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Lay community key to reforming Catholicism



Content warning: sexual abuse, child abuse.

One of the most extraordinary recent examples of commitment is the loyalty shown by many post-Vatican II Catholics to the church. Despite their steadfast support for the emphases of that Council, these lay Catholics, supported by many priests, are often seen as a 'nuisance' by senior church leaders whose real focus has been protecting their own positions and clericalist ideology. Their commitment has been further tested by the sexual abuse scandals and the abject failure of many bishops in dealing with them.

Getting Back on Mission. Reforming Our Church Together (Garratt Publishing, 2019)The forthcoming Plenary Council (PC) of 2020/2021 will be a further test of the loyalty of these Catholics. How serious are the bishops when they call on Catholics to 'engage in an open and inclusive experience of listening, dialogue and discernment about the future' of Australian Catholicism? Will they really listen to those who have remained loyal to the teachings of Vatican II?

Catholics for Renewal is one of several groups of Vatican II Catholics. It prepared a detailed submission for the PC and has now published that submission as a book, Getting Back on Mission: Reforming Our Church Together (Garratt Publishing, 2019).

Robert Fitzgerald, one of the Royal Commissioners into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, talks in the book about the causes of abuse and says that 'poor governance, inadequate leadership and an unhealthy culture that preferences secrecy and the church's own interests', as well as 'the absence of females and their participation in leadership roles', all contributed to the bishops' abject failure in deal with sexual abuse. Fitzgerald speaks of the hierarchy's 'fear of the non-ordained, especially women', and an 'arrogant assertion ... of the unique privilege of an ordained class'. In other words, clericalism.

Fitzgerald emphasises especially the importance of 'good church governance'. This goes to the heart of Getting Back on Mission. As the title indicates, for too long the church has been 'off mission' in a self-engrossed, self-righteous, clericalist miasma that has led to massive disaffiliation of Catholics, a catastrophic fall in Mass attendance and sacramental practice. People feel alienated from bishops who, in turn, have retreated into their bunkers. To cap it all, faithful Catholics have had to witness the scandal of sexual abuse and the secretiveness of the bishops in dealing with this crisis.

As I know from personal experience, anyone in the past who called attention to these issues was accused at best of exaggeration and at worst of being a 'Judas'. Getting Back on Mission correctly points out that until the church accepts good governance characterised by accountability, transparency, inclusion and a recognition of the equality of women, it will continue its culture of clericalism and secrecy.

At the heart of the argument are the theological principles of the radical equality of all the baptised and the sensus fidelium, the intuitive sense that the faithful have to discern the belief of the church. That is why soon-to-be-saint John Henry Newman challenges the hierarchy to consult the lay faithful 'in matters of doctrine'.


"This conflict has become corrosive and toxic."


The reality is that the pope and bishops don't own the church and don't govern according to some type of Führerprinzip. They are accountable to the whole community. As the First Letter of Peter says: 'But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light'.

Vatican II recovered this communitarian vision of the church in the first two chapters of Lumen gentium, the Council's primary document on the church, and it is to this vision that post-Vatican II Catholics have faithfully adhered. It is many in the hierarchy who have continued to hang onto the absolute monarchy model of church that evolved primarily in the post-Reformation period and that was given its definitive form by Saint Robert Bellarmine in his Controversies against the Protestants and confirmed by the First Vatican Council (1870).

This is the model presented in the third chapter of Lumen gentium. Here the church is seen as a clerical hierarchy under the control of the pope whose primary task is to shepherd the sheep, the laity. In fact, Lumen gentium represents a compromise between the large majority of bishops at Vatican II who espoused the dynamic image of church presented in chapters one and two, and a small minority whose uncompromising emphasis was on the hierarchical model.

Since Vatican II, Catholics have been caught-up in the disjunction between these two models. It's obvious that they are mutually exclusive and they have led to endless conflicts in church life between those who operate out of a hierarchical model and those for whom the priority is community. This conflict has become corrosive and toxic.

Catholicism has to resolve this dichotomy. Unequivocally, the people of God image represented by the first two chapters alone reflects the New Testament's understanding of the church, and this model is normative for us. This is also the key conflict underlying the Plenary Council as it plays itself out in the Australian church.

Getting Back on Mission provides us with an excellent understanding of this disjunction and plots a course to negotiate our way through it. It remains to be seen if the church's leadership has the courage to grasp the challenge that Getting Back on Mission provides.

