SACBC CONCEPT PASTORAL PLAN 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF SUBMISSION BY WAACSA (We Are All Church, South Africa)

 

We welcome the opportunity extended to all Catholics to comment on the Concept Pastoral Plan (CPP) of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC)

The main emphasis in our full submission is on the CPP’s tone or ‘flavour’, and on the process of consultation. We also offer other comments, recommendations and practical suggestions, especially on the CPP’s further development and implementation, and on ways to assess the Pastoral Plan’s effectiveness and impact.

TONE OF THE CPP: The CPP has many positive elements, and we record our appreciation in this regard. In the Vision and Mission statements, the language of inclusivity is particularly welcome. Despite this, on our reading the tone still comes across as somewhat legalistic, abstract and generalised rather than ‘pastoral’ in ways that we have grown to recognise in the writings and gestures of Pope Francis. Our most serious reservation is that the CPP is too obviously the Bishops’ Plan, developed and presented from the top down for comment. Its parameters have already been set in considerable detail. In the spirit of ‘co-responsibility’ as developed by Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, we believe that lay people and clergy have a great deal to contribute to the conceptualisation of what a Pastoral Plan should look like, drawing on their concerns grounded in their experiences and faith. Without derogating from the bishops’ role as leaders – that is, the role of the hierarchical magisterium – all Christians through baptism share in the teaching, prophetic and evangelising role of Jesus.

CONSULTATION: The fact that our Bishops are reaching out to the wider Church community in a consultative process is significant. However, despite well-intended efforts, large numbers of lay people haven’t heard about the CPP or can’t be expected to ‘take ownership’ of it without closer engagement. This is a critical weakness. We respectfully suggest that there is a need to create spaces for further discussion around the Plan, with a more open-ended approach.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

We suggest rephrasing the Vision Statement as follows: “An evangelising community, serving God, humanity and our common home.” The latter phrase is more persuasive than “all creation’.

  1. The CPP should be open to further evaluation, reappraisal and, if necessary, modification from time to time, in consultation with lay people and clergy.
  2. The SACBC should consult relevant experts with regard to framing, fleshing out and implementing the CPP (and also more generally, in areas where lay people have special expertise) e.g. business people, social scientists, marketing analysts and communications experts.
  3. The SACBC should commission a comprehensive professional evaluation of the communication challenges the Church faces, both internally and in relation to our wider society.
  4. The focus area MARRIAGE AND FAMILY should be broadened to encompass “sexuality, marriage and other unions, families and households” so as to engage with the lived realities in our society.

We make two further suggestions:

  • Pope Francis commands an extraordinary degree of respect among lay people. The CPP should be related even more explicitly to his vision for the Church, as a basis for our own pastoral mission.
  • To make the CPP initiative more widely known, and to engage the faithful more closely, the Mission Statement (not the whole CPP) should be widely distributed by the SACBC and sent to PPCs and parishes for discussion and report-back – focusing especially on what ‘human development’ and ‘care of creation’ might mean in practice.

In conclusion, we offer our support to the SACBC in whatever ways might be useful.

Contact person:

Douglas Irvine   dmirvine@mweb.co.za   +27 82 330 3043

 

SACBC CONCEPT PASTORAL PLAN 2018

FULL SUBMISSION BY WAACSA (We Are All Church, South Africa)

 

INTRODUCTION

We welcome the opportunity extended to all Catholics to comment on the Concept Pastoral Plan (CPP).

The development of this new Pastoral Plan is timely, given the changed (and changing) socio-economic and political circumstances in Southern Africa since the adoption of the earlier Pastoral Plan, changing circumstances in the Church, and indeed changing conceptions of the Church and its role in the world.

The main emphasis in our comments is on the ‘spirit’ of the CPP (its tone or flavour), and on the process of consultation, which we believe needs to be strengthened and expanded.

We also offer other comments, recommendations and practical suggestions, especially on the CPP’s further development and implementation, and on ways to assess the Pastoral Plan’s effectiveness and impact.

The fact that our Bishops are reaching out to the wider Church community in a consultative process is a significant development. However, this necessarily raises questions about effective communication. The CPP is weak on communication issues and this rings alarm bells both for the effectiveness and credibility of the consultation process, and the successful implementation of the Plan once it is adopted. It is cause for concern that large numbers of lay people haven’t heard about the Plan or can’t be expected to internalise it (or ‘take ownership’ in the common phrase), especially when its implementation depends so largely on them.

