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Cultural questions for getting back on mission

  • 09 October 2019


Catholics for Renewal, Getting Back on Mission: Reforming our Church Together, Garratt Publishing, ISBN9781925009651 The core of Getting Back on Mission is a submission made to the Australian Plenary Council which will meet in 2020 and 2021. It was composed by Catholics for Renewal, a group of lay Catholics who have for many years pressed the need for reform within the Catholic Church. It is a valuable resource, comprehensive in its discussion of challenges affecting the Catholic Church and detailed in its proposals for meeting them. It also includes statistical information about the current situation of the Australian Church and the scope of plenary councils.

For Catholics who are interested in the Australian Church, its future and the council, it is essential reading. Whether or not they accept the shape of its argument, it offers a comprehensive list of issues and a view of their underlying causes that need to be grappled with. Given its focus on governance, it may also be of interest to a wider audience. Many of the strains and signs of dysfunction it finds in Church governance are similar to those identified in public life in Australia and internationally.

At the heart of Getting Back on Mission is the claim that the Catholic Church has gone off-mission. The strongest evidence for this claim, and a major source of the passion infusing the book, is the extent of child sexual abuse by priests and religious over many years, the appalling suffering of its victims, its cover-up by Catholic Church leaders and the consequent loss of credibility of the Catholic Church.

The book claims that the root of this dysfunction lies in seeing the church as God's mission rather than as an instrument of God's will for the world. When the church is made the main show, its structures are sacralised in law and in institutional relationships, hierarchical boundaries are reinforced, and the good name of the church becomes sacrosanct. This culture breeds a silence in which crime and cover-up can flourish.

The source of healing conversely will be to enshrine in church practices and governance the shared mission of all Catholics to embody the Kingdom of God within the changing conditions of their own times. In that process the consensus of the faithful, lay as well as clerical, will guide the Catholic Church in discerning how to read and respond to the signs of our times. The submission supports this understanding by