A personal view on the "Church 2000" by Peter Nolan
For the first time in the history of the Church in England and Wales the ordinary Catholic-in-the-street has been invited to contribute his ideas on how the Church can best accomplish its mission in society today.
"The Church 2000" is not the latest in space fiction but the interim report on the future of the Church in this country, prepared by a working party of 12 religious and laymen and released last May.
More than 21,-000 copies, at 15p each, have 'already been sold, the volume of demand from Catholics and other Christians leading to a second printing.
Individuals and groups all over the country studying the 38-page report have been asked to submit their ideas by the end of next May. The document defines the Church's mission as proclaiming the Gospel and giving effect to it "in a particular place, at a particular time."
In 13 chapters the report supplies food for thought on the role of priests and laity, education. the selection of bishops and other related topics.
The report states the situation of the Church today has "profoundly changed." It is "no longer in a world which is directly hostile to it, but one which in the main is not narticcularly concerned about it." The report's lack of statistical data has already been criticised in this paper — curiously enough by Fr. Michael Winter, a member of the working party, who should surely have been able to fill the gap himself. Nevertheless, we learn less than a third of the Catholics of England and Wales attend Mass regularly, if at all — quite a high proportion compared with France and Germany.
Another statistic — that 28,000 of the 46,000 Catholic marriages in 1970 were to nonCatholics — suggests the tremendous pastoral need in this field which has been barely tackled. It is impossible to tell from the figures available at what point lapsing begins.
While the Church is far from vanishing in England and Wales, membership is not growing at anything like the rate one would predict from the number of Catholic marriages and other statistics, including the presence of a million Irish-born immigrants.
The successively decreasing number of conversions over the last few. years — omitted in the i
report, is paralleled by the fall in vocations, though this latter appears to have reached a plateau in the last two years.
lo blame this shrinkage simply on "the materialistic society, we live in" is not really logical. The boy Guru. Maharaj Ji. attracted tens of thousands from every age group to his meetings on his recent visit to London. The membership of sects such as Scientology is booming, though the courses it offers cost hundreds of pounds.
Affluence, far from blunting the appeal of the supernatural, has led to the expression of the greatest spiritual hunger since the Methodist revival of the last century. More people have become conscious of unfulfilled spiritual needs — but few see their satisfaction in the Catholic Church of England and Wales today.
Thus the discussion document, our response to it and the Bishops' Conference implementation of the consensus of suggestions arising from it. make it the most vital report ever issued by the Church in this country. Neglect in the two areas in which I would like to offer my contribution — education and communication — are at least partly responsible for the so far disappointing response to the interim document.
To the outsider, the whole field of catecheticS seems a terrible mess. At this month's Westminster Pastoral Council meeting, one parent voiced fears that his children were being taught their religion in such a way as to play down such mysteries as the Incarnation and Resurrection, making them irrelevant.
I myself spent some months as a catechist to ten-year-olds, with an excellent text but no instructions as to how to use it.
The Church may he one and holy, but catechetics courses seem as numerous and bewildering as the schools that teach them. Catholic schools are also finding that most young teachers do not want to teach religion, often because they themselves have been so badly instructed as to be unsure of their own beliefs.
Across the hoard experimentation is bewildering and harmful. It seems more essential than ever that the hierarchy should opt for one particular course, embodying as much as possible of present catechetical advances, properly graded to teach older pupils to think and argue their way through things. My own puny experience convinced me that the teaching of religion is a very specialised subject indeed and that any course. to be fruitful. needs properly qualified teachers.
The report's three paragraphs on education, both in their brevity and inscrutability. ac-curately reflect my experience of this field of Church endeavour. Readers arc told that proper discussion of education will have to await the report of the (all bishop) Education Commission's study of the Theology of Education. Thus a subject of great interest and often expense to Catholic parents is neatly side-stepped..
I sincerely hope parents will not be deterred from sending in their suggestions about this field. one which svas also discussed at length by delegates attending this year's National Conference of Priests. "The pastoral care of students in nonCatholic schools." — about a third of the total is however offered for consideration.
The proportion of Catholic educational investment going to this group is negligible and this fact alone calls fur an examination of the whole of educational policy. the aims and priorities of which have never been recorded on paper.
The next point brings us straight into communication. 'he severest critics of what is in general an excellent Catholic schools system are usually Catholics. They have never had it explained to them what makes Church-run schools so valuable.
Britain, alrvost alone among the countries of Western Europe. lacks an institute of sociology whose research could give teeth to any
\ argument defending the schools.
It could also measure how much the average Catholic-in-the-pew knows and understands or the renewal brought about ha Vatican 11 which has imperceptihk but fun dab-lent:illy changed the face or the Church in England and Wales.
Adult religious education, so badly needed in a Church whose structures have changed so rapidly, receives attention in very few dioceses and rarely are the laity encouraged to anend courses.
The Catholic press has always appealed onlyto a minority, and rarely does a priest spend sermon time explaining the new shape the Church has taken.
rrt;iii my own experience, I helieve very few people indeed under;tand or know about the Commissions. extending, the Church's concern into lay formation, world hunger and other areas. Parish councils are probably better known, but the whole thinking behind them is understood only by those who have the time and education to study Vatican 11 documents.
The failure to communicate asgiornamento has deepened two divisions already present in the Church to such an extent that they may eventually cripple it. Vatican II has accentuated the "generation gap," and older people, priests and laymen, living in a world where all else is changing. arc deeply disturbed :it changes in the Church they do not fully understand and therefore cannot support.
The second division has come from the almost exclusively middleclass take-over of the new structures. the educated and articulate happily Idling the posts. This leaves out 7fi per cent. of the faithful. aceording to the most recent Laity Commission statistics.
I.or the first time there is a very real danger the British Church will follow the French and lose contact with the working class.
The solution to these problems lies in cominunication. but In realising it we must listen to the report's warning: "Nothing dooms any organisation to a more certain living death than if it exists to hold meetings.
( opies of 'The Church 2000". at 151) rlus postage. may he obtained from the Catholic Information Offive. 9 Bridge Street. Pinner, Middlesex, TIA5 3ER. Comments should go to Newman Hall, Westbury -on-Tryln. Bristol, BS9 4DR.
See Conference Report — p8