WelCom June/July 2022
The merging of dioceses in the many countries with shrinking Catholic populations is historically unusual but it is becoming increasingly common under Pope Francis. The trend may well continue in the face of declining numbers of clergy and Mass-going Catholics in the western world.
Pope Francis announced in February that the Irish dioceses of Clonfert and Galway and Kilmacduagh would now share a bishop in Michael Duignan.
In November last year, the Vatican announced the union in persona Episcopi of the Italian sees of Turin and Susa.
Before those announcements, the Canadian Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall shared a bishop with the Archdiocese of Ottawa from December 2018 until 2020, when the two sees were formally combined into the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall.
A little further north, that same year Pope Francis reunified the Alaskan Archdiocese of Anchorage and the Diocese of Juneau.
The Holy See recently announced that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Archbishop George Stack of Cardiff, Wales, appointing Bishop Mark O’Toole of the Diocese of Plymouth, England, to succeed him. At the same time, O’Toole has also been named the Bishop of Menevia, the neighbouring Welsh diocese, which has had no bishop since 2019.
As many bishops confront sharp declines in parish Mass attendance over recent decades, and often a drop in the number of priests in active ministry, many have combined the governance of several parishes under a single pastor.
The same trends apply upstream – where the same solutions could soon be tried.
As parish closures and mergers result in more consolidated diocesan footprints, diocesan bishops are ageing as fast as their clergy, and there is a shrinking pool of qualified and willing clergy from which to draw replacements.
While no official data is released on how many priests say ‘no’ when the Vatican calls, or why, it’s not unusual to hear officials complain that as many as one in three potential bishops-elect politely decline. Many are said to cite the challenges of managing a shrinking institutional footprint among their reasons.
Source: The Pillar