Friday, 3 February 2012

Diocese reports to the Pope; Port Pirie and Darwin

Today I want to post the next installment of my series looking at the state of the Australian Church, diocese by diocese, with a look at the two very geographically large (but very sparsely populated) central Australian dioceses, Darwin and Port Pirie.

But first, a big thank you first of all to those who have continued to provide comments and updates on the posts already completed in this series, as well as input on the ones still to come.  In a number of cases, reactions to the post and comments are providing useful information and corrections of perceptions not just of what I and other commenters have written, but that may be more generally out there, so please, keep it up!  In some cases, I plan to do a follow up post or two eventually based on the supplementary information people have sent me.

And please, do keep sending me suggestions on things to look at in relation to those dioceses I haven't yet written about: the more you tell me, the more accurate and useful a picture my post will present. And yes, I am deliberately leaving some of the big ones until near the end in the hope of receiving more input to help me get it right!

Ad limina reports?

Closely related to this, one question I've been meaning to ask readers: has anyone seen the report (or some part or draft of it) your bishop submitted on the state of his diocese to the Pope for the ad limina visit?

I'm guessing the answer is no, since it has been noticeable going through diocesan websites that while some (but by no means all)  bishops have provided report backs on the discussions held in Rome, or given accounts of the colour and light around the visit, none that I have seen have actually said what they told the Pope and Vatican dicasteries about the state of their diocese, or reported back any feedback from Rome on identified issues in their dioceses.

Now it is possible of course that Pastoral Councils (where these exist) have been in the loop.  And not everything that goes into a report to the Pope/Roman bureaucracy, or is said by them, will be appropriately shared (certainly not in full). 

Still, I would have thought some version of at least some of the exchanges pertinent to a diocese could be shared, or at least key issues and facts on diocesan shared in sanitised summary form... 

In the meantime, I will continue on with my versions of what they might say! 

Today, the centre of Australia, with two of the largest dioceses in the country in terms of geographical size, viz Darwin (largest, taking in 1, 352,212 sq kms) and Port Pirie (third, after Geraldton, with 978, 823 sq kms).


Source: ACBC
Darwin, which basically takes in most of the Northern Territory, is huge in terms of geography, but small in terms of population: it has an estimated 45,600 catholics in 2009.  The diocese takes in the city of Darwin (population 127,500) and Alice Springs (population 27, 481), as well as a number of smaller towns, but this is the least densely populated region of Australia, with many small and isolated Indigenous communities.

Aboriginal Australians make up around a third of the population, and as a result, the Territory's population is the youngest in Australia, with a median age of 30.3 years.  The remaining population is very diverse ethnically, with more than 80 nationalities represented amongst its residents.

The diocesan websites notes that:

"Our Diocese has been and to a large extent still is, missionary.

We have priests from all over the world providing wonderful service along with a great team of various communities of Religious men and women.

...We are not an affluent Diocese but we are deeply grateful to Catholic Mission and other benefactors who enable us to provide the much needed services in our Diocese."

A particularly nice touch on the diocesan website's home page message from Bishop Hurley is a request for prayers for the diocese, which I hope you will join me in responding to:

"I hope you enjoy your “virtual” visit to our Diocese and I ask that you pray for us as we labour in this wonderful part of God’s vineyard."


Source: Diocesan website
Bishop Daniel Eugene Hurley, aged 71, took over the diocese in 2007 on the retirement of Bishop Collins, having previously been bishop of Port Pirie.

The bio on the diocesan website is refreshingly brief and modest - a fuller account of his background and previous achievements can be found in this report on his appointment.

Bishop Hurley is a member of the (conservative bishops) Domus Australia supporters club, with a wing of the Australian pilgrim house in Rome being named after a NT religious sister in recognition of the diocese's support for the project.

In 2009 the diocese had 25 priests and 7 permanent deacons (several of them Aboriginal), with one of the higher priest to people ratios in the country of 1:1824.  Most of the priests of the diocese are religious however: there are only 7 diocesan priests, according to Catholic Hierarchy, and there are no seminarians so far as I can find.

Bishop Hurley has been active in the campaign against mandatory detention of refugees.

He has also been working on a strategic plan for the diocese, which you can hear about here.  Sounds like solid sensible (if not greatly inspiring) stuff.  A hardcopy of the plan doesn't actually seem to be available online however.

Religious life: A number of religious orders operate in the diocese.  Contemplatives located there include the Little Sisters of Jesus (of Charles Foucald) and Carmelite Friars.  Active orders include the Missionaries of Charity, Canossian Sisters, and the vibrant new emerging order, the Missionaries of God's Love.

Liturgy: There is no Latin Mass said here.  But the Golden Jubilee of the Cathedral, which was originally conceived of as a War Memorial,  occurs this August, and over the last few years Bishop Hurley has run a fundraising and works campaign (launched by Cardinal Pell) to restore and complete the construction of the Cathedral in preparation for this.

Transparency and accountability: Darwin's website is not flashy, but it does a good job at providing useful and interesting information in a very accessible way. 

I like for example, the FAQs, which answer questions like 'how do I become a catholic' and 'how do I arrange for a priest to visit the sick/dying', for example.

