Catholic priests prepare to fight parish closures plan

Archbishop Leo Cushley. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Archbishop Leo Cushley. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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PRIESTS have attacked plans to scrap scores of parishes across the Lothians under plans that may see Catholics travelling from church to church for weekly mass.

Clergy in East and Midlothian have joined counterparts in the Scottish Borders to express the “unanimous” view that they want all parishes to remain open and have unveiled proposals to hold Sunday services “by rota”.

But they admitted the declining number of priests may mean Sunday services cannot be celebrated every week in all parishes, leaving congregation members with journeys of up to six miles to get to church.

The suggestion comes in the wake of a letter from Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh Leo Cushley warning that a drop in income, priest shortages and falling church attendances had made it necessary to consider slashing the number of parishes from 113 to around 30.

It has been suggested that a sex scandal in 2013 – when former cardinal Keith O’Brien resigned after three priests and a former priest accused him of sexual misconduct – prompted a fall in donations, causing the archdiocese’s finances to plummet and forcing it to consider parish closures and mergers. The archdiocese enjoyed a surplus of £711,000 in 2012 but the following year this had become a deficit of £186,000.

In a newsletter to churchgoers at St David’s parish, Dalkeith, Monsignor Allan Chambers, also a member of the archdiocesan council of priests, said a meeting of all clergy in Mid and East Lothian, and the Scottish Borders, had arrived at the “unanimous” conclusion that every parish in their deanery should remain open.

He said: “We are, however, naturally aware of the declining number of clergy and the advancing profile of the same.

“Consequently it is likely that larger groupings of parishes may now have to be necessary.

“For instance it is possible that in a future grouping one priest would cover Dalkeith, Mayfield, Rosewell, Bonnyrigg and Gorebridge.

“Clearly Sunday mass or indeed a vigil could not be celebrated every Sunday in all the parishes and it would then be necessary to establish a rota for those masses as they indeed do elsewhere in the Catholic world.”

Church officials said the archbishop’s mind was open to solutions, which they stressed could vary from region to region.

A spokeswoman said: “Archbishop Cushley is very keen that churches in each of the 31 clusters across the archdiocese debate and discuss the best way to use their resources at the local level in order to evangelise.

“He looks forward to receiving these proposals at Easter, whereupon he will embark on a full consultation with all the priests and the people of the archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh.”

She added: “The archbishop welcomes this discussion.

“This is exactly what he wanted to happen.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com