Most of the churches in eastern New Brunswick that were in danger of closing are going to be able to survive at least a little bit longer, according to Archbishop Valery Vienneau.
Last February, almost half of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Moncton's parishes — 20 out of 53 — were singled out for their financial problems.
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One of the churches has since been destroyed. St. Bartholomew's parish in Bass River was the victim in a string of suspicious arsons, and there was no money to rebuild it.
Of the 19 others, three will probably close within the next two years, according to the archbishop.
Vienneau said the message may not yet have made it to all parishioners, so he did not want to name the churches in question.
He did say that St. Timothy's in Adamsville will definitely close in the spring.
The building, which was more than 100 years old, needed important repairs to the roof and foundation and a decision was made to close it for good.
"We would repair the church, but what future would it have?" said Vienneau, adding the people in attendance are very few.
"A lot have moved out, and not that many young people there in Adamsville either."
No more money
Vienneau had been visiting the parishes that had been singled out for closure until last week, which included 16 French-language churches and three English ones.
He said in most cases, both the parishioners and the volunteers are getting fewer, or older, and there is a lack of people and money for the church to sustain itself.
"When you come at a time that you don't have any money in your bank account to sign the cheques for electricity, for heating, for salary, for education of faith and for all things necessary in the church, well there comes a time when you can't really continue," he said.
He added the archdiocese has its own troubles — referring to money given to victims of sexual abuse, and is not in a position to help the parishes financially.
Vienneau said the rural communities, especially, struggle with people leaving for the city, and an aging population.
He said he was surprised however to see many parishes come up with recovery plans, which included organizing activities to help raise money, like parish suppers, or ways to attract young families to the church.
"My visit, in a lot of those places, was a wake up call," said Vienneau.
'4 generations of my family here'
But still, for regular churchgoers, news of closure has been difficult to handle.
Robert Bernard has been going to St. Timothy's his entire life. He found out two months ago it was closing.
The 85-year-old parishoner has a strong emotional attachment to the parish, and for him, going to another church is out of the question.
"We had four generations of my family here. My grandfather and my father worked on building that church," said Bernard, who said he will try everything he can to at least save the building.
"I was baptized in that church, I was confirmed in that church, and I was married in that church," he said.
Bernard admits there are probably less than 20 people who attend St. Timothy's nowadays, but said he would have liked a bigger effort made to try to save it.
He lives a few houses down from the parish and walks there for mass, but said it would be too difficult for someone his age to drive as far as Moncton every weekend.
"Still a lot of people feel the need to go to church, they believe in that all their life, and to take that away from them … it's disgraceful," he said.