Australian Catholics facing disaster


Most of those aware of what is happening in the Church know that Australian Catholicism is in trouble. When people focus on this most think of sexual abuse. In fact this is more a symptom than the actual core of the problem. The core issue is leadership, or lack of it, and the failure to provide adequate pastoral ministry.

This is the overwhelming conclusion of Peter Wilkinson's just published and detailed study 'Catholic Parish Ministry in Australia: Facing Disaster'.

Drawing statistics from 'The 2010-11 Official Directory of the Catholic Church' Wilkinson looks at everything connected with on-the-ground ministry in Australian Catholicism and shows that parishes are failing for a complex of reasons to meet even the basic liturgical needs of parishioners, let alone the broad range of other challenges facing the church.

'The crisis is real', he says, 'and the scale is huge.'

Wilkinson says 'it would be simplistic to measure the faith of Australian Catholics and the success or failure of parish ministry purely by rates of regular Mass attendance, which might perhaps be better read as ordinary Catholics attempting to convey a message to their leaders about how they see their church'.

In this context I actually think he overestimates the percentage of Catholics attending Mass. He puts it at 13.8 per cent in 2006. My guess for 2011 is somewhere between 7 per cent and 9 per cent.

What this study has done is to substantiate the claims that many have made, but none before have adequately demonstrated. Wilkinson shows that one in four Australian parishes is now without a full-time priest, that very few new parishes have been established despite a rapidly increasing Catholic population and that 184 existing parishes have been merged since 1994.

There has been a catastrophic decline in the number of priests, recruitment of seminarians is far below the number needed, the average number of Catholics per parish has increased 25 per cent in the last ten years (from an average of 3481 Catholics per parish in 2000 to 4368 in 2010), and fewer students from poorer Catholic families are enrolled in Catholic schools.

A most useful aspect of the study is the material Wilkinson has unearthed on the recruitment of overseas priests. This strategy (which he says 'appears to have originated out of despair and desperation') has been in place now for over 20 years, but it has hardly ever been discussed in public except in last year's ABC Compass program The Mission on Nigerian priests in Hobart Archdiocese.

Accurate statistics on foreign priests are particularly difficult to unearth and, as Wilkinson says, 'the few publicly stated objectives of the strategy are confusing'.

When I recently contacted the Department of Immigration under freedom of information requesting a copy of the contract between the Bishops Conference and the government I was told this was 'commercial in confidence'. This is problematic given the church is not a commercial operation and claims tax exemption.

As a band-aid solution, importation of priests only puts off the question of why local vocations are scarce. Wilkinson points out that if the bishops want to maintain an average of one priest for every 3600 Catholics nationwide then, given the number of local priests available, the majority of priests in parish ministry in Australia in 2020 will have to be overseas born.

The statistics are that the number of priests needed is 1780; the number of local priests available will be 800, which leaves a shortfall of 980 which will have to be supplied by foreign priests. Local seminarians will not make up the shortfall.

Wilkinson is not the first to argue this. Melbourne's Father Eric Hodgens has been arguing this for a decade now.

Wilkinson points out that there are some real problems involved in importing priests from other cultures. One is the mismatch between the 'missionary' ambitions of many of the foreign priests who see themselves as evangelising the Australian Church, and the pragmatic expectations of the bishops who simply see them as getting us through a tough period.

'If this mismatch is not resolved quickly', Wilkinson comments, 'the strategy could end in tears.'

He also shows that of the 205 diocesan seminarians, 38 are studying at the Neo-Catechumenal Way seminaries in Perth and Sydney. While these will be incardinated into these archdioceses when ordained, they only have to do two years work there before going 'on mission' elsewhere in the world. So that means that there are really only 176 seminarians for the whole of the Australian Church.

Another difficulty that Wilkinson doesn't canvass is that many of these foreign priests are inexperienced and come from cultures that are tribal and patriarchical. They have little or no comprehension of the kinds of faith challenges that face Catholics living in a secular, individualistic, consumerist culture that places a strong emphasis on equality, women's rights, and co-responsibility for parish ministry and mission.

'Catholic Parish Ministry in Australia: Facing Disaster?' is without doubt the most comprehensive survey of its kind ever undertaken. Not only is it a valuable source of statistics but it clearly sets out the issues confronting Australian Catholics. 

