Report from the National Conference of Priests 2001

 Trinity & All Saints College, Leeds 3 - 7 September Opening Session - Monday, 3 September The representatives and observers were welcomed by the Principal of Trinity & All Saints College, Dr. Michael Coughlan. He reminded the assembly of the origins of the College in the once revolutionary concept of two teacher training colleges, one for men and one for women, on the same campus. Times change! In wishing representatives a successful conference he said, "We'll do our best to deal with your practical needs, but if this gathering can't cope with its own spiritual needs there's little hope for the rest of us!" On behalf of the Leeds diocese, Mgr. Kieran Heskin welcomed NCP home (reminding us that the first NCP was held down the road in Wood Hall in 1970. He brought also the good wishes of Bishop Konstant, who was particularly sad not to be able to attend the conference in the year when it was in his diocese. As a member of the Catholic Theological Association of Great Britain he had suffered the minor inconvenience of seeing their conference slot taken by the NCP. But our discussion of "Priesthood - Dying and Rising" would serve as a good preparation for their own study the following week of "Paradise - Our Once and Future End". Among the practical announcements, the election of Kevin Pelham as Executive Secretary in succession to Fr. Ray Lyons (who steps down after this conference) and of John Paul Leonard as Treasurer was made. Tony Wilcox then gave his opening presidential address. We need to hold together the personal and the collegial dimensions of our ministry. On the one hand we are all in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ~, which needs to be nurtured day-by-day (much as a manage relationship) - "Christ gives the invitation to his brother priest to rise from the dead every day ... in prayer and willing service" But the presbyter is also a member of a presbyterium, a brotherhood of workers at the coal-face: "my priesthood will only develop and survive and mature with Christ and the mutual support of my fellow priests." And just as previous generations of clergy survived the challenges of their day by investing time in each other, so it must be in our day: "During the next ten years there are going to be new strategies for the Church. THE resources above all others is the priesthood. So my plea at this Conference is for that unity of the priesthood for which Christ our brother prayed. We are not a trades union, we are not a professional organisation We are not an officers' mess. Rather we are bound together in the Lord ... So I am proud of being a priest, and I urge my brothers to be proud of their priesthood, and remember that prayer of our brother when he prayed for us: Love one another, he commanded, and may your joy be complete." Tuesday Morning - Keynote Address by Gerard Egan: Effective Leadership in Ministerial Settings Our keynote address was given by Fr. Gerard Egan, a priest of the Chicago Archdiocese and for 25 years a member of faculty at Loyola University, where he taught first psychology and then management. He began with a story about his first appointment to a parish where he found himself spending two whole days ministering to a man who turned out to be a conman. Some might commend him for his desire to serve someone apparently in need, but he came to realise that what he had been doing was neither effective nor efficient. Rather than being Christ-like, it was just stupid. He told us that his starting point was a "Creationist Theology" - assuming the goodness of everything that is not evil, and assuming the relevance of secular skills to the task of preaching the Gospel. Healing implies something bruised or broken; and this brokenness is often accompanied by a feeling of helplessness which makes things worse. But healing has many different levels: personal or self-healing, parish, agency, deanery, regional, diocesan, national and Universal. However, our society neglects the life-skills that are needed to bring about healing - skills of interpersonal communication, relationship building, emotional intelligence, problem-spotting and management, opportunity spotting and development, parenting People are not educated in problem-solving, it being left to chance whether they pick up these skills. In the same way, we neglect management-skills, of making things work, "becoming savvy" (knowing how things really work), managing change, creativity. To be a healer is to become a catalyst in the Creation and fostering of Christian Community. There are skills that enable this, too. They' are not esoteric nor lodged solely in business schools. And of course these skills also are good, as pan of Creation. Healing demands a leadership role from ministers - but this role also typically remains ill-defined. Leadership and management are distinct. Good managers keep the place humming; but leaders make it better. Ecclesia semper reformanda (placed at the heart of Vatican Ii's theology) implies recognition of the need to make it better: there is no period when the Church could not be better! Headship and leadership are also distinct: not every head of a ministerial organisation is a leader. Headship is about authority and position, whereas leadership is about results. The essence of leadership is the achievements of results beyond the ordinary. And we in the Church should be committed to excellence (since we have the deepest possible motivation for our work). The essence of leadership as the combination of creative ideas (a steady flow of business-enhancing ideas); screening (helping to evaluate and pick the best ideas for implementation); notation (embedding best ideas in projects that move the community forward); selling (getting team-members to buy into and own the project); climate (creating a work-climate that supports innovative efforts); persistence (moving viable projects forward until they actually add value). Leaders are not super-heroes. They do not do all of the above. Leaders have collaborators, not followers. Leaders are catalysts. Fr. Egan offered four classic leadership "frameworks". A first approach focuses on designing, running and taking the pulse of the system - how to make things work in the first place. A second type of approach is focused on initiating wad managing innovation wad change: leaders recognise what's broken and get collaborators to fix it, constantly seeking "best practice". A third line of attack is concerned with managing the shadow-side of the system: Fr. Egan spoke at some length about this. Studies have shown that it is those organisations that deny that there is politics in the system that is most ridden with politics. This applies to the Church in particular. All organisations have a "culture" which determines how things are done (positively or negatively. The shadow in an organisation is not "the evil, mean stuff' but everything which is never discussed in formal meetings or infora in which anything could be done to change things. Avoiding politics is not an option so long as there are issues of power and ideological conflicts to face: life is political. The choice is between negative politics (concerned with what I want/getting a bigger slice of the cake) and positive politics (looking at an agenda which would benefit the Church but is open to debate). Cynicism is a major part of the shadow side of any organisation. A fourth framework for leadership is communication and relationship-building, i.e. the skills of dialogue. Again, these ought to be essential but are often left to chance. Institutions ought to make dialogue central but are often bad at it. It involves a commitment by both interlocutors not only to such simple steps as taking turns in speaking and getting connected, but also an openness to being influenced by the other and a commitment to co-create the outcome. All of these approaches are needed if we wish to heal the institution in which we minister But in applying management skills to actual situations we shall need to apply different templates or models, according to the type of community and its need. "To do things well we need a sense of Church as it is and a capability of discovering what it could be, because there is no institution in the world that could not be better than it is." Parish "templates" (or models) help people to ask: what are we flying to do here? Where are we going? What values are we using to get to where we want to go? These models suggest ways of acting here-and-now to face problems and opportunities that arise. Management theory helps people to focus on the question: What do we want? In the parish situation, rather than the organisation being concerned with "profit" or "shareholder value", our aim is a dynamic balance holding together parishioners as providers and parishioners as receivers in the creation of Christian community. The sought outcome is the creation of Christian community. But this requires attention to different areas: strategy (What services are needed? What adds value? Are we doing the right things?), operations (the practical work that is done to get from A to B; how to make the aspirations we have real; how to get things done effectively), structure (Who is going to do what?) and human resources (Who is available and whom do we need?) Organisations should be set up to serve the business in hand, but the tendency is for the due order to be reversed: organisations tend to serve themselves. The temptation is to change structures and ignore the prior strategic and operational questions. The second half of the morning was spent in small groups considering Fr. Egan's input and reflection on questions of how we face and manage change in our own pastoral ministry. In a plenary session in the afternoon representatives were then able to raise questions and offer feedback on his contribution. In the afternoon, in response to questions from members of the conference, Fr. Egan amplified his ideas. Tuesday Evening - Discussion of the Future of Seminaries: The conference divided into 10 groups to discuss the proposition put forward by the Standing Committee that the NCP collaborate with the Bishops' Conference Committee on Seminaries set up under the chairmanship of Bishop Malcolm MacMahon. Each group drew up a memorandum, set out separately. Wednesday Morning - Address by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor: The State of the Church in England & Wales The Conference welcomed Cardinal Cormac (who attended the original NCP at Woodhall in 1970). He decided to offer a big brush view of the problems and opportunities facing the Church in our countries today. He took as a refrain Ps. 137: "How can we sing the song of the Lord on an alien soil?" For the land in which we live can at times seem an alien land, with the divine displaced to the periphery, God seen as a threat to human freedom, and refuge taken in consumerism. illusory concepts of freedom have to be countered by the offer of the true freedom that Jesus Christ alone offers. The Cardinal referred back to his recent lecture on "a world without a Father". He noted the lack of secure basis for moral reasoning in our culture. Christianity has almost been vanquished as such a backdrop. In its place, new, sometimes contradictory currents have emerged - New Age, occultism, the questing of young people, Environmentalism. Yet in our "alien soil" the same perennial questions recur - of meaning and the search for transcendence. And we find ourselves caught up in the vast contradictions of the technologised world, in which the rich get ever-richer and the poor ever-poorer. Even among the affluent we do not see an increase of happiness in our society. Once the adage, "we are what we have", is accepted we are in deep trouble as a