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Archbishop Anthony Mancini of Halifax-Yarmouth has called for a year of purification, special prayer and fasting in difficult times. Photo by Michael Swan

Francis Campbell: Archdiocese restructuring in face of big challenges

  • October 25, 2018

Nobody goes there anymore … it’s too crowded.

So said Yogi Berra, the late New York Yankees hall of famer. The first part of his comment seems painfully pertinent for the Catholic Church, the second part not so much.

Confronted by a dilemma of dwindling attendance, the archbishop of Halifax-Yarmouth, one of only two dioceses in the province of Nova Scotia, assembled his priests and deacons nearly three weeks ago to discuss parish reorganization. They reviewed declining attendance, fewer priests and a changing culture. The outcome will be a consolidation of the archdiocese’s 65 parishes into 19, with parish administration becoming a shared responsibility. In the past, a single priest handled ministerial duties. Now responsibility will be shared by a team that could include a second priest, a part-time retired priest, a deacon and full-time lay leaders.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to go from 65 buildings down to 19 buildings,” archdiocesan spokesman Fr. James Mallon told the Chronicle Herald newspaper. 

He said parish teams will determine building closures. Much of the archdiocese is served by small, rural parishes and now three or four of those parishes will become one. Restructuring will begin in the new year and the new parishes are expected to be defined by the end of 2019.

The Halifax archdiocese has gone through this before. Seven years before the dioceses of Halifax and Yarmouth merged in 2011, a report called “Forward in Faith” concluded restructuring was needed to reflect the realities of dwindling attendance, population growth in the Halifax area and population decline in rural areas, fewer priests and soaring operating costs. The result was the amalgamation of several parishes and many churches were closed.

Archbishop Anthony Mancini, head of the Church in Halifax-Yarmouth, has had more on his plate in recent weeks than reshaping parishes. In a letter distributed recently in all archdiocesan parishes, Mancini tackled the recurring scourge of sexual abuse by clergy. He called for a Year of Atonement for the failure of Church leadership to adequately and effectively deal with sex abuse. That scandal has caused the Church to break into camps of ideologically driven groups, each trying to bring about change, he said.

“Some are trying to return to an idealized past, others are trying to bring about a future which is more reflective of their own agenda, than what the Church of Christ should look like,” Mancini said. “We have heard outcries for the resignation of the Pope and for the removal of certain bishops; there have been expressions of anger on the part of many and I have received letters from others choosing to leave the Church.”

The archbishop was reacting to fallout from a lengthy grand jury report released in October that accused more than 300 “predator priests” of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children in six Pennsylvania dioceses. The report highlighted how crimes were covered up and abusers were protected.

Mancini called for a year of purification, of special prayer and fasting.

“With atonement, the grace gained by Christ’s death on the cross, let us be moved to sorrow and shame, but even more, let us also go beyond this, to an overwhelming appreciation of the amazing grace of God’s love, expressed in the sacrifice of Christ’s life of us,” Mancini said.

“Let us not lose our soul as disciples of Christ; let us not fall into division and disagreement, which will put us beyond redemption because of the blindness of our disappointments. Let us not miss the opportunity of transformation, for each of us individually and for our Church universally which is being extended to us by the mercy of God.”

Mallon has long preached about the need to move the Church from a stagnant maintenance role to a missionary function. His Divine Renovation ministry, originated in St. Benedict Parish in Halifax, has gained widespread traction worldwide.

“We are a missionary organization but we function as a club,” Mallon said earlier this year. “A club is something that exists for the members. A church is the only organization that exists for those who don’t belong, it’s outward-focused. We talk about moving a parish from maintenance to mission. With maintenance, your primary concern is for the people you’ve got and keeping them happy.”

He said a missionary Church must not neglect its members but “its primary concern is the people you don’t have.”

The churches in Halifax-Yarmouth aren’t crowded, but with a concerted focus on fundamental restructuring, atonement and missionary goals, the hope is that, someday, we can stop saying nobody goes there anymore.

(Campbell is a reporter at the Halifax Chronicle-Herald.)