Paul CollinsAuthor and historian Paul Collins is a former specialist editor — religion for the ABC. 

Topic tags: Peter Wilkinson, atholic Parish Ministry in Australia: Facing Disaster, the mission, foreign priests



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Existing comments

I am not sure whether it was this study or another but what is heartening is that most priests seem to find their vocation fulfilling. Of course, if the hope is for transformation,then things look bleak. Perhaps what is needed is resurrection, in which case, what is currently exisitng must enter a tomb. Our country has the capacity to turn an ember into a conflagration. Our indigenous brothers and sisters show us how to deal with embers.
Kim Chen | 04 March 2011

The survey suggests Australian Catholics are quite spiritual but as in the early days of settlement, unchurched and with few effective leaders who can read the "signs of the times".

The centralisation of power by JPII and Benedict XVI has left Church leadership in ruins and the farcical ordination and use of married clergy from other Christian faiths in Australia has shown most Church leaders to be more into pleasing Rome than pastoral care of members.

The child abuse issue just won't go away because of the depth of deceit and the continued inappropriate response to victims.
They are still arresting clergy in Australia and statements from Church Bishops in the main go against victims.
Imported priests are not only out of touch with the Culture here. There are persistent reports of inappropriate use of power and control of funds.

As far as women are concerned in such parishes the pre Vatican II view of ""Father' knows best" doesn't go well with those educated to be thinking contributing catholics. The Church leadership in those areas chooses to ignore the news at ground level and use Church Media to "talk the experiment up as a success"'

Laurie Sheehan | 04 March 2011

The devastating analysis of Peter Wilkinson on the plight of current and future Australian parishes without priests must strike a note of terror in the hearts of Australian bishops.Yet the Australian spirit, honed in a tough land of fire and flood, is at its best in the face of adversity. Australian bishops should feel confident to call upon Australian Catholics to help them in their hour of need. But to do this they will need an authentic vision of an Australian ministry to meet Australian parish needs under the banner of a strong and united leadership. The troops are ready to be mustered if the bishops will lead the way! Will they rise to the occasion??
John Edwards | 04 March 2011

Only one question WHY has it taken so long for for such a study to be completed and documented?

Those of us who are struggling to maintain our parishes have known this for over thirty years. There was that hopeful time in Melbourne when we began to work towards Tomorrows Church, allowing us to become more adult in our faith and church, but of course that required lay people to begin to take a more active role in parish Ministry etc.Then our leadership changed and now we are in real trouble. Overseas priests are not the answer on their own in parishes, they can bring a wonderful new dimension to parish life but as more and more are being appointed as Parish Priests I wonder about the wisdom of putting such a burden on their shoulders. Their priestly duties are difficult enough but then there are the business and staff management issues of parish life. Surely it is time to look at the role of a priest within a parish and the expectations of both parishes and the Church leadership of these priests. The current expectations are not conducive to an influx of applicants to the priesthood.
Helen Konynenburg | 04 March 2011

The devastating analysis of Peter Wilkinson on the plight of current and future Australian parishes without priests must strike a note of terror in the hearts of Australian bishops.Yet the Australian spirit, honed in a tough land of fire and flood, is at its best in the face of adversity. Australian bishops should feel confident to call upon Australian Catholics to help them in their hour of need. But to do this they will need an authentic vision of an Australian ministry to meet Australian parish needs under the banner of a strong and united leadership. The troops are ready to be mustered if the bishops will lead the way! Will they rise to the occasion??
John Edwards | 04 March 2011

Reading Eureka street over that past few weeks one becomes aware of how out of touch many catholics and their mentors are with their times Issues like abortion celibacy women and euthenasia are perceived very differently by many christians, people of a spiritual bent and the general populace It becomes very difficult to see how catholicism can survive in its present box
Gaj | 04 March 2011

The devastating analysis of Peter Wilkinson on the plight of current and future Australian parishes without priests must strike a note of terror in the hearts of Australian bishops.Yet the Australian spirit, honed in a tough land of fire and flood, is at its best in the face of adversity. Australian bishops should feel confident to call upon Australian Catholics to help them in their hour of need. But to do this they will need an authentic vision of an Australian ministry to meet Australian parish needs under the banner of a strong and united leadership. The troops are ready to be mustered if the bishops will lead the way! Will they rise to the occasion??
John Edwards | 04 March 2011

