On Strategic Plans…

Kate, at Australia Incognita, has been running a series of posts on the priest shortage, and on what needs to be done to address the problem. She has also addressed the so-called Wilkinson Report, published by “Catholics for Ministry” (go to their home page and click “The Death of Australian Catholicism?” at the top) and featured in yesterday’s Age.

Kate and Peter Wilkinson largely agree on current scenario, but very broadly disagree on the solutions. Just compare Kate’s suggestions in her extensive treatment with the list of objectives that Catholics for Ministry have posted on their home page. Chalk and cheese.

But in one sense, both Kate and Catholics for Ministry agree – please forgive me for this observation, Kate! They both propose the urgent adoption of a pro-active strategy to change the situation. The message is: Get Active!

Long term readers of SCE will know that this blogger proposes a very simple strategy indeed: Evangelisation and Catechisation. This is, I believe, the strategy of the Holy Father too, and can be seen in the intention to hold a Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation (the lineamenta for which has just been produced; see John Allen’s comments here).

But at a far deeper level, what is really needed within the Australian Catholic Churches (all 26 of them) – and indeed in every Church and every ecclesial community – is conversion to the Gospel. At root the priest shortage is a spiritual rather than a strategic problem.

On these lines, there is much to be gleaned from an excellent presentation by Cardinal Raymond Burke’s presentation to the Northwest Catholic Men’s Conference (go here for both the text and the audio). This section in particular I draw to your attention:

Addressing the challenge of Christian living in a totally secularized world, the Venerable Pope John Paul II called us to the new evangelization, to teaching the faith, celebrating the faith in the Sacraments and prayer, and living the faith, as if for the first time, that is, with the engagement and energy of the first disciples, of the first apostles to our native place. Before the grave situation of the world today, we are, he reminds us, like the first disciples who, after hearing Saint Peter?s Pentecost discourse, asked him: “What must we do?” Even as the first disciples faced a pagan world which had not even heard of our Lord Jesus Christ, so, we, too face a culture which is forgetful of God and hostile to His Law written upon every human heart.

Before the great challenge of our time, Pope John Paul cautioned us that we will not save ourselves and our world by discovering “some magic formula” or by “inventing a new programme.” He declared to us:

“No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you.”

He reminded us that the programme by which we are to address effectively the great spiritual challenges of our time is, in the end, Jesus Christ alive for us in the Church. He explained:

The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its center in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a program which does not change with shifts of times and cultures, even though it takes account of time and culture for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication.”

In short, the program leading to freedom and happiness is, for each of us, holiness of life.

The Venerable Pope John Paul II, in fact, cast the entire pastoral plan for the Church in terms of holiness. He explained himself thus:

“In fact, to place pastoral planning under the heading of holiness is a choice filled with consequences. It implies the conviction that, since Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethics and a shallow religiosity. To ask catechumens: “Do you wish to be receive Baptism?” means at the same time to ask them: “Do you wish to become holy?” It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48)”

In the end, it is only this “program”, this “strategy” that will bring new life to the Church. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the same work that the Church has always been engaged in. Kate suggests many things, in part liturgical, in part evangelistic, that can be done to turn things around in the Church, but what really needs “turning around” – converting! – are the hearts and minds of baptised Christians. I don’t agree with Kate that the Apostles had a “strategy” other than that given by our Lord “preach the gospel to all nations”. They didn’t spend a lot of time working this strategy out – they just did it, following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

We are called to “just do it” too. Pretty simple really. Evangelise. Teach. Convert and be converted. “Be Holy as I the Lord your God am Holy.”

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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32 Responses to On Strategic Plans…

  1. Terra says:

    First David, thanks for highlighting my series on this. I do think this is an important discussion to have.

    You are right in suggesting that I agree with the liberals in saying that action needs to be taken. But I think the dichotomy you suggest between strategy and evangelization/catechizing is a false one and a misreading of what Cardinal Burke is talking about (we all know what he means by ‘pastoral planning’! It is certainly not the approach I am proposing) – because I certainly agree that what is needed is a conversion to the Gospel.

