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Disillusioned priests speak out

Two Victorian Catholic priests have called the church's leadership dictatorial, remote and lacking in compassion.

The Age today reports that Father Len Thomas of Ivanhoe West and Father Peter Foley of Belmont have released a statement in which they state the church "has suffered in heart and mind from a backlash against Vatican II", the council of bishops that sought to modernise the church in the 1960s.

Yesterday Father Foley said Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney and Australia's senior Catholic cleric, had the attitude "if you are not with us, you're against us", and Catholics now had a lack of tolerance.

He said he had spoken to Cardinal Pell when he was Archbishop of Melbourne and to his successor, Archbishop Denis Hart, and that, at 68, he did not fear sanctions by the church leadership.

"It's a cry from the heart. I don't want notoriety. I've been working for this diocese for 42 years," he said.

In the statement the priests say the Melbourne diocese's new Office of Evangelisation, which aims to increase church attendances, is "regarded with suspicion - as an excuse, a cover, a sop to the Vatican".

Melbourne Vicar-General Les Tomlinson, a spokesman for Archbishop Hart, said the priests' views were not universally held. "There may be a question there of a personal agenda which they feel frustrated over," he said.

Monsignor Tomlinson said he could not say what action might be considered against the priests. But he said the Archbishop's initiative in establishing the office for evangelisation was "a very positive step".

Father Thomas said that people, including church leaders, mistook leaders for the Church. "But the Church is the people who come, and who we reach out to at funerals and weddings."

The priests sent their statement to independent Catholic website Online Catholics, which will publish it today.

They complain of over-centralised control in Melbourne and internationally, and of a lack of consultation. They say a gulf exists between cathedral and Vatican bureaucrats on one side and priests and people on the other. "Compassion and diversity suffer when priests receive cold, blunt directives, usually about liturgy. Pastoral vision is omitted," they say.

"At the coalface, Catholics are up against it. There is a struggle going on between those who hoped the teaching of the Vatican Council would take us forward, but the movement seems to be to take us back."

Outspoken priests attack Pell (The Age 22/12/04)
Labor and the Catholic Church: parallel lives (The Age 22/12/04)

Archdiocese of Melbourne
Archdiocese of Sydney
Online Catholics

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