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Movement for Church renewal keeps growing



The wider community should be aware that the Catholic renewal movement in Australia continues to grow. It has been stimulated by Vatican II teachings and more recently by the inspiration of the vision of Pope Francis. Within Australia the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse's recommendations helped generate special interest in reform of church governance, structures and culture. Then the preparations for the Plenary Council 2020 (PC2020), a national gathering to discuss the future of the Catholic Church in Australia, opened up more possibilities for local and diocesan discussions mandated by church leadership.

St Patrick's Catholic Cathedral, Parramatta (Credit: Leelakajonkij / Getty)What's going on within the Catholic Church always matters more widely given its size and power. Lay participation in leadership, especially of women, is a major social issue. Observers of social trends should watch this space for its wider public policy implications.

Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn was created in April 2017, a newcomer to the renewal movement. Our motivation was a desire to press the Australian bishops to implement the royal commission recommendations at the meeting the following month of the Australian Catholics Bishops Conference. We act as a ginger group within church circles and a public lobby group from without.

Driven by a desire for lay co-responsibility and greater leadership, especially for lay women, we run public forums and workshops, make submissions to church leaders and to PC2020 and connect with priests and religious. We are perceived by those holding church authority as at best 'just one voice' and at worst 'unrepresentative old, white grandparents'. But we meet a need in the church and have developed a model which can be replicated and adapted to suit other circumstances.

Recently Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn has been privileged to play a part in two further church renewal developments. On 24 October we provided three speakers at a public meeting to launch Concerned Catholics Wagga Wagga Diocese (CCWWD), under the general heading of Accountable, Inclusive and Transparent: A Better Church for Australia. In a notably more conservative diocese than Canberra-Goulburn, CCWWD is determined to extend the message of renewal to other centres in the diocese, including Albury and Leeton.

More recently, on 7 December I addressed a meeting in Launceston of parish representatives from across Tasmania at which it was agreed to create a new state-wide body, Concerned Catholics Tasmania (CCT). The enthusiasm of this meeting showed once again that against the odds faithful Catholics concerned about the future direction of their church are prepared to invest their time and energy to revitalise the status quo and to raise their voices to counter conservative tendencies.

For these three groups PC2020 is just one aspect of their agenda. While already involved individually and at parish level, and prepared to be involved further through submissions and writing groups, they maintain a healthy scepticism about the likely outcomes given the entrenched power of church authorities either actively committed to the status quo or weighed down by apathy and inertia. The Wagga group has already joined the network of groups which makes up the Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (ACCCR) and the Tasmanian group is likely to do so.


"Each Australian diocese should contain organised groups of Catholics committed to church renewal by the conclusion of Plenary Council 2020."


Bottom up initiatives of lay Catholics crossing the orthodox boundaries of church life are rarely welcomed and often barely tolerated. They are commonly accused by church authorities of not being representative. Such a dismissive response has happened in the Melbourne Archdiocese with another new development, the combined efforts of 27 Melbourne parishes to influence the discussions of PC2020 through a collaborative submission. Seven sponsoring parishes have lent their support to a new website soon to be launched, which will promote conversations between parishes about change and renewal.

Such activities are also supported by national conferences, such as Voices of Hope and Challenge, instigated by the Yarra Theological Union and Garratt Publishing in November, and attended by many members of the renewal movement.

Ideally each Australian diocese should contain organised groups of Catholics committed to church renewal by the conclusion of PC2020. PC2020 is just one step along the way. Such a development would mean that the voices of renewal would be maintained in the national, diocesan and local spheres Australia-wide. The ACCCR network, now numbering 15 groups, will meet again in Canberra early in 2020 to discuss cooperation and strategy in the lead up to the October 2020 council in Adelaide.

Prospective lay reformers should become informed, involved and questioning of authority, build bridges to supportive clergy and religious, maintain a healthy scepticism towards PC2020 while taking the opportunities the process offers in good faith, and initiate developments locally and immediately rather than waiting for diocesan, national or international developments. They should ready for widespread disinterest and apathy and opposition from some bishops, priests and other lay people, but take heart that we have considerable support.

Observers should recognise that the church renewal movement will impact not just on internal events such as PC2020 but also on the way in which Catholics participate in politics, public policy and wider society.



