In his New Year Pastoral letter the Bishop of Lancaster, Michael Campbell, looks at a number of hard questions facing the Church in 2012 to do with the sustainability of our parishes and schools, including the pressing question, ‘Is it right to maintain schools that are Catholic in name only?’
‘In 2012 we will need to address some demanding questions that will grow larger the longer we putthem off:
Is it right or sustainable to expect our Mass-going population of 21,000 to support our schools and colleges in which often the majority of pupils, and sometimes teachers, are not practising Catholics? Isit time for us to admit that we can no longer maintain schools that are Catholic in name only?
Faced with fewer priests and smaller congregations where should our parishes and schools of the futurebe located? What will they look like? Where should we consolidate and merge others?
We will not be able to find answers to these questions by human effort and planning alone, but only through a faith that seeks the will of the Father, through the grace of Christ and with the assistance ofthe Holy Spirit.’
Bishop Campbell sets these difficult questions in the context of the historical changes which the Church is undergoing:
‘We are living through a time of great transition for the Church in which Christianity changes from a religion adhered to by the majority out of social convention to once again being a way of discipleship deliberately chosen by some, but not all; chosen by the faithful out of conviction.’
At the beginning of this New Year I would ask you to join me in grappling with the two-fold task of planning how our diocese’s parishes and schools adapt to these new circumstances and secondly to make ourselves ready to launch into the challenge of the New Evangelisation.
Firstly; Our people have been ‘on the move’ for some time – parishes in wonderful neighbourhoods that 25 years ago were teeming with large, young families are now quiet and empty, while parishes inoutlying areas seem to be thriving. Older parishes with extensive church buildings struggle to keepthem in repair as their numbers shrink, while other parishes cannot find room for meetings, education and worship.
As the number of priests reduces, so we have to be creative and careful in their appointments, so that all can benefit from their essential ministry. Besides, the state of the economy and the demands on our resources make it imperative that we takestewardship of our finances, properties and buildings very seriously – as they serve the most important thing – the mission of the Church.
At times, we are tempted to say, ‘Forget about all this planning for the future. Let’s just keep things as they are and let nature take its course.’ That is certainly very tempting because it’s comfortable and undemanding, but Our Lord does not call us to be comfortable and concerned about our own self interest, He calls us to live and love as He lives and loves – to the point of sacrifice!’
Bishop Campbell then highlights the importance of the upcoming Year of Faith as the opportunity for the New Evangelisation:
This leads us to the second task; the Year of Faith. Pope Benedict has called us to celebrate from October 2012 a Year of Faith to help us all to appreciate the precious gift of faith, to deepen our relationship with God and strengthen our commitment to sharing that faith with others. All of us know someone – a friend, family member, classmate, work colleague or neighbour – who used to be a practising Catholic, but isn’t any more. For some who initially heard the incredible proclamation of Christ alive in the Church, the message has become stale. The promises of the Gospel seem empty or unconnected to their busy lives today. So, what is our response?
Surely our love and concern for them means that they should be the primary object of our missionary or evangelising efforts, our energy and resources. The Church only exists to evangelise – that means buildings, churches, parishes, schools and colleges are only valuable insofar as they help the Church in that mission of salvation!! How can we as parishes, schools and colleges – as the Diocese – support this sorely needed New Evangelisation?
Protect the Pope comment: Bishop Campbell raises some very important, urgent questions that have be ducked for too long. It doesn’t make sense that the Catholic Church is maintaining, at great expense and vast commitment of resources, Catholic schools were the majority of children, and teachers, are non practicing Catholics or even non-Catholics. In most Catholic secondary schools the majority of children come from lapsed Catholic families, with a tiny minority of the children practicing their faith. And these faithful children are often bullied and ridiculed for going to Mass or for being altar servers.
What sense does it make that some of our Catholic schools enroll over 90% Muslim pupils? Isn’t it time that we sold these schools to the Muslim community or to the UK State? With our shrinking financial and human resources and imperative to proclaim the Gospel of Christ isn’t it time that the Church in this country pulled out of mass education and focused on providing a smaller number of explicitly Catholic schools for practicing Catholic children?
It is a scandal that every year tens of thousands of children leave Catholic secondary schools who have never practised the Catholic faith, have no intention of practicing the Faith, and do not have a living relationship with Christ. It is not that the majority have rejected the Faith, its that due to the impoverished quality of catechesis and Religious Education over the past forty years that they have never encountered the Catholic faith in any real sense. This situation is unsustainable.