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Defend inclusiveness at Catholic Plenary Council



Everyone interested in the Australian Catholic Church's Plenary Council 2020 (PC), the first session of which is scheduled for next October in Adelaide, should now take a serious interest in Ignatian discernment. That follows the announcement that the promised Working Groups have been renamed Discernment and Writing Groups. This is more than a mere rebranding exercise but a clear and deliberate indication that prayer and discernment are 'key for the groups, and for the whole process'.

St Peter's Cathedral in North Adelaide. Photo by moisseyev via GettyQuestioning Catholics should embrace this development, but resist any aspect of the new process which tends to dilute or exclude their voices. As explained by PC Facilitation Team leader, Lana Turvey-Collins, in the latest issue of Plenary Post, discernment in the spirit of Pope Francis in relation to the Plenary Council was a focus of the recent Bishops Retreat led by Jesuit Br Ian Cribb SJ.

Discernment has a general meaning associated with the ability to exercise judgement with skill and wisdom in complex circumstances. It is often used in religious circles, together with consultation, to enable prayerful reflection and discussion in a spirit of collegiality to produce the best outcome.

Spiritual discernment involves calling on the Holy Spirit to give directions on the will of God. It is a gift from God and more than a skill. It asks the Plenary Council question: 'What is God asking of us? In the words of Pope Francis it transcends but does not exclude 'existential, psychological, sociological or moral insights drawn from the human sciences'. The approach includes elements of good process and skill, which can be gained by experience and/or taught through training.

This PC Discernment period follows a Listening period, which generated about 17,500 submissions drawn from more than 220,000 participants from across the Australian church. These submissions led to the choice by the leadership of the six themes on which the Discernment and Writing Groups are to be based. Applications for volunteer chairs and members of these groups have just closed. The chairs of these groups will receive an intensive induction in discernment before taking up these demanding roles.

It is an unwelcome surprise that the submissions themselves will not be made public despite an expectation that they would be. In this electronic age that should have been possible, unless otherwise requested by participants, as is the case with equivalent government consultations.

In their absence, despite published snapshot reports and a final national report by the ACBC Pastoral Research Office on the content of the submissions, the link between them and the process that follows must be taken on trust. If the link is broken then it will be a huge waste of the best efforts in prayerful thinking of many in the Australian church. It also effectively breaks a promise given by the church leadership to many ordinary lay Catholics, preventing open debate and limiting productive cross-fertilisation between the submissions.


"It would be a disaster the Plenary Council became a cloistered, quasi-monastic affair hidden behind closed doors."


Lay Catholics remain significantly under-represented. The size of the ultimate lay representation at the first session remains in the balance. As reported by at least one bishop, the Australian bishops argued for a substantial increase in lay participation during their recent ad limina visit to Rome, but that request has not yet been granted. A decision is not expected until the end of the year.

This uncertainty makes the ultimate shape and style of the October 2020 event even more critical. The best outcome, whatever the lay composition, is for the council deliberations to be as open and transparent as humanly possible.

Australian Catholics want the PC to be an outward-looking, public display of the best we have to offer. Many, not expecting or even wishing to be delegates, want to go to Adelaide to be present at such an important once-in-a-lifetime event. It would be a disaster if it became a cloistered, quasi-monastic affair hidden behind closed doors like an ACBC meeting. While that may be business as usual it would be contrary to all that the Australian church should stand for. There must be room for an extensive range of observers.

Whatever the legitimate logistical and financial challenges, the Australian church leadership should move heaven and earth to put on an event in which delegates and observers, bishops, religious and laity, traditionalists and reformers are free to mingle and interact in the best spirit of collegiality and joint discernment about the future of our church.



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

Main image: St Peter's Cathedral in North Adelaide. Photo by moisseyev via Getty

Topic tags: John Warhurst, Plenary Council 2020, Catholic church



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Existing comments

John Warhurst might spare us the euphemisms. Are not his "questioning Catholics" those who oppose and seek to change Catholic teachings on marriage, sexual morality and a male priesthood, some of whom have frequently made their positions clear in "Eureka Street"? And is not this article, under the catch-cry of "inclusiveness", really an attempt to secure Catholic status for views antithetical to Church teachings and the authority of the magisterium?

John RD | 24 July 2019  

The catalyst for the Plenary Council has been the crisis faced by the Church in relation to the Royal Commission. Significant lay participation will be very important and it is to be hoped that this will be seen by decision-makers as an essential element of new birth. Discernment is a gift given to and cultivated in all who take the time to seek it. It would also be heartening to see active participation by sexual abuse survivors. Their experiences and viewpoint should be respected and valued.

Pam | 24 July 2019  

I continue to be astonished that the Australian church cannot hold a plenary council without permission from the pope and decisions by Rome about who can participate. I would have thought that in a synod of the local church, local bishops and episcopal conferences, by virtue of their office, would have that authority, and that, as the Body of Christ by baptism, everyone would be eligible to take part in a council of the Body. And that is not even mentioning the potential and wisdom that could come from beyond our own membership. I find profound wisdom and insight among many of our “ordinary” people in the pews, and among those who no longer occupy the pews. As we are part of the universal Church, Rome should be informed on what we are doing, but not have the final word on how the local Church listens to the Spirit in order to recapture the spirit of the Gospel for renewing and revitalising the body and its mission.

Corrie | 24 July 2019  

"Orchestration." Sorry but that is how i now see the whole process.The Snapshots a feel good exercise that managed in at least one case to scapegoat a well meaning but out of touch parish priest.When I expressed concern about this i did not even receive an acknowledgement, let alone a response. I really want to be proved wrong on all of this.

Margaret | 24 July 2019  

Surely it is perfectly obvious what God wants of us. Everyone is called to holiness; that means actively growing personal faith through opening minds and hearts to learning within our Catholic Tradition and to making that faith real in works of self sacrifice The best start is to be strict with refusing to invite an ungodly righteousness by judging and labelling others. First presume good will. If we want to be who God wants us to be then we have to be that in the process.

kate | 24 July 2019  

John RD is concerned about the motives of us who hope the Church will recognise the Spirit working in and through the people of God. John Warhurst and many other commentators have accepted the invitation of the Australian bishops to make submissions to our Plenary Council 2020. Pope Francis continues to argue for the voice of Catholic people, the sensis fidelis, to be heard and recognised by the hierarchy, both locally and in the Vatican. Naturally, our insights will be different from theirs because our life experience is so different from theirs. This is not the time for suspicion of motives or fear of change. Now is the time to stop the tide of people leaving the Church by recognising that the Spirit of God works in and through the whole Church, not just the Vatican, not just the ordained. We do hope and pray that the Plenary Council 2020 will not be stunted by excessive caution in its development and process.

