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Leadership roles for laity needed to save Church

Bishop of Paisley calls on the faithful to halt ’25 years of decline’ — By JOE WALLACE

The laity needs to take up more leadership positions in the Church to save it from a 25-year period of decline, the Bishop of Paisley has said.

Speaking as the diocese prepares to implement the next stage of an historic synod, Bishop John Keenan urged the faithful to decide for themselves how to shape the future and create ‘new skins for new wine.’

Paisley parishioners have been taking part in an ongoing synod in the diocese in recent years, discussing its future against a background of a 31 per cent drop in Mass attendance over the ten years from 2005-2015.

Other dioceses in Scotland are struggling with similar issues, with Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews & Edinburgh indicating this month that as many as 40 parishes in his archdiocese could close.

Bishop Keenan said a small number of parish closures could be a part of his diocese’s future, but he stressed he would take his lead from parishioners.



The bishop urged Catholics to seize the opportunity to halt decline and establish a Church of ‘mission, growth and inclusion.’

The faithful must ‘take more leadership of the administration of the Church,’ he said, so clergy are free to be ‘pastoral, spiritual leaders’ and ‘to preach and teach the word of God,’ and he called for decisions to be made by all in the diocese rather than ‘just leaving it to our clergy.’

He said the Church has used a model over the last 25 years ‘that has brought decline’ and which involved priests being pastoral and spiritual leaders but also ‘plan managers of the whole of the Church,’ while the lay faithful had responsibility only to ‘prayer, pay and obey.’

“We need a new model,” he said. “As Pope Francis says, we can’t go on the way we have been. We need to be bold, courageous and daring.”

In a letter to parishes in January, the bishop laid out the next stage of the synod, titled ‘Making All Things Happen’. Parishes will gather in ‘cluster areas’ around the eight diocesan high schools in public meetings to be held in April, August and September.

Proposals from the eight clusters will be presented to Bishop Keenan in October, with plans to implement them in 2019.

The bishop urged the faithful to come up with solutions for the future and to not be dictated to from the clergy, calling for a collaborative approach.

“We are asking the people to think about how they can be the new wine of the synod,” he said, adding that the faithful must ask, ‘Can we have this new wine in old skins?’

“The set-up we had of parishes was laid down 40 to 70 years ago, in terms of the number of parishes and the places of the parishes, so we have to ask ourselves, if we are going to have this new wine, is this the optimal use of our parishes and of our priests?”



Bishop Keenan said he hopes to be able to implement proposals from the clusters ‘90 to 100 per cent.’

“It may not be possible to do so because maybe one cluster area makes decisions which has implications for another cluster area so I would need to look at the whole diocese,” he said. “But really my intention is that the faithful come up with local solutions to their local mission.”

He added that he does ‘not have in my top drawer a secret list of how many parishes I want there to be post 2019 and where I want them to be.’

Bishop Keenan said Paisley is ‘in a different position than any other diocese in Scotland.’

“Uniquely, the average age of the clergy in the Diocese of Paisley is 55, way below most other dioceses. We still have more or less one priest per parish, except where there are four priests looking after two parishes.

“It is likely to be the case in the next 10 years that we will have slightly more priests than we have now. There are only three priests above the age of 65 in active ministry, we have just ordained two priests and we have two in the seminary and two going into seminary, with another one inquiring.

“So in the Diocese of Paisley we don’t have the same crisis that most other dioceses in Scotland have. That having being said, what the priests are saying is that where we will probably have one priest per parish for the next 10 years—20 years ago there were three priests per parish.”

The bishop said he hopes it ‘will be the people themselves’ who decide which parishes to keep open, close, or move and that if the faithful decide the current set-up and number of parishes in the diocese is ideal, he ‘would accept that.’

“But what I will say to the people is this: honestly, do you think we can carry on like this?

“Do you think it’s fair to your children and your grandchildren that we carry on like this or do you think that we have to be brave and not have fear and think of new ways of doing things?

The bishop said he believed the clusters will ultimately propose that three parishes close.



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