Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Broken Bay: indeed a broken diocese? part I

Vexilla Regis provides, today, an update on the push by Bishop David Walker, aged 73, of Broken Bay Diocese to impose a model of ‘lay leadership’ on the diocese that seems utterly at odds with the tradition and law of the Church. 

Do go and read it over there – and you can find some earlier context on the subject that I wrote about a year ago here.

Accordingly, I thought this might be an appropriate opportunity to provide some more context on the diocese of Broken Bay, or ‘Dioecesis Sinus Tortuosi’ as it is rendered officially in Latin.

It sounds good, but is it actually Catholic?!

This is a diocese I’d like to be able to say good things about, because it is doing many of the things that on the face of it should be done, including focusing on promoting the reading of Scripture; educating the laity in their faith; and engaging in a fair amount of transparency.

Unfortunately it is also a diocese that seems to illustrate that content and motives matter: promoting the seemingly good does not good at all if it is not actually done in a Catholic context!  To give but a few examples.

This is a diocese that heavily promotes lectio divina, with some success.  And reading Scripture is important - provided we are encouraged to read it in the light of the Tradition, instructed by the Magisterium, not just to invent our own interpretations of it as protestants do!

It also has a big focus on educating the laity, primarily through the Broken Bay Institute, again on the face of it a good thing. Provided, of course, that what they are educated in is actually the faith as taught by the Church, rather than errors promoted by theologians such as Richard McBrien.

Transparency and accountability to the laity can similarly be a positive.  But that does not mean that the laity should usurp the role of priests: we are not congregationalists, but rather members of a church that is hierarchically constituted.  And that hierarchy does not start and end with the bishop!

I have quite a few things to say about this diocese, so this is just part one of my ‘state of the diocese’ assessment.

The diocese of Broken Bay


Source: ACBC

Broken Bay is a relatively new diocese, created out of Sydney Archdiocese in 1986 at the same time as Parramatta.

The diocese website states that:

“The Catholic Diocese of Broken Bay covers an area of 2,763 square kilometres, incorporating 31 parishes, 36 primary schools, 6 secondary schools, 1 K-12 and 8 independent Catholic schools.

The Diocese is nominally divided into three separate geographic regions: the Peninsula, containing parishes from Avalon to Manly; the North Shore, from Chatswood north to Arcadia and Berowra parishes; and the Central Coast, from Woy Woy to Toukley, Wyong and Warnervale parishes.”

Australia’s seventh largest diocese, it included some 206, 000 Catholics in 2006, making up 25.2% population of the area.

The decline of the priesthood in Broken Bay

Ever since its creation there has been a steady decline in the number of priests, and this is one of those Australian dioceses where one can't help but suspect that the state of affairs reflects ideology rather than the workings of providence.  Neighbouring Sydney, after all, ordained more than 29 priests in the same period, and even Parramatta under the ancien regime managed at least eight in the same period!  Broken Bay has managed but one, late last year.

In 1990 there were 55 diocesan priests and 81 religious; by 2006 the total had declined from 136 to 117.

Late last year the number had fallen further to 33 diocesan and 52 religious priests, or 85 in total according to the diocesan magazine.

The diocese also has four deacons and an unusually low number of women religious, 62 in 2011 (plus an additional 14 brothers).

'About the bishop'

Bishop David Walker took over the diocese in 1996, and I thought it might be best to tell you about him in his own words (since they also grace the pages of his Wikipedia entry amongst other places).

One of the things I’ve found fascinating as I’ve done these diocesan writeups is the different approaches bishops take to the ‘about me’ page on their diocesan websites.

Some are very detailed, providing a blow by blow chronicle of their careers to date; others highlight particular achievements. Some appear to be applications for some (other) job, listing, inter alia, every academic article and book they have ever written. Some are manifestos of their approach, be it ‘servant leadership’, stomping on devotions, social justice, or whatever.

Some are extremely humble and self-effacing, providing only the barest details of their past career and (often quite considerable) academic achievements. 

Bishop Walker’s is certainly not in this later category, being anxious to assure us of his academic and other achievements. Indeed, Bishop Walker ventures into territory I thought reserved ex-US Presidents and the like, of having a library (at the Broken Bay Institute) named in his honour, and scholarships (for which the donor is listed as the diocese) offered in his name, rather than that of his Office.

His bio does, I think, give a fair flavour of some of his preoccupations, so herewith a few extracts by way of an introduction to the current state of the diocese.

Bishop Walker (from the diocesan website)


Source: Newcastle Aurora Magazine
“Bishop David was ordained Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Broken Bay on 3 September 1996, succeeding the Diocese's inaugural Bishop, the Most Rev Patrick Murphy.