The real standout feature of the site though are the pages for each parish and aboriginal (mission) community.  These not only give current mass and reconciliation times, but in most cases also some history of the parish, and information on devotions and parish life more generally. 

The parish life descriptions include comments on how many people regularly attend Mass and other activities there, in some cases how many baptisms and so forth have been conducted, as well as clear information on preparation for sacraments and so forth. Traditional devotions such as Adoration, and groups such as the Legion of Mary seem to be strongly encouraged. 

Port Pirie

About the diocese

The diocese of Port Pirie takes in most of South Australia (aside from Adelaide itself and theSouth East of the State), and goes up as far as and including Uluru.

It is the third smallest diocese in Australia in terms of population, with around 28, 653 Catholics in 2004.  Back then it had notionally  had 35 priests (27 diocesan) and a nominally, a very low priest to people ratio, at 1:818.  Based on the diocesan websites listing for parishes, however, the diocese now has only 23 priests, with most parishes including several churches and many priests administering two or more parishes.

Port Pirie, where the cathedral is located, has a population of 13, 206 in 2006.  But the diocese also includes a number of larger towns including Whyalla (pop 21,122) and Port Augusta (pop: 13, 257)

The diocesan website states that:

"We have 58 churches and thirteen schools faith and learning centres across the diocese.

There are three Homes for the aged and infirm, and Centacare – Catholic Social Services – operates out of several venues across the state.

Our diocese embraces the tourist, fishing and whale watching areas in the south, great areas of grain crops, the beauty of the Flinders Ranges, the desert of the north west, sheep and cattle country in the north east, the Riverland along the Murray with its orchards and vines, the mining industry for iron and uranium and coal, traditional communities of Aboriginal people, the first Australians, and the majesty of Uluru."


Source: Diocesan website
The bishop of Port Pirie is Bishop Gregory O'Kelly SJ, aged 70, was appointed in 2009 after a stint as Auxiliary of Adelaide, and before that was headmaster of St Ignatius Adelaide and Riverview in Sydney.

He remains close to the archdiocese, reflecting in recent months to this diocese on the angst caused by the abuse allegations in Adelaide and the Bishop Morris affair (albeit in a constructive way).

The diocese has one seminarian, from the Philippines, the first for several years.  There was however, an ordination of a permanent deacon in 2011.

Unsurprisingly given his background, the bishop is a strong defender of the Catholic schools system, arguing that the failure of catholic schools to produce catholics reflects the collapse of Catholic family life rather than the schools themselves.  He chairs the relevant committee of the ACBC.

I've been critical of the bishop of late, for his defense of marriage in terms pitched to please the liberals in a Cath News article.   He has recently written another such pitch (albeit one unproblematic doctrinally!) this time in conjunction with Bishop Hurley, on refugees.

Transparency and accountability: The Port Pirie website is pretty old-fashioned, clunky, bare-bones stuff, devoid of much real content.  It hangs off the Adelaide site (indeed, click on the sitemap and you lose Port Pirie and find yourself in Adelaide!

Curious really for a bishop who apparently worries about  a resurgence in clericalism:

"In some quarters there has been something of a resurgence of clericalism, which constitutes taking a dangerous step backwards.  Clericalism has done much damage to the Church, placing both heavy demands and unwarranted power in the hands of the ordained, and at the same time relegating the laity to a role of passive and subservient dependence on the clergy..."

Yet how can we the laity be empowered if there is no transparency and accountability?

Mass attendance and the convenience factor

Finally, I wanted to note that some of the statistics for these two diocese perhaps provide some interesting support for the idea suggested in comments on my post on Mass attendance that convenience is a major factor in mass attendance rates (a point for bishops contemplating reducing the number of masses offered in cities to bear in mind!), at least at the margin. 

Take the case of these two dioceses.  The proportion of catholics who regularly attended Sunday Mass in 2006 was, on my calculations, 13.8% for Port Pirie (ie exactly on the national average), and 9.6% for Darwin.

There are, I suspect, three proxy measures we can look at I suspect for convenience: the proportion of Catholics in urban centres as opposed to more spread out (the metropolitian effect); population density of a diocese in general; and the proportion of priests to catholics/parish size.

The two dioceses are not too dissimilar in terms of population density as far as I can see.  But on the urban concentration, Darwin ought to have a higher attendance rate, since around three-quarters of the diocese's Catholics live, so far as I can work out, in the major urban centres of Darwin, Palmeston and Alice Springs.  By contrast, only around a third of Port Pirie's Catholics live in the (much smaller) towns of Whyalla, Port Augusta and Port Pirie.

The counterbalancing factors though are parish size and priest to population ratios: Darwin's, on last available data was a relatively high priest to catholic ratio of 1:1,824, while  Port Pirie's was nominally 1:818, the lowest in the country.  And Darwin has chosen to spread out its resources, with the major centres having parishes with around 5,000 catholics each, whereas Port Pirie's parishes are typically much smaller.

Of course, part of the difference in mass attendance rates may not be just convenience but also the priestly presence effect on evangelization...


HolyCatholicApostoli said...

