Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Congrats to Michael Mason CSSR

Congratulations to a colleague from my days in the Collingwood Catholic Community, Michael Mason CSsR who has been awarded the Archbishop Adrian Doyle Award for Pastoral Research, for recognition of his outstanding contribution to pastoral research in Australia.

In attendance to present the award was retired Archbishop of Hobart Adrian Doyle, the first chair of the Board of Management for the Pastoral Research Projects (the predecessor of the Australian Catholic Council for Pastoral Research) and himself a strong supporter of pastoral research in the Church.

Extract from “Don’t shoot! I’m only the messenger!” A few reminiscences from fifty years of pastoral research by Michael Mason CSSR 

Address delivered at the 
Conference on Beliefs and Practices of Australian Catholics 
ACBC Pastoral Research Office 

February 19-21, 2014 

What have I learned? Well, not much, I suppose – two principles, at least: 

• First: Understanding the situation is fundamental and must come before “doing”: understanding 
what has changed, and what is the situation for ministry now. Otherwise people make poorly 
planned attempts at “quick fixes” which don’t work. (I saw a cartoon of an elderly pastor 
saying: “We gave them jazz masses, rock masses, hip hop masses, and still they don’t come! 
What more do young people want?”). 

• Second: The relationship between religion and society has changed over a long period; this change 
accelerated sharply in the Western world from the 1970s on, and is still continuing; Christianity 
will not become extinct, but in the future the church as an organisation in Western societies 
seems likely to become smaller, more marginal, less influential than it is today, with fewer 
resources and a smaller superstructure. The Church is primarily the people of God. The 
institutional structure, which we also call church, is just the beautiful old family home the 
Church has lived in for a long time, parts of which are getting beyond repair. 

• The church existed for centuries in a relatively stable society and culture; so it has been shaped as a 
traditional organisation; geared to faithfully continuing to hand on its treasures, and of course 
developing and changing, but slowly; traditional organisations assume the future will be 
basically much the same as the past, so they will always be relevant. So they tend not to notice 
when rapid change in their environment makes them ineffective. Like an old TV station 
continuing to send out an analogue TV signal when the receivers have all changed over to 

• As institutions lose touch, they get a bit short-sighted; they can look straight at their defects and see them as strengths; there’s a lot of bad pastoral research out there that screens them from the 
truth – Mary Gautier showed in her wonderful talk the other day how even counts of mass 
attendance in the USA are exaggerated to make parishes or dioceses look good. Hence the old 
saying: “there are lies, damned lies, and church statistics!”. A pastoral researcher must tell the 
truth. If you announce that your research shows that in Catholic schools today, it is pastorally 
harmful to impose religious education and prayer on students who do not believe (and this 
includes many who are nominally Catholic), you will be called a Jeremiah. Well, take comfort 
– he was a great prophet, to whom the Lord said: “Behold, I put my words in your mouth”. 

• The people of God need some new houses built. And success always starts with failure. But the 
church of the future will still be the community of believers gathered to live the Gospel of the 
Lord. Our belief and hope in its future is not based on numbers but on the testimony of the 

Holy Spirit.

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