Media matters for the good of the Church



The Christian faithful have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful. (Canon 212 §3)


Eureka Street columnist John Warhurst suggests Australian bishops prefer to deal with individuals rather than Catholics who organise themselves independently of official church structures. An increasing number of Catholics have low expectations that significant reform will be adopted at the Plenary Council in 2021.

Screenshot of Eureka Street homepage

Issues such as inclusion and the role of women were prominent in the original 17,457 Plenary Council submissions but have been obscured in the discernment papers. The selection of diocesan delegates has been opaque, and most tellingly only bishops have a deliberative vote. Following a dark period of sexual abuse in the Church, coupled with declining Church membership since the 1950s, there is clearly a case for urgent reform. Only 8 per cent to 10 per cent of those who identify as Catholics are regular mass attenders; and almost a third of these are aged between 60 and 74. The Catholic Church in Australia is in crisis.

A number of bishops have already expressed public views critiquing reform agendas in ‘The Catholic Weekly’. Bishop Umbers, for instance, is concerned about ‘the effects (or grumblings) of mere sociological change.’ Archbishop Porteous has noted the creeping clericalisation of the laity, and the blurring of ecclesial borders.

Author Gideon Goosen estimates the percentage of those involved in reform groups in Australia is 5 per cent or less. Given the passivity of the laity, his view is that reform proponents should seek to engage the 40 to 45 per cent who might change their thinking.

What forums or media, with sufficient audience reach and influence, facilitate respectful discussion of change in the Catholic Church?


'Concerned Catholics are establishing networks across Australian dioceses, gathering membership momentum and proposing a vision for the Church of the future in Australia. Their dilemma, in a media or communication sense, is that they are unable to engage with Catholics leaving the Church.'


An examination of The Plenary Council site indicates enormous effort and professionalism by the Facilitation Team in Phase 1 (Listening and Dialogue), Phase 2 (Listening and Discernment) and Towards Assembly 1 which incorporates the development of the six thematic discernment papers as well as the selection of delegates. More than 222,000 participated in the Phase 1 face-to-face discussions.

This consultation phase was remarkable, so perhaps it seems churlish to question its integrity. At least six Eureka Street articles on the Plenary Council chronicle growing concerns in the Plenary Council journey with John Warhurst warning against a disastrous scenario ‘if the Plenary Council became a cloistered, quasi-monastic affair hidden behind closed doors’. 

Increasing pessimism about the likelihood of PC reform outcomes is more evident in papers on the Pearls and Irritations site. Des Cahill and Peter Wilkinson ask whether there is any Australian bishop who possesses ‘the courage and leadership to speak publicly’ about the Holy See’s response to the Royal Commission; David Timbs notes the conviction of some Catholics that ‘bishops, with some exceptions, are playing games with them in the lead up to the national Plenary Council’; Francis Sullivan is weary of the assertion that the ‘Church is not a democracy and participation by the baptised is conditional within a hierarchical and demonstrably dysfunctional structure.’

A media release from the Australian Coalition for Catholic Church Reform reported that participants representing seventeen reform groups in Australia and New Zealand met virtually on 24 May to discuss the way ahead for Church decision making. Websites such as Australian Reforming Catholics, Concerned Catholics of Canberra Goulburn, Sense of the Faithful and Catholics for Renewal illustrate that groups of Catholics are organising themselves independently of official church structures. It is difficult to identify diocesan publications with episcopal or clerical oversight that advocate church reform.

Established as a publication of the Jesuits in 1991, Eureka Street archives chronicle many of the media dilemmas of a publication with Catholic links. While independence of thinking and an intellectual apostolate have long been associated with the Jesuit ministry, commenter Roy Chen Yee argues that Eureka Street is a religious blog with a different character and definitional significance from more secular forums such as Pearls and Irritations. Like many Catholic forums, Eureka Street attracts older conservative voices comfortable with scholarly, theological perspectives and they can pervade discussions.  

Concerned Catholics are establishing networks across Australian dioceses, gathering membership momentum and proposing a vision for the Church of the future in Australia. Their dilemma, in a media or communication sense, is that they are unable to engage with Catholics leaving the Church. Generally disaffected Catholics are not clamouring for more doctrine, Canon Law, the Magisterium or the Catechism as they depart but they do yearn for an authentic Church and spirituality that closely reflects Jesus of the gospels.



Peter DonnanPeter is interested in how Catholic media can support reform agendas in the Church.

