The Roman Catholic Diocese of Antigonish will be making some tough choices in the coming months as it grapples with dwindling rural populations that are struggling to keep local churches financially afloat.
The diocese has already decided more than a dozen churches in the Sydney, Northside and Glace Bay areas would have to close. It's now turning its attention to Antigonish, Guysborough and Richmond counties.
The diocese also faces pressure from another front. Rev. Donald MacGillivray, who speaks for the diocese, says its priests are getting older, with more than a third over the age of retirement.
MacGillivray said he hopes the review will be completed by June and the diocese wants to avoid closing more churches, if possible.
"Yes there is a bias to keeping rural churches. But they have to be viable communities," he said.
Sheila Pelly attends St. Monica in Lincolnville, Guysborough County. It averages just two dozen people a service.
She says she worries the church could be on the chopping block, with its small congregation that puts just $30 or so into the collection plate each service.
"So that does worry me because we're a small community and to have that taken away or our church closed... it's going to take something else away from our community," she said.
But she said she also understands the problems faced by the diocese.
There is little money to go around after the diocese settled, for $16 million, a lawsuit launched by the sexual abuse victims of local priests.
Parishioners have also confronted revelations surrounding former bishop Raymond Lahey, who was convicted of possessing child pornography.
“It’s a difficult battle, having been through what we’ve been through,” said Henry van deWiel, who chairs the parish council at St. Andrews, in Antigonish County.
“We hope that with the diocesan plan for the next five years that we will be greatly improved in many areas at the end of that five years, and that we’ll be able to look forward instead of looking at what’s happened in the past.”