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Synodality is a work in progress



Synodality, the new term which is sweeping the church, is an aspirational goal not a proven methodology. For this reason, it is a test case for the lasting impact on church reform of the papacy of Pope Francis. He has given us an aspiration but also set us a test. 

Church historians will look back at this decade as a test of the idea of synodality. Lay Catholics, handed the idea as a gift from on high, are waiting to see whether it works and takes root in unpromising soil. It will be judged by whether it gives lay Catholics an equal voice by enshrining the ideal of journeying together in the spirit of co-responsibility deep in the culture of the church. 

Within Australia the Plenary Council is, among other things, one test of this ideal. Pope Francis notes, with delight, in his recent book Let Us Dream (seen by many as a textbook on synodality), that the Australian Plenary Council is putting the synodal method into practice. We are on the radar, along with other synods, of the world Catholic community. 

Another Australian test will come with the local preparations for the 2023 Synod of Bishops' Synod on Synodality. How the Australian aspect of this massive world-wide consultation relates to the Plenary Council is still to be determined. 

Exactly what are we testing? Synodality has different levels and meanings. It is also a relatively new term, open to conflicting interpretations. It should be considered at various levels: principles, structures and decision-making. 

The first level is one of high principle. Synodality means co-responsibility between clergy and laity. It involves walking together and listening to one another. It is the approach which underpins the official church report, The Light from the Southern Cross. 


'Synodality is hard work. It is also a work in progress and far from a finished product, yet the future of the church in Australia depends upon its successful adoption.' 


The second level involves any associated mechanisms or structures which enable the synodality experience to take place. By definition, this means synods of bishops in the first instance and also diocesan synods and assemblies, plus assemblies at the local parish level. The enabling structures also include diocesan and parish pastoral councils. These are all recommended by The Light from the Southern Cross but have been met with some official resistance. 

The third level involves the practice of synodal decision-making. People are naturally interested in how a new approach affects outcomes. For Pope Francis, synodality is the best means, once hierarchy has been discredited, of coping with the obvious polarization and disunity within the church. 

Here it has a special meaning which departs from common secular understanding of decision-making on the basis that the church is a unique institution. Francis especially distinguishes synodality from parliamentarianism, which depends on majority voting. But he also rejects using corporate approaches, including the rights of shareholders to hold management accountable. 

Francis wants much more than mere consensus and compromise, which is one approach to finding unity in divided situations. He aspires to new and surprising outcomes which he describes as ‘overflow’. Such overflow embraces the spiritual dimension of synodality. Unfortunately, the example given of overflow, the decision by the Synod on the Family to allow communion to divorced and remarried Catholics on a case-by-case basis might equally be described as an old-fashioned compromise. 

Hopes for synodality in Australia must begin from the premise that we are not starting with a clean slate. Synodality means grafting a new approach onto the existing hierarchical church. Francis calls this a transition stage. 


'Francis especially distinguishes synodality from parliamentarianism, which depends on majority voting. But he also rejects using corporate approaches, including the rights of shareholders to hold management accountable.' 


The church in Australia brings unpromising baggage to this transition. The record in Australia of the introduction by church authorities of that key enabling synodal institution, the pastoral council, is disappointing and patchy. Few dioceses have diocesan pastoral councils, and they are especially scarce in archdioceses. Some powerful archbishops have long made clear by their words and actions that one will be introduced ‘over my dead body’. 

Secondly, the promising expression of synodality through consultation and listening, with which the Plenary Council process began, was forgotten during the subsequent Working Document and Agenda Question development stages. A synodal state of mind is arguably yet to be developed among most bishops. 

Thirdly, there has been a conspicuous lack of real engagement by some senior bishops over the last three months during the Plenary Council member formation stage. While there has been plenty of deep listening and practising of discernment by most members, some senior bishops have been notable for their reluctance to deeply engage with other members. 

All of this suggests that we should hold our collective breath and hope and pray for the best. All Plenary Council members should be open-minded. However, it is up to the official proponents of synodality, the bishops, to show by their leadership that it enables us to face the problems of the church head on. Dr Jessie Rogers, speaking from Ireland, told the recent Second Convocation of Catholics, organised by the Australasian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, that synodality is hard work. It is also a work in progress and far from a finished product, yet the future of the church in Australia depends upon its successful adoption. 



