The official structures of the Catholic Church encourage consultation but are opposed to the actual participation of church members in decision-making. This is a problem for pastoral planners who work on the principle of collaboration in decision-making—the baptismal principle that those affected by a decision need to be involved in making the decision.
Fr Neil Darragh has taught at the Catholic Institute of Theology in Auckland and the School of Theology at the University of Auckland, has written a number of books and has a special interest in eco-theology and public theology.
He told the Pastoral Planners Network conference in Wellington last month that attitudes to Sunday Eucharist are still a key marker to whether people feel they belong to the church. But, whereas in the past most people left the church angry, today they are more likely to leave it bored.
He said there is a resistance among Pakeha women to sexist language in Sunday Eucharist. We can assume that if we lose the mothers we’ve probably lost the whole family.
Fr Darragh said that pastoral planners need to be very aware of structural deficiencies within the church itself and a major one is the upstairs/downstairs mentality—the problem of clericalism which seems to be increasing rather than decreasing in today’s church.
With the impact that immigration was having on church congregations, Dr Darragh said cultural pluralism required us to change the way we plan our local churches. Yet a hierarchical mentality cannot cope with pluralism.
The church’s mission in society is to engage with other groups and institutions for the wellbeing of everyone in society. A key focus for this mission today is negotiating a new social consensus out of the cultural and religious pluralism that now characterises our societies in New Zealand and Australia.
‘The church is about participating in the reign of God—working for a peaceful and just society.’
He suggested to the pastoral planners that they might do an audit of their plan and ask themselves a number of questions—‘Where does your pastoral plan contribute to justice and equity in society and does it witness to and incorporate the Christian ideal of living simply?’ and ‘Does your planning engage in appreciative and critical relations with other religions?’
New Zealand and Australian society cannot continue to assume that religions don’t matter. And Catholics cannot assume that they are in competition with other religions. We need cooperation among religions to ensure a just and peaceful society.
Other issues that should be in a planning audit included how we take account of such environmental issues as air pollution, water use, climate change, biodiversity, the use of land, oceans and energy, biosecurity and transport.