Friday, 6 January 2012

Diocese by diocese in Queensland: change coming but will it be enough?

A theory of behavioural and organisational change that I think has some considerable merit, suggests that the first stage of change is to strip away the comforting stories we tell ourselves to avoid actually doing anything and face up to harsh realities.  In that light, a few days ago I gave a general introduction to the state of play in Queensland, together with some comments on the Brisbane Archdiocese.  Today I want to take a brief look at the other four dioceses that make up the state.

I noted that one of these (Toowoomba) is currently vacant, another (Rockhampton) likely to become so shortly.  Signs of the divine light in dark and chaotic places particularly appropriate to remember on the feast of the Epiphany!  But the two other bishops are still quite young (relatively speaking)...

So what are the prospects for real change?


Toowoomba is of course currently the most infamous of the four dioceses, and encompasses 487,000 sq kms, 76000 catholics and had 45 priests in 2006.

It is currently under the care of Bishop Brian Finnigan of Brisbane as Apostolic Administrator.  Bishop Finnigan is a canon lawyer and a former Secretary of the Australian Bishop's Conference originally ordained as a priest for the Ballarat Diocese.  He is aged 73(.42) and has been a bishop since 2002.

Just how much of an uphill battle anyone faces in bringing Toowoomba under control is perhaps best illustrated by the diocesan website. 

At the time of the Ad Limina late last year, the website was still full of some fairly hatefuol pro-Morris propaganda.  Bishop Morris' response to the statements of the Australian bishops even went up - but not the actual statement on his dismissal by the bishops!  Bishop Morris' response and some of the worst of his rants have since been removed from the site.  Yet nine months after his dismissal his biography still appears under the heading of the 'current' bishops, assorted materials arguing the toss on his dismissal are still on the site - yet the two statements by the Australian bishops on the subject are not.

Moreover, the website's home page now includes this telling statement:

"This web resource concentrates on the most important institution in our church - the local church. It is to our local church that people come in order to celebrate Eucharist, support one another, be educated, socialise, be Church."



Leadership: The bishop of Cairns is Bishop James Foley aged 63 and he has been there since 1992.  Bishop Foley is originally from Brisbane, and has a doctorate from Louvain University. He taught for a while at the old Banyo Seminary as well as at the University of Queensland and the Australian Catholic University.

Under his leadership the ratio of catholics to priests worsened significantly, from 1592 catholics per priest in 1990, to 2139 in 2006.  And of course that understates the situation since Cairns nominal catholic population of 59, 912 grows much larger during the tourist season.

The website lists 14 active priests, 7 retired, and 6 recently deceased. The last ordination, as far as I can discover, was of two permanent deacons (Rev Deacons Alban Hunt and Ralph Madigan) in 2009.  And you have to go back a long way before that, to 1994, to find any priestly ordinations.   Does anyone know if Cairns has any seminarians at all?

Liturgy: There is a once a month (first Saturday) Extraordinary Form Mass said in Cairns at Our Lady Help of Christians Church. 

One of the great positive stories of the last year from Cath News though, was the upbeat piece on the value of the new Missal from frequent contributor there Cairns priest Fr Laurie Bissett

One shudders however to think what the description of liturgy provided for the annual synod as' very meaningful' implies...

Transparency and accountability/lay engagement: Cairns has no contemplative religious, and a rather bare bones website (which is full of broken links).  That said, parish and organisation reports to the annual synod, available online, include descriptions of activities, outcomes and some statistics. 

Mission and catechesis: There are links to the Catechism and the website has a page on and links to Catholic Mission Australia. Parish reports include a strong focus on outreach.  The bishop also wrote an article in defense of traditional marriage for the Australian back in August.

Orthodoxy and orthopraxis:  Oh dear.  The website links, inter alia, to Amnesty International, which supports abortion.  It also promotes the Siloam Centre as a source of spiritual direction and other centres - a place promoting dangerous new age practices such as Enneagram. It has a strong charismatic and peace/justice focus in its web pages and links.


Leadership: The bishop of Townsville is Bishop Michael Putney, aged 65.  He has a doctorate from the Gregorian, and has taught there as well as Banyo and the University of Queensland.

He has a strong focus on ecumenism and is currently President of the National Council of Churches.

He was rumoured to have been in the running for the Archdiocese of Brisbane vacancy, to the considerable consternation of those concerned about his orthodoxy.

In 2010, Townsville had 30 priests (24 diocesan), one up from 2001 when the bishop took office, and 75,600 catholics.  The number of diocesan priests does seem to be recovering somewhat however: according to Catholic Hierarchy in 2000 there were 28; numbers dipped to 20 by 2003, but have since increased to 24 (though the diocesan website links only 19 priests in total currently active, plus 10 retired and two working outside the diocese).  I assume the increase comes from priests that have come from overseas: the last actual ordinations seem to have been back in 2006! 

The diocese has no contemplative religious, and no Traditional Latin Mass.

