The Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh has dropped plans to close a number of parishes following a two-year consultation with parishioners. Archbishop Leo Cushley announced the decision in a pastoral letter read in 103 parishes last weekend, in which he thanked Catholics for participating in the consultation “intelligently, enthusiastically and prayerfully”.
Archbishop Cushley said that the first impression he had gained from meetings with the laity was the attachment of many, “though not all”, to their local churches. However, in a comment that is widely believed to signal the Archdiocese’s unwillingness to abandon merger plans, Archbishop Cushley added: “The second thing..that consistently came through [in discussions] was the willingness of priests and people to pool limited resources at a local level, into larger, more sustainable Catholic parishes that can better evangelise their communities – this includes a willingness to merge existing parishes”. Three years ago Archbishop Cushley wrote to clergy in St Andrews and Edinburgh, setting out the “painful and unpleasant” task of reducing the number of parishes in the Archdiocese from 113 to a projected 30 in the year 2035.
Archbishop Cushley said that he had uncovered a “consensus close to unanimity” that the present number of parishes was not sustainable. A shortage of priests, net drop in parish income and declining attendance at Mass were all adduced as factors. Bringing foreign priests to assist in the Archdiocese would mitigate the first of these, the Archbishop continued in his 2015 letter, but said that the most desirable response to the others was “self-reliance”, suggesting that strong amalgamated parishes, with a full-time priest at the centre, offered “notable” spiritual and pastoral advantages.
PICTURE: Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews and Edinburgh ©PA