Frequent Questions and Challenges from across the Diocese
1. Why can’t we stay as we are? We are thriving as it is.
In his response to this myth, Steven Webb quoted some stark statistics from a 2014 report by the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society at St Mary’s University in Twickenham. It found that 56% of people raised as Catholics identified as Catholic in adulthood. This compares to over 70% in 1993. Moreover almost 50% of weekly or more mass attenders are aged 65+.
2. How can we cope with all these changes when we have a large property development on our doorstep?
Our population has been growing across Essex and East London for years but even with this significant increase in our population our church numbers have never matched the increase in general population. The last census in 2011 put the population in our diocese at 2,661,600 and in 2017 even by a conservative estimate it was at least 2,826,000. Our overall Mass attendance has not increased during that time. It remained steady until 2016 when it started to decline.
3. Why not just bring more foreign priests in?
According to the Pontifical Yearbook 2017 and the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae, our European ratio of people to priests is far, far better than India or Asia or Africa. It may be acceptable for us to accept priests from abroad when those places choose of their own volition to send priests to us to serve immigrant communities with some sort of national chaplaincy; it is far more questionable whether it is right for us to actively seek to deprive countries of their priests when they need them more than we do. Moreover, in recent years every one of our visas has been used. We do not have any margin to bring in many more foreign priests even if it were right so to do.
4. Why co-operate with the consultation exercise when it is a sham and the outcome a fait accompli?
I do not think Bishop Alan could have been any clearer about the fact that he wants to hear what parishioners have to say BEFORE he makes the difficult decisions that will fall to him as our bishop. Listening to people and hearing what they have to say DOES NOT necessarily mean that comments or suggestions will be agreed. Furthermore, even those that are agreed will not necessarily be implemented simply because Bishop Alan will have to look at the big picture across our diocese and do what he thinks is best for all of us.
5. Surely we just need to pray for vocations?
I agree entirely that we need to pray for vocations but this must be as well as this initiative (part of which is aimed at the promotion of vocations).
In Africa the growth in the number of Catholics has been 19.4% and the number of priests has increased almost as quickly by 17.4%. This demonstrates that priests tend to come from their home Catholic community and in Africa birth rates are far higher than they are here. One son out of several might get more encouragement from his family to listen for God’s call to serve as a priest. Our families tend to be smaller these days. Factor in also that we are losing young people (men and women) at an alarming rate and the position is compounded.
6. Could we ordain more married men?
I set aside the rights and wrongs of ordaining married men and focus simply on the total number of priests that we might expect. So, while at first sight this may seem like an attractive argument in numerical terms, one needs to exercise caution because there is no evidence to support it. However, the issue itself is outside our control. Some might pray that the Holy Father will allow married men to become priests and some might not but if it were in his heart today it would still take years to bring it to being and then many more years before any new married priests were ordained. We cannot justifiably plan for a scenario that shows no prospect of coming to pass and even if it did would be years in the making.
7. Could we ordain women?
Again the same points arise. We cannot justifiably plan for a scenario that shows no prospect of coming to pass and even if it did would be years in the making.
8. Change is necessary — but not here please
At worst this attitude is selfish; at best it assumes that ‘our parish’ is more special than ‘your parish’ and should be given preferential treatment. We need to move beyond this sort of defensive parochialism towards an attitude that wants to serve the common good. I would suggest that we need to move beyond thinking of our neighbour as people we are friends with and start to love the neighbours we do not know personally.
9. Is there any point in doing the renewal bit when we have a shortage of priests?
Africa and Asia are where our Catholic church is growing the most. They have a priest to people ratio that is over three times worse than ours. Every priest in Africa has about 3.5 times as many Catholics to minister to as a priest has here.Moreover, the distances those priests have to cover are huge by comparison, with far worse infrastructure and far fewer material resources. Yet it is in Africa and Asia that our church is finding a way to grow and to thrive.
Even if the forecast of having half as many priests as we have today comes to pass we will still have a much better ratio of priests to Catholics than they do in Africa today.We do not have to copy what happens there: indeed I don’t think we could or should but we should take heart from this statistic alone. We can and we should find new ways to use all of our time, talents and treasures for the greater glory of God and the salvation of humanity in our diocese.
Update following the Parish Meeting held on the 17th February 2018
Dear Fellow Parishioners
Once again, a thank you to those of you who attended the meeting and for the contributions you made to the debate.
For the benefit of those who attended and for those who were unable to come along, it was agreed that a summary of the key points raised would be made available to:
- Ensure that we have captured the important points and our feedback to the Diocese is reflective of our Parish’s views shared during the meeting.
- Inform those of you who were unable to attend and provide a further opportunity to make your views know.
As Bishop Alan said in his DVD message, it’s not too late to get involved and engage in the initiative.
Purpose of the Meeting
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the First Formal Proposal (FFP) issued by Bishop Alan and his team.
Structure of the Meeting
Following feedback on the Draft Working Plan provide by our parish and parishes throughout the Diocese, it was decided to continue with the two-part strategy for evangelisation, that is: Renewal and Restructuring.
At the meeting, both these aspects were discussed and below is a summary of the key points raised.
Renewal – 12 strand plan
It was noteworthy that despite the challenging proposal relating to restructuring and the significant impact this could have on how Parish is served in the future, there was a great deal of focus on and enthusiasm about Renewal and what we can do to become more effective evangelisers within our Parish community and the wider community in Southend.
