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Melbourne Archdiocese rethinking pastoral planning

The Archdiocese of Melbourne has decided to remove Fr Maurie Cooney from his position as director of the Catholic Research Office for Pastoral Planning (CROPP) and review the activities of the office.

Melbourne Vicar-General Les Tomlinson told The Sunday Age that although Fr Cooney (pictured) would be replaced, no decision had been made on whether to merge CROPP into other diocesan agencies. He said the archbishop remained committed to pastoral planning.

A report in the paper yesterday linked Fr Cooney's removal to the Church's failure to arrest a 13% drop in weekly attendance at Mass in the past five years.

Figures from the National Church Life Survey, a five-yearly church census released on Saturday, revealed that the number of Catholics attending Mass weekly dropped by nearly 100,000 between 1996 and 2001 to 765,000. This means only 15% of Australia's five million Catholics go to Mass weekly.

The Sunday Age quotes angry supporters who believe Fr Cooney's "consultative" style was more suited to the era of former Archbishop Frank Little, who retired in 1996. The style of present Archbishop Denis Hart is described as "very top down".

Fr Cooney, also parish priest at Our Lady of Good Counsel, Deepdene, would not comment, but friends say he is deeply upset. He leaves the Office at the end of the year.

The Sunday Age says Fr Cooney wrote to supporters and colleagues after he met Archbishop Hart on 13 February, recounting the conversation and expressing hope that the planning work would continue. Pastoral planning involves helping parishes use resources and adjust to changes, plus advising the church's leadership.

Church sacks planner as congregations dwindle (The Sunday Age 29/2/04)

Niche churches recruiting faster than older rivals (Sydney Morning Herald 27/2/04)
Catholic Research Office for Pastoral Planning
National Church Life Survey

30 Mar 2004