From the 05 May 2008 Lockport Union Sun and Journal (Lockport, NY)

By Bob Confer

When I tell people I live in Gasport many of them respond with a resounding, "thatís Godís Country!"

That, it is. Itís a beautiful area and a great place to live. But, come June, it will be a little less godly. St. Maryís Church, the sole Roman Catholic Church in our hamlet, is one of almost 90 Catholic churches that will be Ė or have been Ė closed or merged by the Buffalo Diocese.

I donít claim to be the most religious man in the world. Moreover, Iím not Catholic, but my wife is. So, as someone who is an outsider with an insiderís perspective and one possessed of an understanding of what makes communities tick, I see nothing but harm being brought about by these closings. There are two bonds that can consistently bring together dissimilar peoples of an area. They are the senses of religious belonging and civic belonging. The closing of a church can have wide-ranging consequences on the community at large by actually destroying the aforementioned senses.

This is especially true when it occurs in rural areas. The problem is exacerbated in such locales because entities such as St. Maryís represent the only venue for a specific denomination. Take that away and the people have nothing. Sure, most will make due by traveling to Lockport or Medina for their worship, but many will lose their religion (and weekly friends) by being unable to make what is for some Ė especially seniors - a lengthy trip. Lost forever will be the religious and civic bonds that were forged across generations and made that church and its followers unique. The sense of community once vital and beloved by those followers has essentially been squashed. Gasport will forever be removed from Catholicism and vice versa. Because of that, Gasport as a whole will suffer because the tie that binds many of its residents has become unbound.

You can see the agony in the local church community which truly has become a family torn apart by actions out of their control. Gasportís Father Badding seems deeply affected by it and at a loss of words when he speaks of it in his sermons. The long-term worshippers are visibly shaken by the loss of a church they have been attending for decades, one that their parents did before them. This heartbreaking situation in Gasport mirrors what is happening all across Western New York, be it in smaller towns and villages or in the myriad unique communities that can found nestled within the larger urban areas.

Why would the Catholic Church inflict so much damage on so many people? The Diocese claims itís due to a decrease in attendance (customers) in churches across the area. It needs to streamline its operations (cost costs) and make the most of its message (increase profits).

That being said, the Church could be considered guilty of participating in the modern day corporate mindset. It is, after all, the largest corporation in the world. It far rivals Wal-Mart in terms of customers (1.31 served and counting!). Its revenues are without peer: The United States Catholic Church alone contributes about $110 billion per year to the Church and World Youth Day itself rakes in over $150 million. Its treasury total is typically kept hush-hush but it is known to exceed the treasury values of most all nations.

This approach to spreading its word and managing its monies makes it obvious that the Church has taken on the downsizing ways of many of todayís biggest moneymakers. It has deemphasized the value of its people and its Almighty God, instead emphasizing the value of the Almighty Dollar. It was once in the business of enlightenment, but now just appears to be in the business of business.

If the Catholic Churchís management still hung to its core values of spreading the word and not focusing on returns, the act of closures would never have crossed their minds. Most churches in the region, regardless of denomination, have declining membership. Some rural Protestant churches struggle to get 40 attendees a week. Yet, somehow, they stay open and their higher ups want them to stay open.

Such churches understand that they have an important service to deliver to the people, that Godís Word comes first. Money, to them, is an afterthought and nowhere near their driving force. Itís too bad that the Buffalo Diocese and the Vaticanís leadership donít see things that same way. Corporate greed has ruined them and has hurt Catholics and non-Catholics everywhere.