Monday, 10 October 2011

What to do about the problem of Sundays

Sundays are a problem everywhere around Australia for the Church - fewer and rapidly ageing priests, falling attendance at mass, and falling financial contributions are all creating severe pressures on some dioceses.

Mine is one of them.

And so the Archbishop has set up a talkfest (aka "Archdiocesan Assembly") to discuss the problem. 

It's a good idea in principle.  I'm all in favour of engaging priests and laity in a discussion of this kind, and maybe it can even help build some momentum for real change - though I'm not holding my breath!

Short-term options?

In Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese, like many dioceses around the country, Mass attendance, the number of priests, and most importantly of all from a practical perspective, financial contributions continue to fall.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge has previously canvassed a number of possible options to deal with the problem, including cutting back the number of Masses, having lay-led parishes and more.

And I imagine a key objective of the assembly will be to try and get some buy-in (or at least start making the case) for some of these options, not to mention some exhortations on the subject of what we put in the collection-plate.

Although I really do wish that people would stop putting forward the option of "Celebration of the Word with Holy Communion" up as a substitute for Mass - such celebrations, in my view, serve only to undermine further the idea of the Mass as a sacrifice.  Wouldn't it be better to encourage people to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours as a community if no priest is available?

And wouldn't it be better to make a serious push to ordain permanent deacons  - not to mention a stronger push on priests - than to consider other lay-led structures (though I notice that the background papers are pretty coy on this whole issue)?

Retrench or rebuild?

The heartening thing about the background materials and planned session topics is that there is at least a hint of attempts to address the real issues - such as the way Sundays have been crowded out by sport and other activities for example (especially in Catholic schools!); the problem of poor liturgy and heretical sermons (yep I got a dose of pure, undiluted modernism at yesterday's Sunday Mass); decades of poor or non-existent catechesis, and so forth.

It will be interesting to see if some momentum for real, long-term change can be built to address these issues.  Or whether short-term imperatives dominate the discussion.


Pierre said...

Kate, from what I understand, your good archbishop there, says all the right things but does absolutely no follow up which then leads to this nonsense about consulting the laity about what they should do - in the end, the archbishop has to lead, but before that he needs to know what sort of church he wants - a flourishing one or a dying one. Once he knows the answer to this question, he can consult numerous good bishops around the world who have faced similar problems and have faced these with the courage and wisdom of Jesus Christ himself - outstanding bishops such as Pell, Chaput, Bambera, Hickey etc etc etc.

Kate said...

Pierre - While I agree with a fair amount of what you have to say (indeed, I've said it myself in numerous posts here!), I don't think consulting the laity in this way is nonsense.

Any ruler sensibly seeks advice and listens to those who will be most affected about what he proposes to do before he does it.

If you are going to close parishes etc better to talk first in the hope of minimising the pain and angst later. And trying to get some active engagement is no bad thing - so long as it is clear that the final decisions rest with the bishop, and there is no pretense otherwise in this exercize.

Nor am I convinced that Cardinal Pell or AB Hickey have had that much more success than AB Coleridge at tackling some of these issues - though they both have considerable strengths, Canberra actually has a relatively healthy number of seminarians in the early years of the pipeline due to AB Coleridge's efforts since his appointment(but has inherited the effects of years of neglect), and Perth and Sydney too face the problem of not enough priests for people.

It is true though that there are certainly some things to learn from successful dioceses elsewhere that haven't been tried here yet - like ditching altar girls, making the schools actually teach catholicism, and so forth.

chris r said...

"and Perth and Sydney too face the problem of not enough priests for people"

The problem is also there are not enough people for the priests.

I am told that in Melbourne, the ratio of priest per practicing Catholic is the lowest it has ever been.

This is scary when you consider that in many parts of Melbourne, there is currently one priest serving a geographic area where 30 years ago, 4 priests would have been assigned to. The number of practicing Catholics is falling at a much higher rate than the number of priests.

Kate said...

True enough Chris - I was basing my comments on the ratios of those who claim to be Catholic in the census. Given the huge gap between claim and practise (which are pretty consistent throughout the country), the huge population growth of Sydney and Perth means that despite rising nominal ratios, there are still many empty pews!

Still, the census figure is important, since priests are responsible for all in their parish, not just those who practise (though most ignore the problem).

I'd add that largely metropolitan dioceses have a huge advantage over largely rural ones like Canberra-Goulburn, since in the city if the pews are relatively empty you can close down a mass and hope people can travel a few minutes longer. No such easy options in the country...