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The Tablet - 5 Jan, 2018 - Fri, Jan 12th 2018

A church in Wales, which recently marked its centenary with a Mass celebrated by the Bishop of Wrexham, Peter Brignall, is to close in February, he has announced.

Parishioners at St Michael & All Angels Church in Conwy spoke of their “devastation” after a letter was read out, the weekend before Christmas, announcing the last Mass would take place there on 11 February.

Parishioners have said the announcement marred their Christmas and they are preparing to appeal the decision under canon law.

In a statement to The Tablet, Bishop Brignall expressed regret that such decisions had to be made – but also sadness at declining congregations, fewer baptisms and minimal vocations from the native families of the diocese. “On the Sunday that my message was read, an 82-year-old retired priest was celebrating three parish Masses to cover for a priest who had been taken ill and hospitalised the previous day,” the statement said. “I do not like having to make such decisions, but we have to consolidate our resources and stand firm for the centrality of the Mass in the Catholic Church.”

In the letter that was read out, Bishop Brignall argued that “re-structuring of parishes and closure of churches” would ensure Mass could be celebrated in each remaining church every Sunday – but also warned of further pain: “This process is not yet complete and there are more closures to come as needs demand.” He has previously announced plans to close around 20 of Wrexham diocese’s 62 churches by 2020.

Parishioner Anne McCaffrey, took issue with what she saw as a rebuke to people who object to the changes, when Bishop Brignall referred in his letter to being “grateful” to those who have accepted his decisions about closures and have “worked hard to build a new way for the Lord to enter their own and their parish lives”. Ms McCaffrey said people were being chastised for not being subservient – and to describe the Conwy closure as horrific would be an understatement. “No one in the diocese is answering any questions about what will happen to this sacred building,” she said. “Why can’t they treat people with dignity and respect? The decision is poor and the process is appalling.”

The church boasts a unique set of Stations of the Cross, 13 of which are built into the historic Conwy walls. Grade II listed, they’re the work of an Italian architect, Giuseppe Rinvolucri, who came to Wales originally as a prisoner of war.

Mass will take place in future a mile away, outside Conwy, which, says parishioner John Lewis, will be problematic for the mainly elderly St Michael’s parishioners; he also points out that many tourists attend Mass during the summer months. “This closure is going to be a real loss to the town and the diocese. What people are most unhappy about is the complete lack of consultation.”

Ms McCaffrey is adamant that the “grave cause” required under canon law for a church closure has not been met and is demanding transparency. “We have the biggest tourist numbers in the whole of Wales. Pope Francis tells us all to be missionaries – the whole world walks past this church. To close it will tear a vibrant parish community apart – and it can’t be put back together.”

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