by MICHAEL OTTO
AUCKLAND — Catholic Institute of Theology principal Fr John Dunn has linked the influx of overseas priests to New Zealand to a lessening of the call to lay leadership in the Church.
In responding to the 2011 CIT Pompallier Lecture guest speaker, Fr Michael Trainor, on August 25, Fr Dunn noted that there has been much discussion about the involvement of lay people in the Church.
“The invitation of many priests from overseas has had the effect of stifling the call for lay leadership to emerge in many places,” Fr Dunn said.
He added that he was sure this was just temporary, and that not all priests who come to New Zealand are against lay leadership in an ecclesial setting.
But the structures and calling and training in ministry for lay people “are no longer there”, Fr Dunn said.
Auckland diocese parish and pastoral services group leader Pat Lythe told NZ Catholic that priests from countries like India, Samoa and the Philippines have filled what would otherwise be “priestless gaps” in Auckland.
“Some of those gaps might have been filled with lay pastoral leaders working alongside clergy in pastoral cluster areas as in Wellington,” Mrs Lythe said.
But lay demand for training in the Certificate in Ministry and theology degrees in Auckland has dropped. Mrs Lythe wondered if there was a connection between that and Fr Dunn’s conjecture, and concluded there probably was.
“On the other hand, half of our congregations come from outside New Zealand, so their needs are being met,” Mrs Lythe said, adding that there are 14 permanent deacons in formation in Auckland, but that opportunities for women had diminished.
Balmoral parish priest and Auckland Filipino chaplain Fr Ruben Elago, MSP, said he was not aware of any Filipino priests in Auckland stifling the call for lay leadership.
Although Fr Elago could see how that could be possible, the challenge for clergy was to organise and empower laity to help run parish communities, he said.
“Having a good grasp of basic eccelesial communities programmes back home, I can only see my role as coordinating, integrating, encouraging and, most importantly, empowering lay people, based on the principle of subsidiarity,” Fr Elago said.
What could be needed is a move away from leadership styles by some priests here that are authoritarian and overly possessive of priestly powers, with parishioners depending on the priest always to have the final say, he said.
Catholic Discipleship College principal Fr Neil Vaney, SM, said there may be some truth in Fr Dunn’s comments, but there are other factors to consider, including an across-the-board drop in voluntary and service work because of the pressure to be in paid employment.
Young people in the last 10 years have also been exposed to strongly biblical and action-centred catechesis from World Youth Days, Fr Vaney added. That means many have lost interest in “more academic theogically-based ideas of ministry” and want to get engaged in one of two areas.
They want to engage in direct action with other youth and the disadvantaged, for example Young Vinnies, Challenge 2000 and Logos, he said.
And young people want to deepen their spirituality and have strong models of leadership and authentic teaching, so come to places like the discipleship college, Fr Vaney said.

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