Dr John Wijngaards, an 86 year Catholic priest and renowned theologian, is launching his memoir and “Ten Commandments” for church reform just as the Catholic Church starts its most significant review process since Vatican II.
This new book documents defects in the Church’s practices that need to be reformed and reveals an insider’s view of the distorted thinking behind many controversial Vatican teachings. It comes at a critical juncture after Pope Francis initiated a synodal process to update the Catholic Church starting in October 2021. This book is a testimony and guide no member of a diocesan synod can afford to ignore.
Throughout the book, Wijngaards highlights what he believes the Church needs to do in order to throw off its medieval cloak: “Hopefully, you will see how these changes for the better will breathe new life into a Church that has been stuck in the Middle Ages for far too long,” he writes in the preface.
If these “ten commandments” prove to be real eye-openers even to reform-minded Catholics, so should the author’s life story be of interest to the reader who simply enjoys an intriguing memoir punctuated with unpredictable twists and turns.
Wijngaards was born to Dutch Catholic parents in Indonesia in 1935. He movingly recounts being interred at a POW camp in Indonesia for four years, beginning at age 6. Then he entered a seminary aged 11, was ordained a priest at age 23, and was studying in Rome when Vatican II was getting under way in the early 1960s. It was then that he observed first-hand how some of the hard-line traditionalists in the Church’s hierarchy would go to great lengths to smother any and all attempts at reform.
He served as a Mill Hill Missionary in India as resident professor at St John’s College in Hyderabad for fourteen years, then for many years on lecture tours throughout India and Pakistan. After being elected Vicar General of the Mill Hill Missionaries in 1976, he helped build up missionary projects across five continents. In 1983, he founded a centre in London which evolved into the world-renowned Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research which coordinates leading academics to publish research projects on issues facing the international Catholic community.
His travels, coupled with his earlier life experiences as a scholar and missionary, helped him to see much of the good the Catholic Church is doing around the world. And while appreciating the good, he also recognized a number of Church teachings and practices that clearly are in need of reform. It is to this cause that he has devoted much of his adult life, as this memoir demonstrates. On the 10th of September this year he received a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ from the Christians for Biblical Equality for his efforts to have women included in all ordained ministries.
“These ‘commandments’ flow not only from my intimate dealings with the Church as a priest, but from my love and concern for the Church and the people it is intended to serve,” Wijngaards writes in the preface. “I have always had the Church’s best interests at heart.”
*Acadian House, a US publisher in the general trade, also specialises in
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The book can be ordered through Amazon and is available in bookshops in the USA and the UK.
1. We too - The Laity Speaks
2. Church Interrupted - Havoc & Hope: The Tender Revolt of Pope Francis
3. The Real Story of The Nativity
4. A Theology of the Land: Terra Australis from Christian-Aboriginal Perspectives
5. A Call to Reset the Sails Plenary Council 20/21 Australian Catholic Church
6. Opening Doors, A Seeker’s Reflections on the Rooms of Christian Living,
7. Reform and Renewal in the Catholic Church
8. Joy and Hope - Pilgrim Priest & Bishop
‘We too: The Laity Speaks! focusses on the most critical aspect of Church reform, the involvement of the laity, and particularly the shameful exclusion of women from the governance of the Church.
The book is about the failure of the Church to draw adequately on the talents and wisdom of the Church’s people in the work of the Church.
Truth can be harsh and there are some truthful and harsh judgements in this book that must be spoken and that cry out for remedies. That requires courage on the part of the laity, and courage from our leaders.
We Catholics find ourselves somewhat conflicted in criticising our Church. Our faith is by its nature at the centre of our lives, but those demanding renewal of our institutional Church are dismissed by the Church’s leaders and clerics. Rarely are the concerns of the laity respected, even acknowledged. Letters are binned and public criticism is condemned. But a true commitment to faith demands that the faithful hold their institutional Church to account, a Church that in many ways acts contrary to that faith.
