Peter Nolan The only democratically elected body representing all the priests of England and Wales proved it had forged a vital role for itself at its fourth annual meeting in Birmingham last week.
More than 90 delegates of the National Conference of
Priests met at Newman College for five days to discuss two reports they had commissioned which will help determine the future shape and working of the Church. CoResponsibility and the Clergy deals with the relationship between priests and bishops and priests* working conditions. The Church 2,000 outlines future pastoral strategy.
Prepared by working parties of Bishops and priests, the first ever established, the priests' views on them will be considered by a special meeting of the Bishops Conference in Liverpool next week.
Part of the discussion of The Church 2,000 dwelt on mar riage and the priests unanimously welcomed the decision of the Canon Law Society to commission a special study of the nature and adequacy of marital consent, urging it be completed as soon as possible.
The refusal to give communion to both a Catholic and a non-Catholic Christian at a nuptial mass seemed an instance of where "the Church instead of helping, is dividing" said Fr. Peter Flavin. an Aldershot army chaplain.
Fr. Michael Hollings of Southall, London, said many of his Indian parishioners lived together and brought up children without having a marriage ceremony. He predicted a situation was developing in Soc i et v generally where this would become the pattern and nullity. the widening grounds for which worried some priests present. would no longer be a problem.
The Conference expressed "grave concern" at the high number of broken marriages and voted that "training in the pastoral care of married couples should be a normal part of priestly pre-ordination and regular in-service training." It was suggested that greater use be made of the services of the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council.
Fr. Emil Puttman of Sheffield said that priests and Church ceremonies emphasised "the cerebral at the expense of the feeling side of life" because the Church was dominated by males. "I feel we should check if we have been too formalistic in our sermons," he added.
Mrs. Clare Ryan, of Wrex ham, Wales, one of several members of the laity commis sion officially present as observers for the first time, when asked to speak. :brought the discussion down to earth with a bang. "You should ask the laity what they want to do -we don't want to do all the dirty jobs you don't want to do yourselves." she told a surprisingly appreciative audience of priests.
"I don't know one woman who wants to be a priest — or wants her husband to be either," she added. Referring to a discussion on education, she said: "We have schools costing us thousands and thousands of pounds, yet turning out children who have no more ideals and are no better than other children."
Replying to a motion for a sociological survey on which to base pastoral strategy, Fr. Sean Kearney, a member of the working party of The Church 2,000, said they had hoped to obtain figures but were unable to do so. If this failure persisted, they would invoke the conference's mandate to carry out a survey, he said.
A very real anxiety that the Cle.ech was losing contact with the working class was yoieed by several priests. Fr. J. O'Reilly of Wrexham said "what has happened in France is happening here — it is ridiculous to say that it is not. The middle class are doing everything, the working class are leaving us," he said.
Fr. Harry Holden of Car-. lisle introduced a resolution that "the current trend of Church work and renewal is not taking into account the needs and culture of working class people." He said the working class were not wor ried that "they were not out going or in task-oriented groups and so on. We are going further and further away from the way working class people lead their lives in this country," he said.
Fr. P. Birmingham of Nelson, Lancashire, supported birn, pointing out speakers' previous suggestions for group meetings in homes were impos sible in some areas for people who lived in "two up, two down houses. with six children." The debate on the resolution caused a sharp division at the conference, some finding it "highly objectionable" and denying there was a problem.
Bishop Guazzelli, Auxiliary of Westminster, said he hoped they were not "projecting into the working class what they themselves were feeling." The conference was evenly divided as to whether the resolution should be voted on, revealing the sensitiveness of the issue. L. was decided to leave the resolution and move on to other business.
The Conferen-e welcomed the interim report on The Church 2,000 ald emphasised the need for wide consultation, the importance of involving the laity, the ecumenical dimension and the role of women in society and the Church. The final report will be prepared in 1975.
Co-Responsibility and the Clergy was also welcomed, with the principle of co-responsibility on which it was based. The Conference decided next year's meeting should be devoted to reports from members of the conferenee in each diocese on the implementation of the "CoResponsibility" report and further suggestions for The Church 2.000 report.
Bishon Lindsay, Auxiliary of Hexham and Newcastle. Bishop Guazzelli. Ansiliary of Westminster. Bishop Moverlev, Auxiliary of Leeds. Bishop Pearson. Auxiliary of Lancaster and Bishop Cleary. Auxilien/ of Birmingham attended all or nart of the conference and contributed to the discussions.
Bishop Worlock, Secretary of the Bishops' Conference, who attended all sessions, said that he thought the meeting would be remembered as the one at which the priests of the 'whether' and the 'who' of "the consideration of the conference had passed from their ministry to the 'how' of it all."
He praised the debate as being open and wide-ranging and hoped these qualities and willingness to listen would rub off in the dioceses.
Anyone present at the conferenee could be left in no doubt about how much the priests of England and Wales care for their people or of their anxiety to make the Church fully relevant to the changing society we live in. The reports discussed mark the growing contribution of the four-year-old body to the Church in whose future the Conference must play a central part.