Ian Fraser | 24 July 2019  

The greatest challenge facing the Australian Church today is the call for renewed trust and unity among its members. The decision not to make public all the submissions does nothing to address this - in fact, it both reflects that lack of trust and increases it. What Professor Warhurst calls ‘productive cross-fertilisation between the submissions’ isn’t an optional extra - I believe it’s the way the Holy Spirit works, another expression of the Incarnation. Eureka Street often publishes comments from very different positions in the Church - we can see them after today’s article, for example. I experience them often as challenging, thought-provoking, and a call to re-examine my own position. Why can’t this happen at the Plenary? If a submission is ‘unorthodox’ or even ‘heretical’, can’t we trust the Spirit to be working to sort the wheat from the tares? Can’t we have just a mustard seed of faith in God and each other?

Joan Seymour | 24 July 2019  

My main difficulty with the whole Plenary Council exercise is that our bishops have not really disclosed the purpose of the Council. What are they actually hoping to achieve? Are they effectively asking – the Church is broken, what went wrong, how can we fix it? If this is so, and I can see no viable alternative, then I doubt that the current PC process is the way to go about addressing the problem. Some 222,000 Australians have already told them what they consider is broken and what needs fixing. I am not sure how many John RDs we have, but even they must recognize that with abuse and financial scandals wracking the Church world-wide something needs to be done. The key question then becomes – if we are to fix it, what needs to be changed? I cannot yet see how these “Discernment and Writing Groups” are supposed to address this question. If, and that is my dilemma, that is what the bishops actually want. Are they prepared to change? Is this “Discernment” business supposed to cover the problems, already clearly identified, or proposed solutions?

John R. Sabine | 24 July 2019  

Thank you John for inviting open, inclusive and questioning catholics to the PC table. If possible, it may be helpful to engage with Fowler's levels of faith as part of any discernment process in determining the depth of wisdom available for critical reflection … and decisions that could emerge from it. Otherwise the process may get stuck in binary understandings and responses. The lack of transparency that has already manifested in not publishing submissions whispers of fear and control already! The Holy Spirit always finds where the cracks are so the light can shine in … it may well and truly be elsewhere. We will see what unfolds … in prayerful hope.

mary tehan | 24 July 2019  

It is hard to argue against a process based on prayer and discernment given such a process is deeply embedded in our spiritual traditions especially one’s that have a foundation in Ignatian spirituality. Nevertheless I have reservations about it’s appropriateness or usefulness for the Plenary Council.. The process requires training, practice, skill and considerable emotional and spiritual maturity for it to be used successfully. My concern is that it can be used by the few (who will claim expertise in the discernment model)to control and manipulate the whole process. I hope I am wrong but there is a whiff here that this is an attempt to ensure that “things don’t get out of control” and that the full plurality of views present in the “Body” do not see light of day. The church has already been shaken to its foundations. It needs a full and open airing to allow new roots to take shoot. Anything less will be a letdown to many and yet another wasted opportunity.

Philip | 24 July 2019  

Another talk fest where some hopeful participants seek a soap box from which they can spruik a new morality, guided not by Christ's words recorded in the gospels, but by human agendas. The authority for these spruikers allegedly comes from "the Spirit" who has, it seems, abandoned any allegiance to those to whom Christ delegated authority for his Church in favour of those who believe Christ got it wrong and they are called to solve the problem. Some Spirits are very artful and deceptive. The real Spirit is one with Christ and the Father and as such is one with Christ's word through which authority for the Church on Earth is based and well established. STEP CAREFULLY - THE FALL IS PRECIPITOUS AND PAINFUL.

john frawley | 24 July 2019  

John's argument for inclusiveness is undercut the moment he listed the delegates in this order: bishops, religious...and laity; we laity always relegated as lesser, tacked on at the end of the list. Which is the largest group in the Body of Christ? The People of God--though unfortunately, they still do not know it, nor are they duly acknowledged and respected. "Lay", meaning lack of professionalism, does not apply, as we are commissioned in our baptism. Once upon a time, shortly after Vatican II, there was a diocesan pastoral council of more than 150 "lay" people drawn from all over the far-flung diocese. It was impressive to see them empowered to pray and to make decisions as Church. The next bishop disbanded the council; it is defunct to the present day.

Rose Marie Crowe | 25 July 2019  

Indeed, Ian Fraser, the Holy Spirit works, as you say, in and through the whole Church, but that same Spirit distributes a variety of gifts and forms of service, some of which are expressed in specific roles, as we see, for instance, in St Paul's ecclesiology (e.g. I Corinthians 12). St Peter, his successors and their brother bishops in faith are called to the role of official teachers and pastors, which involves the ultimate responsibility, based on discernment, for decisions affecting the Church's faith and morals. I believe there is reason for concern when distinctive ecclesial gifts and roles are unrecognized, ignored, or regarded as interchangeable or dispensable.

John RD | 25 July 2019  

Christ delegated authority to the apostles to forgive sins. He did not set up a hierarchy, but demanded servant leadership: Mark 10:44-45 ...and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (NIV) Mark 9:35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." (NIV) By our baptism, we are all called to be priest, prophet and king. We must listen to the Spirit. It is now clear that the hierarchy created by the church is a corruption of Christ’s teaching. The result where we have a self-serving clergy not open to question has been the dreadful, disgusting child abuse revealed by the Royal Commission that has left many Catholics very angry and many deciding that this church can not be from God; and leaving. If the clergy hijacks the PC; does not address the problems of their making; and the PC does not result in a rebirth of the church that returns to the truth of the Gospel, then it is a sign that this church does not deserve to survive and we must find or create another church that does.

Frank S | 25 July 2019  

As a former Jesuit student and one well-versed in the Ignatian method and spirituality, I share Philip's misgivings about the importance accorded to the discernment process in Professor Warhurst's article. I have seen the discernment process used to good as well as abusive effect and wonder why an eminent politics academic with an unimpeachable background in democratic theory, would baulk at use of the scholastic method, itself attributable to Aquinas, which underpins the best outcomes in any form of disputation, including the Westminster or parliamentary system. Not only has this kept blood off the streets, it is as yet the best known method of assuaging public opinion without manipulating it. If, as some Hobbesians here fear, it may be used to overturn the magisterium, there is enough evidence available from Church history of partisan interests, some of them reactionary if not conservative, being employed to challenge the magisterium, which must not therefore be used as a device for stymieing open consultation. After all, when all's said and done, if the Vatican is unhappy with the results of an authentically open and consultative Synod, it can turn its back on it. The only danger here is Australia losing a red hat!

