Bishop to shut 40 Catholic churches in diocese shake-up

St. Mary's and St. John Southworth Church at Samlesbury which will lose its Sunday Mass

St. Mary's and St. John Southworth Church at Samlesbury which will lose its Sunday Mass

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Catholic churches in Central Lancashire have emerged relatively unscathed from a radical shake-up of the Salford Diocese.

While a total of 40 churches have been earmarked for closure – six of them in the east of the county – congregations in South Ribble and the Ribble Valley look likely to be spared the axe.

Worshippers at the historic St Mary and St John Southworth Church in Samlesbury will lose their Sunday Mass, but keep their Thursday morning service, as part of a major restructuring programme unveiled by Bishop John Arnold. The St Paul’s Chapel of Ease at Fensicowles will be shut.

But, while 24 parishes will merge to become just 10 in the Deanery of St John Southworth – which includes South Ribble, Ribble Valley and Blackburn – 28 of the 29 churches will survive, subject to a three-month period of consultation, now underway.

Announcing the plans, Bishop Arnold said it was clear that the cutbacks were needed owing to a reduced number of priests available for pastoral ministry and because a number of parish communities had either dispersed or had reduced in size to become unviable.

“I have no wish to see churches closed,” he said. “However, we must be realistic in calculating how best our priests may serve dispersed and often small communities.

“A building in which only Sunday Mass is celebrated, where there is no catechesis of the young, or sense of evangelisation, no care for members of the community, cannot claim to be a parish.

“It is better for those few people to transfer their commitment to more vibrant church communities at the neighbouring parish and offer their gifts and talents in a wider community.”

The new look diocese will have only 76 parishes, compared to the current 150. It will see the number of churches reduced from 185 to 145.

Amongst the worst-hit in terms of closures are Burnley/Hyndburn where six churches will shut. The 28 churches remaining in the South Ribble/Ribble Valley/Blackburn deanery will be merged to form 10 new parishes and there will be only eight diocesan priests compared to 15 at present. The Bishop’s consultation process is due to end on October 14.