Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Catholic citizens needed within the Church



Catholics must stand up and become active citizens, not loyal subjects, within their own church community.

Kristina Keneally, Marilyn Hatton and Francis Sullivan presented at the public forum for Concerned Catholics of Canberra-Goulburn, and are pictured here with John Warhurst (far left).The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has pointed to weaknesses in culture and governance within the Catholic Church in Australia. Within the church the normal tenets of liberal democracy, including inclusiveness, transparency, equality and responsiveness do not apply.

The church hierarchy has responded in various ways to the revelations of the royal commission, including apologies, liturgies of lament, reparations and promises of new child safety regulations. But the bishops show no inclination to tackle these structural and cultural issues, so it is up to the laity to do so. This is the strong message of Francis Sullivan, the lay head of the church's Truth, Justice and Healing Council.

Unfortunately, historically the Church is not a community in which its lay members are called on to play such a role. Instead, as Bishop Vincent Long of Parramatta has pointed out on several occasions recently, the church is a pyramid in which the ordained clergy are at the pinnacle and the laity at the bottom.

Catholics have been brought up to the constant refrain that the church is not a democracy. They are dissuaded from challenging its undemocratic structures and urged to accept discipline from the top.

Catholics are made subject to their bishops and other church leaders. As subjects they can be professional and hard-working senior church employees in education, health or welfare agencies or lay Catholics in organisations like St Vincent de Paul, but they are not church decision-makers in the democratic sense. That role is left to bishops and priests.

Catholics have a proud record of exercising their democratic rights within wider Australian democracy as voters, members of political parties and lobby groups, and as elected representatives. But within their own church they have been taught to leave their democratic rights at the door. Now is the time to challenge that norm in parishes, dioceses and the wider Australian church.

In responding to the royal commission the church needs an infusion of democratic values, including more transparency and accountability. Values which have long since become accepted in the wider community, including equal participation in decision-making by women, and the development of lay leadership more generally, must become the rule rather than the exception in church circles.


"Such an agenda may seem radical within the Australian church but these suggestions for increased democratic citizenship are unremarkable within the wider Australian community. They are now urgent and long overdue."


In short Catholics must stop being satisfied with being loyal subjects, even effective and energetic ones, and find a way to exercise their democratic citizenship rights as they do as a matter of course in the wider community. This will not be easy as church rules and regulations, including those governing the proposed 2020 Australian Synod, are biased toward clerical leadership and generally prevent lay equality in decision-making.

At a time of crisis in the Australian church, measured by plummeting Mass attendance and widespread disengagement and disillusionment with the leadership and structures which have presided over the child sexual abuse crimes revealed by the royal commission, it is the moment for Australian Catholics to say: 'It's time.'

This is the conclusion that Concerned Catholics of Canberra-Goulburn, a newly-formed church reform group, has reached. It has asked Archbishop Christopher Prowse to explore several practical steps towards more democratic structures and culture within the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn, including: new models for more effective lay participation, more effective vehicles for women's participation in key decision-making, the establishment of a laity-led diocesan pastoral council, and partnership with the laity and committed priests and religious to achieve a reform agenda. It also asked Prowse to raise these general goals at the May plenary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

Such an agenda may seem radical within the Australian church but these suggestions for increased democratic citizenship are unremarkable within the wider Australian community. They are now urgent and long overdue.

Concerned Catholics of Canberra-Goulburn will advance this agenda through regular public meetings, working parties, parish networks and listening to disengaged Catholics. It is crucial for the laity to play a central role in the preparations for the proposed 2020 Australian Synod and to have an equal role at the Synod itself. This would become more likely if diocesan-based church reform groups could be established in many other Australian dioceses.


John WarhurstJohn Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University and chair of Concerned Catholics of Canberra-Goulburn, which can be contacted at concerned.catholics.cangbn@gmail.com

Main image: Francis Sullivan, Kristina Keneally and Marilyn Hatton presented at the public forum for Concerned Catholics of Canberra-Goulburn, and are pictured here with John Warhurst (far left).

