Parishes in trouble; the people have spoken

Business Manager of the Ballarat Catholic Diocese, Andrew Jirik (pictured) is warning parish churches will not survive without more Catholics.

In a ‘searing’ editorial in the diocesan newspaper, “Our Diocesan Community”, Jirik compared the challenge facing the diocese akin to the Protestant Reformation of some 500 years back.

The Ballarat Catholic Diocese needs “more Catholics to support their parishes, not just the same parishioners supporting it more,” he wrote.

Jirik told The Courier the diocese had a problem that cannot be solved until it is addressed.

Pointing out that diocesan finances are different from parish finances, he said that not all 116 churches in the diocese might survive.

“People are turning away from the church, there’s no question, but until we admit we’ve got a problem, we can’t address it.”

Among the issues Jirik identified as problematic are:

  • diminishing finances,
  • rising costs,
  • a lack of planning and prioritisation,
  • a lack of capability,
  • a lack of expertise,
  • duplication of services,
  • ‘cultural’ attitudes,
  • and strategically insufficient funds at the diocese level, and
  • insufficient resources to provide for the long-term sustainability of parishes.

Jirik cited the Dunolly parish is a good example of changing demographics.

150 years ago, with a population of 12,000, parishioners donated to build a large church, but now, the population is closer to 900.

The parish has a regular mass attendance of around 17 people.

“We’ve got people holding on, and I’m saying, well, that’s fine, but there’s a cost in all that, or we can do this in a way that’s a bit more structured.”

The value of land is also an issue, especially in small towns.

“There’s buildings insured for millions of dollars but not worth millions, in fact they’re costing us money to hold, and even if the building was worth anything, the land is not worth much,” he said.

“Parishes in Warrnambool or Daylesford, they can do okay out of the land, but the building itself is not worth much.”

To continue charitable parish work, the parishes should be looking at “other income streams”, he added.

“We’ve gone down from 51 to 41 (parishes), and we’ve got plans to shrink it even further to get more efficiency out of it,” he said.

“If we don’t do anything, half won’t survive”.

“The reality is, people aren’t turning up, so there’s a question, do we need all the parishes? Do you need all the priests?”

Jirik said the revelations of paedophile priests and alleged cover-ups have not helped people return.

“I go to Mass on a Sunday afternoon at 5pm, and particularly in May there’s a lot of people getting their confirmations, but after they’ve got it, and they’re into a Catholic school, their connection with the parish, or the church, just disappears,” he said.

“They’re not there supporting the parish like they used to”.

“Even the Catholics aren’t turning up.”

“The people have spoken,” he said.


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