Friday, January 1, 2010

On Msgr. Ingham’s announcement of The Diocese of Wollongong’s Pastoral Planning process

The Lord Bishop of Wollongong has announced, in his Advent Pastoral Letter (given on the Second Sunday of Advent) 2009, the launch of a process of Pastoral Planning for The Diocese of Wollongong:

This Advent I am announcing … a significant venture for our Diocese of Wollongong. Now is the time for us to work together to make new plans for a new future … We need to pause, take stock and consider our journey ahead.

[… W]e need to develop a pastoral plan for our Diocese, for our journey ahead. The first steps of this journey will entail clarifying our vision and gathering detailed information. We will need to listen to one another’s hopes and dreams about how we can strengthen our faith communities, how we can welcome the stranger and care for the poor and the suffering, and how we can best celebrate our communion as the Body of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. We will be challenged to “change our mindset”, as Pope Benedict recently put it, and to understand that lay people and clergy are “co-responsible” for the Church now and in the future. We will need to set realistic goals and develop lines of action to achieve these goals.

[…] I am bold enough to hope that by the end of 2010 we will have an overarching plan that will take heed of existing plans that some parishes and church agencies have already developed, and that will guide future planning in our Diocese.

[…] To assist us to shape a plan that will take us into the future, I have established a Pastoral Planning Steering Committee with expertise and representation from across the Diocese.

[…] I intend to write to you again early in the New Year with an interim report on the work of the Steering Committee and I will give you further updates throughout 2010.These are exciting times. Let us pray for wisdom, right judgement and courage as we pause, take stock, and consider the road ahead. On your behalf, I entrust this important initiative for our Diocese to the Immaculate Heart of our Blessed Mother.

It must be noted, though, that Msgr. Ingham has left the Pastoral Planning process till rather late, perhaps too late; His Lordship has been the local Ordinary since mid-2001 and has only about six years left until he is due for retirement.

The motive inducing His Lordship to initiate this process is clear when he writes that

we recognise that many of our committed parishioners, our religious and our clergy are ageing. We are aware that many among us, while initiated into Catholic Christianity, have become separated from the day-to-day life and worship of the Church.
Obviously, that the abandonment by most Australian nominal Catholics of the Sacramental life of the Church is apparent in all Australian Sees, not just Wollongong, hardly needs to be pointed out, but what is particularly striking is that it is apparent even among those who have gone through supposedly Catholic schools—with the Wollongong Catholic Education Office (C.E.O.) schools no exception, and, I surmise, perhaps among the worst-affected—all the way from kindergarten to Year 12. I doubt whether average monthly Mass attendance by Wollongong C.E.O. high schools pupils would be more than once or twice, and I wouldn’t even expect a majority of Wollongong C.E.O. primary school pupils to belong to families dedicated to attending Mass each Sunday unless excused by some proportionate cause. Speaking of the primary schools, no doubt they perform impressively in the religious literacy tests, but do they retain this knowledge, or is it lost, as usually happens for exams for which one has crammed, even when one has done well in the test? Then again, that might not be such a bad thing, depending on the schools’ treatment of the subject matter involved. As for the Wollongong C.E.O. high school graduates, I would not expect the percentage of them—even the most recent graduates—attending Mass on any given Sunday to exceed the low single digits, though it’s possible (but unlikely) that there has been a significant (in the statistical sense, if in no other sense) up-tick in attendance rates for all groups of young people since World Youth Day 2008, though who knows how long that would last, if it’s even occurred at all. Of course, this low-single-digit percentage will probably drift back up to a (very-)low-double-digit percentage for those graduates who bring up their respective children as Catholics when they start families, but then the cycle will continue with the returnees’ respective children; actually, more of a downward spiral than a cycle, since the percentage will probably decrease, given current trends, with each generation. It will be interesting to see what findings on the involvement of Catholic school pupils and graduates in parish life the Pastoral Planning process produces from its research.

But even among those who do attend Sunday Mass in the Diocese with only rare exceptions, what is their spiritual life like? Why do they have so few children? And there are many other related questions which could be asked.

Let’s have a look at the Identity, Vision and Mission statements for the planning process:


The Diocese of Wollongong is the community of Christ’s faithful, under the care of their Bishop within the Catholic Church, in a region stretching from Campbelltown City and Camden Council in the North, Wollondilly Shire and Wingecarribee Shire in the west, and through Wollongong City, Shellharbour City, Kiama Municipality and Shoalhaven City in the South.


