Church reform scorecard

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Scoring the performance of the Australian church is a complex task at any time. Dioceses and congregations vary enormously. The mission of church agencies continues unabated in education, health, social services and aged care. But by any measure 2018 has been a big year.

Plenary Council 2020 logoThe bishops have responded to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and released the report of their own Truth Justice and Healing Council. The Archbishop of Adelaide has stood down The historic first year of the listening process for the Plenary Council 2020/2021 has been underway across the country.

The bishops have participated actively in the lingering public debate about freedom of religion following the introduction of same sex marriage late last year. Education authorities and bishops have plunged into political action over Commonwealth education funding and emerged successful.

The official church is a wounded bull still with some energy and clout to influence the public square. That is despite damaging revelations from the royal commission continuing to become public. Catholic communities continue to be hurt and torn apart by such past actions in church settings.

The efforts to enforce new child safety protocols in individual dioceses and national responses like the National Day of Sorrow and Promise called by Catholic Religious Australia are promising steps forward, but, as the anger and demands of survivors at the national parliamentary apology showed, reconciliation will take decades if not the lifetimes of all survivors.

The official church response to the royal commission was derailed by both the media and church leaders concentrating on the issues of confession and celibacy. The church governance reforms recommended by the royal commission are proceeding at a snail's pace if at all.

Lack of transparency remains a big problem at the highest levels in the church. Just as the government leader in the House of Representatives, Christopher Pyne, can confidently proclaim, after announcing serious restrictions on parliamentary sittings from now until the May federal election, that few Australians are interested in what goes on in 'the Canberra bubble', it doesn't cross the minds of many church leaders that knowing about and demanding change in church governance is any business of lay Catholics.

 

"Reformers want lay participation in governance recognised as a matter of principle, not just to keep the ship afloat."

 

The disconnect is clear. The task of running the church is increasingly borne by the laity. At the local level this was starkly recognised by Fr Tony Percy, Canberra Goulburn Vicar-General, even while he was hosing down any concerns about church governance and inclusion.

He painted a picture which would be true of other dioceses: women head diocesan Financial Administration, Communications, Marriage, Family and Relationships, the Catholic Development Fund, Parish Pastoral Support, Fundraising, the Tribunal, two of the three service agencies, 61 per cent of Catholic schools and so on.

At the same time the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC), after a consultant's report by a former federal departmental head, restructured the administration of national church commissions and councils to allow for lay heads instead of bishops. This was given little publicity because it was undertaken to free up bishops to concentrate on their pastoral activities rather than in recognition of equal participation by the laity in church governance. Reformers want lay participation in governance recognised as a matter of principle, not just to keep the ship afloat.

For leaders and church reformers the public face of a synodal, listening church lies in the Plenary Council process. Few could doubt the sterling efforts of the facilitation team, led by Lana Turvey-Collins and Fr Noel Connolly. They report on the thousands who have made submissions or participated in listening sessions. They also talk in encouraging tones of the opportunities available to lay Catholics to make a difference. But scepticism about the intentions of church leaders remains justified.

Many reformers are hanging in there and giving consultation their best shot at local and national level. Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn has just held its own successful session, based on a necessary balance between the provision of meaningful context and perceptive discernment. The context included papers on the demography of the Australian Catholic community, Canon Law, Vatican 2, the recommendations of the royal commission, the vision of Pope Francis, and women, leadership and the church.

The Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (ACCCR) has been labouring hard to have the concerns of the reform community heard by the ACBC. Our concerns mirror the weaknesses of the Plenary Council. Getting a good hearing from the ACBC President may not mean that the leadership is really listening.

The voice of reformers through ACCCR remains unheard. Issues like inadequate lay representation at the Plenary Council, a woman as co-chair, lay involvement in the meetings of ACBC, a commitment to governance reform and women's participation in decision-making still lie on the table without any action.

 

 

John WarhurstJohn Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University.

Topic tags: John Warhurst, Catholic Church, plenary 2020, royal commission, clergy sexual abuse

 

 

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Existing comments

I believe this is a church that is grieving. It is grieving for the loss incurred by the sexual abuse scandal and talking about it may not help that much. Yes, the church needs to undergo significant structural change. However, intruding on this process are the images and voices of those whose lives have been shattered. How do you put those pieces back together? I just don't know.
Pam | 11 December 2018


If the Church cannot be clean (Honest)- An independent referee will be seen-But the shame of it all-God’s Holy church to be made so small -Accountable to mankind’s scorn--It will be all right-Let things unfold-The wise sage told -But look beneath and we see dawdling feet-Fearful hearts that will not start-An institution on the run-Fooling no one-Traumatised by mankind’s penetrating eyes- Many without hope-The tired Sheppard spoke-What can we do?-You must start anew-Replenish the heart-Humility is the start-In truth a Broken Image is what you are-You must never forget-You are but a clay jar-Venerate the Image of Broken Man-Become a humble man/church-kevin your brotherIn Christ
Kevin Walters | 11 December 2018


regarding governance of church is there any possibility that you could do an analysis of what is happening in the Tasmanian Anglican church under the name of redress for sexual abuse and whether there is a deceit and really a policy of changing the ministry there. thanks
Noel Jeffs | 12 December 2018


