'Spiritual refugees' feel the loss of closed Catholic churches in Seattle. Some are appealing to the Vatican

Nina Shapiro, The Seattle Times on

Published in Religious News

More change is on the way in the archdiocese, which claims 600,000 members across Western Washington. Etienne early this year announced an initiative that will take a top-to-bottom look at how the church could be more effective, according to McClenahan. The effort will involve rank-and-file church members, she said, not just leadership, and "every parish so there won't be communities that are feeling singled out."

Additional closures are possible, McClenahan said.

Those affected so far are coping in various ways. Some have moved on to other parishes. Others are attending alternative worship services or, in the case of a small group from St. Mary, gathering weekly outside the archdiocese's downtown Seattle chancery on Ninth Avenue in a kind of prayerful protest. At least one former parishioner is taking a break from organized religion.

"There's still a lot of grief, I think, in the community, and anger," said Deacon Greg McNabb of St. Therese Catholic Church, the Madrona parish that subsumed St. Mary, by decree of the archbishop. "We're trying to do some outreach, but [also] just kind of allow people to be where they are, and not feel any pressure to make a choice, not at this point anyway."

McNabb said about 20 to 30 people have so far come from St. Mary, which counted roughly 375 households as members. Two-thirds of them attended a Spanish-language Mass, which St. Therese doesn't have.

"You don't know where everybody went," said Larry Pitre, a former St. Mary parishioner now attending Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in the Central District, which he sees as more multicultural than St. Therese. "You just know that now they're displaced."


Lisa Dennison, a St. Patrick parishioner, speaks in similar terms: "Some of us feel more like spiritual refugees in some ways because we're being forced out of our home," she said.

Too many buildings, too few priests

The archdiocese says it has little choice but to close churches.

Despite Western Washington's population boom over the past few decades, Mass attendance dropped by 18% between 2000 and 2021, and 23% in the South Seattle region that is the focus of the Seattle consolidation.


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