As mentioned last Sunday, this week the Archbishop, the Vicar-General and various of their offices briefed the clergy on information about organising the diocese into the future. It was noted that this had been the request of the diocese for a long time.
Archbishop Peter started by saying that the aim was always mission-driven parishes. This in fact was the original organisation of the diocese; with Archbishop Goold dividing territory up into missions, with a new mission only being established when it was sustainable in terms of people and resources. Archbishop Peter focussed on four areas based in the New Testament: proclamation, worship, fellowship and service. Each area needed to be able to do these four things well. At the moment, this was not the case, in part because the historical factors behind the current parochial boundaries no longer existed. For example, many boundaries preceded the reality of cars and so presumed people were walking to Mass.
Archbishop Peter stated that the diocese needed to move to a mission structure. This meant the organisation of parishes into clusters that could be healthy and meet the four basic needs of Christian life. The data that had been collected through various means suggested Melbourne could sustain around 50-60 of these missions. The organisation of missions would precede any discussion of amalgamation of parishes. The upcoming discussion then would be about what and where are these missions. The discussion would be based in the four regions (North, South, East, West) and would look to provide 2-3 missions from each region by the end of this year, with the rest by the end of next year.
Fr Joe Caddy mentioned that currently there were around 210 parishes, and these varied massively. For example, Craigieburn had a population of around 23,800 with 1,400 attending Mass, and Laverton had a population of 20,900 with around 1,700 attending Mass. This was in comparison to many inner city parishes, where 104 parishes serve fewer than 4000 Catholics with fewer than 400 at Mass, and of those 64 have fewer than 300 at Mass.
Fr Caddy emphasised that the whole process was to enable and encourage the transmission of faith. He reiterated the Archbishop’s point on a certain critical mass of people needed in each mission so as to meet the needs. He also made the point that this necessitated change. This change would be accompanied by grief, and we must acknowledge that. However, that grief could not be an excuse for inaction. The Church in Melbourne must continue with the mission given her by Christ.
Next we had a briefing from Location IQ. They are consultants who advise on the face of Melbourne now and into the future. From Church data as well as census and government data, they advise on what the Church might look like, as a way of beginning the discussion. Their advice was that given Melbourne was projected to grow to around 8 million people by 2050, a parish would to need to serve around 22,000 Catholics with around 500 at Mass.
The next steps in the process were then indicated. There would be another briefing – this time for parishioners – in May, with one parishioner from each parish attending. Then, there would be a regional gathering in June. By the end of 2021, 3-5 missions in each region would be identified, with the rest being established in 2022.
Both the Archbishop and Fr Joe made it clear that though change was necessary, the form of the change had not yet been decided. They stated that this needed to be driven by the local conditions and the fruit of the discussions. However, change did have to happen.
As I mentioned last week, I will keep the parishes updated on everything I hear. Our focus should be on seeing this as an opportunity to grow in the Christian life. We should be considering what we want to do as a community, and who we can work with around us on these projects. It is about worshipping God and serving our brothers and sisters. We have a lot to offer in these two areas, and there is plenty of room for growth.