    The central message of my series of posts is indeed that the priest shortage is only a symptom of our broader failure to take up Our Lord’s instruction to spread the Gospel to all.

    And yes, that absolutely requires the work of the Holy Spirit. But, as I pointed out in the real starting point of my series, http://australiaincognita.blogspot.com/2011/02/tackling-priest-shortage-part-ii-change.html, there is also a danger of just thinking all we need to do is pray. St Ignatius reminds us to work as if it all depends on us, while knowing that it all depends on God. And that is just what I am advocating.

    What I am proposing is exactly an approach to evangelization.

    Because you actually do have to decide who you are catechizing to and how to go about it. Do you put most of your effort into school kids, their parents, trying to persuade lapsed catholics to ‘come home’, or non-catholics for example. De facto we make these decisions (choices like, does the diocese find your anima talks and inter-religious dialogue efforts or put the dough into tv ads for catholics come home!) – I’m just advocating we be a bit more transparent about it, and be very explicit about measuring our progress so we know what works and what doesn’t and direct our effort accordingly!

    And I’m also making some calls about what things are the most effective means of evangelizing/catechizing – and what things have the opposite effect. And here the liturgy, as Cardinal Burke’s recent comments at a recent booklaunch make clear, is clearly critical.

    The reality is that our bishops are adopting strategies to foster vocations. Some are primarily recruiting seminarians and priests from overseas; some are making a more serious effort to encourage youth engagement in the hope that this will translate over time into home grown vocations; and others are pushing a shift from priest based leadership of parishes to lay leadership. I think these need to be discussed, the laity more broadly engaged on them, and in some cases their consistency with Magisterial teaching challenged!

    • catherine says:

      Well for years it seems like the Church in Melbourne has done little to educate people. They have tried to fix up the school system but that does not address the ignorance of the adults. There would be a small precentage of people going along to mass would be interested in attending a talk on a “sexy” topic such as Why can’t women be ordained as priests, or Why does the Church oppose gay marriage or euthanasia? but there is little offered.

      Apart from the education issue, the Catholic church is not good at developing a sense of community, whereas I believe other denominations are much better at that. They cater for teens and young adults but once you are over 30 you are on your own until you are a senior citizen and qualify for the parish bus trips.

      • Schütz says:

        Well, I’m doing my bit, Catherine. See the side bar under Anima Education. Yes, I know I am currently doing a session on “Why Women can’t be ordained as Priests” for the Melbourne Catholic Singles group, but that was their choice of topic, not mine. My current course at Anima Education is Christian Traditions (an ecumenical topic) for which I have 17 men and women (some of whom have never been to a Catholic adult education course before), and I will be teaching at the Chelsea parish during Wednesday nights in Lent on the Last Things. I’ve done courses on the Bible, the Sacraments, Church History, etc.

        The long term aim of Anima Education is to build up a fellowship of teachers who can provide courses and talks for groups and parishes who are seeking catechetical and educational input.

    • Schütz says:

      Dear Kate,

      I have noted your comments on your blog, and I am pleased to tell you that my “strategy” is not simply “prayer”.

      Coming from my Protestant experience, where, in the 1990’s the so called “Church Growth Movement” focused on all kinds of skills and strategies to “grow the church”, I am suspicious of “programs” which proclaim “the secret”.

      The “strategy” is actually clearly enunciated in the Catechism, p. 1072:

      1072 “The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church”:10 [SC 9] it must be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion. It can then produce its fruits in the lives of the faithful: new life in the Spirit, involvement in the mission of the Church, and service to her unity.

      This is actually a cyclic process that should be going on all the time and everywhere in the Church:

      1) Evangelise, Catechise (faith), and convert
      2) Liturgy as the “powerhouse” of the Church’s life
      3) New Life, mission and service
      4) evangelisation, catechisation, conversion etc. etc. and so on.

      I think your suggestions for the Liturgy fit in at (2) above, but must be in this overall picture.

      As I said in my last paragraph: “Just do it”. It isn’t complicated. We don’t need to ask “where and when” should we be doing it – we should be doing it everywhere and anywhere.

