BY NIGEL BURNHAM
BISHOP Arthur Roche of Leeds has announced an eight-month survey into the state of Catholicism in Bradford. It is likely to lead to the closure of a number of the city’s churches because of rapidly dwindling congregations, rising maintenance costs and the predicted shortfall of priests.
Bishop Roche has produced a DVD in which he invites all Catholics to consider the future of Bradford’s churches. He wishes to “shape the Catholic Church in Bradford for generations to come” by Easter.
In a pastoral letter that was read to the city’s churchgoers on Sunday the Bishop said: “Our present Catholic parishes and churches are geared to the pastoral provision of a former time.
“As a Church, we ought now to look not only at the past but also to the future and see how best we can respond to the present times, while keeping an eye on what will be needed in years to come.
“I am aware that this process will not necessarily be easy and will cause all of us suffering.” Bishop Roche appealed to worshippers: “Do not be afraid. The Church has weathered many challenges throughout her history. Our forebears rose to those challenges – now it is our turn to rise to the challenges of our own day.” Monsignor Michael McQuinn will be overseeing the review, a survey of more than 20 places of worship that will examine whether each church is in the right place to maximise congregation numbers.
“The Catholic Church has not reviewed its property in Bradford for 180 years and we are open for radical change,” he said.
“Due to falling numbers of people attending services, massive repair bills for our properties and a predicted shortage of priests it is inevitable that some churches will close.” Catholic congregations in Bradford have halved in the last 30 years. In 1950 16,380 people attended a weekly Sunday Mass, compared with only 6,799 in 2000.
Taking into account the predicted shortfall of parish priests able to minister by 2018, the diocese has calculated that each priest will have to have an average congregation of 250 for a church to remain viable.
“Where a congregation does not make this we have a problem,” said Mgr McQuinn. “Some situations look more vulnerable than others.” Six of Bradford’s oldest churches currently need repairs which will cost a total of more than £3 million.