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What it will take to prove the Church gets it



Many Catholics were glued to the screen to hear their leaders respond to the royal commission. The optics were immediately better because Sister Monica Cavanagh rsj, president of Catholic Religious Australia, was sitting beside Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, and had a significant speaking part by reading their opening joint statement to the media conference.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge and Sister Monica Cavanagh rsj, president of Catholic Religious Australia during the press conferenceThe content of the conference was encouraging, despite the difficulty in hearing the probing questions posed by the media. The language of contrition was expressed powerfully and the primacy given to survivors was appropriate.

Also welcome was the thanks offered to the media by Coleridge, as he signed off, for the role of journalists in uncovering the national tragedy of child sexual abuse and the unforgivable cover up by the church, as well as for giving voice to the survivors. Too often church leaders have treated the media as their enemy and encouraged Catholics to do likewise.

Survivors have every right to say 'too little too late' to this belated response by the church leaders. Broken trust cannot be rebuilt quickly and in the case of many survivors may not be rebuilt in their lifetimes. The church must show survivors by its pastoral actions that it has learned. That will take many years.

The question of the seal of confession and, to a lesser extent, of voluntary celibacy for priests, is interpreted by the media and the wider public as proof that the church leadership is still resisting rather than embracing the recommendations of the royal commission and that they still don't get it.

That impression can only be allayed if the church's record in a decade's time can be shown to be impeccable in responding to the other 98 per cent of the RC recommendations. But already that 98 per cent has been shown to be a rubbery figure, dependent on counting in-principle support and/or referral to Rome.

The media conference also showed how discussion immediately turns to the universal (international) nature of the church, either through church explanations that some matters must be processed through the Holy See, or through media questions about Pope Francis and international developments. The Australian Catholic Church, to its detriment, is shown not be a national church, like the Anglican Church in Australia, but a branch-office church with all the impediments to freedom of independent action that follow.


"Cavanagh's hesitant response to media questions about the place of women in the church was telling. She was clearly unconvinced that genuine progress will occur until her male colleagues really get it."


As far as the general community is concerned most of the 98 per cent of the recommendations are about complex matters which are much more difficult to understand than the two per cent rejected.

These complexities may be divided into questions of child safety and compensation for survivors — including the national redress scheme, pastoral care for survivors, and training and supervision of clergy — on the one hand, and matters of culture, governance, church law and lay leadership on the other. Church leaders by and large do get the former, but many still do not get the latter at all. They remain a battleground within the church.

The matters of child protection and professional standards policies and administration appear to be in hand. Only time can demonstrate that lessons have been fully learned and, while reforms can be introduced quickly, their efficacy must be demonstrated year in and year out over decades.

The matters of culture, governance and lay leadership remain fraught. Cavanagh's hesitant response to media questions about the place of women in the church was telling. She was clearly unconvinced that genuine progress will occur until her male colleagues really get it. Progress will certainly take time.

While the bishops and CRA accepted the RC recommendations around governance, their responses largely did not relate to immediate action, but to investigations and reviews. Accepting these recommendations was relatively cost-free for the time being.

The necessary culture and governance reform directions are clear, and although the detailed application of corporate approaches should be carefully scrutinised before their introduction into the church, the general guiding principles of transparency, accountability and gender balance must be non-negotiable.

The test of the bishops' sincerity and willingness will come during the next few years. Governance reform at diocesan and parish level must not wait for the Plenary Council 2020, though that will be one test. The independent Implementation Advisory Group must take the initiative and explore ideas like a church ombudsman. Above all, concerned Catholics will serve the church best by continuing to exert pressure on its leadership to bring about the necessary cultural and structural changes.



John WarhurstJohn Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University and chairs Concerned Catholics Canberra-Goulburn.

Topic tags: John Warhurst, Catholic Church, clergy sexual abuse, Mark Coleridge



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Existing comments

Do the "necessary cultural and social changes" called for include the clericising of the laity?

John | 02 September 2018  

Thanks John! I agree that "The Australian Catholic Church, to its detriment, is shown not be a national church, like the Anglican Church in Australia, but a branch-office church with all the impediments to freedom of independent action that follow." And unless Pope Francis and the Vatican power brokers start listening to the laity, the Catholic Church will continue to decline. Just look at the ageing congregations in the typical Catholic parish church! Young people are swelling the ranks of Pentecostal churches, and deserting the Catholic Church in droves. A sexist church that won't treat women as equals has lost the young and also lost the argument about Christian equality.

