WHOLE PARISH OPEN MEETING Shortage of Priests 21st March 2017
Present: Canon John, Fr Pius, Deacon Keith and 15 parishioners
Opening prayer led by Canon John.
The Shortage of Priests in Context: Canon John noted this was a period of great change in the Church and that it had a history of overcoming challenges. He referred to the selection of the seven to undertake the distribution of food, recorded in Acts 6:1-6, and how these had included both Stephen and Philip whose role had developed to include preaching. He noted that there were many different rites within the church, not all of which applied the same discipline of priestly celibacy or the same standards of priestly formation. He pointed to the Maronite Rite where congregations were never without Sunday Mass. A man of good standing would be selected by the parish to take the place of a retired or deceased priest who would then be promptly ordained by the bishop. Preaching would be undertaken through a pastoral letter from the bishop or by visiting monks. In our own parish we had had three married deacons and two married former Anglican priests, so that the concept of married clergy was not a strange phenomenon locally. Some potential solutions to the shortage of priests would require discussion and action at National Bishops’ Conference or international levels. He wondered if our own Bishop would find it helpful to know the views of local communities to feed into these discussions. The only alternative to more creative solutions might be that which had been implemented in another diocese that had halved the number of its parishes with all the potential damage such an approach might do to local communities.
The role of the laity: Canon John had circulated the text of Canon 212 §3 which gave the right, and sometimes the duty, for the faithful to open their hearts and minds to their bishop for the good of the Church.
General Discussion: In discussion the following points and suggestions were raised: –
• it is not just a problem for us to solve but we can have confidence in the Holy Spirit. Everyone could promote and nurture priestly and diaconal vocations through prayer and conversation;
• having experienced married priests in the parish, they were not seen as special cases but their ministry was now thought unremarkable;
• celibacy had not always been a requirement in the western church, and seminaries had only emerged following the Council of Trent;
• although some spoke in favour of having women priests, others thought that this was best treated as a separate issue to the ordination of married men;
• the shortage of priests was not just a problem in the UK but also elsewhere in Europe and further afield;
• married priests may not provide the whole solution to the shortage;
• cultural differences meant that attracting priests from overseas was not always successful (there was some disappointment that the Polish community had acquired a separate church building locally rather than integrating);
• Bishop Peter has said on a previous visit to the parish that he would not close churches unless he was asked to do so;
• the Church was, perhaps, too tied to its buildings; that smaller groupings of the faithful could also meet locally;
• everyone in the Church had a vocation and there were very many parishioners working hard for the community, both of the parish and more widely, but could more be done to ensure that the community continued to thrive? The cohesion within the newer communities to have arrived in the parish was noted approvingly in comparison to the more individualistic culture of the UK generally;
• a local Catholic secondary school might help to encourage young people to consider the priesthood; • the length of time taken to train priests may be too long, that there may be an overemphasis on academic ability and that less time might be spent within seminaries and more in the community;
• in the short-term, particularly in view of Fr Brian’s scheduled retirement next year, greater cooperation across the Pastoral Area may be able to maintain the communities he was currently serving;
• it would be beneficial to know Bishop Peter’s views.
Next steps: It was agreed
• to consider the issue further, including within the communities attending all the churches in the parish;
• to inform Bishop Peter that these discussions were being held and to invite his views and guidance;
• to support efforts by the Pastoral Area clergy to finds ways in which the communities in Oundle, Raunds and Thrapston could continue to be served following Fr Brian’s retirement.
Closing Prayer – Led by Canon John at 8:45 pm.