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Open government for the Church

  • 10 February 2022
Open government has been one of the big advances in society over the past 50 years. The struggle to achieve this has been conducted not only in governments around the world but also in the corporate sector. The claims for greater transparency have been resisted by those in authority for various reasons, including the fact that information is power. Slowly institutions have become more open and mechanisms, such as Freedom of Information (FOI), have been developed to process claims by citizens and shareholders for such information. Open government has come to be identified with good government. 

The Church in Australia has taken a step towards greater transparency with the release by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) of its first ever Annual Report-this one for the 2020 year. This step is welcome, but there is more to be done. Synodality and co-responsibility presumes that those who are walking together have equal access to information upon which to discern the future of the Church at all levels. 

For those who doubt that greater transparency is necessary for the health of the Church, the Introduction to the Annual Report by Archbishop Mark Coleridge, President of the ACBC, explains the motivation in moving towards informing the Catholic community and the wider Australian society. He writes that the ‘lack of transparency in the Church became apparent’ during the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. He also points to the influence of The Light from the Southern Cross, the official report by the Implementation Advisory Group commissioned by the bishops in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission to review church governance and culture. 

Church leaders, even those who want to make church processes more open, resist the idea that transparency should necessarily apply to the church as a matter of right. Transparency then becomes a matter of pragmatism or good will.  Synodality theory offers no help in this regard. If the Church is not a democracy, then the People of God do not possess the rights of citizens. 

In this ACBC Annual Report case Mark Coleridge feels it necessary to point out that ‘We [the Church] are not a corporation or a business.’ Consequently, the laity do not have rights. He says, ‘This is not an annual report to shareholders’ as in the corporate world. His explanation is strained and in pointing out what the Church is not Coleridge does not make clear the basis upon