THE Catholic Church is to undergo a major overhaul across the east of Scotland, with the number of parishes dropping from more than 100 to 30.


The Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, which has a Catholic population of around 110,000 and stretches from the northern edges of Glasgow to Fife and the Borders, has warned of a "painful and difficult" time ahead as it attempts to arrive at the figure.

Its leadership has cited "a lack of priests, a drop in income and the fall in numbers attending Mass".

Archdiocese officials insist the dramatic shake-up, arguably the biggest in its 150 year history, does not amount to shutting 80 churches, with new "parish units" potentially containing several existing church buildings.

However, a significant number would be expected to close their doors.

St Andrews and Edinburgh Archbishop Leo Cushley said he expects the plans to be in place and underway by the end of 2015.

Glasgow, by far the country's biggest, is bracing itself to close as many as half its parishes, while Motherwell, which includes most of Lanarkshire, is shutting or merging about 40.

The Diocese of Galloway is undergoing similar, with figures showing the number of priests and churchgoers has roughly halved since 1990.

Citing a recent meeting on the Archdiocese's future, Archbishop Cushley, who worked directly with Popes Francis and Benedict, said "a consensus close to unanimity emerged that we cannot continue to maintain the present number of parishes".

In the letter, he added projections to the year 2035 would see St Andrews and Edinburgh left with around 30 parish priests, as well as some in religious orders. While the Archbishop said he would look to see more joining the priesthood and will invite foreign priests to assist, these were not within his control.

At present the Archdiocese has 129 priests, including those who have retired but help out and those in orders such as the Jesuits and Franciscans.

Archbishop Cushley said: "The picture is made more complicated by the natural shift of the population in the Archdiocese's considerable and diverse territory over the last 150 years, and the accumulation over a long period of a number of parish buildings that no longer serve our communities in the way they used to.

"It is an unpleasant task but it nevertheless falls to our generation to look hard at our present situation."

He added: "At the end of this exercise (we must aim to) have a total of some 30 parishes or so throughout the diocese.

"I am all too aware how painful it will be for us to arrive at this figure. But the spiritual and pastoral advantages would also be notable in that we would have fewer, larger, stronger parishes with at least one priest at their heart."

A spokesman for the Archdiocese said: "The Archbishop's letter to the Deans of the Archdiocese asks them to begin a discussion about how better to co-ordinate resources at a local level. This could include the creation of larger parishes or sharing church buildings or halls. The Deans will submit proposals by Easter 2015. The discussion will then be opened further to clergy and lay representatives from each parish".

"If the process concludes in the creation of around 30 parish units, it is important to stress that this does not mean that the Archdiocese will consist of only 30 churches since a single enhanced parish could contain several church buildings where Holy Mass and the sacraments are available on a Sunday and throughout the week."