This post is essentially a good news story, because although Parramatta, like many dioceses, currently faces very serious challenges indeed, its bishop is doing something about it, embarking on an engagement process aimed at rejuvenating the diocese that looks to be spot on in its objectives.
Bishop Anthony Fisher OP, 51, was appointed in 2010, having previously been an Auxiliary of Sydney and co-ordinator of the Sydney World Youth Day. Bishop Anthony joined the Dominicans in 1985 after a short period practising as a lawyer. He has a doctorate in bioethics, and continues to put out books and articles in this field.
|Source: ACBC website|
Parramatta, part of the broader Sydney metropolitan area, is a relatively new diocese - it was carved out of Sydney Archdiocese in 1986. But though it is new as a diocese, it has some of the oldest parishes and churches in Australia.
It has had only three bishops: Bishop Anthony's predecessors were Bishop Bede Heather and Bishop Kevin Manning (currently Apostolic Administrator of Wilcannia-Forbes). And they did not leave it in a happy state.
Bishop Heather (1986-97) retired early in the wake of the alleged cover up/mishandling of abuse scandal. Bishop Manning (who has just celebrated fifty years of priesthood) came to the office with an conservative reputation, but soon belied it, saddling the diocese with perhaps the most modernistic of Cathedral interiors in Australia (though there is some competition for this title these days).
Their legacy is a diocese with one of the highest priest to population ratios in the country, at 1:2180 in 2004 (exceeded only by Sandhurst, Townsville, Wollongong and Brisbane).
A diocese where, according to the newly released Diocesan Information Guide, the number of marriages conducted has declined from 831 in 2000 to 512 in 2010, and regular mass attendance was down to 1 in 7 in 2011, and has been falling by about a percentage point a year.
A diocese where, on current trends, the current figure of 47 active diocesan priests will fall to 42 by 2015 and 36 in 2020.
And that represents a huge challenge for one of the fastest growing areas of Australia with the youngest average age of any diocese in Australia as well as being the most ethnically diverse (including 5,000 Aboriginal Catholics, the largest urban concentration in the country) populations.
Liturgy a strength
On the plus side, the diocese has some 48 (!) religious orders operating within its bounds, including the Conventual Friars' noviciate, and the Tyburn Sisters, a fast growing Benedictine Congregation dedicated to Adoration.
The diocese has its own Holy Spirit Seminary which now has eleven seminarians.
The Parramatta diocesan website (reflecting one assumes the churches of the diocese) used to be decorated with pictures of liturgical dancing (see below). No longer!
Certainly the cathedral has daily Lauds, ( I gather this pre-dates the current regime), Adoration, times for confession each day from Monday to Saturday, and any other regular devotions according to its website.
That said, the bishop remains unusual amongst Sydneyites in as much as he has yet to celebrate publicly in the Extraordinary Form (or the traditional Dominican Rite) as far as I know. And the Cooees have, in their inimitable way, certainly questioned the current bishop's liturgical tastes!
Nor is there (as yet) a regular Extraordinary Form Mass in the Cathedral, despite a campaign being run to effect this by a group of lay people.
Still, the diocese has quite a number of places where the EF is regularly said. It helps of course that the FSSP Australian HQ continues to be based in the diocese, not to mention the Conventual Fransciscans noviciate.
Transparency and accountability
I mentioned earlier that Bishop Anthony has just announced the start of a strategic planning process for the diocese, complete with its own blog. You can hear him talking about it here.
This looks to be really impressive stuff, the first diocese in fact I've seen that seems to be genuinely engaging its people by looking at the measures of things that really count, such as the proportion of marriages in the Church, children baptised, education, the vitality of parish life and so forth. Nor is it only concerned about currently practising and lapsed catholics, but clearly has an eye to mission more broadly as well.
And the consultation process gets down to the parish level, seeking advice on how to increase vocations, restore the family as the cornerstone of the Church and society, and more.
Please pray for the success of this clearly needed program of evangelization and re-evangelization.