by MICHAEL OTTO
PALMERSTON NORTH — The Bishop of Palmerston North, Bishop Charles Drennan, says his recent remarks about Church spending priorities should not be seen as downplaying the dedicated contributions of parish secretaries.
Speaking about some of the challenges of the new evangelisation after attending a conference in Sydney (NZ Catholic, August 26), Bishop Drennan said last month that the Church “spends too much money on what [are] essentially administrative tasks”.
Illustrating this point, he questioned why parishes pay secretaries to do tasks like banking and data input when this could be done by trained volunteers.
The bishop added that the model of parish secretary found in most parishes grew out of the 1950s and it was time to “we checked the use-by-date”.
Bishop Drennan told NZ Catholic that these comments have caused “quite a stir”, with the majority of reactions being “overwhelmingly positive”.
“I’ve received random emails from teenagers to octagenarian priests giving a thumbs up,” he said.
But Bishop Drennan noted there has been “the odd murmuring too”, but none of the critical comments he had seen mentioned the new evangelisation, which was the context for his comments.
“It is the Holy Father’s call to a new evangelisation that is making me and countless others look afresh at our pastoral ministries. Budgets are secondary.
“I wasn’t calling into question the dedicated contribution of parish secretaries. But, yes, I was suggesting that the model of the parish secretary may well be in need of an overhaul.”
Bishop Drennan said he preferred the term “parish workers” as this conveys a sense of agility, mobility and proactive shepherding.
A title denotes the reality of how a role is exercised and an outward-looking perspective is needed, as spreading and growing the faith can only happen in the community, he said.
“The large majority of our people infrequently come to the parish church. So we need to go to them.”
Bishop Drennan said new ways of operating are already underway. For instance, in Wairoa, the parish office has been shifted to a no-longer-used classroom at St Joseph’s School.
In another rural parish in Palmerston North diocese, following the retirement of the long- serving parish secretary, four volunteers have stepped up to do the work. One of these is a year 12 student who typesets the weekly bulletin in 30 minutes.
Bishop Drennan said it is great that a 16-year-old is on the parish team.
“Imagine if the job of preparing all the parish liturgical rosters was handed to the school community? I think we would see a greater level of participation of those whom the new evangelisation is calling us to embrace,” he said.
In Adelaide archdiocese, the policy now is that the parish and school office will combine as one — the school secretaries are the parish secretaries, or vice versa — in all new or restructured parish and school building projects, he noted.
“But it’s not simply a matter of tasks,” Bishop Drennan said.
“It is modelling what a Christian community is: Only by living our faith can we grow in it.”
Bishop Drennan said some reaction to his earlier comments had referred to diocesan spending.
“First, it needs to be said loud and clear that every diocese in our country prepares an externally audited annual financial report. There is no mystery in diocesan accounts.
“Indeed, diocesan managers regularly present these to finance committees.”
Bishop Drennan said adjustments to budgets are not necessarily about cutbacks or rationalisation.
“In many ways, I would like to grow our personnel, but only in keeping with Christ’s mandate to ‘go forth’. Employment of the right people with the right skills is a matter of justice.
“The wage bill doesn’t come out of my pocket or the diocesan manager’s, or the parish priest’s.
“It comes from the hard-earned dollar of our people in the pews. I think they are clear in their desire for a less bureaucratic, more dynamic Church.”
by MICHAEL OTTO