01 March 2018, The Tablet

Cushley changes tack on parish closures

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, the archbishop 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 by 2035.

In his 2015 letter, Archbishop Cushley said he had uncovered a “consensus close to unanimity” that the current number of parishes was not sustainable. A shortage of priests, drop in parish income and declining attendance at Mass were all cited as factors. Bringing in foreign priests to assist in the archdiocese would mitigate the first of these, he continued, 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.

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