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Cape Breton Deaths May 25, 2013 Saturday
"Communities like Christmas Island facing the 'Antigonish clearances'"
Published on May 25, 2013
Letters to the Editor (The Cape Breton Post)
Many thanks to the Cape Breton Post and its staff
for posting important letters from distraught
church members about church closures, and to
reporters such as Chris Shannon and Chris Hayes
for their interesting and informative stories on
A recent letter from Bob Francis of Sydney Mines
(Closing churches morally unjustifiable, May 4)
brought to light decisions that have affected
Sydney Mines parishioners as they watch a
historic, beautiful and vibrant church community
about to close.
There has been a common theme in recent letters,
including one from me on Bishop Brian Dunn's
plans to close St. Barra Parish's church in
Christmas Island in 2015.
In the meantime, I have received numerous phone
calls from upset parishioners from around Cape
Breton. Callers offered sympathy and voiced their
anger with the Diocese of Antigonish.
Parishioners, along with their respective parish
councils and finance committees, should decide
when it is time to close a church, not the
pastoral planning committee or the diocese led by
Democracy does not exist within the Catholic
Church, and the diocese is using this to its
advantage. If a vote was held in each affected
parish, and parishioners were given the chance to
democratically choose the fate of their
respective parishes and churches, the diocese
would receive a resounding shock of
non-acceptance for its plans.
Church leaders aren't following an important
process that deals with parish rights and is
explained by canon law.
Parishioners have been left to fight for parish
rights. I do not know of one parish priest in the
Diocese of Antigonish who has strongly fought for
parish rights by taking a stand with their
parishioners to stop this process. We need parish
priests - active and retired - to support us.
Perhaps, unknown to us, they have been told to
remain silent. They need to step up to the plate
and become vocal.
Parishioners are not a bunch of mindless sheep.
We know that numerous church closures in the
United States have been reversed by the Vatican.
Clear messages have been sent to a number of
American bishops to reverse church closures and
parish mergers. What is happening here is no
different than what has happened in the U.S.
St. Barra Parish is the heart of our rural
community of Christmas Island, and has been for
Newspaper stories state that Cape Bretoners are
breaking faith with religion. The Diocese of
Antigonish has played a definite role in people
turning their backs on religion.
In our community, people are experiencing many
negative emotions. There is a lot of anger and
disbelief that our parish priest, who is also the
diocese's vicar general, would even contemplate -
along with our bishop - closing a church and
parish that have supported a strong Catholic
community for 200 years.
People in our community have stopped going to
church because of out-migration and scandals, but
some have also lost faith in our church
For the most part, St. Barra parishioners are
sixth-to-eighth-generation descendants of the
Gaelic-speaking Scottish Highlanders who settled
this community. They arrived in Christmas Island
209 years ago as a result of "fuadach nan
Gàidheal" (the expulsion of the Gael or Highland
The Catholic Highlanders from Barra and South
Uist who started this parish had been persecuted
for their religion for almost 200 years in
Scotland, and were among the last bastions of the
Catholic faith in Scotland.
They arrived here with little but the clothes on
their backs and a strong belief in God. The
community prospered, and never questioned the
authority of the Catholic Church.
Today, two centuries later, we are facing the
"Antigonish clearances," as the Diocese of
Antigonish follows a similar pattern as that of
Scotland's absentee landlords.
There is little remaining of our proud rural
community today, with the exception of our post
office and fire hall. It is a strange twist of
fate that the Catholic Church so beloved by our
ancestors has decided to close our parish and
Our parish and church grounds have historical
significance, and deserve protection. Our parish
predates the founding of the Diocese of
Antigonish (originally the Diocese of Arichat),
and was founded under the direction of the bishop
The land our present church sits on was owned by
one of our community pioneers, and was conveyed
by deed in the early 1800s to the wardens of St.
Barra - the parish council of that time.
In the early years, our community went for long
periods - even years - without a priest's
services, and our ancestors still maintained the
We are organizing now to fight for the survival
of our parish and church. It is a legacy passed
to us by our ancestors, and they would expect no
less from their descendants. The final outcome
for our parish and church has been planned by the
diocese, but, God willing, we will prevent this
William R. (Bill) Higgins