Michael Furtado | 25 July 2019  

JohnRD dismisses change to 'Catholic teachings on marriage, sexual morality and a male priesthood' as if these would be catastrophic, even heretical. Do we believe that the way divorcees in the Catholic Church are treated can't be improved? Do we accept that the processes around annulment are so perfect they can't be changed? As for sexual morality: it might be a huge step forward if priestly celibacy was voluntary; and that some of the core ideas in 'Humane Vitae' viz. sexual intercourse in every instance be open to procreation - be dismissed because this is more honoured in the breach than in the observance by many married Catholics who have long ago repudiated this teaching perhaps walked away from Catholicism. As for male priesthood: Christianity, Islam and Judaism are orientated towards male hierarchies but Jesus treated women with profound respect; furthermore, Jesus was counter-cultural and proposed a radically different set of values around the kingdom. Catholics for reform, I say, and John Warhurst is closely involved with this agenda in Canberra and at the national Church level.

PeterD | 25 July 2019  

Rose Marie your point about Diocesan Pastoral Councils really resonates with me. I was privileged to be a member of one in the mid 1980s, up to the point where it too was disbanded never to return.When the Archbishops were asked about them during the final stages of the Royal Commission they were all as I recall very vague ("before my time") and none seemed remotely interested. And yet they were as you say impressive. We have regressed so badly since then that I personally see no way back. Certainly the Plenary Council, even if it lives up to its promise, will be a totally different and far less valuable exercise.So sad...

Margaret | 25 July 2019  

Frank S, why do you assume hierarchy and servant leadership to be intrinsically incompatible? Christ exhorted the hierarchy of leaders he chose (what you yourself acknowledge as "the Twelve" - Peter and the other apostles - ) to exercise their role as servants. The Church did not invent its hierarchical structure; it inherited it from its Founder. And while there is ample evidence in the New Testament to encourage repentance and reform, there is nothing to warrant the creation of another church.

John RD | 25 July 2019  

John RD: hierarchy definition: A system in which members of an organization or society are ranked according to relative status or authority synonyms: pecking order, ranking, class system; the clergy of the Catholic Church or of an episcopal Church. I’m sorry I cannot conceive how a hierarchy is consistent with Christ’’s teaching in Mark. That is the opposite of hierarchy. It recognises the dignity and equality of every person. Twelve apostles were asked to serve, not to rule over others. There is also nothing in the Gospels about how to deal with a corrupt and evil hierarchy, because a hierarchy was clearly not envisioned by Christ. But certainly there was the suggestion that a barren tree should be cut down. Luke 6:43 "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Luke 13:7 “For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?'” Since the Catholic Church has demonstrably produced a surfeit of bad fruit, a rebirth of the church is essential.

Frank S | 26 July 2019  

JohnRD suggests that the Church inherited its hierarchical structure from Christ whereas I would argue it was imported from Rome in the time of Constantine. In a Christian community disciples have different charisma and talents but they are not defined by roles and status. In the army, in universities, sometimes in the Public Service and in medicine, people know their pecking order to a peck. Sometimes titles, badges, salaries, office space, dress codes etc reinforce these distinctions. Religion in my view is associated with an inner disposition, a metanoia or change of heart and is evident in the love we have for one another. Hierarchy is often about status, outward trappings and show - the very antithesis of. gospel values and the beatitudes.

PeterD | 26 July 2019  

I think John RD raises an important question and should not be derided for it. That question, in Plain English, is 'How do you prevent some misguided souls, with limited/no theological knowledge from attempting to throw out the baby (what is essential) with the bathwater (non-essentials)?' Many years ago, when my wife was a potential Anglican ordinand, I had some contact with a 'progressive' Anglican church in Sydney. Although Sydney has held the Conservative Evangelical line, the majority of Anglican dioceses in this country have gone down the 'progressive' path. I am not primarily discussing the Ordination of Women here, because I think this would need a separate discussion, but the sort of theological Modernism/'Liberal Christianity' which has been condemned by the Vatican and regarded as a sell out of genuine Christianity by many eminent Anglican theologians, such as the late Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey. I think you need to be very careful when you wish for a sort of watered down Christianity because it 'feels good'. Some good feelings, such as an alcoholic stupor, end up with your lying in the gutter feeling awful. Caveat emptor.

Edward Fido | 26 July 2019  

That's right John RD, 'The Church did not invent its hierarchical structure', rather it invented the myth that it inherited it from its Founder. How? By cherry-picked evidence and biased argument followed up by centuries of brain-washing. And where are you examples of 'hierarchy and servant leadership' not being 'intrinsically incompatible' ? Ritual feet-washing by prelates who live in palaces is hardly a good start.

Ginger Meggs | 26 July 2019  

Our PP, Wrex Woolnough, following the decision of the Parish Council at St Ignatius', Toowong, published every single comment and opinion offered as a result of the Synodal Consultation process conducted at our parish. I commend him and our parish council for this. The decision not to publish these nationally, but instead to provide a 'snapshot', whatever that means, will cause immense and incalculable outrage amongst the laity and, devastatingly for Australian Catholics, assign the next stage of the Synodal process to a whitewash, regardless of the motives of those controlling the process. The Bishops and Major Superiors should make it their business to overturn this decision. The purpose of calling the Synod is surely to hear the Voice of the Laity and to respond to it at a time when suspicion and outrage at how the Church operates in Australia are at the forefront of every layperson's mind as a result of the Royal Commission's findings. This is surely at the heart of the problems that Australian Catholics are being asked to address, which will constitute the response of our Catholic People to the Commission. 'Brand Catholic' has been hopelessly trashed and it is up to us to rebuild!

Michael Furtado | 26 July 2019  

Two observations (1) One hopes and prays for the best outcome but on the ground the same urgent needs remain. At the hospital where I have been C.of E. chaplain for over 21 years, beginning shortly before my retirement in 2001, we have had a R.C. chaplain only for a few of those years and none recently. The local RC clergy faithfully come for emergencies but there is no priest to visit the RC patients - the largest group among the Christian patients who are by far still the majority in that "ethnic" part of Sydney, so I include them now (visiting as many as possible of the up to 170 patients on my lists on any one day, listening, praying, anointing though not distributing Holy Communion. The sheep look up and are not fed. Pope Francis has referred to the possibility of married priests in southern America. If only he and Rome realised that the need is great in many others parts of the world. I know of lay brothers of a famous order who in a remote part of Africa celebrated Mass because of the lack of priests anywhere within reach. And the need exists not least here in Australia. In England my dear old Church of England, for all its weaknesses, accepted over 700 ordinands last year, men and women, far, far more than are accepted by Rome for a celibate ministry. (2) One comment referred to the baptised : the baptised do include Orthodox, and Anglicans such as those who worship in that lovely pictured Anglican cathedral of S.Peter in Adelaide, and Protestants of 59 varieties. Is any thought given to them, especially to those who are closest in spirit to Rome at its best ?