Topic tags: John Warhurst



submit a comment

Existing comments

The late Idries Shah used to quote what he termed a Sufi saying: 'The dog may bark but the caravan moves on'. There seems to have been much recent barking by our episcopate but many Catholics have left/are in the process of leaving the Church and others go to the Mass for its sacramental value but leave the clergy and organisational side alone. The Church is not just top heavy with male clerics but the decreasing number of religious brothers and nuns also wield considerable power which is not accessible to the laity. It is a structure and society more suited to Medieval or Early Modern times than the 21st Century. The Pope, a good man but possibly also hidebound by tradition, has mentioned the 'possibility' in 'certain circumstances' of married clergy in the Western or Latin Rite. Of course married clergy are the norm in those Eastern Catholic Churches, such as the Ukrainians and Melkites, whose structure has not been interfered with. Would the possibility of being married attract a better, more rounded sort of person to the priesthood in Australia? I bet it would. I imagine it would be a bridge too far. Anyway, it would be decided in Rome. I wish the people in Canberra-Goulburn well. At least they are taking a positive step.

Edward Fido | 23 May 2017  

Yes. Let's begin.

joan seymour | 23 May 2017  

There must be something in the air. I just received this a few days ago: "Baptised person: you are going to run the parish from this day onwards! "(https://maltesemarriedcatholicpriest.wordpress.com/author/maltesemarriedcatholicpriest/). Mind you, Bishop Morris, got sacked - with the support of many of the current Bishops wanting changes - for suggesting the same thing (or was his sacking really more about the size of the compensations he believed victims of child sexual abuse deserved/needed?).

Stephen de Weger | 24 May 2017  

Should have expl;ained...if the laity did have more authority in the parishes and less of a "yes Father" mentality, they may also be more inclined or able to develop the very character that this article is suggesting. Trouble is, there probably were many of these Catholics but they have just seen the Church as a never-changing celibate-powered organisation, and gone elsewhere. many are still hanging around the peripheries though, perhaps in anger and/or sorrow, and/or hope, and perhaps waiting to see if the celibate power strangle-hold will be relinquished. What's really ironic is that celibacy is probably actually only a myth anyway.

Stephen de Weger | 24 May 2017  

Congratulations Concerned Catholics, on modelling our adult responsibility to engage in shaping the church, in response to the signs of the times.

vivien | 24 May 2017  

While recognising the need for cultural change within the Catholic Church, I have difficulty reconciling the model proposed by "Concerned Catholics of Canberra-Goulburn" since authority and the structure that derives from it in the Catholic Church are not simply political and secular constructs.

John | 24 May 2017  

I believe the superb Father Bob Maguire - retired while still firing on all cylinders - described the Catholic Church as 'the last absolute monarchy'. Everything is Romecentric. All power radiates from the Vatican. Rome is very cautious about sharing authority and has a sort of natural, inbuilt conservatism. The Reformation scared the Church off really teaching and using the Bible for centuries. It is only now, belatedly, this has happened. It was the same with allowing the development of vernacular liturgies in the West. The Anglicans have a superb liturgy descended from the Book of Common Prayer and wonderful hymns. What do we have? Poor liturgy and truly appalling modern hymns. Even sharing some authority with the laity - as with Francis Sullivan - has had a mixed response. Archbishop Dennis Hart now seems ambiguous about this appointment, whilst a Melbourne priest, Glen Tattersall, accuses FS of attempting to be a lay bishop. For every progressive move, as with this movement in Canberra-Goulburn, there are as many hyper-conservatives and their movements wishing to return the Church to 'the good old days' of the 1950s when priests were all powerful and laity 'knew their place'. God help us all!

Edward Fido | 24 May 2017  

Religions purport to be a path towards establishing the Kingdom of God. Instead, in many cases they have become a Barrier to Godlike behaviour. This can be seen with Islam, when devotees murder innocent people, putting their misguided twisted human Traditions ahead of their duty to God to promote peace, tolerance and mercy. It can be seen in Established Christianity when Bishops put their misguided twisted human Traditions ahead of their duty to God to protect the vulnerable. Religions thus can become false gods, with their twisted human traditions being accorded the esteem that is due to God alone. 'Vox populi' seems to be needed to remedy this problem.

Robert Liddy | 24 May 2017  

It was actually the vociferous vigilantism of lay "Catholic citizens" that led to the sacking of Bishop William Morris who demanded the Vatican follow the letter of the law on the Pope's edict that the topic of female/married clergy was off the agenda. I shudder at the thought of certain Catholic citizens demanding that Vatican II be ignored and Masses conducted in Latin.

