Here at Catholica we are often critical of the institutional endeavours that seem more designed as "make work" endeavours – i.e. "make out you are busy in case Jesus (or His Holiness) visits the factory floor" — rather than actually doing whatever they proclaim is supposed to be taking place, such as "evangelisation. Today's commentary from Fr Daniel Donovan take the blow torch to another "make work" exercise: Diocesan Pastoral Plans. Read on; you'll be entertained, if not enlightened! And again the footnotes are almost a second commentary within themselves.
Pastoral Plans: Are they an exercise in the Emperor's "New Clothes"?
Hans Christian Andersen in 1837 published a tale for children entitled "The Emperor's New Clothes" which could well be seen as a metaphor for the Sydney Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan, Starting Afresh with Christ (SAC) and was due to be gradually implemented between 2008 and 2011. Therefore it would be expected that 2012 should begin the evaluation of SAC and its performance across the Archdiocese. In Andersen's tale two charlatans posing as master tailors visit a rather pompous but naive Emperor promising to create "new clothes" for him from a fabric which would be "invisible" to anyone who was "unfit for his/her position or just hopelessly stupid". So will SAC's evaluation fall victim to what might be considered the "new clothes" syndrome?
The plot of Andersen's tale is briefly as follows...
The Emperor was a rather pompous man who loved dressing up and parading publically before his subjects. So when two charlatans, posing as master tailors arrive at his castle and promised to make him wonderful "new clothes" from a fabric which could only be seen by the bright and wise, the Emperor was enthralled and immediately set them to work measuring, cutting, stitching until the day on which they declared the "new clothes" finished. Then came the mime of the final fitting but to his great dismay, the Emperor was naked, he could not see the "new clothes." However not wishing to appear unfit for his grand position or hopelessly stupid, the Emperor admired his magnificent "new clothes." The charlatans were richly rewarded for their fine work while the members of the court not wanting to appear unfit for their positions or hopelessly stupid, complimented the Emperor on his magnificent "new clothes." So proud of his "new clothes," was the Emperor that he insisted on a public parade which he would lead, arrayed in his "new clothes." His subjects also, admired the "new clothes" because the word had spread throughout the land that anyone who could not see the Emperor's "new clothes" was "hopelessly stupid." Suddenly, a child in the crowd "too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretence" shouted "the man has no clothes on!"
This story comes to mind when re-visiting Starting Afresh with Christ signed off by the Archbishop of Sydney on November 11th, 2007 with the implementation to be completed by December 2011. Therefore the Archdiocese should, during 2012, be evaluating SAC and the overall effectiveness of the Plan. Incidentally, the western Diocese of Sydney, Parramatta is tottering on the brink of writing its own Pastoral Plan which should be shelved until SAC has been fully evaluated so that any future plans might actually address the needs of God's people across the entire life cycle.
SAC committed the Archdiocese to eight (8) Priorities seemingly "to make the Mission Statement effective in our Catholic life." This article will argue that evangelisation is rooted in God's saving mission rather than Church structures. Or put more simply, the mission has a Church rather than the Church having a mission. Secondly, the evaluation of SAC must remedy its failure to provide for the continued human and spiritual development of the aged, elderly and disabled members of the Church community.
Evangelisation is God's Initiative...
SAC has painted itself into a "theological corner" in its Mission Statement because it begins with a description of Church rather than with God's saving initiative or mission. In February 2009, Fr Stephen Bevans SVD in addressing the Australian bishops on the shortage of priests, invited his audience to think "missiologically" or "to reflect on the fact that the Church does not so much have a mission as that the mission has a Church." SAC on the other hand, begins with Church and a rather "hierarchically structured" model of Church under the successor of Peter as opposed to a "messianic model" of Church "born of the evangelising activity of Jesus and the Twelve." The Constitution on the Church, (Lumen Gentium – LG) in Chapter 2, details the Trinitarian nature of evangelisation, especially LG#17. God sends his Word and Spirit into the world and the incarnate Word sends the apostles to continue God's mission in the world [Jn 20:21; Mt 28: 18-20]. It is from this movement of God's sending that the Church is born to continue God's mission.
