Salford Diocese has revealed plans to cut its number of parishes from 150 to 75.
The proposal have been made in a report on a consultation with members of the diocese commissioned by Bishop John Arnold.
The report recommends the parish closures due to the fact “the Catholic population has dispersed and declined” and because of the falling numbers of priests.
According to the report there are 150 priests in active pastoral ministry in Salford (including nine not in parish ministry and 11 outside of the diocese). Of these, 23 are already past the normal age of retirement of 75 and and by 2020 it is is estimated that will only be 108 priests (under 75 years of age) in pastoral ministry.
In the report, Bishop Arnold wrote: “I accept immediately that this will be a matter of great sadness to many people who will be asked to transfer their spiritual homes to other churches. This will also be a difficult moment for some priests who will have to come to the conclusion, in the deanery discussions, that even their own parishes must close – communities that they may have served for many years.
“In order to realistically realign ourselves for the future, we must now look to reducing our current 150 parishes. Given the geography of the diocese and the Catholic population (both in terms of those who attend Mass and those who do not) 75 parishes will allow for a reasonable distribution of church buildings, with some of those future parishes having more than one church. Pope Francis and the recent Proclaim 15 initiative from the Bishops’ Conference urge us to think about creating ‘Missionary Parishes’ and that must be our focus.”
He added: “The Catholic population has dispersed and declined and it must be acknowledged that there are many Catholics who do not attend Mass and other church services. As a consequence we have many churches with small communities that have become unviable.”
The Bishop said he “will be asking each deanery to provide a recommended plan for the future” and that proposals will be brought back to the people of each deanery before final decisions on closures are made.
In addition to the report, Bishop Arnold has also written a pastoral letter to Catholics in the diocese, in which he discussed the “practical challenges” facing Salford.
“In the coming year we must also turn our attention to the practical challenge of consolidating the parishes. We have too many small communities, far more than can realistically be served by the priests of the Diocese,” he wrote.
“Many of our current parishes were formed at a time when the Catholic population (and especially the Mass-going population) was a lot higher than it is today. Over the next eight months, through various levels of consultation and discussion, I will be asking priests and people about the best way of naming what, in the Consultation Report, I refer to as ‘Mission Parishes’. The ‘Mission Parishes’ will each have a resident priest or priests and may well contain more than one church.”
He added: “To allow the parishes to be missionary, lay people will have to take up not only a great deal of the administration but also their rightful part as co-workers with the priests in the task of evangelisation and other ministries. There is no doubt that the diocese will change quite dramatically and, as I have said in a previous letter to you, the changes will demand a generosity and understanding on the part of priests and people. Having said that, I have every confidence that there will be much to celebrate and enjoy with purpose as we prepare our Diocese for this next stage of the mission to which Pope Francis has called us.”