AURELIUS | 24 May 2017  

for nearly 20 years I worked as Pastoral Associate in a suburban parish in Perth, such position fully endorsed by the Parish Priest and the majority of the Parish community. In my last five years, the Priest went to Ireland every year for six months as he battled cancer. During that time I did the work on my own. I arranged for priests to come to the Parish for weekend Masses - tended to all other Parish matters. Whilst the voluntary workers in the Parish, such as church cleaners, flower arrangers were covered by insurance from the Diocesan Insurance Company, I was not. the Director, a friend, was very apologetic: Sorry, your position is not an official one. There is nothing I can do. The Priest retired in 2001 and moved permanently back to Ireland - my job was over. I do not have any knowledge whether things have changed since then in regards to lay Pastoral Assistants today. I can only hope so. Don't give up Concerned Catholics of Canberra-Goulburn.- the church desperately needs you.

Beth | 24 May 2017  

Good point, Aurelius. The Catholic laity is not a homogeneous group. We need more of 'both/and', and less of 'either/or'.

Stephen de Weger | 24 May 2017  

John, what about "Sensus fidei (sense of the faith), also called sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) when exercised by the body of the faithful as a whole, is 'the supernatural appreciation of faith on the part of the whole people, when, from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals' ". Both/and, not either/or.

Stephen de Weger | 24 May 2017  

Stephen: How would the broad principle you invoke apply to Church governance in practice, and how does the opinion of a local group reflect the "universal consent" on the part of the faithful contained in the same principle.?

John | 24 May 2017  

Yes, it's not just time, - it's almost too late...Thanks John.

Anne Benjamin | 24 May 2017  

The members of a Catholic citizenry addressed in this commentary are, it seems to me, like those of any other citizenry indentifiable today; they belong to a kind of general post-democratic phenomenon. I see the elephant in the Catholic room to be entropy, as in physical science - with its social analogue, muddle. Hence, the increasing equiprobability of sameness or indifferentiation, at this stage within demographic blocs, e.g., Brexit recently, and more recently the Catholics in the U.S. who voted for Trump, and within each bloc the further individuated, atomised phenomenon of self-interest. I think that more and more the signs of the times to be read will lead us back to the Gospel images of "little flock" and "where two or three gather", not in any elitist way related to ritual or creed, but as 'communities' who are doing Gospel stuff episodically on the ground.

Noel McMaster | 24 May 2017  

Catholic plebs can only get so far before they get squashed. What's needed first surely is for the barons (think bishops) as a group to gang up on King John and his court (think Francis and his cardinals) and demand a charter (think an end to a mediaeval organisation) and a start to open, responsible, and participative governance. The Church has to move from a monarchy through an aristocracy and a republic before it can become a democracy.

NameGinger Meggs | 24 May 2017  

AURELIUS:"I shudder at the thought..... Masses conducted in Latin." There is nothing special about Latin, except that it was once universally accepted in the Church. But it did provide a medium which stirred in many people their own ideals and reverence for the Divine. It is difficult to convey these feelings of awe in the language we use for our daily affairs. Perhaps Poets or Linguists could organise words or symbols to incorporate the awesome Mystery we encounter when we turn our thoughts to God.

Robert Liddy | 24 May 2017  

re AURELIUS: I doubt very much that "It was actually the vociferous vigilantism of lay "Catholic citizens" that led to the sacking of Bishop William Morris". Not without a whole lot of help from someone who was both influential and ordained. .... All the same, good luck to the Canberra-Goulburn group. I'm one who has walked away ("not" lost my faith) from the current Church. I see no hope for change until the hierarchical Church has been brought to its knees - and I don't mean in prayer!

MargaretC | 24 May 2017  

The church is not a democracy? Jesus said, "When two or three of you agree on anything in my name, my Father will grant it." He also said, "You will do greater things than I." He was not only sharing power, he was putting power into our hands as a community dedicated to spreading the reign of love. This sounds like an inspired democracy to me.

Rose Marie Crowe | 24 May 2017  

I think Noel McMaster is on the money. The institutional Church still seems to suffer hubris. It needs to be deflated. Jesus was good at that. They could bear him in mind. The Church is not about huge cathedrals; pompous, often insensitive and ineffectual cardinals, bishops, clerics and their hangers on or money but about the Power of Almighty God to change things. A bit of humility with humble prayer could work miracles. The retirement, or at least self-effacement, of some of our insensitive 'leaders' might also help. Several Anglican archbishops, bishops and other administrators in that Church have recently been forced to resign or bring forward their retirement due to their manifest and thoroughly demonstrated incompetence in matters relating to paedophilia. No Catholic archbishop or bishop in this country has. It is about time some of them followed that example. Laity having some choice in the appointment of bishops would also be a good thing. The Church may not be a democracy but it does need to both responsible and responsive. I have not seen much of either from our hierarchy.

