There is a strong case for the New Zealand Catholic Church to shift its personnel and resources to the north and adopt a “survival strategy” in the south, a prominent commentator on religion in New Zealand has said.

In the recently launched book, “A Church in change: New Zealand Catholics take their bearings”, Massey University Professor of History Peter Lineham laid out the recent demographic trends in the Church which he said “changed radically in the recent years”.

The book, edited by Sr Helen Bergin, OP, and Sr Susan Smith, RNDM, was launched on October 7 at the St Columba Centre in Ponsonby. It is a collection of theological reflections on the realities the Church faces today.

Professor Lineham noted the Church has benefitted from migration, which has boosted the number of Massgoers particularly in Auckland even though “people for whom English is a first language are tending to participate less in Church life”.

Other parts of the country like rural Otago and Southland have very low numbers of Catholics. He said the decline in population in these parts had hit the Church very hard. “There are very significant resource implications facing the Catholic Church,” he said. “Given its limited financial resources and the decline in religious vocations, there is a strong case for a shift in personnel and financial investment to the north, and a survival strategy with a somewhat reduced presence of priests and schools in the south.”

The book touched on topics such as the role of the laity, women and youth in the Church as well as the changing ministry of priests and religious.

It also touched on the Church’s involvement in social justice issues. In another chapter, Auckland Parish and Pastoral Services leader Pat Lythe lamented the lack of a “clear standardised employment policy for lay people in paid positions in parishes”.

“There are neither recognised national formation pathways, nor standard remuneration,” she wrote. Sr Smith said the book does not aim to provide answers but to offer “theological interpretations of our past and present realities”.

“Why are these happening today? What do we need to know about our past and our history and about our present which enables us to move forward into an uncertain future? We invited people with particular competencies to share their reflections on past and present realities and possibilities as we move forward,” she said.

Gore parish priest Fr Damian Wynn-Williams said the book “exposes some of the dramatic changes confronting the Catholic Church” today.

“While immigration from the Pacific and Asia has helped lessen its numerical decline . . . there is no place for complacency, “he said. “These are timely studies for anyone concerned about the future of the Church in this land.”

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