Getting Back on Mission: Reforming our Church Together (ISBN:9781925009651) will be available in September 2019. Search for it at www.garrattpublishing.com.au


For confidential counselling and support call the blue knot helpline on 1300 657 380 or visit www.blueknot.org.au



Paul CollinsPaul Collins is the author of 15 books, several of which focus on church governance and Australian Catholicism.

Topic tags: Paul Collins, Plenary Council 2020, Catholic Church



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Before, during and after the Reformation there were many great and good Catholics, such as Chaucer and Dante, who saw all the evils of the Church and wanted it changed in order to better fulfil Christ's vision. They failed. Clericalism and inertia seem part of the Church's DNA. How do you really change them? In the Uniting Church women provide a vital role as ministers. I am not sure women in the Catholic Church could not do most of these roles. This would not necessarily mean they became 'priests' in the Catholic tradition. It's a 'new wine' situation. We appear to be getting out the old wineskins in the sense of entrusting the same people, the bishops, with changing 'church culture'.

Edward Fido | 04 September 2019  

Paul Collins sees disjunctive models or a dichotomy between the first two Chapters of Vatican II's Lumen Gentium and the third, despite the fact that Chapter 2 clearly affirms the hierarchical structure treated explicitly in Chapter 3. In LG II, 10, after maintaining the traditional distinction between "the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood", the document states: "The ministerial priest, by the sacred power that he has, forms and rules the priestly people." The 1988 Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici speaks of the the Church as manifesting a "diversity and complementarity" of charisms, ministries, offices and roles; in Chapter 2, the document distinguishes specifically between those pertaining to ministerial priesthood and those pertaining to the lay faithful. As in Lumen Gentium, nowhere does the metaphor of "absolute monarchy" appear - on the contrary, the image of the Church presented is that of "an organic communion" (CL. II 20). It would appear that any notion of an inherent incompatibility between hierarchy and "the People of God" lies in the eye of the reader than in the Church's teaching in these sources.

John RD | 04 September 2019  

Close reading of Vatican II's Lumen Gentium does not support the neat dichotomy and disjunctive models Paul Collins claims exist between the first two chapters and the third in the document. And the later Apostolic Exhortation (1988) by Pope John Paul II, Christifideles Laici, emphasises the communion and organic unity of the Church, specifying the diversity and complementarity of charisms, ministries, offices, and roles in what Lumen Gentium describes as the People of God's "hierarchical society." Given the Plenary Council's effort to realise participatory renewal and reform as conceived and authorised by the Council, why should special pleading on the part of any interest group override its processes?

John RD | 05 September 2019  

The test of the truthfulness of the bishops will be this: will they publish ALL of the submissions which were intended to guide and inform the activities of the planned 2020 Australia-wide Council? The recent Royal commission into Sexual Abuse did precisely that and -- apart from the fact that those documents will be an invaluable resource for future research -- they were a splendid exemplar of the "good-faith" and integrity of that important ad influential Commission. The Catholic Church will fail that basis test if those submissions are not published.

John CARMODY | 05 September 2019  

The earthly view negates possibilities of other dimension of existence. Others, raised with a traditional view, see a transcendental existence as paramount, and “despise” the earthly life. Is it not possible to live in both places, co-substantially? Does each place need to be exclusive of the other? Both positions have their pros and cons. Jesus calmed the seas and forlorn spirits by breathing on them peace and the reassuring words, “Do not be afraid”. The echo from within can create stillness, helping us to gently lean into the storm, accepting its reality. We can appease (the earthly) Caesar with tithes and detached discernment. The Universal Lord only asks us to LOVE. It is the password to His many mansions. Through love we learn to believe; faith promises eternal life - the abiding hope we yearn for!

Roy Fanthome | 05 September 2019  

John RD is at pains to refute Dr Collins's use of the term "absolute monarchy". I remind him of the absurd and medieval notion of a priest's "ontological change". I would also invite him to look at the administrative structure of the Church and the way in which it operates -- either at a parochial, diocese or international level. It's like the old saying, "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then, most likely, it IS a duck". I would, further, draw his attention to the remark by Bishop Thomas Muldoon (of Sydney) which is in my entry on Muldoon in the "Australian Dictionary of Biography" (volume 18, 2012): "A connoisseur of the mediaeval church, Muldoon shared its prelates' sense that they were aristocrats, telling a fellow priest that he was born a few centuries too late: 'I should have been a mediaeval Prince'."

