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New controversy erupts in Toowoomba
Only three years after the Vatican announced the retirement of the Bishop Bill Morris, the Parish Pastoral Council at St Patrick's Cathedral, Toowoomba, has re-opened the issues which prompted the removal of Bishop Morris.
In 2006, Bishop Morris published an Advent Pastoral Letter in which he reflected on the crisis of vocations in the diocese.
He suggested: "We may well need to be much more open towards other options for ensuring that Eucharist may be celebrated." These included, "ordaining women, married or single" and "recognising Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church Orders".
He concluded: "As a pilgrim people who journey in hope we need to remain open to the Spirit so that we can be agents of change and respond wisely to the needs of all members of the local Church of Toowoomba."
The Holy See attempted to engage in dialogue with Bishop Morris, with the aim of bringing his opinions into conformity with the teachings of the Church, but when this failed, the Bishop was forced to resign in 2011.
Recently, the Cathedral Pastoral Council circulated a two page letter to parishioners. Headed, "Future Directions in Pastoral Leadership", it said, "The Parish Pastoral Council recently received a letter from Bishop McGuckin explaining the situation regarding the decreasing number of priests working in the diocese and asking for input into pastoral leadership into the future."
The Pastoral Council considered three possibilities, lay ministry, "the ordination of people previously not considered in order to address the need of the parish community for Eucharist", and bringing in priests from overseas.
These issues were previously the subject of Bishop Morris' pastoral letter.
The Pastoral Council considered lay ministry was already working well in parishes without a priest.
In relation to the proposal to extend ordination to "people previously not considered", the Pastoral Council suggested that married ex-priests, married men and women could be considered.
For example, "A number of men previously ordained as priests have a degree in theology and considerable pastoral experience. Many of these men have chosen to marry and have had to leave the priesthood. In most cases, these men were excellent in the ministerial role. We feel they would be an excellent asset to the Catholic community."
As a further possibility: "Married men who may be called by their parish community [could] become priests. In the twenty-first century, it is not unusual for people who are not priests to undertake a theology course at Banyo Seminary. This institution once catered for young men training for the priesthood but now like many tertiary institutions is open to all (all Christians not just Catholics)."
Ordination of women
The letter added: "Women could also be considered. At a time when women were not as well regarded as they are in modern times, Jesus spoke to them in public and included them among his disciples. Apparently this wasn't common practice two thousand years ago.
"Currently women perform many tasks within the church.
"In the Anglican Church women are ordained and are quite well regarded. Many of us have attended weddings and funerals at various Anglican churches and have difficulty understanding why the Catholic Church can't move in this direction.
"While we acknowledge the current position of the Church, endorsed by Pope Francis, that the ordination of women is not possible, respectfully and in good faith, we raise this option."
This is the same issue which led to Bishop Morris' resignation as bishop of the diocese.
In relation to proposals to bring priests from overseas, the letter cautioned that "while it sounds like an excellent suggestion", it claimed there are "a number of difficulties".
These included the shortage of priests in donor countries like India, the Philippines and Nigeria, "cultural differences particularly attitudes to women", and a claim that "these priests may themselves feel culturally isolated in Australia".
These statements are both wrong, given that Australian society is now made up of many different ethnic communities, several of them in the Toowoomba Diocese from India, Africa and the Philippines, and extremely offensive to priests who have come to serve the people of Australia.
Parishioners were given the option of agreeing with one or other of the three propositions put forward in the document:
"Do you agree with increased involvement of lay people in pastoral leadership in our parish? In what ways do you consider this could take place?
"Would you welcome back to active ministry those former priests who have resigned to marry?
"Would you support the ordination of men, well known and actively involved in our parish, who are already married?
"Are you open to the ordination of women, knowing that this is not the settled teaching of the Church? What issues does this raise for you?"
Only in the last paragraph of the letter was a question raised about the possibility of religious vocations.
Interestingly, the statement made no mention of the fact that in most parts of Australia – but apparently not in this diocese – there are an increasing number of young men seeking ordination to the priesthood, as a means of serving the Catholic community.
Seminaries which provide a strong and orthodox religious formation, like that in Brisbane's Banyo Seminary, nurture religious vocations.
In Western countries, there has been an encouraging increase in vocations where parishes encourage a richer spiritual life, particularly in emphasising regular attendance at Mass and reception of the sacraments, a deeper prayer life and Eucharistic Adoration. Where these have been ignored, priestly vocations are rare.
The Cathedral Pastoral Council did not even ask the question as to why there are so few vocations in a diocese which historically has been one of the strongest in Queensland.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 27 No 11 (December 2014 - January 2015), p. 6
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