WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Bishops reject part-time priests proposal

Bishop Julian Porteous of Sydney says the Pope would never allow part-time priests, as Fr Hodgens suggests.

The Catholic Weekly reports that Bishop Julian Porteous said part-time priesthood represents a radical departure from the concept of priestly vocation and is not the answer to the reduced number of priests in the Church.

‘I can never see the Pope allowing a part-time priesthood,’ he said.

Bishop Porteous stressed that priesthood was ‘not a job or profession or part-time activity’.

‘A priest by virtue of ordination becomes a priest in his whole being,’ he said. In the short term the Church was dealing with low numbers by creating partner parishes and encouraging lay people to become more involved, he said.

‘Lay people are taking on more active roles in the Church,’ he said. ‘They are being employed in things such as sacramental and youth ministry which can really help parish priests with their loads.’ Bishop Porteous said he was confident the number of men wanting to be ordained in Australia would rise. ‘In the last four years our numbers have doubled in the Good Shepherd seminary in Sydney and last year the Perth archdiocese ordained nine priests.

‘It’s certainly not impossible to see that there will be an increase in younger priests in the long term,’ he said.

Haemorrhage – no

Meanwhile, Archbishop John Dew says the decline in priest numbers is natural attrition rather than a hemorrhage. He says it is obvious that priests are aging and some are rightly wishing to retire from active ministry. And the priesthood does not have the same numbers as it had in the 1950s and 1960s. But to say this is a hemorrhage makes it sound as though priests are leaving the ministry in droves, which is simply not the case.

The Wellington Archdiocese has been working for the past decade on the formation of pastoral areas in preparation for the day when there are not enough priests for every parish. A formal decree was published in October 2003 to this effect. It said:

should any parish in a given pastoral area no longer have a parish priest, then pastoral care for that parish and for the other parish(es) in the area becomes the shared responsibility of the area pastoral team ….

(Decree, 1.10.2003)

The archdiocese began the Launch Out formation programme some five years ago to train lay people to work with priests in pastoral areas.

The first Launch Out graduates are already working in the community: Jackie Jansen began work late last year as a chaplain at Arohata Women’s Prison and Cushla Quigan was appointed last February to work alongside Msgr Charles Cooper in Petone and Eastbourne parishes.

Archbishop John also takes issue with Eric Hodgens’ claim that ‘priesthood is no longer a life-long vocation’.

‘There is no way we can say that priesthood is no longer a life-long vocation. There would be no sense of commitment at all if men went into priesthood with the attitude that it is not for life.

‘I certainly believe it’s a life-long vocation, priests believe that when they’re ordained and commit themselves to it.’

Archbishop John agrees with Bishop Julian Porteous that part-time and weekend priests would never be allowed.

‘We have wonderful opportunities to work collaboratively, as we must, in order to use the rich and varied gifts given to all the baptised for building the reign of God.’

(cf 1 Cor 12:4-7).

‘The Catholic tradition is profoundly sacramental, centred on the Eucharist as the source and summit of life. Priests have a unique and irreplaceable role in presiding over the sacramental life of the Christian community.

‘The ordained priesthood and the priesthood of the laity are not at the expense of one another. Each has its own dignity and purpose. Each needs the other.

‘We have wonderful opportunities in the Archdiocese of Wellington to help one another through our promotion of collaborative ministry and the establishment of pastoral areas.

Fr Hodgens says that we need to think outside the square. Archbishop John says that the archdiocese is already doing this through the time, energy and financial resources being invested in training lay leaders to work in teams with priests in pastoral areas.