THE TONE OR ‘FLAVOUR’ OF THE CPP

Comments, and recommendation

There are many positive elements in the CPP, and we record our appreciation in this regard.

 In the Vision and Mission statements, the spirit of inclusivity is particularly welcome:

  • the explicit reintroduction of Vatican II’s understanding of the Church as the People of God
  • “an evangelising community serving God, humanity and all creation” – where “humanity”’ means “all of us human beings without any exception whatsoever
  • and that we are called to work together in the Church and with others – “with those who belong to any faith or none. With anybody!

 The selection of quotations presented in the CPP is also encouraging, not only in their content but also because the source documents provide significant points of reference in building up a pastoral perspective.

The CPP’s language is generally open and leaves considerable room for interpretation and movement.

Despite this, on our reading, the tone still comes across as somewhat legalistic, abstract and generalised, rather than ‘pastoral’ in the ways that we have grown to recognise in the writings and gestures of Pop Francis.

More importantly, our most serious reservation is that the CPP is too obviously the Bishops’ Plan, developed and presented from the top down for comment.

While we welcome the invitation extended to all Catholics “to study, to discuss and decide how to implement the Pastoral Plan” in their own contexts, the parameters have already been set in considerable detail. Many people may feel that there’s no room for really substantive comment other than on matters of implementation (an impression strengthened for example by the spaces provided in the text for “Notes for identifying possible pastoral agents in implementation of this focus area”).

We believe that lay people and clergy have a great deal to contribute to the conceptualisation of what a Pastoral Plan should look like, drawing on their concerns, aspirations, hopes and fears, grounded in their experiences and faith. Without derogating from the bishops’ role as leaders – that is, the role of the hierarchical magisterium –  all Christians through baptism share in the teaching, prophetic and evangelising role of Jesus.

We are not asking our Bishops to go back to the drawing board, but we respectfully suggest that there is a need to create spaces for further discussion around the Pastoral Plan and a more open-ended approach.

We hope that there is still a possibility that ways may be found for lay people and clergy to contribute to a reappraisal of the focus areas, their selection and prioritisation, and the programmatic content within them.

According to the CPP the “implementation of the Plan will be ongoing, monitored and evaluated” and the Council for Evangelisation “will regularly review and evaluate how our Pastoral Plan is being received and implemented”.

Recommendation: We recommend that the CPP itself, and not only its implementation, should be open to further evaluation, reappraisal and modification if necessary, from time to time, in consultation with lay people and clergy.

Perhaps this could most readily be combined with discussions at the diocesan level in the first instance, in line with the statement in the CPP that “The intention of the Bishops is that Dioceses begin to look at their own programmes and pastoral plans in the light of this Concept Pastoral Plan”.

MOTTO AND HEADING

Comment and recommendation

Vision statement: “Evangelising Community serving God, Humanity and all Creation”

This vision is admirable, but its expression is problematical for two reasons:

(a) At first sight – the level at which a Vision Statement must aim to capture attention – it’s not clear whether ‘evangelising’ is a verb or an adjective. (Is the Church evangelising the community, or are we an evangelising community?)

(b) “All Creation” is too abstract, alienating and daunting (it’s just too big). It’s also implausible. (How on earth can we serve “all creation”?) “Our common home” is a more engaging phrase with which we are now familiar, thanks to Pope Francis.

We appreciate the intention to be comprehensive, but the effective simplicity of the earlier Vision Statement (“Community serving Humanity”) has been lost.

Recommendation: We suggest rephrasing the statement as follows: An evangelising community, serving God, humanity and our common home.”

INTRODUCTION: WHY A PASTORAL PLAN?

Context, goals and objectives, and methods of assessment: Some questions and a recommendation

The CPP’s explanation of the need for a Pastoral Plan a well-presented, but it falls short on four important counts in practice.

Any plan (whether business or institutional) needs to be situated in a context; it must set out its goals or objectives, and how progress against these is to be assessed; and it must establish a timeframe for implementation:

  • Why do we need a plan now, in our present circumstances and for the foreseeable future?
  • What do we aim to achieve? What are the objectives, outputs or results we are aiming at?
  • How will we assess these? As far as possible the objectives, outputs or anticipated results should be specified, and measurable (or at least capable of sensible assessment).
  • When do we assess performance and progress?