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

Main image: St Patrick's Catholic Cathedral, Parramatta (Credit: Leelakajonkij / Getty)

Topic tags: John Warhurst, Catholic Church



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Existing comments

The "ginger group" self-identification of renewal groups that commit themselves to "crossing the orthodox boundaries of church life" invites, it seems to me, the scepticism they exercise towards the Catholic Church they seek to re-fashion along contemporary secular and protestant lines.

John RD | 11 December 2019  

As a practising Catholic and an abuse survivor, I applaud your enthusiasm, John, and that of your group and all the groups involved. However I also note that the leading bishops are not just disinterested but actually hostile to the laity and its voice. I will continue to be an active Catholic but must ignore the Church hierarchy, as my conscience dictates, until they can understand and atone for their ongoing complicity in the crime of sexual abuse. It's a complicated world but we must all play our part.

Carol | 11 December 2019  

The majority of lay catholic women believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary. And in her ever Virginity. They will bring the church forward in Faith. "I am the ever Virgin Mary," the words spoken to Juan Diego. I am 'over' hearing scholars still denying 'the ever Virginity of Mary'= Streams of running pure water. This, their way of thinking is comparable to ' water in a plastic bottle'. These ideas are only sowing plastic, materialistic thinking. I have not doubt Mary would never appear to them as she does to hundreds of 'her children' around the world. It is written, "unless you believe you shall not be established." This disbelief is at the core of all that is the opposite to Jesus' kingdom. Show us a sign? Show us a sign? They still say. And Jesus said, "unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe". And, "when the son of man comes will there be faith on the earth?"

AO | 11 December 2019  

One of the great strengths of the Catholic Church is the diversity of parishioners (and clergy). It is this diversity which will drive change. Often in congregations a smallish number of people do most of the heavy lifting and changing this dynamic is essential. We need to find new ways of inclusion of our own people. The Royal Commission's findings exposed some very unhealthy practices and consequently exposed the pain and hurt of vulnerable people. As a top priority the church must find a way to include these people once again in the life of the church. That is the way of vulnerability, the way the church best shows its true colours: a community of radical humility.

Pam | 11 December 2019  

Thank you for your continuing faith and hope in the movement of the Spirit in our faith community as we seek to recover Gospel values of love and openness and the early tradition's emphasis on inclusion. Your and others' hopefulness helps.

Ruth | 11 December 2019  

Sincere, delighted and energetic congratulations to you, John, and to each and every group and individual committed to the renewal of our beloved, reactionary, magnificent and contradictory church. I feel so heartened to read of your activities and of the new groups springing up.

Sister Susan Connelly | 11 December 2019  

Proposing a reform to Catholic Church law or practice is like revising a well-established academic theory or overturning a long-held judicial precedent. The proposal needs explicitly to be grounded in first principles because the Church claims that its law and practice are based upon the correct interpretation of Scripture and that interpretation’s correct implementation as Tradition, with both enclosed and mutually and progressively bound tighter in a feedback loop. So, for example, the claim that women can be priests or consensual homosexuality is licit isn’t (to be intellectually honest) sustained by pointing out that everywhere in societies around the world women can do ‘male’ jobs competently if given the chance or that gay relationships can work if given the chance. It needs to be proved that the correct interpretation of both Testaments (the two Testaments being symbiotic) is that God must want these situations to be. The flow of temporal culture is really the flow of the world, the flesh and the devil because that tripartite environment is where human culture lives daily. Claim what you wish but show us that it's justifiable by Scripture and Tradition.

roy chen yee | 11 December 2019  

Meanwhile let's hope the energies evident in this commentary are in touch with the Gospel's call to agents within the Christian Way to be leaven in society, best realised today, perhaps, in the image of where two or three gather in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. That might be in politics, in education, in welfare outreach, or even in the local coffee shop open to the passing parade of ordinary folk going about their daily tasks to meet their basic needs.

Noel McMaster | 11 December 2019  

Reading this piece, it seems the ‘ginger’ is the agenda, bishops are the bogeymen and activism is its own reward. A transparent and explicit agenda is surely needed when urging folks to rally for a cause. What’s a chicken without an egg?

Nivek | 11 December 2019  

Thanks again John, and your group. Our Church is universal. So often, Australia’s remoteness has been a disadvantage for us in understanding a truly universal faith. Modern technology and communication and broader education has removed the lay reliance on what the clergy says and their behaviour. For example, we have access to daily reports about what Pope Francis is doing and saying, how he is trying to influence all of us including bishops to get back on track with the words and example of Jesus Christ. Sadly, instead of contributing to the fast flowing river that is our mission with Jesus Christ, our dioceses are mostly billabongs, left behind, stagnant and of another time. Our billabong bishops need lots of prayer and the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be shared with them through the agency of australian catholic laity Pope Francis gives us encouragement, the same as he gives regularly to those who seek to protect Gods creation. Just get on with it !!!