Fr John Bunyan | 27 July 2019  

I offer some thoughts from am ex priest that seem to make some sense: Josephus described the followers of Jesus simply as “those that loved him at the first and did not let go of their affection for him.” There was no priesthood yet, and the movement was egalitarian. Christians worshipped and broke bread in one another’s homes. But under Emperor Constantine, in the fourth century, Christianity effectively became the imperial religion and took on the trappings of the empire itself. A diocese was originally a Roman administrative unit. A basilica, a monumental hall where the emperor sat in majesty, became a place of worship. A diverse and decentralized group of churches was transformed into a quasi-imperial institution—centralized and hierarchical, with the bishop of Rome reigning as a monarch. Church councils defined a single set of beliefs as orthodox, and everything else as heresy. This character was reinforced at about the same time by Augustine’s theology of sex, derived from his reading of the Adam and Eve story in Genesis. Augustine painted the original act of disobedience as a sexual sin, which led to blaming a woman for the fatal seduction—and thus for all human suffering down through the generations. This amounted to a major revision of the egalitarian assumptions and practices of the early Christian movement. It also put sexuality, and anything related to it, under a cloud, and ultimately under a tight regime. The repression of desire drove normal erotic urges into a social and psychological netherworld. The celibacy of priests, which grew out of the practice of ascetic monks and hermits, may have been put forward, early on, as a mode of intimacy with God, appropriate for a few. But over time the cult of celibacy and virginity developed an inhuman aspect—a broader devaluation and suspicion of bodily experience. It also had a pragmatic rationale. In the Middle Ages, as vast land holdings and treasure came under Church control, priestly celibacy was made mandatory in order to thwart inheritance claims by the offspring of prelates. Seen this way, celibacy was less a matter of spirituality than of power.

Stephen | 27 July 2019  

Michael Furtado's use of the term "Hobbesian" to describe those who accept the authority of the Pope and episcopal collegiality in the Catholic Church as presented in Vatican II (cf Lumen Gentium, III, xxii) is indicative of a post-Enlightenment trend in some theological circles to replace sacred scripture and tradition as doctrinal sources with theories of political and social science - a project which, pursued, would hasten the secularization of faith and the Church. A similar line of argument is evident in Peter D's appeal to numbers as doctrinal determinants, which, had it been adopted in the time of Nicaea when "the whole world" appeared to have "gone Arian" (Athanasius) would have resulted in a false understanding of Christ.

John RD | 28 July 2019  

I am unable to think of any sound reason for not making all submissions public - this secrecy does not augur well for the Plenary Council. An established principle of consultation is the need to ensure that all can be aware of all the arguments advanced. Without knowledge of the positions of others and their reasoning, there can be no informed discussion. The researched analysis offered is no doubt very thorough but representation of detailed proposals by summary, particularly covering diverse matters, can never be adequate and begs the question: why not release the original submissions as well? Why would any submitter not be happy to have their views published and subject to considered examination? At the very least, bishops owe the faithful an explanation for this secrecy, a secrecy which reflects the unaccountability that created the need for the Plenary Council. Presumably both the bishops themselves and also the discernment groups will have access to all the submissions. Why the secrecy?

Peter Johnstone | 28 July 2019  

A spectacular eponym and post, Fr Bunyan! It helps immensely that someone from outside our Catholic faith tradition should write to engage in this conversation while there is still planning time for such momentous decision-making. Early in the process, some colleagues and I wrote to the Catholic Bishops suggesting a process of consultation conducted by the very best in the land. Among the names we suggested were the gifted social psychologist and researcher, Hugh Mackay, who has led many a Catholic and other non-Catholic Church Assemblies in their plans to meet future challenges. Mackay is a member of the St James Ethics Centre and a devout Anglican. Another social planner and researcher of equally unimpeachable standing is Bernard Salt, who happens to be Catholic. Our rationale in recommending this initiative to the Bishops was the high reputation for skilful design as well as truthful reporting that these two experts have already established for themselves in their professional work as a means of securing for Australian Catholics a guarantee that synodal outcomes would be authentically open, highly consultative and truthfully reported. There is still time, hopefully, for this to happen in a climate in which suspicion and mistrust are sadly manifest.

Michael Furtado | 28 July 2019  

The Church of the 21st century is to be enriched by a community of highly educated and concerned women and men. For an insight into the Church in its early history, I suggest reading "Chrispina and Her Sisters" a thoroughly researched PhD thesis by Christine Schenk csj, in which she opens a new window on the religious influences on early Christian women by decoding over 2000 frescos, tome inscriptions, carve sarcophagi and more. The modern hierarchical model, with its focus on male leadership, unfortunately does not reflect the historical emergence of the church. The PC is an opportunity to examine this history and, indeed, for the Australian Church to open up to models of leadership that include ordained women and men, expressions of leadership that have equal status without necessarily including ordination. Vatican Council II had the capacity to do this, but it was lost in many parts of the Church. Are we afraid of equal leadership?

Rosemary Grundy | 28 July 2019  

Two sentences sum up concerns: Lay Catholics remain significantly under-represented. Secrecy of plenary submissions. Why?

Boylan | 28 July 2019  

Thanks Stephen... Jesus said : tear this building down and in three days I will rise it up again... Well, guess what? Maybe He wasn't only speaking about the Death and Resurrection of His Body. Nor of the second temple being destroyed down the track, after having lasted for a total of 585 years, (516 BC to 70 CE). True worshipers worship in Spirit and Truth. His words very, very, clearly to the Samaritan women. On this earth, why any women would desire to be a priest, only to enter a world of control and power, beats me. I can only think of three words: Envy or pride. It has been suggested envy was the very thing that put Jesus on a cross. The envy of those who were not like Him. He said : they were of this world. It is not nice to suggest others have these spirits. Though, are we not attracted to people, places and institutions who reflect our personal identity? The best we can strive to be, men and women alike: His church. Is to be humble, kind, charitable and lowly. Everything else self-deception.

AO | 28 July 2019  

Peter D and Stephen locate the origin of hierarchy in the Catholic Church in the imperial time of Constantine (4th C AD). While many scholars think that the term "hierarchy" came into use even later than Constantine's reign to describe the structure of the Church, in Catholic understanding the reality on which this term is based was Christ's calling and appointment of Peter and the Twelve, and the continuation of this structure in the Apostolic age, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles and the writings of early Church Fathers; for instance, Clement of Rome (1st C AD) and Irenaeus (2nd C AD).

John RD | 29 July 2019  

Thank you, Edward. In addition to the "feel-good" aspect that can propel desire for a watered down Christianity, there can also be - as Ignatius of Loyola recognized - an inordinate desire for advancement to positions and exercise of power. These impulses, I hope, will be included in any discernment of ecclesial reform worthy of the name.

John RD | 29 July 2019  

John RD and other traditionalist & conservatives need not worry: just read and digest the selection criteria and role requirements for both chairs and members of the writing & discernment groups. You will see immediately that those most in need of church reform (divorced and separated, LGBTQI+, returning Catholics and others on the fringe where Christ himself lived and served) will find it nigh impossible or extremely difficult to qualify - or even win an interview. While those educated, well connected and with long track records of compliance with the status quo will meet those criteria much more easily. One wonders if this was by coincidence or design?