Grant Allen | 02 September 2018  

Sr Cavanagh was right to be "hesitant" as Professor Warhurst writes. Her presence at the press conference and as a signatory of the (extraordinarily delayed) "Response" was blatant PR by the Bishops --not just for the obvious reason that they're a continuing part of the centuries-old denial of a meaningful role for women in the Catholic church but because the data of the Royal Commission showed that trivial numbers of women were involved in sexual abuse. Are those episcopal males trying, deceptively, to "share the blame"? The other untrustworthy aspect of the response is the lack of any evidence that the Australian exert continuing pressure on the Vatican for timely responses and decisions about the matters which they "refer" to Rome. "Head Office" in the Vatican is notorious for its dilatoriness and constant shaming is essential to achieve anything: our bishops are hardly renowned for that diligence. Put simply, they not remotely interested in the "Separation of powers" which is an essential (if poorly acknowledged) aspect of the uniquely important report of the Royal Commission.

Dr John CARMODY | 02 September 2018  

The question that most intrigues me is what role the seal of confession has already played, rather than what effect it would have to relax it. An offender who goes to his bishop and confesses has, according to my understanding of the seal, already limited the capacity of the bishop to act for fear of breaking that seal. Moreover the bishop could not even discuss the dilemma he was facing for the same reason. Despite his contrite demeanour my take on the press conference is that Coleridge still has not got it. He still has that 'ordained to lead' manner about him which makes me somewhat pessimistic for the immediate future. I don't think we will see more involvement of women or the laity in the church anytime soon.

Bill Venables | 02 September 2018  

When will bishops be made accountable defrocked. And prison time not sitting pretty at home priests defrocked. It’s all good talk talk talk how about concrete action enough is enough. If these were civilians they would be in jail.

Irena | 02 September 2018  

The road to he'll is paved with good intentions. That is all we have heard so far. What us the plan?

Malcolm McPherson | 02 September 2018  

Thank you John. I'm sure the 'time will tell', 'progress certainly takes time' etc is going to be much comfort for those desperately hoping the church can move into something resembling the modern world. While celibacy remains mandatory and and women are locked out of substantial roles in the church , it is hard to see much progress being made. The sad thing is that the Jesus of the gospel would have been appalled at the ossification of his 'world'.

Jorie Ryan | 02 September 2018  

We certainly need to identify cultural and structural changes. Australia has strong conservative, deeply embedded, even tribal cultural practices illustrated by pilgrimmages, angelus/Church bells, novenas, Legion of Mary, medals of saints etc, self-serving beatification processes- pope John XX111, Pope Paul 6 etc, pious practices around special saints such as St Monica, the patron saint of wives and alcoholics, and devotional prayers such as the Rosary. Please do not misconstrue what I write. Many of these traditions have richly served earlier generations of Catholics. These will not, however, be vote-winners with younger generations of Catholics, the future of our Church. Sometimes I attend mass at St Christophers Cathedral in Canberra when I can’t be at my own parish. Of an evening before mass, the cathedral bells toll loudly through the Manuka shopping precinct. In medieval times, the Angelus bells summoned the faithful to prayer. In 2018 some Catholics continue to see the bells calling the faithful to God; others see it as a cacophony of noise and horrible strident tones. My view in this matter is that what remains central is the invitational, clarion call to life in Christ. Can we put old wine in new skins? Can we develop new paradigms and practices for a contemporary Catholic spirituality? Is change worthwhile, replacing some traditional Catholic cultural practices with more deeply imbued Christology and New Testament values?

PeterD | 02 September 2018  

The accompanying photograph is significant : the didactic finger reveals much about (the owner's) perceptions of power relations and social role . . .

Yvonne Langley Walsh | 02 September 2018  

There were two things that the Bishops could have said about the seal of confession which would have helped their acceptability and "optics" to the general and indeed church community: 1) that absolution to any confessing paedophile (albeit very rare) would always be dependent upon them confessing to authorities, and 2) that they have good canon law advice that if a child mentions sexual predatory behaviour against them, then that is not their sin, and so not covered by the seal. So the priest is free to ask the name of the paedophile and should have the duty pass that on to authorities; the child`s name could be withheld unless they have permission to divulge it. The hard line taken was un-necessary and indeed may be wrong in law and morally. Their intransigence smacks of a conservative ideology about all this among at least some of the senior bishops, and I can guess where from.

