A special section in the British Catholic magazine The Tablet (October 29) reports on the signifiant decline of the “northern Catholic heartlands,” marked by parish closings and mergers, as well as declining membership.
The heartlands, with its two largest dioceses in Liverpool and Lancaster, served a thriving Catholic population that was part Irish and part recusant (families that remained Catholic after the Reformation), but is now facing a dearth of new priests (a 40 percent drop in the number of priests in 10 years) and changes in people’s attitudes to Catholic traditions. In the Lancaster Diocese, 22 parishes have merged since 2009 and 10 others have been linked, while there has only been one ordination this year.
There may well be as many Catholics living in this region as before, but a much larger proportion of them are non-practicing.Recent research by Durham University’s Centre for Catholic studies finds that part of the current problems may stem from the expectations and building projects from the 1931–61 boom period, marked by population growth and a rise in religious vocations. Dioceses have to deal with the legacy of too many buildings, often in the wrong places, and too few priests to serve them.
In response to these changes, there are new initiatives that often take an ecumenical approach, for instancing, borrowing from the Anglicans, who developed a “minister model, which, rather than spreading a pool of ministerial talent thinly across many communities, invests in the creation of a smaller number of beacon parishes as a focus for the evangelization of an area,” write Paul Murray and Marcus Pond. Another article suggests that where parishes have introduced the practice of perpetual adoration of the eucharist, “there has been a noticeable increase in the number of young men considering a vocation.”
(The Tablet, 1 King Cloisters, Clifton Walk, London W6 0QZ, UK)