John I assume your article is about the Roman Catholic Church. The term ‘The Church’is misleading . The Church of God is made up of many different tradtions and have to a lesser extent the challenges facing the Roman Catholic Church.
Radh Vleary | 12 December 2018


John, A wonderful analysis of the current situation in the Roman Catholic Church. As a layperson with a Master of Theology, I sense the frustration of many ordinary Catholics , that in case, despite my knowledge and experience as a teacher in catholic schools for three decades, as well as my ministry as Acolyte for the same period, seems to count for nothing in the review of the role of the Church today and tomorrow , as foreshadowed by the Plenary Council 2020. The history of the Church shows a culture of clericalism that extends back to the 2nd century when power became concentrated in the hands of the few. The attitude was , "we have the power" ,we have the truth, we know best, we have a special connection with God etc. Vatican 11 attempted to reverse that trend, although Popes John-Paul and Benedict resisted change , assisted by the reactionary Roman Curia. Pope Francis, to his credit is trying to open the Church to the Spirit of the times, as Pope John XXIII tried to do with the calling of Vatican II. At a local level , we are yet to see the Parish become involved. So far it has been very much an individual effort . I wonder what our other readers experiences have been so far in this very important journey of discernment? Pam, I keenly sense your pain.
Gavin O'Brien | 12 December 2018


Powerful comment - concise, focussed and very, very accurate. The ACCCR is clearly putting in a huge contribution - good for you! In another part of the forest, my little parish seems generally not to know what all the fuss is about and are unaware of the precarious position the Church is in. We seem to lack much imagination about the future. That's OK - we're a lot better at practice than theory. But if the Bishops are similarly lacking in imagination, as seems to be the case, what can impel them to leap out of their safety zone, as indeed they must? I just hope they try to discern the signs of the times in the work of 'reform' Catholics, rather than in the gentle indifference of some parish groups.
Joan Seymour | 12 December 2018


Thank you John for this very comprehensive article which has put together so many facets of the Church at this very difficult moment in its history. I would like to add one paragraph from a submission i am working on for the 20/20 Synod. :At every properly constituted meeting of any group at every level of the Catholic Church, from the Parish Council to the Roman Synods, every member present by office or invitation has equal status for the time of the meeting and has an equal, consultative vote. (Every effort should be made to balance the number of people of either/any sex.)"
Joan Winter OP | 12 December 2018


The ACBC wants bishops to do more pastoral work, Pope Francis wants them to smell like sheep. It seems they cannot let go of their image of being superior to the laity and the faithful who are the real Body of Christ. We are not sheep, because we are made in God’s image and show more likeness to God than the clergy who consider themselves anointed and above any need to act responsibly. How can bishops be pastoral when they belong to a class of clergy who deny Eros and the feminine and ignore their own emotional integrity?
Trish Martin | 12 December 2018


Thanks for your church scorecard, John. I find it provides a valuable overview of the church's current engagement in the the public sphere; it forms a constructive basis for continuing reflection and action. I fully endorse the concerns of the ACCCR in relation to lay participation at the Plenary Council and the proposed governance reforms. I attended our local Parish meeting on the Plenary Council, found it to be a very well facilitated and productive process and look forward to further participation. The continuing anger of those affected by sexual abuse is a matter for profound concern. In my past professional life I had management responsibility for sexual assault services - counsellors always advocated for long term support for survivors of sexual abuse. As well as financial compensation the church must also be committed to providing access to professional health services and spiritual direction for those so affected.
Denis Quinn | 12 December 2018


Theory based on idealism usually suffers in the wake of the resulting practice. Reformist theory clamours for executive administration roles for women as the great salvation of the Church. Reformation through the female is not borne out when the history of women in power and in management roles is no different from that of men when it comes to self-interest, corruption, dodgy practice, misuse of power, criminal practice and sheer incompetence as recorded almost daily in the news media. In fact some might say that women have more than caught up and starting to lead the way down the wrong track. For some reason society seems to ignore such failings in women but not in men on the whole. Men and women are not generic equals - they have very different skills attached to gender psyche and natural God-given roles in Humanity and act differently on many issues, women being superior in some and men in others. Ability and expertise is what matters, not gender, when it comes to administration. Thus it may be that an entire administrative need might be met by a full complement of either women or men. Whether a priestly need can be met by either is another matter, however. The clamour for women is inherently innane - the clamour should be for dedication to Christ's Church combined with expertise, qualifications and integrity regardless of gender or, indeed, ordination.
john frawley | 12 December 2018


There are four possible reactions that each of us could take in response to the Plenary Council. First, I can assume that others have to change and follow my plan. Secondly, I can accommodate myself to someone else's plan. Thirdly, I can withdraw and take no part. Lastly, I can accept that each of is different and see things differently. We are a plurality of people, and so must find our way forward together, little by little, by experiment. We do not have to agree on some central aim and plan of action to achieve things. It is worth reading "Collaborating with the Enemy" by Adam Kahane.
Peter Horan | 12 December 2018


