Nature of ministry is the elephant in the room

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Viewed overall, the state of the Church is not too encouraging. In the space of a single generation, the deepening dearth of priests will lead to the collapse of the entire structure of parish administration, says Fr Michael Kelly SJ in a speech delivered at St Mary's Church, North Sydney, on Thursday, and published in Eureka Street.

And I cannot see sufficient courage or creativity among those who have assumed responsibility for running the Church as an institution to find some real alternatives or at least to systematically prepare the community of believers for a situation in which they will soon have to live their faith without support of many things that the Church has regarded for centuries as essential and matter of course.

We must not allow ourselves to be drawn into the murky waters of cynicism, passivity, and bitterness. However, nor must we don the rosy spectacles of illusory optimism.

About 20 years ago, I was having lunch with a dear friend and one of the larger than life gentlemen ever to grace the Australian clergy – Dr Grove Johnson.  He is now close to 90 and lives in retirement in his home diocese, Rockhampton. He is remarkable for many reasons not least his courage to leave Rockhampton at the age of 15 or 16 for Rome where he studied at Propaganda Fide College. 

He stayed in Rome through the War, returning to Australia in 1947.  When I came to know him he was Rector of Many Seminary and later National Director of Catholic Mission.  It was when he was in the latter office that we were having lunch regretting some of the short comings of the Church’s leadership of the early 1990s. 

An incurable optimist, Grove also is a man of the big picture.  When discussing some of the difficulties I was having with some priests and bishops, he stopped me with a question.

“Michael, do you know the two subjects Paul VI would not have discussed by the bishops on the floor of the Second Vatican Council?”  “No, Grove,” I said, “Tell me”.

“Female anatomy and the nature of ministry”.

Grove should have been a headline writer.  But as one summarising the questions to take us into the future, he’s framed the issue. It’s not celibacy, of course. The elephant in the room is the nature of ministry.

FULL STORY The elephant in the room: Ministry - yesterday, today and tomorrow (Eureka Street)

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