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Lori should not close the city's poorest churches

Archbishop William E. Lori at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary talking to reporters about the death of Cardinal William Henry Keeler two years ago.
Archbishop William E. Lori at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary talking to reporters about the death of Cardinal William Henry Keeler two years ago. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

On April 29, I, along with several hundred of my fellow Catholics committed to erasing decades-long racial injustice in our church, heard Archbishop of Baltimore William E. Lori’s pledge to reverse these horrid practices throughout the archdiocese immediately. He sounded and looked sincere in his promise. I wanted desperately to believe him.

However, just three day earlier, he issued a fiscal directive to pastors which lays down procedures for closing Catholic churches. The criteria this policy defines as the “fiscal viability” of churches also details the archbishop’s authority to close churches. This statement flies in the face of his commitment to us just three days later. If strictly applied, this fiscal policy will result in closing up to 75 percent of Baltimore City churches. How exactly does such a policy eliminate injustices to our communities of color? The policy is based upon “accepted business practices” but it is also a value statement in direct conflict with Christ’s example to care for everyone.

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Rather than devoting the archdiocesan fiscal and human resources to bolstering city churches through innovative financial practices, Archbishop Lori’s regressive approach will hasten the end of a Catholic presence in the United States’ premier see, the Archdiocese of Baltimore. I am ashamed.

Immigrants of color who have moved to Baltimore in recent years primarily settle within the city boundaries and worship in nearby churches. A large percentage of those families from Central and South America are practicing Catholics. They do not have cars to drive to the wealthier churches in Howard, Harford and Anne Arundel counties which will remain open.

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African-American Catholics who either live near city churches or intentionally drive to older churches in East and West Baltimore to worship will immediately feel the threat that your new fiscal policy imposes. Those families are the lifeblood of our church. They have devoted hundreds of hours each year to minister to the more unfortunate residents in and around their parish. These wonderful men and women are an inspiration to me by their Christ-like lives.

A church is more than a place of worship. A parish is at the center of our community. Our shared beliefs form us into Christ’s mystical body on earth.

How will we ever be able to trust Archbishop Lori again? Even if he adopts the most lenient application of this fiscal policy, my Catholic Church is in danger of selling out, becoming even more worldly, even more reflective of a flawed reliance placed on wealth and the acquisition of “things.”

Please make good on your promise, Archbishop Lori. Immediately rescind this fiscal policy.

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Ellen Marshall, Baltimore

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