Edward Fido | 24 May 2017  

Thanks for an excellent article, John. I am grateful to you and others who are committed to change in the church. A few comments. First, it would be great if the various groups across the country seeking church reform (Catalyst for Renewal in Sydney, Catholics for Renewal in Melbourne and your group) joined forces. Second, Good Pope Francis and (some of) our bishops can talk about getting rid of the scourge of clericalism, but as long as canon law and a misguided theology of church and ordination create a feudal class of bishops and priests who, relying on canon 129, which says only the ordained can exercise governance, then nothing will really change. We lay folk can only 'cooperate' with those in authority. Synods and plenary councils are pretty much meaningless spin unless this changes. Third, we are dying for want of episcopal leadership. Case in point: rusted on Catholic friends have their parish council and liturgy committee disbanded by their Indian pastor because 'I have been in the parish for three years and I now now what to do'. If the bishops are serious about collaboration, true lay participation and de-clericalising the church, what leadership are the offering their own priests to make it happen. Talk is cheap and most Catholics have already seen through it. I am amazed at how many older Catholics are walking away after years of loyal service. Can we blame them?

Matteo | 24 May 2017  

Perhaps the solution to the problem of a laity which is systematically ignored by the hierarchy might be to reinstitute the Order of The Laity whose presence would be required for any celebration of the sacraments. This might not put any layperson in a position of authority, but it would mean that they or their representatives would have to be present and consent to any clerical decision affecting the laity.

John Lewis | 24 May 2017  

In an article in The Irish Times, 24 May 2107, “The Catholic Church has at most 10 years to adapt” Mark Patrick Hederman informs us that it was as recent as the year 1983, that ‘a canon has been added to the Revised Code of Canon Law which stipulates that “power” in the church can only be exercised by those who are ordained priests.’ That such a canon was included within 20 years of Vatican II demonstrates the hierarchy's sceptical attitude towards the sensus fidelium. Applauding the Concerned Catholics of Canberra-Goulburn, I'm not hopeful of much democratization in the Catholic Church any day soon. Meanwhile, many of us drift away - some never to return, perhaps a few who still participate in Catholic liturgy on the high Holy Days because they feel they wouldn't belong anywhere else.

Ian Fraser | 25 May 2017  

MargaretC, you may doubt the influence of lay people in the sacking of Bishop Morris, but the process was quite transparent (although unjust). It was the claim by lay people in letters to the Vatican that initiated the (unjust) sacking process (which was obviously conducted by ordained, as you said). But is was the allegation from lay people that female/married clergy was being discussed at a parish level that the Vatican regarded as "evidence" to sack Morris.

AURELIUS | 25 May 2017  

@ John 24 May 2017 I don't know...you tell me. Its a Church teaching, perhaps another which in theory sounds wonderful, like the primacy of conscience, but in reality requires full and absolute consensus with those in power in the Church - the magisterium, the celibate men with the power of veto. However, if it were just one group rabbiting on about a pet agenda, as your comment seems to be suggesting, then yes, I see your point. But when the hierarchy tend to ignore the prayerful conclusions of what a majority of the laity are saying (or who just leave in frustration) then maybe something is very wrong. It's all very political on the side of the power brokers - their whole raison d'etre is founded on maintaining the status quo, hardly a 'spiritual reason' for anything.

Stephen de Weger | 25 May 2017  

Recently I travelled throughout south east Asia. In Phuket City, Thailand I asked a taxi driver to take me to the nearest Catholic church. Christian? He asked. No. Catholic, I replied. Okay I take you. He drove me up to the top of high hill, overlooking Phuket. You find catholic here. With the cross. He was right. But the church was closed. My driver seemed bemused at my disappointment. Here we have Buddhist temple, Hindu temple, Muslim mosque. All close and open. You can pray in any one. So I did. I took of my shoes and prayed to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Buddhist temple. I thought of Robert Liddy and his insistence on the universal purpose of religion - to link the people of God to their God, however conceived. Vatican 2 said much the same in its Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (approved by a vote of 2151 to 5) & Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (approved 2,309 to 75). Somehow that minority has managed to stifle openness within and without the Catholic church.