The Spirit moves beyond all institutional forms and the success of ‘evangelisation’ in the broadest sense is not amenable to measurement, but as an institutional Church we do need to establish proxy measures of progress.

The CPP states that “Generally [specific goals] are set at the local level” (# WHAT WE NEED), but surely we do need an overarching set of goals for the Catholic Church in Southern Africa, focused on   evangelisation and service in the context.

For example, the CPPP itself identifies: “Vibrant and renewed parishes incorporating and collaborating with different groupings.” How do you measure ‘vibrancy’, in either qualitative or quantitative terms? Can we specify these ‘groupings’ more closely, even if not exhaustively, as examples to strive towards? For example, in the parish, could participation in Renew and Alpha programmes serve as a proxy measure? And in outreach, collaboration with ecumenical, interfaith, other civil society and civic organisations?

Here are some preliminary suggestions for measurable indicators:

  • Growth in RCIA participants and adults received into the Church
  • Increased media exposure (both Catholic and secular) and its impact on public awareness of the Church’s position, activities and positive contribution to society on (for example) social justice issues
  • The use of social media in evangelisation and communication on Catholic issues, both institutionally and more informally (extent and impact on awareness)
  • Young people’s perceptions of the Catholic Church
  • Tangible progress in ecumenical and interfaith collaboration, and collaboration with all people of good will – in the Conference, dioceses, parishes – especially on issues of ‘service’, welfare, and justice and peace.

The CPP needs a timeframe, including a framework for assessment and reflection. This timeframe must be realistic – for example, a twenty year-frame overall, with interim reports (say) at five-year intervals.

Recommendation: We strongly recommend that the SACBC should consult relevant experts with regard to framing, fleshing out and implementing the CPP (and indeed more generally in areas where lay people have special expertise) e.g. business people, social scientists, marketing analysts and communications experts.

A ‘NEW’ PASTORAL PLAN? – DEVELOPMENT OF THE CPP AND THE CONSULTATION PROCESS

Two questions and a recommendation

With reference to this section in the CPP there are two important questions that we have already touched on, but wish to amplify:

  1. How effective is the communication process?

The Bishops are reaching out to the wider Church community. This is certainly well-intended but how successful is it in practice?

  1. Can we find ways to combine top-down and bottom-up approaches?

We need both, and they need to be complementary.

Communication and consultation

Whatever the good intentions, it is safe to say that the development of the draft draws on contributions from a limited number of people over the past few years, and there is very little awareness of the CPP in the wider community of the faithful.

We know that Monsignor Barney McAleer felt frustrated by the lack of response.

We draw attention to the following:

  • The paucity of information about the Plan itself. Information is difficult to come by. The SACBC website is unhelpful, and a number of internet searches were needed to produce any results at all.
  • Blockages in the system. Poor and ineffectual communication is a general problem in the Church (not only in South Africa); but to be honest many blockages can and do occur at the level of the parish priest. It is our general experience that very little that comes from the SACBC reaches the people in the pews or even those on the parish mailing list.
  • An unrealistic timeframe for organising discussions on the CPP. The CPP says that “Study sessions should be arranged in all Parishes, groups and movements”. Even with the best will in the world, and with the best communication systems, there really wasn’t enough time for this between March and the end of June 2018.

WAACSA members are generally well-informed but many of us, coming from a variety of parishes, had heard no mention of the CPP (or at best had vague memories of having ‘seen something in the Southern Cross’ some time ago). Even some parish priests when asked had no idea that the Plan existed.

WAACSA members who are members of religious congregations were better placed, and had discussed the Plan in their congregations. It was through them that we learnt of the CPP and the invitation to make submissions.

Recommendation: We strongly recommend that the SACBC should commission a comprehensive professional evaluation of the communication challenges the Church faces, both internally and in relation to the wider society. We need a comprehensive, professional evaluation of existing approaches and practices, with special attention to changing circumstances (e.g. how to use social media more effectively), as well as countering the negativity or indifference of the secular media.

Costs might be considered prohibitive but could be mitigated to a considerable degree by asking qualified lay people to offer their time and skills on a voluntary basis. We suspect that our Bishops would be surprised by the enthusiastic response.

