Saturday, January 15, 2011

It`s grim up North

Yesterday`s local morning paper, the Newcastle Journal carried an article featuring Fr Zielinski (pictured above), parish priest of Prudhoe, judicial vicar, and dean of the Tyne valley area regarding the bleak future for the Catholic Church in this part of the world. This comes in the week when the bishop and his episcopal council have been away from Monday to Friday mulling over the future too. The Journal article says the bishop`s meeting was beginning yesterday but it ended yesterday. However here is a quotation:

FEARS the Catholic church could diminish in the region over the next decade have emerged in a new study.

Leading North East priest Father Paul Zielinski, of the Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, has warned of potential widespread closures and dwindling clergy cover at Mass attendances, if trends from the last 10 years continue.

The worrying scenario facing deaneries in Newcastle and Hexham were on the agenda at a crucial Bishop’s Council meeting which began last night.

Mass attendances in the diocese have continued to fall, dropping by 13,347 from 52,563 in 2001, to 39,216 in 2009.

Fr Zielinski, head of the deanery covering most of the Tyne Valley, has produced a list of concerning scenarios potentially faced by the church, alongside changes proposed for the other 17 deaneries also on the table at the debate.

The present number of active priests stands at 115 but is likely to fall to 73, warns Fr Zielinski.
He has also raised the prospect of many of the 181 parishes having to be cut back, with churches in the diocese covering Berwick to Teesside closing, priests’ houses being rented out and greater pressure put on retired priests, deacons and ministers to work again.

The consequences of falling Mass figures and the declining number of clergy were being debated at last night’s behind-closed-doors meeting, which is expected to last several days.
Fr Zielinski told The Journal last night: “We face a huge challenge in the future to maintain the current level of the Catholic church. My study appears gloomy but we must face the real problems head-on. The concept of Sunday worship is disappearing. People do not consider that day as a time for rest and reflection any more in our 24/7 culture.

“We are in danger of losing what makes the church a source of immense wellbeing.”


Giorgio Roversi said...

We don't need to worry about the state of Catholic Church in the North: Bishop Seamus has appointed a new Coordinator for spiritual formation for the diocese. This will really change things!
Sometimes I wander how much more evidence some clergy (and laity) will need to understand that the solution to the crisis is simply the rediscovery of sound, traditional Catholic doctrine and liturgy.

Seeker said...

Forgive me if I seem harsh Father but the approach in H&N has long seemed to be to wring hands and say woe, but what is needed is a positive approach to evangelisation. In the Tyne Valley I see a lot of goodwill in the parishes and people keen to push forward, but they are generally held back by clerics who are stuck in ruts and really don't know how to move forward. Enough of the Cassandras lets see some action.

berenike said...

“We are in danger of losing what makes the church a source of immense wellbeing.”


Ben Trovato said...

I notice they debate the impact rather than the causes...

Augustinus said...

I wonder why the bishop of my old diocese and his inner cohort did not spend as much time considering how to encourage vocations to the priesthood, rather than managing decline.

They are such prophets of doom - maybe they just don't want priests, prefering the Church of Christ to wither on the vine. Their problems is that Christ won't allow that to happen.

Remove the 1960s blinkers said...

whether it is true or not, the common gossip in H and N is that the powers that be want the laity to run the Church. This has been the whole thrust of the training at Ushaw where seminarians have been trained to be parish managers rather than sacrificing priests. It is no wonder that Ushaw is empty; after all, anyone can be a parish manager, and of either gender. Why should any young man put himself through six or seven years of training just to manage a group of parishioners when he can go to university for three years and get a good job that is better paid - and get married.

1569 Rising said...

There seems little mathematical doubt about the declining number of active clergy in the Diocese.

The difficulty will lie in the seeming willingness of parish clergy to allow the laity to not only care for the fabric and finances of parishes, but to permit, even encourage the laity (or rather, some of the more opinionated) to dictate liturgy and pastoral activities of the parish.

Maybe some priests are content to allow this to happen, but it must be wrong in Canon Law. Is it?

Anonymous said...

What on earth is a "Coordinator for spiritual formation?"

It just seems like a trendy title for someone who talks a lot but doesn't change things.

Have you noticed that many parishes serve Catholic schools which have hundreds of pupils yet only a handful of them attend Mass?

