Lismore's bishop is Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett, aged 74, currently also Apostolic Administrator of Brisbane Archdiocese. He celebrates ten years as a bishop on February 18.
About Lismore diocese
Bishop Jarrett inherited a diocese that both sides of the commentary fence seem to agree was a mess. It can't have been an easy task for an outsider to take on, even with a year as co-adjutor!
His predecessor, Bishop Satterthwaite, had been in office since 1969, and presided over a decline in the number of priests from 119 in 1970 to 56 in 2001. A number of serious abuse cases have come to light. And the previous bishop left behind him what someone over at acatholica suggested was an entrenched group of 'clerical and lay cronies' who appear to be a source of continuing opposition to the current bishop's efforts.
|Source: Diocesan website|
Lismore diocese, according to its website is "...home to 105,000 Catholics in twenty eight Parishes living along the picturesque coastline of New South Wales that extends from the Tweed River in the North to Camden Haven in the South."
The largest population centres are Tweed Heads, straddling the Queensland border, NSW sixth largest town (pop 53, 650); Port Macquarie (42, 042); and Lismore itself (pop 31, 385). It takes in some 28, 660 square kilometres, and in 2004 had a total of 56 priests (48 diocesan), 2 permanent deacons and 110 religious.
I understand there is a strong Carmel there, which certainly seems to be attracting young vocations, but the diocesan website does not list the religious orders operating in the diocese.
|Bishop Jarrett with three newly ordained priests of the diocese, December 2011|
Source: Diocesan website
The bishop has worked vigorously to restore the balance, recruiting priests and seminarians from overseas as well as locally. It has been something of an uphill battle though. In the first few years of taking office, the bishop managed to recruit priests from overseas. But in a 2009 statement, with admirable transparency he noted that:
"Twelve months ago it would have seemed that we were managing well enough, thanks to the fact that while we have had no priestly ordinations since 2001 [So he inherited no seminarians, or at least none who persevered], five young priests had come to work among us. There remains the good prospect of new young priests in our five deacons and seminarians spread across the years of priestly formation.
However, since April we have suffered the tragic loss of two of those priests; a third departed overseas to pursue a call to the religious life; and one of our long-serving parish priests moved into retirement. Three others are coping with illness from which we pray they will happily recover. It is only realistic to expect that with the average age of our 29 active priests standing at 56.8 years and with three beyond retirement age or in prospect of it, the health of our priests becomes an important issue in view of the greater burden placed upon them."
But rather than being a counsel of despair in the face of these setbacks, the bishop responded with a call to arms, a call for genuine renewal:
"...we need to look further than the parish and diocesan logistics of territory, personnel, buildings, finance and Mass times, to the reality of what we truly are in each and every parish: the Church of Jesus Christ, a community called to be saints alive with holiness and good works to the glory of the Father, living with a unified spirit compacted about the Eucharistic Sacrifice celebrated by and with a priest in our midst.
The question I ask is this: is it not time now for us as a Diocese to be holding up that mirror to ourselves and to look at the picture in the light of the Gospel, the teaching of the Scriptures, the sacred Tradition handed down to us in trust and the ordinary regulative laws and norms of the Church?"
The bishop went on to call for fidelity and witness to the truth:
...So we get on quietly and unashamedly with the job of positively supporting and living those teachings which draw the incredulity of many of our contemporaries, such as our opposition to the killing of the unborn as a right of choice, artificial birth control/contraception, euthanasia, IVF and the rest. In doctrine we take as our guide the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in liturgy the traditions and norms set out in the Missal and other liturgical books and we support the Church’s social teaching on human rights and the dignity of the human person."
And it seems to be paying off - the diocese currently has six seminarians, and the bishop ordained three new priests late last year!
Bishop Jarrett regularly provides strong teaching on the moral challenges of our times, with recent diocesan newsletters and other documents tackling topics such as same sex marriage, the Greens and giving a Good Friday homily on abortion.
As might be expected from a former anglican priest and subsequently chaplain to the Latin Mass community in Hobart, Bishop Jarrett has provided strong leadership in his diocese on the liturgy. AD 2000 printed his circular on the new missal last year as an important source on proper participation in the liturgy. He has done a lot of work to restore St Carthage's Cathedral, which suffered badly under the usual post-conciliar wreckovation and then was severely damaged by storms in 2007, including commissioning a new rood for the sanctuary.
Bishop Jarrett has been a good friend to the traditionalist community in Australia, regularly saying mass in the EF both in his own diocese and on many other occasions. The EF is available monthly at the Carmelite Convent near Lismore.
Transparency and accountability
The diocese's relatively new website is a rather barebones affair, and those parish websites that do exist not much better (Port Macquarie's for example, where the bishop emeritus resides, is so full of glossy pictures and links of everything in the parish except the actual churches that it took me quite a while to locate actual mass times...).
Still, better than the nothing in the neighbouring Armidale I guess!
How long to turn around a diocese?
In another post, a commentator raised the question of how long it takes to turn around a diocese.
I suggested at least ten years before you start to see real impacts. Perhaps even that is optimistic. In the end, success probably depends on ordaining a sufficient number of new, orthodox priests to provide a counterweight to, and ultimately replace, the rapidly ageing 'Gaudium et Spes' generation that tend to dominate the Australian priestly demographic at the moment. And training priest typically takes around seven years; encouraging them to consider a vocation and helping them through the initial discernment process a few years on top of that.
Of course one would hope to see, in any diocese, some positive signs much more quickly: things like new priests brought in from overseas; seminarians recruited; the appointment of a good Vicar General and a clean-out of the diocesan bureaucracy if necessary; orthodox priests (if they exist!) moved from the non-core roles they have typically been sidelined into back to the mainstream, and so forth.
Perhaps there are some strategies and approaches that will work faster than others. But changing hearts and minds requires time for grace to do its work!