Twenty five years ago, the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg merged a number of churches, most of which were in Northumberland County. Merged sounds much better than closed, but closed they remain.

After all, those who control the language dominate the debate. This, however, is no debate since closing churches has become business as usual affecting more U.S. dioceses than not.

Catholics are not alone as most mainline Protestant churches are also withering on the vine. With its acceptance of contraception at the Anglican Lambeth Conference of 1930, the Church of England skated down the slippery slope followed by the rest. From birth control, acceptance of abortion under certain conditions, divorce, women ministers and priests, gay clergy and same-sex marriage, the mainliners are fading away even faster.

What do you call “the reorganization” campaign of a Catholic diocese that shutters 131 out of 188 churches that was recently announced for the Pittsburgh Diocese? “On Mission for the Church Alive!”

I wonder how much money was squandered hiring a public relations firm to come up with that oxymoronic ditty.

The Pittsburgh Diocese which comprises southwestern Pennsylvania was once a thriving Catholic bastion. But the soul snatching trio of chronic priest shortages, falling Mass attendance and liberal shepherds like Bishop, now Cardinal Donald Wuerl, and now David Zubik have taken what appears to be an irreversible toll.

Bishop Zubik does himself and his flock no favors by promoting a speaking event with Leah Libresco, a writer at the liberal Jesuit publication, America, who supports “civil gay marriage.” Such an affair only breeds more ambiguity and confusion toward the church’s magisterium and longstanding tradition for those left in the pews.

Last September, reported the diocese conducted a charismatic event dubbed “Festival of Praise,” which CBS Pittsburgh called, “a raucous, hand-waving affair that doesn’t even look Catholic at all.” Another one was held Saturday, May 19.

Presently, the diocese is served by 211 priests, 86 of whom are over the retirement age of 70. That number will plummet to 112 within a mere seven years. Mass attendance is down by 40 percent, and since 1980, the number of Catholics has hemorrhaged by one third. Pennsylvania has the fifth largest elderly population in the U. S. This is one plausible excuse why more people over 65 attend Mass than the younger generations.

There are plenty of others, however. Nearly 80 percent of Americans identify as Christian, yet according to LifeWay, more than half have read little or none of the Bible. The Barna Research Group identified only 4 percent of those 21-and-under have a biblical worldview. “The percentage of teens who identify as atheist is double that of the general population,” Barna found. An astounding 74 percent of millennials believe morality is a matter of cultural consensus. Most young people are indifferent to religion. This is supported by the “nones” — those with no religious affiliation — that now comprise the second largest group in terms of religion, right behind Catholics.

By the way things are going that won’t be for long.

In a recent display of sacrilege, the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum in New York hosted: “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” with Cardinal Timothy Dolan endorsing. Singer Rihanna was outfitted in some of the Vatican’s most treasured vestments as pope, and Lana Del Rey as Our Lady of Sorrows. In keeping with the sacred integrity of the Vatican, women are to cover their shoulders, but not this night as they waltzed around showing off an ample supply of leg and cleavage wearing the symbols of salvation as mere props while dressed like streetwalkers.

So much for the “New Evangelization.”

What you won’t hear preached from the pulpit is how abortion, contraception, divorce and homosexuality have led to a dearth of young families and a major drop in vocations to religious life. The church is enduring a demographic winter throughout western civilization and its effects are made more visible daily.

When a church has more funerals than baptisms, the end result won’t be favorable.

If Pittsburgh is anything, it is the new normal. And for those other dioceses across Pennsylvania and throughout the Western world — expect more of the same.

And sooner than you think.

Greg Maresca is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and a Bloomsburg University graduate. He lives in Elysburg.

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