Catholic priests told to fasten seatbelts for journey of change

New Zealand’s Catholic priests have been told by the Archbishop of Brisbane to fasten their seatbelts for a journey of change there is no going back from.

In a keynote speech to the National Assembly of Diocesan Priests today, Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge (pictured, above) said the Catholic Church was in an Abrahamic moment, going somewhere with the destination unclear.

“The spiritual vitality of the Church is largely found in our immigrant communities,” Archbishop Coleridge told the almost-200 priests from New Zealand’s six dioceses meeting this week in Rotorua. “The centre of gravity of the Church is passing to Africa, Asia and Latin America. We have a Pope from Argentina. It’s fasten your seatbelts time, we are going somewhere and there is no way back.”

The biblical Abraham was told by God to go on a journey, which he set out on not knowing where he was going, Archbishop Coleridge said.

“We are heading into a future the shape of which is unclear. But the act of faith is that there is one who does know where it is all leading. We must keep our eyes and our ears on God. We have to be on the journey.”

The Church today had fewer priests than in the past. That was a fact. “We
cannot sustain the current mode of provision of priests, with far fewer priests and fewer people. The shortage of people is the real problem. There are far fewer people who identify with the Church or come to Mass. People like our schools. They ask why are our schools full and our churches empty? Institutionally we are diminished.”

The abuse crisis was another fact. “It looms over everything. It’s been astounding to me how my life as a bishop has been swamped by the abuse crisis. It’s corrosive in a unique way. What has all this done to bishops and priests? We are almost afraid to look at the damage.”

The administrative burden on priests had also become more complex.

Archbishop Coleridge told the priests they needed to be like Abraham and turn wandering into journeys. Journeying was hard work, but it went somewhere. They had to live between being pilgrim and settler.

“The priest as pilgrim is someone who can say to all the wanderers, ‘come on a journey’. The priest in a diocese is also a settler. The priest has a parish, and people are the community. We have to put down roots in a particular place, a parish.”

  • Fuller notes from Archbishop Coleridge's presentation (and notes from other speakers at the Assembly) are online here.