Michael Gill | 11 December 2019  

Thank you, ES.

AO | 11 December 2019  

Still waiting to hear the various reform groups tell us from whom they gain their authority to change the Church to what seems to be a secular or, as John RD implies, a protestant model. The self-righteous certainty of their authorisation over and above that of 2 millennia of teaching, scholarly scriptural study and tradition is stunning. Change the secular/profane machinery of Church governance where it has failed by all means but leave the sacred/divine to God and those he has authorised to "bind or loose' on Earth in Heaven's name.

john frawley | 11 December 2019  

Moreover, Joseph being a God fearing man, a true orthodox Hebrew. Especially after hearing Mary was pregnant, and having psychologically struggled with the horrific prospect of allowing her be stoned to death. And after the visit of the Angle, telling him to take Mary as his wife, appearing to him in a dream and saying. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the One conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. It is 100% impossible, he having experienced such an incredible miraculous event, a orthodox Hebrew would merely even just contemplate 'knowing' Mary in the biblical sense. Only 'fleshly man' those who deny her being the 'Ever Virgin, Mother of God'. Those who do not posses the mind and sprint of Christ, may. But not Joseph.

AO | 11 December 2019  

John , as a practicing Catholic, an Acolyte for over 30 years, the holder of a Masters of Arts (Theology) ACU, I applaud and support your group's work to reform the governance of the Church. The Royal Commission has revealed enormous wrong doing by clergy and some lay people in positions of power . It called for a major change in Church leadership. Church history is full of wrong doings. We must accept with human frailty, that this is inevitable. To deny is to put ones head in the sand. The Church has changed over time, although with schisms and divisions resulting . Jesus himself warned us of these conflicts . A O , the Catholic Renewal Movement is not attempting to change Church Teachings or Doctrines, it is trying to correct the abuses of governance, which have been revealed by the Commission and others. Roy Chen Ree, a reading of Church History will show that church governance and understanding of human nature has changed as scientific research has ended ignorance and superstition . Sure, it has taken centuries, but in the end the Church accepted for example , that the Earth was not the centre of the Universe, so it is with the understanding of human sexual nature. Thomas Aquianas wrote with the knowledge of his time. We have a much clearer understanding of such things or is science some sort of conspiracy aimed at ending religious belief as some form of voodooism ? I don't believe it is.

Gavin | 12 December 2019  

An excellent article. I am not surprised Peter Comensoli in Melbourne is not supportive of this initiative. He is in the Mannix/Pell/Hart outdated authoritarian mould. There is a difference between the Church's teaching authority, which was given by Christ himself and the appalling authoritarianism in the administrative setup of the Church here. The latter has no place in an alive Church. No other Anglophone country is as bad as we are in this respect. Ireland, to which the Church here historically looked, has moved on. There are Church authorities, like Mark Coleridge in Brisbane, who realise that the old model of 'Father is always right, whatever' is broken beyond repair. Archbishop Coleridge is 71 and has seen how the system has failed. It is the system, not the Church. Christ did not come to set up an ecclesiastical bureaucracy, he came to change the world. The administrative setup is a bit like a car. It exists to get you there, not as an end in itself. We all know 'car tragics'. There are also 'Church tragics'. Pope Francis is not one of these. It is important that those wanting change realise the difference between what can and can't be changed. Otherwise they will be very disappointed.

Edward Fido | 12 December 2019  

There is nothing I have every heard or read by a church scholar that has not put me to sleep. Except the writings by Pope Benedict XVII, Gavin. Our Lady of Guadalupe? The scholars say. Fantasy. They avoid running and going with supernatural truths. By simply saying. "Undoubtedly the work of God! As is everything Good!" Denying Him the praise due. They're stuck on the going no-where ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQiOA7euaYA ) treadmill of their rational thinking. They don't proclaim Catholic tradition, if only they did, but aim to replace it with their own empty ideology.

