A good start apparently is on the verge of slipping into a quagmire of rumor for Lawrence County’s Catholic churches.

On Oct. 15, these parishes came under the umbrella of a new grouping formulated as part of the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s On Mission for the Church Alive! restructuring initiative. The plan looks to consolidate the diocese’s 188 parishes into 57, and includes the directive to merge seven county parishes into one within a two-year span.

The diocese took the measure in response to a declining number of both worshippers and priests within its confines. The new groupings were given differing time frames within which to come up with a plan for merging.

Lawrence County’s grouping (with the exception of Ellwood’s Holy Redemeer, which was grouped with two Butler County parishes) was given two years to map out a strategy for achieving its goal, and the Rev. Joseph McCaffrey was tasked as administrator to oversee the process.

The point is to allow the diocese to make the most efficient use of declining resources to continue reaching as many people as possible with its gospel message.

On the weekend of Oct. 20-21, McCaffrey officiated at a series of Masses at New Castle High School designed to introduce worshippers from separate parishes to the concept of countywide unity.

There was no shortage of positive reaction to those Masses. But that encouraging first step was blunted last week when city council expressed concern over rumors that McCaffrey and his committee plan to shutter all four city parishes and create a suburban mega church in Union Township.

That the rumors are out there is not surprising, especially in this age of social media, where facts that don’t fit one’s preconceived notions tend to get in the way of a good conspiracy theory.

But McCaffrey told The News that while he and those he relies upon are “in the process of looking at all possible outcomes,” nothing has been decided.

Mayor Anthony Mastrangelo, who is on a committee considering the future of the Catholic church in Lawrence County, told council that there are no plans to move to Union, but that he believes McCaffrey “is pushing for a super church.”

We understand that a certain amount of anxiety and apprehension is inherent in pondering the future of county churches, and that a pro-active approach by city council to be ready for any result is not a bad thing.

Still, speculation and talk of partially formed ideas as if they were done deals does not help.

We believe the county’s Catholic population is a community of faith. That being the case, we continue to encourage parishioners to invest some in their church leadership as well as in each other, and to refrain from divisive hearsay.

There are no illusions here — whatever plan McCaffrey and his team reach, there will be sacrifice involved. That will be difficult enough.

Imagining the worst in all of its possible permutations only weakens the unity that will be required when the time to move forward actually arrives.

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