St Patrick’s church in Masterton. PHOTO/KAREN COLTMAN
A declining congregation, more costs, a lot less cash, and not enough priests to go around has brought the perfect storm to Wairarapa Catholic churches.
Earlier this year, Cardinal John Dew directed the region’s parishes to present a plan to cut costs and accept there were not enough priests to go around.
This plan was due back to the cardinal on Wednesday, but the Wairarapa parish has requested more time to achieve consensus on what to do.
Dew said there was a reduced number of priests and this was accelerating each year, “which means for most parishes there is a single, often elderly priest”.
Another problem the Catholic Church faced was buildings with unacceptable national building standard ratings, creating unsustainable insurance costs.
Dew said there were parishes with two or more churches – “more than necessary for worship and pastoral care”.
In the Catholic Parish of Wairarapa, there are five churches, all of which are running at a deficit, except Masterton.
In a letter to the parishes about this, Father Bruce England of Masterton’s St Patrick’s church said, “We need to be open and honest, helping each other to understand the desperate situation we are in along with all other parishes in our Archiocese”.
“We do not have enough planned gifting, loose cash, income from our five communities to pay all the expenses we have in basic operations,” England said.
“Our present [financial] climate fails. [It is] ethically and morally wrong, we cannot continue.”
But the Wairarapa parish pastoral council response to a reduction in parishes was, “no”.
Their proposal stated it wanted to retain all five parishes with a call for leadership on how to achieve this.
The submission said there were examples of where one priest had served five to six parishes.
It said there were many examples in the secular world where closing the outlets of operations had a detrimental effect.
“Closing the outlier churches of the parish would make the problem worse,” the submission said.
The Wairarapa parish pastoral council acknowledged the finances were bad but said with, “transparency, restoration of trust and certainty, regular giving will increase”.
The response said having one priest for the region could be seen as a “religious delivery service”.
“This suffocates the mission of the parishioners and the local church community.”
However, their finance committee suggested that only St Patrick’s and Sacred Heart in Greytown should be strengthened and retained for the Catholic community.
It proposed that many assets should be sold.
These are the land and hall in Te Ore Ore, Carterton Church and buildings, Martinborough church land and Featherston’s St Teresa’s church and presbytery.
These two proposals are very different.
England confirmed they wanted an extension from the cardinal until next year to submit a plan.
“These are very serious matters and we are waiting to hear about our request for an extension.”
Masterton’s congregation is more than 300. The rest, Martinborough, Featherston, Carterton, and Greytown, number well under 100.