Cardinal George Pell's Draft Pastoral Plan aims to strengthen Catholic life in Sydney and may provide a model for the rest of Australia. It contains far-reaching strategies covering every aspect of church life, e.g., education, liturgy, priesthood and religious life, healthcare, youth ministry and social justice.
It is the most ambitious project of its kind in the history of the Church in Australia and one which will be watched closely by Catholics and their leaders around the country.
The Plan represents a response to John Paul II's encyclical, Novo Millennio Ineunte, in which he urged all Catholics 'to start afresh with Christ' and called for 'new pastoral initiatives', adapted to the 'circumstances of each community'.
At the conclusion of the Sydney Clergy Forum in 2003, it was proposed that a pastoral plan be formulated for the Archdiocese. Cardinal Pell then established an Archdiocesan Renewal Planning Committee under Bishop Julian Porteous and this began meeting in 2005.
The committee developed a Mission Statement identifying key priorities upon which to formulate a draft plan. Focus Groups were formed to prepare recommendations in each of the priority areas and there has been extensive consultation since then.
The Draft Pastoral Plan sets out eight priorities: Evangelisation and Spiritual Renewal; Clergy and Religious Renewal; Parish Renewal; Marriage and Family Life; Pastoral Care, Outreach and Social Welfare; Ministry to Young People; Catholic Education and World Youth Day.
The draft is now being circulated to all parishes of the Sydney Archdiocese for comment and Bishop Porteous expects to present a final version of the plan to Cardinal Pell by October 2007, with implementation due from early 2008 onwards.
Predictably, the left-leaning Sydney Morning Herald (4 June 2007) took the opportunity to publish another of its negative reports on Cardinal Pell, accompanied by an insulting, infantile cartoon. 'In a first for the Australian church [sic], the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, is set to extend the oath of fidelity and profession of faith, a requirement of church law for bishops, priests and heads of seminaries, to all senior educational leaders'.
The Herald cited an obscure Australian Catholic University theology lecturer who dismissed the Plan as 'seriously flawed', said it had 'shades of Opus Dei', and called for 'a serious rewrite'.
The oath of fidelity that upset the Herald requires 'religious submission of intellect and will' on questions of faith and morals and an acceptance that everything solemnly taught by church tradition is divinely inspired. Principals, deputy principals and religious education coordinators at the 167 Catholic schools in Sydney will most likely have to take the oath in early 2008.
Bishop Porteous, responding to the Herald report, said the oath would be more a job requirement and not a method of discrimination. 'If the person would look at the job description, if you like, and if they couldn't embrace all that's expected of them, then naturally they would just say ... I don't have the commitment to the religious ideals of the school.
'Therefore it'd be best for me to pursue my career in another school that doesn't require that particular commitment.'
Bishop Porteous points out that evangelisation is placed first in the Pastoral Plan because it is 'the single thrust that should influence everything the Archdiocese does'.
Under this priority the Office for Evangelisation is to develop a directory of groups to be engaged in renewal, mission and evangelisation services by December 2008.
'All agencies of the Archdiocese' are 'to review and revise their mission statements to ensure they reflect the call to evangelisation by December 2008.' Parishes are 'to develop and implement programmes of spiritual renewal and works of evangelisation during 2008' with each parish 'to conduct a parish mission focused on evangelisation every three years.'
Forums are to be conducted on moral and social issues in politics, business and the media from January 2009 while Catholic Communications is 'to develop and implement a media training programme for seminarians by December 2008.'
The Archdiocese is 'to establish regular forums for Catholic politicians to meet with Church leaders and experts in Catholic theology to inform Catholic politicians on the spiritual and moral implications of proposed legislation by March 2009.'
In Priority 2, Clergy and Religious Renewal, the Plan calls for the 'promoting, fostering and maturing' of vocations, especially priestly vocations, 'as a matter of particular urgency'.
A member of the clergy will be appointed as the full-time Vocations Director by March 2008 while the Vocations Office is 'to develop strategies and programmes to assist priests to be more effective in personally promoting vocations to the priesthood by June 2008.'
In addition, the Vocations Office will 'collaborate with school communities in order to develop strategies and programmes to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life by December 2008.'
The Episcopal Vicar for Clergy is to provide personal development plans for members of the clergy addressing issues of health, pastoral effectiveness and professional development' while Cardinal Pell will continue 'to oversee the development of specific programmes for the ongoing formation of clergy by December 2008.'
Regarding Priority 3, Parish Renewal, the Plan notes, 'As we await the new translations of the liturgical books for the Mass, it is an opportune time to revisit our liturgical life.' The following are among the iniatives to straighten out liturgical practices:
* The Liturgy Office is to conduct regular workshops for clergy, liturgical ministers, teachers and catechists to inform them of recent liturgical documents.
* The Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission and the Liturgy Office will develop and circulate to all parishes an explanation of the diocesan policy regarding appropriate liturgical roles by December 2008.