John CARMODY | 05 September 2019  

Paul, you are correct when you say that the bishops see the laity within the church as a nuisance. So who will attend this momentous plenary event? Those who must be called to the Council include: All diocesan Archbishops and Bishops; All auxiliary Bishops; Other titular Bishops who have been given special functions in Australia, either by the Apostolic See or by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference; All Vicars General; All Episcopal Vicars; Some Superiors and Congregational Leaders of religious orders; and Some rectors of seminaries in Australia Those who may be called to the Council include: Lay people; Clergy; Retired Bishops living in Australia at the time of the Council. Now the problem is those who "may" be called have no deliberative vote, only a consultative vote. I think the "musts" have it in the bag and it will be a great opportunity for our esteemed hierarchy to scratch each others backs, show off their impregnable new robes and discuss who has the best summer house in the country.

Francis Armstrong | 05 September 2019  

Thank you Paul Collins for your genuine and insightful comments. As well as the questions of governance, accountability, transparency and inclusiveness referred to by Collins, we need to face the fact that millions of Orthodox, Anglican/Episcopal, Protestant and Evangelical Christians cannot all be theologically lacking. I am an elderly widower with two daughters. The insight, compassion, love, generosity, inclusiveness and spiritual wisdom they display to me "proves" the gifts women can bring to a centuries-old male-dominated community. The absence of such in the Church's governance has caused centuries of grief and exclusion, and even unchristian behaviour and practice. I cannot see how the Church can recover from current difficulties without the most intimate involvement of women in the hierarchy and governance of the Church and the magical experience of love and fatherhood for those called to the priesthood and to teaching Christian truth and belief. Where is mandatory celibacy for those called to the priesthood part of biblical teaching and Christ's injunction to his followers. For a start we might see many more young people choosing priesthood as their chosen role in life.

Christopher Mayor | 05 September 2019  

The church hierarchy are being asked, at the very least, to share their power beyond the current church structure and culture. The Vatican state is structured as a monarchy. Until that model and paradigm changes,then any “modifications and adjustments” will get absorbed into the existing structure and culture. This is called assimilation and can never manifest the teaching that Jesus came among us. Amongstness’ shares power ... Jean Vanier has the right relationship required to engage with life and vulnerability as Jesus taught. May many blessings come to all who engage in life and faith in this way.

Mary Tehan | 05 September 2019  

An insightful and wonderful comment by an informed experienced and respected person. How I long to see and experience the changes which are so clearly needed and have been articulated by so many. Yet resisted by those who should know what rich rewards would flow from letting go and letting God. I am deeply saddened that words and platitudes continue to flow and it seems the attitude that “this will pass” still prevails. Thank you Paul for keeping the light burning.

David | 05 September 2019  

Many would have us believe that the Church’s failings of the last 50 years are not the fault of the current generation, but are the result of teachings that have sustained the Church for 2000 years. The 18th century aphorist G.C. Lichtenberg once contemplated, “Nowadays we everywhere seek to propagate wisdom: who knows whether in a couple of centuries there may not exist universities for restoring the old ignorance.” Today, Western universities everywhere are shutting down free speech, and educational standards continue to decline even with ever more money being pumped into them. It is therefore not surprising to hear that a London school for poor and disadvantaged kids, Michaela, that turned the clock back 50 years and rejected all of the accepted “wisdoms” of the 21st century, has just posted results that are four times better than all other schools, either government or private. Nor is it surprising that the school’s founder Katherine Birbalsingh, had to open up her own school five years ago after she lost her job at a government-run school because she criticised accepted “wisdom”. G.C. Lichtenberg might be mortified to find out that he was a prophet.

Ross Howard | 05 September 2019  

Paul, I completely agree with your analysis of the state of the Church in Australia today. I have been involved in the Plenary Council deliberations since the first discernment .I noted with some misgivings the comments of Archbishop Christopher Prowse in the "Catholic Voice". I gained the impression that he believes there is a risk of the Council "going off the rails" if some views held by laypeople are given too much empathises . However this seems to be the typical conservative response by the Hierarchy. I fear we will have a scenario where contrasting views will be reflected in the outcome, as was the case with Lumen gentium. So far at my parish level there has been no response from our clergy , certainly no guidance has been forthcoming as yet. I look forward to reading "Getting Back on Mission" when it become available. I have already ordered a copy!

