The traditional stronghold of Catholicism in England and Wales is in a state of decline but should emerge with smaller, more vibrant parish communities, the Archbishop of Liverpool has said.
In an interview in The Tablet’s Christmas edition Archbishop Malcolm McMahon, who was transferred to Liverpool from Nottingham over six months ago, says he wants a Church that is outward looking in the mould of Pope Francis.
“If we become totally obsessed with our own rules and regulations and what we wear and how we do it, then we become a cult, not a Church,” the 65-year-old Dominican said.
The City of Liverpool has witness a major decline in population over the last 50 years and the archdiocese has closed 46 churches and its diocesan seminary since 1968. But it is now coming to the end of a pastoral discernment programme that it is likely to see lay people given increased responsibility in parishes.
Archbishop McMahon admits that change in the archdiocese is constant and that people still expect a “corner shop” model of church that allows them to access the sacraments in parishes on their doorsteps.
“The image I like to use is that of a balloon. If you over inflate balloon, it doesn’t go back to its original shape, so managing that is very hard work. We end up with a lopsided diocese,” he said.
Also in the interview the archbishop talks about:
– Plans to move out of his residence to a smaller, more manageable abode.
– Past run-ins with the Roman Curia and how the atmosphere in Rome has shifted under Pope Francis.
– The possibility of ordaining married men.
– His thoughts on October’s synod on the family including views on gay couples and communion for the divorced and remarried.
At a time when the Church of England is looking to radically reorganize its strategy for survival into the future, this Message from the Roman Catholic arch-diocese of Liverpool, U.K., is further evidence of the need to address the decline in numbers of practising Catholics, by rationalising its ministerial and property resources. Also, by addressing his Church’s archaic attitudes to ministry and mission, the R.C. Bishop of Liverpool is preparing his diocesan officials, and the laity, for the possibility of ordaining married priests, and taking a fresh look at the Church’s attitude towards gay people and their relationships.
Reference to this ‘Tablet’ article (and – presumably the linked interview with Archbishop McMahon (which is labelled as ‘private’ on-line), gives us a view of his relationship to the Vatican Curia, and how he sees this needing to change, in order to bring new life into the Church in the present circumstance of its quest for relevance to the society in which it exists.
One can only hope that this movement in the Roman Catholic Church in the North of England will be replicated – not only in other parts of that Church in the united Kingdom, but also in the Established Church of England and its counterparts in the world-wide Anglican Communion.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand