Sunday, 8 November 2009

"Called to be a people of hope"

This is the title of the pastoral guidelines issued by the Clifton Catholic Diocese fairly recently. It promised that a committee would be formed to review existing deanery and parish structures and make recommendations.

Well, a draft report has now been issued, on which we are invited to comment. And so I have commented as follows:

1. I note the Committee interpreted its brief to mean "laity and clergy will work together to implement whatever plan is ultimately agreed after consultation." In the light of my past experience (during 35 years living in the Cheltenham Deanery), this would mean a radical turnaround. Laity and clergy have not - to any significant extent - worked together in the past. Lay members have occasionally been asked to carry out some fairly minor tasks, but there has been no real spirit of community of endeavour, as the clergy have always "run the show" their own way. Letters sent to priests (and even the Bishop), however politely couched, are routinely ignored - not even acknowledged.

2. "This report thus seeks to make recommendations for the future organization of parishes taking into account the resources of people, clergy and buildings that we currently have, and are likely to have in the foreseeable future."

2.1 I don't believe the draft report does genuinely take into account the resources of (lay) people. There has never been any significant effort made to analyse the strengths of the lay members of the parishes I have been in: many varieties of talent might be placed at the service of the Church if such an analysis were to be undertaken.

2.2 Even allowing for a priest being a necessary pastor for each parish, that doesn't prevent lay people also having pastoral roles; and yet we see very little sign that this possibility is being embraced. We don't even know, except accidentally, if there are fellow-Catholics living in our immediate neighbourhood.

3. There is no word in the draft report about the possibility of cooperation with other Christians, to enhance the pastoral care of the whole community.

4. Nor is there any mention of the environmental impact of what is proposed: a significant increase in car use is inevitable.

5. Generally, I look forward to the time when the Church recognises that it is not essential for priests to be celibate - or male.

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