Parishioner refutes claim of parish-wide campaign against church closure

September 8, 2014

A Loughgilly parishioner has contacted The Examiner to voice his concerns about the views expressed by the Belleek Regeneration Committee in an article carried in last week’s issue regarding the proposed closure of the Catholic church in Belleek.

The man, who has been closely following developments on the issue, claims there is no parish-wide or public campaign led by the parishioners from Loughgilly (Whitecross) parish in opposition to the possible closure of the church or any other possible closure of the remaining three chapels within the parish.

“There may be a campaign by members of the Belleek congregation to save their chapel, and this is understandable, as might be the attitude of other congregations to any possible closure of their church,” he told The Examiner, but refuted suggestions that there is a parish-wide campaign.

Refuting the assertion of the Belleek community group that there has been a lack of communication between the Church and parishioners, he said members of Loughgilly Parish were advised of a public meeting held at the beginning of the summer, two weeks in advance of the meeting, via weekly Mass bulletins and during Sunday services in all four chapels.

According to the interested parishioner, the detailed findings of a study carried out by architectural surveyors into the structural integrity and physical condition of the four chapels were shared at the open public meeting as well as the necessary works which would be required on the chapels to maintain their future use for another 20 years at most.

He revealed that the report highlighted the deteriorating condition of the balconies of both Belleek and Ballymoyer chapels meant that the balconies needed to be closed immediately due to dry rot and woodworm and constituted both health and safety and insurance issues.

“Costings were provided by the architectural firm to outline the costs involved in bringing the chapels back to an acceptable and safe state of repair without any further works being done to enhance any of the four chapels in any other way and this amounted to a sum in the region of £685,000,” he explained.

“Two further options were also presented at the meeting.  The first of these two options was to carry out the required remedial work to all four chapels and to add and carry out small works to bring the chapels more into line with 21st century needs. The proposed cost for this proposal would have been £1,200,000.

“The final option was to close all four chapels and to build a new modern chapel centralised within the parish that would meet pastoral needs well into the next century. The proposed cost for this would be £850,000.”

The Loughgilly parishioner maintained that a show of hands taken after an “open and frank discussion” among all present on the way forward for the future provision of pastoral services in the parish resulted in a resounding yes vote for the option of building a new chapel in a centralised position within the parish.

He claims that parish priest Fr Malachy Murphy advised those at the public meeting that the issue was “ongoing” and would require “much thought and deliberation” at future meetings and that “no one outcome had been chosen at this time.”

“Our parish priest has presented the findings of the architectural survey to the Archdiocese office in Armagh and no action has taken place other than the closure of the two aforementioned balconies on health and safety grounds,” he said.

“Our parish priest has subsequently advised parishioners that the two balconies are to have necessary remedial work carried out as a matter of urgency and a request for tenders has been sent out. He has advised that these works will mean that the balconies can then be reopened and used for a further two years.”

“No hard and fast decisions have been made at this point and the initial meeting in June was to inform parishioners of the challenges that lie ahead in the future whether it results in the future closure of one, two, three or indeed all four chapels, or no chapel closures whatsoever.”

The concerned parishioner warned that the current shortage of priests available to say weekly Masses in all four chapels could mean relying on a priest from a neighbouring parish to say Mass and lead to a choice having to be made about which of the four to say Mass in.

“We must be positive, not for ourselves but for our children and our children’s children and work together to find the right option, in conjunction with our Parish Priest and the Archdiocese of Armagh,” he said.

Urging collaboration and co-operation throughout the parish area, he added: “No matter which option we agree on, we will all need to work together closely as a parish to raise the required finance to carry through that work.  It’s not about anyone’s preference for one chapel over another, it’s about the propagation of our Catholic faith in a time when the Catholic church is under constant attack and being further marginalised on an ongoing basis.

“It’s about working together to establish our faith for the years ahead and remembering our dead who worked so hard in past centuries through all sorts of political upheaval and adversity to bring us four wonderful chapels each unique in their own way.

“Now is the time to take up the mantle of our forefathers and to move forward to meet new challenges and to do what is agreed by consensus and what is right for our parish and faith.”