It will take a lot more than extra seminarians.The church must be willing to be open to change and new ideas, and to be able to say that like other human institutions it sometimes just gets things wrong and needs to shift position. There needs to be room to experiment with ways to make liturgy relevant and engaging, and for church to be a place where you do not go dreading what might be said in the homily. We need to address the whole way we express the concepts of our faith in modern language. It is very difficult to have a sensible conversation in the face of science and post-modernism when we have not moved to be able to speak in a common language with the rest of the world. Many people who drop out do so because they simply can no longer relate to the intellectual infantilism required to stay.
Then of course the church need to address justice issues within, if it wants to attract and keep young women...and ordain them. It also needs to address the structure of priesthood, so that celibacy is not compulsory and priesthood does not have to be lifelong.

And why do so many children not attend Catholic schools? Perhaps many do not want a closed system that bleeds students from the local state schools, and/or because the cost is prohibitive for families on low oncomes - making them middle class enclaves.

Pauline | 04 March 2011

Catholicism is boring. How can it be otherwise when the Vatican has emasculated Bishop Leaders and they in turn have emasculated front line priests?

The Mass, once a glorious celebration, has become a repetitious drone [an unchanging intonation]. The sermon or, if you must, homily is all too often a regurgitation of the gospel in a priest’s own stumbling words. I call it ‘New Testament For Dummies’.

Sermons, opportunities for Priests to speak to congregations, courageously, on matters of moment seem to be a thing of the past. Somewhere on the rocky road organizational tedium has replaced joyful faith and the demonstrated leadership of an exuberance celebrant. Sadly, Priests are boring.

The present form of the mass, the intransigence of the Vatican Corporate and the inability of the so-called leaders of the church to offer creative and appropriate solutions to a faithful life in the 21st century, problems indeed, need not deter the body of the church, the people, from keeping the faith. We are here, though we may not always nourish our faith in a way that will sustain this failing Roman Corporate.

Dermott Ryder | 04 March 2011

How very inconsiderate of Peter Wilkinson to burden our bishops with these inconvenient truths, at the very time when they are so, so busy with the implementation of their revised liturgy. Doesn't he realise that the deck chairs must be rearranged before the Titanic sinks?
Richard Olive | 04 March 2011

The article indicates that the problem of Catholics in Australia is that of assimilation. They are merging into the dominant culture which doesn't regard religion or ethnic identity as particularly important. This is one of the 'problems' in the Jewish community and part of the current Zionist motivation. One can question whether a religion, whether Catholic, Jewish or anything else, which cannot continue to exist in a free, democratic society should continue to exist.

David Fisher | 04 March 2011

To GAJ. You make the old age mistake of thinking that "the times" are the way we must go. I know that different ages view some matters differently. However, the times must be judged against the standards of the gospels and the Church's traditions. For example, you could argue about the role of celibacy in the priesthood, and the role of women. However, abortion and euthansia were evil, are evil and always will be. We must stand by what we regard as the truth, not go along with everyone else lest we be out of touch.
John Ryan | 04 March 2011

It disheartens me enormously to see material such as this spread about by people who call themselves Catholic! It's easy to be negative about problems in any area of life; - marriage, employment, church, children; - but its depressing.

The Church, and those within it are called to be people of FAITH! Not faith in themselves and their own opinions, but faith in the teaching of the Church, as set out in the Gospels, the Catechism and the Documents of Vatican II, to name a few.

"Catholic Parish Ministry in Australia" supporters have clearly set themselves up to openly challenge Cardinal Pell and the Australian Bishops, believing they know "what the Church should do" to overcome its problems; - and then they use the media to PROMOTE THEIR PERSONAL VIEWS!

But this is not what Christ taught! He taught the value of Obedience; Humility; Suffering; and above all Faith and Trust; - not in ourselves, but in Him AND in His Church!

Yes, the Church has significant problems, but these are only compounded and seriously, when "catholics" choose to SPREAD PERSONAL AND TRENDY VIEWS; - rather than supporting the Pope, the Catholic Faith; - and promoting Humility, Obedience and Prayer.
Geoff | 04 March 2011

Thank you, Eureka Street, for publishing Paul Collins' review of the Wilkinson Report. Otherwise, I'm sorry to say, I probably would not have known of its existence. The Official Directory of the Catholic Church would not have been easy reading so I'm glad that Wilkinson did it for me.