The late Metropolitan Antony Bloom was probably one of the most insightful Christian thinkers of the 20th Century. He said that Jesus came not to found an institution but to save the world. Of course an institutional Church needs to exist and I wouldn't want to downplay that, but we need to remember that the fulfilment of religion does not come in this world but the next, where I suspect all of us will be more dependent on God's Mercy rather than His Justice. If most 'religious professionals' (clergy), who do call the shots, remember this, I suspect we would have a far more responsive Church than the one we have today. The Catholic Church does have a real problem with ecclesiastical bureaucracy and the sort of bureaucratic thinking and practice ('clericalism') which goes with it. On the other hand, I think the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches do embody a sort of Christian Truth which I do not see outside them. It is essential that, in wanting reform, you do not blur the line between reformable practice (such as priestly celibacy) and doctrinal belief, such as that in the Resurrection. A Christianity without some essential belief is no Christianity at all.
Edward Fido | 12 December 2018


Gavin O'Brien, thanks for your comment. And sensitivity.
Pam | 12 December 2018


Well said, Edward Fido.
John | 12 December 2018


Always good to read anything on the Catholic Church by a lay Catholic with Professor Emeritus Warhurst's academic expertise in how societies (big and small) work, especially the politics. I have tried my best to participate in the Plenary Council Listening & Dialogue not only in small groups, but also at parish level. I have no quarrel with the facilitators. Those that I have encountered bend over backwards not to lead & control. However my bias as a retired Secondary School teacher urges me to tell my fellow parishioners: "Answer the question asked." Have clear in your own mind what the terms in the question mean. What do you think? Not what your PP or Sister Rose or a Jesuit retreat giver may have told you. If you haven't thought about these things before, grab this opportunity to confess your ignorance, or bewilderment, or seek clarification. And it is God asking us, as individuals, members of a family, a parish, a diocese, a community of Christians. At this time. You might have resentments about what Brother Murphy did to you in High School all those years ago but what's its relevance to this time? This time is moving very fast.
Uncle Pat | 13 December 2018


I can understand why John Warhurst and several commentators on his article have grave reservations about the way the coming Plenary Council 20 is being set up, its terms of reference and its possible outcomes. This is because everything happens in context. The recent, still continuing worldwide paedophilia scandals are part of this context but something as bad is looming: the matter of religious freedom in Australia. The former may well be used as a political weapon to help push through quite severe anti-religious legislation in many fields, such as education and healthcare. As I said previously, I think the vast, sometimes extremely unwieldly and seemingly unresponsive ecclesiastical bureaucracy actually exists to serve the Church, which is the entire People of God and not vice versa. I think the Church is being tried and tried quite severely at this time. Will the hierarchy be responsive to this? The simple answer is that they will have to be. When the Church has been severely threatened, as in the time of the pagan Roman Empire or under Communism in Poland, it has had to strip away the inessential frippery and concentrate on its main purpose: saving souls and enabling Christians to lead a joyous, victorious life in the most trying circumstances. That is why Jesus' death was not in vain. The Church needs to resurrect itself from its current mire. It needs to follow its Founder. Nothing else will succeed.
Edward Fido | 14 December 2018


Thank you John Warhurst for an excellent article. The Bishops and Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) (presumably) have sent the recommendations resulting from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse, to the Vatican, in relation to accepted required changes in the Australian Church. These are with regard to governance, transparency, parish administration and so forth. My concern is, who will give Australian Catholics and the Australian community updates with regard to their progress? Will we get a monthly/weekly/six-monthly update for example, as to their progress? Has there been a bishop or other person charged with monitoring this progress and reporting the dialogue between the Vatican and the Australian Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) to undertake this task? The upcoming Plenary Council 20/20 is unrelated to this, although no doubt there will be many corresponding areas. It has been four months since the report was presented to Australian Catholics and Australian society, and presumably, sent to the Vatican. Or has it? Unless I have missed something, I have seen nothing reported in the Catholic press or otherwise, in relation to this. Where are we, where do we stand, what has the Vatican said? Just what is happening and who is handling it?
Thomas Amory | 14 December 2018


Elegy in the wake of Vatican II - with apologies to Thomas Gray Nota bene: the Fallen Angels are those clergy who betrayed the Church through their sexual self-indulgence. Curse'd Fallen Angels, you've tolled the knell of parting day St Peter's barque you've wrecked and lost, at sea, Its people to foreign shores do weary stray And leave this world to darkness and to thee Let us hope and pray that the Synod brings light, a new dawn, to the darkness by opening its doors and arms to the refugees created by the disillusioning failings of the last half century. Let us further hope and pray that in opening the doors the light will indeed shine in rather than provide easier exodus as happened when Vatican II threw open the doors to admit new light.
john frawley | 15 December 2018


Edward Fido, such is the politicisation which enmeshes much contemporary theology that describing one of the Church's main purposes as "saving souls" is likely to fall on deaf ears or at best be regarded as a quaint formulation whose day is past. Not long ago in a university seminar the leader of the group remarked, "Who believes in the soul these days, anyway?" - a question that, to my mind, signals a radical disjunction in the intellectual tradition which for centuries provided the intellectual context and terminological transmission of faith. The conceptual framework for much theology today is more likely to find expression in ideological terms, thanks largely to the materialist emphasis and emphasis of Marx and his followers. As I've said before in ES postings, the intellectual life of the Church is existentially inseparable from its faith life, and requires urgent addressing - a project in metaphysics and theology already begun by the outstanding neo-Thomist, Fr Thomas White OP and others.
John | 16 December 2018


