The Right Rev Thomas Burns, Bishop of Menevia, has accused protesters of ‘delaying tactics’ after their campaign held up plans for a new church in Aberystwyth.
Campaigners are fighting to keep Our Lady of the Angels and St Winefride open, but Ceredigion County Council have already approved plans by the Diocese to build a new church, presbytery and hall along with a housing development.
Plans to demolish St Winifride’s Church and the neighbouring presbytery and hall, which are in a poor state of repair, and replace them with blocks of flats have still not been approved because of objections by parishioners and others.
The Right Rev Burns said he might have to close St Winefride’s – built in 1874 – down for health and safety reasons, leaving Aberystwyth with no Catholic church at all.
Bishop Burns stressed that it was now ‘make or break’ time for the parish and he urged worshippers to tell protesters ‘to back down’.
He said the plans for a new church in Penparcau were dependant on the sale of the St Winefride’s site.
‘We have spent a great deal of time presenting and re-presenting applications for planning permission,’ he said in his message to parishioners. But what has been most frustrating is the time and energy that has been taken up with responding to a small number of objectors, who seemed to be speaking on your behalf but have had no mandate to do so. In our opinion, they have caused setbacks and costs out of all proportion imaginable. Throughout these last few years, the structure of St Winefride’s Church has continued to weaken. It is in such a bad state that our insurers are assessing whether or not they can continue to provide insurance cover. ‘I may soon have to make a decision about closing the church to prevent risks to life and limb.’
He urged all parishioners to sign a form agreeing to the demolition of St Winefride’s Church and send it to the county council.
In a letter of response to the bishop, they said: ‘Objectors feel no shame whatsoever in acting according to their conscience in seeking a rational, sensible debate on the location of the Catholic Church in Aberystwyth.
‘They certainly are disappointed by the bishop’s highly emotive tone, which serves only to instil panic, division and fear. The supposedly delaying tactics attributed to ‘a small number of objectors’ have actually been attempts by loyal parishioners to engage the diocese in open, rational debate about the future of St Winefride’s.
‘The extra costs claimed to have resulted from this can be laid at the door of the diocese for refusing to do this by not making any structural reports fully available for inspection by the parishioners. They are expected to believe that the apparently solid building in which they attend mass is about to fall down about their ears.’