  2. Matthias says:

    Has anyone read the article in today’s copy of THE AGE which looks at the Caulfied parish of St Anthony’s and St Aloysius? The Paul Collins from Catholics for minstry quoted in the article ,I take it is former priest Paul Collins??

    • catherine says:

      Yes, I read it and the Paul Collins is the Paul Collins, ex priest, media commentator, etc

      • Schütz says:

        As Kate points out on her blog, the reference to St Aloysius managed to totally ignore the fact that it is the parish for the Extraordinary Form of the roman rite. There may have been only 12 at Fr Diamond’s mass later in the day, but I wonder how many were at Fr Tattersall’s 7am EO mass that day?

  3. Stephen K says:

    I’d have to say that I’m a little closer to David than Kate on this one. That is to say, I agree with David that if the priest shortage is a problem then it is a spiritual one, not a strategic one, and – if I may paraphrase – that inner conversion is the key. But whereas Kate frames the spiritual problem as a “broader failure…..to spread the Gospel…” I’d like to propose that the spiritual problem is in great part the subordination – or as it always seems to be presented – of the inner conversion to ‘another end’, be it spreading of the Gospel, building the Church, or whatever. This utilitarianises inner conversion, and I’d like to suggest that this is inherently fatal – or fatal in the long term – to anything but a superficial evangelisation (i.e. more numbers baptised, in the census, simply attending Mass, more enrolled in Catholic schools etc.).

    In other words I’m saying that such an approach is what appears to be finally bearing its fruit in the large scale abandonment of the Church and its ‘church life’. I think in fact that if Jesus’ message means anything it means first and foremost and essentially a call to one to attend to one’s ‘own house of conversion’. (Isn’t that the real force behind Paul’s description of love?)

    I’ve had, over recent years, regular exposure to other Christian services and sermons. Without necessarily embracing all the various emphases or takes presented, I do notice that there is consistently a more prominent emphasis on personal conversion – and here is the relevant part – without the same degree of reference to the ‘Church’. Naturally, I appreciate that a different ecclesiology informs their discourse. But my point is that the effect sounds, and must be, different. Indeed I have for some now wondered whether many Catholics may not – all unwittingly – really believe in Jesus except through and by the Church, that is to say, they believe in the Church, and Jesus comes-with-the-package. Certainly, a lot of traditional catechisation presented itself in such a way.

    I’m therefore wondering whether less concern ought to be held for shortages of priests, or numbers etc. and simply leave the ‘organic flow’ to take care of itself, in the style of Luke 12:22 et seq. Why not simply immerse oneself in the Gospels and spiritual sources, and act as if the kingdom was here already? (Isn’t the kingdom not of this world?) Isn’t the kingdom of which Jesus spoke not so far different from the states of inner harmony perceived and attained by mystics through the ages?

    I know I won’t be agreed with, but I think the Catholic conception of and preoccupation with the “Church” and church numbers gets in the way of its Christianity. It may be inconceivable to many that we should all abandon all empire-building except that which can occur within our own heart.

    • Gareth says:

      First of all, may I add that the findings of the Wilkinson report are not that surprising at all– Catholics are faced with the reality week in, week out and we didn’t really need a report with the analysis from the typical voices such as the Collins mix to tell us all this things.

      Anyhow, when I hear of cries of ‘strategies’ and ‘evangelisation,’ my mind goes back to Saint John Vianney and his method(s) for evangelisation. From what I remember, his strategy didn’t require rocket science, nor glossy brochures or any fuzzy methods for Christians to pretend they are something they are not and most importantly started with the theory that evangelisation begins at home, in our own local Church and parish.

      Evangelisation must begin in the parish and we must become knowledgeable and committed Catholics in our own parish before we start to think of any ideals of evangelising others.

      It is sad to admit but the average Catholic parish in Australia would hardly live up to the standards of producing semi-decent Catholics, let alone having a ‘product’ that attracts others to us. How can we ever attract others to us if we can’t even get a basic thing like not having the sacrament of confession widely available or our singing is horrible or the basic layman doesn’t have a clue what holy water is for or what certain moral behaviours is ok or not?