John Warhurst's beautifully crafted Report Card, including ES's bio-note about his eminent status as a well-respected professor emeritus at Australia's most prestigious university, appears to have had no impact on both John Frawley's and John's latest remarks. Dr Frawley has parodied Thomas Gray's lachrymose elegy to pour scorn on his pet peeve, Vatican II, as if it had ever been tried and found wanting. John, in similar vein, has returned to his favourite rant about the dangers of abandoning neo-Thomism, as if a return to scholasticism held all the answers to the crisis facing the Church. As a political scientist, I feel impelled to fill a gap in this correspondence, especially in terms of pointing out that many of the edicts of Vatican II were never promulgated and fell on deaf ears. Many Catholics, a half-century after that event are still waiting for meaningful implementation of its most important constitutions. For that to happen, an open and honest dialogue on how this can be done at the local level can easily be initiated by the Bishops acknowledging the enormous expertise and maturity available to be tapped locally, instead of relying on John's hoary imprecations about the dangers of Marxism therein.
Michael Furtado | 19 December 2018


Michael Furtado. I must confess that you have confused me this time. I thought that I quite clearly defined the subjects of my melancholy parody as those clergy [and religious] responsible for the sexual abuse scandal that has brought the Church to its knees. You clearly identify yourself as one of those Catholics who together with the bevies of reformers is still waiting for "the implementation of its most important constitutions". I expect you are referring to the four Apostolic Constitutions that came out of Vatican II, viz, Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World), Sacrosanctum Consilium ( The Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy), Lumen Gentium (The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church) and Dei Verbum (The Dogmatic Constitutio on Divine Revelation). I should be interested to hear your views on where these have failed since I happen to believe that these most binding of all the Vatican II documents have not failed and I should think that neither you nor the reformers could in conscience say that they have. Some of the others of Vatican II's documents, however, such as those on education and ecumenism, have failed miserably often because of personal and preferred interpretations which have varied not only from country to country but from diocese to diocese and parish to parish with loss of universality. That is my peeve with Vatican II - not with what the Council proclaimed. Most of the "peeved" following Vatican II, I would suggest, are those who missed out on the liberalisation of the Church's moral teachings and administrative practices they were hoping for.
john frawley | 20 December 2018


Thank you for the article.The web site of the plenary Council used to say : "the future of the Catholic Church in Australia”... The Plenary Council isn’t a talkfest; it’s a time to discern, decide and act”. why have those words been removed from the web site? might be time to don our yellow vests and protest?
ANDREW LUKAS | 21 December 2018


"Most of the "peeved" following Vatican II are those who missed out on the liberalisation of the Church's moral teachings and administrative practices they were hoping for." (John Frawley). Such views cannot be as dramatically separated from the four Apostolic Constitutions, as you assert, eg 'Gaudium et Spes' addresses a theology that is intrinsically linked with moral teachings and administrative practices, unless you read that document while blinkered. This means that as far as the Synod is concerned, those who wish to be heard and haven't yet would almost certainly be addressing a tripartite wish list under the subheadings of Governance, Ministry and Liturgy. One friend of mine - a former priest of the Bunbury Diocese, Terry Flanagan - has made a submission in which he has addressed his concerns under those subheadings. I wish I had the space to quote these directly but can inadequately summarise them to give you a flavour of what is being asked for by many. Firstly, Australian Church governance, following the character and tradition of its people, ought to be much more democratic. Secondly, the liturgy is far too stultified and inflexible to appeal to the tastes of the young. Thirdly, Ministry is exclusive.
Michael Furtado | 22 December 2018


John, you forget that John Warhurst addresses his case for reform in terms of a scorecard that provides a fair and coherent audit, as in the manner of a Trial Balance or a Profit & Loss A/c, on the state of affairs in Australian Catholicism as we approach a rare and unprecedented shareholders' meeting, the purpose of which is to do a stock-take and plan for future success. In that regard the setting of rules by bishops is akin to a Board of Directors telling the stockholders what the stockholders should be doing, instead of listening and preparing to give an account of themselves. Indeed, so many shareholders have sold off their stock and invested in other markets that company profits are in dire straits. Any audit to that effect would say so, even to the point of suggesting that the firm is in such crisis that we need the equivalent of a Royal Commission to investigate our directors playing fast and loose with the rules. A good start would be to sack the Board and bring in the receivers. What would then follow would be a good hard look at the rules to ensure greater accountability and shareholder representation.
Michael Furtado | 26 December 2018


