By a Staff Reporter • Mr Pat Keegan, of the National Council for the Lay Apostolate, said at a recent meeting of National Laity Commission at the Knights of St Columba Club, London: " 'Ground Plan' report is not a missionary document, and it is loaded already in the way it is presented."
The Commission discussed "Ground Plan" at the conclusion of a working party's study on this document.
Canon Edmund Arbuthnott (appointed by the Bishops' Conference) who had prepared the final observations, introduced the discussion. He emphasised that the real need in reorganising diocesan boundaries was the consideration of good relationships. "In the running of a diocese, all depends on this," he said.
Mr Vincent Kelly (Newcastle co-opted member) remarked that the document started with territory and not with people. "Our bishops are simply not able to do an episcopal job, as it is," he continued. "They are tied up with so many things that are not pastoral."
One speaker after another showed similar dissatisfaction, both with the present role of the bishops and the starting point of "Ground Plan".
Mr Kevin Muir (secretary) said that many people became obsessed with the financial implications of reorganisation. They were then no longer open to the real, urgent issues.
Fr Brian Green (Ushaw priest nominated by Bishops' Conference) emphasised that it was high time "we make finance fit the Church and not the Church fit finance".
While agreeing with this, Mr Joe Williams (Leeds diocesan representative) reminded everyone that the people would have to finance the reorganisation and were bound, therefore, to be concerned.
Many members of the Commission showed concern that the role of the bishop was, at present, an impossible one — a view readily shared by Bishop Lindsay (president) who was present at the meeting.
Mrs Elspeth Orchard (Portsmouth representative) remarked that many people did not really care too much about the bishop of the diocese. "Who is he?" they ask.
Mrs Jacqueline Stuyt (National Council for the Lay Apostolate) pointed out that young people said a good deal about this. To them the bishops of the Church were quite unreal people, remote and inaccessible:, Miss Susan Thorpe (National Council for the Lay Apostolate Youth Section), the newlyappointed youth representative on the Commission, said that she couldn't really care about the local bishop at all.
"What is very important to me," she said, "is to meet my parish priest." She pointed out that there is a danger that priests were not available enough because they had to attend so many meetings.
The members of the Commission were deeply concerned on this point. "Ground Plan" had not really started from this principle — the absolute need to create living and realistic smaller groups. Fr Brian Green (Ushaw) spoke with great anxiety about the relationships of bishops to priests. "I want to see the bishops for the priests," he said. "The diocese should be small enough for the bishop really to know his priests and to be a leader to them. The laity will then be better led by their priests."
The other two priests present, Canon Arbuthnott and Fr Michael Hollings (appointed by the Bishops' Conference) agreed that the present relationship of bishop and priests is unsatisfactory.
Fr Michael Hollings said that the diocesan bishop was inaccessible, and auxiliary bishops were not bishops at all, because they could make no decisions. "Let's make every dean a bishop and get on with it," he said.
He pointed out that if it was going to be done at all then the reorganisation needed to be done quickly — perhaps in the next IS months. In view of developing relations with other Churches, the time would come when the reorganisation of dioceses would be pointless.
Pat Keegan agreed that this ecumenical dimension was a vital consideration and one which had not yet received adequate thought.
Elspeth Orchard suggested to the Commission members that in the recommendations of the Commission to the "Ground Plan" committee, the good points of the document should be commended.
At the conclusion of the discussion Bishop Lindsay suggested that a further discussion might be helpful on the more fundamental issues. It could be based on the Vatican H document Christus Dominus, on the bishops, the relevant chapter in Church 2000 and the Laity Commission's "Building the Community".