Gavin O'Brien | 06 September 2019  

Thanks Paul Collins for the heads-up about the new book. I share the general scepticism in the comments that the hierarchy will actually listen to the sense of the faithful at the Plenary Council. I suspect the challenge will be too much for them, and that they will retreat to where they feel comfortable: maintaining the status quo that protects their power and control. They can so easily choose to listen to only the views of those who seem to place more importance on the accretions of 20 centuries rather than to focus on the teachings of the Gospels. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus clearly taught that love takes precedence over ritual. Yet we as a church are chained to the interpretations and rituals of a few men who have arrogantly assumed that they are closer to God than the rest of us.

Frank S | 06 September 2019  

John Carmody, the unfortunate cover illustration chosen for "Getting Back on Mission: Reforming Our Church Together" hardly inspires confidence in its authors' claims to inclusiveness in the reformed ecclesiology they propose - unless my eyes deceive me, not a male or a child in sight. And I doubt that the bishops who have initiated and encouraged participation in the Plenary Council share or exhibit the anachronistic royalist pretensions anecdotally alleged of the late Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Sydney.

John RD | 06 September 2019  

The heirarchy of the Catholic Church has demonstrated in the clerical abuse scandal that it is beyond salvation. It has lost all moral authority. Those who want to try to reform the church need to start by abolishing the Papacy, then they can move on to the status of "priesthood", the role of women, and then tackle what Yeshua was really about.

Lee Boldeman | 06 September 2019  

Thank you Paul - everything you have said resonates with my experience. I am surprised that, as I write this, there is only one comment from a female. Women, where are you? Where is your voice? What is keeping you from uttering what we women have experienced and suffered for too long?

Elizabeth B | 07 September 2019  

Paul Collins's emphasis on clerical accountability provides the key to the success off Church reform. All subsequent issues pale in significance or rest for their success on this matter. After Vatican II we had enthusiastic members joining Parish Councils. The overwhelming majority soon realised that all decisions were made by the Parish Priest. Then they drifted back to the pews. If the forthcoming Plenary Council is a charade, this time they will exit by the front door! Only one thing is necessary to offset this disaster: the laity at all levels must have an elected competent member whose responsibility it is to provide the second signature on all cheques, so that all parishioners will know where all income comes from and where it all goes. In my Master's research (UWA, 1987) I found that while the Government does not believe in Original Sin and without any profession of faith it requires two signatures on all financial accountabilities. The Church professes but doesn't believe in Original Sin as each PP and Bishop only require one signature on all cheques. Once that power goes so will all clericalism go in one fell swoop. All PPs will become compulsorily accountable, as will Bishops!

Michael Furtado | 07 September 2019  

In the self-same research (UWA, 1987), undertaken to emphasise the purpose and rationale for setting up Catholic Education Commissions, it became abundantly clear that Catholic schools, far from being consultative, were hitherto prone to exhibiting archaic practices that depended in the final resort upon the decisions of one person, and if that was the Principal, their authority descended from the Priest/Priests/Brothers/Nuns, who, in the end, while espousing their independence, were reliant on the approval of the Bishop. This authority did not just extend to the teaching of religious education but to all aspects of the performance of Catholic schools, since the informal (or hidden) curriculum was emphatically claimed to be as importantly influential as everything else in the school. It requires no great leap of the imagination to call the Church a monarchy, although my research found it to be a series of fiefdoms owing allegiance to a structure with the papacy at its apex. My examiners implicitly agreed that Thomas Keneally got it right when he identified the character of Dr Costello in the novel, Three Cheers for the Paraclete (1968), as Bishop Muldoon, whose power at the time extended to controlling the external finances of Australia's Catholic Church.

Michael Furtado | 07 September 2019  

I wonder if there's a "careful what you wish for" issue here. If we had a more democratic church, what faction would have the numbers? The Anglican communion is more democratic, and the Nigerians and evangelicals heading for demographic victory are not everyone's choice. Closer to home, would the younger generations of the Australian Catholic Church vote the way that "Vatican II Catholics" of the older generation hope? I don't know; I'd just suggest some research first.

