A SURVEY of Australian priests has revealed their views on celibacy in ministry, their concern about the increasing burden they face in administration and their desire for greater support from bishops.
The findings are contained in a report submitted to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC).
Psychotherapist, Dr Jane Power, produced the report from a doctoral thesis at Australian Catholic University in Victoria.
The report, ‘Catholic Priests in the New Millennium: The 2001 Australian Catholic Church Life Survey of Priests in Parish Ministry’, used data from the 2001 Catholic Church Life Survey (CCLS) and qualitative data from two open-ended questions at the en
d of the survey as well as interviews with a subset of active and resigned priests.
Dr Power said celibacy was an issue covered by the 383 respondents to the CCLS 2001 survey.
‘The 2001 survey showed that the majority of priests continue to disagree with the obligation of celibacy and consequently make personal decisions about how this obligation is translated into their daily lives and relationships,’ she said in a summary of her report.
‘Seventy-one per cent of priests hold a negative view of the requirement of celibacy and I found a significant association between the lack of support for celibacy and frequently thinking of resigning.’
Dr Power’s report showed that 55 per cent of Australian priests believe celibacy should be optional, and a further 16 per cent believe obligatory celibacy had had a negative impact.
The CCLS 2001 survey of priests in parish ministry included two open-ended questions, and 128 respondents (33.24 per cent) wrote detailed answers.
The questions were: ‘What do you think are the most important steps forward that the Church, or priests, or other members of Christ’s faithful, should take in this area of parish ministry?’ and ‘What do you think are the most important things to be done (and by whom) to support the personal (human and spiritual) well-being of priests, their professional (pastoral and intellectual) competence, and their practice of ministry among the people of God?’
Dr Power’s report says the topics most frequently commented on by the respondents were:
- A need for support, encouragement and pastoral care from bishops (47 respondents).
- The view that ordination requirements should be revised (38).
- More training, programs, education, formation and regular reviews (35).
- Clergy encouragement of laity involvement in all areas of parish life (24).
- An increased emphasis on Gospel teaching and faith development (19).
Dr Power said the research showed that priests ‘find great satisfaction in their commitment to the spiritual and pastoral care of laity, and the sacramental status of clergy remains as a focal point of their identity and role’.
‘However, an increasing burden with administrative tasks is of concern to many.
‘As one of the respondents comments: ‘I feel strongly that too much of the administration side of the parish is left to the priest. A priest needs to be freed up so that he can carry out his pastoral work, he was ordained for this and it is a pity that most priests spend too much time sitting in an office’.’
Dr Power said ‘a lack of affirmation and acknowledgment from bishops’ was another important factor cited by priests in relation to support in their professional life.
‘A desire for support from bishops was the most frequently cited comment to the open-ended questions at the end of the survey.
‘Further research is needed to determine whether those priests who expressed dissatisfaction with their bishops are representative of a general dissatisfaction within the priesthood.’
Dr Power said results showed that personal well-being and agreeable relationships with parishioners contributes to satisfaction with ministry.
‘Further analysis presented a positive picture in that most priests feel they are the right person for the parish, accepted by, in agreement with attenders on their role, and are generally patient and highly involved with people.
‘However, indicative of the current pressures on priests is that 30 per cent of priests find fatigue and irritation a part of most days, 21 per cent are less patient with people, 20 per cent feel negative and cynical, and 18 per cent are increasingly withdrawn from attenders.
‘Respondent comments indicate that the demands and expectations on priests by parishioners add to the burden for many.
‘As one respondent commented: ‘Parishioners’ expectations have risen. They’re critical, they’re articulate, they are looking for excellence in service, they’re looking to participate, and they’re looking for multi-skilled priests’.’
A copy of the report has been sent to all bishops.