BY DAVID V BARRETT
SIX PARISH churches and a chapel of ease will be closed in the next two months in the Pontefract and Wakefield deanery of the diocese of Leeds.
The churches are Our Lady of Lourdes in Ackworth , Holy Family church in Chequerfield, St Gerard Majella in Featherstone, St Edmund's in Airedale, Our Lady of Grace in Kinsley and St John's in Allerton Bywater.
Mgr Michael McQuinn, vicar general of the diocese, said the closures were "part of a much bigger picture".
In 2004 the newly appointed Bishop Roche started a process of review called "Providing Priests for the People" which projected ahead 15 years. There were 123 active priests in the diocese in 2003; with normal retirement these would reduce to just 75 by 2018.
The bishop put out information on a DVD and on the diocesan website explaining how they had reached their present situation "we built a lot of churches and overlocalised in the boom period of the 1950s", said Mgr McQuinn setting out the options available, and asking people for suggestions.
But one parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes in Ackworth told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "We feel the consultation was decided before it was begun. A lot of the congregation are elderly or do not have access to the transport to get them to another church. We understand the problem of falling congregations, but Ackworth is an up-andcoming area."
Mgr McQuinn was sympathetic. "We fully understand it is painful for parishioners," he said. "No one likes to lose their parish. No bishop takes joy in this." But he pointed out that in the Pontefract deanery 'three priests retired this year, and we've had no ordinations".
Emphasising that "we are looking at a major change", he said the diocese had already closed 10 churches in the Bradford area and a number in Huddersfield. Later this year attention will shift to the Leeds area.
"We are slowly but surely adjusting the structures of the diocese to prepare for the future," Mgr McQuinn said.
Church closures are not restricted to the Diocese of Leeds. On the other side of the Pennines the Church of Ss Peter and Paul on the Wirral, which featured in The Catholic Herald's "Save Our Churches" campaign in May, is to close on August 17.
Bishop Brian Noble of Shrewsbury said that to modify the church would cost £700,000 on top of £888,000 already needed for extensive repair work. Rather than consider building a new church it was decided that the parish would share the local Anglican church of All Saints.