Born on 13 November 1938, Bishop David was one of six children (one died in infancy) in a close-knit family, who spent their childhood in the eastern Sydney suburb of Clovelly. His early education was with the Sisters of St Joseph and with the Marist Brothers at Marcellin College, Randwick. He subsequently entered the Seminary, studying at Springwood and Manly.

In 1960 he gained the Baccalaureate of Theology, graduating magna cum laude. He was ordained for the priesthood by Cardinal Gilroy on 21 July 1962 and in the same year obtained the Licentiate of Theology.

His priestly career began in the conventional pattern with service as assistant priest in Campsie and Granville. During this time, he was invited to return to Manly to study for the Doctorate of Divinity degree. Even then, his deep interest in spirituality led him to complete a thesis on the spiritual influences in the western tradition - focusing on the early spiritual writer, John Cassian. Again, (in 1966) he graduated magna cum laude.

In 1967, with this background, he was invited to teach in the Catholic Theological Faculty of Sydney, at Manly, lecturing to religious brothers and sisters in the Institutes of the Faculty, The Holy Spirit Institute (for religious brothers) and the Mater Dei Institute (for religious sisters) and to seminarians doing a basic degree in Theology. In 1969 he became Director of the Mater Dei Institute, leaving a year to study overseas.

As he came to realise the importance of reaching out to make serious theological study and reflection more available to the Catholic people, he developed the idea of writing out his lectures for people to study at home. In 1969, in conjunction with Fr Neil Brown and Fr Peter Neville, he was a founder of the Catholic Correspondence Centre, and in 1973 began to give evening courses at North Sydney. Teaching on spirituality was supplemented by writing, beginning in 1976 with an Introduction to the first Australian edition of The Spiritual Life by Evelyn Underhill, and Anglican spiritual writer and guide. Then in 1977, he published God is a Sea: the Dynamics of Christian Living, a simple introduction to some classic spiritual writers.

In the first six years of the Correspondence Centre about 6500 courses were sent out and about 16000 courses followed. This understanding and promotion of spirituality was extended when he pursued more postgraduate study in the Scriptures in Rome and at the University of London King’s College where, in 1972 was awarded the Master of Theology degree in New Testament (Distinction).

The following year he joined the staff of the Catholic Theological Faculty of Sydney, teaching Systemic Theology and later headed the pastoral studies department. He served for a time as secretary of the Catholic Theological Faculty of Sydney and as rector of the Post Graduate House for three years...

...founding the Centre for Christian Spirituality at Randwick, where face-to-face and distance courses in Christian spirituality were offered. The Centre found ready interest, with about 10,000 people taking courses from 1978 to 2001. He remained Director of the Educational Centre for Christian Spirituality until his appointment as Bishop.

Following the retirement in Broken Bay of the inaugural Bishop, Most Rev Patrick Murphy, David Walker was appointed his successor on 9 July 1996. He was ordained to the young Diocese of Broken Bay on 3 September at Our Lady of Dolours Catholic Church, Chatswood, by Cardinal Clancy. The ceremony was attended by 33 Bishops, 150 priests, and an overflowing congregation of more than 800 people.

During the past ten years, Bishop David has consolidated the Diocese of Broken Bay – extending organisations and pushing the Diocese into new fields. Amongst his initiatives have been the groupings of parishes into three Deaneries and the amalgamation of several Parishes to further extend the quality of pastoral care afforded to the people of the Diocese.

Ecumenical activity was given particular impetus with the establishment of the Diocesan Ecumenical Commission in 1998. Strong relationships and dialogues have since been formed with the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle.

The establishment of The Broken Bay Institute, in 2003, is evidence of Bishop David’s commitment to promoting a truly Australian spirituality, fostering theological and spiritual education...

In 2006, many of the ministries and agencies of the Diocese were brought under the one roof at the Caroline Chisholm Centre, Pennant Hills. This move has supported the vision for Broken Bay that promotes and models collaborative ministry as the best practice for sustaining, guiding and healing the members of this faith community and the community itself.

In the same year, Bishop David announced a new ministry for women that would be based on a deep and personal commitment to Jesus. The program, Ecclesial Women, will enable women to participate more fully in the life, and leadership, of the Diocese – supporting the Bishop in the pastoral care of the people. This program will commence in March 2008.

Bishop David brings to his appointment a continuing commitment to faith renewal and to be responsive to the changing needs of the Catholic Church in Australia.... "

And please do go on to Part II of this series on Broken Bay.

3 comments:

A Canberra Observer said...

sounds positively dire.

ka said...

Remember the planned "ecumenical" public service with the Anglicans which was cancelled by higher authorities?

John Fisher said...

I know the man and knew the man when he was at Randwick. He is the centre of his own universe and he has found purpose by making himself the centre of others search for purpose! Of course it all in the biography and that is his purpose. There is a special conceit that some have in being the centre in matters spiritual!