Immigrant Ministers of Religion
Among the recent immigrants to Australia are 1,362 classified as ministers of religion. Of these, 1,242 were Christian, 22 were Buddhist, 32 were Hindu, 11 were Muslims, 25 were Jews, 19 were of other religions, and 11 described themselves as having no religion or as not stating their religion (possibly secular celebrants). It has become common in a number of denominations to seek ministers of religion or priests from overseas in order to supplement the dwindling number of clergy available in Australia.
The total number of people whose occupation was described as minister or priest counted by the 2011 Census was 15,700. The 1,362 recent immigrants constitute a significant addition to religious personnel in Australia, constituting 8 per cent of all ministers and priests. On the one hand, these immigrant clergy can bring a richness to these situations from their very different experiences in other places. On the other hand, there are many anecdotal accounts of miscommunication, sometimes due to accent, sometimes due to confusion of culture, and sometimes due to the minister’s lack of familiarity with English.
The Catholic Diocese Maitland-Newcastle has conducted an initial review of its Overseas Priest program. This review involved interviews with a number of priests and a cross-sectional survey of the perceptions and experiences of parishioners. Most of the overseas priests in this Diocese had come from India.
Overseas priests themselves were struck by some of the differences from their home dioceses, particularly the small congregations and the very few young people present. On the other hand, they noted that they had benefited from engaging with priests from a different culture. They had also appreciated the level of professionalism learnt and the trust placed in them by the other priests and the parishioners (Report, p.10).
The team also felt that the whole community, through theological reflection, dialogue and discernment, should be involved in discussing the expected long-term positive and negative consequences of dependence on overseas priests. Such reflection and discussion should address the underlying problems including the shortage of priests and declining Mass attendance (p.23).
For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 4, Pages 8-10