However that means I have read something about the church at third hand - Paul Collins take on the Wilkinson Report based on The Official Directory.

My own observation at the grass roots level as to why the church is not producing more priests and religious is lack of quality religious education; lack of role models;economic pressure to become a wage-earner in one's family;social pressure on adolescents to have a steady girl/boyfriend - life without sex is unimaginable;incessant bombardment by the media to have/chase the exciting things in this life.

It must be very hard for the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit to penetrate this atmosphere.

On the other hand the signs of the times might be telling us that "It's time for a change."

We had a spluttering start after Vatican II. We muffed it.

Maybe now we can re-group and try to start again with a new engine.
Uncle Pat | 04 March 2011

Over the years I have noticed a confusion in identity in some priests. Some seem to want to be a palsy walsy social worker who just talks nicely to parishioners about nothing in particular. What people need is connection to the transcendent purpose of their lives and the spiritual dimension. They can go to the publ or club for the social times. Unless priests address the transcendent questions that are on people's minds they will keep wondering what is happening.

One priest I know, when he moved from being a barbeque friendly pal, to taking prayer and the transcendent seriously - that is the truly existent spiritual world of God and saints, increasing prayer and visible signs of the 'other' world in the church - increased his parish numbers. I noticed a change in the sense of reverence and a deepening sense of connection - which moved from being this worldly also to otherworldly.
Skye | 04 March 2011

I am a woman raised a Roman Catholic, no longer attends 'Church'; is a person who is committed to the authentic christian vision and gospel,and also a grief, loss & bereavement, pastoral carer/practitioner. I struggle mostly with the lack of communal and indiviudal 'grieving' in healthy ways for all that is emptying out (kenosis) of the conventional institutions at this time in history. Until we embrace this aspect of our humanity there is no capacity to embrace anything new. This grieving needs to include an acknowledgement of the shame, betrayal and failure of institutional church to be faithful to its people. As Paul Collins highlights so succinctly, it is 'service' that the Church needs to offer ... not a patriarchical paradigm of superiority and domination.

Let's give voice to the pain and suffering WE feel for this betrayal to us. Let's hear from our good-hearted priests about how they feel too. Humility and expressions of sorrow are central to this aspect of healing. After all, isn't it the truth that sets you free?
Mary Tehan | 04 March 2011

David Fisher asks whether a religion that cannot continue to exist in a free, democratic society should continue to exist at all. It is a good question. Everything I know about Judaism and Christianity suggests that the great prophets always spoke to the times. They criticised the times; they enlivened the times; they gave hope and joy to the times. They brought the times into lively conversation with Good News. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Nathan, Jesus, Paul, Aquinas, Frederic Ozanam, Catherine of Sienna, Thomas Merton, Giuseppe Roncalli – pick the prophets who really tell you the Good News. And they speak not to the converted but to those who know they need hope and life and joy. There are millions of folk in Australia who know they need hope and life and joy but an acute shortage of prophets. Our leaders keep talking to times past, to people who are long dead. Mates, they can’t hear you. They are not interested and no one else is either. I think it was Bill Haydon who lent across to a fellow parliamentarian who had been going on and on and said, “Sit down mate. The dogs are pissing on your swag.” A lot of Catholics have been saying that in different ways to our leaders for a very long time. And when they were not listened to most of them went away. We have only one life and hearing stuff that deadens us before our time is more than we can stand. If we have nothing to say to a free, democratic society we have no right to exist at all. Just ask the Egyptians.
Graham English | 04 March 2011

Recently I have been involved through a death with the Anglican Church. I feel sad to see the state my Church is in and I compare that to my experience of the Anglican Church. What I was amazed to witness was 6 priests both men & women con celebrating Sunday morning service. An embracing of Gay & Lesbian people openly within the congregation and a real sense of the scared,with beautiful ritual and I would say an 'aspect of class' I have not witnessed in the Catholic Church ever. I am sure they have their issues as well, but can't we learn something from them. Importing priests from the third world is no solution. It simply creates a further divide between the people and often a priest that is hard to understand and any intelligent person would have to be asking, what do they want out of being able to live in Australia in coming out of such extreme poverty?
Robert D Allen | 04 March 2011

