Westminster unveils plans for diocesan consultation

 Westminster's plans for a diocesan-wide consultation were unveiled at a press conference in Vaughan House this morning. Vicar General Fr John Arnold explained that the process 'Graced by the Spirit' was the second stage in Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's plan for the spiritual and pastoral renewal of the diocese. As a result of the first consultation in 2002, in which meetings were held with priests and religious, and a consultation with the laity took place (1,100 laypeople sent in written responses), Fr Arnold explained, the At Your Word Lord programme had been introduced. That programme is now entering the second of five seasons and will conclude in Autumn 2005. Under the second phase, there will be further consultations throughout the diocese with priests, religious, chaplaincies, diocesan agencies, and new movements. A steering committee has been established consisting of Fr John Arnold, Fr Norbert Fernandez, Fr Michael Lambert and Fr Peter Harris. Feedback from the consultation will be compiled and studied by an analysis group, chaired by Pat Jones, deputy director of CAFOD, Peter Howarth, a serving police officer, Clare Barbour, who has been involved with many activities at Westminster Cathedral and school, and Jim Stifter, a retired business journalist, connected with At Your Word Lord, with Fr Charles Cahill and Fr John Arnold. This group will bring out a Green Paper around April 2005. A diocesan-wide review of the Green Paper, with opportunities to submit comments, will take place between April and June 2005. The White Paper presenting strategies for the future of the diocese should be ready by September 2005. Fr Arnold said the consultation was a response to the Holy Father's invitation in Novo Millenio Adveniente, which called for all dioceses to re-examine their pastoral and spiritual plans. He said: "we are one of the last dioceses to look at a project like this and we can draw on the experience of others who have already dealt with these issues." Westminster faced the challenges of a shifting Catholic population, Fr Arnold said. He pointed out that, for example, the East End, which once had a large Catholic population, now had a very small one, while the north and west areas are seeing an increase in the number of Catholics. There was also a declining number of priests, he said, with the number of priests retiring exceeded numbers being ordained. But, he pointed out, the shortage was not as critical in England as it was in some other places. "We still have one of the highest percentages of priests to parishioners in the world" he said. Tim Livesey, Cardinal Cormac's public affairs advisor, said: "One thing I think will emerge is that we will recognise the giftedness of the laity. We will have to ensure that they have the resources of the diocese behind them. As we look for a larger commitment we may well be looking at more salaried personnel." He pointed out that Westminster already has a considerable number of lay people in administrative posts. Fr Arnold said: "before we make any decisions at all we will study the results carefully. That is the whole purpose of this consultation. Some say things have already been decided - but that's not true. It's an open book." Westminster is encouraging as many people as possible to take part in the consultation. If you would like to express your views, contact your own parish; write to info@indcatholicnews.com or e-mail Fr John Arnold on: johnarnold@rcdow.org.uk

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