society. Meanwhile the ethical problems raised e.g. by bio-technological advances pile up. And in the West only the Judaeo-Christian tradition can offer adequate responses to the questions posed: all life is in the image and likeness of God; it is not to be abused at whim. We have to offer to society the wisdom our tradition, singing the song of God's presence in mystery, memory and example. We have to face the future with confidence, but this demands that we face the past and present with honesty and compassion. Many deny Christian values. Many are dispirited. In the Church dwindling Church attendance and dwindling numbers of clergy and religious lead to discouragement. Great damage has been done by the shame of child-abuse by clergy and other Church members. In the past we were unaware of the insidious nature of child-abuse. Now we can make the Church the safest possible place for children. The Roman Catholic Church must become an example of best practice here (and the follow-through of the Nolan Report is therefore important). Although there has been some concern about false allegations being made, the adoption of the Nolan recommendations will actually offer the greatest protection to clergy as well as to young people. Regarding the shortage of vocations to the celibate priesthood, the Cardinal felt that this was less about celibacy than a crisis of faith. The Church needs to ask in general of its ministry: Why have we not been able to find where people "itch" - where they connect with a yearning for meaning and hope in their lives? Among the young, there is a willingness to sacrifice themselves for an end. So how to Duc in attain, "putting out into the deep" (Lk 5, quoted by JPIII in Novo Millennio Ineunte)? Looking back across the period since the reestablishment of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy in 1850, it has been governed by two models, the Triumphalism of Wiseman's From Out of the Flaminian Gate and the humbler desire to "look after our own" in his later Appeal to the Good Reason and Fairness of the English People. But these two models are no longer adequate: the Roman Catholic community is no longer at the periphery of national life. Rather, it punches above its weight and will do so more and more. Our convictions need to be heard and are listened to in matters of moment. To make sense of our call to hope, evangelisation and mission, we need, firstly, a prayer-life that is real, with deep faith and passion (cf Lk 12.49). Our talk of Jesus Christ must be meaningful for people. That is the ultimate answer we give, after all - God's unconditional sacrifice for us in Jesus Christ. We must speak of the commandments, not as chaining us up but as setting people free. So our liturgies must be joyful and transformative. Secondly, there is a greet need for community (and especially for small communities). Most Roman Catholics in the future will need to belong to small communities - listening together to the Word of God, reflecting on it in relation to their lives, and praying. The question all must face is: What must I do to live a deeper Christian life? Small communities can revolutionise parishes and the wider Church. New movements are therefore to be encouraged. but they will find their rightful place only when parishes themselves become more clearly "movements". If we are the little flock, our Church will be more open to the world, quietly and bravely witnessing as "the city on a hill' or "the leaven in the lump'. Any strategy for the future must seek to retain and develop the parish as a community of communities. It is here that people are prepared to become evangelists. Maybe parishes will be more loosely configured (much as mission stations in Africa are more broadly based with multiple centres of operation and many catechists and leaders nourished from the centre). Parishes are associated with a settled Church, whereas mission stations are more dynamic. Thirdly, education is needed: How are we equipping parishioners to evangelise and catechise? All parishes must have a team working with the priest. These people themselves need formation. Are we equipping them for their task? We have many useful tools to help us take the lead in teaching in parishes. We must do this effectively. Fourthly, our life must involve reaching out to the poor, seeking to be a voice for the voiceless (and the example of Lord Longford comes to mind, whose life was grounded in dally reading of the Gospels, which is what gave him the freedom to face the opposition his opinions provoked). In the years ahead, this outline must be fleshed out. We must change the culture of the Church in England and Wales. Are we brave enough to do it? We can and we should. Each priest should speak out for what is true. People do wish to hear what traditional morality says, even if they cannot live up to it. This is very important today. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks goes so far as to speak of the erosion of the communitarian model of society in favour of independent, selfish living as "a bomb planted at the centre of our moral life". We must prepare the young for relationships, support couples, speak out on life issues - "We don't have all the answers, but we do have the right questions". We must enunciate the simple wisdoms we receive from our faith in the face of issues as diverse as consumerism and the refugee crisis. People want to hear our witness, even if they dislike what we say. We must also acknowledge that there is alien soil in our own lives. God may lead us into the wilderness and leave us with a void we are tempted to fill with half-believed platitudes, yet the Pope's letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, with its call to holiness struck a chord among the Cardinals gathered for the consistory in Rome this year: "Stand firm and do not waiver in your emptiness," wrote Meister Eckhart At his