Dr Francis Donovan | 29 July 2019  

Hi Francis: You mention those in the church with 'long track records of compliance with the status quo.' These figures won't lead change in the Church. From memory, JH Newman wrote that 'to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often'; even Anthony Albanese has said if the ALP does exactly what it has done in the past, it will get the same results. Rather than people such as Hugh MacKay - a very decent Australian - I prefer prophetic voices from within Australian Catholicism such as Francis Sullivan, Frank Brennan, Bishop Morris etc And voices such as Paul Collins who say it strong and say it hot: “What should Francis tell the bishops? First, he’ll tell them to jettison their silly outfits like mitres, skull caps and other hang-overs from history…….If Francis knew the expression, he’d also tell the bishops that the ideology of ecclesiastical hierarchy—hierarchism—is a stranded asset, unsellable anywhere, least of all to anyone trying to follow Jesus. The ecclesiastical hierarchy is about power and how bishops are initiated into it through papal appointment and ordination. In the process, baptism is forgotten and equality in the Christian community is lost.“ [Source: https://johnmenadue.com/paul-collins-talking-heads-in-the-catholic-church/

PeterD | 29 July 2019  

It seems to me those whom Dr Francis Donovan identifies as effectively disqualified from the "chairs and membership of writing & discernment groups" in the Plenary Council - if, in fact, this is the case - have an able advocate in Professor John Warhurst and the high profile "Concerned Catholics of Canberra-Goulburn" group.

John RD | 29 July 2019  

Interesting post re clerical dress/uniform, PeterD. (John Menadue/Paul Collins). I wonder what our society would be like if we removed all identifying dress/uniforms eg from police, ambos, the services, nurses etc. The Church has already tried the experiment. For example, the priest or religious (members of orders etc) are no longer publicly identifiable. Such anonymity struggles to earn respect as we have seen in the wake of Vat II. Much prefer to see the emperor wearing clothes! At least we then know what to expect and what to condemn when those expectations are not met.

john frawley | 29 July 2019  

Peter D, while I can well imagine Pope Francis exhorting his fellow bishops to dispense with any trappings of their office and activities that inhibit or obstruct the Gospel, my imagination would baulk at any suggestion of his dismantling the papacy or episcopacy because these institutions are not based on an "ideology" of ecclesiastical hierarchy but rather on a living theological tradition initiated by Christ.

John RD | 29 July 2019  

John’s article has elicited opposing but genuinely and deeply held views of traditional Catholics. My observations of sixty years, however, is that not many Catholics at the grassroots levels, are preoccupied with the importance of the magisterium or clamour for more Canon Law; nor do they yearn for the lovely logic of Thomas Aquinas; nor for the dogmatic teaching of the Church in regard to ‘Humane Vitae’ etc. They want women accepted as equals within the Church and are far more impressed with a lived spirituality than a rigid predilection for doctrine. In a time of Israel Folau, Trump and evangelicals, born-again Christians etc, with their prosperity gospel, fundamentalism becomes one of the major obstacles to reform. Paul Collins believes “the most profound thing lost in fundamentalism and pentecostalism is poetry, the metaphorical, symbolic nature of our experience of transcendence and God.” Concerned Catholics of C-G is focused on “a number of governance, cultural and structural issues” - certainly not changing the essence of the papacy/or episcopal structures but you can see my personal views above[PeterD 25July] and I invite comment on them. CC respectfully promotes reform agendas within the Church and the Synod, as I understand it, seeks such perspectives.

PeterD | 29 July 2019  

PeterD (July 25). Jesus might well have treated women with profound respect but also treated children with equal profound respect, "Let the children [the essence of the kingdom of heaven] come to me". That doesn't mean the Church should ordain children to the priesthood!

john frawley | 30 July 2019  

While reading the online article in The Catholic Weekly: Are we spiritually deprived when women are barred from preaching? I was surprised to read this bit (also) in particular : " We do not teach our children about their faith, but we expect them to imbibe it simply by spending time inside the walls of the Church, or maybe sitting through a few classes run by well-meaning, untrained volunteers"(?). I was surprised, because every year there is a massive Mass held at St Mary's Cathedral, to thank the very many SRL- Catholic Scripture teachers around Sydney. And All SRL volunteers 'are trained'. I remember one volunteer being awarded for teaching SRL for 50 years. She was an amazing women in her 70's or 90's, I can't remember. Re the article itself. Let's not forget it was Mary Madalene, the disciple to the disciples, (a women) the very First to have preached 'the very first christian homily about Jesus Resurrection', The Good News- He commissioned all those who Love Him : John 20: 13-18. He is Alive- He Spoke to me- I saw Him!.. I wonder why He chose her? Tops for sure of All possible homilies, said by any man (or women). https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/simcha-fisher-are-we-spiritually-deprived-when-women-are-barred-from-preaching/

AO | 30 July 2019  

The final report from the Plenary Council phase 1 is now available here: https://plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/FINAL-BOOK-v4-for-digital-viewing-LISTEN-TO-WHAT-THE-SPIRIT-IS-SAYING.pdf. Any further consideration of the future of Roman Catholicism in Australia must now consider the contents of this report. It points to the many and varied concerns of existing Catholics, with many suggestions and perceived solutions to many problems. However, I think one of the big elephants in the room is simply this: Why, if at all, in an increasingly secular Western society such as Australia, would anyone want to be a Catholic let alone a Christian. Michael Furtado in his 28 July post here, mentions Australian social psychologist and researcher, Hugh Mackay. Mackay has undertaken some very fine work on this big question with many concerning results. For example, his book ‘Beyond Belief’ among other writings, lays the reality of all this before us. Many in Australian society simply do not find organised religion of interest. Many younger generations simply do not believe in God. Many might say they are ‘spiritual but not religious’ and so forth. This is no small problem for Catholicism and indeed Christianity in this country. One hopes that the Plenary Council and its outcome will place this reality well close to the top of the list, with appropriate research being funded to get to the truth. Otherwise, our pews will continue to be empty.

Thomas Amory | 30 July 2019  

Engagement with the young , as Thomas Amory notes, is critical for the Church's mission of making Christ known and loved. While many young people i our society may currently be disconnected after baptism and confirmation from participation in the sacraments and parish life, the efforts and potential of Catholic schools should not be underestimated: visitation of the elderly in their homes and local care centres; fundraising for a range of charities; service in shelters for the homeless; collaboration with indigenous communities; assistance of refugees; involvement in works of the St Vincent de PauI Society; Immersion experiences in countries such as India, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Fiji are some opportunities available to students in many primary and secondary schools that encourage a spirit of service and concern for others, providing an experiential basis for Catholic Moral and Social Teaching. Retreats and reflection days provide opportunities for the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharist - defining aspects of a living Catholic faith, spirituality and culture. The classroom, too, provides important scope for exploring and deepening knowledge and a sense of appreciation for the Catholic faith's contribution to science and the humanities, including philosophy and theology, in the later years of schooling. The close collaboration between priests and laity which these activities provide, as well as their educational benefits, can also be an effective antidote to the corrosive clericalism that has been identified as a significant factor on the agenda for ecclesial reform. A happy Founder's feast day to the Jesuits and their fellow workers.

