Bishop of Steubenville Diocese Seeks Merger with Columbus Diocese

The bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Steubenville is looking to potentially merge with the Catholic Diocese of Columbus. The merger is being considered for several reasons, including a declining Catholic population in the Steubenville diocese, an aging population of priests and Catholics, and economic struggles in the Ohio Valley.

“It is with sadness of heart that I share with you the continued decline in the Ohio Valley population and how it adversely affects our future sustainability. Furthermore, we are all too aware how the population is aging as well, to our ministerial detriment,” Steubenville Bishop Jeffrey Monforton said.

The Diocese of Steubenville was founded in 1944 by Pope Pius XII. Thirteen counties – Guernsey, Washington, Athens, Meigs, Belmont, Noble, Monroe, Morgan, Gallia, Carroll, Jefferson, Harrison, and Lawrence – are in the diocese district.

According to Monforton, after a discussion with the Ohio bishops, it was agreed that the merger appears to be the best solution, and the proposal was approved. Steubenville actually used to be a part of the Columbus diocese until it broke away in 1944. The Steubenville diocese now has concerns about its effectiveness in the future.

“There is concern about the effectiveness of our diocese in evangelization and celebration of the sacraments a decade from now,” Monforton said.

According to Monforton, 18 out of 36 active priests are in their 60s and older. In 1990, approximately 24,730 people attended Sunday Mass in the diocese. By 2019 there was a 45 percent decline in attendance.

The process of merging the Steubenville and Columbus dioceses is underway but must undergo several steps before it is finalized. According to Dino Orsatti, Diocese of Steubenville director of communications, surveys are being sent out to all of the parishioners to collect their opinions on the matter. Once these surveys have been collected, the proposed merger, along with the surveys, will be presented to the United States Conference of Bishops, who will discuss and vote on the issue. Upon approval, the proposal will be sent to the Vatican, where Pope Francis will make the ultimate decision.

“While we have much to be grateful for in our Christian discipleship since 1944, we owe it to our Lord Jesus Christ and the Church to address this difficult reality,” Monforton said.

If the merger does go through, Monforton states that schools and colleges within the 13 counties will not be affected. The Eucharistic prayer would change, replacing Monforton’s name with the name of the Diocese of Columbus’s bishop.

If approved, the merger would be one of only three such mergers that have taken place, Orsatti said, the two previous ones being between the Diocese of Juneau, Alaska and the Archdiocese of Anchorage in 2020, and the merger of the Diocese of Kansas City and Diocese of Saint Joseph in 1956.

Orsatti told The Star that there is currently no timeline for the potential merger; however, the proposal will be presented to the United States Conference of Bishops in November.
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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Steubenville Bishop Jeffrey Monforton” by Diocese of Steubenville.

 

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