THE conclusion of Bishop Peter Connors’ term as head of the Catholic Church in Ballarat is a major marking point in a tumultuous period for the church.
He was ordained Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Melbourne on May 21, 1987 – at the same time as another prominent Ballarat Catholic, George Pell – and resided in the western region of the Archdiocese until he was installed as Bishop of Ballarat on July 23, 1997. May 21 this year marked Bishop Connors’ 25th anniversary of his ordination as a bishop and , true to his style, he reflected on his position as being one he had aspired to during his formative days.
“As I have said on more than one occasion, for as long as I can remember I wanted to be a priest in a country parish. Perhaps it was because of the parish in which I grew up and because of the influence of the local parish priest that I formed this childhood dream. But God had the last laugh. He gave me a country diocese instead with a host of communities to be their chief pastor.”
But he also alluded to difficult times.
“I would be dishonest if I were to suggest that being a bishop has been a breeze. In fact it has been very difficult at times. As someone once said, life was not meant to be easy, and that is certainly the case in being a bishop particularly in this modern age.”
It has been Bishop Connors who has become the public voice responding to allegations and findings of past sexual abuse in the region, an uneviable task given the significant impact such events have had not only on the individuals involved but the church community generally. He will complete his tenure with these matters continuing to be high on the agenda, particularly in regard to the state government inquiry.
That Bishop Connors has not shied away from the church’s past handling of the matter or the need for resolution has defined his tenure but also, publicly, overshadowed his steadfast commitment to the position he took on more than 15 years ago and his work in many other areas of church life.
The challenge is now to find a person to replace Bishop Connors who can work to continue to mend the ills of the past and secure the future prosperity of the church into the future. Just as these past years has been difficult, there remains many hurdles to overcome.