I was talking to one of my parishioners recently, he was trying to persuade me to go along to a Labour Party Christmas bash, the conversation skimmed along, I bemoaned the absence of good Catholics on the left of politics in the UK and the absence of any big idea apart from feminism and gay rights, I said it was the fruit of "Blair Babes". This got him quite excited, he said, "That is the trouble!" He then went on to talk about the new 10 to 7pm culture, the absence of those late night meetings in the bars and tea rooms of the Palace of Westminster where ministers and even Speakers were held to account, even in their absence, at least informally, where schemes and policies were worked out. He blamed the absence of this culture for the loss of much in parliament, for any serious condemnation of the Iraq invasion, of serious evaluation of the recession, etc., etc and especially its loss of sovereignty.
I couldn't help draw parallels with the Church and the loss of those informal clergy gatherings, cards and a bottle or two on a Sunday evening or a long drawn out meal with plenty of anecdotes. As priests become older, tireder, fewer and more stretched these occasions become less and less. Nowadays there are just clerical funerals or more formal meetings where discussion and conversation are limited, even these I find are difficult to get too, I know I should make more of an effort, but these things are less and less fun.
Since the child abuse scandals especially, but also the rise of "health and safety culture" there seems to have been a pretty drastic change in how priests see themselves, and the way in which they relate to their bishop, and I think how bishops tend to see priests. They are no longer seen as trusted brothers but as potential problems. Increasingly rather than seeing themselves as a pastors working with brother pastors, bishops are working with a small team of chosen paid lay employees who assist in administering their diocese. Vatican II's understanding of a renewed Presbyterate is ignored. The present climate in many dioceses has meant bishops and priests no longer see themselves as "co-operators" and "collaborators" in the work of governing, teaching and sanctifying their diocese but as not very important functionaries working for an organization or corporation which safeguards itself against its priests. In practice this leads to a sense of alienation, loss of morale and consequently loss of zeal. I find it incredibly sad when priests say they would not encourage a young man to think about a priestly vocation, as many older priests do today.
A couple of the brethren at a recent meeting became quite apoplectic when it was suggested that failure to comply with health and safety legislation would leave a priest "personally responsible".
It was refreshing to read that the Pope today said, "The Church is not just a corporation, like a state, it is a body; it is not an organization but an organism."