CATHOLIC parishes across the west of Scotland are to face closure amid ­dwindling congregations and clergy numbers, it has emerged.

The Archdiocese of Glasgow, home to Scotland's largest Catholic population, will begin consulting with all its 90-plus parishes in the run-up to Christmas on the pressures facing the church.

Parishioners will be informed of the consultation at masses this weekend.

Church insiders have dismissed claims that one-quarter of parishes in the Archdiocese will go, saying that there are "no figures and no hit-lists".

According to today's Scottish ­Catholic Observer, it is understood that the Motherwell Diocese, which covers most of Lanarkshire and is awaiting the appointment of a new bishop, is also in the early stages of reorganising plans.

Galloway, which covers Ayrshire and most of south-west Scotland, is another diocese formally looking to deal with the same issues. It has already shut many parishes in the past few years, with one priest covering four parishes in some areas.

The move will lead again to questions on whether Scotland needs eight dioceses, half of which require replacement bishops.

Commentators have spoken for some time of the need for a radical restructure of the Catholic Church.

Some sources have ­questioned the timing of the consultation's launch, saying it is causing some upset among parishioners fearful they are spending their last Christmas in churches they have been attending for lifetimes.

The move follows the most turbulent years in the Scottish Catholic Church's history, with the scandal surrounding Cardinal Keith O'Brien and the emergence of historic abuse cases.

It comes as the appointment of Pope Francis has led to an upsurge in mass attendance, while the recent census figures showed a rise in the number of people declaring themselves Catholic, up to 841,000 from 804,000 in 2001.

At the same time, those identifying themselves with the Church of ­Scotland fell by more than 400,000. However, Glasgow's Archbishop, Philip Tartaglia, warned on the day he was appointed of "tough decisions", a clear reference to shutting parishes.

Called Archdiocese of Glasgow: This Affects You, the leaflet "lays the groundwork" for necessary "changes" to come. Questions asked include: "When was the last time you saw your church packed?"

It also highlights that the number of parishes in the diocese has fallen from 111 in 1977 to 93 today.

The population of Glasgow has fallen, it states, from 1.1 million to 585,000 since the 1950s, with mass attendance dropping by 51% in the last 25 years.

A senior source said: "This exercise is being driven by two things: the changing demographics of the archdiocese and the demographics of the clergy.

"Many of the parishes were built during the housing boom of the 1950s, from where there has been a population migration in recent years. Places like Castlemilk have already seen the number of parishes fall.

"Priests are getting older and there's not as many joining the priesthood as there was. But we have no hit-list, no numbers and while the document doesn't say explicitly parishes will close it's sensible to assume that the archdiocese is looking at provision. It's felt there are too many in the wrong places."

The source also dismissed claims the church would reap significant financial benefits from the sale of churches and land, saying assets would transfer along with parishes and congregations.

The plans involve meetings in each Glasgow deanery, essentially a grouping of around 10 parishes, of all priests, deacons and parish council members before Christmas, followed by a discussion paper in the New Year. Further meetings will place next spring, when Archbishop Tartaglia will meet with each Glasgow priest individually.

Other Christian faith denominations have also been struggling with falling attendances. Reports have suggested the Church of Scotland stands to lose more than £1 million a year in givings as congregations begin resigning from the Kirk in the row over gay ordination.