Monday 13 February 2017

Re-visiting Forward Together in Hope -or into lamentation

I have been looking at the document for moving ‘Forward Together In Hope’, mentioned in a previous blog post. The Diocesan Document is available here. I have chosen to comment upon the following, which are bullet-points taken directly from the document which says:

“Our new partnerships will offer opportunities to ensure that:

 · A range of formation programmes can be developed, at a more local level, to help communities provide pastoral care for many groups of people, catechesis, marriage preparation and worship.
This seems admirable. I have always felt that deaneries could have worked more closely; one perhaps one providing Marriage Preparation; another providing First Communion Preparation or Reader/ Extra-ordinary  Ministers Formation etc. It has always been problematic when preparation or formation courses are held in a location central to the Diocese as travel for many people made it impossible to attend. We might also have better input at a local level and not be formed like sausages to suit a particular person’s vision.

· Support can be made available for smaller communities.
Yes: more priests taking it in turn to celebrate Mass for them; hear their Confessions, anoint their sick. But having their own named priest remains essential if we are not to fall into having communities which are decapitated Christs (bodies without a head). Each parish should have its own named priest to teach, sanctify and govern; to oversee the parish as its local shepherd.

· The gifts, talents and financial resources in a wider area can be put at the service of more people.
Yes, but care needs to be taken. If this means a central fund for partnership areas, how will parishes like one I served which is very small but very generous (and therefore not short of money) feel about their funds being used to help out a larger parish who has not had land to sell or does not have a good weekly offering? We might like to say charity will overcome but in reality, that is not how people broken by original sin with the wound of concupiscence tend to function. It is naïve to think people are not concerned to spend their own money on their own parish.

· Responsibility for a range of services such as finance, health and safety, administration and communication can be coordinated across a wider area.
I’m not sure how this one will work; it uses high-sounding words but there is no explanation as to how this is expected to work out.

· Priests can be freed to concentrate on their essential calling to preach, call the community to worship and the celebration of the sacraments.
This one is very problematic: it removes from priests their role as shepherds and makes them sacrament machines. It is contrary to scripture in which the Apostles took care to ensure they left a presbyterate and overseer for each area. Such shepherding is not peripheral to the call of the priest but is part of his essential calling: Our Lord lamented communities where there were no shepherds; they are therefore of His Divine Will for each community.

· A thorough and careful review of property and its uses can be carried out throughout the area.
One might hope that this means selling off unused land and closing unused buildings. It will hurt, but did the Bishop not tell us to expect pain as the result of this programme? Why avoid it now? Larger parishes can at least have their own pastor.

· Opportunities can be found for people to come together across the area to celebrate and worship together.
We have been doing this anyway: have we not for years had shared Penitential Services, shared Carol Services, Deanery-wide advertised pilgrimages etc?  

· Leadership teams including priests, deacons and people can develop to help everyone deepen their understanding of what it means to be a witness to Jesus in our world today.”
This does not reflect the Tradition of the Church: the leadership role is within the shepherding role; responsibility for certain tasks may be taken on by lay members of the community, but leadership of the flock lies with the shepherds, not the sheep. We have not given the laity their education and formation to be salt of the earth –their authentic vocation is, said Vatican II, “the evangelization and sanctification of men and the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel” Decree on the Apostolate of the laity, #2).

In truth, we seem to have spent three years to no real purpose, other than giving the people the experience of feeling they were being consulted. It was of no real purpose because it brought about nothing new, only the extending of an already-existing model of cross-boundary working: we first went from Deaneries to the ‘twinning of parishes’; then to tripartite parishes as ‘pastoral areas’; we have now spent three years to do no more than extend ‘pastoral areas’ to ‘Partnership’ areas. I doubt three years was needed to merely extend a model that has been going on for some time now.

All of this however, fails to note the elephant in the room; the failure to promote the priesthood as a singular and sacred way of serving God. Let’s be honest: without diminishing marriage which is at the core of the Church and society, marriage is of the natural created order of things; it was “that way from the beginning”. Men are called out of that natural order to serve the community, which is why the word vocation was customarily applied only to priesthood and religious life. 

In his Introduction to the Booklet the Bishop says, “I hope that our whole diocesan family will continue to pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us into the future with confidence, a deep sense of mission and a willingness to witness to the coming of the Kingdom of God.” I too hope the Holy Ghost will inspire and lead the Diocese. I am not sure about the word ‘continue’ as I think by the direction e have been taking in the West for some years now courts the danger of making priests into nothing more that sacrament machines who renege on their calling to ‘teach, sanctify and govern’. If we leave the hsheep to tend the sheep it will no longer be individual sheep that wander off but whole flocks –for want of a shepherd who calls and directs their way.


  1. Salford is on a similar track. Promotion of the laity and Permanent Diaconate and clergy to scurry-around Confecting the Sacrament - as in your final paragraph. You will also create divergent teaching within different parish groups - Protestantism?

    Glad to see you are still in there batting!