Why would the current leadership stick in Australia (or anywhere outside it) their necks out? Think of the number of good people God's rottweiler has assassinated (not literally of course). What this means is that for some deaceds, creativity in thought has been stifled in the church. Sadly, the church has become a society for "yes-men" . . . three bags full, your holiness. So those of us who wish to have an adult approach to faith . . . thinking for ourselves . . . have to have our say outside the institution. What is even more sad is the number of really good priests and others who, in going about their daily lives and tasks, wish to take care of people by encouraging people to listen to their consciences (rather than enforcing a sterile party line) and who have to do it "on the quiet" lest thay get into trouble with those in Rome . . . assisted, of course, by the Temple Police. Peter wilkinson's report is encouraging . . . but I hope someone inside the management of the church might actually read it and then DO something about Peter's findings.
Robert Rennick | 04 March 2011

I endorse the insights in Paul's article, just as I endorse the wisdom of Eric Hodgens and similar people.

And I recommend to Eureka Street readers the book by John Howard Yoder, The Priestly Kingdom, especially its section on the hermeneutics of peoplehood. Yoder writes about our need for an open process, a reconciling process and a conversation in which we need not ask how ideas work but how the community works. He writes about those in the community who are the aqents of direction, those who are the agents of memory, those who are the agents of linguistic self consciousness. He refers to James 3:18 and notes how language can steer the community with a power disproportionate to other kinds of leadership. He recognises the place in our discussions of agents of order and due process. He writes in the context of a small community. I think he has much to say to Australian Catholics.

My personal note is that when I went to Boston in 1973 the Catholic Church had too many priests and too much money. The great Cardinal Cushing aimed to remedy that by sending priests to work in poverty stricken countries. He still ended up with too many priests who had too little to do. His successor told me the solution was to pray to Jesus. That did little good for the church in Boston. But it raised the question for me: How many priests does the church need?
Gerry Costigan 17/65 Wittenoom Street East Perth | 04 March 2011

Okay, let me be the first to say it on this blog. Liberal seminaries are crumbling, but seminaries fostering traditional Catholicism are recovering and even flourishing. It’s the same with religious orders. Relatively modestly in Australia, but spectacularly elsewhere in the Western Church. Look at the thriving traditional Catholic monasteries in the U.S. and France, such as St Madeleine’s, Le Barroux where the numbers a couple of years back were in the 80’s and the average age was about 25. It’s probably even lower today.

But I doubt that the even last surviving liberal Catholic in about fifty years hence will concede that it was not Rome, or stifled creativity in liturgy, or patriarchal models or any such furphy was the problem, but liberal Catholicism itself in the parishes and schools, in the Orders, in the seminaries and in the Vatican itself. See, liberalism means never having to admit you’re wrong.

HH | 04 March 2011

Don't let the facts get in the way....the new translation for the Mass is going to solve all our problems.With our attention firmly fixed on the Councils of Trent and even Nicea we won't have to be concerned about how we speak or relate to the 21st century.

Thank goodness for the small christian communities who are trying to be authentic witnesses to our times.
Chris | 04 March 2011

Thanks for this report on what will be a slow train wreck unfolding before our eyes as the country slides further into a Post-Christian era. Soon both the RC Church and other denominations will be a curious cultural oddity, much like the Orthodox Jews are now in Melbourne.

I don’t think the lack of RC priests is solved simply by allowing them to be married (as many have advocated). Nor does having a married priest prevent sexual deviancy or abuse. If it did, we wouldn’t have it in the Anglican Church (my denomination). Sexual abuse is at about the same rate across of the denominations (even when or if you have female clergy). The Anglican Church is also slowly running short of priests, but in our case, it is as the baby-boomers retire at increasing rates.

The problem of having suitable people offer to be trained and ordained often reflects the local church’s spiritual condition which is anemic, lethargic and lacking a vision of what Christ can do in this world. The persistent comments I receive from mature Christians across the Anglican church reveal that many are pluralistic and relativistic in their theology and do not want a Christo-centric faith which brings culture, politics and personal life under the judgment of Scripture. This betrays a willingness to give up insisting that Scripture on a lot of major issues is correct and the society’s opinion is not. Why get ordained if there is not anything particularly distinctive about what we have to offer? And if we recast ministry into a form of a helping profession (as many within my denomination tend to do), what difference will we make? These I think are the reasons behind a lack of willingness to be ordained across both major denominations.

