Up to five Oldham churches are at risk of closure

Reporter: Lucy Kenderdine
Date published: 12 July 2016

UP to five Catholic churches in Oldham could close and parishes combined if a re-structure proposal is accepted and put into practice.

Parishioners are being encouraged by the Diocese of Salford, which includes Oldham, to share their opinions on the plans and how they would like local parishes to be organised in the future.

The proposed changes, released in a consultation document by the Bishop of Salford, Rt Rev John Arnold, suggest how the diocese can be better organised to reflect declining congregation numbers and fewer priests in the area. Within the Deanery of Mount Carmel (Oldham), it is proposed that the current 12 parishes will be reduced to five, with two more churches joining together in one parish.

The number of churches will also decrease from 16 to 10 with the churches of St Mary (Oldham), Sacred Heart (Derker), Holy Rosary (Fitton Hill), Corpus Christi (Hollinwood), St Michael (Abbeyhills) and St Christopher (Ashton) closing to be formally amalgamated into one of the remaining parishes.

The number of priests will also reduce from 11 to five, with one priest per parish.

Father Phil Sumner, of St Mary's with St Patrick's RC Churches, said: "It will be difficult for all concerned as to go from 12 parishes to five in the future will mean big changes for the priests and the people.

"However, it is essential to act now so we are more able to deal with our current reality and changes in the future."

He added that the new system will mean that lay members of the Catholic community will need to take more responsibility in the administration of the parish in order to free up the time of priests to carry out their pastoral duties, including the celebration of Mass, ministering to the sick, elderly and infirm and working in schools and colleges with young people.

Fr Sumner added: "Within the diocese we have 20 priests approaching or at retirement age but we have only had one ordained.

"In the last eight years we have only had 10 priests ordained and in Oldham we already have priests who are working past the retirement age.

"We need to prepare for the future and make the changes now and it is important that the Bishop hears the views of the community to get a feel for what they think and if the proposals need to be tweaked."

Father Peter McKie, of St Herbert's RC Church, Chadderton, stressed that the proposals have not yet been finalised and that people should have their say.

He said: "Although I am not happy that Corpus Christi may have to close ­- it is a beautiful church with a lovely community ­- we have to do something now.

"These proposals have not been imposed from above and the Bishop has relied on the local knowledge of priests who have helped create the plans but they have not been confirmed.

"I hope it will have a positive affect in the area, however we will have to wait to see what is decided."

Across the diocese, which includes Salford, Manchester, Bury, Rochdale, Bolton, Blackburn, Ribble Valley, and Burnley, the number of parishes will be reduced from 150 to 76.

The proposals follow the Bishop of Salford's "Preparing the Way" consultation into the plans for the future of the diocese last year.

Congreations, clergy and members of the Catholic community will now have until October 14 to have their say on the proposals before any decisions are made.

Bishop Arnold said: "We are encouraging Catholics across the region to get involved and let us know how they would like the diocese to be organised to better serve their needs.

"I am using the biblical image of "pruning for growth" as a way of understanding what we are doing - ensuring we take required measures now, so our parishes continue to be of a sufficient size to facilitate and sustain a dynamic and life-giving community.

"At the same time, we need to look at how we can serve our parishes with fewer priests while acknowledging that there are fewer people regularly attending church.

"The Catholic Church has an essential role to play in serving people a cross the region, and around the world.

"In these times of political, economic and social uncertainty, we must ensure the church continues to be missionary and outward facing, spreading the Gospel message of God's love.

"That's why we need people's input into this consultation. Every response we receive will be carefully considered and we are looking forward to developing a plan that will help the diocese flourish."

Decisions on the plans are expected to published in November, with implementation taking place when appropriate.