Main image: Screenshot of Eureka Street homepage

Topic tags: Peter Donnan, church renewal, catholic church, media, plenary council, PC, Pearls and Irritations



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Existing comments

The Christian's engagement with media is especially fraught. It's a delicate balancing act but an act we need to participate in with enthusiasm and energy. Engaging with forums like Eureka Street is wonderful, even if we are categorised! I would hope for more engagement with secular media. We have our story to tell, how our lives have been enriched and stretched and we should take every opportunity to share. Disaffected Catholics read newspapers and magazines.
Pam | 19 November 2020

I cannot recall any instance where an official Catholic news outlet has published any media release of any Catholic renewal group, and certainly not the informed and considered media releases of the Australasian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform - now comprising 19 separate renewal groups and growing. This is not surprising given that it is rare for bishops to bother responding to Catholic groups daring to suggest that our Church needs to get back on mission. As the Plenary Council approaches, it would be a sign of a genuine commitment to renewal if official Catholic news outlets encouraged open discussion of the need for renewal; regrettably it is rare for Catholic publications to publish letters to the editor unless of a fawning nature.
Peter Johnstone | 19 November 2020

We don't mind the "conservative voices with scholarly perspectives", as long as there are plenty of progressive voices to address the issues, rather than brush them away like the former group. What puzzles me is that there are several wonderful reform groups around the country - but not one (except the possibly moribund ARC?) that emanate from Sydney. Where art thou, Sydney reformers? All in the thrall of our arch conservative Archbishop?
Patrick Mahony | 20 November 2020

“closely reflects Jesus of the gospels” who never appointed a woman as an apostle. Was it because the Saviour had no sense of the iconic? But, Trump (no Saviour he) would have appointed a black woman to the Supreme Court if he could have found one with the suitable judicial philosophy: “I wondered for a moment if Trump, cravenly looking to make history for his own gain, would consider a Black female jurist. The problem is, there are very few Black female Republicans, or conservative judges. “: : Following the example of Jesus, John Paul II stated that he had no authority to admit women to the priesthood. If you want to follow Jesus' contrarian example of eating with sinners, be consistent and follow also his non-derivative example of not admitting women to the priesthood. Or, if you wish to be featured in the Catholic press, address that point head-on.
roy chen yee | 20 November 2020

Isn't it true that all attempts at renewal are beholden to the idea that the Church is arbiter? But what if it would not be? If a sincere group of Christ-loving people wanted to express their ideas of living with love, joy and freedom, why do they still allow themselves to be inhibited by what the Fathers of the Church think and decide, as if we were kiddies who can't think for ourselves? As if Jesus would disapprove of a more loving expression of faith than the Church is clearly lacking in. The early Christian movement was not a huge central church but consisted of groups of people who had organised themselves to follow the teachings of Jesus.
Carla van Raay | 20 November 2020

"Concerned Catholics....... Their dilemma, in a media or communication sense, is that they are unable to engage with Catholics leaving the Church." ..... Of the four groups with links to web sites ( Australian Reforming Catholics, Concerned Catholics of Canberra Goulburn, Sense of the Faithful and Catholics for Renewal) only 1 has a FaceBook page and it is hopelessly out of date. ...... There are busy (international) spaces on fb where those who identify as Catholic, whether they grace the pews or not, engage in lively discussion about Church matters, particularly but not exclusively about renewal, dismantling clericalism, and making space for women in the groups to which I belong. ..... Web pages are all well and good but are difficult to find. If you want to reach and engage with people, then it has to be social media. If you write "catholic" in a post on FB you are guaranteed to see, unbidden, hundreds of different organisations' posts, of varying interest, authenticity, respect for different opinions, etc. But at least you can take your chances that you will pick up people who no longer have formal ties to the Church but have definitely not lost their faith, far from it.
MargaretMC | 20 November 2020

Carla: Very early in their history the Christian communities that had spread throughout the imperial world turned to the See of Rome - where the apostles Peter and Paul led, ministered and were martyred - for advice and direction, a tradition characteristic of the Catholic Church - but not, obviously, of those who chose to separate themselves from it.
John RD | 21 November 2020

Christ's call to conversion, of its nature, draws individuals into community, and diverse outlooks into common belief. "Reform" as many members of reformist groups intend it, means changing of defining teachings and practices of the Catholic Church and imitation of post-Reformation practices such as an ordained female priesthood and re-definition of marriage. It is not possible, except in postmodern 'logic', for the Church of Rome to be at once herself and a Hydra. The weakness of reformist groups like the ones often referred to and promoted in ES is their lack of a coherent ecclesiology and an over-emphasis on structural change in a way that suggests ecclesial reform is predominantly a political exercise.
John RD | 21 November 2020

I would like to inform Patrick Mahony that Australian Reforming Catholics (ARC) is far from "moribund". Where is his evidence for this? ARC is very active in seeking Catholic Church reform and publishes a quarterly newsletter that goes out to its hundreds of members and every Catholic bishop. We were banned from Church property twice by the other arch conservative, Cardinal Pell, just because he thought we would express "progressive views". Perhaps you would like to join us Patrick if you are concerned that not enough is being done to deal with the very much needed reform.
John Buggy | 21 November 2020