James Franklin | 07 September 2019  

When discussing the need for reform in the Catholic Church, you need to differentiate between the manmade bureaucratic system, which reached its apogee in Renaissance times and those essential Christian truths which were elucidated very early in church history at the Seven Great Ecumenical Councils, which are accepted by both the Catholic Church and her eastern sister, Orthodoxy. An organisation and some discipline are necessary for the Church to survive in the world. Where you have a breakdown of both traditional Christian belief, as in some provinces of the Anglican Communion, as well as a refusal to accept even a modicum of discipline, you have a Church in crisis and effective schism. The problem with the Catholic Church in this country is that its ecclesiastical administrators have inherited the mindset of the early Irish bishops, who took the same approach to their flock as the Ascendancy took to Irish people: that of the unmitigated and unresponsive paternalism of the "Don't argue with me I am your boss" sort. This mindset and the associated approach need to change. The bishops need to take their lead from Pope Francis. Will they? We need to pray extremely hard and also make our feelings about their performance clear. Blind subservience is out. It's not Christian. Look at Mary McKillop! Follow her example.

Edward Fido | 09 September 2019  

The research investigations, mainly from accredited universities in Europe and North America, are based on long-time observations of clerical life. These record that after the youthful enthusiasm of ordinands has slowed, the realisation that the system has duped them dawns in particular regard to the fact that they have been deprived of relationships and children. It invariably follows that it is only in the power of money and sex that they seek consolation for what is for most of them a sad and lonely life. While at first they were almost all motivated by love and the desire to serve and better the lives of others, clerical culture kicked in with its consolations of power and control and, in the process, has gutted the priesthood. Here's a university-based summation of global empirical research into why our Church and so many of our priests have been involved in systemic child abuse, indelibly linking such a scourge with issues of power abuse and control. "Research on Catholic Priests in the US Since the Council: Modelling the Dialogue between Theology and Social Science" by Bryan T. Froehle (U.S. Catholic Historian), Vol. 29, No. 4, 'Priests in the Catholic Community' (Fall 2011), pp. 19-46.

Michael Furtado | 09 September 2019  

The desired face for tomorrow’s Catholic Church seems to be today’s face for the US Episcopal Church. Thanks but no thanks.

roy chen yee | 09 September 2019  

Thank you, Paul Collins. Your piece lifts the heart. As an early baby boomer and now septuagenarian, I was brought up and took seriously the dominant shibboleth that "the Church is not a democracy" - up to the point that sticking to the old party line became patently dissonant with using the brain God had granted me. The older I became, the more I lost patience with all of the self-serving cant (at best genuinely held, at worst hiding the unspeakable). It's thanks to Vatican II - and the humanity of those parish priests who took it up authentically - that my restiveness found some affirmation and turned to something more peaceful. I am struck by the clash between the notion that "Christ is King" and the notion that the Church is a fiefdom with the laity its serfs. From prehistory, kingship has entailed the sacrifice of the King for the people, if need be. A dictator, be he ensconced in the Vatican of in the secular sphere, feels and exercises no such obligation. Francis gives one hope that the papacy may keep on rediscovering its role as faithful herald and never again revert to that of predatory Renaissance condottiere.

Fred Green | 09 September 2019  

Michael Furtado's post on this thread of 9th September 2019 is most illuminating. I think it is secular clergy in particular - those priests not members of a religious order with the support a community can bring - who are most likely to lose their zest for religious life. One of the things which can indeed be done is to change the Canon Law of the Latin Rite (Western Church) to allow clergy to marry, as do their Eastern Rite equivalents. Priest's wives in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church; the Maronite Church and the Melkite Church can provide an emotional fulfillment and anchor in normal life, as can children. Married life is regarded as more normal by most Catholics in the West these days than the bogus "celibacy" of so many bishops and clerics. Celibacy has only been a regulation, never a matter of doctrine but is a real hot potato issue for a number of reasons. It would mean priests would have to be paid a decent wage for one thing. This item will not, of course be on the agenda for the forthcoming Plenary Council. It would not get much time at the pre PC sessions locally either.

Edward Fido | 11 September 2019  

How do supporters the idea that "lay community is the key to reforming Catholicism" propose to achieve the unity which this objective presupposes? The Amazon synodal process, initially heralded as a prototype for reform not only in Brazil but for the whole Church, appears to be generating ecclesial division rather than consensus on goals and methods among clergy and laity.