Eugene | 02 September 2018  

Dr Carmody. Might I respectfully suggest that the allegation that there exists a centuries old denial of a meaningful role for women in the Catholic Church is the grossest of insults to all of those wonderful women who from as far back as the third century AD left their homes and devoted their lives to the care of the sick and disadvantaged and also to those who nurtured and taught the Catholic faith to our children in their convents until recent times. We have seen what the abandonment of the religious life amongst women has done to both Catholic Health Care and Catholic Education over the last 30 or 40 years - and it was the women themselves who did that, not the Church - another disaster in the wake of the Vatican II "enlightenment" and "reformation".

john frawley | 02 September 2018  

Perhaps it is not only the hierarchy who "do not get it". The statement implying that the Catholic Church in Australia should be a national church like the Anglican Church in Australia betrays a fundamental mis-understanding of Christ's word in the gospels and of what the Catholic Church is. We have already seen the Reformation and the damage done by it - we don't need another one. We could start off perhaps with forgiveness of those who "didn't get it" and trust in those in the hierarchy, like Pope Francis, Archbishop Coleridge and countless others, who now "do get it".

john frawley | 02 September 2018  

As usual an excellent approach - I do share some of the cynicism of the willingness to make permanent long term changes by the bishops. The set up of the Plenary Council reinforces this view. But I am also concerned at the fact that the civil/social/political authorizes have fixated on one single issue - namely the seal of the confessional - when changes could be made that would force the changes required. Until secular religious bodies retain the privilege of Sole Corporate, change will be slow and at the discretion of those "in charge". This change has to be initiated at the civil level.

Nicholas Agocs | 03 September 2018  

Good thoughtful article. Just 2 points I would like to make - firstly, Sr Monica has rightly focussed attention on this past & ongoing problem of the lack of female leadership roles in the RC Church. I doubt that if women had been in RC leadership roles that they would have allowed the Church canon laws to stop the application of prompt justice for CSA victims & they would have ensured the immediate "outing" of the mainly male clerical CSA offenders. Secondly, the tardy follow-up by local diocesan bishops of CSA cases referred to the Vatican & the insidious role of the relevant canon laws in delaying this justice being done was staggering. in a real, and certainly not any irreverent way, I say to the RC Bishops of Australia - FOR CHRIST'S SAKE, FIX THESE PROBLEMS !

John Cronin, Toowoomba Q | 03 September 2018  

I recently went to a pre-plenary meeting where I was spoken at by the person responsible for preparing the 'faithful' for the plenary. After reflecting on this meeting I have come to the conclusion that during her talk there was an elephant in the room. The elephant in this 'plenary' is the presence of the bishops. It seems to me the main issue, as outlined by the recent Royal Commission, was the behaviour of the bishops. As long as they see themselves as part of the 'plenary' there is no chance of any change in the Australian Catholic Church.

Tom Kingston | 03 September 2018  

Hullo JohnF, Your posting highlights the wonderful work that women have traditionally performed in health and education but it leaves unaddressed the role of women at the leadership table in Catholic structures, the managerial/governance domain. How many women, for instance, were involved, or even consulted in the transfer of clergy suspected of sexual abuse in Australia or overseas? Given the predominantly top-down male structures in the Catholic Church I suspect the ratios of males/females is very low in the institutional decision-making. I might note in passing that this discussion is not confined to religious matters; just listen to the words of Julie Bishop last week about the attitudes of fellow Liberal MPs. Certainly some females have been involved in sexual abuse of children in Australia but once again the ratios are very lop-sided. The role of ordained women in a world where there is no distinction between ‘slave and freeman…male and female’ is a critical area for change.

PeterD | 03 September 2018  

] In a typically majestic Morris West fulmination (quite possibly here - when Eureka St was in print), I recall his citing the key to the entire canon law: "in ecclesia, suprema lex salus animarum". I am as cynical about hierarchies as anyone; however, I have to believe that when the bishops defend the confessional seal, it is with a Spirit-infused will to uphold the salvation of every soul, incluing a paedophile's, and NOT dutifully to prop up a façade for the "magisterium". Our priest this weekend gave a superb homily on exactly this issue. And it was apposite that he invoked Jesus' words to the rigorist Pharisees on not just following human dispensations (the Vatican party line?) but adhering to the true morality of tending to the widows and orphans - humanity in perennially urgent need. In the end, it is for the confessor to grant or withhold absolution. It's a simple matter to require confessing to the authorities as a condition upon forgiveness. I may have missed it, but did any cleric point this out to the Commission? The seal seems to be, in the end, a legal straw man.