      John Vianey’s ‘strategy’ seemed to work a treat – perhaps we should take note.

      On an important note, may I also add that it is extremely frustrating when Catholics in the 40-60 age bracket arrogantly dismiss the views of conservative/orthodox young Catholics.

      If I had a dollar for every time I heard, “that young person is brainwashed. under the influence of George Pell, doesn’t understand others blah, blah”, I would be a rich man”. Well, actually young Catholics in their 20s and 30s who are orthodox are actually closer to reality than most of the people that dismiss them

      I have come to the conclusion that some Catholics are not interested in hearing the views of such people, which is extremely hurtful considering they are the backbone of the Church and would probably have more to offer the Church than the same people that dismiss them.

    • Schütz says:

      I think I am with you on this one, Stephen. The impulse to evangelise comes out of a previously experienced inner conversion. That is, personal conversion results in evangelistic activity. St Paul, for instance. If we were to focus on statistics – either of priests to people ratio or the percentage of Catholics at Mass on Sunday – and make improving these statistics our goal, we will fail. The Gospel needs to be proclaimed and taught with conviction in order to bring about personal conversion. The true powerhouses of evangelism and catechetical mission in our community will be driven by the personal conviction, conversion and committment that comes as the gift of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I commend to your prayers our parishes, our schools and our homes that they may be such “powerhouses”.

      • Tony says:

        What I am not understanding here, David, is what your getting at in practical terms, ie, ‘just do what?’. How would our ‘strategies’ look different in your diocese, for example?

        What would you do about what you seem to imply are less than committed teachers? How do you measure ‘powerhouses of evangelisation and catechisation’ if not by ‘bums on pews’?

        • Gareth says:

          In terms of the ‘bums on seats’ and ‘numbers’ debate, I think Stephen put it wisely when he said Catholic preoccupation church numbers can be a distraction to what really matters.

          I would rather share ‘fellowship’ (to borrow a Protestant term) with 10 solid and committed Christians that know their stuff than 100 whissy-whassy one’s.

          The numbers and whom He chooses to bring to the fold are God’s concerns, us getting to know and servce Him right should be our prime concern and then hopefully as a consequence the numbers will start rolling.

    • PM says:

      ‘Jesus comes-with-the-package’. In an essential way, He does: He is present in and through the sacraments as nowhere else, and the preaching of the Word (which ultimately is not a text but a person – see John 1) comes through the apostolic sucession. Were it not for the sacraments and the apostolic succession, the corrution and the sheer banality and silliness of so much Catholic life would have tempted me to pack it in years ago. Not many people would go to your average parish these days for the quality of the music or preaching.

  4. Gareth says:

    Also notice how the report has been written by and commented by two EX-priests and makes no mention of the slight rise in men that have entered Australia’s major seminaries over the past five years under the influnce of Cardinal Pell.

    • Tony says:

      Also notice how the report has been written by and commented by two EX-priests …

      The strength of the report and the conclusions it draws should stand or fall on the content, not the background of the authors or commentators.

      … and makes no mention of the slight rise in men that have entered Australia’s major seminaries over the past five years under the influnce of Cardinal Pell.

      Probably because drawing conclusions from what you acknowlege is a ‘slight’ rise is unreliable. Statistics can only draw reliable conclusions from sustained trends.

  5. Jnorm says:


    Why aren’t you a priest? Did you ever ask your bishop if you could be ordained? Or is that provision only for ex Anglican clergy?

  6. Terra says:

    YOu see i”m not sure that we really are fundamentally at odds – I’m not suggesting an undue focus on assorted measures – I am suggesting that taken to gether they can tell us wether we are succeeding or failing at ‘just doing it’. And if we are failing (and in my view we are, badly), then whatever we are ‘just doing’ clearly isn’t working…

    The reality is, we do have to make practical decisions about what to just do – whether it be fix up the liturgy, put more emphasis on Scripture or whatever. Becasue there are only so many hours in the day, and some things do have more effect than others…

    • Tony says:


      The liturgy has just been ‘fixed up’ and, like it or not, it took an interminable time. I’m not saying this to be smart, it really goes to the question about what we’d do differently. A phrase like ‘fix up the liturgy’ comes easily off the tongue but how do we do it?

