The Catholic Bishop seems oddly out of sync of the way things are done these days. His recommendations on the closing of many parishes and their consolidation into a much smaller number seems odd.
I guess the issue is that many of the priests are old and worn out and the church is in denial about the need for married priests and women priests. That appears to me to be the real issue. If the Bishop started this conversation, even I would participate.
The following is a challenge written to the Bishop by an individual on behalf of a group of committed Catholic activists:
I write regarding the matter of your Pastoral letter to the Faithful of the Christchurch Diocese captioned “Our Faith Our Future” (hereinafter called “the Proposal”).
You announced “The Proposal” on 9 June 2019, and the faithful were given 2 months and 9 days (22 June – 30 August 2019) to submit their feedback on the Proposal. According to the timeline fixed by you, the outcome of the feedback process will be announced on 1 December 2019 and final decision will be made in early December 2019 (see FAQ page 3/19). You further announced that the proposed 5 new parishes will all come into being on 31 May 2020.
Briefly, “the Proposal” involves closing our existing 12 parishes in Christchurch City and forming 5 new parishes, and reducing our existing 20 churches to 5 churches plus 2 Mass centres. I do not agree with “the Proposal” and I said so as soon as I heard the details of it. Following the major Christchurch earthquakes (2010- 2012), our stock of churches has already been considerably reduced and many amalgamations of parishes have already taken place. As a result, insurance-wise, we have a sound stock of churches, with only one or two exceptions.
Based on the limited information, or lack of information, provided by you in “the Proposal”, we submit that “the Proposal” is flawed both in terms of substance and procedure for the following reasons, among others, which are not mentioned here.
(1) Relevant vital information is not disclosed or has been withheld in “the Proposal”. For example, “the Proposal” indicates that some parishes will be modified, that is, suppressed or closed and some church properties may be sold or alienated or leased out on long-term lease. BUT the identities of the parishes are not disclosed in “the Proposal”. Without being informed as to which particular parishes will be closed and/or church properties sold, it is not possible for the faithful of the parishes who are affected to provide informed feedback; any feedback made would be invalid. It is noted that there has been no consultation with the faithful during the drawing up of “the Proposal”, and prior to the announcement of “the Proposal”.
These questions were posed to the Bishop during the 5 Q & A regional meetings. But regrettably he refused to answers these questions.
(2) In the absence of relevant vital information and for a Proposal of this significance and magnitude, allowing 2 months and 9 days for submission of feedback is grossly inadequate.
(3) “The Proposal” discloses no grave or just causes for the modification of the parishes. Our parishes are vibrant, full and solvent. 17 of our churches have successful Catholic integrated Primary schools operating alongside of them. Account has not been taken of the future demographics of our city including the expanding Christchurch city population, Halswell population and the expanding New Zealand Catholic population. The reasons for modifying a particular parish must be relevant ad rem, that is, it must be relevant to that particular parish. It is our understanding that, under the ecclesiastical jurisprudence, modification of parishes are not permitted without grave or just causes and that certain causes such as (i) a general plan of the diocese to reduce the number of churches; (ii) closure will not harm the good of souls; (ii) a desire to promote the unity of the parish; (iv) some potential future cause that has not actually happened yet (e.g. potential future shortage of priests), have expressly been excluded as not constituting grave causes in themselves. Furthermore, suppression of a parish should be the last choice when dealing with various problems affecting parochial life.
(4) The modification of the parishes will inevitably result in massive displacement of the faithful. The faithful of the parishes affected, many of whom include people who have been associated with the parishes for decades and inter-generationally, not only physically but also emotionally and communally as well as many young families, migrant communities and student communities. Rights aside, it is simplistic to think that you can simply uproot these people and transplant them to a new parish.
(5) “The Proposal” is physically unworkable. Taking just one example, under “the Proposal”, the Riccarton Parish (St Teresa Church, 880 parishioners) and the Hornby-Darfield Parish (consisting of 2 churches) are to be amalgamated with the Sockburn Parish (Our Lady of Victories Church) (800 parishioners NB The figure 535 given on the website is incorrect as it was taken when the church was under renovation in 2018). These churches are packed to full capacity during Masses. Note:. Under the Proposal, it is proposed that the existing Our Lady of Victories Church be expanded to take in the 880 parishioners from the Riccarton Parish (not mentioning the Hornby-Darfield Parish. Also the neighbouring Christ The King (815) will be closing). A look at the site of Our Lady of Victories Church would immediately reveal that there is very limited space to expand the church. Car parks will also be a problem.
The Bishop is entrusted with the care of the faithful (cf. c 369). In proposing to modify a parish, he is obliged to verify that the good of souls of the faithful will suffer no harm (cf. c 1222 §2). He must seek out the necessary proofs and, insofar as possible, hear those whose rights could be injured (cf. c 50). There is no concrete evidence in “the Proposal” that such effort has been made.
On the above premises, I therefore ask you to rescind the Proposal process to allow meaningful consideration of the matters raised in this letter. There are alternatives to the Bishop’s Proposal and they are set out in the attached “Good Plan”.
I fervently hope that in your wisdom and humility you will hear and allow this request.
If or when canonical decrees of merger or closure have been or are issued for our parish, I request a copy be sent to me. Please confirm by return e-mail that you have received this letter.
Yours sincerely, 29 August 2019