The following is a rebuttal by Fr Paul Stuart, former Director of Vocations and Dean of Students at the Corpus Christi Seminary, Melbourne Archdiocese, of the dissenting views of Fr Eric Hodgens in the January 2005 edition of 'Online Catholics' which were widely reported in the media, including 'The Australian', 'Sydney Morning Herald', and Melbourne 'Age'.
I oppose the theology and reasoning exhibited in Father Hodgens' opinions expressed in the January 2005 edition of Online Catholics. I believe the dissenting theology and negative politics of many of his generation are the root cause of the problems and challenges about which he complains.
Unfortunately for Father Hodgens and any others who think like him within the clergy, there is no one to succeed them of like mind. Whatever future plans and adjustments the Melbourne Archdiocese will have to make, they ought not to mean that we have to split from communion with the universal Church and radically change the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Church.
When Father Hodgens and company enter retirement, the successors to their parishes will be younger priests with very different attitudes towards the Church, the Papacy, the Sacraments and morality. The ministry and influence of Melbourne's new generation of priests will bear fruit in the form of a new evangelisation and vocations.
I don't know if I will be around to see this springtime, but our current seminarians will. The pain and disturbance I feel at the dissent by some fellow clergy towards the wisdom of the Holy Spirit operating in the Church and the Petrine Ministry is more than made up for by the positive fidelity and enthusiasm of our future priests. Vatican II will be better understood, interpreted and implemented.
Melbourne's future is looking bright and orthodox.
Father Hodgens sounds the alarm that we may not have enough priests in the future to maintain the present number of parishes we have in 2005. It is true that many newer and smaller parishes created from older and larger parishes in the late 1960s and 1970s will have to adjust to not having their own parish priest any more, and they face amalgamation, partnering or returning completely to their "mother" parish and its original boundaries.
However, if the current trend of growth in Melbourne seminarians is sustained and the retention rate remains the same, we will have enough priests for the smaller percentage of practising Catholics divided into larger parishes. We will not be in crisis but rather returning to a situation that the Catholic community in Melbourne experienced from the 1800s up until the Second World War.
Catholics will simply have to travel about 5 to 15 minutes further in their cars to get to Masses, Baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc, as will clergy celebrating these. That may be an inconvenience but it is not a crisis. Accepting suitable priests and seminarians from overseas will also help Melbourne's supply of priests as it always has - just ask our Irish, Vietnamese and Maltese priests.
The following are some of the opinions Fr Hodgens expressed in his Online Catholics article:
* In 20 years the Church in Melbourne will have only a quarter of the priests we need to provide adequate priestly service. His research concluding this gained some media attention in Australia in early December.
* Big money is being spent on promoting vocations to the full-time, life-long, male and celibate priesthood. But that package is not going to work.
* Many priests embraced the Vatican Council's emphasis on the Mass as a Thanksgiving Meal celebrated by all the community in memory of the dying and rising of Jesus. They resent the effort to restore a primary focus on adoration of the host.
* Big money is being spent on Papal World Youth Days. Many priests see this as pandering to the Pope and producing no lasting advantage for the Church at large.
* These priests do not like the strong personality cult of the Pope and resent the bishops' sycophantic style of quoting him incessantly.
* They see the Pope's devotion to Mary as excessive and pietistic.
* Most of them have not believed that contraception is intrinsically immoral ever since Humanae Vitae was published in 1968. They know from their pastoral practice that they are at one with their parishioners in this view.
* Most priests are no longer committed to the old taboos on sexuality. Most do not believe that couples living together are doing something very wrong. Most are happy to have homosexual couples living lives of commitment. They find the Roman heavy insistence on these issues obsessive and wonder why.
* They see divorce as a major reality of today's Western culture and do not believe that remarried divorcees should be permanently excommunicated by being refused Holy Communion.
* They have watched the use of confession dwindle to virtual extinction but were excited by the wonderful support people gave to General Absolution rites. They saw the forbidding of General Absolution as a pastoral and theological disaster.
* They now see the treatment of theologians and priests who have been anonymously accused of dissenting moral and theological opinions as abusive and a violation of basic human rights.
* Above all this, they find themselves being expected to accept and follow bishops who are chosen primarily on the basis of their readiness not to rock the boat of current Roman policy. They see them as supine. They do not want them and would never have given any support for them had they been asked.
However, the unpalatable truth for Fr Hodgens and others of like mind is that the wave of the Church's future in Australia lies with orthodoxy - not bitterness and dissent. The new generation of priests emerging around Australia gives the lie to Fr Hodgens' claims.