Those seeking reform simply want a Church that models our faith and is seen to practise what it preaches, a Church that faithfully reflects the teachings of Jesus in pursuing his mission. ‘We too’ contains informed comment on the state of our Church and commitment to our faith. This book is the work of truly committed Catholic Christians who recognise that faith has no room for hypocrisy.
The book’s theme is for the laity to ‘wake up’ and to ‘speak up’. We the laity, the ‘People in the Pews’, must accept our responsibilities, note the desperate signs of the times and, in the words of the editors, “we must fuse secular and sacred elements of life into a balanced and evolving experience of faith . . .”
‘We too’ has excellent contributors to attempt that fusion. Berise Heasly builds on her excellent work in ‘Call No One Father’, in which she names and shames the evils of clericalism in the context of a call for accountability, transparency and inclusion. Berise and John D’Arcy May have done their job as editors in bringing together a wide range of views and expertise to ensure a balanced and thoughtful consideration of that unifying theme. They challenge the Plenary Council to “take full account of the issues raised”.
That challenge has certainly not been taken up by the bishops at their Conference meeting in November where they approved a less than enthusiastic response to their commissioned report, “The Light from the Southern Cross’, a considered assessment from a range of well-qualified people from Australia and overseas on the Church’s governance. The response does not commit to implementation of the more substantial and critical governance recommendations, those that would ensure the ongoing and effective nature of renewal. In response to LSC ‘s call for diocesan pastoral councils in all dioceses, the bishops state that the establishment of diocesan pastoral councils is ‘voluntary’, a clear misrepresentation of canon law. The fact is that very few bishops in Australia have established diocesan pastoral councils despite an actual requirement of canon 511 that: “In each diocese, in so far as pastoral circumstances suggest, a pastoral council is to be established . . .” (my bolding). That is not ‘voluntary’, and I am not aware of any bishop suggesting pastoral circumstances that preclude such a council. Other responses reinforce this apparent lack of respect for the laity’s contribution to Church governance.
I’m reminded of some words in an Open Letter back in 2011 to the Australian bishops and Pope Benedict auspiced by Catholics for Renewal:
“The Church. . . does not yet embody the vision of Vatican II for a truly collegial Church in which decisions respect local cultures, communities and circumstances. Rather, it appears as an institution focussed on centralism, legalism and control, with few effective structures for listening and dialogue, and often more concerned with its institutional image and interests than the spirit of Christ.” (my emphasis)
‘We too’ is much more than a listing of the Church’s shortcomings. The experience and knowledge of the contributors presents an informed picture of the mission of our Church in the context of our faith and the facts of the Church straying from its mission.
I offer the following very selective comments on some contributions:
‘Speaking up’ is the great challenge facing us all as the people of God. ‘We too’ insists that the Australian Plenary Council be a vehicle for addressing the institutional Church’s lack of accountability, transparency and inclusion which has enabled so many failures.
A current issue in Victoria shows the dangers of the Church hierarchy presenting views publicly without hearing the laity. The Church has responded poorly to Victorian legislation to prohibit the injurious practice of so-called gay ‘conversion’ therapy, essentially practices that are designed to make young people of non-heterosexual orientation repulsed by their God-given sexuality. The legislation is intended to prevent injury to vulnerable people already suffering from societal prejudice; the legislation is consistent with Jesus’ instruction to ‘love one another'.
However, official Catholic responses have been to misrepresent grossly the legislation as “(t)he Andrews Government’s sinister and cynical attack on people of faith”, claiming absurdly that the bill “could crush any Christian expression of human sexuality, capturing homilists, scripture teachers and parents". These statements, presented as the Catholic response without any accountability to the faithful, are patently false and are demonstrably unChristian; they are not views representative of Catholics generally.
‘We too: The Laity Speaks!’ is about a dying autocracy no longer fit for purpose which must die as an autocracy for the Church to live, pursuing the mission of Jesus Christ. Courage is needed from both the people in the pews and from our leaders to ensure that our Church pursues one goal - to seek and do the will of God!