(Rev) Rob Culhane | 04 March 2011

Roll on the Anglican Ordinariates. Forget the back-slapping with the other Christian denominations. We're just wasting each other's time and resources.
Claude Rigney | 04 March 2011

I totally concur with the comments of HH.
John Tobin | 04 March 2011

To HH who says 'liberalism means never having to admit you’re wrong'. May I suggest that you read George Brandis' 2009 Deakin Lecture at
Ginger Meggs | 04 March 2011

What serendipty that this report has arrived around the same time Chris McGillion's and John O'Carroll's book, "Our Fathers: what Australian Catholic priests really think about their lives and their church", is being published. (I've just received a review copy and begun reading it.) Both the Wilkinson Report and this book will be invaluable resources for the bishops who are aware of the crisis the Church is facing and who are serious about tackling it. The irony is that the Church in Australia ought not be in crisis. Financially it is one of the most well-off of any national church on the face of the planet (Wilkinson discloses for the first time it gets $4billion dollars from taxpayers each year for education), it has the largest, most highly paid, most professionally qualified (including theologically qualified) workforce that is have ever had in its history — and even compared when there was a surplus of priests and nuns, and per capita in comparison with any other nation. Our bishops did try to explain the problems to Rome at the Oceania Synod in 1999. This new book and the report might give them better ammunition for their return to Rome in October on their Ad Limina.
Brian Coyne | 04 March 2011

Ginger Meggs,

Brandis is talking about political liberalism, not the liberalism to which I am referring: theological liberalism, as famously identified and attacked by Bd John Henry Newman.
HH | 05 March 2011

And the band played on. . . Thanks for the precis PC once again of the clarion news that there's an elephant in the room and the king's got no clothes on.
Paul Goodland | 05 March 2011

Poor old John Henry Newman! He gets the blame for a lot of things. He is quoted by people of almost every shade of theological opinion from the far left to the loony right. Conservatives and progressive Catholics alike appeal to Newman's writings to justify their particular theological agendas.

In an article “Newman and theological liberalism” in Theological Studies, Sept, 2005 Terrence Merrigan points out that even for Newman, that paragon of clear English, there is a problem of definition when it comes to liberalism. Merrigan quotes Adrian Hastings, another precise writer of English who says that, for Newman, liberalism is essentially a form of solipsism (my emphasis), a conviction that truth, especially in matters of religion, is ultimately a private affair. Here liberalism is the belief that my opinion is the only true opinion. And as Merrigan says this means that so-called conservatives are often as liberal as avowed liberals. There is no one more certain of himself than the avowed conservative.

My reading of the different factions and shades of opinion in Catholicism at present is that the progressives on the whole are content to let the conservatives be while it is the conservatives who think that only they are right.
Graham English | 05 March 2011

A "theologically qualified" workforce?

I didn't think there was room here for another elephant, but there you go.

Theologically qualified a la Pope Benedict, Aidan Nichols OP and Dr Tracey Rowland, or - as I strongly suspect is substantively the case - a la Hans Kung, Charles Curran and Joan Chittister OSB?

In these times, one man's theological qualification is another man's proof of heterodoxy, if not psychosis.

And let's not pretend the knife doesn't cut both ways.
HH | 05 March 2011

I am a country Parish Priest. My ministry is involved noit just with the elderly but also in our primary school and high school. Each week I meet with our students in both schools. We have Mass in the church and, monthly, adoration. I know that the statistics show the lack or people at Mass, but my experience at funerals and weddings and school, brings me into contact with young and old who yearn for an answer to the questions life throws up at them. Somehow, mysteriously. I am filled with hope. Are we ... am I being reminded that the kingdom of God is beyond my or our capabilities?
Fr Peter Slack | 05 March 2011

I have often read books and articles written by Paul Collins and have enjoyed his interpretations and opinions on contemporary issues facing the church.