John WarhurstJohn Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University, chair of Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn, and a Plenary Council member.

Main image: Pope Francis holds his General Weekly Audience in St. Peter's Square (Giulio Origlia/Getty Images)

Topic tags: John Warhurst, Synoldality, PC, Pope Francis, Plenary Council, Catholic, Australia



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Thanks for this grounding article. I am not convinced that enough bishops have lost enough to be the synodal the church needs. Speaking generally, more death may be needed before a synodal church can rise.

Andrew | 23 September 2021  

Synodality. A new weasel word which gives some people another subject for a fruitless talk festival at which they can dream up even more weasel words. Embracing the model for priesthood training espoused in Gideon Goosen's article today is far more likely to bring change than any of the mumbo-jumbo that has gone on around the Plenary Council, yet another compendium of weasel words.

john frawley | 24 September 2021  

John's usual sensitivity to constructive and aberrant scenarios is present in his latest offering. But perhaps it is time to press pause on analysis. The Lord Chancellor's Nightmare song, in Iolanthe, takes us to the edge of worrisome prospects “When you are lying awake...and repose is taboo'd by anxiety....” Our tradition would recommend an alternative to still more late stage thinking, preferring a reprise of “Veni Creator Spiritus” followed by the “Te Deum” A reminder that our going forward is dependent on the presence of Divine Wisdom. Then, a reminder we follow in the footsteps of disciples who, in their time, learnt to put their trust in the Lord. For the PC participants it is almost time “to put on the motley.” Whatever is said and done will be fair game for later analysis, evaluation, approbation or abrogation.

Bill Burke | 24 September 2021  

The notion of synodality has been used even by the Pope, in ways suggesting that church decision making processes are utterly different from secular decision making processes. Activities like debating, lobbying, voting in assemblies like parliaments are disdained as too human and thus not Spirit-driven. Practices like synodality and discernment are contradistinguished from these activities as practices enlightened by the Spirit. These practices become so 'sacralised' that they are almost unrecognisable as human: they seemingly imply divine revelation via a hotline to heaven rather than through historical events. The law of the incarnation forbids such sacralisation. That law commands not rejection, but perfection of human activities like debating, lobbying, voting in assemblies like parliaments. Perfecting here means engaging in these activities in the belief that it is through them, and not through some hotline to heaven, that the Spirit acts in human history. Synodality must surely involve such perfecting engagement in these activities. Discernment too can be sacralised to the point of sublimating real problems to spiritual ones: impiety, a materialistic, hedonistic culture world. Clericalism, sexism, discrimination against certain minorities in the doctrine and governance of the church will thus be overlooked in favour of a spiritual opium.

Michael Leahy | 24 September 2021  
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Well said, Michael. Synodality, as it is practiced in the Anglican & Uniting Churches, incorporates the entire range of debating and discursive procedures and practices to which you allude. While elsewhere in this correspondence John Frawley has referred with contempt to the ways in which the Anglicans employ it, I happen to have witnessed it when introducing Cardinal Wilfred Napier to the Brisbane Anglican Synod at the time of Napier's visit to Australia to seek ecumenical support for a peaceful transition in South Africa from apartheid to liberal democracy. At all times I was impressed by the attention to sobriety, propriety, respect and all speakers being given a turn. The most critical catalyst in this process was the influence of Bishop George Browning as Synodal Chair and the strict adherence that Anglicans have to a process that has brought peaceful, just and identifiable solutions to extraordinary and complex problems of their Church that are, in a sense, no less potentially partisan and divisive than the great partisan rifts that already exists in our own. That this was managed in the open with dignity, prayerful integrity and vote-taking is a compliment to the very parliamentarianism that is so unjustly parodied here.

