Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Not a Corporation but a Body, not an Organisation but an Organism

I was talking to one of my parishioners recently, he was trying to persuade me to go along to a Labour Party Christmas bash, the conversation skimmed along, I bemoaned the absence of good Catholics on the left of politics in the UK and the absence of any big idea apart from feminism and gay rights, I said it was the fruit of "Blair Babes". This got him quite excited, he said, "That is the trouble!" He then went on to talk about the new 10 to 7pm culture, the absence of those late night meetings in the bars and tea rooms of the Palace of Westminster where ministers and even Speakers were held to account, even in their absence, at least informally, where schemes and policies were worked out. He blamed the absence of this culture for the loss of much in parliament, for any serious condemnation of the Iraq invasion, of serious evaluation of the recession, etc., etc and especially its loss of sovereignty.

I couldn't help draw parallels with the Church and the loss of those informal clergy gatherings, cards and a bottle or two on a Sunday evening or a long drawn out meal with plenty of anecdotes. As priests become older, tireder, fewer and more stretched these occasions become less and less. Nowadays there are just clerical funerals or more formal meetings where discussion and conversation are limited, even these I find are difficult to get too, I know I should make more of an effort, but these things are less and less fun.

Since the child abuse scandals especially, but also the rise of "health and safety culture" there seems to have been a pretty drastic change in how priests see themselves, and the way in which they relate to their bishop, and I think how bishops tend to see priests. They are no longer seen as trusted brothers but as potential problems. Increasingly rather than seeing themselves as a pastors working with brother pastors, bishops are working with a small team of chosen paid lay employees who assist in administering their diocese. Vatican II's understanding of a renewed Presbyterate is ignored. The present climate in many dioceses has meant bishops and priests no longer see themselves as "co-operators" and "collaborators" in the work of governing, teaching and sanctifying their diocese but as not very important functionaries working for an organization or corporation which safeguards itself against its priests. In practice this leads to a sense of alienation, loss of morale and consequently loss of zeal. I find it incredibly sad when priests say they would not encourage a young man to think about a priestly vocation, as many older priests do today.

A couple of the brethren at a recent meeting became quite apoplectic when it was suggested that failure to comply with health and safety legislation would leave a priest "personally responsible".

It was refreshing to read that the Pope today said, "The Church is not just a corporation, like a state, it is a body; it is not an organization but an organism."


Anonymous said...

Ah Father, so right - deanery conferences have become more like board meetings - and meetings to be utterly bored at, diocesan gatherings of clergy seem to be simply occasions for the paid officials appointed by bishops and diocesan trustees to disseminate the latest legislation that priests are expected to implement re so-called 'safeguarding', health and safety, finance etc. Sad to admit that I rarely attend either these days as one just left the meetings with an headache and a sheaf of papers to add to the ever-increasing pile of material that we are subjected to that is left unread until some deadline is forced upon us. Now that curial offices have discovered email they demand a notice of receipt and seem to expect replies by return.
Little wonder that some of the brethren speak of retiring as parish priests as soon as they hit 65.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that just about sums it up. There is a hopelessness in many English dioceses. I have decided to retire next year when I am 68, I can't bear it any longer.
I hate being managed by people, who outside the Church, would be considered incompetent.
I just want somewhere to say Mass and serve my people, which is what I was ordained to do, without all the crapp.

gemoftheocean said...

Keen observation. [Though I think "the left" has been an untenable position for the good Catholic to hold for DECADES.]

I find it annoying (to say the very lest --) okay, change that to OUTRAGEOUS re: the sexual scandals that had transpired. But for this I chiefly hold the BISHOPS responsible THEN and responsible NOW. In ANY profession, you will get some bad apples. But the bishops in many cases KNEW they had problem priests and kept shipping them around from parish to parish thinking "they'd change."

to my mind the bishops themselves were 90% of the problem. And they are STILL finger pointing and making everyone guilty until proven innocent. And I don't think the vast marjority of priests deserve that.

then the lack of contact and brotherly support can't be helping vocations. Hard to be a one man show and getting beaten up by the bishop on one end, and held in suspicion by the flock. I don't even you a bit in that.

Can things be organized on deanery levels for priests to get together for mutual support? It seems to me too that priests are often expected to handle everything from broken souls to broken boilers. At least for the latter, can't "the powers that be" hire some lay people that have "connections" who know how to get the mundane tasks done? So the priests can concentrate on the spiritual welfare of the parish?