Fred Green | 03 September 2018  

PeterD. In regards to the ordination of women : (1) The New Testament (Mark 3:13–19, Matthew 10:1–4, Luke 6:12–16, and Acts 1:13) indicate that all the Apostles were Men. (2) In a race. The quickest runner: 'The implementation of the falsification of God's Word'. Via 'human reasoning'. Can never overtake the slowest, since the pursuer must first reach the point whence the pursued started, so that the slower must always hold a lead (Matthew 24: 35) —?as, (also) recounted by Aristotle, Physics VI:9 ...https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeno%27s_paradoxes#/media/File:Zeno_Achilles_Paradox.png

AO | 03 September 2018  

Matthew 24: 35 —? In other words Jesus is saying: My Words shall correspond exactly with the (or an) event; although it does not appear so to men immediately. His Words have in them a vitality and endurance which the mightiest works of nature (or the words fruit of mere human rational) do not possess: ''He the Living Word'', walked upon the waters. The facts and truths embodied in His Words are sure and steadfast, and what he Has promised or predicted shall inevitably be fulfilled: He turned water into wine. He gave sight to the blind man. He raised Lazareth from the dead... He chose 12 men as His Apostles. Not twelve women.

AO | 03 September 2018  

I might suggest to John Frawley that he reflect on the Biblical image of "motes" and "beams" in our eyes: it is a worthwhile admonition for us all, in fact. Look more clearly and attentively at history. Women (and, indeed, non-clerical men) have never exercised real POWER in the Catholic Church; and spectacularly and damagingly, they certainly do not now. The urgent need is for "separation of powers": ordination must not entitle the males who experience it the power of BOTH rule and judgement. The majority of members of the Church, are excluded from roles which are meaningful in that crucial sense.

John CARMODY | 03 September 2018  

The Apostles, AO, were men but by what logic does it follow that this remain the case? Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have strong patterns of top-down, male dominance in religious structures and that too should change. I can’t help but think of the way Christ interacted with women - Martha and Mary, the woman at the well, Mary Magdalene. Jesus had an openness of heart towards women, was not constrained by cultural/religious prejudice or social norms. If you read some of the early OT it is almost as if women are defiled and Eve-type temptresses. The Aristotlean reference which holds a lead is never overtaken is false. Some of the apostles were married; celibacy was not an essential requirement of priesthood until late in the middle ages. The Catholic Church has introduced many changes not envisaged in the OT/NT. I sometimes think that attitudes to women in ordained life, for instance, are bound up with puzzling attitudes of the Church towards sex, divorce etc. stem from top-down male celibate decision making. I leave you with a thought of Garry Wills [The Tablet]: “Catholic priests are charged with maintaining The Big Crazy on sex all the time. These functionaries of the church are formally supposed to believe and preach sexual sillinesses, from gross denial to outright absurdity, on the broadest range of issues—masturbation, artificial insemination, contraception, sex before marriage, oral sex, vasectomy, homosexuality, gender choice, abortion, divorce, priestly celibacy, male-only priests—and uphold the church’s “doctrines,” no matter how demented.”

PeterD | 03 September 2018  

A thoughtful and informative artice . I am concerned that the RC while important has eclipsed the fact that most child sexual abuse occurs within the home, the perpertrator is a family member or close friend (male) and the victim is female. There is no redress and even when reported the victim is punished rather than the perpetrator.

Liz MUNRO | 03 September 2018  

In today's Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian Catholic Church's Truth Justice and Healing Council has advocated through its report, indeed urged, a quota mechanism to give women decision making roles at all levels of Church Administration. This is predicated on the report from the Commission into sexual abuse that the lowest level of abuse in Australian dioceses since the 1950's was in Adelaide at 2.4 percent of the priest population. (Sale in Victoria was the worst at 15.1 percent). This has been attributed by the Council to the appointment of lay women and nuns as episcopal vicars with authority over parish priests [in some administrative areas] from the 50s onwards and notes that this system was not taken up elsewhere. Adelaide was spared the great upsurge of abuse during the 60s, 70s and 80s. On face value this would seem to be significant. However, the questions that cry out to be pursued are, "Did the presence of women episcopal vicars prevent sexual abuse? If so, how? There must be some rational reason if the appointment of the episcopal vicars was indeed the reason why Adelaide was spared. If the appointment of such female vicars with authority over parish priests is indeed shown to be the cause of the significantly low figures in Adelaide, then, there may be some imperative to implement the Adelaide initiative as a blue print for a significant change in Church government. It might be, however, that there are many reasons for the low rate in Adelaide and female authority as implied in today's report might not be the most significant. However, Church Administration should look as this experience in detail and with intent for the good of the church. It would be interesting to see what any such inquiry would reveal.

john frawley | 03 September 2018  

To Garry Wills given an opportunity I would say", But the Natural man receives Not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are Foolishness unto him: Neither can he Know them, because they are Spiritually Discerned.