Michael Furtado | 03 October 2021  

Thanks John for persevering in trying to get a useful conversation going on this key issue. Regarding: "The Church in Australia brings unpromising baggage to this transition." Dual allegiances in clergy and parishioners, even at the archiepiscopal level is surely the worst? - - - Dual allegiance is not uncommon; many catholics join freemason lodges and participate in ceremonies that dishonor Christ. Cannon lawyer, Dr Ed Condon has researched this type of dual citizenship and shows why a faithful Catholic could never be a freemason (summary in The Catholic Herald of August 10th 2017). He reports Pope Francis has spoken many times of the scourge of freemason infiltration, even of the Roman Curia. Dr Condon connects the on-going secular corruption of the Church with several decades of penetration by freemason materialist ideology. People working in the Vatican have been shocked at being approached to join freemasonry. There, as elsewhere, masonic lodges function as confidential meeting points & networks for those with materialist ambitions, heterodox philosophies, & agendas that are far from Catholic orthodoxy. In this markedly anti-New Testament heresy, sin does not matter because everybody (or nobody) will be saved. Therefore – do whatever you want. - - - Dr Condon’s report rang a bell. Some years ago, as a new member of a Catholic parish, I was approached by a senior parishioner master-mason, who claimed close affiliation with our archbishop and our parish priest. His blandishments failed as I'd already seen the faith-destroying havoc wrought by freemasonry in university colleagues and relatives. The occult links between freemasonry and witchcraft were all too apparent. - - - The Faithful find strong support in Holy Scripture & in the magisterial Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). Among its injunctions, CCC section 450 instructs: “From the beginning of Christian history, the assertion of Christ’s lordship over the world and over history has implicitly recognized that humans should not submit their personal freedom in an absolute manner to any earthly power . . .” Ephesians 5:11 reminds us: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 makes matters especially clear. No equivocation can circumvent Apostolic instructions. - - - In conversation with women leaders from the C.C.R. & the A.C.U. (male clergy refused to discuss the issue), we realized baptism, confirmation, holy Eucharist, holy orders, & the creeds have not proven sufficient to stop clergy from making dual allegiances. We were inspired to think of a simple ‘Personal Affirmation of Faith Allegiance’ as a way to increase clarity. A draft ‘PAFA’ is offered here for general comment. - - -
I …………………………………….. of …………………………………………………….. solemnly affirm I have no allegiance that conflicts with my allegiance to Jesus Christ & His Catholic Church or to my obedience to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I affirm I have no association with any pagan or occult or atheistic organization or with freemasonry or witchcraft or their like. I appreciate that this is a solemn affirmation of my personal faith allegiance and that, if proven false, I may be held to account and be subject to sanctions.
Signed……………………………….Dated……………. Witnessed………………………………Dated…………….
When those at Plenary Councils & at Synods can be sure of the faith allegiances of all their co-participants, outcomes will be more beneficial to The Church. - - - Ever in the love of Jesus Christ; blessings from Marty

Dr Marty Rice | 24 September 2021  
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Marty, you may be interested in contacting this website.
God bless!

Sanctissimus | 16 November 2021  

John Warhurst's recognition of synodality as "an aspirational goal, not a proven methodology" is very pertinent. However, the idea that the "Preparatory Document" and its "Vademecum" companion released this week are completely aligned with the intent of Vatican II is questionable: nowhere does the Council collapse the distinction between the roles of the ordained priesthood and those of the lay faithful in the Church, set hierarchy in opposition to equality, or conceive ""conversion as the "passage of leaving one's own cultural and religious categories." I'd hope that the next draft of preparatory synodal materials in June will address these constructions of Vatican II's intent and their legitimising claim to consistency and continuity with the Council's documents, particularly "Lumen Gentium", II & III.

John RD | 24 September 2021  

Fix the brand so it will evangelise better? A brand with reputation will reduce the resistance of the target to the messenger, but the messenger is always a person, and the brand a lever that s/he uses for traction. Whatever else this synod does, if one of its agenda items is not how to put a disciple with something to say in a park or street corner or somewhere where two homo sapiens will encounter each other, it’s expecting the brand to carry the load of the disciple. That cannot do because a brand cannot look a target in the eye and attempt to show that the hard teaching is plausible. If a religion were all easy teachings, it wouldn't need to be evangelised. Therefore, a religion, by definition, is always an obstruction to some human pleasure. In some cases, it will obstruct the pleasure of some of its adherents.

roy chen yee | 25 September 2021  

Pope Francis said on Saturday that the two-year process leading to the 2023 synod on synodality is not about “gathering opinions,” but “listening to the Holy Spirit.” Yet John Frawley responds contemptuously to the idea as a "A new weasel word which gives some people another subject for a fruitless talk festival at which they can dream up even more weasel words." The Pope recently alluded to conservative media organisations that seek to return to the past and also openly harbour critics that oppose his reform agendas. On so many issues the Pope has stated sadly that the Catholic Church is no longer the first port of call for many ethical and moral issues. It's my view that EWTN is the equivalent of Fox News in the US and Catholics such as Steve Bannon are malign voices. It would be easy to accept John Frawley's views if there was not a consistent and dramatic decline in Church membership in Australia, and that it has altered its governance and accountability structures which failed so miserably during the sexual abuse crisis. All of us need to reflect on how positive our contributions are to the future Church in Australia.

