Outspoken East Cork Priest urges Policy Rethink

By Seamus Whelehan

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In an open letter to the Council of Priests and to the Bishop of Cloyne, Fr Tim Hazelwood, Parish Priest of Killeagh, has criticised the decision not to hold a Diocesan Synod. He has called for a change of heart so that a plan to plot the future of the Church in Cloyne, and which includes all interested parties, can be made. This follows on from a decision of the Priests Council not to hold a Synod, but instead, “some representatives of Parish Pastoral Councils” would meet with Priests twice a year. Earlier the Bishop had informed the Priest that there would be no clerical changes this summer, but he hinted that more would be expected of them. He encouraged his Priests to reflect on “the adjustments of mentality and approach” and “to reconfigure our ministry across Parish boundaries”, at a time when the average age of a priest in Ireland is 70 years, and with no indication of an increase in the number of students for the Priesthood. He said this has added huge physical and mental strain on men who are already trying to cope with an increased workload.
Fr Hazelwood says “A look at the reality of our situation identifies the critical nature of what is at stake. The area in which I work is Midleton Deanery and it has 10 parishes. It is served by 23 working priests, a large number one might think, and much more than some others Deaneries in the Diocese. We have 51 weekend Masses in 27 churches and 2 institutions. The age profile of the priests gives food for thought. There is one over 80, two over 70, nine over 60, ten over 50, and two over 40. Fast forward fifteen years and the very best you could hope for is ten priests for all that area and, even if healthy, they will all be elderly men. That is the stark reality.”
The Killeagh Priest encourages following the plea of Pope Francis along the path of a Synod, which would include everyone coming together to plan a way forward. That would mean allowing lay people (the people of God) a meaningful role in the decision making. He goes on, “What we are looking at is a map for the future, a plan where all have an input, where an agreed consensus could be worked towards, and a strategy to help empower people and which gives hope.” Fr Hazelwood said the “Band Aid” approach is simply managing decline, and without proper planning involving all, then the Church faces certain failure.
He says “Many oppose a Synod because of fears of “the laity” naming expectations, hopes, and requests that might be interpreted as “threatening demands”. Predictions like this fall into the category of what Pope Francis calls “babel syndrome” a term he appropriates to the time “when I do not listen to what the other person is saying and think that I know what the other person is thinking and is about to say”
He mentions possible topics including the process of closing Churches. The sheer number means they have become a burden, both financially and in terms of the demands which they make on Priests.
He suggests that no Parish should have more than two Churches - in Midleton Deanery, three Parishes have four Churches’.
Most importantly he says that people need to be listened to, and involved in any decisions in the future, thus avoiding the conflict which is happening in Kerry with a standoff between the parishioners of Kilcummen and the Bishop, resulting in the Parish not having any resident Priest

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