    1. Thank you, Sixupman.
      I think there is a very real need for cooperating with the people of God; priests cannot do everything alone. The problem is we are heading in the direction of priests doing nothing but sacraments, like visiting magic men. That is an abandonment of their role as shepherds.It seems to me that the anti-clericalsim of the French Revolution has triumphed within the Church by the hand of the Church's members. I can only think it has come about from those who clergy who experience themselves as having a position of power, rather than a position of responsibility; a responsibility for which they have to answer to God. Those who see their role as one of responsibility are less likely to 'pass the buck' by ditching those responsibilities into the hands of the laity who have their own responsibility of being the leaven in the world.
      God bless.

  2. Salford do not have a permanent diaconate and will not have for another three years at least

    1. Thank you for commenting. I think the Permanent Diaconate can have a place, but not as an extension of lay ministry so as to eliminate the presbyterate.
      God Bless.

  3. Thanks for your reply Fr Gary, we were colleagues at Ushaw 1989-1991 and Iam currently training for the permanent diaconate under the new program for the northern province led by Sean Hall and Chris Fallon. We are being trained for a specific ministry, not an extension of anything, as reinstituted by Vatican II

    1. Hello Chris! I hope you are well.
      I should make it clear that I don't think the Diaconate is an extension of lay ministry, but I fear it is going to be used that way. Let’s be honest, to eliminate the presbyterate from projects designed to re-invigorate the Church (and most of them I have seen or heard of focus on promoting lay ministry and contain no emphasis on encouraging vocations to the priesthood) we will come to an end point where there are Bishops, deacons and laity -and herein lies the idea of Diaconate as an extension of lay ministry: laity and deacons can both administer baptism and preside at funeral, marriage and 'Liturgy of the Word with distribution of Holy communion' services. In the present discipline of the Church laity cannot preach, but apart from that and bestowing blessings, what we see is an elimination of the presbyterate in favour of lay ministry and the limited ministry of the deacon.
      As to the quality of training deacons appear to be getting, I cannot comment as my experience of them is minimal, though I suspect it is very much along the lines we suffered in seminary: minimalism of the sacred and the questioning of defined doctrine under the guise of academic freedom. The idea that there is a chair of the magisterium and a chair of the theologians is nonsense: theologians may propose, but the magisterium disposes, and in the case of defined doctrine the Church has already disposed -even Francis cannot teach in contradiction to what has already been defined: there is no new revelation since the death of the last apostle; the Pope's role is simply to guard, promote and explain the faith he has received.
      God Bless Chris!

  4. God bless you too Fr Gary, our training is a mixture of theology, sacramentology, prayer, reflection and hands on pastoral experience as the ministry suggests. We are being trained to serve our ordinary and our parish community, with, to coin a phrase "a foot in both camps".
    I agree we need to foster more vocations but at present we have a very factionalised church, we no longer seem to be the catholics of my youth, but traditionalists, liberals etc.
    I think St Paul warns us against this.
    Kind regards

    1. Hi Chris,
      I would expect the syllabus to cover the subjects you list, but I suspect it is taught in as progressive (read 'liberal') as what it was in Ushaw, which could be said (politely) to have been less than entirely faithful to the defined teaching of the Church and its disciplines: question the college and one was likely to find oneself out the door; question Rome and one was more likely applauded as 'moving the Church forward'.
      We can agree that we need to foster vocations; my problem with how the permanent diaconate is curently going is precisely that it has "a foot in both camps"; which is to be neither one thing nor the other; a non-entity' space. That the Church is, as you say, factionalised is to be deeply regretted: factions indicate wounds (lacerations) to the Mystical Body of Christ. Once all Catholics knew what we taught even if they did not all take the trouble to find out why; now we don't seem to know what we teach -at least the progressive wing doesn't; those of us who hold to the Tradition of the Church still know what we believe and why -and how to celebrate it in both liturgy and pastoral care. I don't see that in the day to day life of the 'progressive' Catholic: doctrine is open to change rather than authentic development, and discipline a matter of subjective conscience -to the point where the discipline surrounding even the Divine Law of 'Thou shalt not commit adultery' is being subjected to personal conscience by some clergy at even the highest levels, as the debate around Amoris Laetitia demonstrates.
      God Bless you (and yours).

  5. We do have a clearly defined role as per the norms set out by the magiesterium. I do agree that Ushaw was not the best place to foster my vocation, this was as much to do with the students as the staff. There were people who appeared untouchable despite ignoring the programme. One of your statements highlights my problem "progressive liberal ", why can't we just be catholics rather than liberal, traditional, sspx fssp etc etc

    1. Thanks Chris,
      Yes, the problem of being liberal or progressive or Traditional is ubiquitous and, I think, is greatly disturbing. WE cannot all be simply Catholic however until we all remain faithful to the Deposit of Faith handed on by the Apostles without trying to change the faith in line with social trends, and celebrate liturgy for the glory of God rather than engender a feel-good reaction in the people. Currently, Doctrine is weakened by attempts to modify it to suit today's social trends, and liturgy is celebrated to with the affirmation of the community uppermost in mind. Liturgy by the rubrics, and doctrine according to the catechism and the 21 Councils and we will all be Catholic again. Roll on the day!
      God Bless.


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