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Archbishop drops plan for mass church closures

Archbishop Leo Cushley (photo courtesy of Paul McSherry)

Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews and Edinburgh has scaled back plans to close up to 70 churches after a consultation with parishioners.

In 2015 the archbishop announced a drastic shake-up of parishes, saying that by 2020 the diocese would only have 33 priests ministering to 103 parishes. Reports at the same time suggested the number of parishes would be reduced to about 30.

But the diocese now says proposals to close a “significant” number of churches have been rejected following a two-year consultation.

“If you choose to consult with parishioners and priests, then you have to listen to what they are saying and, in this instance, I was happy to be persuaded by the case that was made to me by many of our people and clergy,” the archbishop said.

“The fact is, people are very attached to their local churches and have expressed a wish in many places to keep them.”

Plans are yet to be finalised but the diocese said that fewer parishes would be closed than first envisaged, leaving about 60 rather than the 30 that media reports suggested. But the diocese said that not every church would have Mass each Sunday, meaning some parishioners will have to travel elsewhere.

The consultation included nearly 120 public meetings attended by over 7,000 parishioners.

Archbishop Cushley said: “The first thing that I picked up from the meetings I attended, the reports, and subsequent meetings with the clergy too, was the attachment of many, though not all, to their local churches.

“The second thing, though, that consistently came through was the willingness of priests and people to pool limited resources at a local level into larger, more sustainable Catholic parishes that can better evangelise their communities – this includes a willingness to merge existing parishes.”

The widespread closure of churches is still on the cards elsewhere in Scotland. In 2014 the Archdiocese of Glasgow said that as many as half its parishes faced closure.

Two years later a dramatic reorganisation of parishes was announced for the Diocese of Motherwell.

A third of Catholic churches in north Wales, meanwhile, are being closed. Bishop Peter Brignall of Wrexham said in 2016 he planned to shut 22 of 62 churches over four years.

Archbishop Cushley said on Sunday: “I would like to thank the thousands of parishioners who have participated so intelligently, enthusiastically and prayerfully in the decision-making process over the past two years.

“Let us continue to go forward together as we attempt to bring the joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the people in our part of Scotland.”

It is expected that final decisions will be taken in the next few months following a consultation with the archdiocesan Council of Priests.