Priest shortage, dwindling flock lead to Christmas closings
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CONWY, Wales (ChurchMilitant.com) - The decision to close two more churches over Christmas will leave only two thirds of all Catholic churches in North Wales still running.
The bishop of Wrexham, Peter Brignall, recently announced that the last Mass will be held at St. Michael's in Conwy and Sacred Heart in Old Colwyn on February 11.
"This process is not yet complete and there are more closures to come as needs demand," Brignall commented. "All closures are painful, but early in the new year the situation in the diocese is to change again. With judicial restructuring of parishes and closure of churches, I am confident that Mass will be celebrated in each remaining church every Sunday of the year."
Worshipper Anne McCaffrey from St. Michael's expressed disappointment over the closures.
"Parishioners are heartbroken and struggling to come to terms with this threat of closure now made real," she said. "With such a small percentage of Catholics in the Wrexham Diocese attending church, it seems perverse to close a vibrant and viable church against the expressed wish of those who attend there."
The closing of these two churches comes after Brignall released his plan for closing 22 parishes across North Wales by 2020.
"On present calculations, by 2020 the number of under-retirement-age priests will be 22; therefore to achieve my intention there need be around only 40 churches, not the 62 there currently are [in North Wales]," according to Brignall. "It will mean pastors and communities will have to look afresh at how we live parish life, how the Catholic Church in North Wales is profoundly missionary."
The closings leave 134 Catholic churches still operating in Wales.
A 2011 census showed that Wales has the highest percentage of people with no religion in the United Kingdom. As many as 32 percent said they adhere to no religion. According to a census spokeswoman, Christianity is "no longer the default setting" for those living in Wales.
Wales has the highest percentage of people with no religion in the United Kingdom.
A past survey by National Churches Trust indicated that Catholic churches in Wales struggle with shrinking congregations. Eddie Tulasiewicz, the Trust's head of communications, noted that parishes close at a rate of one a week.
"What may have been built in the 19th century for a population of 6,000 to 10,000 people has shrunk to 2,000 or 3,000 and there's no one left to go there," said Tulasiewicz.
Parishioners at St. Michael's are prepared to appeal the closure, even to the Vatican, arguing that the church is a "viable and vibrant community." McCaffrey remarked that she "will be launching a formal appeal for the decision to be reversed, taking it to Rome if necessary."
"To close a church building there needs to be grave cause, a technical term in church law," McCaffrey said. "St Michael's Church is structurally sound, financially viable with strong community. There is no grave cause here to close the church."