You Will Be My Witnesses has resulted from two years of research and consultation across the Diocese and beyond. The Plan identifies three main objectives for the Diocese for the next decade which include: to be a Christ-centred Church; to be a missionary community; to be prudent stewards of Christ’s Church.
Beginning with a foreword from Bishop Egan, in which he urges everyone to evangelise contemporary culture and imbue it with the values of Christ and His Gospel, emphasising that it is only through Christianity that the human need for happiness can be fulfilled.
You Will Be My Witnesses is a blueprint for Portsmouth Diocese, detailing the collective effort required to create a Diocese in better shape, internally healed and renewed, with new faces, young families, more vocations and a harvest from ecclesial movements.
We are blessed in our Diocese with many flourishing and faithful people who strive to realise their mission in the service of the Lord and His Church. We see this lived day in and day out, in our schools and our parishes and in the many ways that we serve each other.
However, it is also true that impact of an increasingly secular culture is felt deeply. Over the last 15 years, the Church has been troubled in many ways, with scandal and division, and since 2019, Covid and its shock waves have accelerated a change across society and the Church in a way that we never imagined.
It is 15 years since the last strategic plan for our Diocese – Go out and Bear Fruit was published, therefore it is timely that we think together about how we respond so that we can realise our mission in this challenging age, in our fidelity to Christ and His Church to shape the legacy of a vibrant diocese for future generations. We have set out to develop a plan for the next 10 years for the Diocese, which is a major undertaking that, by the time it is completed, will have taken us the best part of two years to shape through much listening and discussion and we want as many people as possible to be part of the journey.
Our fundamental aims are:
To help us plan for the future we have identified the following priorities and discerned what outcomes we would would like to see.
What is You Will Be My Witnesses?
You Will Be My Witnesses is a Ten-Year Mission Plan for our Diocese of Portsmouth. It reflects two years of consultation and discernment and sets the Diocesan Vision and priorities for the next ten years.
Who is leading this Ten-Year Mission Plan?
Bishop Philip, supported by Bishop’s Council advisers and the Diocesan Trustees, is leading this Ten-Year Mission Plan. However, each of us, clergy, religious, and layperson, has a vital role in realising the fruits of our mission and leaving a solid legacy for future generations.
What is the goal of the Ten-Year Mission Plan?
The principal aim of our Ten-Year Mission Plan goal is to enable each of us to grow in holiness, develop our personal relationship with Jesus, and inspire others to do the same. Our parish schools and families will become truly missionary communities, with Jesus Christ at the heart of all we do. In this way, our diocese will flourish, and the legacy of a vibrant faith will be our gift to future generations.
Haven’t we done all of this before?
You Will Be My Witnesses is a plan to revitalise our mission and provide direction for the next ten years. It has been developed to build on the foundations laid by previous plans, such as Go Out and Bear Fruit which saw the establishment of pastoral areas.
What are the priorities of the Ten-Year Mission Plan?
Our Ten-Year Mission Plan has two fundamental principles: Jesus Christ at the Centre of all we do and developing truly Missionary Communities (our parishes, schools and families)
We have nine priorities over the next ten years:
Why do we need this Ten-Year Mission Plan now?
Renewal is always part of the mission of the Church as the Body of Christ, who is always doing something new.
There are many challenges in this age.
The breakdown of the family, lack of respect for life and human dignity, and social ills of poverty materially and spiritually all point to a world that needs witnesses to the compassion and redemption of Jesus Christ.
Our culture has become secular, and often hostile to faith with less understanding of the Christian message.
An increasing number of people do not know Jesus Christ. Those with no religious affiliation are becoming the majority in the western world. Few continue to be part of a church community beyond receipt of First Holy Communion and even less beyond the Sacrament of reconciliation.
Many, even of those practising in our Church today have not fully developed their understanding about the teachings of the church and not yet experienced the transformational love of Jesus Christ.
Like many others, our Diocese also faces longer-term challenges, such as fewer priests in active ministry, fewer faithful, fewer volunteers, limited resources, and an extensive estate portfolio needing costly maintenance. This means that we must respond in a structured and planned way so that we become missionary communities responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to enliven the Church in our place and time.
Will a framework be provided to parish groupings to help them develop their local plan?