AO | 03 September 2018  

Anyone who has started reading the four volumes of the Truth Justice and Healing Council response to the Australian Royal Commission into Child Abuse is immediately confronted by the despair, frankness and honest reflections of the Deputy Chair, Elizabeth Proust AO . Ms Proust, is one of the few TJH Council members who is not a church employee or a member of a religious congregation. It seems she is shattered and sees little hope for the future of the church. “The journey of the last five years has been one that I would not willingly take again. Despite the dedication, hard work, energy and commitment from the whole team at the Council, the experience has been thoroughly disillusioning and has left my faith badly shaken." "The abuse, the cover ups, and the apparent lack of care by so many in the Church hierarchy (I cannot call them Church “leaders”) has been the lowest point of my life in our Church." Ms Proust goes on, “It is hard to see how we can recover from this in Australia.' "Following the Royal Commission’s hearings, and findings, young people generally see a corrupt Church, one that is irrelevant to their lives and to their problems. The voice of the Church is largely ignored when it should have much to say that is relevant to our society today. We have become rules-based, forgotten the basic tenet of the gospels, and are seen as wealthy and uncaring." Ms Proust finally notes,"It is clear from the Royal Commission’s findings that the dysfunctional governance of the Church aggravated the harm done by sexual abuse. The need for reform in this area is long overdue and the delay and obfuscation in responding to the Royal Commission on this topic, and on many others, will only worsen the alienation felt by the people of the Church, and continue to make the Church an irrelevance in our society.‘ In contrast, at the media conference releasing the two long awaited reports, the Head of the Australian Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Mark Coleridge seemed to fudged rubbery figures to give the impression that the Church had accepted 98% of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommendations. If only. The Brisbane Archbishops attempts to hoodwink reporters and deflect blame, revealed a lack of care and consideration for victims, families and communities. The Bishop showed he was part of a hierarchy hell bent on protecting his power and privilege position rather than supporting change. In his own state, Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge had failed to publicly supported mandatory reporting for clergy in Queensland over the past five years. In the same time, most of Australia's 38 Bishops also failed to implement financial transparency or accountable governance, engage with laity or rebuilt much needed trust. (Unlike the USA: http://votf.org/content/financial-accountability) It made me wondered what the founder of Australian Religious Order of Sisters of St Joseph, Mary McKillop would have made of the press conference fiasco. Ms Proust’s words reminded me of Mark McKillop, "Do not, for the sake of defending one or two, shrink from speaking the plain, open truth." As Mary McKillop found, it is a hard road for anyone who speaks the truth in the church. In 1870, the Sisters of St Joseph exposed a sexually-abusive priest (Father Ambrose Patrick Keating) and the Sisters also exposed another priest (Father Charles Horan) who protected Keating. The Catholic Church has kept quiet Keating’s sex-abuse (trivialising it as merely "misconduct"). Articles about Keating's sexual abuse emerged in about 2010 as the Vatican declared Mary MacKillop, Australia’s first saint. Volume 1 TJHC Report 2018 http://www.tjhcouncil.org.au/img/pdf/TJHC-Volume-1.pdf

Boylan | 03 September 2018  

Do you really believe the story that he turned water into wine AO? And on that basis, that another story of him choosing 12 men justifies the discriminatory structure of the Church in the 21st century?

Ginger Meggs | 03 September 2018  

Ginger. Yes and yes. And yes, I also believe, Jesus' Words when He said, ''Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you.'' The Truth ( Jesus Christ) cannot lie. ,

AO | 04 September 2018  

You write, John Frawley: “If the appointment of such female vicars with authority over parish priests is indeed shown to be the cause of the significantly low figures in Adelaide, then, there may be some imperative to implement the Adelaide initiative as a blue print for a significant change in Church government.” This statement appeals to me because it is evidence-based and, furthermore, you are not accepting it at face value. Your phrase ‘is indeed shown’ implies caution and further analysis. That makes a lot of sense to me. I note in contrast AO’s rejection of an admittedly quite controversial, even highly irreverent quote from Garry Wills: “the Natural man receives Not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are Foolishness unto him: Neither can he Know them, because they are Spiritually Discerned.” ! This quote suggests a distinction between a natural man [a fool] and a person who is spiritually discerning and attuned to the Spirit of God. I have no idea how this quote applies to Garry Wills but I take the inference to be that Garry is a fool. There are many ways to refute Garry Wills’ viewpoint - and I have reservations about it - but it requires argument and rebuttal, rather than an uncontextualised quote.

