Overseas priests wanted for Hunter Valley harvest: Bishop Malone
Following an in depth consultation process, Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Michael Malone has announced that he has accepted a Diocesan Pastoral Council recommendation to recruit priests from overseas as part of a broader pastoral strategy.
Bishop Malone made the announcement in a pastoral letter dated 12 August 2006 and reported this week on the website of the diocese's newspaper, Aurora.
The decision is the result of a consultation process in 2003 and 2004 among the ten pastoral regions of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and early this year through a discussion paper, entitled "Workers for the Harvest," authorised by the Diocesan Pastoral Council.
Some 421 responses to the paper were received, addressing the concern that vocations to the priesthood were declining and that many of the diocese's priests were overworked and ageing.
Nearly 43 per cent of respondents were in favour of inviting overseas priests with 57 per cent against, according to the Bishop.
"Those in support of inviting priests from overseas were concerned about our priests being overworked and under significant pressure," Bishop Malone said.
"Those against inviting overseas priests cited potential difficulties with language and a clash of cultures. They also warned about a bigger problem - the possible discouragement of lay leadership and of the Holy Spirit's call to build a new and different church."
However, the conclusions of the diocesan Council of Priests and the Pastoral Council was that the diocese should go ahead and invite priests from overseas as "part of a broader strategy already endorsed by the Diocesan Synod of 1992-1993 so that the needs of the diocese may be met."
This is despite Bishop Malone's caution on ABC Radio in March against the "consumerist mentality" of importing overseas priests.
But in the same interview, he acknowledged the increasing pressure from his own diocese in light of the shortages of regular masses.
Announcing his decision to accept the recommendation, the Bishop said that he was aware that for some, this outcome will be a disappointment.
However, "working collaboratively with overseas priests is not entirely new", he said "since it reminds us of the early development of our diocese."
"All of us will be called to welcome these priests with generosity.
"It will be my intention to build the numbers of overseas priests slowly so that we can monitor their integration into our diocese," he concluded.
Workers for the Harvest (Pastoral Letter from Bishop Michael Malone, 12/8/06)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle
Workers for the Harvest (Diocesan discussion paper)
Maitland-Newcastle weighs priest imports (CathNews, 23/3/06)
21 Aug 2006