John RD | 12 September 2019  

An important question, John; and there is a way ahead, were we to truly listen. Firstly, it would require the President of the ACBC to rescind his statement that, presupposing some Plenary Council recommendations (such as female ordination and homosexual marriage) he would deem it pointless to take such outcomes to Rome in view of the certainty that they would be knocked-back. Edward too bleakly assesses the unfeasibility of the Council's notionally impossible claims. However, in both your instance and his, the intervention of the Holy Spirit seems to be locked out of the equation. Secondly, without the divisiveness that John rightly fears as derailing the work of the Plenary Council, all that the People of God would have left to them would be iteration of established theological and pastoral positions and no chance of a way ahead, as bleak as this may currently seem. What, in that event, would be the purpose of calling a Plenary Council at a time when the Church is engulfed in crisis and positions and, indeed, divisions, are already as polarised as ever? And finally, we Christians are nothing if not quintessentially missiological. We are called to enter into mission and not to maintain!

Michael Furtado | 16 September 2019  

Michael Furtado. How do we know what side of the debate the Holy Spirit favours? What if the HS is listening to the established Church rather than the reformers? I suspect that when its all done and dusted those whose position is not upheld will not accept that the HS was on the opposite side!

john frawley | 17 September 2019  

Both the President of the ACBC and the Pope derive their authority from the Apostolic tradition initiated by Christ and historically sustained by his Holy Spirit. Popes up to and including Francis, and bishops in communion with them, have consistently upheld Catholic teaching on issues such as male priesthood and heterosexual marriage. Appeals to a vague pneumatology have never been a determinant of specific teaching on matters germane to Catholic ecclesial and sacramental identity, which are directly related to the unity desired by Christ and the evangelising mission of his Church.

John RD | 17 September 2019  

I am not unaware of the Holy Spirit or the way it works, Michael, but I think one has to be wary of thinking one can call it down at will, especially to an event one expects much of, such as the forthcoming Plenary Council. This would be to presume on God's Grace. I regard the forthcoming PC as a bit like the Act of Free Choice: that farce whereby Irian Jaya was incorporated into Indonesia. John RD, as usual, makes a very good point. The Catholic Church is not a parliamentary democracy, indeed, for many reasons, including the preservation of Essential Christian Truth, it can't be. However, I see no reason why, in its day to day administrative functions, it can't be less uptight and autocratic. I am not discussing doctrine here, but the living, breathing life of the Church in parish life. There is always Grace and Grace Abundant within the Church and outstanding bishops and clergy, but I think they are often stifled, ignored or cast aside. I look at the exemplary Father Bob Maguire in South Melbourne and the way he was retired. This is the Church as bureaucracy at its worst. The late Metropolitan Anthony Bloom said that Jesus came not to found an institution but to change the world. The institution should be a vehicle of change, not an end in itself. 'Will these bones live...'

Edward Fido | 17 September 2019  

It seems to me from Plenary Council sessions so far, despite serious differences among participants in some instances, already positive signs are emerging: for example, false, non-theological hopes raised by reform mantras such as "The genie is out of the bottle, and anything is possible" are being exposed and in the process - which includes shared prayer based on sacred Scripture - a deeper recognition that the Church is not "born of the flesh and of the will of man" is emerging. This, I believe, is good for participants in the here-and-now, and augurs well for the future.

John RD | 17 September 2019  

You are quite right, John RD. The Plenary Council cannot and will not be an agent for doctrinal change. The eternal truths of doctrine were agreed upon long ago in the Ecumenical Councils. Roy's nightmare, that the Catholic Church will become like ECUSA is just that. I think the real problem in Australia is that many people mix doctrine up with everyday administrative practice. There are few bishops in this country who are as theologically astute as the late Cardinal Roger Etchegaray or Cardinal Charles Caput. Oh, they have qualifications, but... It is a pity the late Archbishop Justin Symonds succeeded Mannix so late in life when he was so ill. He would've been marvellous. Likewise it is a pity the late Bishop Joseph Grech of Sandhurst (Bendigo) died so young. We need more like him! Julian Porteous of Hobart is, I think, someone who could do things. 'It is better to light one candle...' We need candles among bishops and clergy. People like Pope Francis.