Some years back we had a pastor that was good in the soul department...but didn't do anything to maintain the physical plant... and the NEXt pastor (who came in at age almost 65 himself, had to deal with raising a few million to cope with that.) He did it over the course of 10 years, and did much to improve that (and he had to juggle all the normal pastoral duties) but I can't help think if pastor 1 had had professional resources to call on he and pastor #2 would have had less stress on them to say the least.

Anonymous said...

Here in the States very little has been done to help the "priest survivors of abuse", I mean those of us who are in dioceses where it happened.
We still bear the wounds.

Anonymous said...

I understand this ennui entirely, being one of the paid functionaries of an English Diocese. The problem for dioceses is that Government legislation on health and safety, fire regulations, charity law, accounting etc. is not optional. The state has imposed it and if we don't comply with it, then the state demands that somebody is responsible. What are Bishops to do? What are diocesan trustees to do? Ignore the law. This legislation is not morally objectionable - refusing in conscience to comply with legislation that says that buildings should be safe simply cheapens the notion of conscience: it simply isn't a matter of conscience whether a priest accounts for the property in his care in accordance with the law.

Quite properly, priests don't want the control of parish property vested in them by Canon Law taken away from them and handed to a central diocesan bureaucracy that takes control of these matters. That being the case, priests have to be accountable for the implementation of these laws and regulations in their parishes.

I hate opening the post in my office every morning, knowing that almost everyday there will be another piece of pointless regulation to implement and which will add to the burden of our Priests, for whom I have the highest possible regard. Men whose lives are already blighted by the increasingly pointless "meetings culture" that seems to characterise parish life. It is this culture and the notions of "lay ecclesial ministry" - notions with absolutely no warrant in the teachings of the Church (Vatican II included) and which have the effect of subverting the essentially secular vocation of the lay faithful - that is completely ennervating.

George said...

Dear Western Priest and to all other Priests:

You write 'I just want somewhere to say Mass and serve my people, which is what I was ordained to do'

There are many millions of faithfull Catholic lay people, struggling from day to day with all the little crosses that Our Blessed Lord asks us to carry with Him, who agree with your sentiment wholeheartedly.

All we truely desire is for our Priests to lead us to Jesus through as many 'narrow gates' as it takes. And what better way than for you to celebrate Holy Mass in the most humble and reverent way possible and us ordinary folk in the pews to try to take in the enormity of what is actually happening on the altar of God through our holy Priests.

Rest assured YOU are ALL highly valued, loved dearly and prayed for daily.

I shudder at the words of St John Vianney when he contemplates a world without Priests.

The situation is far from hopeless it is hope-FULL!. There is a new generation of youngsters that need strong, positive Christian leadership and example to become the upright and righteous young men and women of tomorrow that will make a difference to their particular Country and reclaim the Kingdom of God. Don't abandon the good pastoral work that you must do in the Catholic schools - unless Holy Priests and Sisters (preferably in habit) are seen as part of Catholic school life then from where do we expect to see our future Clergy and Religious?.

I would far rather the success of a Catholic school be measured in how many vocations came from it than by any government Ofsted standards!

The Deanery meetings and all the red tape and volumes of ever changing legislation must be a real chore, but please don't abandon these responsibilities. If 'the goodies' don't attend then the liberals and those who would rather see Christianity disappear altogther, simply rubber stamp their luny policies. Get in there and get stuck in. OK - maybe I'm too simplistic and idealistic to think along these lines, but why let the 'other side' have it all their own way?

Finally, we must always put prayer at the forefront of our effort, especially the Holy Rosary (and for this country the Prayer for England) and ask our Blessed Lady for her unfailing help.

Anonymous said...

This is really sad to read (comments included). I feel sorry for all our good priests out there who've had to suffer in silence while the aftermath of Vatican II has taken place. It seems to me the mediocre and fainthearted have been promoted to the top while our real bishops like Fr. Ray, Fr. Tim and Fr. Z have now set up virtual dioceses on the web and are ministering to what's left of the flock.

Thanks to all the good orthodox priests (and nuns) out there who've stuck to the task. It was their memory and example that brought me back to the church.

Anonymous said...

An Anglican friend of mine, now dead, was Vicar of the Church of Our Lady of Mercy and St Thomas of Canterbury, Gorton ,Manchester in the 1930's. He often told the story of how he and his Catholic counterpart used often to chat together, and the latter complained of a friend who had become a bishop. "To be sure" he said "the grace of episcopacy has gone to his head, he has no time for his old friends". "Ah" said my friend " that's an argument for Anglican Orders, as promotion has exactly the same effect in our Church".

The problem would seem not to be social and ecclesiastical change, although that has undoubtedly exacerbated the problem, but human nature.

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...