However I have to respond to this article as I find it really difficult to talk about serious trouble with the catholic church in the light of too few priests. So much of 'problem' lies with the quality of the priests we have. My real concern with this article lies in this quote - they have little or no comprehension of the kinds of faith challenges that face catholics livin in a ................culture that places a strong emphasis on equality, womens rights, and co-responsibility for parish ministry and mission.

Maybe Wilkinson didn't canvas these issues because like me he probably has never seen this part of the catholic church.

jane | 05 March 2011

I am a non stipended anglican priest. When i look at the Catholic parishes I know I see enormous signs of hope. You have many theological literate and devout lay people crossing the spectrum.of liberal and conservative belief. You have a strong commitment and to.the apostolic faith. I see a deep.spirituality and a live for Christ.

You may be desperately short of.priests, your hierarchy may be desperately.failing to see.the obvious problem with denying priestly ministry to women and to married men, but you have enormous depth in the faith.

I think I would rather have your problems than ours
mervyn thomas | 05 March 2011

I notice that the name of the group 'Catholics for Ministry' appears on the cover of Mr Wilkinson's report. This group advocates married priests and the ordination of women. It's website says that the Catholic Church is in crisis.

Uncoincidentally, Mr Wilkinson's report says that the Church is facing disaster. It seems that this report supports the aims and goals of Catholics for Ministry.
The report challenges the practice of foreign priests. Aren't we a land of migrants? My Italian immigrant parents were certainly a 'mismatch' when they arrived in Sydney in the 60's. But they adapted and assimilated and one of my dad's favourite things would be catching up with his aussie mates at the local RSL club. My aussie friends loved coming over to see homemade spaghetti hanging and drying all over house and tomatoes drying outside in the sun. Both sides benefited and were enriched.

The article by Mr Collins mentions the program "The Mission" aired on Compass last year. I will never forget the comment of one of the young Nigerian priests, who said, accompanied by a beautiful smile, 'I am determined to be happy'. This contrasted sharply with the sour faces of the aussie priests.

Rosie Leo | 06 March 2011

At issue is the distinction between power and authority. The Sanhedrin had power as did Rome. Jesus had authority. Power is exercised over another. Authority is ascribed to someone by another by virtue of charism. The new Rome exercises power over Roman Catholics but lacks authority. Sad misunderstanding, even abuse of the trust placed in the church, don't you think?
graham patison | 07 March 2011

With respect, Graham English, the army of "progressive" priests up and down the land who either refuse to dispense Communion to Catholics who wish to receive kneeling and/or on the tongue as is their explicit right, or attack them from the pulpit or outside the church after mass, are not exactly letting others be.

Nor are their less convicted allies anything less than complicit when they refuse to speak up about these disgraceful practices.Yet these progressives hunt in baying packs when a prelate exercises his duty to preclude notorious pro-abortion legislators from receiving Communion.

It's these "progressives" in my experience that tend to succumb to that temptation - experienced by all of us - to think one is mostly right. They're more obviously the moral "solipsists" (if you like), believing each person is a moral island, able to live out his or her personal code hermetically sealed off from everyone else.

Hence their signature complaints: "The Church should keep its nose out of the bedroom", "If you don't like abortion, don't have one", "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries" and of course that big daddy of excuses: "The Church says X but I must follow my own conscience".

HH | 07 March 2011

Ah! we'll all be ruined said Hanrahan before the year is out! Since the beginnings of our church we have had the 'prophets of doom' making similar predictions to Peter Wilkinson. Yet here we are two thousand years on belonging to arguably the largest belief system in the world. If we are going to make predictions on the future of our church based on sociological arguments then I believe we have misinterpreted the purpose for which our chuch was founded, that being to enter into an intimate relationship with our God.

The parish that I belong to has provided me with employment for the past 3 decades where I have been priviliged to share in the faith journey of thousands of adolescents in my role as a religion teacher,liturgy director and retreat facilitator. My parish ministries provide low cost housing to over 100 young families and aged persons. It also provides an employment and training facility for people with intellectual disabilities. Added to this is Vinnies shop and aged care facility which is currently undergoing a major upgrade.

It would be good to see the results of a survey that focuses on a half full glass rather than half empty.

