|Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury|
Leading the Church in the right direction
Published under a creative commons licence
A spokesman for the Diocese of Shrewsbury, though, said that the changes within the board of trustees were due to a new “rotational system” which had been introduced to “retain both experience and skills”. Those who had been relieved of their duties appear to have been the longest-serving trustees, which meant that they would be the first, as far as what I could make out from the article, to be 'rotated' to make room for newer members.
Speaking on behalf of the four former "lay trustees", John Mulholland (who is described in the article as "a retired Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service arbitrator and mediator" amongst other things) said that they were all “amazed” at having been dismissed, and were “dismayed” by the planned diocesan staff redundancies. Another former trustee of the Diocese of Shrewsbury, Veronica Clarke, who also happens to be "a solicitor for the Archdiocese of Liverpool", told the Tablet: “We have lost something of the diversity of representation, especially the voice for women in the diocese. I worry about the autocracy [of the decision].”
For far too long it seems to me that the Church has been a kind of alternative ‘state-sector’ employer in parts of the western world - employing far too many lay members of staff for what is needed. In that sense, and especially noting the economic situation that the UK is currently finding itself in, I feel that Bishop Davies is right to carefully steward the finances of his Diocese, even if that means cutting any unnecessary staff expenditure. Surely, he could ask one of his priests or a retired or generous lay volunteer to co-ordinate the Justice and Peace policy or Youth Ministry within his Diocese? In fact, I would go further and even question why our dioceses need such organisations, which are often a drain on their resources in the first place?
By now, I think most people probably assume that I am a bit of a traditionalist (which I am), so many may even think that I would be fundamentally opposed to those typically post-Vatican II J&P type movements or even to the very notion of a lay apostolate. But I am not. Such assumptions belie a misunderstanding of traditional Catholicism. Like Fr Ray Blake, I actually believe quite strongly in the Church’s Social Teaching - formulated in the nineteenth century by two of my heroes, Pope Leo XIII and Cardinal Manning. Like many bloggers, I also believe in the fundamental and absolutely necessary role of the laity when it comes to defending truth, proclaiming the Gospel and witnessing to the faith. In fact, it often seems to me that laypeople prior to the heady days of the 'spirit-of-Vatican-II' were far more active in promoting both the common good and the teachings of the Church than they are nowadays - though, thankfully, things are beginning to change for the better.
Sadly, though, it sometimes appears that organisations such as diocesan or national 'Justice and Peace' committees or youth ministries have now developed into burdensome, uninspiring, and rather expensive bureaucracies within the Church. Although I am sure that those who work for the Church within such organisations are very sincere and believe in what they are doing, I sometimes wonder whether some of them would continue to work as ‘non-stipendiaries’.
The whole thing about the way the Church is meant to operate, though, is that every Catholic should be living and promoting the Gospel – for free – out in the real world. A well-informed laity would be able to provide a real witness to justice and peace issues as well as support for the youth and those who seek guidance in other ways, such as married people, without the aid of diocesan committees or paid 'lay ministers'. By turning certain aspects of our Christian life into professional jobs for a few, all that we seem to be doing is clericalising a certain group of lay people. I am sure this was not the intention of the Second Vatican Council.
For some years, I ran – as a volunteer – a Justice & Peace group within the parish in which I then lived. With hindsight, I can now see how groups like the one I belonged to encourage dissent from Church teaching. I must confess that towards the end of my stint in the chair, I became rather disillusioned by the constant anger that many of my colleagues expressed towards orthodox Catholicism and / or the papacy. I was also often shocked by the fact that some within such organisations would openly advocate disobedience when it came to such matters as homosexuality, but didn’t seem that interested at all in defending the life of the unborn.
One of the main reasons I no longer attend groups such as the one I used to chair is because of the anti-Catholic (‘liberal’ or ‘socially progressive’) ideologies that seemed so central to the world-views of so many within them. I wanted to advance the real issues of justice and peace – such as defending my brothers and sisters throughout the world who are being persecuted for their faith or trying to save all those unborn children who are ‘terminated’ every day here in the UK. Many J&P groups, though, only seem to encourage the opposite.
As for Youth Ministries…! Well, I cannot think of anything more depressing than seeing a middle aged person trying to ‘get down with the kids’ by playing Taize CDs or strumming Kumbayah on the guitar. These kinds of situations in the modern Church are even more dispiriting when we know that most young adults are thirsting for an undefiled form of Catholicism – for the traditional Mass and profound devotions, such as Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Many young Catholics want a priest in a biretta, not an ageing hippy in a beanie hat! They want to explore their Christian vocation and individual callings to the priesthood, the religious life, the married life, the desert, and so on, rather than be encouraged (as I was when I was about 18 years old) to ‘go travelling and find yourself.’ Young people want to help the poor, care for the sick, and visit those who are outcast – and for that, they do not need a kind of paid guru to tell them how to do it. They just need a good old-fashioned parish priest, solid family and friends, and a deep and sacramental love for Christ.
No-one wants to see people lose their jobs, but I wish to commend Bishop Mark Davies – a man whom I greatly respect and admire – for at least daring to think outside the current ‘ecclesiastical box’. For too long, the Church appears to have been choked by a 'new clericalism' – one that consists of professional, paid lay Catholics. Of course, the Church will always need to pay people for their services – cleaners, secretaries, lawyers, accountants, maintenance workers, and the like – but why pay for laypeople to run ‘ministries’ that are far more suited to the priesthood in the first place?
As for diocesan trustees, I would have thought that a couple of priests, an accountant, and a lawyer would be all that was needed to advice a bishop regarding the financial and legal obligations of his diocese? Surely, a diocesan board of trustees isn’t meant to run ecclesiastical policy, as if it were some kind of synod, whereby its members have to be ‘diverse’ and 'representative'? One would also have thought that diocesan trustees, like most trustees of charities in England and Wales, offer their services as volunteers – which, if true, would mean that referring to the four or five former trustees from Shrewsbury as having been ‘sacked’ is probably a bit over-the-top.
For some time now, the Church in certain parts of the world has morphed from being a hospital for sinners and a school for saints, becoming a kind of ‘state-like’ bureaucracy instead. Many within the Church are also beginning to feel that most Catholics have been disenfranchised by the emergence of a new lay elite. Yes, parishes and dioceses must pay those whom they engage to provide necessary services, but is it necessary for lay people to co-ordinate ‘ministries’ that the Church’s full-time and ordained ministers – deacons, priests and bishops – can and should be able to run by themselves?