Brentwood's Stewards of the Gospel

The flock is struck, it is in disarray. Wounded and confused, the faithful cling to the Barque of Peter for a variety of reasons. Pastors have been breeding confusion for a number of years. They seldom seem to do the work of a priest; calling the people to repentance. It is far easier to be lovely to the people than to shock them into any kind of real change.

Speak to a mature Catholic in Brentwood Diocese today about their faith and you tend to hear a confusion of progressive Protestant theology and secular reasoning. If they practice, they have filled the void of any sound Catholic teaching with these ideas which bridge the gap between what they feel is the unrealistic demands of the "old" Catholic Church and the constant social reprogramming of the modern secular state.

Discussions I have tend to result in shock that I believe what the Church has always taught, assertions that the Church "has moved on", or "we don't believe in *insert doctrine here* since Vatican II". Input from the Church has been limited. The pervading atmosphere is one that asserts our private lives are frankly none of the Church's business and conscience is king.

Meanwhile, young people hunger and thirst for the truth like never before and flock to sound teaching and good liturgy. They want to be challenged, they want to be led.

This weekend we heard from Bishop Alan Williams about a new initiative for our Diocese of Brentwood. In his pastoral letter for the beginning of Lent, Bishop Alan has invited lay people to work closely with clergy, parishes and schools as part of the diocesan planning process. Whilst I accept that one cannot reach the lost until one know where they are and lay people are the ones with that knowledge and that Priests take a long time to get to know the social geography of a parish, especially the areas in most need of the Gospel, still I cannot help but feel in this Diocese at the moment, this is a disaster.

Bishop Alan states:
“I am very much in favour of collaboration,” he says. “It is ‘our diocese’ not ‘my diocese’. We have to steer a course forward together for our common future and I would much rather do it in dialogue with people than present it as a fait accompli. Hence I want to invite people to discern, together and with me, a way of going forward as Catholic Christians. That discernment involves respectful listening, sharing information, being in tune with the issues and needs of our community and a willingness to be open to God’s will.”
But it seems to me it is "his diocese" in a crucial way. I am all for lay involvement (I have to be: I am heavily involved in catechesis in my parish), but not at the expense of good, strong pastoral leadership by the clergy. It is their job, after all.

Did Paul VI consult, dialogue, involve, etc. in the early 1960's? Yes. Did he follow the consensus of his consultors in 1968? No. Was he right not to? Indeed he was!

Our blessed Lord established the Church otherwise than as a democracy not because He was born in a 'primitive' age, not because He lacked the benefit of modern psychological understanding or humanitarian sensitivity, not because of any other supposed constraint or limitation, but because He wanted us to have the best. And that is what we have. The critical variable is the use we make of his provision.

Going to the flock, when the flock are lost can achieve exactly nothing, except a further level of diocesan bureaucracy we do not need. Is it the good Bishop's intention to follow the sheep where they lead? If the sheep have little sense of the path set out for them by Christ, how can they give any sensible assistance to the pastoral role? Surely all we will have is the heretics pulling in one direction and the orthodox in the other, achieving precisely nothing?

What we need now is leadership, strong affirmation of sound Catholic doctrine at every opportunity, and a shift in authority from the madness of heresy to the firm foundations of the Catholic faith. Leadership always upsets some people, but it is the only way to build a solid future and to bring forth growth.

Each of us has our own role, each of us makes a unique contribution to the whole, but the shepherds of our souls have a particular responsibility, a particular grace, a particular accountability that they can never devolve to any working party, organisation or committee. Pray for them, pray for them, pray for them! Pray for them constantly, for they must answer for what has been entrusted to them on that great and terrible Day when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, to the vindication of God's perfect justice.

On that Day, phrases like "It was a parish council decision" or "People wanted it" will sound a thousand times more hollow than "I was following orders" did at Nuremberg.


  1. Excellent blog Mark, must admit my heart sank on hearing our Bishop's letter need shepherding and guidance from the clergy not the laity

    1. I wouldn't be too worried Eileen, although my blog here addresses how the message appeared to us all, I think in reality what it is really about is consultation on which parishes to close. Again. A reworking of "Into the Deep" or whatever it was a few years ago.

  2. Hi Mark, I will presume that this consultation is similar to the old Nottingham Diocese 'We are living stones' initiative. I also expect that you are right that it is more about parish closure than anything else. The constant thing that we heard was that "In Africa it is the lay people who run the parish between the rare priest visits". This was the constant narrative i.e. that the lay people will be made the bosses of parishes. Due to the largely aging congregations here (and especially in Lincolnshire) I can only imaging that they are right and there will be many parish closures in 20-30 years time.

    The problem is that when lay people are in charge, i.e. which normally means PPC cabals, there are so many differences of opinion that nothing ever gets done, hence there is never any outreach to get new people in. Catholic Churches seems to not understand that the one thing that 'other' denominations have got right is hospitality. Yes, there is some shallow 'shaking of hands' and 'how are you today' sort of welcome, but this is not sufficient. You have to get the liberals and conservatives out of the way (who want to politicize the Church) and allow the real followers of Christ to get on and do the job. I always say that parish PPC's are mostly the place where the devil gets in and kills the communal life of the Church. So no, we don't want more lay people meddling, unless they are genuinely up to the challenge of building community and the spiritual life (as well as doing the paper work). Otherwise it is just a further recipe for another lay led disaster.

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