Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Sandhurst: position vacant*

Continuing my series of diocesan profiles for Australia, today a look at Sandhurst (aka Bendigo), Victoria.

Thanks to those who have provided input and comments, and please do continue to do so!

There are four dioceses currently actually vacant in Australia.  I've already looked in this series at three of them, viz Brisbane, Toowoomba and Wilcannia-Forbes.  Today, a brief look at the fourth.

Source: ACBC

The diocese of Sandhurst, Victoria has been vacant since the death of Bishop Joseph Grech in December 2010. 

So what challenges will the new bishop face?

Well, there is clearly quite a big task ahead of him, so please do pray for a good appointment.  And for a holy priest to say yes when asked!

Victoria and the vocations drought

I've previously labelled Queensland the black hole when it comes to problems in the Church, but it has to be said that when looked at in terms of the cold hard statistics, Victoria really isn't doesn't look that far behind it!

Victoria is Australia's second smallest State geographically (after Tasmania) but second largest in terms of population, with around 5.5 million people, divided between four dioceses: Australia's largest diocese, Melbourne (the metropolitan, with Archbishop Hart, aged 70); Ballarat, where Bishop Peter Connors turns 75 in March; Sale, where Bishop Prowse took over in 2009; and Sandhurst.

The State's relatively high population density perhaps explains why its very high priest to people ratios haven't yet caused a total collapse in the system. And of the four, Sandhurst's ratios are the worst the worst.

Bishop Grech

The late Bishop Grech had an international profile for his work in the charismatic movement, as well as a national profile for his work on migrants and refugees.   Speakers at his Requiem, however, wondered whether the diocese had perhaps suffered a little as a result of this.

Certainly he inherited a fairly dire situation, and not much seems to have turned around during his time in Office.

Bishop Grech took office in 2001, inheriting a diocese with 60 priests (2000).  By 2010, it had only 39, giving it one of the highest priest to catholic ratios in the country, at 2,641 (by comparison, the ratio in Wilcannia-Forbes was 1 priest per 1, 619 catholics for the same year, while Sydney's ratio is 1:1,326).

He had however recruited ten seminarians (some from overseas on five year contract arrangements), and there have been, as far as I can discover, four ordinations over the last decade (including one late last year).

Mass attendance rates in the diocese are below the national average (1.8% of the catholic population, 1.6% of mass attenders in 2006).

Diocesan style...

The diocese has a magnificent cathedral - the third largest in Australia - that will be well-known to many traddies because of the annual Christus Rex Ballarat to Bendigo pilgrimage.

Despite that, its reputation as a diocese is very much on the liberal side of the fenceline when it comes both to education and catechesis, ecumenism and liturgy.

Telling perhaps that the diocesan newspaper, The Sandpiper, headline for the last pilgrimage was "Christus Rex struts into town" and on the website at least, though providing a good selection of piccies, manages to avoid completely avoid mentioning the word 'traditional' or Extraordinary Form...!.

Indeed, the diocese has been aggressively promoting lay leadership of parishes. We can only pray that the appointment of a new bishop will provide an opportunity for a rethink on this!

The diocese has a strong Latin Mass community, with regular Sunday masses now held in both Bendigo and Wangaratta.

It also has a very traditional looking Poor Clare (Colettines)  monastery, and small contemplative community of men at Dookie.

So, Sandhurst residents and others in the know, what is the real state of play there?


Joshua said...

An amusing thought: the four vacant dioceses being contiguous, a priest on holiday could drive from Bendigo through outback NSW and across the border to Toowoomba and through to Brisbane without ever being in a diocese where he had to mention the name of the Bishop!

Quite a lot of the SWAG brigade would love that.

(May Apostolic Administrators be mentioned in the Eucharistic Prayer - I'm unsure on this point?)

sursum corda said...

I think you are too harsh - this diocese has had enormous problems with depopulation due to drought, fire, flood, and yet we survive. Our schools are THE schools to attend,as the state schools have a bad name.The new Roman missal was accepted without a murmur, and our parish priest has introduced monthly masses involving both the primary and secondary schools, which have been a great success. The Angelus rings out twice a day.Also there is another small monastery with three brothers at Dookie. Give us a break, in many rural towns we are the only church left. Sursum Corda.

Papal Bull said...

Alas, one fairly orthodox, and relatively young, Melbourne priest has knocked it back according to clerical gossip, precisely for the reasons you list.

PM said...