Our pastoral leaders constantly claim that the Plenary Council is the work of the Holy Spirit – a presumptuous claim at best, heretical at worst. The Holy Spirit will not be summoned. ‘Sophia’ expects us and our leaders to use our God-given skills to do everything in our power to discern and fulfil God’s will, and to pray that the Council be inspired.
There is much in this book to
guide all the faithful, including our bishops, as we approach a critical
opportunity for renewal offered by the Plenary Council. That Council
desperately needs the knowledge, the spirituality, and the life skills of the
people in the pews - and the courage of our bishops!
A Call to Reset the Sails Plenary Council 20/21 Australian Catholic Church
"One ship drives east and another drives west With the self same winds that blow ‘Tis the set of the sails And not the gales That decides the way we go"
-Ella Wheeler Cox –USA author & poet at turn of 19th century
A series of articles from a range of perspectives, all focusing on the urgent need for transformation of the Catholic church and hoping that Plenary Council 20/21 can be a catalyst for such transformation.
Cardinal John Dew, Bishop Vincent Long, Bishop Bede Heather, Anne Benjamin, Kevin Treston, Tania Rimac, Sr Leone Pallisier, Br Aengus Kavanagh
Cost $25 (postage extra) To order: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Brochure HERE
5. The Passion of the Bureaucrats, two related book reviews by Tim Parks
4. Joy and Hope, Pat Power, David Lovell Publishing, rrp 24.95
3. A History of Loneliness, John Boyne, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26, 325 pp.
Two related book reviews by Tim Parks, London Review of Books, 18 February 2016
Avarizia: Le Carte che Svelano. Ricchezza, Scandali e Segreti della Chiesa di Francesco by Emiliano Fittipaldi Feltrinelli, 224 pp, €14.00, December 2015, ISBN 978 88 07 17298 4
Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis’s Secret Battle against Corruption in the Vatican by Gianluigi Nuzzi, translated by Michael Moore Holt, 224 pp, £24.99, December 2015, ISBN 978 1 62779 865 5
Full Review, London Review of Books, Here
Edited Extract: The Passion of the Bureaucrats
‘Most blessed Father,’ five international auditors wrote to Pope Francis on 27 June 2013, three months into his papacy, ‘there is an almost total lack of clarity in the accounts of both the Holy See and the Governorate.’ The letter goes on:
This lack of clarity makes it impossible to establish a proper estimate of the real financial position of the Vatican, whether as a whole or with regard to the single elements of which it is made up. It also means that no one can really consider themselves responsible for its financial management. All we know is that the data we examined indicates a seriously negative trend and we deeply suspect that the Vatican as a whole has a serious structural deficit.
Six days later the letter, which continues with some scathing criticism of the Curia’s administrators, was part of the documentation for an emergency meeting addressed by Pope Francis himself. In a move some complain is typical of his style of management, he used the occasion not to solicit advice, but to announce a decision he had already taken: the formation of an ad hoc committee to study the economic and administrative structure of the Vatican. Dubbed ‘Cosea’, the committee would have eight members, one of whom, Jean-Baptiste de Franssu (52, French), is now president of IOR, the Vatican bank, while another, Monsignor Lucio Balda (55, Spanish), is in a prison cell charged with leaking the documents that form the basis for the two books under review.
