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Scottish Catholic Parishes set to close in age of supermarkets, says Church

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    Sun 11 Jun 2006 Cardinal Keith O Brien. Picture: Donald Macleod Parishes set to close in age of supermarkets, says Church EDDIE BARNES (
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 11, 2006
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       Sun 11 Jun 2006 Cardinal Keith O'Brien. Picture: Donald Macleod
      Cardinal Keith O'Brien.
      Picture: Donald Macleod

      Parishes set to close in age of supermarkets, says Church

      EDDIE BARNES ( ebarnes@...)
      THE Scottish Catholic Church will be forced to close parishes as a result of falling congregations and a halving in the number of priests in some areas, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.
      Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of Scotland's Roman Catholics, has laid out a radical restructuring plan, which involves scrapping old parish boundaries and creating new clusters of churches which 'share' priests.
      New figures for O'Brien's Edinburgh Archdiocese show that the number of fully active priests in the area is expected to fall from the present 63 to 34 in just 10 years' time.
      With the average age of priests in Scotland now above 60, and with few new vocations, the Church has been forced to choose between radical change or the prospect of dozens of parishes without priests.
      Church leaders say worshippers must get used to the idea of travelling long distances to their nearest available church, in much the same way as they are prepared to drive to their local out-of-town shopping centre.
      A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: "You have cinemas, retail parks and shopping centres all centralising. Nobody seems to think twice about crossing Edinburgh to go to the Gyle shopping centre.
      "There needs to be a cultural change that going to Mass will involve a longer round trip of maybe five or 10 miles."
      Both the Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland - the two largest Christian denominations in Scotland - have seen a slump in attendance and vocations since the 1950s, when a majority of adult Scots would attend church on a Sunday.
      The number of practising Catholics has dropped to just over 200,000 - down 20% since the mid-1990s. Regular Kirk attendees now total 535,834, a collapse from 1.3 million in the 1960s.
      In Edinburgh, the number of couples baptising their children at a Catholic church annually has fallen from 1,910 10 years ago to 1,075 today. Over the same period, the number of people attending Mass annually has fallen from 40,917 to 32,509.
      O'Brien is circulating a pastoral letter to Catholics in the capital this weekend, laying out his plans for a consultation exercise. The structure of the diocese will be streamlined, with church-goers likely to be asked to do more to keep parishes going. The restructuring plan is the first forced upon Church leaders since the 1960s.
      O'Brien insisted: "In no way am I pessimistic about the future. At this time, I would like to thank the Irish and Polish priests, and also those who have come from Malta and parts of Africa to assist from time to time for different periods in the diocese.
      "However, the fact remains, we are not producing enough home-grown Scottish priests. That is the root of the problem. In the months and years ahead, there is a tremendous challenge lying ahead for the Catholic laity here in Scotland, in the Church and the world."
      A spokesman for the Church added: "I have no doubt that this is the sort of exercise that may well be repeated across the country.
      "Catholics have been spoilt by the fact that we had a huge influx of Irish clergy who sustained the Scottish Church when it wasn't sustaining itself. The norm has been a local parish with two or three priests in it. Now we take exception to having one priest or having a priest covering two parishes."
      He admitted that the issue of closing parishes was a "hot potato". He said: "People have so much emotional attachment to a parish, maybe because they got married there or had their child baptised there.
      "But people think that priests appear from a central warehouse somewhere. If a parish has not provided anyone to be ordained for five, 10, 15 years, it needs to be asking itself some questions."
      The dearth of Catholic priests is currently most serious in the east of the country. A spokesman for the Glasgow archdiocese - Scotland's largest - said there was no need yet to contemplate similar radical measures as those suggested in the east.
      The Church has made efforts in recent years to try to boost the number of priests and make life more appealing for those in the post. A little-used seminary in Salamanca, Spain, was put to use as a holiday home for clergymen struggling to cope with the pressures of the modern-day ministry.
      The vow of celibacy all priests have to take is blamed by some for the low numbers of candidates coming forward.
      O'Brien has already called for older men to consider becoming priests, including widowers.
      A spokesman for the Kirk said their 40 presbyteries across the country were also having to consider closures, although he added that the number of people coming forward to apply to be ministers was on the increase.
      "There are still more congregations than there are ministers. There are around 1,400 congregations and around a quarter of them will be looking for a minister," he said.
      He added: "There can come a point in a congregation where there is nobody left. Some congregations find that they do nothing else apart from raise money for the church roof fund."
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      This article: http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=860012006
      Last updated: 10-Jun-06 00:15 BST

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