“The solution is staring the bishops in the face”

“The solution is staring the bishops in the face”


The pastor of the parish where I came into the Church was downright disgusted with the Archdiocese’s approach to vocations and the priest shortage crisis that would follow. He used to compare the geniuses of the vocations office et al. to those who during a potato famine sat around talking about how they were going to die from starvation rather than planting other crops and going fishing.

Today I read in the newest number of the Catholic Herald an article about a way to save the Catholic Church in England.

The subtitle:

The solution is staring the bishops in the face

Indeed it is.

The writer presents some cold facts and then gets to it.  Let’s jump in media res with my emphases:


Without denying that church closures are often inevitable, they are not always the only solution to too many churches. Indeed, several dioceses in north-west England are quietly pioneering another model, of which other “church rich, but priest-and-parishioner poor” bishops might well take heed.

The basic model is simple: lift a surplus-to-requirements church out of the normal parish system and give it to a niche group that can do something distinctive with it. Some of the original parishioners will stay and adjust (and be quite happy to do so); others will go off to provide a welcome boost to the numbers of nearby parishes. By allowing this group to spread its wings, and do something distinctive, it can then attract like-minded people from the surrounding area. Perhaps in any one parish there might be only two, or three, or five people for whom this is “their thing”, but over a wide area – especially in a large town or city – those few soon add up.

After all, most people already drive to church and a significant number of Mass-goers frequent a church that is not, strictly speaking, their own. This happens most obviously in places like London (how many of those attending the Oratory do you suppose actually live within its parochial boundaries?). But it is a perfectly common practice throughout the whole country.

Take my own home town of Preston, in the Diocese of Lancaster. Three grand old churches have recently been given over to the traditionalist Institute for Christ the King (St Walburge’s and English Martyrs) and the Syro-Malabar Church (St Ignatius, or rather the Cathedral of St Alphonsa as it is now). While these three are only a mile apart, there are more than a dozen other Catholic churches within a three-mile radius. So there’s no shortage of options for these churches’ original worshippers, looking for what they’re liturgically used to. I have visited St Walburge’s on a number of occasions, and it is genuinely thriving. In fact, they’re now setting up a school. I’ve also been to the Archdiocese of Liverpool’s own experiment in this area: St Mary’s, Warrington, entrusted to another traditionalist order, the FSSP. It too is doing just champion, as we say in Lancashire.

This basic model is, I’ll wager, worth exploring further, and with other groups. If it can work in Preston with both Extraordinary Form (EF) devotees and Keralan-diaspora Syro-Malabars, with whom else might it work? (As a curious side note, while I’ve seen the idea of EF communities criticised for being cliquey and divisive, I’ve never heard the same allegations against dedicated churches for Eastern Catholic groups.)


He goes on to talk about the possibility of reviving ethnic, personal parishes as well as the Ordinariate.

It is staring bishops in the face.  I think there are some bishops who would burn the diocese to the ground and sew the land with salt before they would let a parish go entirely Extraordinary Form.

So, let’s start planning how to starve together rather than growing crops and going fishing.

Reason #10 for Summorum Pontificum.

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2 comments on ““The solution is staring the bishops in the face”

  1. I reside in an immediately adjacent diocese to Lancaster. The recently new incumbent is hell-bent upon a programme of church closures and parish amalgamations [appears to be similar to such a one being deployed in the USA]. The strategy also encompasses parishes being ‘lay managed’ with the actual status of clergy becoming ill-defined and probably one akin to the Church of England – with each parish following a liturgy formulae crafted to the proclivities of the particular lay controlling cliques.

    I proposed, two years ago, to the bishop that (redundant) churches be handed over to the Traditional Orders; the Ordinariate; Eastern or like Rites. I am now persona non grata! Three surrounding diocese have adopted such.

    The diocesan web-site promotes implied Islam as of equal standing to Mother Church. I complained, it was taken-down, but has now re-appeared.

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