Why doesn't the Darwin diocese include all of the Northern Territory? (Usually Diocesan boundaries follow Australian State and Territory boundaries).
To quote the Aus. Catholic Directory,
"The Diocese of Darwin (formerly Victoria and Palmerston) comprises the Northern Territory as far south as the 25th parallel of latitude."

Kate said...

Good question HCA, I imagine there is some historical reason why Uluru/Yulara is in Port Pirie rather than Darwin, but it is not exactly obvious what it is!

Chris R said...

The Northern Territory was at one administered by South Australia (rather than the Commonwealth) - perharps this is why part of the NT is in a South Australian diocese.

Anonymous said...

Ecclesiastically, Darwin is part of the province of Adelaide, and this reflects the fact that, civilly, prior to federation, the Northern Territory was annexed to South Australia. (In fact, it didn’t get transferred to the Commonwealth until 1911.)

For quite a while, the boundary between the SA and NT wasn’t defined and, even after it was, it wasn’t regarded as fixed. There was at one time proposal to establish a separate territory of Central Australia, with its capital at Alice Springs.

The diocese of Adelaide and the vicariate apostolic of Essington (which is now the diocese of Darwin) were both erected in 1845.

Two years later, Essington was elevated as a diocese with the name Victoria, and a monk from New Norcia was appointed bishop. (There was a settlement called Fort Victoria at Essington, and at the time there was no colony of that name.) But all this activity turned out to be premature; the settlement was abandoned in 1849 and, although the diocese was not suppressed, it was effectively defunct for quite a while. The Bishop of Victoria was sent to Perth to be a coadjutor bishop there, and another New Norcia monk was appointed, in effect, titular bishop of Victoria. He stayed at New Norcia and in fact was elected Abbot there in 1867.

It wasn’t until 1869 that a permanent settlement was established at Port Darwin. It was named after Lord Palmerston, then the British Prime Minister. The Jesuits did sent a small mission to the area, with the permission of the bishop at New Norcia. But, not wanting to jump the gun again, the church waited to see that the settlement was indeed permanent before reviving the diocese in 1888. The Bishop/Abbot, by now 75, was induced to resign as Bishop (he remained Abbot of New Norcia until he died at the age of 86) the diocese was renamed “Victoria-Palmerston” and the de facto link with New Norcia and the Spanish Benedictines was broken. Even then, no new bishop was appointed; the diocese was put in the hands of a series of Administrators. Until well into the present century the diocese was basically a large parish, with the Administrator as parish priest (and sometimes as the only resident priest). The regular consecration of bishops didn’t resume until 1937, at which point the diocese was renamed Darwin.

As can be seen, the diocese had a fairly shadowy existence for most of the century following its formal establishment. The border with Adelaide was drawn before there was any defined civil border and since, for most of the time, there were basically no priests in the north of Adelaide diocese, and no priests in the south of Essington/Palmerston/Victoria/Darwin diocese, redrawing the border probably didn’t seen high on anyone’s list of priorities.


Alexander said...

How old is the diocese? The Northern Territory wasn't separate from South Australia until 1911.

Kate said...

It's name was changed to Darwin (from Victoria-Palmeston) in 1938, but it was originally established as a Vicariate Apostolic in 1845, but ahs gone through a couple of permutations of name and I presume territory.

PM said...

I might just add that some friends of mine had quite a bit to do with Bishop Hurley through the Bishops' Committee on the Family and speak of his pastoral and leadership qualities in glowing terms. Incidentally, isn't he the first secular priest to be bishop of Darwin?

Anonymous said...

Yes, he is. All his predecessors as bishop have been either OSBs or MSCs.

However from 1888 to 1938 the diocese had no bishop but a series of administrators and while, from about 1906 onwards, they were mostly MSCs, the earlier ones were secular priests.


Antonia Romanesca said...

“Now it is possible of course, that Pastoral Councils (where these exist), have been in the loop”.
~~~ Ms Edwards, is it possible for you comment on why these were originally set up and what your view is of them – these are the councils where there is one rep. from each parish from right across a diocese, [right?], to create a ‘diocesan parish council’? Can you say when these commenced to be instituted and what the hope for their function was? Bishops are not obliged to institute one?? [you seem to imply that…] I seem to recall that the one in our diocese, has been on the go for just a handful of years...maybe 4 years… and was described as ‘a bishop’s initiative.'

Kate said...

There is no requirement to have a pastoral council and no absolute rules on how it should be composed (other than being representative and composed of upstanding catholics); if it exists it is purely advisory. Their existence reflects the Vatican II document on the laity. In principle a good idea, but of course, depends who is on it and how it is used...

Therese said...

I live in Port Augusta. In our parish, we have two priests. One was ordained in another diocese and the other one is from the Chaldean rite.

When Fr Paul arrived in our parish, he started weekly adoration after Saturday morning mass especially for vocations to the Priesthood. It has been going for just over a year and we finally have a new seminarian starting study in February.

On Bishop O'Kelly, He recently said mass for the start of the school year in our parish with all the teachers from our local Catholic school. He stressed the importance of teachers living the faith and attending mass each week. He has written some very good letters to the diocese and had some read at Sunday masses.