AO | 12 December 2019  

John RD and Michael Frawley. Thank you for your posts. I’m not sure I understand your fears in relation to all things Protestant. No one is talking about changing dogma and doctrine. It is only better Church governance that is being called for, especially in light of the dreadful mess as exposed by the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse in the Church. Catholicism can learn much from the Anglicans and Protestants regarding good Church governance. Would you like to clarify exactly what it is you mean about secular/protestant models etc.? Your points are not clear.

Thomas Amory | 12 December 2019  

Roy Chen Yee and John Frawley recognise the key features conspicuously lacking in a number of reformist proposals advanced in preliminary Plenary Council sessions so far, where academic qualification and female gender emerge as the assumed credentials of authority in the Catholic Church. Appeals to sacred Scripture and Tradition too often fall on deaf ears, these foundations of normative Church teaching and practice dismissively regarded either as subordinate to contemporary ideologies or as a self-arrogated domain of males.

John RD | 12 December 2019  

For those concerned that scripture and tradition are being overlooked in the process, it should be noted that Church teaching also involves Reason. Faith, Scripture, Reason and Tradition are the four elements for Catholicism. Various Vatican documents claify this, so if some people wish to appeal to Reason also in all of this, it is perfectly legitimate.

Thomas Amory | 12 December 2019  

Thomas Amory, supporters of several reform groups have for some time in ES articles and posts opposed Catholic Church teaching on the ordination of women, and on marriage and sexual morality - views that have been expressed in preliminaries t PC2020. Morever, the issue of Church structure and governance itself has long been articulated in Church teaching - Vatican II is a relevant case in point with its re-affirmation of the hierarchical structure of the faith community willed by Christ. Opposition to this, too, has been raised by and supporters of reform groups and in PC2020 sessions, where some have also advocated the ceding of magisterium by the "Ecclesia docens", as Newman called it, to an allegedly popular consensus of the faithful. Regarding your observation on the role of reason: of course it has a vital function in elucidating as far as possible the truths revealed and received in faith - a very different function, though, from that of inventing them.

John RD | 12 December 2019  

Scholars disputing and disregarding supernatural revelations, public or private. Fatima, Lourdes, Guadalupe. Are by doing so, standing along side the Scribes and Pharisees of old, who first disregarded Jesus' miracles as magic acts. Well, nothing has changed- since then. Children and women were His most faith disciples, as they are still today. Let scholars amuse themselves with whatever intellectual toys, mazes and puzzles, they care to dream up. I would rather ask a six year old his opinion who Jesus the son of God is, and know his articulated answer would be full of verity. Than listen to a lengthy too wordy, 2 hour lecture full of repetitive treadmill rational. what the church needs is Young minds and hearts. Those who see Life, for what is truly is. A miraculous event in all its daily unfolding. As did Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, as do indigenous people of the world.

AO | 12 December 2019  

John, you say, “Each Australian diocese should contain organised groups of Catholics committed to church renewal by the conclusion of Plenary Council 2020." No, not groups of some Catholics. By their baptism, ALL Catholics are called to be constantly renewing the Church. Calling your group “Concerned Catholics” suggests that only those of a particular mindset care about the Church, its life and work, and only they have a proper idea of how “renewal” should look. A part of being a Catholic is accepting that, for better or worse, Bishops are our leaders. There’s no doubting some are a lot better leaders than others. It’s their communion with each other and with the Pope that produces the universal Church. Setting up a kind of parallel leadership of the Church in Australia will lead at best to a talking shop with no administrative “muscle”. At worst it could take some Australian Catholics to the edge of schism. I’ve understood only a Bishop could approve the use of the word “Catholic” in the title of a group or institution in his diocese. Has such endorsement been received for your group in CG, WW or Tasmania?

Gerard Hore | 12 December 2019  

Dear John, I'd read the repeated and concerted opposition above as a positive! Anyone threatened by the measured way in which you address the structural and cultural issues that have so damaged our Catholic reputation, instead of welcoming your call for dialogue and consultation, would have to live in a parallel universe to the one on which the Royal Commissioner himself commented on this week. “I cannot comprehend how any person, much less one with qualifications in theology, could consider the rape of a child to be a moral failure but not a crime,” Justice McClellan said. “This statement by leaders of the Catholic Church marks out the corruption within the Church both within Australia, and it seems from reports, in many other parts of the world”, Mr Justice McClelland said in a public address on December 9. Moreover, he contextually added that 60 per cent of survivors abused in a religious institution told the Commission they suffered abuse in a Catholic institution. He concluded that the Commission made many recommendations for change in the Catholic Church, and was still hopeful that they would be adopted. That won't happen without the positive efforts of everyone in the Church. Thanks ES!

