BY A STAFF REPORTER
THE bishops of England and Wales have invited a steering committee of priests elected at the National Conference of Secular Priests last June, to form a working party to discuss recommendations for setting up a representative national forum of priests.
They recommend that the proposals of the working party should be submitted to a further National Conference of Priests next year and to the Bishops' Conference with a view to adopting the forum for a trial period.
'they also recommend that bishops should discuss the proposals with all priests of their dioceses.
The secular priests confci ence, at Wood Hall, near Leeds. examined the role of the priest in present-day conditions, and whether his way of life and relationships helped him to conduct his ministry properly. The bishops passed their resolution after meeting the steering committee early last month. After studying the resolutions from the Bishops' Conference, Fr. Sean Kearney, chairman of the steering committee, said: This resolution in effect expresses the confidence of the bishops in having a permanent body to represent all the priests of England and Wales.
"There were many resolutions at the Wood Hall Conference: but the steering committee feels that they can be properly considered only by much more detailed discussions over a period of time between the hierarchy and their recognised forum of priests.
"Thus the first essential is to establish this recognised forum, and to give it a continuous existence. So we invited the bishops to consider all other resolutions than this one on their merits.
"The forum must be absolutely at the service of the bishops. and to serve them properly it will need the fullest support, and the active help of all priests. We greatly value the trust the bishops have shown in us by inviting us to form a working-party with them to examine further details. The open and friendly way in which they have received us and talked with us augurs well for further deliberations."
On other resolutions passed at Wood Hall, Fr. Kearney said: "There has been considerable progress in all the areas which were of concern to the delegates at Wood Hall.
"The appointment of bishops is further examined in norms issued by the Holy See and to be published soon. Likewise the norms recently issued in. ROTIle for senates of priests encinirage the election of members on a broad basis, and this was central to the hopes of the delegates at Wood Hall.
"What is more, our own bishops are examining the role and membership of the senates advising local bishops. Our own bishop; have raised the matter of married deacons in Rome, and this is under consideration.
"The delegates at Wood Hall called for smaller dioceses. The National Committee for Population Study of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales is, in fact, examining the size of dioceses in relation to various demographic factors, and we shall be -sending a delegate to take part in these discussions.
"At our initiative, prominent canon lawyers are preparing further material on 'Due Process' (the machinery of arbitration between bishops and priests in disagreement). The matter will be raised again when these further detailed studies have matured.
"The delegates at Wood Hall wished to see improved relationships generally in the priesthood. These can be achieved only by a long-term dialogue. continuing at national and diocesan level. Changes in attitude require much patient work and discussion. The forum for the priests of England and Wales — whatever its title and terms of reference are finally decided to be — has a vital function in fostering and guiding this longterm dialogue."
The episcopal members of the working party are: Cardinal Heenan, Bishop Warlock of Portsmouth, Bishop Casey of Brentwood. and Bishop Mullins, Auxiliary of Cardiff.
Discussions on the National Conference of Priests, and on the work done at Wood Hall arc taking place among groups of priests in many parts of the country. The steering committee is doing all that it can to forward these.
Cardinal Wright, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, received members of the steering committee (Fr. Sean Kearney, Canon Gordon Albion and Fr. Michael Corley) while they were in Rome on October 27. They had an informal discussion on the work the Congregation is doing on the question of senates and councils of priests.
The steering committee has also received the following resolution from the Conference of Diocesan Directors of Vocations.
"The Conference of Diocesan Directors of Vocations thank the first National Conference of Secular Priests at Wood Hall for their expression of confidence in the work of people engaged in the training of priests, and their emphasis on the need for full time vocation directors."