Transparency and accountability: The diocesan website is attractive, easy to navigate, and seems pretty comprehensive.  It offers easy to find links, including lots of good looking material on becoming a catholic.  The parish pages list not only mass and reconciliation times, but also parish activities, schools, etc.  Not much by way of actual outputs and outcomes information however...

Mission and re-evangelization: The diocese has adopted the (US) Little Rock Scripture Study program which looks like it was designed to combat fundamentalism from a Catholic perspective.  Interesting looking initiative.

Orthodoxy and orthopraxis: The diocesan 'House of Prayer'', like Cairn's equivalent, seems to be addicted to the propagation of unwise (or worse) new age practices.


Rockhampton is actually the largest of the regional Queensland dioceses in terms of number of catholics, with 99,7244 in 2010, but comes in third in terms of geographical size, taking in some 415,000 square kilometres.  It has a small (but dying) community of Benedictine nuns (originally from Jambaroo).

Leadership: Bishop Brian Heenan of Rockhampton was appointed in 1991, and is due to retire this year.  His time in office has been one of decline from the diocese, following the pattern of much of Australia, with the number of diocesan priests collapsing from 53 in 1990, to 35 in 2010.  The ratio of catholics to priests has almost doubled in that period, from 1254 catholics per priest in 1990, to 2319 in 2010.

Liturgy: Thanks to the service of retired priest Fr Martin Durham, diocese does have a regular Extraordinary Form Mass in a number of locations, including on Sundays!  And it is nice to see these being advertised as normal masses in the parish schedule.

For the rest however, some statements from the diocesan website make it clear that the governing principle of this diocese has been the counsel of despair when it comes to the priesthood:

"Whilst the long distances between the towns that are served by a small number of clergy means that many of the worshipping communities do not have the luxury of Mass celebrated in their community every week, there is great lay involvement. Most of the worshipping communities celebrate the Liturgy of the Word with Communion weekly."

And on the bishop himself:

One of Bishop Heenan's most obvious gifts is his pastoral nature. His care and concern for one and all is evident in his travels throughout our wide diocese. Faced with the dwindling number of priests, the emphasis of Bishop Heenan's epicopate [sic], and one which will be his legacy, is to train and educate local communities and empower them into active ministry.

Transparency and accountability:  The website is pretty clunky, but the parish sites, which include up-to-date bulletins, make finding masses and other relevant information for visitors easy.  Not much information on actual activities or outcomes though.

What are the prospects of revival?

Toowoomba and Rockhampton dioceses really need good, strong, committed, orthodox bishops as soon as possible. Let's pray for men of courage who will say yes if asked to take up this challenge.
As for Cairns and Townsville...


Anonymous said...

From this system, I am not sure how I can give a name other than anonymous as all the other options seem to require that you register a name - is this correct?

Hare are my comments:

If good, holy courageous bishops are appointed to Toowoomba and Brisbane, we are on the way to rescuing Qld. We have two good bishops just south of the border in Armidale and Lismore, and we just need that to continue in a northerly direction. One other thing: St Stephen's Cathedral in Brisbane is an abomination in some many ways, and as it is the mother church of the Qld province a good bishop will see to it that it is renovated, unlike last time where it was wreckovated, and then have the cathedral rededicated. And another thing - Fr Elich and Liz Harrington will need to be removed from their positions in the Liturgy commission, in addition to numerous others in the hierarchy.

Kate said...

Anon - you can register yourself in any name you like, and set it up so no details of yourself are visible to anyone else.

But the alternative (and all I'm asking really) is for you to include an identifier in the text of your comment.

Anonymous said...

Hello Kate,
Peace in Jesus and Mary.
I am a religious Brother in the Conventual Franciscans. I left my home town of Toowoomba 25 years ago to enter religous life and have witnessed over the years, the gradual decline of the diocese( the problems of the Magnificat meal movement) and the loss of the Faith. But there are still priests ( two I wish to mention)) who have kept the Faith in their parishes. They are true heros of the Faith .Fr Keegan of Holy Name Parish, north Toowoomba and Fr Byrnes of Sacred Heart Parish, north west Toowoomba. God bless them and others for their fidelty and care of souls. May the Immaculate Heart of Mary of God intercede for the right bishop of Toowoomba. Also credit should be paid to Fr Columba and the Pauline monks of Marian valley, south of Brisbane . They have the care of the Shrine of Our Lady help of Christians, which is truly a Catholic oasis. It has been a great river of grace for the Faith in south east Qld. God bless these priests, religious ,and others who labour in difficult circumstances of the local Church.
br Louis Mary OFM Conv.

Anonymous said...

I believe Cairns currently has three seminarians. They are not using the Banyo Seminary.

Anonymous said...

God will bless a diocese that looks after Him. I've been to a fair share of parishes in Cairns where I live and never hear a priest concerned with the sin of his flock. Confession, Sin, the true presence, the Blessed Mother, Rosary, The Devil, Hell, Curse, The commands of the Holy Father The Pope. If any clergy happen to read this I urge you ever so strongly to wake up and do your job.