In the history of the Church there have been several changes in the relationship between the hierarchy, the religious and the lay faithful. The Christian ideal has been described in Acts 4: 32 “The group of believers was one in mind and heart. None of them said that any of their belongings were their own, but they all shared with one another everything they had.” Soon various roles began to be assigned to lectors, acolytes, cantors, deacons, etc. Gradually especially after Emperor Constantine, Latin became the official language of the Church and there developed a “clericalization of the Church” in which the clergy began to take on the roles that had formerly been given to the lay faithful. The Second Vatican Council was a turning point. It emphasized the Church as the People of God and many of the roles were re-assigned to the members of Christ’s faithful. In the Archdiocese of Bombay, a Synod was held in 2001 to take a fresh look at our vision and mission the light of the Council. Eleven years later, we take a fresh look at the relationship between hierarchy, priests, religious and Laity in the light of modern developments and the needs of the Archdiocese.
Survey highlights :
1. Approachability and availability of priests: 88 % of respondents agreed that priests were approachable and available. Collaboration in parish ministry: 80% of respondents agreed that priests and the lay faithful collaborate in parish ministry. Close to 60-65% of respondents saying that this collaboration is useful and helpful with the priest encouraging the lay faithful to undertake training programs.
2. 42% respondents from the Commissions said the role of the priest in priest –laity collaboration was of supervising the laity. However 72% of PPC members said the primary role of the priest is to provide suitable guidance. Close to 75% agreed that there was accountability in the financial management of the parish with only a minority of 9% saying there was no accountability in the financial systems operating in the parishes.
3. Priest and PPC: 60% of PPC members felt there was a spirit of openness in PPC meetings with 66% saying that representatives of SCCs and parish associations were given enough opportunity to express their views and group concerns in the PPC meetings. 90% found the representation of women in the PPC to be adequate.
Overall several key strengths emerge: Our priests are approachable and available with a positive orientation towards collaboration. There is inclusiveness in the PPC composition and openness of expression in the PPC interactions, as also a voice of representation to the various parish associations. One also notes that there generally exists recognition of a strong accountability in financial matters of the parish.
The above positives are a strong validation of our historical and on-going institutional and communitarian efforts to build a strong and vibrant Archdiocese. The basic challenge is how to consolidate our strengths and take them to the next level to promote and achieve the vision and mission of our archdiocese and respective parishes in response to the ‘signs of the times’.
Healthy and wholesome relationships can only develop where the following key elements are given prominence : Communication, conflict resolution, collaboration and co-responsibility and the willingness to change.
Communication is not a language, it is relationship. Effective communication between the clergy and the lay faithful and among priests themselves must first convey, “You are important to me and I want to take this communication forward.” The skills involved would be empathetic listening and responding and giving and receiving feedback. Barriers to effective communication would be prejudice, superiority or inferiority complexes and fear of self-disclosure. There is an almost adequate top-down communication structure which is successfully used but there is a need to explore and strengthen the bottom-up communication model. Dialogue between seminarians and their professors/mentors can be a rich and fulfilling experience when there is an openness to discuss sensitive issues that enable these seminarians to become good priests themselves.
In keeping with the technological age we live in, the clergy are encouraged to use software for processing data and information both, at the personal and professional level. They must also not shy away from social networking among themselves especially when friends and batch mates are in far off parishes. With the aid of privacy setting, their interactions with one another would be pretty secure.
Conflict and conflict resolution
Interdependence among clergy may foster conflict. Cause for conflict could be due to bearing grudges or keeping score, put downs and criticism in public at the seminary, clergy meetings or priests’ council. These must be addressed and sorted out. Other factors that contribute to conflict could be groups, language, cultural and regional differences. Conflict is healthy when it enables one to explore new ideas. It stimulates greater creativity and the outcome would be far better.
When new ideas are shot down or scorned at by senior and experienced priests, other priests with creative ideas feel discouraged and fear sharing their views. This is detrimental for making progress. Therefore efforts must be made to create an atmosphere of trust and acceptance. Bishops must be able to draw out quiet priests to speak up and listen with patience and respect.
Collaboration and co-responsibility
This is possible when key positions exercising power and authority are rotated regularly. Priests holding on to pet projects for several years not only block out innovation and creativity but also create a sense of domination and a feeling of indispensability. Collaboration is possible when the priest in charge delegates and considers himself one among equals. Accepting feedback without being defensive will ensure better cooperation and increase the level of trust. Taking ownership when projects fall short of the expected results will make it easy for a priest to seek help from his peers or higher-ups.
