SALFORD DIOCESE has announced plans to cut the number of parishes from 150 to 75. The proposal was made in a report issued by Bishop John Arnold unveiling a diocese-wide consultation.
The report recommends the closures because“the Catholic population has dispersed and declined” and because there are fewer priests. According to the report there are 150 priests in active ministry in Salford. Of these, 23 are past the normal retirement age of 75. By 2020 it is estimated that only 108 priests under the age of 75 will be in active ministry.
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 they may have served for many years.
“In order to realistically realign ourselves for the future, we must now look at 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.
“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 would “be asking each deanery to provide a recommended plan for the future” and that proposals would be brought back to the people of each deanery before final decisions on closures are made. Bishop Arnold has written a pastoral letter to the diocese outlining the “practical challenges” facing his diocese.
“We have too many small communities, far more than can realistically be served by the priests of the diocese,” he wrote. “Over the next eight months … 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.
“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 … the changes will demand a generosity and understanding on the part of priests and people.”
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