Who is My Neighbour?

The Hamilton Diocesan Strategic Plan for 2016- 2017
People across the Hamilton Diocese will be getting to know new parishioners as part of a strategic plan invoking the spirit of neighbourliness.

A draft of the Hamilton Diocesan Strategic Plan 2016-17 has been released for discussion. The plan was brought together by a Hamilton Diocesan Strategic Planning Committee. Monsignor Trevor P. Murray, Father Darren McFarlane and Carole Fleming were appointed by Bishop Denis Browne as the committee’s coordinators. The latest document recognises that a number of reviews have been undertaken over the years; meetings held with priests and lay people; and discussion papers have been prepared. However, little has changed regarding either the organisation of parishes or the number of Sunday Masses offered.

The current approach has taken into account this previous work but has also taken as its inspiration the teaching and emphasis of Pope Francis, with his emphasis since his election on the need to return to the work and spirit of Vatican II. “Francis has focused on collegiality, with a desire to collaborate honestly and transparently with the worldwide Conferences of Bishops,” say Msgr Murray and Fr Darren. They also note this does not preclude the Pope’s right to act alone. “We believe this focus on collegiality can re-energise the diocese, especially the priests, as it looks to planning not only for the future but also, more pressingly, for today.”

As a result, the plan is based on the need to work collegially in the diocese – bishop with priests; priests with priests; and priests with parishioners.
Note in this context, “collegiality” has come from the Vatican II reference to “college” in terms of the relationship between pope and bishops. Today, this term refers to the shared responsibility for the whole Church by the whole people of God.

Key Issues
The issues underpinning the plan are real, and will become increasingly pressing and require action. Almost since its establishment in 1980, the Diocese of Hamilton has attempted to address the issues around the declining number of priests, the ageing clergy, and the fall in the number of seminarians and priestly ordinations.

During the period the number of parishes remained constant, and the number of regular Sunday Masses has, for the most part, either remained unchanged, or in the case of some parishes, increased. A number of solutions have been adopted over the years to address these issues. One option was the development of “transparish ministry, in which one priest gives sacramental, pastoral and administrative care to two or three independent parishes. The Diocese of Hamilton introduced the Order of Permanent Deacon with a view to the newly ordained deacons being able to assist parish priests in their pastoral duties and responsibilities.

Office of the Vocations’ Director has been given more prominence, structure and resources to this role and its work. Currently the Diocese has five students at Holy Cross Seminary. Under Bishop Gaines and Bishop Browne a number of discussion papers have been prepared; proposals made; and consultation processes entered into. However, little or nothing has changed in respect of the organisation of the parishes, and the number of Sunday Masses offered. During the same period priests have died, retired or continued to minister past the age of 75.

The introduction of overseas priests under Bishop Denis has seen priests from the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, a Diocese in the Philippines and Switzerland invited to the diocese.
A series of three meetings by the strategy planning committee since January 2014, has led to a fresh approach based around the concept of collegiality. The view is that focussing on collegiality can re-energise the diocese, especially the priests, as it looks to planning for immediate and longer term needs.

About the Personnel within the Diocese
A quick look at information about the age range of the Bishop and priests indicates a substantial weighting in the older age groups. This point is highlighted by four of the priests being 75 years of age or older and still in active ministry. Of these four, two are known to wish to retire immediately or by the end of 2014. A further three priests are 70 years of age or older and still in active ministry

“Prudent planning requires that we find out as soon as possible when these priests would like to retire,” the strategic plan says.

The six priests in the 60-69 age range are expected to indicate sooner rather than later at what age they would prefer to retire
“We are very fortunate to have seven priests in active retired ministry who are prepared to help out (within certain limits).”
The 10 priests in the 40-49 age range is seen by the committee as being significant. It’s suggested that deployment of the deacons needed to be done more effectively. Indications are that two ordinations can be expected in the next few years

The plan notes that this data makes clear that the diocese has reached a crisis point in respect of personnel and parishes. Action is required now, and a new way forward needs to embrace a comprehensive approach to the issues.
As a result, the planning team members are proposing the following approach:

New Collegial Areas – New Parishes
The current deaneries will be disestablished and new collegial areas and new parishes established. The new collegial areas will be given an ecclesiastical name. In principle, no church, where regular Sunday Mass is presently celebrated, will close, unless there are mitigating circumstances. Where a newly merged parish is established, it’s suggested a new name be given.

How will the decisions around this be made?
The plan proposes that the establishment of the new collegial areas and newly merged parishes be a decision made at the diocesan level. The make-up of the new collegial areas will be decided at the diocesan level.

Consultation Process
A consultation process will run for a finite time and will include meetings with:
  1. The priests
  2. With priests and parish leadership people
  3. With parishes

New Collegial Areas
The new collegial areas are mostly based on geography and most consist of two or three parishes/communities.

Each new collegial area constitutes an independent unit that, where possible, will use the priests within that unit to supply one another’s holidays, absences for sickness or emergencies. Priests and people of each area will need to enter into discussion around the number of Masses, Mass times, etc so that a parish within the collegial area can be cared for by one priest.
The new collegial areas will be the primary group for the priests within that area, who will be required to meet ‘regularly’ for discussion prayer, social gatherings. The Whaia te Whaea ministry, currently the Maori Missionary Team, will become a collegial area in its own right

New Parishes
The merging of existing parishes into new parishes is seen as having the advantage of one administrative structure. The plan stresses that no church is expected to close, unless there are mitigating circumstances. Where there are two or more priests in a new parish they may wish to live in the community or prefer to live in an existing presbytery. Consultation and discussion are expected to happen between existing parishes that will form a newly merged parish.
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