Michael Furtado | 13 December 2019  

Several years ago, at a function, I had the opportunity to speak with a church scholar. After someone had said something about clergy abuses during the conversation at the dinner table. I looked at him and said, something along the lines, ''I guess we now know the third secret of Fatima. The one the Church has never wanted to share with the laity''. He looked at me as if I had asked him, "why did the chicken cross the road?" The first version. To which he would have answered, "to get to the other side". Had I asked 'that' question. His look was dismissive. And he gave me no answer.

AO | 13 December 2019  

This commentary reminds me so much of the scene in The Life of Brian where the various "liberation fronts" argue with each other. The Church is sick and like to die, and we are arguing about what kind of life support is legitimate. Let's get on with needed reform before it is too late. Our liturgy is stultified. Our bureaucracy is Stalinist in its centralisation and Byzantine conservatism. The "Church" rules for itself are manifestly counter-productive. Who is this "Church" anyway. Where does it leave us laity, after all the kind but carefully ambivalent words of Vatican II? We need to get in and save what is left of the life of the patient.

Patrick Mahony Mahony | 13 December 2019  

AO: In reference to 'ever Virgin Mary' please see Mt 1:25. Private revelations - however compelling - in personal visions do not trump the Divine Revelation in Sacred Scripture. Interestingly the proclamation of the Gospel message at Sunday Mass next week (22nd December, 4th Sunday of Advent, Yr A) stops abruptly after Mt 1:24, for some reason, even though verse 1:25 is clearly the final verse there before the post-Nativity narrative is taken up in chapter two.

RJ | 13 December 2019  

John RD. Firstly, those who have asked the questions regarding such matters as women’s ordination, marriage and sexual morality, and indeed church structure, have a right as the People of God (the Church –according to Vatican II) to do so. Many changes have occurred in the Church over the centuries regarding all sorts of matters in light of biblical scholarship, theology, philosophy and other sciences. Secondly, I would argue that Christ did not leave us anything like the hierarchical structure that we now have in the Church. There is nothing in the Gospels to this effect. For example, he did not ordain anybody in the way we understand ordination today. Yes, he did say “Whatever you bind on earth etc.), and that is my point. The Bishops have the ability to weigh up and respond to matters put forward by the faithful, (sensus fidei/sensus fidelium). This must be done in every age in light of contemporary scholarship and the continuing evolution of humankind. Yes, the magisterium is to be respected, but it can be changed. This is where reason comes in: it is used to discern what might rightly be changed to reflect our continued understanding of God: Divine Mystery.

Thomas Amory | 15 December 2019  

There are many examples of moral failure which are not considered crimes. However, as Justice Mc Clelland indicated [referred to by Michael Furtado], it is disgraceful, indeed laughable, when church leaders categorise rape of a child as an individual moral failure rather than a crime when they recognise rape of an adult as a crime. There is far more than renewal necessary in some members of the hierarchy in whom a good dose of psychiatric therapy is indicated.

john frawley | 15 December 2019  

The Church is indeed sick, Patrick, but hardly 'like to die'. Indeed, its continued existence till the End of Time is guaranteed by someone far, far greater than you or I. That does not mean the decent believers in it are not going to have to go through their own version of the Burning Fiery Furnace that Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego survived. Gerard Hore is correct. Fixing the mess in the current Church requires all individual Catholics to stand up and be counted. It's a group responsibility.

Edward Fido | 15 December 2019  

''Scholars disputing and disregarding supernatural revelations, public or private.'' Here I meant to say, they disregard such things publicly at Lectures, and privately. Nicodemus knew. And so did Jesus. But who knew best? We only speak of things we know...Think about it.

AO | 15 December 2019  

Thomas Amory, to describe what is being proposed in relation to Catholic teaching and practice by groups intending to "cross orthodox boundaries of church life" as merely asking questions seems to me a euphemistic misnomer for what is really, in many cases, a new paradigm, radically different from the continuity characteristic of a genuine organic development and deepened ecclesial understanding in the Catholic Church.

John RD | 15 December 2019  

Take heart, John Warhurst, and strive to implant the seeds of renewal that are so direly needed in today's Church. Be not cowed by vague references to an ecclesiology that warns of "euphemistic misnomer(s) for what is really, in many cases, a new paradigm, radically different from the continuity characteristic of a genuine organic development and deepened ecclesial understanding in the Catholic Church" and which take as their authoritative source Old Covenantal imprecations, such as "the Burning Fiery Furnace that Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego survived."

