ONE of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in Bolton has lost its battle against closure — because of a shortage of priests.

Parishioners at St Peter and St Paul’s have been fighting to keep the church in Pilkington Street open since the Salford Diocese announced a regional shake-up in 2003.

At the time, the move was attributed to fewer priests and changing congregations, although no timescale for the closure was ever given.

The parish of St Peter and St Paul’s has been in Bolton for the last 215 years but the Bishop of Salford, the Rt Rev Terence Brain, has announced that the 112-year-old church is to be axed.

In a letter to parishioners, parish priest Father John McNamara said that no decision on a closing date or what would happen to the building had been made. But he said: “Our school is safe.”

The parish will be merged with the nearby parishes of St William of York, St Edmund and St Patrick, and St Ethelbert and will come under the responsibility of Fr David Foster. In 2007, Fr McNamara, who has been at St Peter and Paul’s since 1995, earned the church a stay of execution when he pleaded with the bishop to let him celebrate his 50th anniversary at the parish. Since then a cloud has hung over the church’s future.

Fr McNamara, who is due to retire in the next few months, said: “At least we have had six years since the possible closure was announced.”

The bishop said the closure was caused by no priest being available to take over from Fr McNamara. He said: “In the short term, this will inevitably mean certain changes will have to be made to weekend mass times to ensure that these three priests (from the newly merged parishes) are able to give pastoral care to the Catholic people of Bolton.”

One concerned parishioner, who did not want to be named, said: “There has been a campaign for a number of years to save the church but now that looks like it is all in vain.

“Everyone knows that the catholic church does not have any money and it is wrong that the bishop is willing to let 200 years of history go just to balance the books.”