Peter Donnan | 27 September 2021  
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Well said dear Peter. Active reflection and continuing interaction until we can get a good view of this complex of largely unrecognized machinations. The alternative is surrender to a spruced-up 'business as usual'. Pope Francis' call to us to ground it all on New Testament authenticity provides a solid starting point. Ever in the love of Jesus Christ; blessings from marty

Dr Marty Rice | 27 September 2021  

‘consistent and dramatic decline in Church membership in Australia.’ Every now and again, you have fools who say they will leave the country if X is elected. Of course, they don’t because they can’t. Unless you have dual citizenship, you can’t plan to live with permanent stability anywhere else. Then there are the fools who say they will leave the Church if it does X and do, because, materially, they can. They can still be on Medicare whether or not they attend Mass. Of course, what they can’t see is what renouncing the periodic receipt of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist will do to the substance of their souls. So, they’re either brain dead or they never properly learned their faith. Charity includes concern for fools; discernment includes knowing that the concern is for fools.

roy chen yee | 28 September 2021  

Peter Donnan. I genuinely admire and respect your faith. I have great difficulty, however, with "listening to the Holy Spirit" which has become such a past time in various quarters in recent times. I have yet to hear any of these favoured interlocutors with our God tell us what the Holy Spirit has told them nor to act definitively on the advice given. One might have thought that when His church is being decimated with its members arguing with each other in favour or against various human self-orientated goals, that if the Holy Spirit were available to offer advice that he would have done so long before today. The Church needs to sort out the secular humanism that has invaded its ranks in the misinterpretations of Vatican II or with the disappointment of those who felt let down because it didn't change things to suit their own wishes. Suddenly the disappointed appointed the Holy Spirit as the instigator of change to all those difficult pieces of teaching and practice that didn't suit them. I can't imagine what the Holy Spirit thinks of Vatican II but doubt that He claims any credit for its outcomes. Perhaps Catholicism is not His church - perhaps Luther, Henry VIII, Cranmer and Wolsey had it right and are the true recipients of the advised wishes of the Spirit, communicated to them alone. After all, they have been running a synodal democracy for years yet, strangely, enjoy even less following than the Catholic Church. The Spirit must be totally confused, holding his head in His hands, wondering what on Earth to do about it all.

john frawley | 28 September 2021  
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Hi beloved Dr John Frawley,

You are right to warn that so many (consciously or unconsciously) fake 'hearing from The Holy Spirit of God'. As Jesus Christ warned: "Many will come in My Name." - - - Even worse, more and more groups and ministries 'move in the spirit', seeming unaware of the diverse realities of spiritual ecology. So often it's not The Holy Spirit that works in their midst. - - - How do we tell when it's The Holy Spirit and when it's a spiritist counterfeit? As always, by reference to the Apostolic Witness of The New Testament: The Holy Spirit's ministry is evidenced by love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. - - - A great Catholic example of these gifts pouring out in abundance happened in 'The Miracle of Juarez'. This the subject of the video: "Viva Cristo Rey". available from Catholic Charismatic Services Inc, USA. Also, many free articles about Juarez Miracle on the web. - - - For easy and totally inspiring reading I love these 4 little books: "The Cross and the Switchblade" by David Wilkerson; "Chasing the Dragon" by Jackie Pullinger; "May's Boy" by Shirlee Monty; and 'The Hiding Place" by Corrie ten Boom. God's Holy Spirit is very much at work among us . . . If anyone wants further info., please email me: m.rice@griffith.edu.au

Ever in the love of Jesus Christ; blessings from Marty

Dr Marty Rice | 29 September 2021  

The Tower of Babel in the OT illustrates human disarray and vanity without the Holy Spirit whereas Pentecost highlights the converse. The idea of human interlocutors acquiring specific divine instructions is appealing but a forlorn one. You are writing, John, about an existential issue: do we receive specific guidelines about choice of a spouse, career path, threats and challenges? In my view the NT - especially Matthew 4, 5 and 6 - offers such wisdom but it needs interpretation and discernment in the secret places of the heart. Even the word ‘charismatic’ suggests unconventional thinking, leaving one’s boats behind and going to unfamiliar shores.