Let's get our priests out of meetings and into our schools, homes and visiting the sick.

The people of the early church didn't worry about pastoral councils and endless waffle at meetings, they just dropped everything and followed Christ.

Let's be active again.

Em said...

Unfortunately Mass attendance is dropping drastically and will continue to drop. Many reasons (excuses) are given for this abuse scandals/church teaching on moral issues/Masses too modern and trendy/Masses boring or not modern and trendy.
However, the sad fact is that many people simply cannot be bothered to go. Modern lifestyles are ridiculously stressed and hectic. Many parents may be working 6 days a week or may have to ferry children around endless extra curricular activities. Then they have the weekly shopping to do, housework, maintain a social life and sleep. It comes to Sunday morning and they don't want to have to get up early on the only day they might be able to have a lie in, in order to get the children ready, breakfast made and off to church in time for a Mass that could be as early as 9 am (schock horror - our Mass here is at 8.30 am and the church is FREEZING, literally, which is why only the hard-core old ladies go. The others wait until 10 and go to a warmer church)
By the time Mass is over, the stressed out family would come home, someone would have to start preparing Sunday lunch (or a TV dinner) and by the time that has been eaten only a precious few hours remain of free time.
Many do not think they need faith anymore - they get by quite nicely in a secular world thank you very much. They don't want a bunch of celibate clergymen telling them what they can and can't do. If they have any residual belief, they probably believe that when they die they will be absolutely fine because they have been kind to other people and done good deeds during their life and that God is not counting how many times they dragged the screaming kids out of bed to go to Mass.
Sad but true.

zetor said...

Will the coordinator for spiritual formation be employed on a volountary basis? If not, then surely as the diocese is short of cash for the running of Ushaw college the finances will not stretch to her pay packet.
In returning to traditonal Catholic doctrine and liturgy these positions (Coordinator for spiritual formation being one)would NOT be necessary!!!

Seeker said...

That might be your experience Em, but it's not common to me. We find that the Sunday Mass, when we can all go together is the single thing we can all do together as a family in our busy lives. Even the teenagers value it. What we find very frustrating is the standard of teaching in the parishes. I know many of the priests have felt defensive in the past, but the Pope's visit should have changed that. The good preachers should be out and about helping the less so. Time to get out of meetings and into the real world. There is fertile soil out there, but the labourers have to actually get out into the vineyards.

Em said...

Seeker, that is fantastic that your family go to Sunday Mass together. Sadly that is not the case for many many families. They do not see the importance of going and with very crammed lives, they will leave out those "activities" they consider less important.

Lucymay said...

I so agree with the comments from EDITOR how many more people are the Diocese going to employ. Parishioners are regularly asked it they can contribute more in their weekly donation, then we are informed a Co-ordinator for Spiritual Formation is recruited no doubt at a fantastic salary, what a load of rubbish, we are constantly being told there is a recession obviously this doesn't appear to apply to H&N. My weekly donation will be now be reduced if this is how it is being used, this is totally unnecessary obviously they already have too much money of ours to waste. This idea will be to satisfy some smug do-gooder no doubt and will not make the slightest difference to Mass or any other church service attendance.

Fr Michael Brown said...

Lucymay, I can understand your concern about the creation of a new post in the diocese at a time when parishes are being told they can`t spend money becuase there is a recession. However we were told that this new position of spiritual advisor has found funding from outside of the diocese. I believe the same applies to the recently created post of family life department in the diocese.

It doesn`t help your parish if you reduce your contribution as it still has bills to pay, however your concern is understandable and I hope we are kept aware that this new position is not costing the parishes anything.

The Trad Troll said...

Fr Michael’s statement: ‘However we were told that this new position of spiritual advisor…’ is revealing. ‘We’ must be the clergy and the lay folk who attend all these junketings nowadays; the person in the pew is always the last to be told and expected to accept what is decided on high. However it is financed, the faithful still do fund the diocese in all its other ‘needs’.
Fr M also mentions ‘the recently created post of family life department in the diocese.’ When did that happen and what’s it supposed to do? Persuade everyone to fully accept the Church’s teaching on sex and the indissolubility of marriage? An uphill battle indeed.
This diocese (and others) reminds me of the Swiss navy: more admirals than ships. One needs only look at the pages of the Northern Catholic Calendar to see how top-heavy it is. I wonder just how many priests are employed on these various committees and what results those same committees have produced (apart from overseeing a steady reduction in the number of people attending Mass I think the answer is obvious).
Oops, just discovered among the four densely packed pages of the Calendar: its called the Commission for Marriage and Family Life and has a co-ordinator but apparently no members.