Top-down, bottom-up, and the co-responsibility of the laity

Extensive and effective consultation in the Southern African Catholic Church presents huge challenges, given the great diversity of peoples, socio-economic circumstances, communities and parishes.

Nevertheless, in this submission we wish to emphasise the need to accommodate and welcome the co-responsibility of the laity, especially as recognised since Vatican II.

For example, in 2012 Pope Benedict XVI challenged all the lay faithful to take their critical role in the life of the Church, alongside the clergy, and to fully participate in her mission to the world. In his address to the 6th Assembly of the International Catholic Action Forum on August 10, 2012 the Holy Father called for “ecclesial and social co-responsibility” – a change in mentality, particularly with regard to the role of the laity in the Church, who should be considered not as “collaborators” with the clergy, but as persons truly “co-responsible” for the being and activity of the Church.

Pope Francis has repeatedly stressed the active role of lay women and men in evangelisation. The faithful, he insists …”are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.”(Amoris Laetitia #37)

This perspective scarcely comes through in Focus Area B: Laity formation and empowerment, where lay people are perceived largely in terms of their needs.

FOCUS AREAS

The role of women in the Church is a glaring omission in this section, especially after Pope Francis’s announcement that the possibility of women Deacons must be considered.

We do not intend to comment on the Focus Areas in any detail at this stage, but we offer a number of observations, and we make a firm recommendation on the Focus Area MARRIAGE AND FAMILY.

In each Focus Area, we suggest that it would be useful to approach the formulation of concerns, objectives and action points in much the same way as we have outlined above with regard to the CPP (# WHY A PASTORAL PLAN?):

  • Why do we choose to focus on this area, in our present circumstances?
  • What do we aim to achieve? What are the objectives, outputs or results we are aiming at?
  • How will we assess these?
  • When should we assess performance and progress?
  1. EVANGELISATION

We believe that for various reasons there is a significant exodus from the Catholic Church in this country, as elsewhere. We need to understand why this happens, if evangelisation is to be effective. This calls for serious investigation by social scientists.

Possible pastoral agents who can drive the implementation of this focus area include the clergy, experts and other speakers, and lay pastors.

Small communities that support and encourage each other – especially eucharistic and faith-sharing communities – are also extremely important pastoral agents.

Within the parish, the primary agents should be the PPC (and in the dioceses, the DPC) and other ministries. However, in general PPCs do not play an active pastoral role in practice. In our experience they tend to be committees of individuals lacking a sense a collective mission, receiving reports and reporting on routine parish activities in terms of specific portfolios, and operating in silos.

In this regard the Maintenance to Mission programme is an encouraging development

There’s a massive gap between the call to evangelisation by Pope Francis and the people in the pews, and their sense of agency.

What’s missing? We need to concentrate on the formation of lay leaders to help define and take forward the evangelising mission in the Church, in the parishes, and in our wider society. 

Formation, Justice and Peace and Evangelisation structures must work in close collaboration with each other towards an integration of their objectives and activities at every level.

  1. LAITY FORMATION AND EMPOWERMENT

We offer a comment, in the form of a question, in relation to the statement in this section that “To be disciples and missionaries in their daily lives lay people need…” followed by a number of points. Our question is: What do the clergy need, to help them recognise the co-responsibility of lay people?

The statement that “Parish Pastoral Councils serve the life of the parish and also support the laity in their unique mission in the world” is a statement of the ideal rather than a functional description of most PPCs in practice, as noted above in the Evangelisation focus area.

PPCs need to be reviewed from the perspective of how they might be empowered to act to act more pastorally and as evangelising agents – NOT simply as advisory committees with no real powers or responsibilities to take the initiative or act. We need a SWOT analysis. (There are opportunities, because there are structures.) PPCs need to be formed – and transformed – within the vision of Pope Francis. Can the Council for Evangelisation play a key role here?

Small Christian communities are needed to supplement and complement PPCs, as ways of involving lay people in pastoral mission.  We urge the bishops to give this their wholehearted backing in the dioceses and parishes.

How to create a fertile interaction and interpenetration between PPCs and small Christian communities is a challenging question.

