THREE churches have been identified for possible closure under radical plans to safeguard the future of the Catholic Church in Hartlepool.
St Teresa’s, St Thomas More and St Cuthbert’s churches could all close their doors and mass be delivered in schools, hospitals and community centres instead.
The proposals are part of a new vision for the Catholic Church in Hartlepool in response to rising building costs, fewer parishioners and less priests.
But a church leader stressed nothing has yet been decided and hopes they provide an opportunity to engage more with the community.The vision, formed after talking to Catholics in Hartlepool, proposes keeping four “mass centres” spread equally across town. They are St John Vianney in the north, St Patrick’s in the south, St Joseph’s in the centre of Hartlepool, and St Mary’s on the Headland because of its historical significance.
Mass would also be given during the week at schools, hospitals and community centres.
Father Adrian Tuckwell, Dean of the Catholic Church in Hartlepool, and who sits on the Shaping Our Future steering group, said: “This proposal does propose closing three churches but they are just proposals for people to look at, respond to and consider.
“The vision has come about from an awareness that things are changing around us.
“Things are difficult financially, there are fewer priests around and fewer people coming to church and supporting the churches at the moment so there are a lot of difficult issues which are making us stop and think. What we are really trying to provide is a hopeful future. If we have less buildings to spend our time, energy and money on maybe we can spend that on the people of the town rather than maintaining a number of buildings.
“It is felt this might be a way of taking mass to people who can’t access the church.
“Rather than saying people have to come to the church all the time it would be the church going to where people live or work and making what we have to offer more accessible to people.”
It is proposed to develop the churches that are kept with the others being mothballed, rented or sold.
The list of proposals were drawn up by the Shaping Our Future steering group and working group from feedback of hundreds of local Catholics.
But Father Adrian expects there will still be opposition to the major changes put forward.
He added: “I think there will be opposition. People have an investment in their parish communities.
“As instigators of change we can see the good things. But if people say it is unworkable there is no point going ahead in the face of major opposition.”
Catholics have until May 20 to respond to the proposals and the working and steering groups will meet on May 23 to consider the next step.
An agreed plan will be presented later to the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, the Right Reverend Seamus Cunningham for approval.
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