Faults found in overseas priests programme in Australia

A review of a programme to bring overseas priests into an Australian diocese has revealed the priests received inadequate orientation and their parishes were poorly prepared to receive them.

The review by a working party in Maitland-Newcastle diocese, north of Sydney, recommended continuing the programme.

But it said further invitations to overseas priests should be delayed until appropriate polices and structure are put in place, and that the programme should be part of a “well-discerned broader plan” to meet future pastoral needs.

It also said attention should be given to the age, health and experience of those invited; the qualities needed for integration into the Australian culture; the pastoral needs of their home dioceses; their preparation before they come; and the need for appropriate contracts.

The working group said the introduction of overseas priests in 2008 coincided with a difficult period in the diocese, when clergy morale was low and the local presbyterate was not functioning as a united body.

Communication between the then bishop and diocesan clergy was inadequate. Some parish priests were not aware they were to receive an overseas priest until the bishop rang them. This led to, at best, a lack of enthusiasm for overseas priests, who were seen as a “band-aid solution” to pastoral needs.

Among the issues diocesan priests felt should have been dealt with were overseas priests’ lack of familiarity with the Roman Rite and knowledge of local liturgical customs; the egalitarian culture of the Church in Australia compared with the hierarchical culture to which the overseas priests had belonged; language and communication skills; and cultural differences including skills needed in everyday domestic life in Australia.

The overseas priests themselves reported they were used to discussing their faith when they got together and found it strange that the Australian priests didn’t do that.

The overwhelming majority of 3818 parishioners who responded to a survey in seven parishes where overseas priests had worked believed their presence had a positive effect on the faith and spirituality of their parishes, and that the programme should continue.


Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle

Image: Catholic Vocations Ministry Australia

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