30 August 2022, The Tablet

Declining priests and congregations lead to church closures

Declining priests and congregations lead to church closures

Stock picture taken in 2008 of a church in the Diocese of Northampton.
Pic credit: catholicrelics.co.uk via Catholic Church of England and Wales on Flickr

Churches in the dioceses of Northampton and Nottingham are facing closure because of of declining congregations and a severe shortage of priests.

In the Diocese of Northampton, the closure of St Bernadette’s, Rockwell and St Patrick’s, Corby was announced following a review led by Bishop David Oakley. The diocese said in a statement: “It is important for us to exercise prudent stewardship in the way we allocate our limited resources to the maintenance of diocesan properties.”

Bishop Oakley wrote to the parishioners of St Bernadette’s in July “with a very heavy heart”, acknowledging that the diocese has “known for some years that it would not be possible to continue with as many church buildings and other properties”.

“The numbers of people living out their Catholic faith by coming to Sunday Mass have been falling.  The number of priests we have available for active ministry is also falling,” he said.

“Please be assured,“ he continued, “no bishop wants to close down a church building. This runs contrary to our instinct to grow the life and pastoral ministry of our diocese.”

The final Mass at St Bernadette’s – one of three “satellite” churches of St Edward’s, Kettering – was celebrated on 21 August.  The final Mass at St Patrick’s was to be said on Wednesday 1 September, with its congregation now served by an additional Sunday Mass at St Brendan’s, Corby, whose parish priest already served the church.

In Nottingham, the coming year will see the number of parishes reduced from 105 to 52, as the number of priests in active ministry falls by 12 per cent to 67, according to a senior priest. Most parishes will become bigger, meaning that just 11 of the diocese’s 130 churches will close.

These figures were reported by Fr Joseph Wheat, a vicar general in the diocese and canon of its cathedral, in his homily to his east Nottingham parish on 21 August. He said that only two thirds of congregations have returned to Mass since the pandemic.

“The situation calls for a fundamental shift in how the Church lives and works,” he said, adding that “the removal of compulsory celibacy would be long overdue” as would “the priesthood no longer being restricted to men”.

He continued: “The issue of who leads the Church at different levels needs to be addressed. It can’t just be clerics and we need to take the need for lay leadership seriously and actually do something to bring it about.”

 The Tablet approached the Diocese of Nottingham for comment.


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