A protracted conversation, John Frawley, but it takes time to identify not just the differences between us but about what concerns John Warhurst. In my view it is precisely the insistence upon universality that has stymied the growth and spread of Catholicism, as Bishops continue to ignore the Pope's advice about subsidiarist decision-making and responses to local contexts. Perhaps one way of addressing what these are is by asking groups of Catholics about what concerns them, so that the Warhurst score-card can continue to spell out what the Bishops should be addressing. With Church-attending Catholic relatives and friends across the globe, here are three widely flagged concerns I've heard in the past week. From England: the liturgical practices of the newish Anglican Ordinariate occupied most of the Christmas luncheon conversation of my relatives in Tunbridge, Kent, who were appalled that the principal celebrant and his deacons celebrated 'Midnight' Mass with their backs to the congregation. From a daughter and her young friends: "Youth and their concerns, especially their culture, have been ignored or condemned by the Church, thereby rejecting the Church's teaching on inculturation." And, finally, from a lesbian friend: "The Church has made lepers of my partner and me."
Michael Furtado | 28 December 2018


Bon Noel, John Frawley, and thanks for your response. I'd have thought that, the Synod offering opportunity for new things at a local level, now would be time for our Bishops to respond to +Francis's exhortation to the local churches to deal with the vast backlog of issues that deny universal application (or at least account for the logjam). Isn't that why, not so long ago, we were exhorted by an earlier Pope to embrace 'inculturation' and respond to local contexts and circumstances? And isn't that also why, within Catholic Social Teaching, we are adjured to practice 'subsidiarity'. Granted that the uneven end result, spread across the Church Universal, would raise concerns amidst rigorous uniformist purists about the kind of concessions that have dogged Anglican pluriformity, viewing the Christmas celebrations at St Peter's, with its universal necessity of Latinate expression, while allowing for but one brief female presence under the baldacchino to entreat the faithful to support a bidding prayer, should provide example enough of how preserved in bitter vinegar we Catholics are. Our universality is surely expressed in the racial and cultural diversity that we bring to the Table of the Lord, but denied in so many other ways.
Michael Furtado | 02 January 2019


MF. Lepers? What are your friends seeking? Are your friends seeking to love/ know Christ? If so let them contemplate Christ crucified. He had no wealth. He had no pleasure. He had no power. He had no honour. If they're seeking anything else, they're heading for disappointment. Sorry. ''It all comes down to seeing all through His eyes." Those who do. See exclusion as a blessing not a curse. Learning to 'see', however, takes time, practice, a huge effort and sacrifice. It's a little like learning a new language. When the words mean more diverse, unknown words than simply the easiest single word translation of each word into a known language. It's called the narrow way for a reason.
AO | 08 January 2019


A bless'd New Year to you, Michael Furtado. You raise interesting issues. I suppose my approach is relatively simplistic in that I view universality in teaching/doctrine/practice as a fundamental necessity for any Church to survive. Such universality is not influenced adversely when local practice/liturgy conforms to local culture (inculturation) and is adapted to be meaningful to local people in all its aspects from language through music, art and architecture to the human movement of ritual performance. One of the most reverent and moving Masses that I have ever attended, for example, was an African celebration of the Eucharist wherein I didn't understand a single word of Swahili yet was elevated by the liturgical dancing/singing that accompanied the Gloria and Gospel Acclamation which was remarkably reverent and moving. The banality and lack of reverence in the post-Vat II liturgy in my parish of 40 odd years ran a very poor distant second in its effect. This same elevation I often experienced in the pre-Vat II era when the sacred liturgy, despite the Latin that meant just as much to me as the Swahili, through its reverence, music and ritual, all designed "ad majorem dei gloriam" , not "ad majorem populi gloriam", elevated the spirit and induced a belief that something very special was happening. My concern with reformation is that we will become even more "protestantised', dull and boring without a liturgy that elevates us towards God. And that will certainly not attract the young and will drive away many others. Inculturation I understand to mean adaption of sacred rite to the local culture not, for instance, bongo drums and pop bands to attract the young during the Eucharistic Rite which is what happened in many parishes in this country after Vatican II. That type of liturgy undoubtedly attracts the young to Hillsong - but then, the average period of adherence is seven to eight months! Poor liturgy does not endure.
john frawley | 09 January 2019


Great Thanks, JF, & apologies for the Christmas blitzkrieg, occasioned by the thoughts you provoked and the none too disciplined hand of the Editor. Good liturgy flows from good theology, there being no other way to discern it, and regardless of its traditionalism or postmodernity. That's why I attend St Ignatius's Toowong, which is steeped in Jesuit tradition (although sadly lacking a Jesuit presence North of the Tweed). My concern, as always, is to respond to John Warhurst's challenging Report Card, which shows precious little evidence of the consultation and inclusion that a synodal process would require, as opposed to another that places emphasis on the magisterium, or teaching authority. We Catholics are very good at the latter, but, sadly, not much experienced nor even inclined to consider the former. I pray that in the Spirit of the New Year, the Bishops will loosen the rubric that girds them, enough at least to meet with renewalist/reform groups within the Church to ensure that the Synod doesn't become yet another casualty of their caution. As for AO, of course I agree with you, but the sentiments you utter are those for Christ's proclamation, otherwise they'd emerge from the invective of Pharisees.
Michael Furtado | 13 January 2019