We recognise that this expanded pastoral emphasis is not comfortable for the institutional church. It’s not easily structured, controlled, or directed – because it must be open to the movement of the Spirt in specific concrete circumstances. Inevitably there will be some tensions.

C: LIFE AND MINISTRY OF PRIESTS & DEACONS

On a first reading this section may look like a set of somewhat abstract and platitudinous statements of the ideal – but if taken seriously the vision is rich and challenging because many of the definitions and criteria provide a basis for holding people accountable.

It could certainly be a significant antidote to clericalism. Can the shepherds answer the call to “smell of their sheep”?

D: MARRIAGE AND FAMILY

Many of us find this section sterile, inadequate and unrelated to lived realities in our society.

It’s as though sexuality doesn’t exist, and that the only type of couple we need to take seriously is the heterosexual married never-divorced couple. What about the huge number of divorced and remarried couples? All they get is “care”, which we think is a degrading formulation. Amoris Laetitia (Chapter 8 para 299) asks us to “integrate the divorced into the Christian community” which is a far cry from “care for the divorced”.

There is no mention of single-parent households, or child-headed households, or Gogo-headed households, cohabiting couples, or the considerable population of homosexual and transgender people, whom we should also be integrating into the community, not least if we are to engage with younger people who by and large have very different cultural perspectives.

Chapter 8 para 293 of Amoris Laetitia asks us to enter into “pastoral dialogue” with cohabiting couples, and this obviously applies to other people in non-normative circumstances, including LGBTI people.

It is puzzling that the CPP chooses to ignore these more inclusive and merciful approaches.

The CPP (under “Our Mission”) describes the importance of Human Development (“…to develop our full potential…”). How do the Bishops envisage that we can help people to reach their full potential if we exclude them?

How does this relate to the Church as “an evangelising community serving God, humanity and all creation” – where “humanity”’ means “all of us human beings without any exception whatsoever”?

Recommendation: We strongly recommend that this focus area should be broadened to encompass “sexuality, marriage and other unions, families and households.”

E: YOUTH

We would emphasise that the approach to youth ministry and evangelisation must be open and open-ended.

It is important to recognise that ‘Youth’ does not constitute a homogeneous category. Their situations and life experiences vary greatly — and they do not all see things the same way.

We must listen if we are to connect effectively. We must recognise and try to understand the changing nature of the world and the realities in which young people find themselves. Old models don’t fit.

This is a particularly severe challenge for older, celibate clergy removed from family life and all its complexities and demands.

F: JUSTICE, PEACE AND NON-VIOLENCE

 “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appeared to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation” (Justice in the World, Synod of Catholic Bishops, 1971. #6)

Despite some notable efforts, how far we still are – as clergy and lay people – from proclaiming, internalising, and integrating this into our lives in the Church:  in formation, in homilies, in parish programmes, in our daily life, in our economic, political and social activities, and in our examinations of conscience.

By and large, this section sets out what we know is needed to help make this commitment a reality in our Church. The challenge is to put it into practice.

G: HEALING AND RECONCILIATION

The actual content of this focus area seems to us altogether too abstract, if not vacuous, to warrant comment.

H: CARE OF CREATION AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Again, this section is too abstract and superficial. It needs much more work.

 

CONCLUSION

How can we help to give momentum to the CPP, especially in view of the critical comments we make in this submission?

We make two simple suggestions:

  • Pope Francis commands an extraordinary degree of respect among lay people. The CPP should be related even more explicitly to his vision for the Church, as a basis for our own pastoral mission
  • To make the CPP initiative more widely known, and to engage the faithful more closely, we strongly recommend that the Mission Statement (not the whole CPP) be widely distributed by the SACBC and sent to PPCs and parishes for discussion and report-back – focusing especially on what ‘human development’ and ‘care of creation’ might mean in practice.

Finally, we offer our support to the SACBC in whatever ways might be useful.

 

SUBMITTED ON BEHALF OF WE ARE ALL CHURCH, SOUTH AFRICA:

Brian Robertson and Francoise Robertson (National Coordinators)

Douglas Irvine (Gauteng Coordinator)

Mervyn Pollitt (KwaZulu-Natal Coordinator)

Peter Soal (Western Cape Coordinator)

 

30 June 2018

 Contact person:

Douglas Irvine   dmirvine@mweb.co.za   +27 82 330 3043