Michael Furtado | 15 December 2019  

John RD (16/12) thanks for your conversation. In answer to your post regarding "cross orthodox boundaries of church life" and “a genuine organic development and deepened ecclesial understanding in the Catholic Church”, again, I would appeal to the four elements: Scripture, Faith, Reason, and (Theological) Tradition. Using all of these, Vatican II made considerable changes resulting in the genuine organic development etc. of which you speak. For example, the Church’s teaching pre-Vatican II on those outside the Roman Catholic Church is vastly different post-Vatican II. This is a result of a genuine organic development and deepened ecclesial understanding in the Catholic Church.

Thomas Amory | 16 December 2019  

In relation to the involvement of the lay faithful in all matters within the Church, Vatican II in Lumen Gentium states: ‘(The laity) are, by reason of the knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church. …let this be done through the organs erected by the Church for this purpose. Let it always be done in truth, in courage and in prudence, with reverence and charity toward those who by reason of their sacred office represent the person of Christ. A great many wonderful things are to be hoped for from this familiar dialogue between the laity and their spiritual leaders: in the laity a strengthened sense of personal responsibility; a renewed enthusiasm; a more ready application of their talents to the projects of their spiritual leaders. The latter …aided by the experience of the laity, can more clearly and more incisively come to decisions regarding both spiritual and temporal matters. In this way, the whole Church, strengthened by each one of its members, may more effectively fulfil it’s mission for the life of the world.’

Thomas Amory | 16 December 2019  

Michael Furtado, the view repudiated by Justice McCLellan is one which I share, but I find it necessary to point out that it is not a view shared by all bishops - nor one representative of all Catholics who do not share your enthusiasm for the reform movement advocated by John Warhurst.

John RD | 16 December 2019  

Edward Fido. Thanks Edward for you post, and I agree with your point that the Church is not likely to die and that we all must stand up and work together. However, I do wonder what we are to do in dealing with what I think is one of the elephants in the room, and that is that fact that in Western society, more and more people are rejecting religion, Christianity or otherwise. For Catholicism in Australia, I would hope that the Plenary 2020 will deal with this head on. We can look at the serious problems of Church structure etc., which must be fixed, but these will not guarantee increased numbers of faithful. The same goes for issues including women’s ordination, marriage equality etc., which I believe we must also embrace, but again, these fixes will not guarantee that our churches will be full when they are fixed. It’s all food for thought.

Thomas Amory | 16 December 2019  

To clarify, my opening line above (17/12) should read: "While I share the view of Justice McLennan in repudiating the notion that the rape of the child is not a crime, I find it necessary to point out that this notion, etc. . . . " I also refer Michael Furtado to the specific points raised in my (13/12 post), all of which have been advanced by representatives of reform groups in ES and several Plenary Council preliminary sessions in which I've been a participant. Further, Thomas Amory misunderstands me if he thinks I would deny lay input into matters affecting the Church's faith and morals. I support the Plenary Council initiative. My issue is with those who reject the authority of the pope and bishops in communion with him, and their teachings based on scripture and tradition, as clearly evident in Vatican II, particularly in Chapers 2 & 3 of the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church ("Lumen Gentium").

John RD | 16 December 2019  

As part of a group "Concerned Queensland Catholics" that prepared a number of submissions for the Royal Commission, under that name, even our simple attempts to support victims in the church were blindsided locally. No longer as naive as we once were my husband and I see the only way to bring this church to account is through taxation. Money and power protect the church no matter what its actions. Charitable status is lost when the laws of the land are not upheld. Although the government does not seem inclined to broach this subject it is surely the most appropriate avenue for change when the hierarchy won't listen! History shows a " stop at no cost" attitude to protect the reputation of the church. The future can be changed by the church finally paying this financial loss for its actions! A just cost to keep our children safe, would no doubt drive change.