Hello Peter: Thank you for the media reflections. But, are you sure you are not missing something? Is it really as media problem? Catholic schools educate about fifteen percent of the population yet most young people have nothing to do with the church within about a year of finishing. Maybe it’s the message? Could it not be that the over ninety precent who have “left the church” are the true “reform” movement? I joined the Exodus back in the early 70’s and apart from weddings and funerals of friends and extended family have not been in a church since. Back then, according to the self- appointed defenders of doctrine, notably B. A. Santamaria, we had lost the faith. I was bluntly told by a priest that the real reason I had “left the Church” was because I was having sex with a woman. Bingo! Actually, I am using more polite language. He did not say “woman” but the misogynist characterisation “bird”. Also, he did not use the term “sex” but rather some crude mechanical analogy. My response to the misogynist was that the real reason he was saying what he was saying was because he was not having sex with a women. Today, I would handle the situation differently. But at the time I was young and had decided not to cop it from a priest. You call us “disaffected catholics”. I do not see myself as such. Catholic, Protestant, Lutheran, Baptist…….to me these are dead words. My life’s journey has taken me somewhere else. As things have turned out we have been vindicated by history. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his prison letters and a few years latter Pope John both called for change. I do not think either appreciated its depth. We do know that the old Church is dead. And we also know that bureaucratic reforms like Vatican II have failed. Yet, we also know that ancient questions of what it means to be human have not gone away. Whether “the church” of Rabbi Jesus, Mary Magdalene and St Paul will have a place in the new meanings is yet to be determined. It all depends on the collective individual life journeys and reflections of at least some people. Do they lead to leaving our “cares forgotten among the lilies”?
Fosco | 21 November 2020

The current Mass attendance figures are of real concern, given that the Eucharist, as Vatican II says, is "the source and summit of the faith", and that most participants at Sunday Masses are elderly. Banal liturgy (particularly hymns) is, I think, one contributor to this; another is the lack of thorough catechesis that includes both meal and sacrifice elements, as is fitting for the new and transformed Passover enacted by Christ.
John RD | 22 November 2020

Hello Carla: thank you for your insights. I agree with you, absolutely. The “well” of the new Church should be placed over the feminie space of our inner being which you describe. Sometimes some people, perhaps idealistically, leave out that there is there also a place where sometimes we have to weep. This is not to suggest that you do not know that. While I do not have the scholarly authority of John RD on Scripture, Doctrine and Church documentation, I think the Gospel of Mark agrees with you. That’s what Mary Magdalene and the two other women witnessing the Big events of the Rabbi Jesus story – the crucifixion and empty tomb – is really about. I do not want to sound critical of John RD (he has given me homework to do researching antinomian Gnosticism which I am still doing) but the old Church died during the last century. Discussing marketing strategies to get its message out is only more evidence of its death: if any more is needed.
Fosco | 22 November 2020

Discussion threads: Secular media, including Facebook, can reach retired Catholics, and address busy (international) spaces and use social media but they remain under-utilised. Is it the case that official Catholic news outlets have never published media releases of Catholic renewal groups? Are reform initiatives inhibited by Church leaders, especially in the Sydney archdiocese? Orientation of Catholics to the See of Rome. Jesus didn’t speak Italian, never visited Rome, so in a universal Church, could the Papacy be relocated so that a View from Rome becomes a view from Avignon, Tokyo, Abuja? Are there Italian cultural elements in our Catholic ecclesiology, church organisation and structures that could be enriched by relocation? Are some topics [eg ordination of women priests] off discussion limits, even though Canon 749.3 reads: “No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless it is clearly established as such.” Is it the message rather than the medium? Nietzsche wrote “They would have to sing better songs for me to learn to have faith in their Redeemer; and his disciples would have to look more redeemed!” Media report decline in mass attendance, ageing Catholics etc but what of our rich sacramental, eucharistic, liturgical life in Christ?
PeterD | 22 November 2020

Why should one be attracted to support or join groups whose message is routinely one of complaint - and often outright hostility and disrespect - towards the Church and its leadership; and whose thinking, predominantly driven by disappointment at the Church's alleged failure to implement Vatican II, is resistant to the pontificates of Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI; and even, especially since the Amazon Synod, to Francis? Further, the paedophile scandal affects all Catholics, but I think it naive and reductive in the extreme to assume it is the only reason Catholics leave the Church (most in Australia, I'd suggest, simply drift away). Similarly misguided and off-putting, I find, is the idea that "doctrine, Canon Law, Magisterium or the Catechism" are irrelevant to an "authentic Church and spirituality that closely reflects Jesus of the Gospels" - not the first time this notion has appeared in ES items. Without these traditional resources, no amount of vague, self-legitimating appeals to "the Spirit'' (of Vatican II? of the zeitgeist?) or structural change, can, I believe, produce the direction and grounding necessary for genuine renewal and reform.
John RD | 22 November 2020

One further thing: it should not be overlooked that this allegedly "dysfunctional" hierarchy and structure, the Catholic Church, schools many of those struggling in society, assists the unemployed in seeking work, provides food, clothing, shelter, companionship and hope for the poor, visits the sick and those in prison, assists single mothers, welcomes the stranger . . . not a formula for self-congratulation or complacency, but rather an important perspective in this time of renewal and reform - as they are all practical and institutionally co-ordinated initiatives consistent with yesterday's Gospel reading on the Feast of Christ the King.
John RD | 23 November 2020