* The Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission will research, produce and distribute a booklet to assist in the training of altar servers by June 2008; develop and circulate to all parishes archdiocesan policy concerning the role of music in the liturgy by December 2008; and develop and circulate to all parishes a repertoire of approved music for use in the liturgy by June 2009.
* The Archdiocese will develop a policy with regard to celebration of marriages and funerals.
* The Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission will revise and promulgate the pastoral handbook on the celebration of marriage by June 2007, and funerals by December 2008.
* The Liturgy Office will provide workshops for funeral dir- ectors so as to develop an informed understanding of appropriate Catholic practices by December 2008.
* The Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission will undertake a programme for the revitalisation of the use of the Sacrament of Penance with particular focus on the first form of the Rite by December 2009.
Included under Priority 4, Marriage and Family Life, is provision for the Archdiocesan Marriage and Family Office 'to review all Marriage Preparation programmes to ensure clarity of Church teaching by December 2008.'
There will also be promotion of 'Christian education in sexuality using age appropriate programmes while the Archdiocesan Marriage and Family Office and Life Office are 'to facilitate Catholic teaching for youth in sexuality and life issues through talks at tertiary institutes, formal courses, chaplaincy seminars, etc, by June 2008.'
The Catholic Education Office and Confraternity of Christian Doctrine are 'to review curricula to ensure all materials and programmes on the teaching of sexuality and life issues are pastorally appropriate and continue to reflect the teachings of the Catholic Church by June 2008.'
In Priority 5, Pastoral Care, Outreach and Social Welfare, the Plan calls on 'all agencies of social welfare and pastoral care to strengthen their Catholic identity and work together collaboratively.' These agencies are 'to develop mission statements to reflect their Catholic character and commitment to Catholic social teaching by December 2008.'
The Plan also requires 'all agencies collaborating in government funded programmes to establish guidelines to ensure reservation and adherence to Catholic principles by December 2008' with 'Catholic health care facilities to be linked to the pastoral objectives of the Archdiocese.'
In addition, the Archdiocese is to 'strengthen collaboration with Catholic health care facilities so as to enhance the Catholic identity of the institutions by December 2009' and the Life Office will 'facilitate opportunities for formation and professional development in ethical and moral teachings of the Catholic Church to Catholic health care workers by December 2009.'
Priority 6, Ministry to Young People, involves Catholic Youth Services (CYS) 'in collaboration with parishes, ethnic communities and groups and movements to continue to develop and implement a comprehensive plan of follow-up to World Youth Day 2008'.
In collaboration with the Catholic Adult Education Centre, Catholic Youth Service will 'focus on the formation and support of youth leaders in every parish by August 2008' and 'in conjunction with tertiary chaplaincies, to conduct regular youth forums for young people both from parishes and various groups and movements, to foster ongoing formation and greater cooperation by June 2009.'
Catholic Youth Services, in collaboration with the CEO and the CCD, will offer faith formation opportunities to senior secondary students by December 2008 and coordinate a youth website by March 2009, which not only provides information on activities across the Archdiocese but also 'informs young people in matters of Catholic life and teaching.'
Priority 7 covers a major area of concern, Catholic Education. The directives here are explicit and timely. The following are some examples:
* All Catholic educational institutions within the Archdiocese will articulate a common mission to proclaim Christ-centred life as the source of full human growth and development.
* The Archdiocese will formally review bi-annually the scope and nature of all institutions engaged in Catholic education.
* All institutions will embrace the full teaching of the Church and ensure that a faithful testimony to the Catholic faith characterises all their activities.
* Catholic educational institutions will formally express in their mission statements a specific commitment to the magisterial teaching of the Church by March 2009.
* All those holding executive management positions in Catholic education institutions will make the profession of faith and oath of fidelity as an expression of their dedication to Catholic teaching.
* Secondary and tertiary Catholic educational institutions will provide seminars/workshops so as to better inform staff and students on Catholic ethical and social teaching by December 2008.
* Support will be provided for Catholic children attending non- Catholic schools.
World Youth Day
Finally, Priority 8 concerns World Youth Day. It calls for a 'commitment across the Archdiocese to the strengthening of the faith of young people through 2008' and for 'all parishes to engage in the spiritual preparation of young people' for World Youth Day.
In order to capitalise on the impact of World Youth Day, each parish is asked 'to plan for participation of young people in the life of the parish' and CYS to plan 'a programme of special youth events, drawing from the experience of WYD08 to be activated in 2009.'
The Catholic Education Office will 'analyse the impact of WYD on students and staff' and 'develop programmes to further enhance its impact' while schools are 'to examine ways to link more effectively with parish based activities following WYD.'
These welcome initiatives are but a cross-section of the many set out in Sydney's Draft Pastoral Plan document. Their impact on a largely secularised Catholic community could provide a model for other dioceses in effectively tackling the crisis of faith and practice nationwide.