PeterD | 04 September 2018  

John Frawley's cautionary note is wise advice. A correlation may suggest but does not imply a causal relation. There may indeed be a causal relationship but the logic of the path between suspected cause and observed effect needs to be demonstrated. Otherwise we might just as well base our actions on the the disposition of the planets in the night sky. But his advice is also pertinent to the proposition that because Jesus chose 12 men as his original apostles, he was necessarily excluding women from apostolic roles. If that were true, we might just as well conclude that because all twelve men were Jewish he was also excluding non-Jewish men which the Church has rightly, though not without resistance, recognised as nonsense.

Ginger Meggs | 04 September 2018  

PeterD. When Astronaut Jeff Hoffman said:“You do, from that perspective, see the Earth as a planet. You see the sun as a star – we see the sun in a blue sky, but up there, you see the sun in a black sky. So, yeah, you are seeing it from the cosmic perspective.” I'm reminded of all who posses the Spirit of Christ. And how different their perspective is on all things and on the issues Garry Wills complains about the Catholic Church's perspective on. The words, and thoughts of each man are an indication of the spirit that abides within him. Remember Jesus' Words to Nicodemus,'' I tell you the solemn truth, we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen. And, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world?... I am all for more women having roles of leadership in the Catholic Church. Many women who followed Jesus helped His and the ministry of the 12 Apostles immensely. As is still happening today. The priesthood however, is a gift bestowed only on men. Willed by Jesus Himself.

AO | 04 September 2018  

Can anyone point me to a link to view the entire press conference herein discussed? I have only been able to find short news clips.

Peter Smyth | 04 September 2018  

“The priesthood..a gift..only men. Willed by Jesus.” To prove this, AO, I would need to be persuaded that Jesus explicitly excluded women. The apostles were male but at the time of the death and resurrection of Jesus, certain women displayed more conviction and faith than many of the vacillating disciples. St Paul advocated the removal of gender distinctions. We live in an age where there has been one of the betrayals of gospel values …Not “Suffer the little children to come unto me” but “Let the little children come unto me and suffer”; admittedly, only a small percentage of many faithful and loyal priests in the Church responsible. After all of this, no changes in the ordained ministry? Priestly celibacy: for centuries being married was no theological impediment to being ordained. It’s unlikely but possible that a lay person could be elected as Pope and would then need to be ordained. Judaism, Christianity and Islam have strong traditions of top-down male dominance in their ordained structures. When I consider how warmly Jesus interacted with women and with such an open heart- Martha and Mary, the woman at the well, Mary Magdalene - your statement ‘willed by Jesus’ is untrue.

PeterD | 05 September 2018  

PeterD. St Paul advocated the removal of gender distinctions? Well not really. Paul was saying we are One in Christ's Spirit. A new creation. Our outer physical appearance, occupation or whatever distinguishes us from one another is irrelevant. Since Christ was incarnated as male and all 12 original apostles were male, the church declared that God meant for males alone to exercise the priesthood. The church, in other words, does not consider the extension of ordination to women to be an issue of human rights (or one of discrimination as you are saying) but one of fulfilling the divine will, with which there can be no compromise nor accommodation. Women give birth to boys later called to the priesthood. And in many, many ways keep the church going through the centuries. This I don't deny.

AO | 05 September 2018  

I agree that there is much to be done with the organisation of the RC Church in Australia in terms of governance, transparency, lay participation, standards of liturgy, preaching, faith education and a whole passel of other issues. However, one large elephant in the room is the general disinterest in God, on the part of younger generations in educated, western societies today, not to mention that of many senior people as well. This issue, is deserving of serious academic research on the part of the Church, through various mechanisms available, including, for example, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Australian Catholic University and the like, in order to get to the core of the matter. The Plenary Council of 2020 is a start, but it is not exclusively setting out to undertake this specific task. If, as we accept as Christians and as Catholics, that God is beyond human understanding, and is Divine Mystery, this means that at any given time we do not have all the answers about God. It means that we continue to journey on into the Divine. Therefore, our dogma, doctrine and theological and ecclesial traditions must constantly be reviewed lest they and we become stagnant. A journey is not a journey if we remain in the same place. Theologians, Biblical scholars and the like can help us here, as well as the sense of the faithful (sensus fidelium) but we must be brave enough to listen and change. Therefore, I believe that we must listen to people in society whether committed Christians or not, to ascertain what, if at all, the Church has to offer them. What, if at all in their experience, God has to offer them. Otherwise, the Church, to borrow unrelatedly from St. Paul, will become nothing more than ‘a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.’

Thomas Amory | 06 September 2018  

'Willed by Jesus Himself' is a pretty big claim AO. And the only evidence that you can lead to support this assertion is that 'the church [that is, a bunch of privileged males at a conference] declared that God meant for males alone to exercise the priesthood.' I doubt that argument would score many points in a junior high-school debating competition but you want to use it to exclude half of humanity?

