Archbishop Tartaglia, writing in this month’s Flourish Newspaper, has confirmed that the preliminary phase of the process of planning for future parish provision is now complete.
The Archbishop said that he has “not found this reflection simple or easy” but feels that the preliminary phase was “successful in highlighting the challenge that faces us to make our parish communities sustainable into the future and in initiating a diocesan conversation about the issues involved.”
The Archbishop suggests five questions for consideration:
1. Where are the people?
2. How many parishes do we need?
3. How many churches can we support?
4. How many priests and deacons will there be?
5. What kind of communities do we want?
While many people may be nervous about the future of their own parish in all of this there have been some encouraging words coming out of the latest meeting of the Council of Priests on 11th June. The Council stated that it had “little appetite for a detailed plan of parish mergers or closures based on [the] current deanery configuration” and, as a result, “an approach based on clustering parishes may be more realistic and may bear better results.”
While this doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be mergers or closures in the years ahead, the words will offer much encouragement to parishes on the fringes who may have feared the sound of the wrecking ball coming up the street.
The Archbishop has confirmed that he now sees the planning process moving forward according the following strategy:
1. Solving issues of parish provision that require attention in the short term according to the dispositions of Canon Law
2. Finding suitable priests from wherever to provide pastoral care of the parish communities which we have
3. Proposing to parishes and deaneries the method of clustering as a new step towards preparing for future new communities – as soon as possible, therefore, a project of possible parish clusterings will be offered for consideration.”
The Archbishop summed up his report by saying: “Evangelisation remains our one and only mission. The spirit of the age is inimical to evangelisation but paradoxically also calls for it. These are undoubtedly testing times for the Church. In these circumstances, we need always to look with the eyes of faith to Jesus who tells us that we must not be afraid and who calls us to trust in him.”
One thing is certain, this is not simply about the lack of priests. It is also about the lack of numbers attending Mass and getting involved in the life of the parish and the wider community. This, in turn, creates an economic imbalance meaning certain parishes cannot sustain themselves and they quickly become a drain on the provisions of the Archdiocese.
Yes, it is crucially important that we pray hard for vocations to the priesthood and it is important that we are not afraid to encourage our young men to seriously consider this vocation. But similarly, we need to be out there selling the faith to people and encouraging them to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ. We need to take our duty to save souls seriously so that as many people as possible rely on the love, mercy, and compassion of the Catholic Church. The Church that Christ promised to be with until the end of time.