Yes. In January 2023, at the start of Phase 1, lead pastors will be sent an updated pastoral area review and a framework to support the development of their local plan. Central support will be available throughout the process.
Will the role of parish support structures (e.g., Parish Finance Councils & Evangelisation Strategy Teams) be detailed?
Yes. It is expected that each pastoral area/new parish will have a shared finance council and an evangelisation strategy team to support clergy in developing local plans and implementing them in the future. Formal leadership structures should represent all the parishes in the grouping.
Where a Pastoral Area is overseen by a religious order or a non-diocesan priest, will they also be expected to participate in the Ten-Year Mission Plan?
Our parishes are expected to participate equally in the Ten-Year Mission Plan. The challenges we must respond to and the opportunities we have for revitalising our Church are effectively met by acting together.
What happens if my parish does not participate in the Ten-Year Mission Plan consultation?
All parishes are strongly encouraged to participate in the consultation on the Ten-Year Mission Plan; this is their opportunity to shape the direction of the Diocese for the next ten years. Once implemented, all parishes will participate in bringing our Ten-Year Mission Plan to fruition. If your parish is not organising a consultation or the timings do not suit you, please consider participating in the consultation at another parish in your Pastoral Area.
What support will the Diocese provide to assist local areas in responding to the Ten-Year Mission Plan?
Vicariates and central teams will develop the framework to support parishes develop their local plans ready for the start of Phase 1.
During Phase 1, Vicariates and central teams will develop plans to respond to the Ten-Year Mission Plan, including functions and activities to be carried out at the diocesan level and support to be provided to parishes. Key central areas for response include vocations, catechesis, liturgy, clergy support and development, young people, education, evangelisation, outreach, chaplaincies, and Caritas.
What opportunities will young people have to contribute to the Ten-Year Mission Plan?
The Vicariate for Education will organise opportunities to consult with young people to reflect on the Ten-Year Mission Plan. Parishes are also encouraged to enable young people to participate in the development of their local plans.
What are the next steps and key dates in realising this Ten-Year Mission Plan?
The draft Ten-Year Mission Plan has gone out for parish consultation; each parish has been asked to submit its feedback by 15 December 2022. The Bishop and his strategy team will reflect on the feedback and amend the plan as appropriate.
In January 2023, Bishop Philip will commission the final document and designate a Year of Prayer to the Holy Spirit for our Diocese. This will mark the start of the implementation of our Ten-Year Mission Plan.
Phase 1, From January 2023 to July 2023, pastoral areas will develop local plans to be received by the Bishop in Summer 2023. Vicariates and central teams will also develop their response to our Ten-Year Mission Plan during this stage.
During Phase 2, starting in October 2023, pastoral areas will move to form single parishes supported by the correct canonical procedures for establishing new structures. Each new parish will develop a rolling 5-year strategy for becoming a joyful and welcoming Missionary Community.
Evaluation will be undertaken formally in 2028 to reflect on whether the fruits from our Ten-Year Mission Plan are evident or whether any areas need to be refocused.
What is my role as a parishioner?
You Will Be My Witnesses is a call to everyone to make a personal response and commitment. The work of renewal is carried out by missionary disciples who are on fire with the Holy Spirit, collaborating with the clergy in inviting others to a life of faith, building up the parish community, and serving others.
Holy Mass at least on Sunday in person; Prayer, Bible, and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Monthly confession to receive the grace of reconciliation and mercy of God; A penitential offering and a commitment to serve others in some even small ways are practical means by which we can grow in Holiness in ourselves and our parish communities.
Where a Pastoral Area is overseen by a religious order or a non-diocesan priest, will they also be expected to have a parish finance council and evangelisation, strategy team?
Each parish grouping is expected to have a shared parish finance council and evangelisation, strategy team. These teams provide vital opportunities for the lay faithful to participate in shaping our future and are required to follow the correct canonical processes for structural change.
How will formation opportunities for the laity be determined?
The Diocesan Pastoral Council, Vicariate for Evangelisation, and Department for Catechesis will be developing opportunities for lay formation and supporting parishes to develop this aspect of their local plan.
What scope does the Ten-Year Mission Plan have for welcoming and accompanying Catholics with disabilities and learning difficulties into parish life and regular sacramental practice?
