Thursday, November 29, 2007

Paul Collins paper from the "Catholics For Ministry" meeting

This is the first of a series of comments on the papers of "that meeting" last week run by "Catholics for Ministry". I thank the website managers for putting the full papers up. It is good that these opinions expressed are now a matter of public record.

Paul Collins titled his address "Is Australia headed toward a Catholic Church without the Mass and Sacraments?"

It is worth noting that historically, the Australian Church has been without the Mass and priests before. For almost ten years, between 1808 and 1817, between the time when convict priest Fr Dixon returned to Ireland and Fr O'Flynn was appointed Prefect Apostolic of New Holland, there was no mass or sacraments. Then, between the time when Fr O'Flynn was sent packing by the Governor and Frs Conolly and Therry arrived in 1820, all the infant Church had to sustain their faith was the Blessed Sacrament reserved at the home of one Mr Davis where Catholics gathered in secret for prayer. I wonder what these faithful Catholics would have thought of today's petitioners demanding "the right of the community to the Eucharist"?

Mr Collins told several stories—true stories about parishes in need in Australia and about priests stretched to breaking point in their ministries. In the old days, such stories would have been told as a part of a vocations drive, and would have been followed by calls to young men to give their lives to the service of the Lord in the Holy Priesthood. In fact, just such stories inspired generations of young men to become priests to serve in the mission fields. Some of these young men were the Irish priests who came to serve Australia in her colonial days. Foreign priests, every one of them… But not today. Today, such stories are used as leverage for Mr Collins radical demands that would in fact change completely the nature of the priesthood.

The stories Mr Collins tells of priestly dedication are, in the main, inspiring. But not his reference to the situation in Toowoomba. Because we all know what the situation is in Toowoomba and why. When bishops entertain "solutions" that involve
ordaining married men endorsed by their local parish community, welcoming former priests back to active ministry, ordaining women and recognizing Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting church orders
we know that they are no longer serious about promoting true vocations. I do not believe in a God who would leave any part of his church without the gift of priestly vocation. But I do believe that priestly vocations cannot develop where the Gospel is no longer taught with its concomitant radical demand for self-sacrifice. If priests do grow on trees, as Bishop Morris seems to expect, they won't be found growing on "Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting" trees—they will be found growing on the Catholic tree.

Next Mr Collins points to the research of his friend Fr Eric Hodgens. He says that
The simple reality is that many parts of world Catholicism are facing a sacramental and ministerial crisis due to the catastrophic drop in the number of priests and in the numbers presenting themselves for training to the priesthood.
This, he notes, "is not true of every country". It is mainly true of "the developed Western world" and parts of South America. It is an odd thing, but the decline in the number of young men presenting themselves for the priesthood has coincided with the drop in Catholic reproduction rates due to Catholics having smaller families which, in turn might be linked to the radical and unprecedented rejection of Papal teach in Humanae Vitae. Just an idea. Mr Collins could have encouraged Catholics to have larger families. "One for the Church", to paraphrase our former Federal Treasurer.

Mr Collins and Fr Hodgens also complain of "an absolute refusal by church authorities to confront the issue" of the priest shortage. Absolute? Hardly. Several bishops—not those with whom Mr Collins or Fr Hodgens would have much sympathy or vice versa—have been pro-active in encouraging a noticeable turn around in the figures of new vocations. Mr Collins acknowledged this in the question and answer time at the meeting. Moreover, there are many young men reporting being turned away from the seminaries by those whom Mr Collins/Fr Hodgens speak well of. Again, Mr Collins acknowledged this in the question time. Why? Because they are "not the right sort". Tell you something?

Mr Collins and Fr Hodgens say that
recruitment is down to an all-time-low
there is no significant sign of it increasing, despite claims of increased numbers in the Sydney, Perth, Melbourne and Neo-Catechuminate seminaries.
What gall! Each of these Seminaries has recorded a sustained rise in the number of vocations since the "dark ages" of the eighties. Not enough, of course, but a rise nevertheless. One would think that the responsible thing would be to acknowledge this and then encourage more vocations yet. But no, that would not support the ultimate purpose of Collins/Hodgens, which is to see married men and women ordained in preference to the "wrong sort" of young celibate males.

The comment that "the age of ordination has risen" should surprise noone. This is the case in every Christian church in Australia. Put it down to the voice of God being particular audible when the hearer is going through midlife crisis, I guess.

Catholics in countries like Brazil (where there is one priest to every 7000 or so Catholics) would be scandalized at Mr Collins' horror that there is only "one priest for every 2000 Catholics" in Australia. The real horror is that about ¾ of those 2000 are non-practicing (non-believing?) Catholics, and so the number to whom Father has to minister is around 500 rather than 2000. That number is not much different from Lutherans in Australia. The census tells us that there are about 350,000 Australian Lutherans, but Lutherans themselves count only about half that many. They have about 350 pastors. That's about 1 to 500 again. By the way, Lutherans ordain married priests. AND, they have been experiencing a troubling shortage of vocations lately. No solution there, it would seem.

