WBEN Photo/Matt Moran

Local Catholic Church Leaders Host Forum to Discuss Future

Declining attendance among several topics brought up

June 21, 2018 - 5:25 am

AMHERST (WBEN) - There has been plenty of negative attention cast on Buffalo's Catholic Diocese in recent months due to numerous revealed sex abuse scandals. However, Catholic leaders say last nights forum, hosted by St. Leo the Great Parish in Amherst, was planned before the abuse stories surfaced.

For what purpose?

To address declining attendance as well as to get a feel for how parishioners view the church's future.

"Research shows that in recent years, when people are asked to check off a block - 'Are you a Christian, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Catholic or none' - more and more people, especially younger people are checking off 'none, I have no religious affiliation at all,'" said Bishop Richard Malone. "And that is growing."

The forum began with remarks from Bishop Malone. Dr. Anthony Pivarunas, Sister Denise Roche, former president of D’Youville College and chair of the NFTA, and Rev. James Vacco, who serves as pastor of St. Bonaventure Parish, participated in the forum.

Father Robert Zapfel runs St. Leo, and he acknowledged the recently uncovered wrongdoings made by the church, while also saying that everyone must learn and look to the future.  

"We know there's been some sickness in the church, some difficulties," said Zapfel. "But there are remedies, and we're moving in the right direction more and more."

There were several hard hitting questions from those who attended the forum - ranging from women entering the priesthood, to celibacy, to engaging younger generations.

One thing that Bishop Richard Malone and the four panelists did agree on is that the future of the church likely looks smaller with fewer priests, but still maintains an influential presence.

Denise Roche expanded on the thoughts of a diminished church.

"As the Bishop said, the church will probably be a little bit smaller," she said. "I believe that, at least in the United States, the active membership of the Catholic Church will decline and will be smaller. But that means that we're going back to our roots."

Bishop Malone declined interviews, and the leaders of the forum all agreed that they want to keep a positive and future focused perspective moving forward.

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