Ginger Meggs | 06 September 2018  

St Clement lays out clearly the grounds for a hierarchy of Christian ministers based on apostolic succession. The Apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; and Jesus Christ was sent from God. Christ, therefore, is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both of these orderly arrangements, then, are by God’s will.… Through countryside and city they preached; and they appointed their earliest converts [literally first-fruits], testing them by the spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers.

AO | 06 September 2018  

John Carmody is right. For too long women and laity have been excluded from meaningful roles in this church. Perhaps we should note: Matthew 15:9 They worship Me in vain; they teach as doctrine the precepts of men.'" Mark 7:6 Jesus answered them, "Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written: 'These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Mary Magdalene was the first person he appeared to after the resurrection. She travelled with Jesus on his journeys and was present at the crucifixion. In the 5th (lost) gospel on Mary, it says she is worthy to be a disciple and despite the presence of men at the last supper, where did Jesus exclude women from equal participation? Was Judas worthy of being a disciple? Despite his presence at the Passover remembrance? His gender of any consequence? Jesus loved Mary Magdalene more than any of the disciples, even Peter. The point is this. If the status quo remains, then the iniquities of male supervision revealed by the commission and investigations worldwide in boarding schools, catholic schools and orphanages will continue and we will be having the same debate in 100 years time.

Frank Armstrong | 06 September 2018  

You refer, Thomas, to ‘general disinterest in God, on the part of younger generations in educated’ and ask what the Church has to offer: a critical question! Given ailments of our contemporary world - poverty, scourges of addiction such as ice, opiates etc, excessive preoccupation with money & pleasure, self-serving political leaders etc there is enormous salvation in religion and spirituality. The call for a Christian “is if ye have love one to another.” Many are drifting away from the Church, especially young people. I believe one factor is the ‘Church’s deeply un-, and even anti-, intellectual approach to faith.’ There are many, many Catholics who genuinely believe as AO does, that male-only ordained priests were ’Willed by God/Jesus Himself’. Decades ago Bob Dylan sang ‘you never ask questions when God's on your side’. As a teacher for seventeen years, interacting with 3000 high school students, many in a senior Catholic high school, I think teenagers would immediately recognise the injustice in Ginger Meggs’ observation about excluding half of the human race from ordination by a bunch of privileged males. And rather than bring in St Clements, the person of Jesus and the values of the kingdom he proclaimed, are central.

PeterD | 06 September 2018  

PeterD, thanks for your interest in my post and your subsequent points, which are spot on! I agree with your point regarding the ‘un-, and even anti-, intellectual approach to faith’. It has been staring the RC Church in the face at least since the Enlightenment, and before that, the Reformation. We have had first class theologians, including Hans Kung et al, Biblical scholars, Philosophers and others who can point us in the direction of a new ‘experience’ and vision as to how we might live the faith in the present time. These people have usually been silenced and disregarded, in favour of a fundamentalist and naïve understanding of dogma, doctrine, scripture and various Church traditions, including priesthood, the Eucharist, human sexuality, and indeed the person of Christ and what he did, at least according to the Gospels. Herein lies the problem to which you point regarding the idea of who Christ ‘ordained’. As a theologian, I say he did not ‘ordain’ anybody in the sense that we understand RC ordination today. Ordination has been an organic, somewhat ‘man-made’ process, bringing with it notions of ‘ontological’ change and of the priest acting ‘in persona Christi’ (in the person of Christ). I argue that we all act in the person of Christ when we undertake to live the Gospel, such as we understand it. Women, as well as men, married or celibate, with the right disposition and education, can be ordained (called) as deacons, priests and bishops by the faithful whom they will serve. To withhold this calling to women is an injustice on the part of the Church. I cannot believe in a God who is unhappy with the ordination of women. That God is too small, especially for the young people to whom you refer.

Thomas Amory | 07 September 2018  

An appeal to Clement adds no weight to your argument AO as he was just another of the bunch of privileged blokes. What else would you have expected him to say? You still haven’t answered PeterD’s challenge to say where Jesus explicitly excluded women from priestly roles. Had He intended to do so, surely He would have given reasons and explained why it was appropriate. Sure, the original apostles were all males, or so we are told, but they were also all Jews, circumcised, Aramaic-speaking, and (probably) working class. Why is ‘maleness’ any more special than those other attributes. In some species, individuals change gender several times during their lives. In the human species gender outcome is really just a roll of the dice anyway.