John Hamilton | 07 March 2011

Has anyone seriously thought about the role of the "laity" recently? Is there any thought about welcoming the "priesthood of the Laity", energizing the Baptized Christians for creative leadership functions .There are also former religious and former priests who have always been passionate about their faith and service to the community.For many that passion has survived their opting out of celibacy or their choice of marriage.

Could a parish served by a group of associate pastors,men and women, be a first step to bring new life to the People of God? Does the solution to the crisis need to rest so much on our already overburdened leaders laboring in our parish based structures.There is creativity out there.
The Holy spirit has not abandoned "the Bark";

can we hear of new initiatives,new models for celebration and service.

david folkes | 07 March 2011

I was inspired by the comments of Fr Peter Slack. It appears that he is an exceptional pastor that he is so involved in so many various ministries and apostolates in his apparently vibrant parish of Casino on the NSW Far North Coast. With his full on pastoral activities in his parish - I hope that he does not get "burn out" being so committed. Does he look after himself, so that the likes of Fr Slack will be with us for decades to come. May God bless Fr Peter Slack and Bishop Jeoffey Jarret. They are both models of the new 'emerging' Church.
Geoffrey Rudd | 08 March 2011

With respect to your use of FOI to obtain a copy of the contract between the Bishops Conference and the government, you could perhaps seek a review of this decision to refuse you access on the grounds of commercial-in-confidence (?)
Sarah | 08 March 2011

I listened to Paul and Peter on ABC 666 this morning . I also noted from the Canberra Times that our loved Bishop, Pat Power was intending to retire.."to return to Pastoral duties".The connection is that all mentioned seem to see the issue that is leading to this crisis.. a lack of leadership and vision in the 21st century Church heirachy.

I have seen the decline in the official church over four decades, most of which was in Catholic Education.I have also seen an increase in personal committment by the great "unchurched" in thier witness to the "Good News". I wonder whether in what is left of my life, the Church authorities will begin to capitalise on the knowledge,talent and dedication of our lay workers in the church and maybe BE bold enough to find new ways of carrying out Jesus message to...."go make followers of all nations"...

The answer is not in the past...the answer is in the future.Change is not always wrong.
Gavin O'Brien Canberra | 10 March 2011

The Catholic Church needs holy people who seek with all their heart to live like Jesus. Do we need to wait till there are enough Bishops ... or priests ... or nuns, to being doing this? Does our personal response depend on the hierachy 'getting their act together'? Paul Collins articles could all begin with the same sentence: "As soon as the patriarchal Church is fixed then....." I find his writing always filled with accusations and excuses. He is the great Catholic 'finger pointer-er'! There are many of us who are glad to jump on his train. Yes Paul, you are right, I can't be what I'm meant to be because those darn patriarchal bishops are setting road blocks before me. Perhaps our St Mary of the Cross would speak differently! She did not allow excuses to dictate her path. Our Australian Church will get moving when we as pew sitting Catholics take up the challenge to be all that we are meant to be. Yes, it may meaning dancing around some obstacles, but we have to stop the excuses, the self pity and the 'poor me' finger pointing at the clergy and hierachy.
Cathy | 11 March 2011

I agree with Uncle Pat. I also understand Fr Peter Slack's sense of hope as I belong to a small parish in western Sydney that has a big number of altar servers, junior members of the legion of Mary and a Family Movement group. We also have a parish priest who regularly encourages his young parishioners to consider the priesthood. He is a fine example of an elderly priest who serves his parish faithfully (even after surgery).
Mary | 20 March 2011

Those of us from N/west Qld were certainly aware of the not approaching but very evident crisis over 30 years ago .With men like Dave Lancine & Bill Busserton serving combined parishes the size of Victoria (albeit with considerably less people )Were we not back to pilgrim Church & therefore was it not obvious that suitable people within the far flung communities simply needed to be elevated to ministry.

As many received their basic education via School of the Air & Correspondence they would readily respond to the necessary instruction via the same medium . Simply a re-run of Paul's Letters to the Colosions/Corinthians etc.

Instead of listening to the deafening calls from the Holy Spirit ,the powers to be have now installed the culturally inappropriate men who have to print out their homily because the few long suffering faithful attending cannot understand the accents .
john Kersh | 01 April 2011

I go to church every Sunday and must admit it feels more like one hour in hell then anything spiritually uplifting.
George | 07 July 2014


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