John RD | 30 July 2019  

A Catholic school education is highly valued in Australia but dare I say it, more for the quality of education & social networks than for producing ‘practising’ Catholics. Nevertheless, many students who attend Catholic schools warmly endorse them. In AO’s posting, the focus is on religious education in state schools whereas John RD describes some excellent initiatives in Catholic schools but often taken up only by pockets of students if they are offered on a voluntary basis. Catholic primary school sacramental and liturgical programs engage students but their enduring impact lapses after year 9. Some who participate in the programs described by John RD become youth leaders when they leave school. Even though sexual abuse is not a big winner with youth, the principal enemy is a secular culture permeated by violence, social media, sex and money. But genuine evangelisation and engagement of youth in the Church are critical issues. Best practice programs in state and Catholic schools do engage a minority of students but how to engage and retain larger numbers is a question that many think about.

PeterD | 31 July 2019  

Does anybody know, when Bishops go from the country they live in to Vatican City, who pays for their plane tickets? Like, when the Australian Bishops recently went to Rome?Twenty or so or them a month or so ago. Is the money donated for such events, by wealthy Australian Catholics? Or is the money donations given by parishioners during each Mass? How many people are in need here in Australia? How many are going without heating and food this winter? How many are homeless? How many of those mentioned by Tim Costello on Q@A last Monday night? I think l know why St Francis felt the way he did. I think l know why he would only eat donated pieces of bread he and his followers begged for. He loved Christ and knew Christ. He knew suffering. And the fruit of suffering: True Holiness.

AO | 31 July 2019  

You're right about the ongoing challenge confronting Catholic schooling, Peter D. "The world, the flesh and the devil" in contemporary manifestations are perennials that confront the Church and the Gospel. One rider: where participation in some of the initiatives mentioned is voluntary, (e.g., local and overseas Immersions), the impact is wider throughout the school community by means of awareness and fundraising activities implemented to enable student participation and assist the communities that students and staff connect with. The interest and generosity generated can be quite remarkable.

John RD | 31 July 2019  

In response to Peter D's invitation (30/7), I recommend Gerhard Cardinal Muller's most recent work, The Power of Truth ( San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2019) which addresses clearly and thoroughly some of the issues Peter raises, particularly those concerning ecclesial hierarchy, teaching authority, marriage and Humanae Vitae.

John RD | 01 August 2019  

John RD highly recommends ‘The power of truth’. The author, Cardinal Muller, writes of the Church at a time when enormous trust has been lost; when secular society is permeated by a culture of materialism, aggression, inequality, violence and outrage. Broken-hearted about the sexual abuse that flourished in his pontificate, Benedict XVI identifies the cause as a collapse in Catholic moral theology. Reform for some is a ‘leftist-liberal agenda to desacramentalise the Church’. Muller’s theology envisages eternal damnation to Hell for those who die in mortal sin; rejects divorcees receiving the Eucharist; defends priestly celibacy in terms of ‘self-giving in the service of Christ; bridles about the term ‘clericalism’; excludes women from the diaconate and priesthood; and believes attempts to change ‘Humane Vitae’ are a ‘crime against the Church’. Pope Francis is seeking to pick up the pieces of a broken Church but is undermined by reactionary forces clamouring for the tradition of the Magisterium, Canon Law, dogma and doctrine. Catholics attracted to Muller are generally older people, highly educated about sin and damnation, with an interest in theology. The basic dilemma is the disconnect between this sublime theology and the reality of the lives of contemporary Catholics.

PeterD | 02 August 2019  

Having experienced the process of discernment (the Ignatian model) in my religious congregation on a number of occasions over the years, it gave me hope to read that this would be the way in which the focus groups would 'work'. There is a vast difference between discussion and discernment. There is certainly need for serious training for the participants. I hope adequate time is allowed. May those involved enter with open hearts allowing the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Mary Farelly | 03 August 2019  

For 2020. I propose a new name for a Catholic magazine: 'Searching For Jesus'. So if anything in the articles create division, antagonism, discomposure, distress, agitation, anxiety, desolation, disappointment, discomfort, trepidation, worry, affliction, angst, anguish, concern, dejection disquietude, disturbance... We are forewarned, it is His adversary shining the darkness, deliberately within the pages of the magazine. to make Jesus: The Prince of Peace more Radiant: In every 'Word of His' unmentioned. Just as moments of sublime silence can be heard amongst deafening noises. His Words are 'seen' and 'heard' 'hiding' amongst the valleys of many empty words... By those who see and hear.

AO | 03 August 2019  

Thomas Amory and PeterD raise important questions in relation to the failure on the Church - and the Synod so far - to acknowledge critical questions as to why the young have abandoned the Church on a massive scale. Catholic schools, so long as they refuse to acknowledge their most essential missiological question as to whom they are sent to serve, cannot on their own bridge the gap between an educational provision for those at the pre-adult stage of human development and what it takes to follow the fully human incarnational values that Jesus taught. With less than 50 percent of their catchment Catholic and still fewer faith-observant, Catholic education needs to ditch its undisguised mission to the socially-aspirant middle-classes and radically engage with the poor in educational service-provision. In my Jesuit school, the Society was fundamentally engaged in the evangelisation of the elites, who manifestly betrayed them and rose to serve establishment causes. The widespread jaundice and disengagement of educated women is clearly linked to a refusal to ordain them. Shutting down the Catholic Commission for Justice & Peace and its engagement with policy critique is another. There is no credible Policy Ministry for adult Catholics, Bishops please note!

Michael Furtado | 03 August 2019  

It has suddenly come to me. Why Jesus showed Himself first to Mary Magdalene. And not to Peter or John, and the others after His Resurrection. She must have Loved Him more than the others. And He knew it.

AO | 04 August 2019  

Surely the plenary council will have deeper and more important issues to deal with than sex. Perhaps this cultish obsession with sexual morality over the centuries has been a ploy to avoid talking about more significant spiritual and justice issues facing humanity. I don't expect the Vatican to change its teaching any time soon, but surely the issue is about inclusion. Surely ALL baptised Catholics - even if they are perceived by the church not to be living up to the ideals - should be included in EVERY activity of the church. And on the issue of divorce - the Pope has already stated that it's up to the discretion of priests whether they should give communion to divorcees - and his response is nothing new. In my experience of parish life growing up, spiritually discerning priests have always done the right thing by the traumatised divorcees (usually women) who've escaped abusive marriages.