      And you say ‘we do have to make practical decisions’. Who’s the ‘we’?

      Again, if you look at the ‘fixing up’ of the liturgy it has been a top-down approach. If, as an ordinary pew sitter, you didn’t take a pretty active interest in such things, this change would have come out of the blue. There’s not much ‘we’ involved.

  7. Gareth says:

    Oh man, my parish priest noted ‘International Women’s Day’ at Mass as if it was something to celebrate like the Calendar of Saints.

    He doesn’t realise that these day has its roots in Communism and has been banned in many countries as socialist propaganda.

    My strategy if I was Bishop would be that to get his act together he should walk over hot coals on his stomach.

    • Tony says:

      Which countries have banned it, Gareth?

    • catherine says:

      Gareth, you need to relax, if that is the worst thing your priest has ever said or done, you should count yourself lucky.

      Why not try to see the positive in this? Women are hard done by in many underdeveloped countries and he is acknowledging that by supporting International Women’s Day.

      • Gareth says:

        Its all a big lie Catherine.

        Remember the Devil is cunning and will disguise himself and most people will be gullible to fall for it.

        I refuse to be part of it and will enter by the narrow gate.

        • catherine says:

          Yes Gareth all the women in the world have fabulous lives, there are: no sex slaves, no women being trafficked for prostitution,no women being set on fire in India, it is all a figment of wicked people’s imaginations . The world is perfect, why it is heaven on earth right now.

          • Gareth says:

            and to think if the world was to take the contraceptive pill off the shelf – we would TRULY see who is boss.

            • catherine says:

              Gareth…black and white thinking is not adaptive, try to see the shades of grey in life, you might find you get on better with people and attract more women that way.

  8. Terra says:

    Tony – Yes it does have to be a top down approach to a large degree – liturgy is not something best developed by a citizen’s assembly (is anything?)!

    But the laity can engage by supporting their priests and making their views known (so long as they have gone to the trouble of developing informed ones, and are not just spouting kneejerk reactions) .

    The ‘fixing up’ I’m suggesting needs to happen is more than words – it is the reform of the reform agenda of reception on the tongue, ad orientem celebration, etc as I’ve set out on my blog. The things that give the liturgy a strong sense of the sacred and a distinctive but less egocentric role to the priest. And some of the things that this involves – like better music , chant instead of tacky hymns, really can easily be influenced by the laity.

    In fact much of the traditionalist movement within the Church in this country at least has been a case of bottom up, lay liturgical leadership – the TLMs (within the church) around Australia came about not because of priests, but bands of lay people demanding TLMs, hunting down priest prepared to say the TLM, supporting seminarians at the FSSP seminary etc, and arm-twisting bishops into allowing it (certainly that is what happened in Canberra and other places that I know about)…

    • Tony says:

      In terms of the mass though, Terra, you are speaking of what is officially regarded as the ‘Extraordinary Form’.

      The ‘ordinary form’ has just been revised after a painfully long period and, in this context, your practical suggestion seems to be to bring back the EF?

      Doesn’t seem at all practical to me either from the ‘bottom up’ — because most Catholics (nearly all if truth be told) celebrate with the NO — nor from the ‘top down’ — given the confirmed status of the NO.

  9. Terra says:

    Tony – My point was just that there are ways of influencing what you wnat ot happen that don’t involve democratic votes!

    All of the concrete proposals I have suggested (reception on the tongue etc) are perfectly compatible with the OF, indeed arguably intrinsic to it. And lots of laypeople are working in support of this agenda!

    • Gareth says:

      Terra: And lots of laypeople are working in support of this agenda!

      Gareth: An acknowledgement of this on behalf of the Bishops/priests and the dissenters crew would be nice.

      The problem is most people are too stuck to their computers to realise that more Catholics would actually be in support of the agenda than they think.

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