“The solution is staring the bishops in the face”

The pastor of the parish where I came into the Church was downright disgusted with the Archdiocese’s approach to vocations and the priest shortage crisis that would follow. He used to compare the geniuses of the vocations office et al. to those who during a potato famine sat around talking about how they were going to die from starvation rather than planting other crops and going fishing.

Today I read in the newest number of the Catholic Herald an article about a way to save the Catholic Church in England.

The subtitle:

The solution is staring the bishops in the face

Indeed it is.

The writer presents some cold facts and then gets to it.  Let’s jump in media res with my emphases:


Without denying that church closures are often inevitable, they are not always the only solution to too many churches. Indeed, several dioceses in north-west England are quietly pioneering another model, of which other “church rich, but priest-and-parishioner poor” bishops might well take heed.

The basic model is simple: lift a surplus-to-requirements church out of the normal parish system and give it to a niche group that can do something distinctive with it. Some of the original parishioners will stay and adjust (and be quite happy to do so); others will go off to provide a welcome boost to the numbers of nearby parishes. By allowing this group to spread its wings, and do something distinctive, it can then attract like-minded people from the surrounding area. Perhaps in any one parish there might be only two, or three, or five people for whom this is “their thing”, but over a wide area – especially in a large town or city – those few soon add up.

After all, most people already drive to church and a significant number of Mass-goers frequent a church that is not, strictly speaking, their own. This happens most obviously in places like London (how many of those attending the Oratory do you suppose actually live within its parochial boundaries?). But it is a perfectly common practice throughout the whole country.

Take my own home town of Preston, in the Diocese of Lancaster. Three grand old churches have recently been given over to the traditionalist Institute for Christ the King (St Walburge’s and English Martyrs) and the Syro-Malabar Church (St Ignatius, or rather the Cathedral of St Alphonsa as it is now). While these three are only a mile apart, there are more than a dozen other Catholic churches within a three-mile radius. So there’s no shortage of options for these churches’ original worshippers, looking for what they’re liturgically used to. I have visited St Walburge’s on a number of occasions, and it is genuinely thriving. In fact, they’re now setting up a school. I’ve also been to the Archdiocese of Liverpool’s own experiment in this area: St Mary’s, Warrington, entrusted to another traditionalist order, the FSSP. It too is doing just champion, as we say in Lancashire.

This basic model is, I’ll wager, worth exploring further, and with other groups. If it can work in Preston with both Extraordinary Form (EF) devotees and Keralan-diaspora Syro-Malabars, with whom else might it work? (As a curious side note, while I’ve seen the idea of EF communities criticised for being cliquey and divisive, I’ve never heard the same allegations against dedicated churches for Eastern Catholic groups.)


He goes on to talk about the possibility of reviving ethnic, personal parishes as well as the Ordinariate.

It is staring bishops in the face.  I think there are some bishops who would burn the diocese to the ground and sew the land with salt before they would let a parish go entirely Extraordinary Form.

So, let’s start planning how to starve together rather than growing crops and going fishing.

Reason #10 for Summorum Pontificum.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Eriugena says:

    The poor peasants of Ireland may well have wished to plant other crops instead of potatoes (which was the poorest of all vegetables, and the only thing they could afford), but were forbidden by the Corn Laws of the then United Kingdom from doing so. Queen Victoria understood their plight and helped them, but the politicians refused to do anything. Captain Boycott in County Mayo saw the consequences of this, and “boycotting” was the ONLY thing the starving masses could do (other than emigrate en masse to Canada and the US). Fishing wasn’t an option either if you lived 200 miles inland and donkeys were illegal. Protectionism isn’t always a good thing.

    [And yet the point of the analogy is perhaps being lost in over analysis? This is really about vocations, rather than about the historic details of the Famine in Ireland.]

  2. Suburbanbanshee says:

    That’s a very fitting analogy, but maybe the situation of Ireland after the Famine is also applicable.

    In Darina Allen’s magisterial book, Irish Traditional Cooking, she talks about the wide variety of foods eaten by canny Irish peasants who didn’t depend entirely on potatoes, and how those supplemental foods became vitally important during the Famine. But the Famine lasted over three years in parts of Ireland, and survivors got sick of eating only “extra” foods every day of the year.

    So after the Famine ended, a lot of the Irish ended up eating more restricted diets, because they associated all the side dish stuff with “being poor and desperate” or “being boring.” And that wouldn’t have mattered, but they also taught this to their kids and grandkids and great-grandkids. Many foods that had been common parts of Irish cuisine since prehistoric times were maligned as barely edible, or even thought to be poisonous. Similarly, many cooking techniques died out because they were associated with living poor in a cottage, instead of living prosperously in a modern house.

    So Darina Allen’s generation thought Irish cooking had always been stunted and boring. She had a grandma who didn’t throw out all the native goodies; so it’s been her job to show people that Irish herbs, fish, meats, breads, and seaweeds, can be interesting to make and tasty to eat. And it’s still healthy to vary your diet with the stuff that grows all around you for free. (She’s also the one who defends the Irish deliciousness of corned beef, which many modern Irish people don’t remember as a festive food but which she does.)