“They would have to sing better songs for me to learn to have faith in their Redeemer; and his disciples would have to look more redeemed!” For a philosopher who is meant to get his faith from his relationship with text (because achieving philosophical clarity involves Socratic technicalities against self-contradiction), Nietzsche betrays his calling if he expects works to produce grace. There are thousands, perhaps millions, of Muslims who will be good Samaritans to a Nietzsche or a Christian wounded on the Jericho Road, but that doesn’t obviate the significance of some irremovable canonical texts that make Islam a philosophically defective religion. The purity needs to be in the text, not in the believer’s appearance of looking more redeemed, and if the text is attributed to revelation, not literary perception, then an examination of it must show that it only contains grace. Unless he was using hyperbole, in which case PeterD’s quoting of it is misplaced triumphalism, Nietzsche failed first year philosophy by not holding the text to the disciples and their songs.
roy chen yee | 23 November 2020

It is natural that Catholics who love the Church will hold different views about issues that will arise at the Plenary Council. I have argued “There are compelling reasons to listen to the voices of disaffected Catholics and to include these in The Catholic Weekly.”(CW, Aug29, 2020) Most Catholics are strongly grounded in a culture, tradition and indeed apostolic succession. Doctrine, Canon Law, the Magisterium, the Catechism, the infallible teaching of the Church: a immutable coherent ecclesiology provides authority. Those who seek change can then be dismissed as political operatives, routine complainers, disloyal, hostile and disrespectful towards the Church and its leadership. Topics such as admitting women to the priesthood, marriage and sexuality are simply off-limits. If official Catholic news outlets, and indeed bishops, do not encourage - or even actively inhibit - open discussion of the need for renewal, then in terms of media and communication reach, reformers are driven from the temple onto independent or secular forums to plead their case. In this ES forum discussion, and indeed many others, multiple perspectives have been sensitively explored but Peter Johnstone’s comments above state the dilemma facing reformers in a media sense. Christ's Kingdom is still evolving in our midst - its 'not yetness' is still being realised, so sensitive discussion of change is fundamental.
Peter Donnan | 24 November 2020

"Most Catholics are strongly grounded in a culture, tradition and indeed apostolic succession. Doctrine, Canon Law, Magisterium or the Catechism . . ." Would that were so, Peter Donnan, but if articles and postings in "Eureka Street" and reformist communications such as "Pearls and Irritants" since the Plenary Council was announced - and well before it, going back at least as far as Pope John Paul II's alleged "Caesaro-papacy", "autocratic centralism", "restorationism ", "wind-back of Vatican II", "personality cult", etc. - are any indication, I'm afraid I'd have to differ. In fact, such was the paucity, and, to my mind, distortion, of much commentary on these aspects you identify that I've felt increasingly motivated to contribute as regularly as I do. Happily, now, I recognise other contributors - not infrequently ridiculed and patronised for obstructive "conservatism" - who are well versed in what were once the standard assumptions in the knowledge you assume reformers possess. Further, if contemporary Catholics were as grounded in the areas you now affirm as relevant in your 24/11 comment, their departure from the Church, impending or accomplished, suggests it is these very areas themselves and desire for substantive change in them, that are the very real sticking points of a division among Catholics that cannot be papered over or obfuscated by euphemistic formulae; among them, matters such as the nature of the Eucharist, the relationship between scripture and tradition, the reservation of ordination to males, marriage, sexual morality, and the hierarchical structure of the Church itself are, as re-affirmed by Pope Francis, non-negotiable, because they characterise the Catholic tradition. Ignorance or rejection of these is not, I submit, a propitious or valid basis for renewal and reform: those are, rather, dispositions more consonant with revolution. I suggest, too, not for the first time, that spiritual change - personal and ecclesial, and rooted in scripture and sacramental life - is the sine qua non of necessary and genuine reform.
John RD | 24 November 2020

If you thought clericalism was dead, look at the glorious titles of the participants in the Statement of Conclusions by the Australian Bishops and Secretaries of the 6 Dicateries of the Roman Curia 1998. Following this momentous event, Benedict, Pell and Coleridge endorsed the sacking of Bishop Bill Morris for having the audacity (inter alia), to propose female ordination, married priests and the inclusion of Christian faiths as valid forms of worship. The short version of the story goes like this. The tension between Bishop Morris and the Vatican had been escalating since the time of John Paul II in the 1990s. Complaints were made about him by conservative elements in his diocese. "One hot issue which raised particular concerns was the alleged breach of Canon Law by frequent use of the Third Rite of Reconciliation (with no private confession and a general absolution given). Another issue was the reference to married priests and the ordination of women in his 2006 Advent pastoral letter (now removed from the diocesan website). Pope John Paul II had said that the ordination of women was "no longer discussable," and Bishop Morris was put on notice by the Vatican. American Archbishop Charles Chaput was subsequently sent to visit the diocese and make a report on what was going on in Toowoomba. The Archbishop's report can't have been too positive, because Bishop Morris was eventually removed." (The Swag) 2006. Besides the lack of due process, Bishop Morris says he is concerned about what he calls "creeping infallibility." In a telephone interview on 5 May, Bishop Morris read to me from the final letter that Pope Benedict XVI had sent to him. Bishop Morris said that the letter indicated he would be removed from office on 2 May, and that there would be no further negotiation. Even more significantly, Bishop Morris said that, in the letter, Pope Benedict asserted "that Pope John Paul II had said irrevocably and infallibly that women cannot be ordained." Seriously, anyone who thinks women and kids have any right to reforms in this hypocritical church, should think again.
Francis Armstrong | 25 November 2020

