By Simon Caldwell
ARCHBISHOP Patrick Kelly of Liverpool has proposed a "task force for evangelisation" to offset falling vocations and Mass attendance in one of England's Catholic heartlands.
In a pastoral letter to the nine parishes of the deanery of Wigan, Greater Manchester, he explained how the task force would involve two people from each parish in attracting the lapsed back to their faith in what since the Reformation has been one of the most Catholic areas of the country. But he also warned how parishes might have to be "clustered under one priest" to combat falling vocations and the numbers of priests leaving the ministry.
Clustering has already been used extensively in his archdiocese as well as the dioceses of Portsmouth, Shrewsbury and Middlesbrough.
A total of 49 parishes in the Liverpool archdiocese are now administered by just 22 priests, some of whom have
been encumbered with extra responsibilities. It is expected that a further 70 parishes in Liverpool will be clustered in the next 10 years, at the rate of about five a year.
A shortfall in the number of priests of the Wigan deanery arose with the sudden departure of Fr Mark Worden of St Aidan's, Wigan, amid rumours of a four-year affair with a woman from Maghull, near Liverpool.
Fr Francis Tillotson of St John's agreed to take over the parish, and Fr John Johnson of St Mary's agreed to take on their two busy parishes.
Fr Johnson said the problem was caused by the shortage of manpower. "We can't knit priests," he said. "This is simply part of the price we are paying for not producing enough priests."
Archbishop Kelly wrote to the people of St John's and St Mary's. lie said: "1 realise that changes such as these are not easy but I know that many parishes in the archdiocese when they have responded to this sort of change have found an opportunity for new growth and even stronger involvement of everyone in the life of their parishes."
Meanwhile, Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh announced in a speech in Kansas, the United States, that the whole Church needed to promote vocations. Speak
ing to Serra International, a lay movement set up to promote religious vocations, the Primate of All Ireland said there was no substitute for personally inviting young people to religious life.
He said: "Vocations are promoted through prayer in families, in parishes and in schools. God still calls people to become priests and religious. The Holy Spirit is not on strike. Vocations are present in every parish community. It takes all of us