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The current debate in your Letters pages about the actions of certain non-accountable parish priests is proving statistically interesting. After three weeks, the tally of published correspondents is: parishioners nine (of whom just one seemed to back a heavy-handed clerical style), clergy one.
In the light of this silence, dare it be hoped that we priests have been given something to think about, and are now engaging in a quite examination of our attitudes? That we are recalling how our ordination was a call to serve, and not a mandate to dominate and control? In fact, the issue is not that parish priests are not accountable, for we are. We are accountable to the people we are sent to serve. The issue, as your correspondents demonstrate, is that we are rarely held to account. The result is that good people, anointed at their baptism for royal service, prophetic witness and priestly representation of Jesus Chris to the world, either suffer in silence, or go away sad. Blaming our bishops for not intervening may enshrine some truth, but it rather misses the main point.
It is we priests – all of us – who need to hold ourselves to account by looking honestly at our attitudes in the light of the Gospel. The days when a parish priest was “pope in his own parish”, as the saying had it, should have long been consigned to the history books. Or if we wish to be popes in our own parishes, we should take to hear the words and deeds of our Holy Father Francis who – while in no way abdicating his responsibility – is setting an example of collaboration, consultation and listening – an example of “leadership from alongside” – and is asking his brother bishops and his priest to do the same.
Fr Martin J Clayton, Sheffield