Our Ten-Year Mission Plan’s priority is to welcome, accompany and include everyone, including those with disabilities and learning difficulties. Parishes must consider how to have all in their community as they develop their local plans. Relevant Vicariates and central teams, such as the Department for Catechesis, will also need to consider this as they consider their response to our Ten-Year Mission Plan.
How will personal development plans for priests be developed?
A structured programme will be developed in collaboration with our priests and personalised to meet specific needs for support that are identified.
Will priests be asked to live together in a community?
No, however, some may choose to do so. It is up to each Pastoral Area to decide how best to allocate their resources, work effectively together and ensure they can afford to maintain the estate they keep.
Will newly ordained priests continue to live with another priest?
Yes, newly ordained priests are expected to live with another priest. This is an essential step in early ministry, providing newly ordained priests with support and guidance as they adjust to parish life and ministry.
What rights does an individual parish priest have to retain the status of a parish priest?
A parish priest in situ in an existing parish enjoys the stability of office for an indefinite period, along with all the rights and obligations attached to his status. A parish priest can only be removed from his office for a grave reason and through procedures that the Holy See governs.
If he is a parish priest of a parish merged through an act of extinctive union, he automatically loses his status of a parish priest because that parish no longer exists. If appointed parish priest of the new parish, he enjoys the same status, rights, and obligations as before.
What happens if the Bishop asks a parish priest to become an assistant priest and he disagrees?
The status of parish priest only stands in relation to an existing parish (i.e., no parish, no parish priest). Suppose all the consultations and procedures required by Canon Law have been carried out and a Merger decree is issued. In that case, the status of a parish priest where a merged parish no longer exists is automatically dissolved with that decree. If, in dialogue with the Bishop, he is appointed to a parish where a parish priest has been appointed already, he will technically be an assistant priest to that parish. The Bishop may direct within a decree of appointment that he has specific responsibilities to a particular church community, church, territorial area, or charism, such as a particular form of chaplaincy.
My parish is fine; why do we need to be part of this Ten-Year Mission Plan?
All parishes have experienced a significant drop in attendance and participation.
Our Church as the body of Christ and a family that supports and cares for each other. The Diocese as a whole, made up of all our parishes, is interdependent. The future of every parish relies on the Diocese being able to continue to support and fund vocations to the priesthood, our clergy in active ministry, and priests who have retired after long committed service, as well as all the other functions and services that are part of our Catholic life.
Is this all about closing churches?
No, the primary is to revitalise our mission, enable each of us to grow in holiness, and ensure our parishes and diocese are equipped for the challenges of contemporary ministry and ready for a long future of bringing people closer to Jesus Christ through His Church.
By staying, as we are over the next 10 years, we could commit over £30m to buildings for fewer people and fewer priests to support those communities, spreading themselves ever more thinly to keep going.
Releasing some of our estate that is no longer needed will alleviate the burden on parishes and will enable the resources to be used for the mission of the church.
How many churches might close? Has this all been decided?
This has not yet been decided. From January 2023 to July 2023, parishes in a Pastoral Area will work together to develop their local plan. As part of this, they will consider their structure going forward and look at what to maintain and what needs to close. A set of criteria will be provided to help parishes to consider these decisions.
Next summer, Bishop Philip and his strategy team will meet with each lead pastor and pastoral area leadership team representatives to discuss and approve local plans.
How were the new parishes defined?
The new parishes have been defined based on geography and critical indicators such as Mass attendance, change in Mass attendance, financial position, and the current number of churches to ensure that each new parish is sustainable.
Each existing parish has been asked to reflect on the shape of parish groupings as part of the consultation.
What does it mean when parishes are combined or unified?
Unifying two or more parishes is a process called “extinctive union.” For example, when Parishes A, B, and C are merged, they form a new parish, parish D. This act of union automatically extinguishes A, B, and C as parishes, creating the new united Parish D. All the properties, goods, finances and liabilities are assumed into this new parish. Once the new parish is formed through this union, the Decree of Merger will name one of the churches from A, B, or C to be the parish church.
If a parish is no longer viable, what are the rights of the Bishop in Canon Law to direct what happens?
Parishes are considered unviable when they cannot support themselves financially, and they are experiencing an exponential decline in congregation numbers. This means they rely on the support of other authorities, such as the Diocese, to continue.