Hello John RD: Thank you for returning the discussion to serious matters. I have no interest in marketing. Pearls and Irritations is a vehicle for progressive Catholicism. Contributors are mostly priests or ex-priests, laity who work in professional catholic organisations, and are overwhelmingly old men (like me) with the token female contributor. To varying degrees the changes they seek have already been introduced in mainstream Protestant Churches. The Uniting Church is the obvious example. Yet, they are in much the same crisis as Catholicism. Buddhism in Japan is likewise facing the Question of its relevance. My mother was born in a rural peasant village ninety-nine years ago. She was a devout catholic Italian woman of her time and culture. She had a few years of primary education and lived most of her life within walking distance of the village centre. Her granddaughters (moving on two generations) had twenty years of formal education, and are still going. They travelled the world before settling into family life and their own careers. They too are women typical of their time and place. You introduce the word “revolution”. Yes, a Revolution is what’s happening! I do not mind reading your comments – I am a time rich pensioner. But for me you are telling us where we once were.
Fosco | 25 November 2020

Hello, Fosco: For one who says he's moved beyond the Catholic Church, you appear from your recent posting to have retained more than a passing interest in the faith of your baptism and upbringing. If, as you say, all I'm doing here is "telling us where we once were", that may, I hope, in muddled and often illusion-accepting times, be something of worth; at very least, it could provide a reference point for discerning rapid change, though I also hope it might do more than that. For me, truth and reality aren't as our postmodernist gurus have it, a misguided and useless pursuit, nor a matter of nostalgia; and, despite its human failings and infidelities - which include my own - it the Catholic Church that remains for me a living home in which Christ is still, good as his word, to be found and active, "making all things new." (Rev 21: 5) And, as you've perceived, I don't subscribe to the notion of a radical dichotomy between Christ and the Catholic Church that requires "revolution."
John RD | 26 November 2020

Francis Armstrong: “alleged breach of Canon Law by frequent use of the Third Rite of Reconciliation (with no private confession and a general absolution given)” Even if there is no breach of canon law in using the Third Rite as a routine, why do people want the Third Rite anyway? Is it because they feel entitled to absolution without auricular confession?. Do they feel it’s beneath their dignity to kneel in a confessional (or sit in a chair and eyeball the priest)? The fact that some people are making a big issue of a non-issue says something about those people. If you want the Third Rite, sign up with the armed forces and post to a hot zone.
roy chen yee | 26 November 2020

This forum discussion has a narrow focus and its ES classification under Media rather than Religion is appropriate. What are the dominant narratives? What voices are privileged, excluded or delegitimised? From a reformist perspective, which media/forums/venues provide optimum audience reach and influence? Certainly, Fosco, JohnRD is ‘telling us where we once were’ but is more tenuous about the future, ‘not-yetness’ of Christ’s kingdom. Our rich past in Christ animates us but there have been bleak periods such as the Crusades, papal & clerical preoccupation with secular power leading to the Reformation, the Spanish Inquisition, Galileo and science, and more recently a dark period of sexual abuse. Plenary Council proposals envisage reform: “a culture where women are truly part of the consultative process,” “a “female diaconate”, “ecclesial reform,” “renewed governance structures and procedures” “sustainable ecological strategies” listening to “the needs of people who are: divorced and remarried, survivors of sexual abuse, LGBTI people, and individuals or groups who feel disenfranchised” Interesting, too, Francis, that Michael Kelly(ES, 25 October 2011) on Bishop Morris, wrote: “the bishops and the Vatican live in a parallel universe, answering questions no one is asking and ignoring what is uppermost in the minds of most observers.” Pertinent then, and pertinent now, in some cases.
Peter Donnan | 26 November 2020

John RD - I would agree with you that personal renewal is a precondition to husbanding a wider program of Church renewal in doctrinal understandings and adaptations of practices and protocols of governance. However, you seem to equate adherence to the church with simple repetition of past doctrinal understandings and canonical provisions. Perhaps, one example will help you to reconsider your position? It is worth noting the most revolutionary decision in terms of setting aside the traditional approaches to the relationship between scripture and tradition and permitting a broad scope of new and revised opinion was made by Pius XII, in "Divino Afflante Spiritu." - almost 20 years before Vatican II. Careful reading of that document reveals Pius XII affirming and praising decisions of Trent and Leo X - then effectively cancelling their prescriptions and inaugurating and encouraging new and, until that moment, proscribed methodologies of inquiry. Even John Paul II and Benedict XVI have done their bit to muddle the waters of doctrinal clarity - but that's for another time
Bill Burke | 26 November 2020

