Thursday, 7 March 2013

St Francis of Assisi Church to Close?

Earmarked for closure? St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church
At the nightshelter project I met a man who attends St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Moulsecoomb. It is a Church set in an area of high levels of concentrated poverty.

The man, who I hope to interview on camera for this blog claims that the St Francis of Assisi is earmarked for closure.

He related to me that St Francis, now joined with the parish of St Joseph, Elm Grove, no longer has a resident priest and is served by just one priest from St Joseph's, Canon Kieran O'Brien. While he is not serving on any particular 'committee' for the Church, he says he has inside knowledge of ongoing attempts to close the Church serving the community of Moulsecoomb.

The man is not alone in Moulsecoomb in being very fond of the tiny Church and is angered at attempts that he feels conspire to close the Church. Parishioners, despite the poverty of the area, have ensured that the parish fund is not poor. It is well in surplus and he claims in the bank are very healthy funds. "Where", he asks, "will all the money we parishioners have given out of our earnings go when it closes? To St Josephs? To the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton?"

Canon Kieran O'Brien, front, immediately left to Bishop Kieran
Church closures are a feature of the modern Catholic Church in England and Wales, with Church closures taking place in various parts of the country. The Church, formerly an Anglican Church that was abandoned and converted to a Catholic Church in 1953 has a healthy, if aging and declining, congregation. Yet there is no problem with funding. There is, of course, a problem with a declining number of men coming forward to join the Priesthood. Still, the man I was talking to is angered at what he feels is a level of manipulation of the parish.

He claims that the serving Priest has told one of St Francis's committees that the parish will have to accept the transference of the Church's one Sunday Mass to that of the Saturday evening Vigil Mass. Parishioners, who obviously want to fulfill their obligation on a Sunday are angry that the parish should be manipulated this way and the man alleges that the committee has been told that if they do not accept the plan to move the Sunday Mass to Saturday, then the Church will have little choice but to face closure.

Bishop Kieran Conry
I asked him who is responsible for whether Churches close or remain open and he maintains that the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton is, ultimately, the person who has the decision over whether a Church is to be closed. Would the money in the parish's bank account then go to the Diocese? If it did, then the parishioners would be rightly aggrieved.

The man claims that the parish feels that it is being abandoned and that while, for years, the Church has been without a resident Priest, the idea of closure is making parishioners deeply upset, while many parishioners feel in the dark about what will happen. There seems to be a lack of real transparency within the parish of St Joseph's and St Francis's and, perhaps, even in the Diocese about the idea of Church closure. They are understandably attached to the Church and to what has been built up over the years.

While there are four Churches in Brighton that are within walking distance of each other, the people of Moulescoomb are very much on the outskirts of Brighton itself and would have to travel quite a long way in order to attend Mass. I must say that I found the idea of the ending of the Catholic Church's mission to the poor and deprived in Brighton really rather shocking. It is insulting enough to the people of Moulescoomb that no priest appears to have been prepared to live there in years, or that the priest shortage has conveniently meant that a resident priest in the area is an 'impossibility', but the news that the Church could face closure has sent shockwaves through the small Church community.

The man I was talking to at the nightshelter was very interesting. He rebelled against the Catholic Church when he was young. At the time, the Church still offered the Traditional Latin Mass as the only Mass. He served it and knew the Mass by memory. He lived in Ireland where he was brought up by some severe nuns and then Christian Brothers. Years and years later, after he married, he came back to the Faith to find the Novus Ordo Mass and a very different style of worship. He is often told by the Priest that 'there is no need to genuflect' when he passes the Tabernacle. He ignores him and genuflects anyway. He finds it hard to believe that the Rosary has all but been abandoned by most Catholics in his parish and those he encounters and that "you don't even hear people praying the Rosary at funerals now."

He doesn't like the way Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion go to the Tabernacle to remove the Lord to place Him on the Altar when the Priest is just yards away from the Tabernacle and could do it perfectly well himself. He misses the Latin, though he says he no longer knows the Latin that was taught to him at school. He used to be able to converse in it! He doesn't like the loss of the sacred that has taken place in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. The ancient liturgy, he says, has been replaced by something else entirely. On Tuesday, at Stations of the Cross, there was no priest to lead the people. They have to make the devotion themselves! I assume that parishioners are also in charge of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament! He likes the new translation - it is better, he claims - but wishes his parish priest would stick to it and stop 'ad-libbing' throughout the Mass. He doesn't like the way that his priest hears Confessions on the Sanctuary instead of in a Confessional box. He finds it sad how many people do not kneel for Holy Communion and senses that nearly all Catholic traditions and devotions have been lost in a 'community based' style of worship. I really felt I had found a true kindred spirit.

I found the idea of the closure of St Francis truly shocking. Has the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton really ran out of Priests, really ran out of ideas and really ran out of the missionary zeal that brought Catholicism to one of the poorest areas of Brighton? I hope to God that the Bishop can come up with something better than the plan that my new friend says is afoot. What devastation has been caused in the name of the Second Vatican Council, so jubilantly celebrated in the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton this year, the spirit of which has caused mass exodus from Churches, the devastation of the Catholic liturgy and the loss of countless souls from the Most Holy Faith! How sad it is, how tragic it is, that modern Bishops across the country are unable to see, or refuse to see, the destruction that the 'spirit of the Council' has caused on the ground! How tragic for them and their flock that these same Bishops cannot bring themselves to understand the theology of Pope Emeritus Benedict and his attempts at grassroots liturgical renewal! How many Churches have to close in this country before the Dome of Home becomes the home of all!


JW said...

The joint parish has lost the services of Fr Douglas Perkins, so the choice is between Mass at Moulsecombe fo 40 or at St Joseph's for 240 plus on a Sunday morning, if you were the parish priest what would you choose?

There are only a limited number of Masses one priest can say.

The Bones said...

Yes, I can understand this is a great problem, but threatening the parish with closure if people are upset is a little bit shocking.

Jacobi said...

I read your article with interest and sympathy. May I suggest however that it is high time we all took a step back and looked objectively at the Church today?

In the last 50 years, Mass attendance has fallen much more than the numbers of priests. The problem is a shortage of Catholics, not priests – and too many churches. I can walk to say 5 churches within half an hour and drive to about ten. All with small to medium congregations, many sharing priests and therefore without proper spiritual shepherding.

The Church is now in crisis – a word used several times by Benedict XV11 - the like of which we have not seen since the Protestant Reformation. The liberal/Modernist attack during and particularly after Vatican 11 has been a catastrophe, and the quicker we realise this, the better. The Vatican 11 generation (my generation ) have made a mess of things, which the next generations will have to sort out. We may, as Benedict has suggested, have to accept a smaller church – much smaller.

Now no solutions here. A whole book or series of books would be needed for that. But let’s begin by realising just how serious the problem is.

Physiocrat said...

Moulsecombe is close to the University of Sussex. It is beyond the abilities of the authorities to arrange for a mass on Sunday mornings that can be attended by students and local residents?

Jacobi said...

Conscience is a terrible thing! Having read my comment which inadvertantly gave a hint of my age, I must come clean.

I used to be able to walk to 5 churches within half an hour, not any more, sadly. But I can still drive!

Anonymous said...

Hello Lawrence, I post as Mockery of the Sacraments.
If churches close as aged congregations begin to die out and the number of priests tail off we may end up seeing people having to drive to the next town to attend the mass. In this situation, the church will no longer be Catholic in one sense of being Universal, as it will no longer be available in every town & place, instead presenting as a diminished force, retreating from national life.

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