In such a situation, the Bishop may take the decision, for the sake of the good of souls, to direct that a parish may either be subject to the type of extinctive union as described above or another kind where, for example, Parish A is subsumed by another parish, B and only Parish B remains having obtained all the goods of former parish A.
As described above, it is the function of the consultation process to determine the best solution for a parish to be self-supporting and engage in dignified worship and an effective mission.
In Canon Law, what decrees are required for the amalgamation of parishes?
Only one decree is required, which is a Decree of Merger. The issuing of a decree, however, is the end of the canonical process, stating the decision the Bishop has taken and how this decision is to be observed and implemented.
The decree must contain the reasons specific to each of the parishes involved as to why a merger is taking place, primarily for the good of souls, as well as list all the steps that have been taken in making this decision: the consultation process, the investigation that interested parties are not adversely affected, and the responses of the Council of Priests and the Diocesan Board of Trustees.
The decree must specify which parishes have been merged and why and declare that all their goods and liabilities are to be obtained by the newly created parish. This parish is also to be named. The date of the decree must be given, and the time from when the decision is to take effect (usually one calendar month after the order has been issued unless the bishop expressly states another timeframe).
In Canon Law, what decrees are required for the closure of churches?
Only one decree is necessary: a Decree of “the reduction of a church to secular but not unbecoming use.” This equates to closure, where the faithful no longer have the right of access to any form of worship. It is for this reason that, whereas mergers should take place for ‘just causes,’ closures take place due to ‘grave’ reasons where there is no alternative. This is because, in law, a church is presumed to be permanently withdrawn from secular use. Grave reasons include:
The process: the Bishop will usually receive a request from the Parish Priest, who has already consulted his Parish Finance Council, Pastoral Council, EST Group, and the congregation in general. He will give his reasons, from the need for the closure of the church to a secular but not unbecoming use. The Bishop must be informed of the structural condition of the building and, if relevant, the parish’s financial situation. This is best done by using external expertise.
Having been given this evidence, the Bishop must consult the Council of Priests and gain the approval of the Diocesan Board of Trustees. Once this has occurred, he will issue a decree reducing the church to secular but not unbecoming use.
The decree must outline the grave reasons for this decision, the process that has been undertaken to reach it, and the provision that has been made for the faithful to worship in other church buildings. It will also declare that all donors have been consulted. It should indicate what is to happen to the building, such as demolition or sale and that all movable objects have been moved to other appointed places. If the altar is movable, it is to be removed; if not, it should be destroyed if the property is sold (selling the property requires a decree of alienation).
Will a support structure for parishes be detailed (e.g., detailing paid and volunteer roles parishes should have)?
Guidance will be given to parishes to develop their local plans and consider the support structure they need to deliver their plan and what they can afford to put in place. Each area’s needs and resources are different; therefore, this will be planned locally but approved by the Bishop and his Strategy Team at the end of Phase 1 (summer 2023).
What happens to the funds from each church when a parish is combined?
If, for example, parishes A, B, and C are merged, then the newly created parish D will obtain all the goods, funds, properties, and any debts and liabilities from the former parishes. The new parish must have a newly formed Finance Council appointed by the Parish Priest. There is nothing in Canon Law to prevent sub-committees from being erected, which may have once looked after the finances of A, B, and C when they were parishes. They must, however, report to the Parish Finance Council and not take any decisions reserved to the Parish Finance Council, such as proposals for the alienation (sale) of goods and property. A single audit should also be produced each year covering the finances of the whole new parish.
How will parishioners be involved formally in the decision-making?
Programmes of consultation are required in each affected parish before any merger takes place. The Parish Priest facilitates this. This may be done in whichever ways he deems it best for the consultation to take place for it to include as many parishioners as possible. He should undoubtedly consult the Parish Finance Council and Pastoral Council or EST. He may consult other groups or hold general consultation sessions, presenting the relevant proposals clearly and enabling responses to be effectively communicated.
What is the role of the Council of Priests in all this, and how much weight does it have in determining what happens?
The Council of Priests must be consulted for any structural changes to take place, such as borders and closure of churches; any decrees which are issued concerning such changes would be invalid if the Council of Priests were not consulted.