installation the Cardinal had paraphrased Pope John XXIII's speech at the opening of Vatican II: "I have no time for prophets of doom This is a new era and we should sing a new song. The Church will continue, having been tried through the ages. So this is a good time to be a priest. We should continue to witness, preparing for mission in the new context. And above all, as the New Testament reminds us, we are called to be disciples. The Cardinal finished by quoting Timothy Radcliffe OP's sermon on St. Catherine of Sienna: "Today the love of the Church is often assumed to mean an uncritical silence. One must not "rock the boat"! But St. Catherine could never be silent. She wrote to some cardinals, "Be silent no longer. Cry out with a hundred thousand voices. I see that the world is destroyed through silence. Christ's spouse is pallid, her colour has been drained from her." May St. Catherine teach us her deep love of the Body of Christ, and the wisdom and courage to speak truthfully and openly with words that unite rather than divide, which illuminate rather than obscure, and which heal rather than wound." Question-Time: After a coffee-break, representatives were able to dialogue with the Cardinal on various issues of concern, ranging from whether Holidays of Obligation could be moved to Sundays, to the place of New Religious Movements, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the celebration of the Sacrament of the Sick, lay formation and dialogue with people of other faiths. On Holidays of Obligation - yes, they could in theory be transferred to the neighbouring Sundays if there were a groundswell in favour of this, though the bishops had considered this in the recent past. On New Movements in the Church, these are seen by JPII as positive, gathering enthusiastic Christians who are willing to be counted. However, there is a danger of building a church within the church. They must find their rightful place within the community of the faithful. All our communities must have some aspiration to be involved in evangelisation. It is in small communities that life happens. Yet the new movements tend to have the flavour of the culture from which they come. It is interesting to observe the progress of charismatic movements maturing into broader Church involvement. In general, evangelisation by groups comes from below. It is important to put things in the right order: before we can invite "lapsed" or "resting" Catholics to return to practice of the sacraments, we must renew their faith. The Church of the future will be a diaspora church, bound together by small communities over-and-above attendance at Sunday Mass. Without such support being a Catholic Christian will be very difficult. The same applies also to priests, who also needs communities of support. Regarding the renewal of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, priests spoke of the collapse of practice, with First Holy Communion candidates rarely making their "second confession" and very few signs of enthusiastic use of the Church apart from some pilgrimage settings. The Cardinal said there was need for Rite One for some people, although Rite Two could be used with great success in Advent and Lent and on other special occasions. Rite Three ought to remain exceptional (e.g. for use during a parish mission). The question remained: How to convince people of sin? What is sin for people today? He had been greatly moved by Cardinal Martini's reflection on Lk 5.1-li, which provides a model of the reconciling encounter: praise of God leads to acknowledgement of fault. We need to be imaginative in helping people return to the sacrament. The question of how our Catholicism, for which the concept of tradition is so important, could survive in a society so characterised by discontinuities (from rejection of parental mores at adolescence to mobility of population to break-down of the nuclear family and so many people living solitary lives). The Cardinal felt that the only response could be that of St. Francis: not so much saying "Come and follow me" but, 'This is how I want to live" - in other words, witness to who we are and what we live by. Small communities can provide encouragement and leadership in the midst of brokenness. But we have not realised in the Church quite how thoroughly our Christian language has been jettisoned by ordinary people. Our situation is akin to that of Paul on the Aeropagus. Parishes have the task of themselves offering parables of community and celebration for people whose lives are far from celebratory (perhaps by gestures as simple as shared meals and parties). Confusion about the sacrament of the sick was raised, with many people persisting in thinking of it as The Last Rites. Should it not be linked more closely with the Sacrament of Reconciliation? The Cardinal felt there was a danger of reducing the sacrament by indiscriminate celebration of it with people not seriously ill. There were questions of formation and good practice to be considered here, and work was needed both at the local level and nationally. Dialogue with people of other faiths was raised this often had its starting point in tragedy but would be increasingly important in the future of society. However, the Cardinal felt that the most promising ground was not shared faith but the shared social morality we have in common. One last area of sacramental practice raised was the risk of confusion of "Eucharistic Services" in the absence of a presbyter with celebration of the Eucharist per Se. The Cardinal remarked that he had some concern in this area. These "Eucharistic services" had been devised for parishes which had no access to a priest on Sunday and were not principally intended for weekday prayer services in parishes. It was necessary for further reflection to take place on the appropriateness of current practice.

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