Edward Fido | 18 September 2019  

I think the metaphor of a lit candle is very appropriate for our current circumstances, Edward, resonating as it does with the Paschal candle and the rich symbolism of light in the Fourth Gospel, particularly in its Prologue:"The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."(1:v). Since union with Christ is the source and sustenance of mission, part of the problem in contemporary theology as I see it is the reduction of the person of Christ to human stature only, ignoring if not outrightly denying his divinity. This Arian theologising facilitates an effective 'flattening' of ecclesiology and eschatology to exclusively social and political ends, and the substitution of their immanent goals and methods for theology founded on divine revelation as expressed in the person of Christ and the Old and New Testaments that bear witness to him - without reference to transcendence, its eternal scope and the truths it conveys for our pilgrimage here and now. This diminution in theology has been aided philosophically, I suggest, by an Hegelian and Marxist-inspired historicism - issues arising today in the process of the Amazonian Synod. Pope Francis's call for discernment is very timely.

John RD | 19 September 2019  

One of the problems with contemporary theology - I'm talking about Theology as taught at various tertiary institutions such as Union Theological Seminary, Cambridge University et sim John RD - is that it seems to me to have lost touch with the numinous and the mystical. Certain essential Christian beliefs decided upon by divine inspiration at the First Seven Ecumenical Councils and generally held by most major Christian denominations till the 1950s have, basically, been thrown overboard. You get the situation of someone like Don Cupitt, a former Anglican cleric and teacher at Cambridge, gradually moving away from conventional Christian belief till he now describes himself as a 'Christian non-realist'. Cupitt has many supporters and the Sea of Faith network he inspired attracted and attracts many highly intelligent, educated and ethical people: the sort of people one would love to see in the Catholic Church because they are thinkers and doers and not blind followers. The contemporary Catholic Church in this country does not, in general, attract these people because of its stilted and rigid leadership, which seems to punish those such as Bob Maguire, who are perfectly orthodox theologically, but who strike out from the herd and take religion to the coal face. We might look to John Dew, the current Cardinal in NZ, for a more effective contemporary 'sell' on Christianity. He has, for instance, suggested we abandon the 'Father' moniker because it is seen as elitist and separative and elevates and divides priests from their flock. He is, like Bob Maguire, perfectly orthodox, but aware the 'new wine' needs new wineskins. Pope Francis is like this. Our leaders need to break down the artificial barriers which prevent so many people who wish to encounter 'the real Jesus' from seeing you can meet him in the Catholic Eucharist and take this into life with Catholic Social Services. What a real opportunity this is!

Edward Fido | 21 September 2019  

Further to Edward's points (21/9), affluence and the sense of self-sufficiency it engenders are, as Sunday's gospel reading affirms - "You cannot serve God and Mammon" - radical stumbling blocks to faith and the affirmations about Christ it gives rise to in doctrine. it seems that direct involvement in situations that take we who live in western countries out of the world of our materially anaesthetised securities is necessary for disposing us to appreciate what God offers and gives in the person of Jesus and the "reign of God" he has initiated as the transforming principle and reality of people's lives and history. Hence, I suggest, the repeated insistence by recent popes on a "preferential option for the poor." We do not have to be dedicated celibates under vows to be involved: every parish, as Edward suggests, provides opportunities to do this.

John RD | 22 September 2019  

John RD is quite correct: Jesus always empathized with the poor and the outcast of his society, hence parables such as that of Dives (the rich man) and Lazarus. What Jesus was on about, put very simply, is that, if you were wealthy, whether by inheritance or effort, everything you had was a gift from God and you were his steward. Riotous, overindulgent living of the 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous' style was, to put it simply, not on. Using your wealth to assist the poor might assist you to obtain Heaven. This is quite the reverse of 'Prosperity Theology': you have to earn Heaven and Jesus always said that was darn hard. Mere ritual religious observance without good works was useless. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, who will, one day, I believe be declared an Orthodox saint by one of the Russian jurisdictions, whilst working in London, led a most abstemious life. He is the sort of 'living icon' we need to see embody Christ in this world. Pope Francis is like this, as his previous life as Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires and his current stay in the Vatican guest house prove. This is the sort of ecclesiastical leader we need.

