Bishop Robert Harris says he recognizes the decisions won’t satisfy everyone. (Brian Chisholm/CBC) Declaring itself "no longer in a positive financial situation," the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saint John announced plans today to close several of its church buildings and merge parishes in an effort to contain costs and revitalize flagging church attendance.
In total, nine sites of worship will close by September: one church in the Fredericton region, three in the Miramichi region and five in the Saint John region.
"I don’t take any pleasure in closing churches," Bishop Robert Harris told CBC News. "We did what we had to do."
The churches that will be closed in the Saint John region are: Holy Trinity Church.
St. Peter’s Catholic Church.
Saint John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church.
St. Augustine Catholic Church in Grand Bay-Westfield.
Holy Rosary Catholic Church in St. Stephen.
One church will close in Fredericton: Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Parish Church.
Three small mission churches in the Miramichi region will also close. They include: Church of the Holy Family in Barryville.
Church of All Saints in Millbank.
Our Lady of Good Counsel in Millerton.
Harris said the diocese, which now counts 79 churches over 58 parishes, will reorganize itself into just 27 parishes by September 2019. Harris said the diocese that manages the Catholic churches in the province’s south will also combine parishes, forming 27 new ones out of the existing 58 by September 2019. In total, 31 priests will tend to the remaining 70 churches. Whatever debts a parish has will need to be dealt with by the parish itself, Harris said.
"They’re going to have to look at employees and see how much money they need," he said.
"It’s an effort to make sure we’ve got enough finances to make it happen, enough finances to make sure that in this particular canonical parish the two or three buildings that are being kept, they can pay for them. The minute they can’t do that, then they will have to look at, well, we might have to downsize."
While acknowledging these decisions won’t satisfy everyone, Harris said earlier proposals to close 35 per cent of the churches in the diocese, about 27 buildings, "shocked people"."I looked at all that and some of the proposals that were being made with good intention and I just said, no I can’t endorse that, I can’t promote that." More closures possible In a letter from the bishop read to parishioners at services on Sunday, Harris said "the focus of this process is on the merger of communities into new parishes rather than the closure of churches."But for those hit hardest by the news, more heartbreak may be on the way.Each of the 27 consolidated parishes will have to decide how many churches it needs and how many buildings it can afford."They’re not there forever," Harris said. "They’re there while we try to revitalize the diocese and while we try to grow our church."As a result, more church closures may be inevitable."The reality is going to be every newly merged canoncial parish is going to have a responsibility to say, as we move forward, how many sites do we need for worship, how many churches do we need for our new territory. That’ll be their call," he said. ‘I haven’t passed the buck’ Parishes will still need to ask his office permission to close churches, but Harris recognizes some might see him as passing responsibility for the tough decisions onto churchgoers."Anyone [that] thinks I’ve passed the buck, that’s what they’re going to think. I haven’t passed the buck because I’m not a dictator. The laity […]
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