On Vatican 11: a major event in the history the Church but so much more to follow up on

On ‘difficult pieces of teaching and practice’: the way divorces are treated, contraception, role of women, clericalism etc change them because they are not integral to our faith or indeed to salvation

As one becomes older, change is threatening but in Pope Francis we have a leader addressing some of the critical issues in the Church today. With synodal issues, he does not want to see political and pastoral issues being blurred. He deserves support.

Peter Donnan | 30 September 2021  

A short but crucial addendum: - - - Each person who is concerned for their spiritual health needs to constantly test the spirit (1 John 4:1): - - - Do the religious individuals & organizations we relate with PROCLAIM wholeheartedly & unreservedly that Jesus Christ alone is the triumphant sole ruler of the heavens & the earth; is the fullness of the one eternal God enfleshed, crucified, resurrected, ascended, reigning, & soon returning as the sole, eternal Judge of all of us, living and dead. - - - It is perfectly legit for even humble sheep like us, John, to question even such eminents as Archbishop Mark Coleridge as to where he stands. - - - In these times of deep fakery it is more than legitimate, it is vital to check what sort of spirit is at work. - - -Tardiness in this may be eternally costly. - - - Ever in the unflinching love of Jesus Christs; blessings from Marty

Dr Marty Rice | 30 September 2021  

Dear John, A short but crucial addendum: - - - Each person who is concerned for their spiritual health needs to constantly test the spirit (1 John 4:1): - - - Do the religious individuals & organizations we relate with PROCLAIM wholeheartedly & unreservedly that Jesus Christ alone is the triumphant sole ruler of the heavens & the earth; is the fullness of the one eternal God enfleshed, crucified, resurrected, ascended, reigning, & soon returning as the sole, eternal Judge of all of us, living and dead. - - - It is perfectly legit for even humble sheep like us, John, to question even such eminents as Archbishop Mark Coleridge as to where he stands. - - - In these times of deep fakery it is more than legitimate, it is vital to check what sort of spirit is at work. - - -Tardiness in this may be eternally costly. - - - Ever in the unflinching love of Jesus Christs; blessings from Marty

Dr Marty Rice | 30 September 2021  

Synodality is a messy term. It is weak in definitional clarity, but useful in prompting an unfamiliar mode of interaction between ordained and lay members of the Catholic community. Its naysayers and sceptics have their role in challenging its principles and contemporary applications, but, would be unwise to indulge in ridicule or wholesale dismissal. Critics proceeding from within the Catholic tradition need to take the tradition seriously. Synodality's provenance reaches back to previous church epochs: these earlier incarnations of synodality affirm its legitimacy and articulate parameters which attach to its process. So it can be said that the Francis initiative is but a latter day application of bringing forth old things and new. (Mt 13.52)

Bill Burke | 29 September 2021  

The understanding of some modern conceptions of the Holy Spirit and its workings totally elude me, John Frawley. My concept is that certain people do receive genuine spiritual inspiration. They are people such as St Benedict and St Francis of Assisi. The proof of the genuiness of their inspiration is their fruits. To claim inspiration and not to bear fruit or bad fruit is to me a sign the source of this inspiration is not good. I can see real fruits resulting from the actions of both John Wesley and George Fox at a time Catholicism was quiescent in England. In my opinion God works through what is available. The Quakers do not decide matters on the vote, but 'the sense of the Meeting'. They wait till this consensus comes. Their Meetings are their worship. Because they are worship, they are taken very seriously. No one speaks in Meeting unless they feel so moved. I have attended these Meetings for Worship and found they rang true. How different from our mental and verbal bunfests.