Edward Fido | 22 September 2019  

Reading through the above exchanges, one might be forgiven for believing a number of assertions made in them to reflect the unalloyed truth. Archbishop Chaput, who officiated in the dismissal of Bishop Bill Morris of Toowoomba (without ever interviewing him when he came to Toowoomba), was conspicuously not rewarded with the red hat, despite Chaput having been promoted by Pope Benedict to the cardinalatial see of Philadelphia. This places Pope Francis at odds with both of his immediate predecessors. Indeed, the attempts of some revisionistas here to use theology as a means of rewriting history in order to press their point about continuity, consistency and unbudging opposition to Plenary Council change is as expected. Watching ABC Compass interviewing Archbishop Coleridge for next week's edition of its program, the President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference was quoted as saying that he has told Pope Francis that the Plenary Council will be a "do or die situation". With one thing I will agree: the Holy Spirit will certainly have Her work cut out for Her!

Michael Furtado | 22 September 2019  

I don't see how the President of the ACBC's remark on the Plenary Council can be construed - as Michael Furtado (23/9) evidently does - as a green light for radical discontinuity with teachings and practices (e.g. ecclesial hierarchy and marriage) characteristic of the Catholic Church's tradition and held in continuity by popes and councils up to the present. Moreover, Archbishop Chaput's not receiving a "red hat" from Pope Francis for his part in "the dismissal of Bishop Bill Morris of Toowoomba" seems thin grounds, to say the least, to be taken as evidence of a discontinuity between Francis and his papal predecessors on the Church's definitive teachings and practices and what they consider to be within the bounds of possibility concerning ecclesial change, albeit initiated by means of Plenary Councils or Synods.

John RD | 24 September 2019  

I make no such categorical and unilateral claim, John RD. However your covert privileging of the magisterium over the Sensum Fidei hides quite another reality. The International Theological Commission published the document “Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church” on the Vatican website in June 2014 with the approval of Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As to Archbishop Coleridge's view on continuity/discontinuity: a senior theologian in his (and my) archdiocese, Fr Ormond Rush, is the author of a theological treatise, 'Plenary Council Participation and Reception: Synodality and Discerning the Sensus Fidelium', which highlights the importance of the Sensum, both in terms of the history of the Church, as well as an article of Faith. In essence what Dr Rush says is that if an article of faith is seen and known, both widely and universally, to not enjoy the support of the faithful it ceases to become an aspect of the belief system of the Church, conditional upon its membership. Of course, majority decisions do not ordain the Sensum Fidei, but where Church teaching is seen to be manifestly at odds with the lived behaviour of Catholics, their discernment certainly counts.

Michael Furtado | 30 September 2019  

Michael Furtado, the very document to which you refer recognises that the "lived" behaviour of Catholics - what Aquinas calls "the habitus of faith" - includes participation in the Church's liturgy, especially the Eucharist (75) as a condition of the "sensus fidei fidelium" and expression of it. This would suggest - undemocratic as it may sound - that those who do not participate in the Eucharist define their representation as nominal only, and their contribution to and qualification for reform of Church teaching and practice as questionable, or far from "authentic". The same document, citing Newman, also makes very clear the roles of and relationship between the magisterium and the "sensus fidei fidelium." (77).

John RD | 01 October 2019  

excellent - thank you

ANDREW LUKAS | 04 October 2019  

Quelle horreur, John RD! And would that be the same John Henry Cardinal Newman, who went on the public record as expressing his misgivings about the dogma on Papal Infallibility, I wonder? Again, I iterate that the issue here is not about majority decision-making (which presumably gave us the above dogma) and which triggers such vigilance and anxiety about privileging the Magisterium, but the same Sensum Fidei which has prompted Pope Francis to adjure all episcopal conferences to relax the prohibition against reception of the Eucharist that has historically been applied to divorcees. The issue here is not about shaping faith to our democratic needs but to recognise that with the tragedy of marriage breakdown now affecting over 50 per cent of Catholic marriages, something must be done to satisfy our hunger, as repentant sinners, for reception of the Sacrament. "Who are we to judge?", says the Pope, despite your clamour to disagree with him!

Michael Furtado | 08 October 2019  

it is also the same Newman, Michael Furtado, who, after the decree on papal infallibility was promulgated, parted ways with Lord Acton and Dollinger on the role and status of of historical evidence in dogmatic articulation (see "Letter to the Dike of Norfolk", VIII, 2).

John RD | 13 October 2019