Today's short commentary by Fr Eugene Stockton was originally addressed to the priests of his own Deanery in the Parramatta Diocese. It logically flows on from a series of commentaries he wrote and which we published back in 2013 arguing for a continuing renewal of the priesthood [LINK]. His stronger call in this commentary has been prompted by the recent revelations flowing from the Royal Commission in Australia and the recent revelations of a continuing exit from the pews. What he writes in this short commentary deserves wider circulation than to just priests in one Deanery of one Diocese. How many other priests across this nation might take up this call and help restore a bit of morale to the institution in this country? ...Brian Coyne, Editor
The time has come for us priests to re-invent ourselves.
by Fr Eugene Stockton
The time has come for us priests to re-invent ourselves. The Royal Commission into the Sexual Abuse of Children has shown up a clerical culture that can perpetrate and cover up shameful crimes. What can be done now? To do nothing is to acquiesce silently in what has gone before.
The Gospel injunction is a start: "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" [Matt. 3:1-2, 4:17]. Repent does not mean breast-beating but a change of heart and mind, opening up to what is new, recognising the signs of the times.
The shock of the Royal Commission is one such sign. So also the sad realisation that most Catholics have turned away from the Church, many blaming the faults of priests: instances of clergy scandal, poor preaching and theology, seignorial standing, aloofness, consumerist life style. There is too the sign of the shortage of vocations: if God is the One who calls, is the message to us now that a different kind of priest is called for. Or has the once noble ideal since lost its savour?
As seminarians we learnt that Ordination imprinted on the recipient a special character or mark which lasts forever. Some imagined this made the priest ontologically distinct from others. He is the alter Christus, special above the rest of humanity. The adulation he received at Ordination and thereafter reinforced the difference. Distinctive attire, titles, abode added to his special standing in the Catholic community. The feudal structure of the parish in the diocese, with the "Lord of the Manor" owing allegiance and accountable to the "Sovereign", and not to the "peasants", gives the parish priest a leadership which holds back leadership among the laity. The old image of the priest has been shattered by the recent revelations and now he is more often the object of suspicion.
I experienced a different kind of priesting in my involvement with urban Aborigines. The Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, modelled on local Aboriginal Medical and Legal Services, was managed through elected officers by the local indigenous Catholics, who might seek outside expertise (priests, religious) for the services on offer. My designation was changed from Chaplain to Priest Assistant to the ACM. Personally my main objective was to foster Aboriginal leadership in various fields. Later as Parish Priest of Riverstone I experimented in applying this experience to parish ministry, with notable success.
A proposal for a change in thinking...
I propose that now the ideal is that the parish community be run by the parishioners through an elected Pastoral Council and Management Team. Rather than heading the parish, the priest may rather see himself as a missionary (as in parish missions or overseas missions) coming in to challenge and stir, announcing the coming of the kingdom. He is the wise Elder (presbyter), discerning and guiding those who are active in the parish, counselling those in need. At the invitation of the community, his particular task is teaching doctrine and administering the sacraments, where possible with the co-operation of lay ministers. The ideal is that the parish, the local church, be the Body of Christ in this place, with all its diverse members fully exercising the charisms imparted to them by the Holy Spirit.
Eugene Stockton, submitted to catholica, 22 May 2017
Landmarks is an exploration of an Australian spirituality. Drawing on the cultural influences now in our land, it offers a graded, comprehensive presentation of gospel teachings, with an Australian diction and imagery. The reader may find in it fresh insights into traditional spiritual themes. Each theme is introduced in terms of an 'Australian setting', focusing on one particular aspect of the Australian experience. The body of each chapter analyses that experience, exploring the parallels with its biblical counterpart. The bible is used, not as a book about God or a store of normative texts, but as the story of a people, who are our spiritual ancestors. The attempt is made to insert ourselves into that story, with all its ups and downs, to identify our own experience in its unfolding, and through it to catch the vision of God which the past projects onto our present and future.