Mr Collins concludes that "It was in this kind of context that Frank Purcell, Anne O'Brien and I decided someone had to take the initiative. So we drew up the petition. Essentially what we are trying to do is to get the bishops to respond to and assume responsibility for their dioceses - and the needs of their diocese rather than looking over their shoulders to Rome all the time."

My perception is that what Messrs Collins, Purcell and O'Brien (each of them laicised from their original vows) are really "essential trying to do" is get the bishops to accept, not responsibility, but the IRRESPONSIBILITY of the measures which they suggest as the only possible alternatives to the low vocation-rate: an end to clerical celibacy and the ordination of women. And yes, if you were a bishop intending to go in this direction, you really would want to be "looking over your shoulders to Rome", because your tenure as bishop would likely be nearing to an end.

If their real concern was simply the increase of priestly vocations, they would be going about it in an entirely different way.


At Friday, November 30, 2007 7:10:00 am , Blogger Tony said...

As the wise parish priest where I live likes to say, "We don't have a shortage of vocations. We have a shortage of people attending Mass." The real task is the new evangelisation called for by JP II. As you quite rightly point out, there are thousands of people who have not been formed in and do not practice their faith. Wouldn't it be nice if as much energy could be put into seeking them as is out into an agenda which is divisive and harmful to the Church?

At Friday, November 30, 2007 7:37:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

That's the ticket, Tony. But there's none so blind as will not see, as they say.

At Friday, November 30, 2007 10:05:00 am , Anonymous Mike said...

And barring some effort far more radical than allowing married/women priests, the numbers of people attending Mass will continue to decrease dramatically as the older churchgoers pass on. You rarely see people take this into account when they talk about how many priests we'll need in 20 years. Too depressing, perhaps.

I still want to know how our vocation rates really compare to the past, taking into account how few men aged say, 20-30, actually go to Mass. Did the Church Life Survey address that?

At Friday, November 30, 2007 12:42:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Well, of course, the real difficulty with comparitive statistics is that we don't have anything comparable to the NCLS data (or the modern Census data for that matter) for the 50's and 60's. So we are going on hear-say and memory most of the time.

The radical requirement will be evangelisation and catechisation. Just that. Every period of Church reform in the past 1000 years has been a result of this simple yet effective two-prong approach.

But such an agenda is in fact so radical and threatening that it is never even contemplated, let alone mentioned, by the "Catholics for Ministry" crowd.

At Friday, November 30, 2007 1:36:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Well, I suppose the whole vocation crisis -- whether to saying or attending Mass -- could be ascribed to another cause: Vatican II was an unmitigated disaster.

At Friday, November 30, 2007 2:00:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Ah. Of course. That would be why attendances at the Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, ...(you can keep the list going as long as you like)... churches have all fallen in a heap too? Amazing, PE. You ascribe such power and influence to the Catholic Church...

At Friday, November 30, 2007 3:26:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Not nearly what it claims for itself!

The churches you mention have pretty well followed suit with Vatican II liturgically and otherwise, so yes, that would be why they have as you say fallen in a heap too.

At Saturday, December 01, 2007 1:59:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

All the Lutheran congregations I was a member of, including those who were LCMS identified as “Protestant”. I know the history of the Protestant churches well.

Liturgically, many of them continue to crash and burn as they move further and further away from historic Christian worship. Last time I looked membership in both the ELCA and the LCMS is down so do we really want to play the numbers game?

When the Catholic Church officially embraces women's ordination, abortion rights, blessing of same-sex unions and a host of other liberal issues then I will concede that Vatican II was to blame for the ills that now afflict many of the Protestant churches.

By the way, I may perhaps be missing the humor in this but I can’t resist quoting Past Elder from Pastor Weedon’s blog:

I don't poke around on Catholic blogs or Catholic anything else, except for that Armstrong fella I kinda like actually.

Really ??

At Saturday, December 01, 2007 2:20:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Do we really want to play the numbers game? That was the game being played!

All the mainline churches have seen a decline in membership and attendance, and all have followed the Vatican II bandwagon. New Coke, church style.

And yeah, really. I neither post on nor visit any other Catholic blog but this one, and wouldn't even know about this one except its author pokes around on one of my favourite Lutheran blogs. I don't keep up on Catholic developments except insofar as they are part of the news of the world of which it is a part. And I do in fact rather like Dave Armstrong!

At Sunday, December 02, 2007 5:43:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Interesting timing. This Saturday's edition of the local paper, the Omaha World-Herald, ran an article on the priest shortage and therefore Mass shortage.

The article, "Catholic parishes trim number of services", gives all the usual stats about the church so wonderfully renewed in the 1960s -- reduced Masses, closed parishes with a new closing last week, merged parishes, rural parishes without a full time priest.

It gives the priest to parishioner ratio as one priest per 1,800 parishioners, and says this is about the same as the US average. So far this century, the number of priests in the Archdiocese of Omaha has declined from 152 to 138.

But hey, keep on pushing New Coke guys. One priest says this is a good thing, building a better "community". What else. The spirit of Vatican II in action.

I grew up Catholic in the 1950s in a town then of about 75,000. There were three parishes, mine typical of the others. We had four priests and six Sunday Masses in our parish alone, which was nothing other than normal. Now it's unheard of. The world and the church itself has responded to "renewal" with a total yawn.


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