SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) — The Catholic Diocese of Sioux City plans to consolidate its parishes starting in summer 2017.

The Rev. Brent Lingle directs the diocese's office of worship, and he said Thursday the number would be reduced to 67 from 108. Lingle says the moves are necessitated by a growing shortage of priests and declining membership and church attendance.

"(These changes) let us do the hard work now, so we know where we are going for the next 10 years instead of having each parish wonder if they're going to be open next year, or if they'll have a priest," Lingle said.

Since 2008, only 16 of the 108 parishes have seen growth, while overall Mass attendance has dropped nearly 25 percent. Membership has fallen as the average age of churchgoers increases and family size decreases.

"We understand change is difficult, but we believe we'll come out as a stronger, more faithful church," he said.

None of the church buildings would close, but 40 no longer would have Masses celebrated there. They could continue to be the sites of weddings, funerals and the like.

Most of the churches moved to oratory status would be in rural areas and small towns. The plan wouldn't affect the diocese's 23 Catholic schools.

Lingle said the plan would help ensure the vibrancy of the parishes in the diocese's 24-county territory in northwest and north-central Iowa.

"We want to make sure the church is alive and well, to make sure our faith attracts people to it," Lingle said.

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