Axe hangs over 14 Catholic churches

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THE axe today remained hanging over 14 Catholic churches across the Fylde coast.

Diocese leaders have revised initial closure plans, but while some churches win reprieves, Good Friday brings dark tidings for others – many in some of the coast's most socially deprived areas.

The Gazette revealed last summer how 12 churches – stretching from Blackpool to Fleetwood and rural Fylde and Wyre – had been placed on a hit-list by leaders of cash-strapped Lancaster Diocese.

Falling attendances meant many churches were not seen as viable and would be merged.

The closure plans were put out to local consultation and the diocese has come back with revised plans.

But they include the possible closure of 14 churches with St Francis Chapel, Goosnargh, which serves Hambleton, and St Mary and Michael, Bonds Lane, Garstang, now added to the list.

While diocese leaders say the closures are not definite, priests and churchgoers remain fearful.

Fr Patrick Hibbert, of St Alban's Church, Kilnhouse Lane, St Annes, which could merge with Our Lady Star of the Sea, or stay open if new housing developments improve attendance, said the new proposals were vague.

He said: "It's quite confusing. This second proposal is more vague than the last. We will see what time brings. Merging a parish would be felt deeply. A parish is more than simply a place to gather for Mass. There's a network of relationships that are built up over years."

Christ The King in Grange Park is no longer on the hit-list, for the time being.

Elsewhere, the new 154-page Fit For Mission draft proposals hint at new super parishes being formed, although it is not clear how many churches will close and be sold off. Others may have to slug it out with neighbours for the survival of the pastoral fittest.

Some may retain a Catholic presence in communities with some church halls kept open, or through a base in a local school.

Rachel Sykes, who runs Class Act, a theatre school based at Holy Family Church Hall, said she fears the proposed merger with St Bernadette's will destroy the community.

She said: "This disintegrates communities we need help to build. We need to retain a presence in North Shore. That hall is booked to capacity every week, about 800 people use it."

Review chairman, Monsignor Aidan Turner, of Our Lady Star of the Sea, says local people still have time to get involved.

Mgr Turner, vicar general to the county's senior Catholic cleric, Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue, said: "Initial proposals were revised in the light of the comments, criticisms and suggestions.

"They have been prepared with a lot of work, study, and prayer, and I think they will be better received. But they are still proposals, and we await comments before we draw up final proposals."

Parishioner Louise Fishwick, of St Monica's in Mereside, said: "Deprived areas like this need a church as a central place for people to go to. We want to keep the church open, so we'd love people to come and join us. We need to breathe life into our community."