Patricia Hamilton | 16 December 2019  

It is a complex and challenging situation facing the Catholic and all other Churches, Thomas Amory, and, as you can see here, not everyone agrees on what needs to be done. To me what really catalysed it here in Australia was the Paedophilia Crisis. This was truly diabolic. I am a little chary using the word 'diabolic' because, when you mention this, people think you are a nutter. In an earlier age someone like Dante was not chary of mentioning the diabolic and consigning many high churchmen, including the odd Pope, to Hell for their misdeeds. It is ironic that many of the churchmen who were unable to prevent the aforesaid Crisis, or their chosen successors, are charged with cleansing and refurbishing the Augean Stables. Can they do it? Without repenting of their past errors in true humility and realising that, without God, they are impotent, I think not. One of the great things about 'the movement John Warhurst is involved with is that it is a lay movement. Some of the greatest movements in the Church, like the St Vincent de Paul Society, are lay in origin and leadership.

Edward Fido | 16 December 2019  

One has to ask John RD about which aspects of Lumen Gentium he believes in or supports because the views to which he directs me are categorically opposed to both its wording and intent. As the tide of responses, some of them gentler than mine, has turned against his in this discussion, so also do I detect a tone of desperation entering his discourse and in the context of which he admits to some Bishops disgracefully holding out against the position taken by other more reformist Bishops on the scandal of Child Abuse and its (non) Reporting. Similarly, if John imagines that the Papacy has maintained a long and unbroken line of cohesion and coherence, both in matters of succession as well as doctrine, he is fooling no one but himself. The gaps, not just in matters of style but also in pronouncement, between Pope Francis and his prior two antecedents, are growingly stark and unable to be papered over by those who would privilege apologetics and its impossible double-somersaults, pirouettes and grand jettes of fantastically imaginary proportions in the hope of towing a supposed consistent doctrinal line. Not only will the laity not be fooled; neither will many Bishops!

Michael Furtado | 16 December 2019  

I see little point in going over ground already covered over some time in previous contributions, complete with detailed references, in ES postings, Michael, so let it suffice to recognise for now that we disagree on very basic matters affecting the Catholic Church and the continuity of the Apostolic tradition.

John RD | 16 December 2019  

Thomas Amory, thank you for your attention to Vatican II's "Lumen Gentium" (16/12). I note, in the paragraph included, the words :" . . .let this be done through the organs erected by the Church for this purpose" in reference to the laity's welcomed expression of opinions concerning the good of the Church. The organised "ginger "groups proposed by the reformists in John Warhurst's article at the conclusion of PC2020 commit themselves to "maintain a healthy scepticism" towards the Plenary Council - an attitude established and evident before the Council process started - and avow their determination to take initiatives independent of "diocesan, national or international developments." Such autonomy is hardly coherent, I think, with working within "the organs erected by the Church", and is likely if pursued to result in the sorry scenario envisaged as a possibility by Gerard Hore (13/12). Such an expression of "lay leadership", unlike that of the St Vincent de Paul Society mentioned as a comparison by Edward Fido (17/12) would. I suggest, undermine the spirit of collaboration, common purpose and service necessary for authentic and effective renewal and reform.

John RD | 17 December 2019  

No one seems to have a answer as to where the authority for change and reform comes from. It clearly doesn't come from the Vatican II documents (Lumen Gentium particularly) and doubtfully from the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit as claimed by many seeking change.

john frawley | 17 December 2019  

John RD, the example of healthy scepticism addressed by you indeed has its most eloquent and obvious expression in the independence of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, which from the outset set out to free itself from any connection or structural involvement with the diocesan Church. The Society, as attractive as its behaviour appears to you, and as judiciously positioned as I note and commend its structure to be, enables it to employ personnel as well as to serve others without the imposition of external authorities and canonical interference and which has often been the bane of many a Catholic bishop's existence. All Professor Warhurst alludes to in this regard, as a prominent former political scientist, is a diocesan structure and culture that honours the principle of the separation of powers. This principle is enshrined in nearly all secular as well as other non-Catholic church organisations, and it is an absence of it that has led to the enormous and scandalous breaches of ethical behaviour that have now been found by the Royal Commission against Australia's Catholic episcopal leadership. Roll on reform!

Michael Furtado | 18 December 2019  

John RD. Yes, I agree with your post of 18/12 that if the formal listening process is not carried out as in Lumen Gentium, then of course it can not be considered official in the sense of Lumen Gentium. However, it is understandable that many in the Church in Australia have begun a process, ‘any process’ in the absence of any movement from the hierarchy for over 80 years in terms of a Plenary Council – at that time not inclusive of laity under the ecclesiastical system in place. Then, 55 years have passed since Lumen Gentium was promulgated in 1964, and still no response to it in Australia from the hierarchy until now. I am unaware of any diocesan or archdiocesan synodal system that is in place whereby, in every diocese, there is a regular diocesan synod of laity, clergy and bishops, the outcome of which is brought to something like a General Synod, also on a regular basis. Is it any wonder, that laity, clergy and bishops are so out of sync and going in all directions? Such a synodal system is just good management, as any major corporation would do in order to know itself and its people.

