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Alexandria-Cornwall diocese may be folded into Ottawa archdiocese

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News

02/03/2016

OTTAWA (CCN) — A decision on the future of the Alexandria-Cornwall diocese and whether it will remain a separate entity or become part of the Ottawa archdiocese is expected to be resolved by June or July 2017, says Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast.

On Jan. 13, Pope Francis appointed Prendergast apostolic administrator of Alexandria- Cornwall after Bishop Marcel Damphousse’s move to the Sault Ste. Marie diocese.

Discussions concerning Alexandria-Cornwall’s future predated Prendergast’s 2007 arrival in Ottawa. The apostolic nuncio to Canada at the time, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, informed him his predecessor, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais, and then-Alexandria-Cornwall Bishop Paul-André Durocher, had already been in discussions about the possibility.

Prendergast said he did not think any more of it at the time, so the matter rested until Durocher was reassigned to Gatineau and the next nuncio, Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana, brought it up again.

“At the time, I didn’t have the energy or the resources,” Prendergast said.

Ottawa now has an auxiliary bishop in Bishop Christian Riesbeck. With Damphousse’s move, current nuncio Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi told Prendergast: “We need to talk about the future of Alexandria-Cornwall.”

“It’s been one of those files on the backburner,” Prendergast said. “Now is the time for us to look at whether the future of the diocese should be with another bishop or in a co-operative arrangement with another diocese.”

When serving as Halifax archbishop, Prendergast acted as apostolic administrator for the Yarmouth diocese for five-and-a-half years. Two other apostolic administrators were named until it was folded into Halifax in 2009. Such a waiting period was too long, the archbishop said. He said he requested the decision about Alexandria-Cornwall be resolved in a quicker manner.

Alexandria-Cornwall is a suffragan diocese of the Kingston archdiocese, but it abuts the Ottawa archdiocese, with many Ottawa parishes along Highway 417 to Montreal close to Alexandria-Cornwall parishes, the archbishop said. It’s also a bilingual diocese, as is Ottawa, while Kingston is not.

“One of the main reasons for leaning more toward Ottawa is for the protection of the French language,” Prendergast said.

Any new bishop of the diocese has to be functionally bilingual, he said, and “It’s a challenge for the nuncio to find bilingual priests” who can serve as bishops.

Another reason is the “tendency of many people in Cornwall to look to Ottawa for hospitals, shopping and work,” he said. Many work in Ottawa and many of its young people attend the University of Ottawa or Algonquin College.

Prendergast has already met with the priests of the diocese’s College of Consultors twice. One of the priests told him it would be “a real loss not to have a bishop living with us.” But the priest also said he understood, because his own family members have moved to Ottawa, the archbishop said.

“We also have the issue these days of efficiency and sharing of resources,” Prendergast said.

Alexandria-Cornwall tends to be static in terms of population and finances and its resources are diminishing. While Ottawa faces similar challenges, it does have areas of growth, where new parishes are being built.

Alexandria-Cornwall has 26 parishes and missions serving a Catholic population of 55,675 with 26 priests, one religious priest, 25 religious men and women and 17 permanent deacons. It is also one of the smallest dioceses in terms of geographical size. While small dioceses can offer a new bishop the chance to be tested and formed, having a bishop only for a short time creates instability, Prendergast said. If the bishop’s cathedral “has an ejector seat, that’s not fair to the diocese.”

Durocher served there for 10 years; Damphousse was there for less than four years.

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