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Monday, October 24, 2016
Plans for successor to National Conference of Priests
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Plans for a successor to the National Conference of Priests of England and Wales (NCPEW) have been announced.  A working party is drawing up the new constitution on guidelines unanimously agreed by 30 priest representatives from across the 22 dioceses at their final meeting on 8-9 March.

Fr Tom Jordan (Brentwood) outgoing Chair and leader of the Review Group, initiated the review of the limping NCPEW and presented results of the consultation as a way of facing changed circumstances, with contemporary  diocesan councils of priests and ongoing formation provision vastly improved from when the NCPEW began 39 years ago.

Fr David Mills (Clifton) presented the Review Group's proposals, formulated after extensive consultation with all priests and Bishops of England and Wales over the last 18 months. They represented the clear desire of most priests for some kind of national voice, for when it is needed, but also an increasing strain on priests' time to manage the old style conference.

Ingredients outlined for the new conference include: the new body would have 22 diocesan members, one from each of the dioceses in England and Wales. Each member would either be the chairman, or a representative chosen by the council of priests in each diocese.

A possible name for the new body could be the Association of Priests of England and Wales (APEW).

The new body would seek to hold two meetings annually - each meeting would last one day. At meetings, issues of common interest would be discussed and good practice shared. Meetings would be held on dates to allow issues of general concern to be raised with the Bishops' Conference agenda planning procedures.

The General Secretary of the Bishops' Conference would be the liaison person between the new body and the Bishops' Conference.

The two annual meetings would identify topics of general interest or concern for a biannual conference open to all priests in England and Wales. The biannual conference would be shorter than the old NCPEW annual conference and focus on inspiration and sharing good practice.    

Shared admin at the Bishops' Conference offices in Eccleston Square would enable the biannual conference to be adequately resourced. The new organisation will be funded in the same way as the old NCPEW.

Fr Tony Slingo, outgoing vice chair and press officer, said: "'Critical Solidarity' is the name of the game. The new arrangements will enable our mission as ordained servants to better hold together the healthy tensions of local dioceses and national strategies, independence and collegiality, true diversity and essential unity."

"The focus of mission has to be the local diocese" said Fr Tom Jordan, "but this new national body can build on priests commitment to their own council of priests, and enable it to benefit the needs of priests and mission nationally."

Fr Marcus Stock, General Secretary of the Bishops' Conference, welcomed the new proposals: "This new body is a great opportunity, with a lot to be positive and optimistic about. It combines a realism and a constructive way for Bishops and priests to engage together on key strategic issues."

The working group comprises: Fr David Mills, Fr John Cole (Archdiocese of Cardiff), Fr Marcus Stock (General Secretary Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales) and a delegate of the Bishops yet to be nominated.

Bishop John Arnold described the new proposals as "courageous steps...something to be proud of...not just reinventing but the next chapter in the unity needed for the building up of the Kingdom of God in all its diversity."

The text follows of the address by Fr Tom Jordan - outgoing chairman and leader of the Review Group, given at the NCPEW Extra Ordinary Meeting on 8-9 March.

For 39 years priests of England and Wales have met annually in conference at various times and venues. Today this extra ordinary meeting has been called so as explain to diocesan delegates how the Standing Committee and Review Working group have come to their decisions.

When I became chairman over three years ago the theme that our conference choose was 'earthen vessels called to holiness.'   A three year title to grapple with our call to holiness in the home and family, priesthood and ministry. It became very clear to me that an underlying current of change was taking place in society and the church and that our conference had to address this transition. My reflections centred on 'hope for the future' and 'reading the signs of the times.' Collectively these have been my focus in consultation sought and decisions made.

Right from the outset of my chairmanship there were clear signs that all was not well with our conference. Fewer delegates participating, priests councils unable or unwilling to elect or nominate delegates, a perception that communication between our conference and Bishops' Conference was lacking. A general lack of interest, energy and motivation among clergy given our present structure; the French and Irish Conferences closing and the rescheduling of an International meeting for English speaking priests from London to Toronto, Canada have all contributed to where we are today. The resignation of our previous General Secretary with the challenges and difficulties with continunity also caused frustration.

In May and June of 2007 informal discussions began about a review. At the 2007 Conference the Review was born out of questions relating to regional meetings. Why have them? Why are Standing Committee representatives elected from the six geographical regions? What is the elected member responsible for and to whom? How does each diocese view the NCPEW? What are the positive and negative perceptions that priests have of the NCPEW? How are representatives elected/appointed/coerced/volunteered? Do diocese accept that their reps are ex-officio members of their Priests' Councils? There was much to take in and plans to be made as a result of the answers.

In October of 2007 our Standing Committee discussed a structure for a review. The following spring and summer saw meetings with the Grubb Institute take place. Our 2008 Conference discussed the review process and questions to be put to Dioceses of England and Wales. By October the Bishops' Conference were engaged, but here process and communications faltered.

In March of 2009 the Standing Committee took the executive decision to postpone the 2009 Conference to allow the Standing Committee the necessary time for the Review. By April the Bishops discussed our concerns and questions and a series of meetings between the Review Working Group and the Bishops' Conference took place. Their remarks and suggestions were most helpful.

In September last year the Standing Committee ratified the decisions that had been made and our proposals were placed before the Bishops once more. In November these were accepted in principle and further meetings took place in January and February of this year. So we are here today.

For me the past 18 months have been hard in trying to communicate with diocese for responses to our review questions. In some places they were discussed; in others they reached the paper bin. A year ago the Cardinal requested that I remain in office to see through the review. When asked, other members of the Standing Committee agreed to do likewise. This was a great support to me and I record once more my heart felt thanks to them for their wisdom, insight, friendship and encouragement.

We are now entering new territory, as a registered charity with specific constitutional aims. Born out of the Bishops' Conference, we had to engage with them for their views. They have a responsibility within the process. Our facilitator, the Grubb Institute had accomplished what they had intended; namely that decisions about our future had to come from within the Conference and Standing Committee and not from a secular body like Grubb.

Finally, while we have discussed and debated our future over the past 18 months, the Pope calls for a 'Year for Priests' and accepts an invitation to visit our country. Our focus has been on the priesthood and how our voice is heard at diocesan and national level. Times have changed; we too need to change. I am convinced that the future voices of priests from all theological persuasions, cultures and traditions will be heard in a new and vibrant way for the good of the Church we strive to serve.

My brothers, I commend the proposals for your approval.


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Tags: Fr David Mills, Fr John Cole, Fr Marcus Stock, Fr Tom Jordan, National Conference of Priests of England and Wales, NCPEW

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