Our vision for the diocese is the vision of Jesus Christ for his followers, ‘that they may have life, and have it abundantly…that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’ (John 10:10, 17:23 NRSV)


Our mission is grounded in the mission of Jesus and that of the Catholic Church: to be the light of all nations, to share the joys and the hopes and the griefs and the anxieties of all people, and to proclaim the good news of salvation to every creature.[1] In the Diocese of Wollongong we are therefore called to work together:

• to live and teach the way of Jesus Christ for a fully human life
• to celebrate the liturgy and provide pastoral care
• to develop new ministries in emerging areas of need
• for the unity of all Christians and understanding between all religions
• to seek reconciliation with those separated from the Church
• to share healing, shelter, dignity, hope and community with all
• for peace, justice and the integrity of creation.

We will endeavour to do this as best we can, in the love of the Father, following the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and guided by the Holy Spirit.

[1] As described at Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church §1, The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World §1, and reflecting Jesus’ command to his disciples in Mark 16:15)

There doesn’t seem to be anything in there which is objectionable in itself, though the overall tone does seem insipid and somewhat naturalistic. Moreover, it is obviously very much ‘in the Spirit of Vatican II’, and that’s where the big problem lies. Speaking of that Council and its ‘Spirit’, there’s another bugbear I have about the documents for the Process, and it relates to this, where we see Vatican II’s anthropocentrism starkly apparent:

Centred on the Eucharist
Where all should be welcomed, where our pain is acknowledged, where our brokenness is healed, where we are nourished by Word and Sacrament, and where our mission is renewed.
One might see “Centred on the Eucharist” and think ‘ah, good—centred on the Eucharist means centred on God, which is as it should be’. But notice how, as they say, ‘it’s all about us’—about “our pain”, “our brokenness” (whatever that means; more on this shortly), “where we are nourished”? How Holy Mass is considered not as a Sacrifice of adoration, thanksgiving, propitiation and impetration and therefore directed to and focused on God, but as a sort of group therapy whither we can all go for ‘affirmation’ (especially evident where it says “where our pain is acknowledged, where our brokenness is healed”, so that we indulge ourselves in our own imagined victimhood, distracting us from the true Victim on Whom our entire attention should be focused at Mass)? So ‘Centred on the Eucharist’ is, bizarrely, nothing of the sort—it is centred on us. And this sort of crass anthropocentrism is contained in one of the four key “Theological Principles and Parameters for Pastoral Planning” by which the whole Process is to be guided! With this sort of confusion, one is driven almost to despair for this venture. What good can possibly come of this? Notice also that, when the Mission Statement speaks of how we are “called to work together”, there is no distinction according to state of life, according to whether one is a cleric, a religious or a married person. Of course, Msgr. Ingham did make this distinction in his Pastoral Letter, but the context in which His Lordship did so does nothing to assuage me:

We will be challenged to “change our mindset”, as Pope Benedict recently put it, and to understand that lay people and clergy are “co-responsible” for the Church now and in the future
What I fear is that the Pastoral Plan will involve an exaggerated notion of lay-clerical ‘co-responsibility’, thus continuing the post-Vatican-II trend of ‘clericalising the laity and laicising the clergy’ and only making the situation worse, especially with respect to answering vocations to the priesthood.

(And what is it with the Conciliar Church and all this talk of ‘healing our brokenness’? It’s maudlin, effeminate, trite, self-indulgent and vague. What, precisely, is it supposed to mean? Is it a reference to actual sin? Certainly, the reception of the Holy Eucharist “remits venial sins and preserves us from mortal sin”, in the words of the Catechism of St. Pius X (see here), but Its reception doesn’t remit mortal sin—God forbid that anyone should receive It with mortal sin on his or her conscience, as I fear many do in the Diocese. Is it a reference to original sin? Certainly, the reception of the Holy Eucharist “allays in us the fires of concupiscence” (again, from the Catechism of St. Pius X). But if it is a reference either to actual or original sin, then why not just come right out and use the dreaded ‘s’-word?)