Edward Fido | 30 September 2021  

In another experience of the Holy Spirit advising his devotees, I was greatly saddened when the Holy spirit, inspired a member of the local parish pastoral council (PPC) to seek him in the Hillsong Church. The PPC member attended a long weekend information [or perhaps that should be, formation] weekend run by Hillsong, filled by the Spirit alive and living with the congregation through the screaming theatrics of the multi-millionaire pastor proclaiming the truths of the Bible and celebrating the revelations contained therein with big band rock and roll, alleluia chorusing and dancing. [Reminiscent of the festivities surrounding the biblical golden calf] The PC member was filled with the Holy Spirit when she witnessed a great miracle on that weekend and left the Catholic Church praising the Spirit risen anew and proclaiming his message through the Hillsong Corporation, guided of course by the Holy Spirit. And the miracle was truly staggering in its enormity. The weekend raised $6,000,000.00 for the "Church" from a mere 3000.00 attendees with an average contribution per attendee of $2000.00. When I asked if the PPC member, who was not particularly well off, had contributed $ 2000.00, I was told that I had little understanding of the workings of the Spirit and couldn't see that the Spirit had favoured Hillsong with a repetition of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. I worry that the lunatics, unchallenged these days and hiding behind the smokescreen of inspiration that surrounds the Spirit are running the asylums. Or if the Spirit-inspired aren't running the asylums, I worry that the Spirit might perhaps need treatment therein.

john frawley | 03 October 2021  
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It was a woman!? What is it with women and apples? A man would have milked the snake and sold the product to Commonwealth Serum Labs.

roy chen yee | 04 October 2021  

A superficially clever riposte, John Frawley, but you may not have noticed that those massively in favour of a church reform that has been firmly shut down after Vatican II are hardly in that part of the Catholic tent that is in danger of heading for the Hillsong happy-clappies. The injunction to listen to the Spirit is rightly, as you infer, a ruse to shut down open and honest discussion and debate, and is hardly a practice endorsed by those who are tired of episcopal obfuscation and clerical control. Add to that Marty's command of the music on this page and the Bishops can be assured that the Synod will end up more like a Pentacostalist Hillsong Hallelujahfest than by addressing the pressing concerns of lay Catholics honestly, openly and humbly. Bring on the devotionalism, Marty. John Frawley needs your pious purgatives!

Michael Furtado | 04 October 2021  

Ah, you've come up against Prosperity Theology, a perversion of true Christianity, John Frawley. There are several question marks over Hillsong, including the present pastor's father. The Catholic Church has had its profiteers, including the disgraced, defrocked, former Cardinal 'Uncle Ted' and the 'Bishop of Bling' in Germany. Chaucer had these bastards pinned in 'The Canterbury Tales'. Many genuine religious movements, such as the great Methodist Revivals, by discouraging drunkeness and vice and encouraging hard work and thrift, did improve the lot of their adherents. They stopped the dreadful, murderous practice of wrecking on the Cornish coast. By their fruits... One of the things the Catholic Church, as well as other Churches, often don't do well is develop a mature Christian Faith with Discernment. If you truly possess Discernment you don't get taken in by charlatans. I am ambiguous about Hillsong. I think they believe what they preach, but I disagree with several of the values they hold. To me these are sub-Christian.

Edward Fido | 04 October 2021  

Michael Furtado. There are those like yourself who favour "church reform that has been firmly shut down after Vatican II". My difficulty with that position is that after reading all of the Vatican II documents a number of times and living through the early days after the conclusion of the council in 1964, I fail to find the reforms implemented by the council which have been "firmly shut down". Indeed, some of the reforms that were implemented caused great harm and damage to the Church and should have been shut down but weren't: eg, the destruction of the sacred liturgy, the virtual abolition of a devotional prayer life for parish communities, the failure to provide a daily missal for some 30 years after conclusion of the council depriving the younger generations of any attachment to, or knowledge of, the prayer of the very signature of Christianity, celebration of the Eucharist and the abandonment of education of the children on the grounds that "parents are the prime educators of their children" despite Gravissium Educationis (Vat II, 1965) stating quite clearly, "let teachers recognise that the Catholic school depends on them ALMOST ENTIRELY for the accomplishment of its goals and programs"(27). Ii is no great mystery that 90% of those deprived generations of nominal, baptised Catholics have nothing to do with the practice of Catholicism. So you can see, Michael, I am a radical conservative who needs help and would be greatly helped if you could provide some examples of Church reform that have been shut down by the ignorant, conservative Papacy of the 40 or so years following the Council.