Uncle Pat | 25 May 2017  

@ Uncle Pat 25 May 2017. Ah, you brought back some wonderful memories of my trip to Japan in 1985. Similar situation - no Catholic Churches (apart from the Cistercian Monastery I visited) but thousands of beautiful, prayerful temples. I remember one in particular where I simply sat with the Buddha, as a fellow traveler, and meditated on the mystery of the God who is love. And in the guest book I wrote my "Agnus dei....". I was a very spiritual (but terribly naive) 27 year old man at that time, thinking of joining the Cistercians, and things made more sense. Wish I could tell whether it wasn't just escapism. I'm pretty sure it was - much to escape from. Is it the universal purpose of religion to help us escape our difficulties, or to help us discover the life breath of God/Energy that comes into existence in every action of love - God is Love, a verb, an action, a being. Perhaps if our concept of God was more verb than noun, we all, as citizens, might have something to contribute to Church and society.

Stephen de Weger | 25 May 2017  

Yes Robert Liddy, I agree that there's nothing special about Latin - but I'm not sure the Latin Mass advocates in my home parish growing up would see it merely as a "medium which stirred in ...... their own ideals and reverence for the Divine." They seemed to believe the actions inherent in the Eucharist were not valid unless spoken in Latin and they would sit to one side of the church mouthing the parts of the Mass to themselves in Latin. But being opened minded and accepting , I had no problem as such with this until I noticed they never shared the sign of peace with any of their fellow parishioners, despite the fact we all knew each other and would chat at the end of Mass in the foyer/car park.

AURELIUS | 25 May 2017  

Stephen, in my humble opinion, primacy of conscience has nothing to do with consensus and nothing to do with the church hierarchy. As reflected in Uncle Pat's comment - or my interpretation of it - that there is a huge gulf in church "dogma" and what is regarded as "pastoral". In the end, it's the confusion between between these that led to the sacking of Bishop William Morris - he tried to be pastoral in a way the Vatican perceived was at odds with church dogma,

AURELIUS | 25 May 2017  

It seems to me one of the themes being gently uncovered by many laity, including the posters on this article, is that real spirituality resides in oneself, or what Jung called the Self. We have forgotten that Baptism was our initiation into the Kingdom of Christ. That is quite awesome. Probably, for that reason, the normal sacramental performance of the rite is deliberately underplayed. The same with the Eucharist which is quite awesome and brings Earth and Heaven together. Mystics, genuine Christian ones at that, have had amazing experiences here. Catholic priests often celebrate it deadpan. In the old days of the 15-30 minute mumbled Mass in atrociously pronounced Latin, this was the priest's prelude to breakfast and the rest of Sunday off if he had a curate. Australian Catholicism in my youth was truly atrocious with tired, worn out, often drunken and paedophile priests. Are their successors and their leaders any better? 'Will these bones live'? Ian Fraser, Uncle Pat and the writer in the Irish Times are all right. Countdown to disaster started a long time ago. The institutional Church is incapable of pulling itself up by its own bootstraps. It needs something more.

Edward Fido | 25 May 2017  

I lived in Brisbane for some years - 1988 - 1996. While I was there the Archbishop held a synod of the laity, with a request for recommendations for the future of the Brisbane church. Every individual and every parish was asked to participate, but the Archbishop asked that we didn't make recommendations about things outside his authority, specifically the ordination of women or married men. Yet the final document produced contained the opinion of a huge number of people that these things must be discussed at this level because otherwise there could never be any change. The result of 'no change' would be 'no Sacraments'. Of course the Archbishop could do nothing at that time - but the laity had taken their freedom to contribute freely to the ongoing conversation.

Joan Seymour | 25 May 2017  

@ John 24 May 2017, again. "How would the broad principle you invoke apply to Church governance in practice, and how does the opinion of a local group reflect the "universal consent" on the part of the faithful contained in the same principle.?" Ok, let's take the issue of mandatory celibacy. If the majority of the laity, and of priests themselves believe that celibacy should not be mandatory but an option, why is it not being accepted? Answer, its continued existence is demanded by a small minority, those in POWER who, as in the United Nations, can veto even the most obviously needed changes because they might loose something in the process. As such the possibility of any 'sensus fidelium', is null, thus making a mockery of such a concept, and providing another example of how the Church can fool people, because, you're right though, there will never be 'universal consent' so, it's all another example of nice words. Here's another example "At the Synod for Oceania in 1998 I (Bishop Robinson) was told by the Cardinal Secretary of the Synod that the meeting worked by consensus, not majorities, and that only a vote of 90% constituted a consensus. And yet the Vatican officials appointed to that synod made up more than 10% of the whole synod and so could block even a near unanimous vote of all the other bishops present.". Why does the Church constantly teach things it really doesn't mean?