This has been a constant characteristic from the very early stages of the SoG initiative.
The 12 strands of work for renewal are wide-ranging covering a broad range of initiatives to assist in the deepening and enlivenment of our faith as individuals and as a collective parish community. Some of the strands are supported at Diocesan level and others will need to be initiated at Parish level.
Whilst not each strand was discussed individually it was acknowledged that the SoG initiative has encouraged us to re-examine our response to many these specific areas.
This has already resulted in a redoubling of our effort in areas such as adult formation (strand 5-Frormation) and acted as a catalyst for new initiatives e.g. the formation of our Family Group (strand 4-Family) and in collaboration with neighbouring Parishes we are actively exploring the feasibility of employing a youth worker as a shared resource. (strand 11-Young People)
Deacon Richard shared with us information about the activities of the Vicariate for Education and his role within it. It was greatly encouraging to hear about the work which is being undertaken to assist the faith journey of our young people including the relocation of the BYCS to the redeveloped facilities at Abbotswick. It was suggested that this positive message should be shared more widely with the Parish. We will be asking Deacon Richard to assist us with this. (strand 11-Young People)
It was suggested that a Parish visit or possibly a retreat to Walsingham House at Abbotswick open to all parishioners should be arranged – Abbotswick is not solely for the use of our young people. (strand 7-Leaders)
The newly launched Bishop’s Certificate in Catechesis & Youth Ministry was referenced. The course is a series of on-line modules and one of our Catechesis’s has offered to explore the course. (strand 5-Formation)
Related to this, the need to encourage more young people to serve on our altar was raised (again) and how we could link this to our First Holy Communion Program.
The excellent relationship Fr Jeff has developed with St Thomas More School was mentioned and it was suggested that we could build on this platform to foster stronger ties between our Parish and the staff and students at the school. (strand 3-Education).
Whilst we are in many ways a thriving Parish and already active across several of the strands of work referenced in the FFP, there is more we could do. Furthermore, falling numbers of serving Priests is in part is driving the need for restructuring, and greater participation by the laity, particularly in leadership roles, in the daily life of our Parish will be essential. (strand 7-Leaders)
It is becoming increasingly clear that if we are to create real momentum across a broad spectrum of initiatives, we shall need to bring together a group of people with diverse skill and enthusiasm to make things happen. The formation of such a group was endorsed by the meeting. (strand 7-Leaders)
- There was considerable doubt expressed that it was physically possible for one priest to serve both Our Lady of Lourdes and St Peters.
- There was a fear that the workload would be overwhelming, placing an unreasonable and unsustainable burden on the Priest.
- Concern that St Peters would simply become “the other parish” and that the positive trajectory of St Peter’s would be halted and even reversed
- Concern also that the personal relationship with our Parish Priest would be lost if we no longer had a dedicated, resident Priest
- Serious consideration should be given by the Diocese to the gifting of St Peters as the permanent home of the Ordinariate, the Ministry of which has been a great success during the past 7 years
- A reduction in the aggregate number of Sunday Masses across the 2 parishes would lead to an increase in attendance per Mass and would exceed the seating capacity of the churches (Mass attendance 2016 – 426 plus 831 = 1257) 3 mass average of 400+
- The proposal is built around a “long-range forecast” of the (declining) number of serving Priests and concern were expressed regarding the reliability/accuracy of the forecasts. A process of ongoing revalidation of the plan should be put in place to recognise interim changes which may impact the forecast.
- We must have a positive outlook and consider new structures with open, generous hearts
- It is acknowledged that we must find new ways of working if we are to fulfil the Diocesan Mission
- The Diocese is building a support network as outlined in the 12 Renewal work strands to enable us to participate more fully in parish life and support our clergy. We as laity must step up, take advantage of these resources and embrace the opportunities we now have to shape our future.
- We need a strong leadership group and more active laity to make things happen
- Regardless of whether the proposal goes ahead we should look at ways of collaborating with Our Lady of Lourdes and other Parishes in our location. For example: shared worship & witness, joint charitable works, socially and so on. We should be acting on this now with the full endorsement of the respective Parish Priests.
- The Parish would like to extend our thanks to Bishop Alan for his courage in adopting the consultative approach and the opportunity for our voices to be heard
Next Steps in the process
- There was further meeting of Clergy and Stewards with Bishop Alan and his team at Brentwood on Saturday (24th February) when the FFP was discussed
- We will be submitting our formal feedback on the FFP to the Diocese by the end of March
- During Spring and Summer 2018 the Bishop and the Bishop’s Council will transform the FFP into a more developed document which shall be published in the Autumn
- Following further discernment and consultation, the final version of the Proposal will be published during Advent 2018
Next Steps for Us
- As the discernment process continues to guide us towards decision on the future structure of our Diocese, the (even more) important work of continuing our journey of Renewal must continue
- We need to continue and build on the good things we are already doing and find ways of embracing the 12-strand plan
The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few
- We all have a role to play - Prayer, reflection, dialogue and action
- We will continue to work together with Father Jeff to agree our priorities and what immediate steps we need to take together to ensure we create greater momentum
- Please pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us in our discernment to discover new ways to spread the joy of the Gospel
Steward of the Gospel