AURELIUS | 04 August 2019  

No doubt, as Peter D says, trust in the Church is weakened in out times, but more so, I suggest, the understanding and importance of truth, which has been undermined, as recent Popes including Francis have pointed out, by an aggressive scientism that confines truth exculsively to the realm of what is empirically verifiable and utilitarian, encouraging an 'eschatology' related to this world only. I would have thought this, along with the Church's understanding of the role of the Magisterium in relation to scripture and tradition, would be a matter of relevance to all Catholics, irrespective of age or educational status.

John RD | 05 August 2019  

PeterD, I would argue that there's a disconnect between the sublime theology of Muller leads to a disconnect with contemporary Catholics simply because the message of fear and damnation is false..... it's got nothing to do with moral fashions or contemporary trends, as some here are trying to portray. There are many other theological issues that we grapple with, like the biblical portrayal of humans as custodians of creation and the central message of Jesus which showed an option for the poor in spirit and materially. Catholics also grapple with these issues from a spiritual perspective, but in my experience there seems to be a sense of consensus that they are important moral issues that require attention.

AURELIUS | 05 August 2019  

Some useful information about how the church joined the establishment, and how Jesus’ teaching was corrupted by the creation of a church hierarchy: https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/essays-theology/leo-greats-legacy-remains-challenge-church-today

Frank S | 05 August 2019  

Frank S, the article by Richard McBrien to which you refer addresses methods of episcopal election and centralizaton; it does not disprove the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church as deriving from Christ and the Apostles. It's not ecclesial hierarchy per se that is "corrupt", but rather the misuse of it - the latter is the proper object of reform.

John RD | 05 August 2019  

Frank S. Is not all corruption an abuse of something inherently good?

john frawley | 05 August 2019  

Aurelius, the issues you identify are important, but where in Cardinal Muller's theology and spirituality is there evidence of his presenting a message of "fear and damnation"?

John RD | 05 August 2019  

JohnD, you will have to ask PeterD that - or read his post. They were his assumption s about Muller's theology, not mine.

AURELIUS | 06 August 2019  

Thanks for your clarification, Aurelius - as advised, I redirect my question.

John RD | 06 August 2019  

'Fear and damnation' - yes, I stand by my comments. Cardinal Muller: "The eternity of the punishment of hell is a terrible reality," he wrote, and it is the place where the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend.’ Again: “When the believers no longer confess their sins and no longer experience the absolution of their sins, salvation becomes impossible” Again: “divorced and civilly remarried persons, whose sacramental marriage exists before God, as well as those Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Faith and the Church” are “not disposed to receive the Holy Eucharist fruitfully (CCC 1457), because it does not bring them to salvation.” Again: “The eternity of the punishment of hell is a terrible reality, which - according to the testimony of Holy Scripture - attracts all who ‘die in the state of mortal sin’. Again: “Church leaders are “against celibacy” and “the sixth commandment,” and are exploiting the sex abuse crisis to push “their own agenda.” Muller was annoyed the Pope Francis did not renew his five-year term as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith one and one-half years ago.[National Catholic Reporter]

PeterD | 06 August 2019  

"Hell" as understood by Cardinal Muller and the Catholic faith, is the irrecoverable loss of communion with God and the saints - a state so contrary to the purpose of our creation by God that Christ came and laid down his life to enable us to attain salvation in and through him. Cardinal Muller, following Christ, alerts us to the ultimate consequence of sin - indeed a "terrible" one; and, like Christ, does so in the context of the call to and opportunity of repentance, and the joy of reconciliation with God and one another. This is a message of hope, not damnation - the reason why the Easter liturgy's Exultet proclaims boldly in the words of Augustine: "O happy fault . . . "

John RD | 07 August 2019  

Hullo JohnRD, We're challenged to see Christ in every person, invited by the gospel values and called to love of God and neighbour. Anyone acquainted with Catholic Church history, especially in medieval times and in the lead-up to the Reformation, can see a terrible preoccupation with guilt, punishment, fear and sin and I see Cardinal Muller tapping strongly into the excesses of that tradition. I studied at the ACU and taught both in the State and Catholic school system and one thing I am absolutely certain of, after teaching more than 3000 students, is that hell, fear and guilt, denial of salvation for this or that reason…..drives people away from the Church in droves. We need a far more hopeful, and richer theology; not the sad songs nor the rag and bones offered by Cardinal Muller. Incidentally, a number of commentators believe he's actively undermining Pope Francis reform agendas. Furthermore, it is fairly obvious to most people that the rampant sexual abuse sexual abuse that flourished in the Church cries out for reform. Cardinal Muller’s theology repudiates such terms as ‘clericalism’ and has no explanation for priestly abuse; his theology retreats to the worst medieval abuses of the past.

PeterD | 07 August 2019  

Not only that, PeterD; Cardinal Muller is an ardent advocate of homosexual conversion therapy, for which there is no scientific evidence. His writing on such matters has been described as hateful by Time/Life magazine, which reviews the impact of American clerics at the Vatican on a regular basis. He has been involved in the public shaming of a number of senior American clerics who are thought to be homosexually-oriented. The extent of his homophobia is so noticeably severe as to evidently blind his judgment on many related questions, such as the pastoral care of homosexual persons, which is a matter that Pope Francis constantly emphasises. Muller's emphasis on condemnation and judgment constitutes a dehumanising approach, at odds with that of the Pope, and even with those whose attitude to homosexual orientation is neutral or unresolved.

Michael Furtado | 08 August 2019  

Yes John Frawley, Jesus’ teaching was “something inherently good” and has been corrupted by the creation of a hierarchical church.

Frank S | 08 August 2019  

John RD, the article does not need to disprove the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church as deriving from Jesus’ teaching, because that never happened, as per my very first post on this article. The corruption of Jesus’ teaching has resulted in an ecclesial hierarchy. As we have seen from the Royal Commission, the ecclesial hierarchy per se has facilitated abuse that is both unlawful and completely antithetical to Jesus’ teaching. Systemic abuse derives from the system that facilitates it, i.e., the hierarchical nature of the church, which is vulnerable to misuse. Borrowing from the WH&S Act, we improve safety by eliminating hazards. If we cannot eliminate misuse because it is facilitated by the system, we need to change or eliminate the system. That “is the proper object of reform”.

Frank S | 08 August 2019  

Peter D, I'd hope to be included among those who think that "sexual abuse . . . in the Church cries out for reform", but I'm afraid I don't share the confidence in unbiased reporting from unspecfied "commentators" and items in publications like NCR and Time/Life that you and Michael Furtado evidently do. In locating the sources of clerical abuse, Cardinal Muller draws attention to lust, which is overlooked when "clericalism" is identified as the only cause - a common human vice I should not have thought peculiar to medieval experience, and one that requires a very personal remedy. And Frank S, in the same vein, I'd say that systems originate and are sustained by the motives, decisions and actions of individual people - which I where I believe, reform that is not cosmetic should start.