Jurgen Moltmann in his theological trilogy, refers to God's kenotic self-emptying in creation, in Israel, in the cross of Christ and the Church in the power of the Spirit. The Constitution on Divine Revelation, (Dei Verbum – DV) traces this dynamic mission of God [DV#1-5] throughout history "to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will [cf. Eph 1:9]. His will was that people should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and become sharers in the divine nature [cf. Eph 2: 18; 2 Pt 1: 4]." Therefore evangelisation is not primarily an activity of the Church but rather of God's fountain like love "from the fullness of his love addressing people as friends [cf. Ex 33:11; Jn 15: 14-15], and moves among them [cf. Bar 3:38] in order to invite them and receive them into his own company" [DV# 2]. As the people of God, the Christian community is the visible sacrament of this encounter with the invisible God in the world for which God gave his Son [Jn 3:16]. This truth was not grasped by Nicodemus [Jn 39:10] and incredibly Jesus would need to make the same comment about Church leaders today!
Because SAC begins with the Church rather than with God, the text is plagued with inconsistencies for example...
Older Catholics: "Transparent Members" of the Community...
Back in 1960's, Erik Erikson identified eight stages of human psycho-social development each with its own specific crisis. Human development was intrinsically related to the person's success or otherwise in resolving these crises and his/her personal development across the life cycle. The stages have been represented as a carousel "with eight rides for eight ages" from the new born child to old age with each stage building on the previous stage and the person's positive or negative resolution of each crisis. Erikson was criticised because he identified only one stage of "old age" with only one crisis of "integrity vs despair," rather than exploring "stages" and "crises" which continue to characterise human psycho-social growth throughout the senior years of the life cycle.
During 2010-2011, I was invited by a Religious Order to celebrate Eucharist for an elderly Sister who was a resident in a Catholic facility but constantly complained that she missed being able to participate in the Mass. For the next two years, the monthly Mass had about twenty regular members of the hostel attend. This experience revealed a group of elderly Catholics five religious women and laity grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Eucharist. The deprivation of pastoral and spiritual care was a greater suffering than their physical pain and disabilities, they were forgotten by the Church or at the very least "transparent members".
Prior to their moving to the Catholic facility, many had been daily Mass goers but now their physical condition had not only dispossessed them of their personal independence but also, had robbed them of their sacramental participation. Residents need pastoral care and as elderly Catholics were entitled to expect a pastoral ministry suited to their spiritual needs and developmental stages. Each person in the facility was an individual not simply "old people" and was entitled to experience the personal dignity and care which characterises the Church's "moral and ethical" teachings. Dementia patients too, engaged in the sacramental celebrations and shared their memories of the Mass in their lives with the other residents.
Some years ago, in another Catholic facility, I anointed an elderly woman with severe dementia, when the nurse and I entered the room the old lady smiled and blessed herself. The nurse (turning to me) said "Father, I always say faith is the sixth sense and is always the last to go." Sadly, last December (2011), I said good-bye to my friends at the hostel (for canonical reasons) and since then the residents have been without Mass! How does the Archbishop of Sydney square off such deprivation of a sacramental life to residents in Catholic health facilities with his claim in SAC's Preface that "the plan aims at "strengthening Catholic life"? This conflict between stated policy and the actual delivery of SAC's priorities must be resolved, if the whole plan is to retain any credibility and not fall victim to "the new clothes" syndrome!
The elderly and others in Catholic health facilities are truly the "transparent members" of the Church and if one had only SAC, then one could be forgiven for believing that the Church bureaucrats had discovered the elixir of eternal youth (Priorities #6: Young People; and #8: World Youth Day). What is in SAC about the spiritual and pastoral care of the elderly their spiritual care and human needs and development? Nothing! Priority 5: "Pastoral Care, Social Welfare and Health Care," Point D1: names the "Episcopal Vicar for Life and Health" who is "to enhance the Catholic identity" in health care facilities. Point D2 refers to "the Life Office to liaise with Catholic Health Care Centres to ensure adequate opportunities for education and formation in ethical and moral teachings of the Catholic Church for Catholic health care workers." Hullo? The Archdiocese cannot be serious that "catholic identity" and "education and formation (of Catholic staff) in the ethical and moral teachings of the Church" are priorities for the Church, while ignoring its responsibility to provide quality spiritual and pastoral care for the elderly [Mt 25:45]. The Archdiocese cannot or will not appoint a priest/chaplain to hostels despite SAC's Mission describing the Archdiocese as "...a Eucharistic and sacramental community of Faith." Church leaders and bureaucrats continue to keep up their pretence and fail to realise that as in the case of Andersen's Emperor, they are not wearing any clothes!
