Thursday, 8 December 2011

What's a Bishop to do? Faced with looming disaster

2012 round the corner and another 15 priests will retire from the Diocese and there are  no seminarians in the wings.

There are at least two parishes (out of the Diocese of Much Dithering) where the PPs are in quite poor health and could go into hospital or worse at any time.

The Diocese comprises some 60 parishes and 5 of them are already "closed" due to shortages; parishioners of the closed parishes have to travel a few miles to the nearest functioning parish.

That means, (quick scribble on the back of the Monte Cristo box) - only 37 operational parishes out of the 60!

 It's enough to put a Bishop off his golf.

Well, there just has to be a solution.

 After all, Our Lord said that even the gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church so a shortage of vocations is nothing more than  a bit of theological grit in the episcopal Vaseline.

There  is nothing that cannot be resolved, except that, sitting on hands is not an option, or shouldn't be.

So how?

We-eell, it's always easy to come up with answers when it's not your head on the block so I make the following comments in all humility. They are just strategies that I would think appropriate if I was a Bishop (Heaven forfend!).

First, call the troops together and put the situation to them. The priests must be involved and should fully comprehend what they are facing.

If anyone comes up with a cunning plan - great! But, if not, move to Plan B as follows:-

1. Rationalise the Diocese along Deanery lines, creating not individual parishes but clusters of parishes. The aim is to keep every parish functioning and every church open.

2. With a total of 60 churches in the Diocese they will now be in 6 groups or Deaneries each comprising 10 parishes. The priests will operate from a single Deanery base. There will be, approximately 3 priests at each base, serving the ten parishes between them.

3. The priests will have a rota to ensure that one of them is always on call at each 'centre'.

4. Redundant presbyteries can be used to generate income (not necessarily sold off, they could be rented out or  used for commercial purposes)

So far so good but all that has really happened has been a stay of execution. Numbers of priests will continue to decline, the clusters will shrink and a few years down the line there will only be one priest per ten parishes.

A Plan C is needed.

Plan C

Invite one of the traditional orders to establish a foothold in the Diocese. Give them a central base and a roving brief so that they provide a peripatetic service to those who wish to attend Mass in Latin.

Better still, offer one of the larger redundant presbyteries as an internship centre for seminarians - linked to one of the traditional seminaries. That way you establish a platform to attract young men from the Diocese to the priesthood as well as creating a steady flow of talent into the Diocese.

I forgot to mention that Plan A should have come first.....

Plan A


Of course, none of the above will happen (although Bishop Mark Davies has made the important move with regard to inviting the ICKSP to host a parish in his Diocese).

What will happen is this; as priests die or retire, their remaining colleagues will be called upon to stretch themselves across parish boundaries in order to cover calls for Mass and Last Rites. Many churches will shut down and be sold off.

More priests from the developing world will be drafted in to help out.

Vocations will really go into freefall (who would wish to be a priest faced with such problems?).

The old, sick and infirm will be left without a Mass and, in many instances, without the Sacraments.

And then.......we are back in the 17th century with just a few missionary priests ministering to a dwindling core of Catholics.

Ho hum!


  1. An interesting post Richard. Sound ideas and strategy. Plan A encompasses everything, with Plan B adopted for the time being, but always working for and incorporating Plan C with its great spiritual potential.

  2. It's got to be Plan C if the bishop isn't a turkey voting for Christmas.
    But I'd like to propose an addendum: priests of the Ordinariate to be assigned to churches. It would give them/their families a home as well.

  3. "Invite one of the traditional orders to establish a foothold in the Diocese"

    Better still, invite all of them! Tell them you have seen the error of your ways, and the foolishness of the past...

    then ask to be retired, because you were clearly a total failure as a bishop...


  4. Mundabor - excellent! With you all the way.

  5. Brian - thank you, I hope you weathered the storm safely.

    Genty - Yes, good point although, for me, I remain to be totally convinced regarding the O's.