BOSTON (AP) -- A plan to revive the Boston Archdiocese by organizing its 288 parishes into 135 clusters that share staffing and resources has reached Cardinal Sean O'Malley for final approval.
The Boston Archdiocese devised the plan over nearly two years as it faces potentially crippling problems, including a priest shortage, and worsening financial and attendance numbers. The proposal aims to keep parishes intact while a push to draw back lapsed Catholics reinvigorates the archdiocese and fills up churches again.
Two key archdiocesan groups, the Presbyteral Council and Cardinal's Cabinet, approved the proposal earlier this month. O'Malley will make his decision by November.
The Rev. Paul Soper, interim Director of Pastoral Planning, said Monday that after an extraordinarily damaging decade, including the exposure of the clergy sex abuse scandal and widespread parish closings, the archdiocese has rejected retreat and chosen to believe in a better future.
"If we start closing parishes, we're giving up," Soper said. "This pastoral plan is specifically not giving up. We're saying we have something that is extraordinarily precious ... and that is the person of Jesus Christ."
Just 16 percent of Boston's 1.8 million Catholics attend Mass and 40 percent of parishes can't pay their bills -- a number Soper says is worsening. Also, an aging corps of about 330 priests in active parish ministry will fall to under 200 in a decade.
Under the plan, the parishes are grouped into 135 collaboratives consisting of one to four parishes and headed by a single pastor, with shared clergy and staff under him.
The list of which churches will collaborate isn't final, though preliminary groupings have been released. If O'Malley approves the plan, the first of the collaboratives -- including 10 to 15 churches -- could be functioning by mid-2013, with the others phased in over five years or so.