New plans include minimum pay for all priests
By Michael Duggan
Far-reaching reforms in the life-style of Catholic parish clergy in England and Wales are recommended in a report by an official joint working party of bishops and priests, issued yesterday.
It says there should be closer links between bishops and priests, improvements in the way priests are appointed, wider provision of in-service training schemes for priests, and more positive local leadership through a stronger deanery structure.
The working party also recommends that priests should be guaranteed a minimum income and suggests that the bishops should set up a national scheme for retirement and sickness benefits.
The report, entitledCoResponsibility and the Clergy, was compiled in response to resolutions passed by the National Conference of Priests in 1970 and 1971.
Commenting on the report, Bishop Worlock of Portsmouth, chairman of the Joint Working Party, said: "At first sight this report may seem no more than a new charter of clerical social security. In fact it is much more.
"It is an attempt to make practical application of the principle of co-responsibility to a whole number of relationships and situations which can often be the cause of difficulty and strain in the priestly ministry."
Fr. Sean Kearney, chairman of the National Conference of Priests, added: "It is unrealistic to think in terms of renewal within the Church and at the same time not to recognise the urgent need for reform of the life-style of the clergy."
This is the first time in Britain that a working party set up by the Bishops' Conference and the National Conference of Priests has issued a joint report. On the basis of surveys made among the clergy, the report attempts to put into practice the principle of co-responsibility by establishing procedures for consultation and joint decision-making.
The working party establishes at the beginning of the report that renewal in the priestly ministry is impossible unless the consequences of co-responsibility in the life and mission of the Church are accepted. In the first place this demands good relations between bishop and priest.
The report goes on : "Clearly it is of fundamental importance that there is a close bond of knowledge and trust between bishop and priest ...
"Special care must be taken in the first appointment of the newly ordained . . . a move made quite impersonally can be damaging to apostolic zeal and personal commitment."
A signficant minority of respondents to the working party's questionnaire felt that living quarters were inadequate. and some assistant priests com plained that they felt like a lodger in someone else's house. The report comments: "The sharing of facilities is an impor tant element here. Obvious difficulties can arise where, for example, a parish priest has a suite of rooms and the assis tant, with an upstairs bed-sitting room, is expected to re ceive friends or interview parishioners in a small, cold, ill-furnished waiting room.
"Normally every priest should have a sitting-room as well as a bedroom."
Closer legal definition of the assistant priest's role could im prove relations in the presbytery, while in-service training courses would help to spread new insights into the nature of the Church among priests.
Common prayer was also thought to be an important aid to establishing community. The working party found that although relatively few priests from the same area met together for prayer in common, many wished to do so.
Copies of the report are being sent to 39 bishops al-id nearly 5,000 priests. Bishops will now consult their priests about the report; the National Conference of Priests will use it as background material for its September meeting in Birmingham, and the Bishops' Conference will discuss it at a special meeting in early autumn.