8 April 1986: Parramatta becomes a Diocese

Catholic Diocese of Parramatta Silver Jubilee
An artist’s sketch of St Patrick’s Church, which was on the cover of the Mass booklet in 1986.
By Vivienne Keely CHF

“The bishop will locate his See in Parramatta, the principal city of the region, and there he will place his Chair, in the Church of St Patrick, to which we grant the honours of a Cathedral”, so reads the Decree of Pope John Paul II by which the Diocese of Parramatta was established on 8 April 1986.

It’s a fair bet that the Irish convict and government surveyor, James Meehan, had no idea that he was marking out a future cathedral when he marked out the site of St Patrick’s in the 1820s.

Provisions of the Decree

It’s interesting to see what topics are covered in the Decree. It gives the reasons for which the new Diocese was established, the geographic extent of the Diocese, where the centre of the Diocese will be, the sources of revenue.

It stipulates that a College of Consultors be formed, that the provisions of the Second Vatican Council be followed in the formation of seminarians, and gives the criteria for deciding which priests belong to which Diocese, Sydney or Parramatta.

The final section is devoted to the preserving of the official documents and the sending of copies to the Congregation for Bishops.

There are no surprises when it comes to the reasons for setting up the new Diocese. The Decree states that the new Diocese is a response to a request from Archbishop Clancy to divide his extensive Diocese for the “benefit of the people”.

The request was granted taking into account the views of the Australian Bishops and the advice of Archbishop Barbarito, a former Apostolic Pro-Nuncio in Australia, and in the conviction that “the more sacred pastors that there are, the greater will be the fruits of their labour”.

Genesis of division

The idea of dividing the Archdiocese of Sydney had been around for almost 20 years. The Sydney Council of Priests had suggested a division into several dioceses as early as 1968.

Three years later, the then Archbishop Freeman was advised that the Holy See was considering establishing two or three new dioceses.

Inevitably, there was some opposition to the division of the Sydney Archdiocese and, equally inevitably, in 1972, a committee was set up to make recommendations! There was also a general invitation to send written submissions to The Catholic Weekly or to the Council of Priests. *

Two options emerged: division into dioceses or the development of regions looked after by an auxiliary bishop, often called the ‘regional’ bishop. The second option prevailed and, in 1977, the Archdiocese was divided into five pastoral regions.

Several years later, the new Archbishop of Sydney, Edward Clancy, noted that regionalisation presented difficulties chief of which was a fragmentation of the Archdiocese as many Catholic people tended to regard the ‘regional’ bishop as the bishop of a diocese.

In May 1985, the Australian Bishops agreed to the proposal to divide the Archdiocese of Sydney and Archbishop Clancy made the proposal to the Holy See. Decrees establishing the Diocese of Parramatta and the Diocese of Broken Bay were signed by Pope John Paul II on the same day, 8 April 1986.

Clarification

Catholic Diocese of Parramatta Silver Jubilee
Most Rev Bede Vincent Heather DD LSS BA, First Bishop of Parramatta
The area of the new Diocese of Parramatta corresponded with the local government areas of Parramatta, Blacktown, Holroyd, Penrith, Blue Mountains, Baulkham Hills Shire and the Shire of Hawkesbury.

Archbishop Chancy later applied to the Holy See for a more detailed description of the areas and boundaries and this was supplied by the Congregation for Bishops 8 August 1986.

This was sent under covering letter by Archbishop Brambilla, Apostolic pro-Nuncio 26 August 1986 and acknowledged by Bishop Bede Heather 11 September 1986.

The installation of Bishop Bede was set down for 19 May 1986 but up to a week before, the Papal Bull, the decree establishing the Diocese, had not arrived.

Archbishop Brambilla wrote to Bishop Bede on 14 May, “since the Papal Bull carrying into effect the decision of the Holy Father has not yet arrived, in virtue of the special faculties given to me by the Holy See, I hereby grant you permission to take canonical possession of the Diocese of Parramatta, even though you may not have the Apostolic Letters”.

Installation

Concelebrating at the Solemn reception and Ifnstallation of Bishop Bede as first Bishop of Parramatta were: Cardinal Freeman, Archbishops Clancy, Rush and James Carroll, Bishops Cremin, Murphy (the new Bishop of Broken Bay), Heaps, and Robinson.

The Deacon was Rev Peter Lamont now parish priest of Rydalmere and Fr Brian Larkey read the mandate of appointment. The cover image of the Mass booklet is reproduced on this year’s Silver Jubilee commemorative calendar.

* John Luttrell fms, A New Light in the East: a history of the Diocese of Broken Bay 1986 – 2001, Diocese of Broken Bay, pp. 10-13.