So what measures would I recommend to the Pastoral Planning committee? Well, you can probably guess what sort of things I’d advise; I’d point out that the experiment of Vatican II and the Novus Ordo Missæ has failed miserably, yielding fruits which are not merely bitter, but toxic. Why not, to borrow Msgr. Lefebvre’s famous words, try the experiment of Tradition? Why not make the Traditional Latin Mass the normative rite for the Diocese? Why not require primary school pupils actually to learn a catechism, like the Catechism of St. Pius X? And that’s just for starters; for more ideas, bring in some S.S.P.X. priests as consultants. The Diocese could become the model for Australian Ecclesiastical renewal through Tradition.

But of course the thought of Msgr. Ingham and the Diocese converting to Tradition is a fantasy; His Lordship is a Vatican II/N.O.M. True Believer, with his Diocese’s annual Vatican II Seminar, his facilitation of lay Lectors and so-called Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and his failure to overhaul—if anything it has worsened under him—the basically Protestant culture of the Diocese. (Actually, that might be a bit unfair to Protestants—at least serious Protestants aren’t known for having liturgical dancers prance around at their conventicles.) His Lordship eagerly advertises Vatican II/N.O.M.-oriented Papal/Vatican Acts, yet greeted what is perhaps the most important piece of Ecclesiastical legislation since the new C.I.C., namely, Summorum Pontificum, with silence, and has not even mentioned it in any of his official pronouncements, as far as I know*, in the two-and-a-half years since its promulgation. (After writing that in my draft, I did a Google search of the keywords "Summorum Pontificum" and "Peter Ingham" and discovered a fascinating ‘Pastoral Reflection’, circulated ad clerum and dated 14 September 2007 and published at The Sybil’s blog on 17 December 2008; you may read it here.) This simultaneous empathy for Protestantism and antipathy towards Tradition was clear in the schedule of events during the WYD08 Cross and Icon’s visit to the Diocese—all manner of ‘ecumenical services’ (and ‘interfaith’ gatherings, and Aboriginal ceremonies), but not a single Traditional Latin Mass event. But perhaps Msgr. Ingham’s clearest statement of his vision for the local (and the universal) Church is a non-verbal one—the Diocese’s most recently-constructed (as far as I know) church, that of the Parish of Mary Immaculate, Eagle Vale. This building is circular in structure (like a pagan temple, and completely alien to Catholic architectural tradition), so that the seating inside it is ‘in the round’ so that the community is, as one writer put it (I think you’ll know who), turned in on itself (‘centred on the Eucharist’ indeed), while the Tabernacle is banished from the sanctuary, with a grotesque totem-pole-like wooden carving depicting Christ crucified, risen and returning in glory, with the inscriptions ‘Christ has died’, ‘Christ is risen’ and ‘Christ will come again’ on the three parts, respectively, where the Tabernacle should be, so that the Mass is considered erroneously as ‘Paschal Mystery’ rather than as one and the same Sacrifice as on Mount Calvary (differing only in manner of offering), offered ‘for the quick and the dead’. This is the vision which the Pastoral Plan, once finalised, will seek to realise, and so one can only expect that the Plan will do nothing to rectify the situation; indeed, since it will only be a renewed and reinvigorated offering of ‘more of the same’ the decay might even accelerate.

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Circumcision of Our Lord, A.D. 2010


Matthias said...

As an observer i think your comments around the catholic education office in woollongong could be extended to Xavier College down here.
the wild behavior of year 12 students last year,and again more dismeanours this past 12 months. But
then other Christian schools should also look at themselves for their shortcomings-Catholic and Proddie.
Has secular pluralism and a timidity to teach the Gospel become part of the culture?

Schütz said...

One might see “Centred on the Eucharist” and think ‘ah, good—centred on the Eucharist means centred on God, which is as it should be’. But notice how, as they say, ‘it’s all about us’—about “our pain”, “our brokenness” (whatever that means; more on this shortly), “where we are nourished”?

Well spotted, your Eminence. See what bad lyric in Catholic songs has done to our theology?

R Stove said...

I'm giving serious thought to the possibility of moving to Wollongong in 2010, and am wondering whether any Latin Mass is available at all - notwithstanding Bishop Ingham's efforts - in the diocese. Do the SSPX priests or any independent priests (after the manner of the late Fr Patrick Fox) ever offer the Latin Mass in the Wollongong area? Does a visiting diocesan priest do so? Is there a local Ukrainian/Melkite/Byzantine Rite church in Wollongong? Or do those lay Catholics who seek a non-Novus-Ordo Mass need to go to Sydney for it? I should emphasise that I'd be dependent on public transport, not having a car of my own.