Stephen de Weger | 26 May 2017  

The issue at stake here, Stephen, is that celibacy is not a matter of faith and morals - it's merely a tradition.

AURELIUS | 26 May 2017  

The reality of a democratic church has been zapped by the succession of comments here. As in national and state politics the reality is majority rule and more recently we have seen the nuance of divide and (try to) rule, e.g., in the Commonwealth Senate. No, in the world of entropy/muddle we are heading towards the reality of 'little flock'/'twos and threes gathered', which I reckon was always meant to be the seed of the kingdom. Along with the metaphors of leaven, salt, light under a bushel.

Noel McMaster | 26 May 2017  

Correct, Aurelius. And there's also an issue of the misused interchangeability of the words "authority" and "power" :the latter has a more political connotation, the former a connection with truth.

John | 26 May 2017  

Excellent statement which identifies the key agenda items for our future dialogue Developing appropriate forums that encourage responses to the question : How has the sexual abuse within the Church and the findings of the royal commission impacted you, your family and community?0

Peter O'Brien | 26 May 2017  

I strongly agree with the statement. The only hope for the Church in Australia is the kind of transformation that is recommended here.

Brian Johnstone | 27 May 2017  

It strikes me upon reading the plethora of comments that sensus fidei has more to do with coming to a deep appreciation of/listening for the truth akin to what has occurred at Uluru in recent days rather than simply the being the will of the majority or a matter of simply the head operating without the heart or the heart without the head or without a spiritual sensitivity eg The eucharist is the body of the one Jesus who walked the earth was crucified and rose from death whether we perceive it or not and our tradition is oft counter-cultural and not palatable as Christ brought to light deeper appreciation of truths and fulfilment of the law than was present in the practice at the time. It reminds me of the words of Carlo Carretto....

Gordana Martinovich | 28 May 2017  

from Chapter 13 of Carlo Carettos book 'I Sought and I Found' from which we can all learn: "How much I must criticise you, my Church and yet how much I love you. You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owe you more than I owe anyone. I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness. Never I the world have I seen anything more obscurantist, more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful. Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face - and yet every night I have prayed that I might die in your arms! No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you. Then too - where should I go? To build another church? But I cannot build another Church without the same defects, for they are my own defects. And again, if I were to build another Church, it would be my church, not Christ's Church. No, I am old enough. I know better."

Gordana Martinovich | 28 May 2017  

Brilliant, Gordana. I'm not sure if I feel as strongly as Carretto but I do empathise with what he is saying. Reminds me slightly of a more cynical statement by one of my lecturers at uni, a Uniting Church minister: :The Church is like Noah's Ark - If it wasn't for the storm outside, you couldn't stand the stink inside". Mind you, eventually the waters subsided. And thank you for providing a mature explanation of Sensus Fidei. It is about the mature art of loving and not numbers, but if a select few still have the controlling power then they also control what love is seeking to achieve, to do, and as such, because God is Love, they are trying to control God, the verb.

Stephen de Weger | 29 May 2017  

On second thoughts, having just watched the horrifically brilliant series, "The Keepers" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5spTZWx0WyM), I just give up having any two-sided approach to the church. I challenge anyone to watch it and not want to do whatever they can to call the church to account, and back to its spirituality, as opposed to maintaining its hierarchical institutionalism..

Stephen de Weger | 31 May 2017  

I will check out The Keepers and I am all for reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus as Bishop Geoffrey Robinson's subtitle to his work Power an sex in the Church proclaims in a way that is in the practice and not symbolic or lip service but I will not leave as I believe Christ's presence is in the heart of the Church hence we are better off with it than without it...else do we eve believe in the power of the Spirit Christ sends to be with us?