Ginger Meggs | 07 September 2018  

...There would be nothing to contest, no Bible, no male priesthood, no door closed on the ordination of women. Nor would anyone have heard or read about Jesus had it not been for St Clement, and all those before, and after him, who passed down via apostolic succession, the first oral accounts of the first apostles testimonies of Jesus' Words, His miracles, life, death, resurrection and of their time with Him. The books of the Bible, are also thanks to them. Hebrews 13:8... To love Jesus, is to know Jesus, and to love Jesus is to have a relationship with 'The person Jesus'. As all the writings of men like St Clement testify to.

AO | 07 September 2018  

If the church really "got it", all priests last Sunday (Sept 2) would have used the gospel of the day to preach about the church's hypocrisy in dealing with child abuse by following its own structural laws but ignoring the spirit of the law (the law of God) MARK 7: Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions. How many priests had the intestinal fortitude to see the writing on the wall? At the church I went to the priest was blind and preached about The Fiddler On the Roof! (still pointing the bone at the Jews!)

AURELIUS | 08 September 2018  

Ginger, a number of those "privileged blokes" of the early Church were martyrs. Clement is one of them.

John | 08 September 2018  

G. Meggs highlights AO’s invalid logic in defending the priesthood as ‘a gift bestowed only on men’. Argument 1: Jesus chose 12 men as his Apostles, not twelve women. Therefore, since this is ‘willed by Jesus himself’ the conclusion logically follows that women are excluded from ordination as priests. Argument 2: Jesus chose 12 Jews as his Apostles, not twelve gentiles. Therefore, since this is ‘willed by Jesus himself’ the conclusion logically follows that gentiles are excluded from ordination as priests. A more compelling logic would be to accept that around 50AD the Council of Jerusalem decided that gentile converts to Christianity were not required to observe most of the Law of Moses; similarly, understandings of the priesthood evolved in the early Church in ways that were not in the NT. The Church proclaims that we are all made in the image and likeness of God yet differentiates gender in the priesthood; future councils can change this. Arguments around equality of women in religious life have other contemporary parallels: you could argue that the ALP/Anglicans etc are seriously addressing the issue, so why not LNP/Catholics?

PeterD | 08 September 2018  

Ginger. Sure, the original apostles were all males, or so we are told, but they were also all Jews, circumcised, Aramaic-speaking, and (probably) working class. Why is ‘maleness’ any more special than those other attributes? You might find the answer to this question of yours, in this article. Apostles.https://testeverythingblog.com/women-priests-and-the-masculinity-of-christ-f25c293e52d3

AO | 09 September 2018  

The nitpicking over text and semantics emanating from all organised religions over their rules and aims is simply evidence of desperation. In the same way politicians adjust their creeds and manifestos according to what will get them elected, the churches do precisely the same lest they lose members of their flock. I have no doubts if the Catholic Church, and other strains, had the same political clout and power around the world they possessed in ages past they wouldn't even countenance the idea of change. Indeed, that is what has led to them reaching the 20th and 21st Centuries with such high-handed arrogance. Personally, I think that letting go of the indoctrination of our religious beliefs with their inherent hypocrisies is the final step we make from childhood into truly 'growing up.'

Martin Killips | 13 September 2018  

The Prime Minister's National Apology to survivors, victims, families and communities impacted by institutional abuse will be held on 22 October 2018. Prior to this apology, many surviors of clergy abuse and laity are waiting for Australia's Bishops to publically support the implementation of National Mandatory Reporting for Clergy legislation. (In 2017, under cross examination at the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse, the transcript shows Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher agreed to the implementation of National Mandatory Reporting Laws for Clergy but these days he remains silent!) The Catholic Church is Australia's largest private employer and its sole managers - Diocesean Bishops must be subject to the same legal safeguarding practices as any Australian working with children and vulnerable adults. Among the Church enterprises, Bishops manage schools, social and youth services and employ teachers. Bishops must be under the same laws and not be subjected to a canon law directive from the leader of another country. Currently the Vatican directs Bishops to conceal clergy where there are no civil law requiring mandatory reporting for clergy (2012). There are no civil laws requiring Bishops to report clergy abuse in Australian Bishop leader, Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge's state of Queensland! The Australian Governments must also decide whether to accept the Royal Commission’s recommendation for criminal mandatory reporting. If governments legislate accordingly without exemptions, priests will be bound under civil law to report relevant knowledge, including from the confessional. Australian Bishops action or lack of action in the next weeks, will show if they are honest, ethical and truthful in safeguarding future children from abuse. Catholic families and communities are waiting for Bishops to act!

PBoylan | 29 September 2018  

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