Letter to the priests of Australia
Dear brothers in Christ,
As the bishops of Australia gathered together in Sydney for our May 2001 Conference, we want to reflect with you on the life and ministry of priests. We write to you, our closest collaborators in ministry, to assure you of our appreciation of your ministry and our admiration for you at a time when many confusing issues seem to impact on priesthood.
Today, the identity of the priest is all too often shaped by function, i.e., what you do; what is more important is who you are. Together, bishop and priest share a unique relationship with Jesus Christ, called by him to accept an irreplaceable role in the mission of the Church. "In the Church and on behalf of the Church, priests are a sacramental representation of Jesus Christ - the head and shepherd - authoritatively proclaiming his word, repeating his acts of forgiveness and his offer of salvation - particularly in baptism, penance and the eucharist, showing his loving concern to the point of a total gift of self for the flock, which they gather into unity and lead to the Father through Christ and in the Spirit." (Pastores Dabo Vobis # 15)
We bishops are conscious that, although we regard you as our closest collaborators, you may often feel yourselves taken for granted and unappreciated. We regret this. We want to assure you that we do not intentionally wish to over-burden you. We admit that a level of administration can sometimes appear to separate us from you and that you are asked to bear the heavy burden of responsibility for diocesan pastoral plans and programmes.
We realise that there are real pressures on you from many sources, e.g. when the Second Vatican Council called for renewal and we enthusiastically responded, we did not anticipate the challenges this might have on aspects of our ministry. Despite that, we rejoice in a Church which includes bishops, priests, deacons, laity and religious men and women working collaboratively in its life and mission.
We admire the tradition of close relationship between priests and people in Australia. To be able to share privileged pastoral moments with them is a singular joy. Sometimes, however, you may be overwhelmed by their expectations. We are conscious, also, of increased responsibilities caused by fewer priests and concerns about the shortage of priests, about the ageing of priests, and about the lack of vocations. We are also aware of the busyness of large city parishes and the isolation and physical demands of rural ones. These issues can have a debilitating effect on our equilibrium and cause us to question our own relevance or usefulness in the Church. We can experience a weariness of spirit in the face of these issues.
Priestly life and ministry needs to be constantly renewed. Spiritual, personal and professional development are essential for our well-being and effectiveness. We are encouraged to be men of deep prayer; to continue to develop liturgical presence and practice; to maintain reading and study; and to look for opportunities for further renewal. We support you in this since we want priesthood to be personally enriching and vital to the life of the Church.
We recognise your deep loyalty to the Church and your courageous efforts to engage in its life and mission. We proclaim a wonderful message - let us do so with boldness! We thank God for you and reassure you of our esteem, appreciation and prayers. As the bishops of Australia, we renew our commitment to be faithful leaders of service with you, and to all the people of God.
Yours in Jesus Christ,
+ Francis P. Carroll
Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn
AUSTRALIAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS CONFERENCE