Gordana Martinovich | 01 June 2017  

Hi again, Gordana. I fully understand your stance. This is just an ongoing issue for me and I don't know where it will end. I sis some time ago come to realise the two-sided nature of the church that one could call the skeleton and the flesh - the skeleton being the political-hierarchical power structure, and the flesh, the spirituality of Jesus Christ as exemplified in him and those that chose to consciously follow his way of living and relating on a personal level. Does each need the other? It seems to be the case. Even people like Teresa of AVila struggled with this but always chose to be faithful to the 'structure' rather than go off on her own and I titally get that. But, my God, when that structure is so obviously floating the teachings of it founder, the very reason for its existence in the first place, especially when people are deeply harmed in the process, that really is something that needs to be strenuously and continuously challenged. If the sturcture remains obstinant and definat, again at the expense of people, then it needs to be fully and totally rebuilt, the old wine skins caste aside for new fresh thinkers and doers, those who still follow the founder, and not just in word.

Stephen de Weger | 02 June 2017  

I'm with you Gordana, what you say is reassuring; a reminder that what lies beyond the face of false Christianity in our Church is the living Body of Christ. We just cant tap into easily due to all the false assertions of ordained clergy that misinterpret the life of God and ignore the teaching of Jesus (on women and children) in Scripture. Jesus' Presence' is lost to those whose faith and trust in the Church has been betrayed because the mirror is so badly tarnished with self-importance and self-deception. And the faithful people of God are not permitted to clean it.

Trish Martin | 03 June 2017  

Thanks for your honesty Stephen. Without elements of the structure the unity across the world would be lost...is the structure causing the sin or is sin harming the structure too? I reflect that Christ bore sin, taking it to the cross and so too his mystical body/the church bears within, in order to discover how to heal though we are in the midst of the turmoil of great failure to personally live up to our founders manner of dealing with sin and Christ has been acting from outside to restore by bringing to light through the commission and people of goodwill what cannot and must not remain hidden. There is one keystone who promised to be with us (that's a huge us)...throughout time, through errors and poor leaders of the past, one Christ...and yes something needs to be strenuously and continuously challenged but totally done away with? Each of us faces the struggle to live out in action the truth of Christ's call to us and when we are brought low and fall our are trampled or feel as though sinking are we not called to look again to Christ and be raised...is it not rather pruning that is needed?

Gordana Martinovich | 03 June 2017  

Good Article John. I agree the current hierarchy within the church is medieval in attitude and the "flock" are regarded by the upper echelon of the church as mindless sheep to be guided through the minefield of doctrinal contradictions and cover ups by an educated elite who preach one thing and invariably do another. Yes there is many a slip twixt cup and lip. If ithe church is serious about social and cultural change, it should embrace equal rights for women and eschew this insane concept that they are second class citizens.

francis Armstrong | 12 June 2017  

More Carlo Caretto "The Church has the power to make me holy but it is made up, from the first to the last, only of sinners. And what sinners! It has the omnipotent and invincible power to renew the Miracle of the Eucharist, but is made up of men who are stumbling in the dark, who fight every day against the temptation of losing their faith. It brings a message of pure transparency but it is incarnated in slime, such is the substance of the world. It speaks of the sweetness of its Master, of its non-violence, but there was a time in history when it sent out its armies to disembowel the infidels and torture the heretics. It proclaims the message of evangelical poverty, and yet it does nothing but look for money and alliances with the powerful. Those who dream of something different from this are wasting their time and have to rethink it all. And this proves that they do not understand humanity. Because this is humanity, made visible by the Church, with all its flaws and its invincible courage, with the Faith that Christ has given it and with the love that Christ showers on it."

Gordana Martinovich | 15 June 2017  

Hi again, Gordana. Again, while I so understand these words, what troubles me is they seem to be calling for a fatalism, an acceptance of the wrong that he talks about. Is this what 'casting the first stone' means? I suspect he doesn't mean that we be passive bystanders to such injustice and error, but yes, we need to first see such injustice and error in ourselves and realise that all are capable of it, but also to support and stand for those who are its victims, and seek progress away from such thinking. Surely this is what being Love means. I mentioned somewhere else that if we changed our perception of God and even term for God, to Love, (as in mature adult love in all its forms - see Fromm again), it makes such a huge difference to everything, every teaching every scripture. Even the word 'be-lief', has built within it the word lief = love. so, it's not about believing in a sturcture as much as it is about being Love. Only this can 'incarnate' God and I suspect that this is what Jesus died tried to show us. I cannot sit by and watch the Church tabernacle God and say "look, there He is", while all around it there are the least of His that are every bit more the presence of God, and they are being ignored. The Church (structure) is what the Church (structure) does.

