.- Bishop Richard Malone of Maine is pleased with the decision of his diocese to cluster parishes and involve more lay people in their administration.
During a meeting Saturday with more than 150 church members at St. John School, Bishop Malone said the idea should have been promoted years ago, reported the Bangor Daily News. He commended a planning group for its work on the parish re-orientation and collaborative ministry known as "New Evangelism."
The plan was designed to address the state's shifting demographics and the growing shortage of priests.
The bishop said the plan to turn over much of the management of parish functions to the laity would create renewed dedication among its members and free priests to concentrate on ministering Church sacraments and the spiritual needs of the faithful.
The diocese currently has 235,00 Catholics, 135 parishes, organized into 31 clusters, and 95 priests. The clusters will be reduced to 27 and served by 61 priests by the time the realignment plan is in place in 2010.
Clusters have existed in the diocese since the 1990s, but they were smaller than the new alignment and, in some cases, did not share priests. Each of the realigned clusters will have a minimum of one parish priest, including priests from religious orders.
Bishop Malone stressed that the plan does not call for the closing of churches. The bishop said church closures will be the decision of the parishâs lay managers.