Cardinal Pole said...

"Well spotted, your Eminence."

Thank you, Mr. Schütz, and thank you also for also for your link to this post, where I was interested to see the compilation of, in the most apt word of one of your commenters, "drippy" musak lyrics. You raise an interesting question:

"How much of this sort of rhetoric around the Eucharist do you think might be a direct result of the songs that are so often sung at the Eucharist in our Catholic parishes?"

Cause or effect, I wonder? But whatever its origins, the musak and its ideology are now mutually-re-inforcing, I fear.

Mr. Stove,

Regarding the availability of the T.L.M. in the Wollongong Diocese: If I'm not mistaken, there is a Diocesan T.L.M. celebrated every second Sunday at 3 P.M. at a church near the Cathedral. For more information on official T.L.M.s in the Diocese, you might want to check out the following website and possibly get in contact with its blogmistress:

Now as for Indepedent priests, I'm not aware of any operating in the Diocese, and nor is the S.S.P.X. active there. The S.S.P.X.'s Sydney Parish at Rockdale is, however, located a short distance outside the northern border of the Diocese. I live in the far south-west of Sydney (the far north-west of the Wollongong Diocese) and I commute to Rockdale by train. The train journey takes about an hour for me, and Rockdale Parish is about a twenty-minute walk (for a long-legged young fellow such as myself, at least) from Rockdale station. (There are also buses (State Transit, if I'm not mistaken), but I don't know how frequently they stop.) Now if you're living in Wollongong proper, the train journey would be a lot longer than it is for me--more than double the distance (76 kms. compared to 36 kms.). One also has to take into account the fact that buses not infrequently replace trains on the weekends. All in all, Wollongong Diocese is not an ideal place for a Traditionalist, and, as I argued in the post, nor are there good prospects for the future. But I, and others, make do.

Cardinal Pole said...

Oh, and as for Eastern Catholic Masses: I think that there's some kind of Eastern Catholic presence in south-western Sydney, but I don't know about the rest of the Diocese.

Cardinal Pole said...

And I see that there is now a stand-alone website for the Pastoral Planning process:

R Stove said...

Thank you, Your Eminence, for the information you've provided about Latin Masses available in Wollongong and Sydney's southern area. I've been to Rockdale's main shopping street several times (though not recently); and I remember where the SSPX chapel is, or at least was, located relative to Rockdale's railway station. The SSPX's Fr Black and I have corresponded sometimes of late, although years have elapsed since I've actually seen him.

matthias said...

mr stove please find below the link to the Ukrainian catholic church in Lidcombe but being a victorian i have no idea about geographical proximity to wollongong

Cardinal Pole said...

"Thank you, Your Eminence, for the information you've provided about Latin Masses available in Wollongong and Sydney's southern area."

You're welcome, Mr. Stove. One other thing: When I spoke of "some kind of Eastern Catholic presence in south-western Sydney", I was thinking of the one at the suburb of Leppington, near where I live, but very difficult to access by public transport, I should have mentioned. (There has been talk of building a rail link with a station at Leppington, but I'm not sure what's going on with that; obviously even if such a rail link goes ahead it won't be operating for a long time yet.)


Thanks for that link. St. Andrew's Ukrainian Catholic Church is just across the road from Lidcombe station; I've seen the Church from the Station a number of times (one goes via Lidcombe in order to get to Olympic Park, where the Easter Show is held). It is, however, even farther away from Wollongong than Rockdale is--~97 kms from Wollongong station to Lidcombe station, according to the CityRail fare calculator page (my source for these distances).

I've always found the style of the architecture of St. Andrew's rather curious; I'm relieved to see now, via your link, that it is indeed in the traditional Ukrainian style. As for Ukrainian, and other Eastern Catholic, liturgies, I worry about whether they have been modernised (Modernised?) in the manner of the N.O.M., though.

Matthias said...

As i said I have no idea re Sydney geography after Carlingford and Parramatta
Perhaps Schutz cna illuminate you re the Russian Catholic liturgy ,which when i attended a Divine Liturgy at the ACU was the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom .
Father Lawrence Cross at ACU theological school is the priest officiating at these services

R Stove said...

I've certainly attended Mass by Fr Lawrence Cross in Melbourne (at a Byzantine Catholic Church within the Melbourne Archdiocese) and very impressive this was too. Thanks for the extra information provided here.