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Columban says let's look beyond importing priests

A leading member of the Columban Missionary Society has criticised the use of foreign clergy to ease the priest shortage, asserting that Catholic communities have a right to "an ordained priest from their own culture".

Fr Charles Rue of the Columban Centre for Peace, Ecology and Justice at North Turramurra in Sydney has written a discussion paper ahead of next month's National Council of Priests (NCP) Conference.

He said that many priests have recently been brought to Australia from India, Poland and elsewhere, to fill gaps.

"While local Catholics are grateful, both cases are but stop-gap measures with no realistic plans by church authorities to have the sacraments celebrated by local Australian diocesan priests," he said.

Fr Rue said Catholics in many mission countries continue to be led by foreign-born priests many years after initial mission activity.

"The Columbans and priest associates are still running parishes in Latin America after more than fifty years of mission presence. Is it time we took another approach to forming communities served by their own priests instead of continuing to import foreigners?"

Fr Rue suggests that married priests are not necessarily the answer, but insists on the need for Catholics to "stretch our imaginations". Stressing the central place of the Eucharist in the life of the Church, he believes the answer could lie in the ordination of local people to serve their parish communities.

He is proposing a lobbying effort at the October 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, which plans to consider the pastoral implications of the Eucharist with the aim "that the Eucharist maintain its central place in the eyes of the Church, at the universal and local levels—especially in parishes and communities".

Fr Rue said members of the National Council of Priests should use their "rich corporate knowledge of the pastoral needs of Catholics" to persuade authorities to support a change in current church laws.

"Well functioning parishes will die without priests," he said. "As a matter of justice, can the NCP as a group, not just as individuals, lobby bishop conferences and curia officials to address a structural form of sin in the Church which denies Catholic communities the Eucharist?"

Pictured: 2003 National Council of Priests Conference

Parishes Need to Celebrate the Eucharistic (Fr Charles Rue/National Council of Priests 30/8/04)

Synod of Bishops
Ecclesia de Eucharistia
Columban Centre for Peace, Ecology and Justice
National Commission for Clergy Life and Ministry

31 Aug 2004