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Should parishioners have voice in church closures? Lawmakers want to force the issue

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  • Staff Report 

A new bill proposed by State Sen. James Skoufis could grant parishioners in New York a more significant say in the potential closure or merger of religious institutions. The proposal comes after the closure of a church in the Hudson Valley and in light of growing concerns over the increasing number of houses of worship being closed or merged across the state.

The bill targets existing legislation that outlines parameters for some denominations in considering mergers. Currently, the law includes a provision allowing Methodist church members to vote before a merger takes place. Skoufis’ measure seeks to extend this provision to Catholics.

Skoufis introduced the bill in response to the merger of St. Patrick’s Church in Highland Mills with a neighboring parish. He argued that the congregation’s strength, the excellent condition of the facilities, and the importance of the church as a gathering place for the broader community warranted local input in the decision-making process.

Finger Lakes Partners (Billboard)

However, the New York Catholic Conference criticized Skoufis’ proposal, particularly its announcement during Holy Week, just before Good Friday and Easter. Executive Director Dennis Poust called the legislation “unconstitutional” and described the senator’s actions as offensive and exploitative.

Poust acknowledged that mergers are often emotional and difficult decisions for parishioners, driven by factors such as a nationwide priest shortage, changing demographics, and declining church attendance across denominations.