ASHLAND, N.H. (AP) – The long-range planner for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester has agreed to ask for a delay in the planned merger of three Lakes Region churches, effective July 1.

The Rev. Robert Gorski, director of the diocese’s Long Range Planning Commission, made the commitment after meeting this weekend with a group working to save St. Agnes parish in Ashland, one of the three parishes. The others are St. Matthew in Plymouth and St. Timothy in Bristol.

“I won’t sugarcoat anything,” Gorski said Sunday, “and I’ll get back to you.”

Because of a shortage of priests, parishes around the state are being asked to meet locally and propose plans for downsizing, diocesan spokesman Patrick McGee said Monday. These parishes came up with options including the merger, which Bishop John McCormack recently adopted, McGee said.

Fran Wendelboe of New Hampton has organized opposition to the merger among St. Agnes parishioners. She complained about conflicting information and a lack of information from the diocese about St. Agnes’ future.

Gorski may be saying merger, “but the things in our bulletin clearly say that St. Agnes will be closed,” Wendelboe said.

McGee said the first step would be creating a single parish council and single finance committee for the merged parish, with other decisions to be worked out.

Bob Giuda of Warren, who, like Wendelboe, is a state representative, told St. Agnes parishioners that fighting the diocese is tough. He said the St. John Vianney Mission Church in Warren has been closed for five years now, and parishioners have not had any luck getting it reopened.

Gorski said the shortage of priests is forcing the diocese to make painful decisions, and not just in the Lakes Region.

“Every challenge you’ve got here, we’ve got in every other part of the state,” he said.