Wednesday, 15 February 2012

What to do about Wilcannia-Forbes!

I noted that I planned to do a few follow-up posts on some of the dioceses I’ve done posts about.

To start that process, today a post from guest blogger and long-time resident of Wilcannia-Forbes, Malcolm Smith, together with some other information and commentary supplied offline by other readers who have asked to remain anonymous.

All this is particularly timely as rumours have started that a new appointment of an overseas priest to this diocese (or some version of it!) is about to be made...

The Investigative Committee

I’ve received a number of comments about the unsatisfactory nature of the Bishops Investigatory Committee process set up to look at the future of the diocese following the rejection by priests of an initial proposal for its future.

First it is not entirely clear who the Committee consists of, and what the reporting process for it is (presumably it reports to the ACBC? on some particular timeline??!).  Mr Smith, for example, who made a submission to it summarised below, did not even receive an acknowledgment of his letter.

There is in fact a rumour that a draft report does in fact now exist, but it has certainly not been made public in any form.

Secondly, there seems to be a sense, at least from some in the diocese, that it those running the Committee have adopted a heavy-handed and intimidating ‘father knows best’ style.  I’ve also been told that the Committee has been less than willing to take an honest, hard look at just how the current situation came into being, arguably a necessary prerequisite to moving forward.

Back in July last year, Monsignor McGuckin assured parishioners' that their opinions would be considered.  But some continue to feel that they have been left in the dark over the troubles in the diocese for too long. 

Departures and arrivals: prayers please

I've also been told that the diocese recently lost a very popular, able and orthodox priest (albeit one who may have suffered from a racist element) to another diocese in the wake of the lesbian school child affair.  So please pray for the replacement rounded up by Cardinal Pell, the recently ordained Fr Greg Morgan, who had been assistant priest at Liverpool.

More generally, the debate over this is going to come back into the public domain very soon.

The Advocate, recently ran an item on an upcoming Compass program on the diocese to be run before Easter, featuring local Fr Paul Clark amongst others.

Of course, this could be headed off at the pass by the appointment of a new bishop, and I recently read a rumour that a South African bishop is about to be appointed. Any truth to it? I don’t know!

Please do pray for a good appointment/satisfactory resolution of the diocese's future!

Some proposals for reform

And now, the short term aside, what needs to be done?

Today, some proposals that I think have applicability to many dioceses, from guest blogger Malcolm Smith. This is, in fact, an edited version of his submission to the ‘Bishops Investigative Committee’.

In his submission, Mr Smith urged the Investigative Committee to look at best practice elsewhere in Australia and overseas: what has worked. And in his submission he made five key points: the need for strong leadership on the ground; the need to revive a genuinely sacramental based parish structure; the importance of reintroducing genuine catechesis in schools; the desirability of providing some feedback to the laity of the diocese on what is being considered for the longer term, and what is being done to help in the short-term; and to protect the use of the term Catholic more vigorously. 

Here are his proposals:

"1. Strong leadership at the local level

I see the future of the Diocese at a junction that only re-invigoration and determined work will keep alive, one that will need tremendous leadership over the coming decade as our older priests retire. Local administration and an understanding of local problems are paramount for the future of the Diocese, and needs to be retained for practical reasons and in line with Church teaching.

Long distance bureaucracies inevitably fail in any organisation, no matter how good the intentions are. Local control has to be retained. This is not to say that making the Diocese smaller in co-operation with adjoining Diocese should not be explored, in particular with Wagga Wagga which seems to have a fair number of priests in training.

We also need strong, unequivocal statements that reinforce the Church`s teachings. Key areas that need to be emphasized here include the Real Presence, and the dangers of moral relativism. If moral relativism can be shown for what it is and its destructive effects on life the battle will be half won.

Seeing more of a Bishop would also be a great help as well. Although administration is important pastoral care and firsthand knowledge are more so, especially in a diocese this size.

2. Abandon priestless parishes

I don`t believe a large percentage of younger baptised Catholics feel they have any spiritual or sacramental needs except for marriages, baptisms [so their children can access the local Catholic school] and funerals. This is not my feeling: any church survey over the last 10 years backs this up.

However, just because people may feel this way doesn`t make it right, and having a priestless parish, a contradiction in terms, is certainly likely to make it worse.

Larger centres, such as Dubbo, which will always have priests are not too far away for me. I would go there rather than attend a lay run event in our own Church, but I have that choice, the willingness and ability to do this. Many don`t or won't.

I would say never in the history of the diocese have the spiritual needs of Catholics been greater.

A request from the Bishop for prayers for increased vocations and the best outcome for the Diocese, through the schools and at Mass, perhaps dedicating a month to this intention during the year.

3. Re-introduce real catechesis in schools

Never has the demand for Catholic education been greater. But this is not because they are catholic, but because they are not state education.

As school enrolments have risen, where is the corresponding increase in Church attendance? There is none because religious education over the last 30 to 40 years has been a failure.

Unless a return to the basic catechism is embraced there will be no change. As Cardinal Pell once said “at least they will know what they’re leaving” if it doesn`t work. The shared experience method which is used by this Diocese should be reviewed; it is based on the work of Thomas Groome whose theological inadequacies are well-known.

4. Transparency and accountability

I would be greatly aided knowing that the Committee explored every possible avenue to keep the diocese going, even in a smaller form. I’d also like to be assured that the committee has done everything it could, including begging or borrowing priests from elsewhere, to help until there are once again ordinations in the Diocese. Although there has been some resentment shown to overseas priests, some of it bigotry, we are going to continue for a while to need their help. It is no different to the Jesuits going to South America and this fact needs to be re-iterated. We need to help these priests, if we are lucky enough to get any, to fit in.

5. Restrict use of the term Catholic

The term Catholic in any organisational title must be in fact as well as name. Cath-news or anti-Cath news as it is known in many circles is a classic example.

Is there yet hope for Wilcannia-Forbes?

As a diocese we at least need to try before we end the long history and good works that have been done here in the past.

I hope the committee explores every avenue that offers a ray of hope in ensuring the survival of the Diocese in one form or another.

Just as a parish cannot be a parish without a priest, a diocese cannot be a diocese without parishes.”

1 comment:

R J said...

The best leadership advice which I know to have been given in modern times comes from the USA. New York City's ex-mayor Rudy Giuliani - for all his dreadful faults - is said to have had, at City Hall (I can't find a detailed Google reference at present for this allegation), a very useful and simple slogan prominently displayed on his desk. The slogan ran: "Never let your enemies set the agenda."

This credo is not rocket-science. But in OzChurch - which, if its obsessive human respect could be converted into an electrical current, would furnish enough juice to supply all Sydney and Melbourne households simultaneously over the next 100 years - it might as well be.

Perhaps it requires a visit to a recognisably Christian land (like America) to realise how atrociously inadequate OzChurch's default mode now is. If Obama finds things too tough in the White House, he will get a delirious welcome down under from cafeteria-Catholics, many of whom purport to be running entire episcopates.