Dio­cese merger in­evitable

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - -- Richard Ma­honey [email protected]­gar­rynews.ca

Ayear ago, we were watch­ing the de­bate over the fu­ture of the Alexandria-Corn­wall Ro­man Catholic Dio­cese, where the faith­ful were con­sid­er­ing a merger with the Ot­tawa arch­dio­cese. “De­mo­graphic changes, the de­cline in the num­bers of clergy and in re­li­gious prac­tice among us and the needs of a bilin­gual church -- all th­ese fac­tors have led us to the point of ex­am­in­ing our fu­ture now,” said Ot­tawa Arch­bishop Ter­rence Pren­der­gast back then.

Fast for­ward to April 27, 2018. It was an­nounced that Pope Francis has united the Dio­cese of Alexandria-Corn­wall to the Arch­dio­cese of Ot­tawa. Arch­bishop Pren­der­gast is now the bishop of the con­sol­i­dated dio­cese with an aux­il­iary bishop to be named at a later date to as­sist him specif­i­cally for the ter­ri­tory of Alexandria-Corn­wall.

“I rec­og­nize that this de­ci­sion will not sat­isfy ev­ery­one and that some peo­ple may be up­set,” stated Arch­bishop Pren­der­gast. “How­ever, it is my hope that this de­ci­sion will ul­ti­mately con­trib­ute to the cre­ation of vi­brant faith com­mu­ni­ties in Alexandria-Corn­wall, which will be evan­ge­liz­ing pres­ences in our midst.”

The amal­ga­ma­tion is an­other im­por­tant chap­ter in the his­tory of Glen­garry, com­monly re­garded as the birth­place of Catholi­cism in the prov­ince. The Catholic Church es­sen­tially spread into On­tario in the late 1700s via Glen­garry. The first bishop in the prov­ince, Alexan­der Macdonell, had his head­quar­ters in St. Raphael’s. In 1890, the Vat­i­can de­creed the cre­ation of a dio­cese com­prised of Glen­garry, Stor­mont and Corn­wall, with a to­tal pop­u­la­tion be­ing 56,408; the to­tal Catholic pop­u­la­tion was 23,043.

Fig­ures posted on the dio­cese web page show that there are about 64,000 Catholics in the dio­cese now. How­ever, the num­ber who at­tend church reg­u­larly is about 6,200.

At the time of the cre­ation of the dio­cese, there were ten priests serv­ing ten parishes and five mis­sions. To­day, the dio­cese has 16 ac­tive priests and three re­tired priests who help out when pas­tors are on va­ca­tion.

There are 25 parishes and one mis­sion; ten parishes have no res­i­dent priest. The lo­cal dio­cese has not had its own bishop since Mon­signor Mar­cel Dam­p­housse was trans­ferred to Sault Ste. Marie in Novem­ber of 2015.

Empty pews, high op­er­at­ing costs, a short­age of priests all add up to an ob­vi­ous con­clu­sion.

The Arch­bishop is try­ing to ap­pease his flock. “I am grate­ful to Pope Francis for ad­dress­ing the chal­lenges we face and af­firm­ing the im­por­tance of the pres­ence of a bishop in Alexandria-Corn­wall. I look for­ward to tak­ing part in work­ing with the clergy, re­li­gious and faith­ful of Corn­wall in map­ping out our fu­ture to­gether. For my part, I pledge re­spect and my whole-hearted com­mit­ment to our fu­ture to­gether.” The fate of the dio­cese has much been much dis­cussed. Af­ter many con­ver­sa­tions and con­sul­ta­tions with the af­fected par­ties, in­clud­ing clergy, re­li­gious and parish­ioners, a re­port was sent to the Vat­i­can at the end of June 2017. Fur­ther con­sul­ta­tions with the Assem­bly of Catholic Bish­ops of On­tario and the Cana­dian Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops ex­tended the pe­riod of de­lib­er­a­tion un­til March 2018. “As the uni­fi­ca­tion of dio­ce­ses is ex­tremely rare, the tran­si­tion pe­riod will take some time as plans are elab­o­rated to ef­fect the change,” the Church says.

The merger de­ci­sion may not be not pop­u­lar, but it was in­evitable, and an­other con­fir­ma­tion of how Glen­garry has evolved.

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