john frawley | 05 October 2021  
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Thanks for asking, John. I think the two papacies (of J-PII & Benedict) offer several examples of strategies employed to apply the brakes. That this was surreptitiously done mainly through the appointment of conservative bishops throughout the globe illustrates the cunning, stealth and underhandedness by which this was achieved. Every province of bishops was sieved through for their orthodoxy to be tested on a root and branch basis, and, wherever found wanting, forced to resign. Sure; none of the decrees were rescinded, for indeed that couldn't canonically be possibly achieved. Instead various spokes were inserted, nunchaku hurled and slippery lassoes slyly discharged as a means of frustrating, tripping up and impeding the roll out and implementation of Council decisions. Sure this was done in a climate of assuring the conservative-disheartened among the faithful and pusillanimous, assuring them that nothing essential would be changed such as, dare I say it, poor gullible little old you. But in the end the non-implementation of the Spirit of the Council must, I fear, be attributed to naysayers like you. That you should subsequently wring your hands and tear your hair-shirt about the state of affairs alludes to renewal being stymied by people like you.

Michael Furtado | 15 October 2021  

I take the point in your last post, John Frawley. Onee of the benefits of the Catholic Church having the Ordinariates is that the Church may be exposed to priests who often gave up everything including job security, accomadation packages and pensions for the Truth. There are also a superb liturgy, often devoutly celebrated and good hymns. Some of the best ex-Anglican clergy, often young and former potential bishops, go straight to the Latin Rite. The example of a decent married priest, the norm in many Eastern Catholic Rites, is also uplifting.

Edward Fido | 10 October 2021  

Interesting to see Michael F that you couldn't name even one specific instance of reform recommended by Vat II that was shut down. Instead, as usual, you choose to hide your lack of substance by attempting to denigrate - the old, childish ad hominem defence of the playground.

john frawley | 18 October 2021  
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John Frawley, your personal attack militates somewhat against your self-description as a 'radical conservative'. Such self-classification enables you to get away with the assertion that all the edicts of Vatican II were implemented, which, clearly, by your own admission, they were not. Indeed, you yourself point to a number of expected implementations that never eventuated such as the production of a Daily Missal. I don't mind your description of yourself as a conservative, which clearly you are, both in matters of theology and medical practice. Its just that my respect for your various positions relates more for the stances you take in regard to the latter than the former.

Michael Furtado | 18 October 2021  

I have the greatest respect for Professor Warhurst, who is a genuine authority in his field and definitely knows what he is talking about here. The mainly appalling also-rans who, with some exception, compose the Australian Catholic episcopate - more third-rate administrators than 'Fathers-in-Christ' - need to be called to account by intelligent, influential laypeople like him. It's the nearest thing to the kick in the backside most deserve and many Catholics would love to administer. 'Synodality' must not be allowed to be used by these  to justify their dreadful inaction regarding sexual, physical and mental abuse of children and vulnerable adults by priests, brothers and nuns. Some of these were hanging offences when they occurred. I wish the perpetrators had been hanged. What now? Well certainly not back to the Middle Ages nor 'Mannix-Time'. Those days are past and the civil authorities know no 'Benefit of Clergy'. I would prescribe sawdust and ashes. It would be a good start.

Edward Fido | 18 October 2021  
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Edward, thanks for your narrative, but there are major gaps in the overall discourse. The transit of Anglican clergy to the personal ordinariate has mainly been triggered by their rejection of the decision of the Church of England in many parts of the developed world to ordain women. It hasn't occurred to you that in Australia among the fiercest opponents of this are Sydney Anglicans for most of whom the Roman Catholicism has a theology that is monstrously anathematic to their scripturalism. I'd wager that you, like some others within the progressive wing of our Church, favour married clergy and, inevitably, the ordination of women, since its only tradition that prevents such a thing. Thus, the analysis that you often bring to these columns perennially draws attention to the charming personalism and idiosyncrasy of an opinion that doesn't always provide more than an approximate 'fit' for the multi-factorial complexity of Christian ecclesiology. Additionally, despite your impressively entertaining Melburnian connections at the highest possible levels of academia and the Church, Mannix is assessed by many historians as having achieved many good things for Australian Catholics, depending on the contexts that inform his lengthy episcopacy. Similar reservations apply to your Orthodox 'remarks'.

Michael Furtado | 21 October 2021  

John Frawley has twice called for a tabulation of instance of reform recommended by Vat II that were shut down in the intervening years. While the short response format in play does not allow a comprehensive reply to John's challenge a brief reply is required – lest erroneous conclusions be drawn from silence. Four examples should be sufficient to demonstrate a trend.