MF. St Ignatius', Toowong, was once my local parish and there were 4 or 5 Jesuits there then, the boss one Tom Johnson SJ who provided me with an ethical framework wherein I could transplant kidneys in the pioneering days when both certain elements within the Church and the Law didn't view organ transplantation as an ethical/moral thing to do. [The particular framework he provided found its way into Australian Law eventually and some aspects persist to this day]. I knew a number of Jesuits at St Ignatius' over the years after I left the Deep North, the last of them being Peter Quin SJ whom I suspect you knew. We spent many hours together over the years sorting out all manner of medico-ethical dilemmas. I find it sad, then, to learn that there are no Jesuits left at Toowong. And I suppose you might have guessed my response to such a crying shame - bloody Vatican II !!!!! [I do have reasons, hopefully valid, for blaming Vat II]
john frawley | 14 January 2019


John Frawley (14 Jan.) John, with respect, I fail to see how Vatican II can be blamed for the lack of vocations in the Jesuits, other orders, religious congregations and indeed the secular priesthood. To say that Vatican II is to blame without giving exemplified reasons simply leaves the statement up in the air, with Vat II a convenient scapegoat. You will recall that from the 1950’s Western society including Australia went through an enormous ‘social revolution’ whereby established social norms, structures, family life, women’s liberation and the sexual revolution etc., turned everything on its head. This phenomenon was secular society changing, as it continues to do, and has nothing to do with Vat II. Men and women now had and have more choice as to how they live their lives. Women, for example, more than ever before can forge their own professional careers without the social norm of having to marry and have children and so forth. Men are no longer expected to marry and have a family as a sign of social stability and responsibility in order to advance their careers etc. Men and women still have priesthood and religious life as an option should they want it, but the ‘life choices’ in contemporary society are many and varied. Note that in underdeveloped non-western societies, priesthood and religious life sees no shortage of candidates. The post-WWII influx of vocations has subsided, due to these social changes in Western society, and is not the fault of Vat II. I note that you say you have reasons for blaming Vat II and I would very much like to consider them, lest I am missing something.
Thomas Amory | 15 January 2019


Thomas Amory, I agree that decline in vocations to religious life cannot be attributed to Vatican II in itself. I do think, however, that misinterpretation of aspects of the Council is a significant contributing factor, particularly the view that "rediscovering the spirit of the Founder" of religious orders necessarily means distancing, if not dissociation, from "the institutional Church" which approves and commissions all religious orders within it. Analogous to this misunderstanding is, I suggest, the attempt to elevate the status of theological opinion and media-constructed democratic process above the Church's magisterium.
John | 15 January 2019


...of course I agree with you, but the sentiments you utter are those for Christ's proclamation, otherwise they'd emerge from the invective of Pharisees. MF. Could you please rephrase the above. Thanks.
AO | 15 January 2019


Thomas Amory. Good morning, Thomas. I fear we have opened up a debate which could be the subject of a week long seminar in its own right! The innocence of the young, evolving human being breeds a dedication and idealism which reaches its zenith in late adolescence or early adulthood. Unsophisticated by adult human experience, the young amongst us are filled with idealism and hope for the future, most often a future in emulation of an admired role model. In the interpretations by many in the wake of Vatican II [to which John alludes in his post above] two things suffered greatly, namely the sacred liturgy and the nature of priesthood. I believe these two had a most damaging effect on the young and thus on the future of the Church [I have had some input from 7 children and 18 grandchildren]. The banality of much of the liturgy was far from attractive [unlike the pop scene of Hillsong] and Mass became a bore with the loss of liturgical spectacle. The "humanisation" of the priesthood and religious orders [G'day mate - call me Bill], the loss of public identifiability through abandonment of clerical dress and the abandonment of belief in the special nature of ordination to priesthood all conspired to remove any special place in society for a priest when there were so many other interesting and important role models to follow. This, of course, is not what Vatican II planned. It results from human dabbling, allegedly in the "spirit of Vatican II" but more correctly in the "spirit of self interests" according to what any number of individuals perceive that spirit to be. It seems to me that if Vatican II had achieved its purpose there would not be the clamour for renewal, reform or concern despite the profound secular changes of the 1960s and 70s. After all, wasn't Vatican II supposed to deliver renewal and reform and dispel concern? We need to restore the role models for the young of our society and the liturgy and priesthood model removed in the wake of Vatican II would be a darned good place to start.
john frawley | 16 January 2019


My, my, John Frawley; and to think we were at different times members of the same parish! Of course, in light of my context, which you know well by now, I attended St Mary's South Brisbane then. Work took me to Newcastle, from where I attended St Canice's Sydney occasionally. Now back in Brisbane, Toowong beckons because of its resoundingly inclusive music ministry and Vatican II liturgy (appropriately, and, as always, linked with a sound theology). While I knew Peter Quin RIP, it was Guy Carlson, then known for his skills as a sportsman, who taught me in Calcutta. I'm sure that a more indulgent note-comparison would unearth more Jesuits, Australian or otherwise, whose friendship we share. I have three cousins on my fathers side and another on my mother's, who have given generously to the Order. We now have Wrex Woolnough, a Friar Tuck of a man, with a sharp intellect as well as a mellow pastoral attitude who has stepped into the indelible imprint left by the Jesuits. One thing I notice, unlike the opinions freely-floated here, is his regard for Peter Kennedy of South Brisbane and the ministry he offers to disaffected Catholics excluded by mainstream Catholicism.
Michael Furtado | 17 January 2019


