying by parishioners, according to a source.

Instead, six other parishes, including Greenpoint’s Holy Family and St. Anthony–St. Alphonsus, where Mass attendance has dropped 17 percent in the past five years, will consolidate by June 30.

And five Brooklyn parishes, including Gravesend’s Our Lady of Grace, Flatbush’s Our Lady of Refuge, Bushwick’s St. Catherine of Genoa and St. Jerome and Sunset Park’s St. Michael, must send a church committee its plans for financial stability within two months.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens said the mergers were being done to combine church resources, curb priest shortages and help boost attendance.

“The Vatican does not want to close churches,” said Diocese spokesman Shane Kavanagh. “Parishes should do what they need to do to be financially solvent, say selling off real-estate holdings short of closing.”

But some parishioners believe the mergers are the next step toward a wave of downsizing that could close scores of small chapels throughout the so-called Borough of Churches as Catholicism continues on the decline.

“That’s what happened to us,” said Juan Ramos, a parishioner at Montserrat Church, which was shuttered in January in a consolidation with All Saints Church in Bushwick.

“They are probably going to do this while they merge accounts and see where the purse is,” said Ramos. “That’s best for them.”

The merger announcement is the second phase of the church’s long-term plan to reduce debt.

Parishes incurred $217 million in debt in the last decade, even after the Diocese forgave $118 million in 2000. The religious group estimates it runs a deficit of about $8 million per year.

The church’s debt has risen as its population has dwindled — today, 1.56 million Catholics call Brooklyn and Queens home, down 100,000 souls from 12 years ago.

And the number of priests has also declined sharply from 627 in 2000 to 533 last year.

Community Newspaper Group / Julie Rosenberg