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Factions and ginger groups within the church

  • 10 September 2020
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in the middle of his troubles within the Liberal Party, told the NSW State conference of his party that there were no factions among the Liberals.

Knowing full well of the conservative-moderate split within the party and of the fractious relationship within the party between Turnbull and Tony Abbott, the Liberal Party delegates fell about laughing. The laughter was derisory. Facts can’t be papered over by sweet talk.  

The same is true of the church in Australia today. This fact of life must be spoken about openly in the lead up to the Plenary Council assemblies. What is happening at the moment is that certain bishops are condemning members of the church renewal movement as pressure groups pushing an agenda, while ignoring the well-known fact that groups with other agendas are widespread within the church. Condemnation of the renewal movement is a clear attempt to shut down legitimate engagement and debate from some quarters while allowing jockeying, factional politics and agenda-pushing by other conservative groups, including certain bishops, certain Catholic media and other groups embedded in the hierarchical structure of the church.  

My impression is that bishops prefer to deal with individuals. Catholics who organise themselves independently of official church structures to advance church renewal are frequently treated with suspicion by the hierarchy.  

Trying to shut down the renewal movement is not the work of the Holy Spirit. If it continues it will make for a very lop-sided Plenary Council. No amount of prayer and discernment will overcome a stacked assembly.  

The renewal movement is large and growing numerically and in regional diversity. It has engaged with the Plenary Council through submissions and public discussions from the very beginning. It has also tried, collectively and individually, to engage with bishops and other church leaders.


'Catholics at an individual level must strive to voice disagreement while treating each other respectfully and with an equal right to be heard, whatever their official status.'  

Sometimes that engagement has been reciprocated. For instance, in September 2018, after the Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (ACCCR) sought a meeting with the Permanent Committee of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) it was granted one by the President of the ACBC, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, accompanied by Lana Turvey-Collins of the PC2020 Facilitation Team. Of the four member ACCCR delegation the three interstate members flew to Melbourne at their own expense for what turned out