The implementation of “The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council.” (Opening sentence of Unitatis Redintegratio) provides our first example of initiatives shelved. Between 1965 and 1978, Joint Statements from Vatican authorised working parties between Catholic and other Christian Churches were notable for their scope and achievement. After 1978, caution seemed to prevent all but the most pedestrian achievements. Second Example: Paragraph 16 of Optatum Totius said “Special care must be given to the perfecting of moral theology.” Long established journals witness to the depth of work undertaken between 1965 and 1978, then the next decade details a gradual emptying of critical reflection with a slow lurch into innocuous topics - until Francis' Pontificate. Example three could explore the constraints placed on national episcopal conferences after 1978 and example four could look at the unyielding control of Bishops Synod Meetings agendas as further examples of reversals of Vatican II intent.

Bill Burke | 19 October 2021  
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Thank You, Bill, for your more temperate and richly informed response to the challenge that John Frawley issued to me. I'm at the culmination of a teaching program that prevented me from doing the research that his request urgently demanded.

Michael Furtado | 21 October 2021  

‘While the short response format in play does not allow a comprehensive reply to John's challenge a brief reply is required – lest erroneous conclusions be drawn from silence. Four examples….’ This is an example of straining a gnat while expecting others to swallow a camel. I doubt the moderator will mind your providing four posts of 200 words each.

roy chen yee | 21 October 2021  

Roy - no need to dine on Camel - a little research in the directions I indicated will satiate your appetite. In the event that I outlive emeritus Benedict XVI you will be able to read my more lengthy analysis of the contributions of the sainted Karol Wojtyla and Joseph Ratzinger

Bill Burke | 21 October 2021  

OK, but intellectual striptease is intellectual striptease.

roy chen yee | 22 October 2021  

Thank you Bill Burke for outlining some areas where the reforms of Vat II were suppressed, seemingly with and following the advent of Pope John Paul II. You have given me a whole lot of reading to do in the hope that I might become familiar with what I may have missed in the post Vat II years. One question I must pursue is evidence for the validity of sainthood which could hardly attach to someone who actively reversed the intentions of the Holy Spirit inspired Council.

john frawley | 20 October 2021  

The current practice seems to be to immediately, or almost immediately, automatically sanctify the past Pope, John Frawley. I think it devalues the honour. I believe, like many others, that the Second Vatican Council did let in Light and Grace into some very dark places. There are those, such as Cardinal Raymond Burke and Matt Fradd an Australian resident of the USA with his own podcasts, who seem to be saying Pope Francis is departing from the Magisterium. I disagree. He is in conformity with both the Magisterium and the Second Vatican Council, which are not exclusive. He is, dare I say it, inspired by the Holy Spirit. A lot of stuff round in the Church today, like appalling hymns, did not come from the Council, but from some unfotunate people's appalling taste and non-extant writing abilities. Pope John Paul II, to me, seems to have had a mixed record. He was very good against atheistic Communism but rather rigid in some ways and seemingly unable to understand or empathise much with Third World people in places like South America. He would've loved Philippine Catholicism, because it was very much like his brand of Polish Catholicism. I wouldn't have promoted him to First Division status. No way. Second or Third at best.

Edward Fido | 21 October 2021  

Dear Colleagues,

Since so much of this discussion - bits of it rancorous, but also some of it collaborative and ameliorating - concerns synodality and discernment, I take the opportunity, with editorial permission, to cite the recent declaration of 'Root & Branch', the English & Welsh lay-led Synod meeting held last month in Bristol, as a first stage to responding to Pope Francis' invitation to the Global Church to commence preparation now to meet in Rome for a Global Synod in two years time.

I think it coheres well with John Warhurst's article and trust that it will generate a more open, positive and hope-filled future for our own somewhat tame and contained Australian synodal process:


Thank you.
Michael Furtado

Michael Furtado | 06 November 2021  
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‘the English & Welsh lay-led Synod meeting held last month in Bristol’ You don’t think this statement is misleading?

roy chen yee | 08 November 2021  

Thanks for the question, Roy. It was a meeting of lay representatives in advance of the forthcoming English & Welsh Synod, en route to the plenary one to be held in Rome.

Michael Furtado | 10 November 2021  

Meeting of some lay representatives in a ginger group rehearsing for what to say in an official diocesan pathway of consultation.

roy chen yee | 11 November 2021  

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