Secret report to set out raft of church closures

CLOSED: Priest Tony Walsh outside St Teresa's Church on Church Avenue, Fishwick, which has been closed as part of changes being implemented
CLOSED: Priest Tony Walsh outside St Teresa's Church on Church Avenue, Fishwick, which has been closed as part of changes being implemented
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Officials have put together a report which will see the closure of a church in Preston this month.

The Preston Catholic Working Party, which is led by Corpus Christi High School head Martin Callagher, has produced the “internal report” for the Bishop of Lancaster Michael Campbell which has seen the closure of St Teresa’s Church in Fishwick, Preston and the cut-backs of masses held at churches throughout the inner city.

It will see the merger of seven parishes which take place at the end of the month and could see further mergers and closures.

Fr Robert Billing, the secretary to the Bishop of Lancaster Michael Campbell, said the changes were the start of the Diocese’s bid to tackle plunging mass attendances outlined in its controversial Fit for Mission review published two years ago.

He said: “We could fit all the people (attending mass in Preston) into one building if we are being brutal, but we do not want to do that.

“We cannot keep all these churches open and these changes are an indication to Preston and the Diocese that the Bishop is making a start on decisions to change.

“If we do not make these changes, change will over-take us.

“The Bishop is being courageous and bold in his decisions.”

The changes, which will begin from November 27, the first day of Advent, will see:

n The merger of the St Walburge’s and Sacred Heart in Ashton, Preston, with both hosting a single mass on a Sunday;

n The merger of the St Joseph’s and St Teresa’s parish in Ribbleton and Fishwick respectively with Avenham’s St Augustine’s parish, leaving one Sunday mass being held at St Joseph’s and St Augustine’s with the closure of St Teresa’s;

n The merger of the St Ignatius and English Martyrs’ Church with three weekday masses held at English Martyrs’ on Garstang Road and a Sunday mass held at St Ignatius on Meadow Street, Deepdale.

Fr Billing said it was “impossible” to expect Catholic churches to be filled over the next decade by a congregation with an average age of 60 years, despite the influx of younger worshippers from the Polish and Keralam Indian communities to churches in Preston.

He said Bishop Campbell would be looking at each church in the city and beyond across the Diocese on “a case-by-case basis” and would be informing congregations of changes by a personal letter.