Bill Burke: Among contemporary New Testament scholars I admire, as I've indicated in previous ES postings, are Brendan Byrne SJ and Gerhardt Lohfink, neither of whose work exhibits the sort of dichotomising of scripture and tradition which your reading of "Divino Afflante Spiritu" suggests. I'd also say that you can't have read much of what I've said in ES posting over some years if you imagine, as some relatively recent contributors in this forum do, that I think the historical Church of pre-Vatican II should and can be re-constructed in the present. "New wine in new skins", (Mt. 9: 17), yes - but let's make sure it's still wine of Christ and the Apostles; and that we're not simply regurgitating ideas and practises, as Fosco recognises, (25/11), that led to disunity in the 1500s, calling it aggiornamento and progress.
John RD | 27 November 2020

The catalogue of items for reform presented by Peter D, to my mind, scarcely touch the deeper issues of societal secularisation and the waning of faith, not only in Australia, but also other counties that have been cradles of the Catholic faith and its missionary exporters. The allegedly "parallel universe" inhabited by the Vatican in 2011 was highly conversant with the realities of the contemporary world, evident in the encyclicals of Pope John Paul II addressing intellectual currents of the new millennium and their relationship to truth and faith, Christian unity, and Catholic Social Teaching. These may have by dismissed as "irrelevant" by some who feared his "restorationist pontificate" (despite the fact that he actively promoted the New Evangelisation that is still engaging the hearts and minds of many youth, world-wide); or by those who were/are the victims of a declining literacy. I would perhaps be inclined to listen more attentively to those advocating reform in PC 2020 sessions and in reformist communications were they to demonstrate at least a modicum of conversance with documents such as Centesimus Annus, Veritatis Splendor, Ut Unum Sint, Fides et Ratio - all of which exist in accessible translation. Issues raised in subsequent papal documents by John Pau II's successors presuppose the ground work laid, despite the persistent efforts of some to establish a "hermeneutic of discontinuity." There appears among ES reading reformers of my direct acquaintance to be an obsession with re-iterating the sins of the past, despite the fact that numerous papal apologies and changes in policy have been extended and implemented - which makes me question who it is that is living in yesterday; and what the real reform agenda is, short and long-term.
John RD | 27 November 2020

The last reformation fragmented the Church established by Christ and, in his absence, administered by his apostles to whom he delegated the care of that Church with a guarantee that he would be with them all days until the end of time and would support them in whatever they "loosed or bound". The fragmentation of Christ's Church gave us national churchs (often at loggerheads with each other) - the Churches , of England, Ireland, Scotland , for example, and many others serving the egos and incomes of various self- styled, non-Christ appointed pastors. Christ's Church is meant to be for all men, universal, not to serve the desires of particular self-appointed individuals. There is no place for an "Australian" Church but a great need for the Catholic, universal, sacramental Church in Australia. By what authority do the reformers act in the pursuit of destroying the universal Catholic Church in Australia? Have yet to hear anyone of them provide an answer to that fundamental question. Perhaps that's because they don't have an answer?
john frawley | 27 November 2020

Roy, it seems to me from my experience of Catholic contemporaries who have abandoned auricular confession and urge the Third Rite that an underlying reason is an aversion to the very idea of personal sin and personal accounting for it - the confessing aspect of "Confession". Those I know of this disposition were absenting themselves from the Second Rite well before the clerical paedophilia scandal erupted. The same people speak the language of "being out best selves", which involves rejecting "negativity" and pursuing "positivity" at all costs - one obstacle to which they identify as being the sacrament of reconciliation in its Second Rite form. This phenomenon smacks to me more of Hollywood and group therapy than theological and pastoral formation in the Church's understanding of this sacramental encounter with God's forgiveness in Christ.
John RD | 27 November 2020

Roy, if it follows that women can't be priests because Jesus didn't appoint any women as apostles, should it also follow that the Catholic Church should only allow Jews to be priests because Jesus didn't appoint any Gentiles as apostles? I believe the context of the place of women in society in Jesus' time was very different to today. Jesus chose 12 men to represent the 12 tribes of Israel - they had to be Jewish, and they couldn't be slaves either. And given the status of women in Jesus' era, it's unlikely men, especially law-abiding Jews, would accept ministry and healing from a woman. Heaven forbid 2000 or so years later men would still resist sacramental grace and healing from a woman.
AURELIUS | 29 November 2020

john frawley: Your question, "By what authority do the reformers act . . .?" deserves an answer. From my experience of the PC2020 preliminary sessions, one response advanced by reformist groups when I posed the same question was an appeal to the priestly character of the baptism of all the faithful. However, this understanding of "priest" does not accept the Catholic Church's hierarchical structure, nor the distinction, reaffirmed in Vatican II, between the Church's ordained priesthood and that of all the faithful. By the most vocal, these realities are dismissed as "self-serving patriarchal constructs", "legalistic" and "authoritarian"- suppositions that do not get beyond the expectations of radical feminist ideology and sociology.
John RD | 29 November 2020