John RD | 08 August 2019  

John RD, the current hierarchical system in the Catholic Church is vulnerable to the motives, decisions and actions of individual people. The evidence shows that people with evil motives have been able to exploit the system. It is unrealistic to hope that such individuals will reform themselves and we fail in our duty of care if we rely on that occurring. The first priority is to change the system to eliminate opportunities for them to harm others. Then yes, we can try to help them to reform themselves, if they are amenable to reform.

Frank S | 11 August 2019  

Frank S, in the Gospels, the primary focus of Jesus' call for metanoia and faith is to people - he is no Zealot, and seems to assume that with attention to ongoing personal conversion whatever else requires reform will follow.

John RD | 11 August 2019  

Yes John RD, Jesus called us all to repentance and spiritual conversion. Jesus did not assume. He challenged us to follow Him in mind and heart. It is clear from their actions that truly following Jesus was and is far from the minds and hearts of the criminals within the Catholic Church. They have successfully infiltrated the church, and this has been facilitated by the hierarchical power structure. We learn repeatedly of the many bishops and archbishops who either themselves have acted criminally, or who have protected those under their control who have acted criminally, in order to protect themselves, their position, or the credibility of the church. Apart from leading to suicides and ruining the lives of the remaining countless survivors (and here Matthew 18:6 and Luke 17:2 are relevant), it is a monumental disgrace and an eternal shame for the church. If a rebirth of the church in the image that Jesus intended, of servant leadership, does not occur, the current structure will continue to facilitate the same criminal behaviour. We cannot continue doing what we have always done and expect a different result.

Frank S. | 12 August 2019  

Frank S, you appear to discount efforts the Pope and bishops are making to ensure that ecclesiastical criminals are held accountable, and to ensure collaboration and consultation between Church members at all levels. I regard recent synodal initiatives neither as merely token, nor as replacements of the Catholic Church's hierarchical structure and magisterial authority founded on scripture and tradition - abolition of the hierarchy is, I believe, more aptly described as revolution than reform.

John RD | 12 August 2019  

John RD, a system that was not deeply and intrinsically flawed would not need a Pope or bishops to mop up the mess; in a reactionary way; that it has created. And many people in the pews are deeply sceptical that the hierarchy is truly committed to reform. The signs are not good that any real change acceptable to Catholics generally will result from the Plenary Council 2020. I suppose we will just have to wait and see. Talk is cheap; I await action. By their fruit you will know them. I reject your claim that the Catholic Church's hierarchical structure is founded on scripture. It is not anywhere mentioned in the Gospels. Church tradition and dogma has developed upon the arrogant assumption that the hierarchy is closer to God than other Catholics, rather than accepting the general sensus fidei. I agree that for the Catholic Church, the abolition of the hierarchy would be revolutionary, but then Jesus’ teaching was revolutionary, otherwise the Jews would not have had him crucified.

Frank S. | 13 August 2019  

Frank S, while the actual word "hierarchy" does not appear in the Gospels, the instituting action or event of Christ appointing Peter and the other apostles to a leadership role is; this recognising the authority of Peter and the other apostles is documented in the Acts of the Apostles, and forms the basis of the Catholic tradition, evident in the writing of the Fathers, that derives from it - thus the Church's hierarchical structure is based on both scripture and tradition. The maintaining of hierarchy is a matter of fidelity to Christ's own mandate for the formation of his own community - though there is no guarantee, as we see in the case of Judas and even Peter before his repenting of his betrayal, that the incumbents will be impeccable.

John RD | 13 August 2019  

John RD, It’s a huge leap assuming leadership requires hierarchy. I reject absolutely that a hierarchy is true to Jesus’ teaching. Mark 9:34 - “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all."” How could that conceivably be translated as promoting a hierarchy: “A system in which members of an organization or society are ranked according to status. synonyms: pecking order, ranking, class system”? By our baptism, we are all called to be leaders (“priests, prophets and kings”), to lead by example, to, as St Francis said, to “preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words”. Clearly Jesus was calling the apostles to lead by example, not to lord it over others (Matthew 20:20-28). We are many parts but one body, each with our own gifts to contribute, none more important than another. (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Once Catholicism became the religion of the state, its system mirrored itself on the same hierarchical nature. The fact that this then became ingrained (what you call “tradition”) does not make it right.

Frank S | 14 August 2019  

John RD Hierarchy - not to be confused with leadership and charisma different disciples possess - is about a pecking order and is the antithesis of being one in Christ.

PeterD | 14 August 2019  

Frank S and Peter D, it's an odd sort of "leadership" that is disconnected from authority - a term that, like "hierarchy", has suffered from abuse, but the use of which is also inevitable in relation to truth.

John RD | 15 August 2019  

John RD, I suggest that you read the article here, since it will explain how leadership can occur in the absence of a hierarchy: https://www.css.org.au/Article-View/Article/23078/Co-responsibility-the-way-forward-for-leadership-in-the-Catholic-Church#.XVY3SBp_WhD The term “Authority” has a meaning not synonymous with hierarchy, apart from its use in relation to political and legal power in broader society. For instance, one can have a PhD in theology and therefore be an “authority” on theology, without being a bishop. No doubt the apostles were seen as authorities on Jesus’ teachings, in that sense.

Frank S | 16 August 2019  

Frank S, "leadership" and "hierarchy" in the Gospels are intrinsically connected, as each is related to the person of Christ who called and commissioned the Apostles, bestowing on Peter and the other eleven his own authority. Visiting speaker Chris Lowney's book "Everybody Leads" stresses "co-responsiblity" and "collaboration", both encouraged by Benedict XVI - but neither is intended to replace the hierarchical structure of the Church as found in Vatican II's "Lumen Gentium." Moreover, Mr Lowney's model of a "social entrepreneurship" that characteristically employs "guerrilla tactics" to destabilise and effect change, as reported in the article to which you refer, is a method that seems at odds with the very ideas of "co-responsibility" and "collaboration" he endorses.

John RD | 19 August 2019  

Transparency is already breached! How can we trust the Catholic Plenary Council 2020-2021 process when the 17,00 plus submissions were not made public as we expected? Submission writers had already the choice not to make their submissions public if they wished! This is unheard of, submissions for all other purposes are made available! So who made this decision not to allow them? That is already exclusion! The silencing continues. This will not allow for the healthy debate that truly needs to happen to allow for change. #CatholicPlenaryCouncil #Plenary2020 . There must be substantial change in our church. If in doubt read :"Walking Towards Thunder" Peter Fox , (the whistleblower and former Detective Chief who investigated meticulously church sexual abuse concerns in NSW and in part beyond. Peter was the catalyst for the Royal Commission ) https://www.booktopia.com.au/walking-towards-thunder-peter-fox/book/9780733642845.html

Georgina Gartland | 07 November 2019  

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