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Church reform scorecard

  • 11 December 2018


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.

The 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