Thomas More said...

The last projection I remember about the future of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle was in the days of Bishop Ambrose Griffiths - and that was that the whole thing would be over by 2025: no clergy, no laity.

Fr Zielinski seems much more upbeat. On his figures there could still be 10,000+ practising Catholics in 2025.

Seeker said...

So what, one may ask, did Bishop Ambrose, or Bishop Kevin do to reverse rather than manage this decline? Is Bishop Seamus following the same path. (Is there a causal relationship between Bishops using their Christian names and decline in attendance?)

David O'Neill said...

Yes, there is some corellation between numbers attending Mass & finance insofar as those not attending may have financial reasons for not attending. How is that explained?
If by attending Mass you are expected to contribute financially & then you see finance being wasted you MAY stop attending Mass as the easy option.
I recently wrote to the bishop suggesting that centralised buying should be looked at - and this was before The Tablet reported that it was being tried in experimental form in some dioceses. My suggestion was acknowledged & passed to the Diocesan Finance Officer. Good start! Then it has been said that the Bishop's Council recently met & used the Gosforth Marriot for the meetings. This council is, I believe, made up of clergy, diocesan officials & laity FROM THIS DIOCESE! Why spend the amount of money staying in such a plush hotel?
Surely the council cold have met at Ushaw (not yet closed is it?) or Minsteracres or (heaven help us) the 'YOOF' Village!
I definitely agree that (as this subject is named) it is 'Grim Up North' and it's getting grimmer.

motuproprio said...

Perhaps the 'Coordinator for spiritual formation' will have as their first task the spiritual formation of the Bishop and his Council so that their priority is evangelisation instead of the management of decline.

Sadie Vacantist said...

I see no end to the decline. Speaking to the vocations director of my own diocese, I reached the conclusion that the man is a pathological liar.

Communion services run by the laity are the future and the sad old gits in my parish love it when Father is away.

Fr Michael Brown said...

motuproprio, I was interested to hear bishop Cunningham tell people at Mass this weekend that the most important thing for lay people is not to be an Extraordinary Minister, reader, member of the parish council etc but to be an evnageliser and that we can only be that if we ourselves are evangelised. The first priority is to pray, to know God in silence and take the fruit of that prayer into our everyday lives. Of course I would say we find an opportunity for silent reflection in the Extraordinary Form.

I`m glad the bishop is concentrating on prayer rather than social activism or `community`. I`m not a great fan of creating more paid posts and more administration but I`m prepared to suspend judgement on this one until we see what happens. Anyone who is interested in prayer must eventually see the value of the Extraordinary Form.

1569 Rising said...

Fr Brown is, of course, correct. Silence is absolutely essential for a spiritual life, and it is the silence from the Sanctus to the Pater Noster which I most appreciate in the EF of the Mass, and something I was delighted to rediscover some 8 years ago.

Now, I should never doubt David O'Neill's assertions, but surely it cannot be true that the Bishop's Council (whatever that is) met for its deliberations at the Gosforth Park Hotel? David, you must be wrong. I am certain that the Bishop and his advisers would never have been so insensitive, at this moment, to have foresworn the multitudinous Catholic facilities in the Diocese in favour of a 4* luxury hotel much loved by footballers and their WAG's.

I hope I am correct, because if I am wrong, and they did meet at the hotel, then we are all sunk.

Our Lady of Help, pray for us.

Fr Michael Brown said...

The Bishop`s Council met from 10th-13th January thanks to funding from charitable trusts.

Seeker said...

I am not at all convinced that the Diocese has a clear strategy in terms of reversing the decline, but that is looking at things in secular terms. I spoke to a 17yr old boy recently after we'd heard one of the Bishops sermons, and he was impressed - he found much to think about in the Bishops words. AS I said above, lets see more of the good and able preachers out and about. The word of God is far more powerful than any set of strategy sessions.

Rubricarius said...

