by BART HARRINGTON
There is something far more important than a dispute between a number of priests and an investigating group of priests and laymen in the current argument over the situation of the Church in the Scotland Road district of Liverpool. What has been brought right out into the open is the function of the Church in such an area. What is being questioned, is the effectiveness of its structures, both human and physical, to meet the demands of the present and the emerging needs of the future, The Catholic world should be grateful for the openness now being revealed and for the opportunity with which it should consider itself presented. The controversy could be the starting point for a radical rethinking of what type of service the Church can now offer and should prepare herself to provide in the future. The past is as dead as the dodo. Except for the lessons which its successes — and even more so its failures — shout at us now, it is less than useless to nostalgise and to mythologise
about it. If the figure of 25 per cent Mass attendance in a district is correct, then that yardstick of success is not very encouraging.
The possibility of a thorough investigation of an area as a microcosm of the place in which the Church finds much.of its mission today should be welcomed. There are many who would say that this is more important than the provision of any expensive building anywhere.
I would suggest that we should first try to equip ourselves with trained and skill ed investigators, priests, nuns, brothers and convinced lay Christians who are also qualified in sociology, economics, psychology and the social sciences.
Such a team would first set out to analyse and then to suggest solutions. It could provide the expert help which I am sure the clergy there would appreciate. They are doing a magnificent job under most difficult circumstances'.
The Church should set out to give them the same sort of back-up services that projects like Vauxhall have been able to call upon. Our priests, I suspect, have often had to act "off the cuff." We should not ask them to make modern bricks with ancient straw.
Scotland Road's problems are not peculiar to it. They are, in tact, the problems of the old centres of Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Birmingham, Car diff — and, in a sense, of the new centres of those regions as well.
If the answers such an investigation were to produce appeared to point to the failure of the old structures, it would not necessarily mean that the people there are at fault.
Rather that we, the whole Catholic Christian community social classes one-five inclusive. have not acted as a caring com munity and have consequently neglected our less fortunate brethren.
If the answers appear to point to the failure of the old struc tures to meet new situations, then the people involved must be big enough to appreciate that it is not they, as priests or people, who have failed but that we, as a caring, involved, Catholic community, have neglected to move with the times.
There are many questions such an investigation might ask.
Is t he existing parochial/deanery organisation right both in concept and in fact for the future? Does it need streamlining for economy of manpower and cost? Would the establishment of group ministries aid the provision for the people of guidance by priests who are trained in different aspects of social living -and who can integrate their specialist skills with their pervading spiritual advice? What pre-service and inservice training programme is there, and should there be. for the clergy at university level designed to produce an informed expert rather than a wellmeaning amateur?
How far should the people be deliberately involved in the decision-making process which affects how they live in the community of the Church? In other words, how far has paternalism, a necessary feature of a bygone age, been replaced by participation and partnership? What objectives have we given to our schools? Have they been rethought through in the light of social and educational changes? Do they take into account that most are only nominal Catholics? Have the schools a re-evangelising role or a more simple instructive one? How do we evaluate our system'? Is the Church attracting and holding the young? What official and unofficial relationships have been or should be promoted and developed with State and other agencies so that the Church can be seen in partnership or parallel with them in the alleviation of grievances and in the improvement of the environment? Is the Church, in effect, helping to force the tackling of problems beyond her powers and resources?
Archbishop Beck's pastoral letter for the Feast of Christ the
King refers to Gaudium et Spes: "The Second Vatican Council told us 'to know and understand the world in which we live' . 'The Church must continually examine the signs of the times and interpret them in the light of the Gospel' . . . 'The advancement Of human personality and of society go hand in hand.' " The blueprint seems to he there.
If we are to provide the leadership that this and other areas need, and if it is not too late for us to get involved in the deep issues of our society, we might learn a lot from the following quotation from "The Social Sources of Denominationalism" by H. Richard Niebuhr (Meridian Books, The World Publishing Co., Cleveland and New York.) His reference is to "Social Doctrines of Christian Churches and Groups" by Ernst Troeltsch.
"That astute historian of the social ethics of Churches, Ernst Troeltsch, once wrote: 'The really creative, Church-forming religious movements are the work of the lower strata. Here only can one find-that union of unimpaired imagination, simplicity in emotional life, unreflective character of thought, spontaneity of energy and vehement force of nee-O, out of which an unconditional faith in
'divine revelation, the naiveté of complete surrender and the intransigence of surrender can arise.
"'Need upon one hand and the absence of an all relativising culture of reflection on the other hand, are at home only in these strata.
" 'All _great communitybuilding revelations have come forth again and again out of such circles, and the significance and power in such religious movements have always been dependent upon the force of the original impetus given in such naive revelations as well as On the energy of the conviction which made the impetus absolute and divine.'
"This passage not only meets their psychological needs, but sets forth an appealing ethical ideal. In such a situation the right leader finds little difficulty in launching a new movement which will, as a rule, give rise to a new denomination.
"When, however, the religious leader does not appear and religion remains bound in the forms of middle-class culture, the secularisation of the masses and the transfer of their religious fervour to secular movements, which hold some promise of salvation from the evils that afflict them, is the probable result," Time is not on our side.