The Harvester (Summer 2011), recently, advertised "Guadalupe Expedition" to Mexico City, New York City and Washington DC and this is not a problem. However there is a problem when this pilgrimage is to have Bishop Peter Comensoli as its "inaugural chaplain". The Archdiocese continues to provide chaplains for Harvest's pilgrimages but its real responsibility is to provide chaplains for residents in its health care facilities. Forget SAC's priorities, the denial of sacramental care to the elderly and infirm is a blatant injustice which undermines the Church's pastoral credibility. Perhaps the "Episcopal Vicar for Life and Health" might make it a priority to remedy this anomaly, if he is serious about boosting the "Catholic Identity" of Church facilities? In the meantime, spare us the hypocritical pastoral plans which discriminate between the "transparent elderly" and "wealthy pilgrims". The author of the Letter of James warns Church leaders that they must not discriminate between the poor and the wealthy; "My brothers and sisters, if you truly believe in our glorified Lord Jesus Christ you will not discriminate between persons...Have you not judged using a double standard?"
Post Script on the Parramatta Pastoral Plan...
This article has already questioned the wisdom of the Diocese of Parramatta preparing to follow the Archdiocese of Sydney in drawing up another plan prior to any serious evaluation of SAC. Already the Five Priorities suggested for the Parramatta Plan do not specifically, consider the spiritual and pastoral needs of the aging, elderly or disabled in an aging Australian (hence Catholic) population. Aware of the Bishop's penchant for restaurants perhaps his proposed Pastoral Plan for Parramatta could draw an insight from the configuration of symbols on Victoria Rd near his Diocesan offices.
The Diocesan offices display the symbol of God's kenotic mission namely, the Cross of Jesus. This is the heart of the Gospel and should characterise the Church's pastoral vision for its ministry in the modern world. Yet the ascendency of ecclesiastical structures and its concomitant bureaucracy have been bewitched by the company "big business model" rather than the "gospel model" of service. Next to the Diocesan offices, McDonalds display the symbol of the Golden Arches which today, are more widely recognised than the Cross by people and is fast becoming a more potent evangeliser than the Church. Beneath the Golden Arches McDonalds teem with life engaging real people; travellers are welcome, the aging and elderly enjoy free coffee and newspapers, seriously ill children and their families are treated to respite homes, environmental researchers and conservationists are supported, the handicapped are employed, schools and community groups receive important educational and sporting equipment, McDonalds perhaps, is the real evangeliser today [Mt 25:31-45]? The Church will find it increasingly, difficult to engage the Catholic people in the "new evangelisation" which simply, does not connect with their experience and the authentic proclamation of the Gospel to the nations [Mt 28: 20].
Fr Daniel Donovan, submitted to Catholica 22 Feb 2012
Surprisingly, SAC embraces a "hierarchical ecclesiology" rather than a "messianic ecclesiology" rooted in God's mission. Hierarchical ecclesiology on the other hand, begins with Church structures emphasising the role of the pope as the leader of the universal Church. While SAC draws upon Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN), it could well benefit from that document's analysis of the vital relationship between local Churches and the universal Church (EN# 59-65 inclusive). "Messianic ecclesiology implies that the evangelising Church must always be "a hearer of the Word" and always begins evangelising "by being evangelised herself" (EN# 15). The Petrine Office has a unique ministry in God's plan (EN# 60-61) but the bearer of this Office must listen to the community (Mk8:33; Acts 10:14-15; Gal 2:13-16) where Peter himself was corrected. The history of the papacy clearly illustrates its propensity to become embroiled in power struggles and to plunge the Church into schism as in the Great Schism in the fourteenth century (1378-1417), when there were three popes each claiming to be the rightful successor of Peter.
This final Chapter on Implementation would seem to imply that SAC is self evaluating with an odd reference in Point B3 to "an Implementation booklet to be produced annually." It would seem prima facie that without a thorough independent evaluation of the whole Plan that "annual booklets" would be useless in the ongoing implementation of the SAC. Problems with language must be resolved so that words like "evangelisation" and "evangelism," "ecclesial" and "ecclesiastical" are clearly defined and their meanings differentiated. The evaluation of SAC should develop a glossary of such terms to be included in the document.
 Pope Paul VI frequently, linked evangelisation and liberation because God freed people from all oppression. Pope John Paul II was not impressed by the use of liberation which for JP II had political tones. Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi ,(1997), His Holiness: John Paul II and the Hidden History of our Time, New York, N.Y.: Bantam Books, p.237 write; "The Polish pope would never approve of what the Italian pope, Paul VI, in his encyclical Populorum Progressio (progress of Peoples) had declared permissible in extreme cases: revolution against deeply entrenched dictatorships." Perhaps this connection between evangelisation and political liberation suggested John Paul's coining the term "new evangelisation?"
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2012 Fr Daniel Donovan