On the lighter side does anyone else think Fr Zielinski is a dead-ringer for Tony Robinson?

1569 Rising said...


I thought it was Baldrick!

I was waiting for the "cunning plan"

The Mind Boggles said...

The cost of the Bishop's Council meeting at Gosforth Park may well have been paid for by a charitable trust but this is not the issue. Why put this money in the pockets of a four star hotel when it would have done more good in the coffers of Ushaw where everything is on hand for every kind of clergy meeting - even altars for Masses which will probably not be available at the Gosforth Park.

Also, I always thought that the 'Coordinator for spiritual formation' in a diocese is the bishop; or have I missed something somewhere?

Sadie Vacantist said...

What the Church needs are some good satirists because these diocesan posts have job titles straight out of the former Soviet Union. Do H & N Catholics keep straight a face when meeting the "co-ordinator for spiritual formation"? Is this person salaried? If so, how much are they on? Do they have an "assistant co-ordinator for spiritual formation" or is he or she accountable to a "chief co-ordinator for spiritual formation"? I think we should be told.

robertatforsythe said...

Seeker said "but what is needed is a positive approach to evangelisation" and he's right. It is the Gospel, the Good News that needs to be preached. I don't think that arguing about churches or the language you worship in will cut any ice with 21st century people. They need a gospel that tells them to repent of their sin and recognise God's act in Christ. There's nothing "protestant" in that. It is simple basic Christianity and I have heard many Catholics preach it. But many more need to do it. I come from Prudhoe and I know one of the busiest churches around which is FULL of children and young people is Stocksfield Baptist Church. No declining congregation there.

robertatforsythe said...

And I have posted on this in my blog with links to the article and to Forest Murmurs. And asked local congregations for prayer.

Sixupman said...

There appears to be some truth in the statement that some diocese turn away ptential ordinands because they do not comply with the modern concept of the priesthood.

I heard a final year seminarian preach at a local Mass {Clifton Diocese] where he espoused to counter the ursupation of the clergy by the laity - I nearly fell out of the pew. I wondered how he got through the net. Clifton is more interested in permananet deacons than priests, and, my actual parish priest openly preaches against both Magisterium and Pope, for greater lay participation, and talks down the Real Presence to budding communicants.

At a priest friend of mine's anniversary Mass of his Ordination, I kid you not, his then bishop (Scottish) preached the Church without clergy! He had been the rector of a seminary so what hope have?

Seeker said...

Father, do you know why Fr. Zielinski is all over the media this last week or so? Journal last week, Courant this? Why would he want a high public profile for this sort of information? If he was approached by journalists, why would he not refer them to the Diocese? Just seems odd.

greencrosscode said...

Father Zielinski is back in the local news again, pictured outside his church with the caption: "It is not likely there will be a lot of new priests over the next 10 years - I think they are expecting six to be ordained."
Interviewd by Robert Gibson, Father goes on to say, "Really it is up to the people, but it seems best to warn them to make them aware of the statistics. I would say to them support your parish and support your church in whatever way you can. Even if just a few people respond to that rallying call, it could make all the difference."
But it is the experience of many priests across Britain today that a significant number of our people have lost the notion of religious obligation. It has become a matter of going to Mass when they can fit it in, or considering themselves as practising Catholics with Sunday Mass twice in the month. Beyond that immediate hinterland of the Church, there are other sections of the Catholic population, who have little or no intention of ever coming to Sunday Mass. And then beyond them is the highly secularized population that is in full apostasy of their Christian faith. In 1992, Cardinal Hume was giving a Priests' Retreat in one of the northern dioceses, and he started his afternoon session with the memorable words, "Fathers, you must find it extremely depressing to be living among a people who have apostasized." He knew the score then alright, and that was eighteen years ago. Things have moved on from there, and for the better with the general population.
Yet, despite these background realities, as Father Zielinski notes in the Hexahm Courant yesterday, "I and the other priests ... are going forward in hope and confidence, not in our own strengths but in the power of the Lord."
In the years ahead, we will need all the power we can get.

Anonymous said...

The Church could try some obvious things - such as educating our children in the faith. In business you are always looking for new customers not just sitting there waiting for the old ones to die before you shut the shop down. The Church in this country is appallingly runby a group of men who seem to have neither the vision or the stomach for the task. Sack them and get a new lot.