Thomas Amory | 18 December 2019  

Michael Furtado: Rather than a legitimate "separation of powers", the reform groups represented by John Warhurst urge a confusion of powers; among this confusion, a fudging of the Catholic understanding of a distinction in kind between the priesthood of the ordained and the priesthood of the laity, and between those who are the ultimate arbiters of teaching and practice in the Church - the pope and bishops in communion with him, whose responsibilty it is to define the orthodoxy "ginger' groups, in the name of Vatican II, claim it is their right and intention to oppose and even usurp - unlike the St V de P Society who, to my knowledge, have never contested official Church teaching. And while some structures or conventions contribute to a toxic culture, it would be superficial to think that structures are at the root of the scandal that has so damaged the Church. " . . .This kind can only be driven out by prayer and fasting": in other words, by a searching spiritual renewal - on which I find the reformers curiously silent.

John RD | 18 December 2019  

Thomas Amory, though I acknowledge much of what you say about the laggardly and piecemeal response to Vatican II, I'm afraid, in view of serious divisions generated by the recent Amazon one in Rome and the forthcoming one in Germany, I can no longer say I have the optimism about synodality that I did when some time ago in ES I commended Limerick Bishop Brendan Leahy's thoughts on their value and place in ecclesiology. Along with spiritual renewal, encouragement of parish and diocesan councils seems to me to be the place to start.

John RD | 18 December 2019  

I have little doubt that you are one of the sharpest tools in the shed as far as commenters on ES threads go, John RD and that includes me. When Vatican II came out some saw it as the Church opening Pandora's Box. It was never meant to be. Just a nuanced, long needed recalibration of things to bring them up to scratch. For all its faults, the Church of the 50s and 60s, with its Catechism, which we all learnt by heart, taught us the simple but important truths any Catholic needs to know. That teaching formed the likes of Father Bob Maguire, who is definitely a Post-Vatican II man but not an idiot. There are idiots who always take things too far. There is a narrow line between the holy inculturation of religion - the revelation of the icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe - and some very questionable, pagan practices such as at the recent Amazon synod. We need to pray for the holy virtue of Discrimination and to not be led astray.

Edward Fido | 21 December 2019  

Yes, Edward, I think the times certainly call for the "discreta caritas" St Ignatius Loyola exercised and urged on all his companions. This virtue - which you most aptly call "holy" - especially requires exercise when postmodernists would make a virtue of ambiguity, deliberately subverting clarity in the pursuit of political agendas - a linguistic and ethical distortion exposed in Socrates's dialogues and by those in the same tradition like Orwell, Scruton and Kimball in their analysis of newspeak sophistries.

John RD | 22 December 2019  

There is a wonderful Scots phrase, self-explanatory, which to me is, in a secular sense, similar to Discrimination, John RD. It is 'the wit tae ken'. I think the modern desire to understand everything in its minutiae, even matters which are described as Mysteries of Religion, only fully understood by the Almighty Himself, is a perversion of this. This results in some of the so called 'theological thought' coming out of places like Cambridge University and Union Theological Seminary. The Church is in a state of ferment and it is essential it comes through on the right side. It desperately needs Holiness and Discrimination. The current Pope has both. We need to pray for them for ourselves and the whole Church and for wise and holy leadership at all levels.

Edward Fido | 11 January 2020  

I am a simple man. My humble observation is that the author of this article has a desire to change the Church to conform to his agenda, and to frame those with a differing opinion to his own as bad people.

DM | 09 February 2020  

The renewal the Church needs is not a return to outdated misinterpretations of the past, but a realization that all established religions are merely interpretations made through the lens of whatever circumstances prevailed at the time. We are all God's children, scattered around the base of the Mountain of God, and must proceed through different terrains to reach the top.' Our' path is not the sole path to God, though it suits us because of our traditions, just as others suit them. Each path is not God, and should not be deified, and others should be respected. As we move upwards, we will draw closer together, At the top, we will all be united.

Robert Liddy | 20 February 2021  

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