Thomas Amory, not to intrude upon your billy-doo with John Frawley, and much as my view concurs with yours about the freedoms and choices available to young (and not so young) women and men, which may or may not account for the shortfall in vocations, there are other factors responsible for this, including, primarily, the economic. I have two daughters, who, in pursuit of careers through which to sustain themselves, remain resolutely single, though not for want of a relationship. Add to that the pressures of committing themselves to relationships that will eventuate in marriage and the birth and longer-term nurturing of children, and its not hard to see why some would give up on that prospect. The Church's teaching, especially on neo-liberalism and work, and as proclaimed especially in Laborem Exercens, is manifestly unknown by Catholics, still less with any noticeable impact on global employment and workplace relations, other than in the trade unions that middle-class Catholics, manifestly more protective of their possessive individual interest than their corporate responsibility, either do not know, or cheerfully despise. Of course, the secret is to teach, invite and engage, as the spirit of democracy adjures, rather than to impose John's super-authoritarian magisterium.
Michael Furtado | 17 January 2019


To rephrase, AO. You say: "What are your friends seeking? Are your friends seeking to love/ know Christ? If so let them contemplate Christ crucified. He had no wealth. He had no pleasure. He had no power. He had no honour. If they're seeking anything else, they're heading for disappointment. Sorry. ''It all comes down to seeing all through His eyes." Those who do, see exclusion as a blessing not a curse. Learning to 'see', however, takes time, practice, a huge effort and sacrifice. It's a little like learning a new language." (8/1/19) Of course it is, but its HOW we lead the excluded to the well of human understanding that also critically determines their response. My Irish stockbroker in-laws in Tunbridge attended the Ordinariate Mass as a symbol of their conservative attachment to the faith AND their rigid rejection of a faith that does justice. The result? Cultic Catholicism, which the Church has foolishly caved into to exclude women's ordination. Secondly, a refusal on the part of the Church to address the human relationship issues that young people face, especially in matters of honesty, trust and authenticity, placing prescription/proscription above reality. And finally, mangling Aquinas to suit the rules!
Michael Furtado | 17 January 2019


Indeed a small world, MF. I operated on Guy Carlson SJ some few years ago, thankfully to his advantage! The fruits of his inculturation were still blooming through his sing-song Indian accent! He was my confessor on a number of occasions and I did admire his post-Vatican II approach on some matters with which, surprisingly to some perhaps, I fully agreed.
john frawley | 17 January 2019


Michael Furtado, the Church's magisterium is based on the authority and teaching of Christ and the Apostles. It is not "super-authoritarian' as you characterise it: we are free to accept or reject it, but cannot replace it with inventions of our own, least of all by appeal to majority opinion.
John | 17 January 2019


Agreed, John; except that the Extraordinary Synod is NOT the place yet again to invoke the magisterium by those who have so far collectively failed to convey its fuller authoritative and pastoral intent to the faithful over a considerable period of recent years. Synods are, of their very nature, consultative and not definitive: the Bishops will have plenty of opportunity to respond to the Synod, both collectively and individually, after that and should not pre-empt Synodal outcomes in the manner in which Archbishop Fisher has recently ominously remarked about the Youth Synod. There is also the view, expressed recently in his latest book by Dr Ormond Rush ('The Eyes of Faith; the Sense of the Faithful & the Church's Reception of Revelation', Blackwell, Oxford, 2016) that the magisterium isn't entirely dependent on its expression from above but also by the ways in which it is received. Fr Rush is a lecturer of theology and former president of St. Paul's Theological College in Banyo, Queensland, and is President of the Australian Catholic Theological Association. He is the nephew of the late and much loved Archbishop of Brisbane, +Francis Rush. The Church is a living organism, defying authoritarian decision-making, especially from above.
Michael Furtado | 18 January 2019


Michael, the relevance of the magisterium to the bishops' initiative of the Plenary Council can, I think, be gauged by a number of proposals - some of which have appeared in ES postings - that entertain hopes of radical change in Catholic Church structure, male priesthood, sexuality and marriage. Your acknowledgement of the scope of Synodal powers here, may well assuage, if not prevent, the disappointment that accompanies unrealistic hopes. Another thing: may I assume you accept a distinction between "authoritarian" and "authoritative " on matters of church teachings and their exercise by the pope and bishops?
John | 20 January 2019


...Yet: According to Aquinas, the highest form of life is the contemplative which communicates the fruits of contemplation to others, since it is based on the abundance of contemplation (contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere) (ST, III, Q. 40, A. 1, Ad 2). What to make of everything else? “If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.” Try, trying that.
AO | 20 January 2019


That's no reason, John, to shut down discussion. Apart from the aggregative/consensual model of agenda setting currently in place, the Bishops should meet with renewalist groups, not all of which would waste their time on overturning decisions that lie within the prerogative of High Command. The Pope himself has urged national episcopal conferences to exercise the freedoms and authorities that subsidiarity demands and NOT shaft all decision-making back to Rome.
Michael Furtado | 21 January 2019


