Sunday, 19 December 2010

The financial crunch on the Church

The Canberra Times this Saturday has a rather sad tale of declining revenues in Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese, partly it claims, as a result of the recent drought, and partly due to declining Church attendance.

Falling numbers at Mass means the diocese is doing a financial balancing act...

Over the last 15 years the number of people identifying themselves as Catholics in the Archdiocese has has increased about 20%, the story claims.  But mass attendance almost halved in the same period.

The source of the article though is not Archbishop Coleridge (beyond lifting a few of his recent comments in the Voice about considering organisational options relating to the shortage of priests) but rather his Auxiliary, Bishop Power, supplemented by the diocese's equally liberal Vicar-General, Monsignor Woods.

Why people do not go to Mass: the liturgy

Earlier this year the Archbishop pointed once again to problems such as the loss of the sense of awe in the liturgy, the weakened sense of God engendered by the halls that masquerade as churches, the watered down wording of the liturgy, the loss of the use of ritual gestures, tawdry vestments and K-mart style vessels.

But perhaps the reason Canberra (like many other places) has still a mass attendance problem is that no serious effort seems to be being made to actually address the majority of these problems.

Even the worst looking Church can be made better at a relatively low cost with some effort: rip out the carpet, use nice altar clothes to cover the altar, and so forth. 

Liturgy can be made more reverent if the priest sets his mind to it. 

And there is surely nothing stopping the Archbishop from encouraging priests (and leading by example) to celebrate ad orientem?

The perceived or real barrier to acting though, I assume, is the tired old spirit of Vatician IIism trotted out yet again by the Archbishop's offsider. 

According to Bishop Patrick Power...

The real problem, according to Bishop Power, is those dastardly laity (whose views are of course only to be respected when they align with the liberal perspective) who are "still hankering for pre-Vatican II days".

You mean the days when people actually went to Mass and supported the clergy financially bishop? 

When, as Archbishop Coleridge acknowledged, there was a sense of awe in our worship, and an orientation to beauty instead of banality?

Oh and give us married priests and ?priestesses

Bishop Power also takes the opportunity to trot out his support for married clergy and return to the priesthood of those who abandoned their flocks. 

Does he seriously think that the laity will suddenly put more in the plate for the privilege of supporting the families of those who broke their promises of chastity and obedience, and put the pursuit of personal gratification before service to the Church? 

Well, I suppose we should at least be grateful that he didn't publicly reiterate his previously stated support for the ordination of women.


A Canberra Observer said...

I agree the liturgy, as practised in the OF in Canberra (and most of Australia) is appaling. It must be part of the problem.

However I think it is simply that people don't actually believe, not in any functional way. The liturgy contributes to this, but 40 (50?) years of very wonky ideas, and then no ideas, in 'religious' education have yielded a rich harvest, for the enemy. Those schools have very successfully imparted a message that "it doesn't matter".

And the bishops, and clergy, have failed to be seen as leaders. No statements or engagement on major issues. Sometimes encouraging the nutty ideas that got us to this point - to be crude, perhaps they thought they were being easy with their flocks but ultimately their flocks didn't respect them in the morning. Running scared in a worse than 'separation of Church & state' mindset. Absolute failure to deal with the abuse scandal, at least until it was too late.

One wonders if Bishops had fought rather harder to retain Sunday as a day of rest. They could even have indulged their lefty tendencies at the same time.

The loss of the sacred in worship has contributed to this. But I doubt it is all.

As for Ausxillary Bishop Power, I have long wondered how he can in conscience draw his pay cheque. The ultimate fifth columnist.

Terra said...

All good points and I agree.

Still, the liturgy really is the source and summit of our spiritual lives - or lack thereof I think.

If you don't get it right, nothing else will help.

A Canberra Observer said...

chicken & egg I suppose.

Kate said...

I believe the faithful attendees at the Traditional Latin Masses in Canberra are very generous.

When is the penny going to drop (pardon the pun)

Terra said...

Nice try Kate but frankly that's balderdash!

Far from being a thriving community, numbers are down from what they used to be and so is the collection.

And I'm pretty sure the Archdiocese doesn't get a cent out of it beyond the contribution to the cost of keeping Garran Church open. That's useful of course, but hardly the key to the salvation of the diocese's problems!

A TLM is a good start, but a few other things are necessary to make a vibrant community.

BB said...

I agree with what has been said here. I don’t think there will be many people this Christmas who attracted by the beauty of the liturgy and music will decide that they might frequent the church more than the one or two times a year that they now attend. In my experience Christmas is an opportunity for more novelty and innovation than usual in the Mass.
Part of the problem is that many are happy with how things are. They have spent much of their lives pushing for change and the thought of “turning the clock back” as they see it is too much. They also tend to be those who rejected some part of the faith ( usually starting with contraception) and as Father doesn’t mention sin much anymore (if he believes it himself) and they certainly don’t want to be reminded of it. It is not just a dislike but a often a hatred of the “old church”.
I am interested in why you think the FSSP church in Canberra is not more successful. I would love something like that here.

Terra said...

BB - I'm not really picking on Canberra in particular, there are similar issues in many of the traddie communities, FSSP and otherwise. There are a few communities that are doing well, but most seem at best never to grow that much.

On the one hand, some people are very committed. But often to conflicting agendas! That's why Australia no longer has any national body representing TLM supporters.

Perhaps it is partly a matter of history as well - the shall we say eclectic bunch of people attracted to the TLM, plus the relative lack of experienced priests.

The bottom line I think is that an effective parish or community is grounded in a properly said Mass, but is much more than that.

You also need a nice Church, good choir, strong sermons, and active efforts to bring in new people and welcome them, and keep up with the old. You need masses to start on time reliably, appropriate time set aside for confession, and a range of other communal activities.

A strong community is a product of priestly leadership that effectively engages with the laity; that pays attention to catechesis for all on the mass itself and on the faith more generally; that trains up new people for its choirs and other supporting activities; that cares about and helps its members, and follows up on what is happening to them; engages in practical charity, and so forth.

Most TLM communities have some of these things - few have them all, and some have fewer of them than others!

BB said...

Thanks for your reply I guess your probably right. I have never been to a traditional parish before but half of what I know (which is not much) I learnt from listening to FSSP sermons on line.

In my experience the biggest thing is the lack of good or any catechesis full stop. I only recently in the last 2 years have learnt about church teaching and history off the internet and by books from the saints. I would be surprised if more than a couple of people could list what the 10 commandments are let alone the mass. According to my parish priest it is a meal with the faith community. Or after just returning from a seminar put on by the Sisters Of St Joseph educational center a week before Easter he tried to explain that Christ did not die for our sins but only so he could rise again if I got the story straight.

No parish or diocese can grow when this is the norm and as to expected it is not. If you mention something like communion on the tongue could be a good idea they looked shocked a wonder why you would do such a thing.

I enjoy your blog by the way.

Terra said...

Thanks BB.

Oh dear, your situation is a good reminder to be grateful for what we have here! Certainly always unwavering orthodoxy in the sermons.

In the end, it is just very hard I think to be an island, without all the infrastructure reinforcing what a parish should be!

The challenge is to work out how to grow that from the seed of what we have, and that not easy.