However, the Council of Priests is a consultative and not a decision-making body. The Bishop must inform them of his proposals, give them all the relevant facts and information, and from that, hear their responses and advice. He is not bound by their advice and opinion but should demonstrate why he may dissent from it. Nevertheless, once they have been consulted, the final decision belongs solely to the Bishop.
Who is responsible for making the final decision on the structure of pastoral areas and parishes?
The final decision can only be made by the Bishop. However, the Bishop is bound by Canon Law to engage in a consultation process with each of the parishes involved in any mergers. This is so that as much information as possible can be gathered to inform the best decision. The Bishop must also consult with the Council of Priests before making any decision. He is also free to take advice from any other relevant source, such as the Bishop’s Council.
Outcomes for 2032
True Dependence on the Holy Spirit for our hope in the future and inspiration in all our work will require us to prioritise above all else
A radical recommitment to Our Lord Jesus Christ in prayer, without which none of our works and efforts will bear lasting fruit
Worthy participation and celebration of the Holy Mass reaffirming the source and summit of our lives
Renewal of sacramental life including reconciliation with the Lord through inspiring catechesis
Nourishing devotional life so that we truly become a Church at prayer
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Outcomes for 2032
All will feel welcomed, known, cared for and part of the parish community
Strangers and seekers will feel at home in our churches
Our parishes will be known as places of support and encouragement for the young, the old, and everyone in between
All will be valued for the varied gifts, talents. and experiences they bring
The social life of the community will nurture a positive relationship with Jesus and with each other
So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another
Outcomes for 2032
Clearly identify and understand the needs of people in our local areas who are lonely or afflicted. We must be moved to respond.
Be visible within our local communities in providing support to the poor and marginalised
Work well with other faith communities and outside agencies to help those in need
Encourage care for creation to realise the challenge of Laudato Si and make choices about how we use resources informed by our ethical principles.
Enable confident and inspiring hospital, sea and prison ministry.
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
Outcomes for 2032
Have the opportunity for personalised support according to their stage of life and ministry.
Have agreed personal development plans for ongoing formation, reflecting the requirements of leadership and contemporary ministry.
Undertake a form of appraisal which is constructive and affirming and which fosters effective accountability
Live out their vocation in a culture of friendship and brotherhood across the Diocese
You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ
Outcomes for 2032
Formed to foster a deep, lasting, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Inspired by the Mass and Sacraments of the Church and confident in evangelising others, including the "nones"
Involved in the life and mission of the Church
I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me
Outcomes for 2032
Parents and grandparents will be enabled to confidently hand on the faith to their children and grandchildren.
From childhood to early adulthood, young people will be inspired by the gospel message and the lived reality of being a young catholic.
Young people will be involved in the life of the parish through age-appropriate opportunities in outreach and care for creation
Young people will experience natural continuum between home, school and parish in their life of faith, development of talents and fostering of friendships.
Young people will be supported to recognise their vocation in life
Our parishes and schools will be, and be seen to be, safe places for children and young people.
"Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity"
Outcomes for 2032
An eased financial burden through the careful release of assets, Wise investments committed giving, creative fundraising and the prudent allocation of budgets
A shared understanding and responsibility for our financial position of across the diocese and in each parish
Centralised contracts and shared resources between parishes
Supported, developed and celebrated volunteers effective in their chosen roles
An ethos of service to parishes and adherence to charity law and regulation adopted throughout our support structures
He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the floods arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built
Outcomes for 2032
Resources, including clergy, to be deployed effectively for mission and service
A cohesive structure for a missionary Church which meets local needs
A well-maintained, fit-for-purpose, estate which is welcoming, inspiring and sustainable
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, so that is may bear more fruit
Outcomes for 2032
Work with others on areas of shared Interest and foster mutual understanding and respect between our communities.
Play our part in influencing the secular working with other agencies co-ordinate a faith response on key Issues.
Remind the secular world of the Gospel Message and the person of Jesus Christ through witness and works.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go
Outcomes for 2032
Provide resources for learning, communicating, and collaborating widely
Enabling opportunities to give through non-traditional routes
Be visible online so that information about who we are are and where to join us is readily accessible
Ensure our online activities and communities are as safe and well-supported as possible
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit