Yorkshire congregation chain themsleves to church in parish protest VIDEO

FURIOUS parishioners chained themselves to railings in protest at the planned closure of their 100-year-old village church.

St John's in Allerton Bywater is set for the axe under controversial restructuring plans announced by Catholic Bishop of Leeds, Arthur Roche.

The 70-strong congregation has vowed to fight the plans and on Friday, as officials were due to visit to value the site, members staged a dramatic demonstration.

Worshippers, some in their 80s, chained themselves to the building's gates, while others gathered with placards, lit candles and offered up prayers and hymns.

The protest was led by Malcolm Brumwell who said: "We feel so let down by the bishop, many of us have had our faith tested by his actions.

"My fear is that some people will simply stop going to church because of the way they have been treated. Their views have not mattered."

Mary Bellwood, 86, of Swillington, said: "My grandfather collected for years to see this church built. At the time in 1916 this was a poor mining village but everyone gave something.

"I have been a member of this church all my life. I was born into the parish and I never thought I would live to see the day when this church closed."

Mary Flanagan, 81, said: "I think it's disgusting. We have a strong congregation and an excellent priest. We are self-sufficient. There is no need to close us down.

"The church complains about low numbers but by shutting us down they're making it even harder for people to get to church."

Ann Fox added: "My dad was buried here, me and my sister were married here and our children were baptised here. They are splitting up a family by closing this church. We're all devastated."

St John's on Preston Lane is one of eight Catholic churches set to close in the Pontefract and Wakefield deanery.

The others are: St Joseph's, Crofton; Holy Family and Saint Gerard Majella in Featherstone; St Edmund's, Airedale; Our Lady of Graces, Kinsley; and Our Lady of Lourdes, Ackworth.

The congregations will be asked to merge with other nearby churches. The church blames dwindling congregation numbers and a shortage of people joining the priesthood.

There was no sign of the church officials at the demonstration. A spokesman for the Diocese of Leeds said: "Recent decades have seen rapid growth in the number of parishes and over-localisation.

"This was particularly so in Pontefract area and it has been known since February 2004 that this area would see significant changes. Following a lengthy period of consultation in the areas, this has taken place in Bradford and Huddersfield.

"A period of consultation was opened in the Wakefield and Pontefract areas last September and change is now to take place in those areas.

"The bishop appreciates the pain felt by those most affected by these changes but they are still generously provided for and will not have far to travel for Sunday mass."

He said a review of churches was under way in Leeds and plans for the city would be announced before Christmas.