PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) -- Dealing with declining numbers of priests and dwindling numbers of parishioners, The Catholic Diocese of Providence is considering some big changes in an attempt to strengthen Diocesan parishes.
In an exclusive interview with Eyewitness News, the Most Reverend Thomas J. Tobin said the Diocese is adapting to the changing times.
"We're going to have to be creative. We're going to have to be flexible." said Bishop Tobin. "The people who are used to going to the same Mass every Sunday and sitting in the same pew next to the same people every Sunday, some of those things will have to change because we can't expect one priest to say seven or eight masses in a weekend when before there were two or three priests doing the same thing."
Tobin, the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Providence, said that while it won't be a reorganization of the Diocese, Catholics can expect changes, like one priest serving two or more parishes.
The bishop added that while many churches in the Diocese are stable, others are struggling with their finances and Mass attendance.
"For the most part our parishes are doing very well," said the bishop.
On a recent Sunday at St. Charles Borromeo Church in the west end of Providence it was standing room only during one of the Spanish Masses.
For other parishes without large endowments, fewer parishioners in the pews means less money in the coffers.
"We have a handful that are in pretty serious financial difficulty and we're working everyday with those parish communities," said the bishop.
Eyewitness News has learned that several Catholic parishes are thousands of dollars in debt, including a Cranston church that's $890,000 in the red.
"The Parish as it exists right now has to change in some way," Bishop Tobing said of St. Ann Parish in Cranston. "They have enormous financial problems. They just can't go on."
Church leaders have confirmed that St. Ann Parish has been sold to the Eparchy of St. Maron and will become the home of St. George Maronite Parish in July.
Bishop Tobin admitted that a few other Catholic churches may have to close in the next year.
"At the moment, there very possibly might be one or two parishes that might be affected," said the bishop. "It's very hard to still predict."
Over the past two years, about 25 priests have either retired, died, been suspended, moved out of the Diocese of Providence or left active ministry while five men have been ordained. In addition, church leaders said several more priests are eligible to retire next year. With fewer vocations to the priesthood, the shortage of priests could mean changes to Mass schedules and the continuation of one priest overseeing several parishes.
Even with the challenges, the bishop says the Catholic Church in Rhode Island is moving forward.
"Overall, I would say the state of the Church of the Diocese of Providence is very positive and very strong," said the bishop.
Currently there are 144 parishes in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence with 11 priests overseeing 23 of the parishes.
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