  3. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Anyway, my point is that Ireland went through WWI and WWII, when you would think that food restrictions (WWI) and import problems (WWII, when Ireland was a neutral) would have led to a revival of the disfavored, but cheap and available, foods. Obviously some people had never dropped the native foods, and they did okay. Other people overcame their distaste and revived them temporarily, only to go back to food refusal after the wars.

    But a lot of people refused to eat, or teach their kids to eat, the foods that could have helped them. They were too stubborn to help themselves, or it didn’t quite get bad enough. Either way, their self-image was more important than their bellies.

    And there you are. A lot of the old-school liberals were properly taught, and they know factually and experientially how to do things like run a Catholic parochial school, or ask for vocations. But they refuse to do it or let other people do it; and they teach everyone else that the good local herbs are nasty and inedible — maybe poisonous.

  4. John Grammaticus says:

    My Thoughts

    One of the BIG problems facing people (especially the young) in the Church is a lack of community and continuity, [RIGHT… continuity is HUGE.] What the Traditional Orders (I’ll include the SSPX in here for practical purposes) do well is that they provides both e.g:

    1) In an ordinary Diocese, a Priest will often be moved around once every 5 years or so (there are exceptions but they are exceptions) and a new Priest very often feels the need to ‘make his mark’ on the parish by dismantling something that his predecessor did and start over.

    2) Whilst Traditional Priests are reassigned, generally his replacement will either have served under him as an assistant Priest in the same Parish or be the assistants replacement. In either case there is continuity for the Parishioners.

    3) In my experience Traditional Priests will actually organize and maintain devotions at a Parish level e.g. at the SSPX chapel where I attend Mass, there is the Rosary every day Monday – Saturday in the afternoon with the Angelus said afterword.

    4) My experience is that not only do you have families at Traditional Parishes, but multiple generations of the same family, this means that even if it is impossible for a working father to see his parents during the week, but he knows he will see them at Sunday Mass.

  5. scotus says:

    Firstly, I don’t think one needs to be a genius to work out why certain bishops are not giving over their surplus churches to the Ordinariate. Secondly, I totally agree that they should be more willing to do so. But thirdly, I don’t see this as being THE solution. A solution, certainly but not, by itself, THE solution. [The writer doesn’t think that is THE solution, either. He presented several options.]
    As to ‘those who during a potato famine sat around talking about how they were going to die from starvation rather than planting other crops and going fishing’ that also seems a very apt description of the policy of many bishops to the declining numbers of people attending Mass. All the talk is about closing and merging parishes. Very little is said about evangelism. Or even ways to retain the people who do still attend Mass. [Perhaps we could try something out of the box… like giving parishes over to traditional worship and preaching.]

  6. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    “I think there are some bishops who would burn the diocese to the ground and sew the land with salt before they would let a parish go entirely Extraordinary Form.”

    So, so sad.

  7. Sword40 says:

    [Perhaps we could try something out of the box… like giving parishes over to traditional worship and preaching.]

    This is what our Archbishop did in our case. We had been renting a church from the local Polish church ( for a Sunday afternoon TL Mass). Started with about 60 people. We persevered for 3 years. Finally he gave us an old Slovak church that was built in 1911 by the ethnic Slovaks. We were assigned a FSSP priest. We have now entered our third year here and have grown from our 60 or so folks to over 350 plus we have our second priest. Masses seven days a week, from low Masses to Sunday Sung High Mass. Have even had several Solemn High Masses in 2017. Excited to begin 2018.

    You are correct Fr., it can be done.

  8. jaykay says:

    Hmmm… that’s an interesting analysis. It does depend on numbers, sadly, or population-density, which in the case of the U.K. is huge – hence immigrants such as those of Eastern rites are a lot more prevalent – for lots of historical reasons, not least Empire etc. – and thus churches could be allocated to them. Not so much where I live, in N.E. Ireland, the most populated part of the country but still pretty sparse by European standards. So we have a lot of declining parishes, but nothing like the immigrant Catholic/ Eastern influx that might sustain or revive them such as other European countries have. Don’t get me going on why the indigenous population can’t do that :(

    And yet… and yet… the Inst. of Christ the King took over a glorious 19th century abandoned former Jesuit church in Limerick and have literally, with much practical hard work, and prayer, restored it, both liturgically (of course!) and architecturally. It was going to be sold-off for a health centre, or some such. Now, it’s a health centre alright :) So even here, with small population and lots of indifference, it can happen.

    Mind you, that’s in one of our larger cities – not large by international standards, of course. Outside – yes, there’s still a problem. But I like to think that the seeds are being sown – not far from me is Silverstream Priory, for example, which Fr. Z has often featured.


    All this was pretty much unimaginable just 20 years ago – I honestly never thought I’d see it, and I was only 37 then but already getting a bit a apathetic, managed decline seeming to be the order of the day. Now, thanks be to God, not so. I do think the internet has had so much to do with that, not least this blog.

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