Montreal bishop Thomas Dowd, top, says the large number of non-practising English Catholics in the archdiocese is affecting English parishes and up to 14 may be forced to close. Photo by Alan Hustak

Cash crunch puts 40 per cent of Montreal’s English parishes in jeopardy

By  Alan Hustak, Catholic Register Special
  • November 17, 2016

MONTREAL – Montreal’s community of English-speaking practising Catholics has shrunk to the point that 14 of the archdiocese’s 34 parishes could face eventual closure barring an unexpected turnaround in fortunes.

“I wouldn’t say the glass is empty, there are resources we can tap, we just have to figure a way to turn on the tap,” Bishop Thomas Dowd told The Catholic Register.

“The Lord needs a lot of parishes, but realistically, He doesn’t need a lot of buildings. Finances are a real distraction. Given the demographics we can perhaps sustain 20 parishes. At the moment there are 34.”

Although Montreal has 201,760 registered English-speaking Catholics, only about five per cent attend Mass on any given Sunday. Only 18 parishes on the Island have a priest they can call their own.

“Non-practising Catholics are now the largest denomination in Quebec,” Dowd told a weekend conference.

He said there are 141,230 English-speaking Catholics who “don’t participate at all.”

“Being a practising Catholic is like learning Kung Fu. At some point you have to stop learning and start practising,” he said.

 Dowd was speaking at an annual event called the Catholic Community Rally and Vitality Conference sponsored by Montreal’s English-speaking Catholic Council. More than 250 delegates registered for the conference, which was designed to inspire the English Catholic community and stimulate growth.

Of Montreal’s 34 English parishes, 11 are having problems meeting their expenses, he said. Several other parishes cannot afford to pay their priest.

“We have two choices. We either close churches or respond to dynamics of viability,” Dowd said.

“Middle-class income Catholics here put one cent of every dollar they earn in the collection plate. If the average donation of those who go to Mass rose by even one per cent, almost all of our financial problems would be resolved.”

Dowd said many of the parishes are suffering from a syndrome he called ASP — Always the Same People who run the parish the same way they have always run it.

“Our parishes are filled with people who, in some cases, love their parish more than they love the Lord. Parishes are nothing more than communities sent on a mission and there are clear signs, through the community, they are called to endure,” he said.

“But sustaining communities won’t be easy and will require new ways to address old problems,” Down conceded.

“The greatest resource we have is the Holy Spirit in our people,” he said. “We will have to redo the parish boundaries according to mission territories, not administrative territories. We need to evangelize, proclaim the kerygma — the core Gospel — and make it easier for people to give of themselves and move from being religious consumers to becoming religious contributors.”

“It is going to be hard. Parishes will have to network with each other, with other community groups and movements, and grow their pool of common resources.”

Until his appointment in August as Vicar General for the Archdiocese of Montreal, Dowd was Episcopal Vicar for the English-speaking faithful and Director of the Office for English Pastoral Services. His successor, Fr. Raymond Lafontaine, said he needs time to absorb his new portfolio before he can talk about the challenges he faces.

(Hustak is a writer in Montreal.)

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

<I>Although Montreal has 201,760 registered English-speaking Catholics, only about five per cent attend Mass on any given Sunday. Only 18 parishes on the Island have a priest they can call their own.</I>

And were are constantly told by the...

<I>Although Montreal has 201,760 registered English-speaking Catholics, only about five per cent attend Mass on any given Sunday. Only 18 parishes on the Island have a priest they can call their own.</I>

And were are constantly told by the hierarchy that we are in a "springtime of renewal."

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