Shoudn't Papal Bull's Melbourne priest take a good look at himself? I can understand a priest declining the episcopate if he has a potential scandal, a health problem that's not common knowledge, or if he thinks he's gravelydeficient in one of the essential attributes a bishop needs. But to decline the Pope's request just because the job might be hard is another matter.

cathy said...

The Bendigo Latin Mass time on the weblink is out-of-date, the Mass is now 11am on Sundays.

Fr Ronan Kilgannon said...

Dear Kate, peace.
I think your criteria are very narrow. The Church and its life in a diocese involve much more than the matters on which you make your judgments. Children are baptised and prepared to the other Sacraments, couples given instruction for the Sacrament of Matrimony, the sick and dying are visited by their priests and parishioners, the work of the St Vincent de Paul Society is encouraged, people in distress are given counsel, special collections are taken up where there is a dire need, and the laity live out their vocation in their families, neighbourhood, workplace etc. - which of course is THE great evangelical and charitable work of the Catholic Church.
Look a little further Kate than the Catholic Church Directory and listen to a little more than hearsay. Blessings.

SPWang said...

Thanks for the plug.

As a young father of 5 kids I do worry about the next 5-10 years and the availability of priests and the survival of rural parishes which, in the past, was like glue for many of those small communities. This doesn't only apply to Sandhurst of course.

There has been a lot of speculation of a bishop being eminent but I can envisage a period such as we had in Sale where they went a little while longer without a bishop than usual. And the current administrator is doing a good job so he may continue in that role until his own retirement in a few years time.


Kate said...

Dear Father Kilgannon,

Thank you for raising some important issues.

I'm certainly not suggesting that the things I'm focusing on are the only thngs that matter. Indeed, it is one of the great dissapointments for me in this exercise, as I've noted a few times and mentioned on a number of previous occasions on this blog, that we can't discuss many of the aspects of diocesan life that you mention.

Quite a few dioceses, for example, are admirably upfront in stating how many active priests they have, and how many empty parishes than means.

None that I've found as yet provide hard data on things like the number of baptisms, confirmations, first communions, marriages, annointings, adults received into the church etc conducted, let alone compares those statistics to what they should be (ie all children born, marriages in total in an area, etc).

This lack of transparency is a major problem in my view, firstly because it means we the laity don't appreciate how much priests are doing as much as we should, nor do we have a really good feel for how well we are or aren't carrying out the churches mission, where the particular problems are.

That said, I do think the areas I'm looking at are nonetheless important foundational elements that do tell us something important.

If there are no priests, for example, then they won't be visiting the dying...

Finally, I dispute your claim that I'm relying on 'hearsay evidence'.

In the main I'm relying on official statistics from the Pontifical Yearbook (via the Catholic Hierarchy website), studies carried out for the Bishops Conference, diocesan websites and newspapers, and media reports.

I have though asked people to tell me about the good and bad things they see in their diocese, and you can see some of the results of that in the pieces I've written.

Where people have drawn particular problems to my attention I've done my best to track down supporting evidence, and made a call on whether the anecdotal evidence seems strong enough to include or not, knowing that people can rebut it the comments box if they wish.

Where I've made a comment about liturgical abuses or other problems, though, that will normally mean that one or more people have provided me with quite detailed accounts of things they have personally witnessed. That is not hearsay!

I've generally used them here in very summary form only, since I don't want to distract attention from the overall picture I'm trying to construct. It would certainly be very easy in some cases, to construct a long list of complaints to proper authorities from what I've been given. But that is not the purpose of this exercise...

Kate said...

Sursum Corda - Thanks for that positive story.

However, that the schools are good educationally is good, but are they fostering catholic life?!

I've added something on the Dookie community to the post.

Papal Bull said...

I thought the same as you PM when first hearing the news, however an episcopal source, whilst confirming the news, mentioned the priest's name and suggested it was more to do with the priest's commitment to his special ministry than any negative impression of the Sandhurst diocese. If you knew the priest and his ministry I think, like me, you might be more sympathetic to his response to the Nuncio. Nevertheless it's a huge loss to the Orthodox cause. I'm not so sure "episcobile" clergy are asked a second time to take on a crosier?

Reform of Reform said...

It appears that the Diocese promotes the erroneous 'Christian Meditation' of Fr. Lawrence Freeman OSB and the WCCM, which involves repeating a mantra -- and in fact resembles Buddhist meditation more closely than anything that is Christian.

See the Diocesan Calendar for July 10
Diocesan Calendar