We live in times of profound and rapid change. To live is to change and to live long is to have changed often. The Church as a whole is challenged to make an impact on the changing social order. Some areas for consideration would be:
1. Training – Formation of seminarians and religious needs to be interdisciplinary. Courses in Theology and Philosophy must be complemented by courses in the behavioural sciences and human resources management. Growth as a person, in different relationships must be seen as an integral part of spiritual formation. Wholeness is holiness.
2. Senior priests must be mentors to young priests and seminarians. The formation of seminarians in our Archdiocese of Mumbai has a well thought out plan and is effectively executed to prepare them for their ministry in the church. 93% of the lay faithful agreed that priests are well trained for the ministry. However, we live in a dynamic and evolving society where the key to survival is continuous learning and growth be it spiritual or emotional. We must learn from the failures and crises of the church in the west and Europe.
Can we develop a Pastoral Development Program that could be designed in three tiers that covers the span of priestly ministry over a period of fifteen years? What is envisaged is a process where senior priests and religious take on the role of a ‘role model’ and engage in pastoral mentoring for a period of at least a couple of years after ordination? “When we see that to learn, we must be willing to look foolish, to let another teach us, learning doesn’t always look so good anymore...only with the support of fellowship of another can we face the dangers of learning meaningful things.” (Peter Senge) The key word is ‘fellowship’, a word that combines partnership, warmth and camaraderie.
At the core of the essence of pastoral ministry is the need to provide ancient wisdom (2000 years of catholic wisdom) to contemporary problems. In order to fulfill this mission, the clergy need to adapt to modern times, constantly discovering what is not known. Regular skill up gradation especially in a new digital divide world is all the more relevant than before. The eternal flame of psycho-spiritual growth will have to be constantly enkindled with latest research and sharing.
3. The creation of the Bombay Archdiocese Asset Management Authority (BAAMA) comprising the Archdiocesan hierarchy in the Board with the responsibility of managing church estate and assets for the long term benefit of the Archdiocese so as to optimally and professionally address future challenges in an increasingly complex and combative environment. This Company would be a professionally run company with competent technical and functional resources drawn from the hierarchy and the appropriate placement network. The proposed Asset management Company would incorporate and include all existing resources such as legal, tax and financial advisers currently engaged with the archdiocese.
What are the reasons for such a body ?
A. The body could plan a long term , comprehensive perspective and continuity in management of church properties across the archdiocese. Decisions would be optimized so as to take care of ongoing and long terms needs of the respective parish and the Church. Properties under a centrally controlled body would be better managed as a portfolio taking into account a whole of issues including financial returns, future needs and gainful use of assets.
B. Parish Priests are appointed for tenures of around 6 years. The succession of incumbents to the posts of parish priests creates a discontinuity in management. Quite often problems related to these properties take a lot of time and attention of an already over burdened parish priest. Sometimes he is the target of local and parish pressure groups as well under threat from the builder/politician/gangster lobby. The individual parish priest is at times quite powerless against such powerful vested interests. Within delegated scope of authority the parish priest would have full autonomy to perform his duties with respect estate and assets. Each parish would out of necessity manage its own finances and resources within the established parameters.
Formation of Seminarians and Women Religious
The results of the survey on people’s perception of women religious show widely differing responses. A majority see their role as being confined to the sacristy and flower arrangements at the altar. Others see women religious playing a key role in SCCs and CCOs. Many are also aware of their important role in the field of education and caring for orphans. Many feel that they are well trained pastorally while the on-line respondents feel that their training is poor.
Here are some suggestions that are important :
a. Include Gender sensitivity courses as one of the subjects in Seminaries and houses of formation.
b. Reorient the formation of women religious towards pastoral possibilities in the Church.
c. Provide opportunities for theologically-trained women to contribute as pastoral workers, researchers, faith formators, professors in theology and spiritual counsellors. (Pastores dabo vobis, 207)
d. Affirm the pastoral work of women religious- as catechists, lectors, and animators of Basic/Small Christian Communities, counsellors, liturgists and Community workers through the recognition of these as Ministries.
A cell for Human Resources and Organizational Behavior must be formed that undertakes some of the changes suggested above. This would also help when priests have to be transferred, sent abroad for further studies or put in charge of various Commissions. This would also ensure transparency at all levels of the clergy. The cell would have to function both at the archdiocesan level as well as the parish level so that the best resources in the community can be harnessed for the good of all.
Questions for Discussion:
1. Mention at least 3 most important ideas in the paper you agree with, giving reasons for the same
2. Any suggestions relating to the implementation and the way forward regarding the above?
3. Please mention any ideas in the paper you disagree with, giving reasons for the same
4. Please mention any important aspects that you think have not been covered in the paper.