More parishes than priests

The situation of more parishes than priests speeds towards us.  

The shift from the current parish priest model of sole decision-maker to joint leadership with laity will require simultaneously that we “unlearn” that Baptism is the “done” sacrament when we were babies, and that it’s not clergy first and laity second.  

“The baptismal life is the fundamental human vocation, and all must exercise the priesthood received at baptism. Ministry is at the service of this”, says Cardinal Marc Quellet, chief organiser of the upcoming theological conference titled “toward a fundamental theology of the priesthood”, initiated by Pope Francis for February, 2022. “The ordained ministry isn’t about belonging to the ‘ecclesiastical power’”, the cardinal stated. 

Going back to baptism and the priesthood of all believers “isn’t just a fashion, it’s the basis for all Christian life”, said Michelina Tenance, organising assistant to this conference.  

These years ahead will be of huge change. But not dissimilar to those unexpected times when we receive traumatic news. Suddenly our lives are turned upside down. Hindsight can reveal that, in amongst the anxiety and chaos, we were, in fact, taken out from our comfort zones to see the bigger picture of God’s involving presence. 

This has been the maturing story of the Church as well.  

Not even 100 years old, the early Church was forced to make a decision in amongst mayhem. Can non-Jews become Christians?  Yes, said the leaders. “God does not have favourites. But that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.”  (Acts 10:35)  

Putting aside the arguments on both sides of the issue associated with the Lutheran Reformation, the Church returned to the fact that she must be a living experience and that Scripture is essential for spiritual growth.   

The Second Vatican Council was to cut back the externals to realise once again that she is a grain planted in the world, and not a diamond to be admired in a high-end jewellery shop. 

We are capable of being reshaped by life’s circumstances. 

Working towards shared leadership will require parishioners coming together over and over with their priest and bishop or apostolic administrators. Not so much to make a decision, but to enable God’s Holy Spirit to open the way forward from within.   

Jesus’ presence amongst us is a constant. We are not abandoned. 

When an ordained says “Your sins are forgiven” (John 20:23-24), and “this is my Body, this is my Blood”, (1 Corinthians 11:24), it is Jesus who speaks. 

Spiritual gifts – charisms of God’s Holy Spirit – enable us to minister and build up our faith communities to be full of life and joy. And not just for ourselves, but inclusive to those desiring to belong to us.   

Recognising spiritual gifts requires us to look at each other in deeper ways, since often gifts are gifted to those without the skills we usually look for.  Gifted beyond those go-to people and obvious choices.   

Post-menopausal Sarah being told by God that she will become pregnant with Isaac. (Genesis 18: 9-15)  

Moses’ (Exodus 2:11-32) stutter wasn’t an obstacle for him to negotiate with the mighty narcissistic Pharoah. 

Samuel (1 Samuel 3) was just a kid, but led the successful defence against the attacking Philistines.  

Jesus selecting Peter to head the Church, when weeks prior he disassociated himself from the Lord. (Matthew 16:18)  

Lydia (Acts 16) who believed in many gods, professed that Jesus is Lord, and she went onto become an effective evangelist.  

Susanna (Luke 8:2) who was healed of an evil spirit ended up boldly proclaiming Jesus Risen! 

Why ask a parishioner to proclaim the Scriptures when they get tongue-tied?  But I am. Why ask a parishioner to write articles with a poor grip of the basic English grammar? But I am. Why ask a parishioner to pray with another when they’re hopeless at impromptu prayer? But I am.  

Pope Francis, in his document titled Antiquum Ministerium (Institution of the Ministry of Catechist), released in Rome in May, 2021, says developing lay ministry isn’t an effort to clericalise laypeople.  

As I see it, if an ordained man believes himself to be superior to lay people and it’s called clericalisation, then lay people can use spiritual gifts to gain self-importance as well. Both ordained people and lay people can be tempted into using spiritual gifts as if they were their own possession. Ministry is about service! – mature service that is! 

“The New Zealand Catholic Bishops have endorsed the concepts of co-responsibility and lay leadership,”  wrote Bishop Stephen Lowe, the vice-president and secretary of the New Zealand Bishops Conference – Te Huinga a nga Pikopa Katorika o Aotearoa to me on June 3, 2021.   

  • Sue Seconi is a parishioner at The Catholic Parish of Whanganui – Te Parihi Katorika Ki Whanganui 





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Sue Seconi

Reader Interactions


  1. John says

    Is it true that ALL Christians are invited to participate in this synod, and not just Catholics? Is the future role of the papacy, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption of the BVM also up for discussion?

  2. Nigel Williamson says

    The sundry models of church can be very
    confusing, depending upon which one you
    have been thrust into.
    Most Catholics survive in a model which
    respects Sacraments, respects ordained
    ministry, respects a personal Jesus, and
    some have an alliance with Medjugorje,
    but not everyone has quite caught on.
    Evil, any evil is countered by a contradiction.
    If the evil is gossip, the truth is needed in
    a Catholic newspaper to clear the air.
    If it is tyranny, governments are needed
    politicians and the like to be reminded of
    their responsibilities by their electorates.
    Church is built from the contradictions of
    evil. Martyrs, and saints have endured and
    the result is a healthy church, one in which
    sanctity is held in huge respect. This is the
    one essential challenge that every priest
    accepts on ordination.
    If a particular model of church is slowing
    the inadequacy must be faced.
    It is interesting that Medjugorje has been
    a pilgrimage site whose influence has resulted
    in over 500 priests, along with sundry other
    clergy, not to mention the changes in the
    40,000,000 pilgrims who have made the
    effort to be there. It is perhaps a lesson to
    be learned by the Bishops. They would know
    that once fasting from midnight the night
    before mass the next day (solids and liquids)
    was mandatory, and Lenten fasting was a
    daily event throughout Lent. By embracing
    fasting they set an example in the community
    for adults (and youth) to follow. Medjugorje
    has a cultus of fasting- twice weekly. Is that
    generally known?
    With fasting, spiritual growth is possible, and
    follows (Fr Reginald Garrigou Lagrange O.P.
    “The three ages of the Interior life”.
    Without spiritual growth, youth become
    attracted to other things, and relationship
    with the church suffers. Not surprisingly
    vocations to the priesthood are affected