Have I already mentioned somewhere that I once began planning setting up an online journal called “In-line Catholics”?
Over at Online Catholics (where you have to pay to get the benefit of the wisdom and opinion of the Australian Catholic Left—thus ensuring, of course, that it remains an in-house discussion between progressives, because no self-respecting conservative would fork out the cash) Fr Hodgens has been holding forth on “Staunching the clergy haemorrhage”.
This has provoked the usual discussion on the Cathnews discussion board.
My observations will seem equally banal and commonplace. Nevertheless, I believe them to be true or I wouldn’t bother expressing them.
1. If we are looking for someone to blame, I suggest we lay that blame at the feet of the baby boomer generation. Yes, folks, Fr Hodgens tells you what went wrong. He says that “One third of the Baby Boomers have left priesthood for alternative careers.” Several commentators on the Cathnews discussion board, expatm for one, have pointed out that Fr Hodgens is at least nine years of the mark by putting the point of decline at 1975. 1966 is much more like it. The statistics might only have become evident nine years later, but the down turn came between the end of the Council and the beginning of the 1970’s. What happened at this time? Ask Papa Benny, who witnessed first hand the rejection of authority and open anarchy that broke out in the 1968 “revolution”. In short, the Baby Boomer generation lost faith in all ecclesiastical authority. Those who had been ordained priests (even many of them who stayed in the job) lost faith in the priesthood as a ministry of grace in which they embodied Christ himself by means of a sacramental character. Having lost faith in the priesthood as a vocation, the Baby Boomer generation were unable and unwilling to promote vocations in the next generation, Generation X.
2. Fr Hodgens says we should “let the secretaries and pastoral workers run the parishes” and “let someone qualified and competent do the preaching”. Well, there is a better solution, because the Church has endorsed a “qualified” (in the sense of ordained) ministry to preach and to assist priests in pastoral work. They are not allowed to say mass, but they can baptise, marry, preach, teach, catechise, bury, administer holy communion and a host of other jobs that would take the pressure of the priests. They can be married, part-time or full-time, old or young, retired or self-employed. All this the Church allows right now, if only the local Church in Australia would embrace the possibilities such a ministry offers. I am, of course, talking about permanent deacons, a ministry restored by the Second Vatican Council yet curiously ignored despite our pastoral crisis. There are barely 100 permanent deacons in Australia. You want reform? Start here, folks.
3. One commentator pointed out the obvious fact that there were more priests pre-1975 because there were more Catholics regularly going to mass. The “pool” of young eligibles, in other words, has shrunk. The answer is bleedingly obvious: Evangelisation. Yet there is some sort of weird clericalism in the progressive ranks that seems to believe that the only way to grow the church is to ordain all and sundry, because what is needed to grow the church is three masses in every parish on every Sunday. No, dear friends, what is required is that all Catholics in Australia, from the humblest and youngest lay Catholic to the oldest and wisest bishop, really get serious about their faith and about communicating the Good News to the people of Australia (perhaps beginning with those who turn up in the pews every Sunday!). There isn’t a simple “band aid” strategy that will fix this one. It will be hard work.
4. Finally, do we forget what Jesus had to say on the matter? “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the harvest”. “You do not have because you do not ask”. I know one priest who said Mass every Thursday in his parish for vocations, and in three years three young men from his parish took up the call. One discovered it wasn’t for him, but the other two are well on the way toward ordination. Imagine if we had, in any given three years, two vocations to the priesthood from every parish in Melbourne? Problem solvered, as they say. Now of course, there was a lot more to it than just lip service prayer. This priest put work into his altar servers guild, into his catechesis, into his serious befriending of young men (don’t smile—one of the great tragedies of the recent scandals is that the real mentoring required for vocations between priests and young male parishioners has been dropped like a hot potato).
So, Fr Hodgens, there you have it. The David Schütz program for increasing vocations and supplying pastoral care in Australia. It ain’t rocket science. To bad so many people use this crisis as an opportunity to drive their own agendas. Yes, some really would like us to “do nothing” and see the Church continue to shrink in size. We have Jesus’ promise though that he will not let this happen.