Monday, 9 January 2012

WA: Building on the boom!

Archdiocese website: ad limina 2011

Having looked in the last few posts at one of Australia's less happy States in terms of the current state of the Church in Australia, I thought we might cheer ourselves up by turning to one of the more positive stories, viz Perth.

Perth, capital of Western Australia, is these days, I gather, pretty literally the Wild West, with everything and everyone being sucked into the vortex of the mining boom, and resulting shortages of workers that have affected the church as much as everything else, and led to a large migrant population, posing problems of integration. And all those 'fly in fly out' workers must pose considerable pastoral challenges, both in terms of supporting those left behind and the mine workers themselves.

The Archdiocese of Perth itself is huge: it covers 471,118 sq. kms and has a population of about 1.5 million, of whom about 365,000 are Catholics. There are three other dioceses in the state: Broome, Geraldton and Bunbury.

Measures of success: positioning ourselves for mission

There are, in Australia, unlike the US, no dioceses left with pre-Vatican II-esq mass attendance rates around the 60% mark, such as Lincoln, Nebraska for example. 

Some, such as Perth, Sydney, Melbourne and Parramatta, have above average attendance rates; others, such as Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart have lower than average attendance rates, but unlike the US (the Lincoln mass attendance rate has mostly been around double the national average), as far as I can see the differences, while significant, are not that huge.

But Australia does have some dioceses - two of the most noteworthy being Perth and Wagga Wagga - where the current bishop has managed to go against the trend, and sustain or even improve the proportion of priests to people. 

What works?

What's particularly interesting is to see the different strategies that have had some success. 

Most of the US vocation success (and high mass attendance) stories are in the extremely traditionally inclined dioceses. 

Perth is certainly conservative by Australian standards (though I suspect not really by US ones), with a focus on promoting a strong devotional life and catechesis.

And Archbishop Hickey certainly sits with the Australian conservative bishops such as Cardinal Pell.

It is also true that Archbishop Hickey has given considerable encouragement to the Traditional Latin Mass and traditionally inclined religious orders.

But from what I can see, the strategy he has adopted seems more of a 'let a thousand flowers bloom' approach than a strictly traditionally oriented one, supporting a Neo-Catechumenate Way seminary as well as a diocesan one, and encouraging a wide variety of new religious movements and orders.

Diocesan leadership

Archbishop Hickey was appointed Archbishop of Perth in 1991.  He is, alas, over the retirement age albeit still in place, so the challenge for his successor will be to maintain and even build on the relatively strong situation he leaves the archdiocese in.

The Auxiliary is Bishop Donald Sproxton, aged 58, who was appointed in 2002.  You can here him asking for prayers for the appointment of a new Archbishop, and for Archbishop Hickey (and then offering a reflection on the Eucharist), in this youtube clip:

Priestly Vocations

I mentioned success in promoting vocations.

In fact, Archbishop Hickey has ordained a staggering 95 priests for the diocese since he took Office in 1991 (as at November 2011 it was 94, but then he ordained the first Redemptorist in 24 years in December!).

In 1990, Perth had 228 priests, 116 of them diocesan.  In a complete reversal of the standard pattern across Australia, the number of priests there has actually increased substantially, to 287, including 151 diocesan in 2004, enabling the archdiocese to keep pace with population growth and more.   And the numbers have continued to grow, with nineteen seminarians for the diocese last year, and more in the Neo-Catechumenate Seminary (whose graduates each do two years service in the diocese).

To achieve this, Archbishop Hickey reopened the closed diocesan seminary, making priestly vocations more visible in the diocese.  The diocese also has a neo-catechumenate seminary, which has particularly aided Perth in coping with the multi-cultural influx of migrants.  Archbishop Hickey has also said that part of the success of his vocations push is due to promotion of the idea of the traditional priesthood, and insistence that laypeople cannot fill their roles.

Religious Life

The archdiocese's success can also partly be attributed to the rich variety of religious life there, many of whom have a long and rich history in the diocese, but several more of whom are there at the invitation or with the encouragement of Archbishop Hickey. 

Contemplative orders with monasteries there include the Benedictines (New Norcia), Carmelites, (Fransciscans Friars and Sisters of the Immaculate (a vigorous new branch of the order favouring the TLM), Norbertines (similarly traditionally inclined), and more.

Traditional Latin Mass

Archbishop Hickey has also been a good friend to the Traditional Latin Mass community of Perth, regularly saying Pontifical Masses for them. 

The community there continues to thrive, as far as I can gather, under the leadership of the indefatigable Fr Michael Rowe, now rector of St Anne's Church, Belmont, the archdiocese's Traditional Latin Mass Centre (though it is not obvious to me why weekday Mass times and other information about the community shouldn't be available online!). 

Fr Rowe is well known across Australia for his work in organising and running annual traditional retreats (the only regular ones with the TLM in Australia that I'm aware of) in both WA and NSW, and organising pilgrimages and other events.

Transparency and Accountability

I've said some things about liturgy, the role of the laity, orthodoxy and so forth through this post, so I won't repeat those headings but I did want to say something on transparency and accountability, because they have a pretty general application across Australia.

There are certainly some strengths to mention on the transparency and accountability front.  Archbishop Hickey, for example, provided a mid-ad limina visit report back to the Archdiocese and another on his return from Rome. 

The excellent archdiocesan website contains a good collection of articles on local events, including the kind of local material, though not the broader material, that used to be on The Record website (sorry but the new version is not yet doing it for me, particularly as much of the old content is now accessible only via google cache copies!).

But like most other Australian dioceses, there is little here by way of hard data on outputs, outcomes and finances, not even of the type available from sites like Catholic Hierarchy (which is unfortunately still only up to 2004 in terms of statistics for Perth!). 

Pray for a holy successor!

Does encouraging ideas from many sources to be tried out (within limits!) work as a strategy for possible replication?  I'd be interested in hearing from Perth residents and former residents to see what they think...

No doubt there are many more things one could draw attention to in relation to Perth - bold action sometimes means mistakes are made, and different tacks that could have been taken.

But this is a diocese that will be left in a healthier state for Archbishop Hickey's successor when he retires than it was when he took it over, no little achievement in these difficult times.

Please do pray for a holy and effective successor, and keep the Archbishop himself in your prayers. 


Matthias said...

ArchBishop Hickey is also a friend of the Charismatic Movement within the Catholic Church. Perhaps his time in office could be seen as one of encouraging "Sunday Catholics" out of their spiritual lethargy and become involved with either Latin Mass or CCR.
Talking about SUNDAY CATHOLICS will someone please tell young women to dress modestly and that short shorts are not suitable to be worn to Mass in any church ,and especially not in st Patrick's cathedral.

Anonymous said...

The main issue for the Archdiocese is that directly underneath the very good Archbishop are at least a dozen or so anti-conservative and anti-Rome priests who don't hold the same traditional ideas of priesthood and also would like to see the end of TLM's in Perth.