Stephen de Weger | 16 June 2017  

Yes Stephen no words should just be accepted without reflecting more deeply and I agree "I suspect he doesn't mean that we be passive bystanders to such injustice and error, but yes, we need to first see such injustice and error in ourselves and realise that all are capable of it, but also to support and stand for those who are its victims..." Caretto is deeply about living out our brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ - mature relationships of love that seek only the good for the other and do not seek for self

Gordana Martinovich | 16 June 2017  

...I also see that the structure is made up of the sinners Caretto refers to and were it to be replaced this could not change...what can be envisaged in its place? I can see Christ amidst it all in the centre fighting for what you say justice, for God is also that and truth which again hearkens back to the least being seen, heard, healed. What is the flesh without the skeleton and it's not like a skeletal transplant is possible while the alternative you seem to be suggesting is that the structure has never been right...is without the gift of the spirit and lacks Christ's presence yet bone and flesh contain the same DNA...and the story of the church is not just it's flaws for there is more to it...in every age there has been more to it. Were it "perfect" could it even remain in this world...

Gordana Martinovich | 16 June 2017  

...it literally bears the sins of the world....as did our Lord and how did he look then not that such an understanding means to imply what has occurred is OK for the body - skeleton, nerve, sinew etc is perceived to have acted - as you say is what it does. I would object equally to ill treatment of both Eucharistic host and persons. How do you distinguish between the two when even Mike Willesee has uncovered miracles witnessing to the real presence based on rigorous scientific testing.

Gordana Martinovich | 16 June 2017  

Stephen de Wegener, sensum fideii has never applied to Church governance issues but faith and morals/teaching and in fact Benedict just prior to leaving office confirmed this again in a declaration. The Church cannot be modelled on a democracy because it is not humanly instituted alone but divinely instituted as well by Jesus as God /man. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit must be invoked in my view in a new Church Council which should be called as a response to Church abuse and Church response and the questions raised as a result.

Hayden Legro | 21 June 2017  

Thanks Hayden Legro @June 21 for expressing the essence and yes calling on the Holy Spirit for the whole of the issue to be explored at council with lay expert participants and with a view to some hearts being changed to see, so that their action can be seen to be informed by Christ.

Gordana Martinovich | 22 June 2017  

Hayden has given us the Church's justification for the maintenance of the undemocratic structure of the Church and for governance to be held in the hands of the ordained. However, I as a practising Catholic don't accept it. There is no evidence that Jesus had any intention of starting a new religion. He was a Jew by birth and by faith. He came not to 'abolish the Law and the prophets' but 'to fulfill them'. He was a faithful Jew till his death. His followers of the Way remained a sect of Judaism till expelled because of their changing theology becoming incompatible with Jewish teaching. The terms Christianity and Catholicism were a long way off. The structure of the Church today has more to do with the Emperor Constantine, politics, clever bishops of Rome and the maintenance of power and whose claim to divine inspiration was accepted as legitimate than any conscience decision of Jesus'. Mark, Mathew and Luke give plenty of evidence that Jesus' concerns were to announce the God's imminent Reign, the arrival of God's Kingdom here on Earth, and his preaching of God's love. We are called to love God and to love one another as we love ourselves. What more direction than that do we need. Jesus said it all. I really believe if Jesus came today the bishops would be his new opponents, his new Sadducees.

Shane Poulson | 31 July 2017  

Similar Articles

Muslim feminists have their work cut out for them

  • Rachel Woodlock
  • 29 May 2017

I used to have a t-shirt that read 'this is what a radical Muslim feminist looks like' and I got my fair share of raised eyebrows and challenging questions. The most obvious group that thinks Muslim feminism is oxymoronic are those who we've started to call the 'alt-right'. This group salivates over images of burqa-clad Muslim women scuttling in fear from their bearded oppressors. It is not that they want to free Muslim women so much as it is they don't want the Brown Man ruling.


The work of disobedience

  • Susan Leong
  • 19 May 2017

As adults we deal with KPIs every day at work, targets defined apparently for one's benefit so we all know what needs to be achieved if our jobs are to be secured. Sadly, they also determine what, how and where we focus our efforts as these targets are internalised over time. If there is to be a future for work, it is to be found in such disobedience, a rejection of the primacy of paid labour for work as 'pleasure in the exercise of our energies'.