Authority for the PC comes from “Pope Francis [who] invited the local church to dialogue” and in accepting this invitation Archbishop Mark Coleridge, on behalf of the Australian bishops, noted “The culture in which we have to proclaim the Gospel is very different to what it was even 20 or 30 years ago.” Authority is transparent but it eludes JohnRD . Paul Collins equates hierarchy with a ‘stranded asset’ in the Catholic Church - it often promotes timidity of decision-making in the army, in academia, universities; decisions are ‘above/below my pay grade’. Baptism confers on us the roles of priest, prophet, king: the sacrament invites responsibility, not evasion. It’s extraordinary to associate the PC reform proposals with ‘destroying.’ JohnRD seeks a ‘modicum of conversance with documents such as Centesimus Annus etc’ On 26Nov20, Drs Trish Hindmarsh & Paul Collins, under the auspices of Concerned CatholicsC-G, spoke to a virtual audience of 140 on Laudato Si in which Pope Francis notes “The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and we still have not solved the problem of poverty.” Francis’ message is critical but generally such encyclicals are difficult reading for most Catholics, compared with the New Testament.
Peter Donnan | 29 November 2020

Peter Donnan, I think the reformist groups you encourage and represent need to make up their mind. Here you are, invoking Pope and Archbishop, while repeatedly "hierarchy " has been denigrated, with even demands for its abolition. If that is not destruction, I don't know what is. Is the deference you express now representative of the groups under the reformist umbrella? If, as you say, "authority" eludes me, it is only in the shifting sense in which it is manifest here; not as it is structured from Christ's calling and appointment of the Twelve, and his commissioning of them. Further, as I've argued in an earlier ES posting on hierarchy in the context of John Warhurst's PC2020 articles, I do not accept Paul Collins' reading - expressed in ES - of Vatican II on this issue.
John RD | 30 November 2020

Aurelius: “if it follows that women can't be priests because Jesus didn't appoint any women as apostles, should it also follow that the Catholic Church should only allow Jews to be priests because Jesus didn't appoint any Gentiles as apostles? “ God can do whatever he wants. Whatever he does is, by definition, holy, and is to be accepted as such by his disciples. Concerning your example, he personally chose a thirteenth apostle on the road to Damascus. But, of the twelve, they, too, went out to the Gentiles and founded churches among them. The Jew-Gentile distinction then was, culturally, as strong as the man-woman distinction in popular culture today. Do you feel second-class because God appointed an ultra-Jew as the Apostle to the Gentiles?
roy chen yee | 30 November 2020

John RD I'm pleased you see value in work of Brendan Byrne SJ and Gerhardt Lohfink. I suggest you contact them for their take on the significance of Divino Afflante Spiritu. As an old friend of mine, who was in Rome in the 1940's said - I spent the first year of my doctorate having to provide another proof that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, then post encyclical , free to explore a more diverse authorship: can't get much more of an immediate reversal than that. I've read enough of your posts at ES to appreciate you are more comfortable dispensing opinions than considering alternate views - after all, not even Pius XII warrants close order reading for what he actually said.
Bill Burke | 30 November 2020

John Frawley asks by what authority do reformers act in "the pursuit of destroying" the Church. The simple answer is that the many Catholics seeking reform of the Church are working for the Church's survival, concerned that a failure to reform will lead to its destruction. Concern for the state of the Church is a responsibility of every Catholic just as every member of the hierarchy, in exercising their authority, has a responsibility to listen to the 'sensus fidei fidelium' - cf International Theological Commission, 'Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church' (2014)
Peter Johnstone | 30 November 2020

The issue highlighted here is a concern for all Australian taxpayer who annually fund billions to religions with no transparent or accountable governance in place. Three years ago taxpayers funded a 5 year long Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse with findings showing not only does the Catholic Church in Australia have a ‘toxic governance culture’ but that after a national inquiry it continues as an organisation that refuses to change. The Australian Catholic Church fails to establish diocesan councils and continues to allow sole elderly males to be autocratic manager of billions of tax payer funds for education, aged care, social services, migration services, health etc. USA’s ‘Voice of the Faithful’ states that a lack of financial accountability and transparent governance allows clerical abuse to fester undetected for decades. The ACNC Act must urgently remove lower regulatory governance and financial standards for religions because the Catholic Church leadership has shown it won’t listen to anyone in Australia.
PBoylan | 30 November 2020

Bill Burke: There was nothing on faith and morals substantially "revolutionary" about "Divino Afflante Spiritu" in Pius XII's decision to recognise new methods of inquiry in biblical scholarship. The whole encyclical demands to be read in the context of due respect and reverence for the unique sacredness of the Word of God contained in the canonical Scriptures and their intent for the purposes of deepening the received faith of the Church - not altering it substantively as some reformists would have us do, appealing to scripture alone - and the Church's mission in spreading it. Encouraging scripture scholars to explore beyond former methodologies did not - nor does not - exempt them from weighing their findings against the traditional teachings of the Church on faith and morals, and recognising the authority of the Magisterium, apostolically qualified to be the "servant " of the Word of God contained in Scripture ( "Dei Verbum" II, 10) to adjudicate in disputed matters of interpretation - of which today - and I imagine you would agree - there are many.
John RD | 01 December 2020