What "renewalist groups" do you have in mind, Michael? And why can they not utilise the Council protocols available to all Catholics?
John | 22 January 2019


John, I quote from John Warhurst's article above: "Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn has just held its own successful session, based on a necessary balance between the provision of meaningful context and perceptive discernment. The context included papers on the demography of the Australian Catholic community, Canon Law, Vatican 2, the recommendations of the royal commission, the vision of Pope Francis, and women, leadership and the church. The Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (ACCCR) has been labouring hard to have the concerns of the reform community heard by the ACBC. Our concerns mirror the weaknesses of the Plenary Council. Getting a good hearing from the ACBC President may not mean that the leadership is really listening. The voice of reformers through ACCCR remains unheard. Issues like inadequate lay representation at the Plenary Council, a woman as co-chair, lay involvement in the meetings of ACBC, a commitment to governance reform and women's participation in decision-making still lie on the table without any action." Let us not go around in circles. At least some Bishops must be reading ES. Let's hope that at least one of them is willing to table this correspondence for discussion and decision-making at the next ACBC meeting.
Michael Furtado | 22 January 2019


Presentation of the issues the groups John Warhurst identifies can be made in the Plenary Council procedures open to the contributions of all interested Catholics, Michael.
John | 23 January 2019


They can't be, John, for the simple reason that the aggregative process as applied to collating the opinions of those who attend parish-based consultations would simply exclude so-called minority opinion. Those who have collated opinions at parish-based consultations in the Brisbane Archdiocese have stated this clearly, indicating that they are powerless to influence the outcome of the aggregative process. If the Bishops knew anything about John Stuart Mill, they would be sensitive to and make provision for the views of minorities to be heard, by them as well as by the massed synodal assembly. The Church has a sophisticated and enthusiastically supportive teaching on political consultation and participation. Now is the time for the Bishops to apply that teaching to the internal operations of the Australian Catholic Church, especially in regard to planning and agenda setting for the 2020 Synod.
Michael Furtado | 24 January 2019


Michael Furtado: as the Plenary Council is an ecclesial rather than simply a political structure, methodologies that may be well suited for "political consultation and participation" in secular democratic institutions are not necessarily appropriate to its purposes of Church renewal, especially if the agenda of interest groups were in opposition to teachings and practices that define the Church.
John | 26 January 2019


John, this exchange is too crucial and important to be allowed to peter out in a welter of bloody, confused fighting. For fear that our well-intentioned arguments further become side-tracked by repetition and the likelihood over a long correspondence of never achieving a breakthrough, I introduce a position recently advanced by Bishop Vincent Long of Parramatta and which is based on the work in ecclesiology and missiology of an eminent Jesuit at Boston College, George Wilson SJ. The content is best covered in the following article: www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2019/01/02/challenging-clericalism/ As with all other ES posts, it is available for everyone to download and read, including, I hope, those who regard Bishop Long with fondness, wisdom and respect, as well as others who may not know of his influence and, indeed, that of this insightful theologian.
Michael Furtado | 28 January 2019


Michael, thank you for alerting me to the article by Richard Gaillardetz. I'm confident that Bishop Long is not the only bishop apprised of the destructiveness of clericalism and critical of it, and recognise with George Wilson SJ that the cult of clericalism is not the creation of clerics only. I'm hopeful and confident, too, that the relationship between the ordained priesthood and the priesthood of all the faithful - both theologically and practically - will be one of the central concerns and benefits of the Plenary Council deliberations.
John | 29 January 2019


Michael Furtado. Please forgive my intrusion in your little sociological debate with John. I simply thank you for the reference to the article by Richard Gaillardetz. It is remarkably clear in its description of priesthood of (the human) Jesus of Nazareth, something we see today in much of what Pope Francis says and practises. It is also interesting in its depiction of child sexual abuse being a consequence of socio-sexual and psychological dysfunction and immaturity rather than of obligatory celibacy in the priesthood in the light of today's report that Pope Francis has said that celibacy in the priesthood is not on the agenda for change. No doubt, a new understanding of the theology of priesthood which embodies (necessary) clerification without clericalism would solve much for today's confused laity and dispel some of the over-reaction we have seen by the "reform everything" position of some post-Vatican II reformers. Perhaps this sort of debate stimulated by people like Bishop Long and George Wilson SJ will lay the foundations for rational renewal which conforms with what the Council actually proclaimed - in the true spirit of Vat II.
john frawley | 30 January 2019


Thank you, John. I hope you are right.
Michael Furtado | 30 January 2019


Now closely approaching 88 yrs I count myself fortunate to have followed the up/down fortunes of catholicism in all that time with unchanged faith and equanimity. That was until I came upon the output of Karen Armstrong and particularly her talk on "Muhammed a Prophet of our Time" which places the three monotheistic histories Judaism, Christianity and Islam on an equal platform within the bounds of evolution. Her take published on Youtube while intellectually understandable, is divisive, highlighting the continuing divisions of Christianity breaking out before our very eyes and ears! Her talk is invitational to review one's own faith position is it not?
Tony Knight | 13 April 2019


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