It’s all very good, and sounds reasonable on the surface, to privilege unfettered modes of enquiry, as this article seems to be saying:, but (to save it from ruin) is the future of the Australian Catholic Church the present day US Episcopal Church? Unfettered modes of enquiry are fine if you’re willing to accept anything that is a consequence of it. Politically, everybody knows that democracy is the worst political system there is, except for every other, and nowhere does there exist pure democracy because of the chaos, through fallen humans, it can bring. Vatican 2 did not know of the Swinging Sixties, let alone that it would produce, in time, anomalies, if theology became liberal, of an (now retired) US Episcopal bishop who is gay, was in a same-sex ‘marriage’, and is now ‘divorced’ from a same-sex ‘marriage’. Talk about a trifecta of theological inanity, ‘trifecta’ being the operative word because one supposedly admissible liberty will always, in time, produce a multiplicity of inanities, which can only be post-hoc explained by diluting the core. If Bill Burke is alluding to paragraph 47, he should hasten slowly with it. Claims for freedom are dependent upon the licence they enable.
roy chen yee | 01 December 2020

Surely then Roy the Apostle to the Gentles had the authority to appoint women as church leaders too? Following the spirit revealed by Paul... Gentile of Jew. Woman or Man. Servant or free jo more. Paul was clearly indicating the old Jewish traditios and laws that were no longer relavant.
Aurelius | 02 December 2020

Why did God make men and women different? Why did God want the Ark to be 2½ cubits long, not longer or shorter? Why did Jesus make men priests, not women? Why did Jesus choose bread, not dates, to become His flesh? // Our ways are not God's ways. Accepting God's way is a test of faith and obedience/humility. // Instead of seeing Jesus as being limited by the culture of his time (which he wasn't), perhaps we could recognise that he could see the future and all the ideologies that would test the Church. // "Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine" (1 Cor 11:19)
marguerita | 03 December 2020

I wrote above: “It is natural that Catholics who love the Church will hold different views about issues” but as Peter Johnstone and many others indicate, Catholics seeking reform are concerned about the state of the Church. Reformers are not the enemy and is it not the case that we are all yearn for a better Church? In many Catholic media forums, however, reformers encounter theological disputation that is designed to sideline, even delegitimise their perspective. The effect is to drive reformers from Catholic media when there has always been vigorous debate under the Catholic umbrella, starting with the issue of circumcision at the first Council. Charles Lamb [The Tablet, Nov20] stresses that Pope Francis is “not afraid of contradictory positions inside the Church and recognises that “contrapositions” can produce “fruitful, creative tension”. But none of this is possible, he says, without discernment and a synodal approach to governance able to safely navigate different points of view. Francis calls on us to be comfortable with uncertainty. There is a valid case for substantial and respective debate and reform agendas are integral to those discussions.
Peter Donnan | 04 December 2020

Interesting, and I dare say instructive, Peter Donnan, that the Pope did not convoke another synod to discern proposals he deemed unacceptable from last year's highly confusing Amazon Synod. As much as Pope Francis encourages full participation of all the baptised, he has given no indication that the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church is open to radical change nor that her teachings are determinable by democratic process.
John RD | 04 December 2020

John RD: Could I revisit what I said about the revolutionary nature of Pius XII's “Divino...” My earlier comment stated “...the most revolutionary decision in terms of setting aside the traditional approaches to the relationship between scripture and tradition and permitting a broad scope of new and revised opinion was made by Pius XII...” Should you take time to read Pius X's “Pascendi...”you will find him condemning “The Modernists have no hesitation in affirming commonly that these books, and especially the Pentateuch and the first three Gospels, have been gradually formed by additions to a primitive brief narration - by interpolations of theological or allegorical interpretation, by transitions, by joining different passages together. “ (Para 34) Here Pius X is highlighting a departure from traditional Catholic belief concerning the Bible. Pius XII's encyclical authorised the use of the very methodologies Pius X rejected and subsequently demonstrates Pius X's adjudication, itself, to be erroneous. This example would appear to satisfy the usage of the term revolution – a relatively sudden and substantially different way of thinking about a subject.
Bill Burke | 05 December 2020

Peter Donnan: “a synodal approach to governance able to safely navigate different points of view.” The necessary implication is that the ‘different’ point of view can logically be accommodated within the Church’s permanent understanding of itself. That is how we have change that is organic or conjunctive, rather than disjunctive. That the Church ought to have administrative structures that prevent internal criminality is a point of change that can organically be accommodated within that permanent understanding. That women can become priests is not such a change. And because, while Revelation does not change but our access to it can due to greater secular knowledge, the proposition that a man who thinks he is, and now has the technical means almost effectively to become, a woman cannot be admitted to the priesthood is now one that can be accommodated organically as a belief within the Church’s permanent understanding of itself. So, too, is the proposition that a priest who comes to believe he is a woman must be retired from his calling at least for as long as he is unable to withstand that belief. Change is possible if it is conjunctive.
roy chen yee | 05 December 2020


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