Cosea lasted ten months, fighting an increasingly poisonous battle with the various elements of the Curia as it struggled to obtain the information that might afford a clearer picture of what goes on in the Vatican. Since the Curia was overwhelmingly Italian and clerical while seven of the eight-member Cosea were foreigners and five of them laypersons, misunderstandings were inevitable. To make matters worse, the one Italian on the commission was also the only woman (it’s surprising there was a woman at all), and probably the least likely to get on with the elderly cardinals and monsignors. Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, born in Calabria to an Italian mother and a Frenchman of Moroccan descent, was just thirty at the time of her appointment, a PR expert with a degree in law and a remarkable ability for making influential friends. Pope Francis said recently that he isn’t quite sure how she came to be on the commission, but believes she was recommended by Monsignor Balda. Chaouqui is now charged along with Balda of leaking information to journalists, while the Vatican magistrates accusing her of this have made public some embarrassingly compromising text messages that the two exchanged while serving on the commission. ‘You need to fuck,’ Chaouqui writes in one message. And in another: ‘You should try my cousin. She’s squishy.’ It would be hard to imagine a better set-up for a soap opera..........(full review Here)
David Lovell Publishing, 234 x 153 mm 240 pp pb, ISBN 9781 86355 158 8 rrp 24.95
PO Box 44, Kew East VIC 3102, tel +61 3 9859 0000, email@example.com
Reviewed February 2016 by Rose Marie Crowe
Bishop Pat Power is the de facto voice of the Catholic Church in Australia. For over thirty years as bishop, he has articulated the position of the church from a profound commitment to the principles of Vatican II, applied to every sector of society. The media recognise in him a credible source and readily appeal to him to speak to social justice issues as they arise. His viewpoint, offered in simple but direct language, is often received with relief as a beacon of commonsense and hope.
Joy and Hope: Pilgrim, Priest and Bishop, a compilation of Pat Power’s speeches, articles, letters and autobiographical reminiscences, is published on his retirement at the age of 70. It is difficult to believe that Pat has reached this venerable age, because he projects a youthful exuberance, a love of life, of all people, and of his church. It is this inherent joy that impels him to speak out in defence of marginalised people in every conceivable form of deprivation. A lifetime of outreach is chronicled in these pages.
Here is Pat’s own list of concerns: the mentally ill, the homeless, prisoners, AIDS victims, drug addicts, the unemployed, victims of sex abuse, the young and their families, people with disabilities, refugees, single parents, victims of domestic violence, the poor, homosexual people, divorced and remarried people, women, Aboriginal people, Palestinians, Muslims, Tamils, cleaners, care for the planet, inter-faith relations and church reform.
The list, though surely exhausting, is not exhaustive: there is always room for one more needful person or just cause. Bishop Bill Morris, in his foreword to the book, tells us that Pat “feels deeply the ills of the world, and equally deeply its intrinsic goodness.” What is clear is that Pat speaks, not of issues, but of people - more precisely, with the persons on his list - face-to-face in “a conversation over a meat pie”, as he describes it, as well as with local, national and international groups and associations representing them.
Pat knows a lot of people; he has been in the same patch from childhood, growing up in Queanbeyan and serving in the Canberra area throughout his public life. He is still in touch with his “humble roots” among the migrant communities that his parents welcomed and assisted. His father’s Irish ancestors were transported to Australia in the early 1800s and his mother’s migrated from Lebanon a few decades later—“for a better life”, he quotes her as saying. Pat credits this grounding in compassion, learned in so-called “Struggletown”, as one of his motivations for becoming a priest.
Ordained in 1965, Pat was imbued with the newly-minted spirit of Vatican II, a life-long influence that has fuelled his sustained and intrepid advocacy for church reform. Pat cites authoritarianism, clericalism, compulsory celibacy, its teachings on sexuality and the lack of women in leadership as obstacles to the true mission of the church—“a more human church, humbler, reflecting the person and teaching of Jesus; a universal, all-embracing church engaging with the modern world… So often I have lamented that it is the opposite, deciding who is in and who is out, or who is worthy.”
To this end, Pat has written impassioned letters to three Popes addressing the of plight of priests—their decreasing numbers, the overload of work, the vast distances they are meant to traverse; the impact this has on the people who are being deprived of the sacraments. He does not speak in abstract terms; he gives instances of real cases, real anguish. “I cannot remain silent or passive in the face of their predicament.” Similarly, Pat wrote to the Nuncio decrying the lack of consultation in the selection of bishops. He does not tell us if he ever received replies.
Gentle in manner, Pat can be hard-hitting when ‘speaking truth to power’, as exemplified in his letter to George Bush when the US President visited Australia in 2003. “I appeal to you today to demonstrate to the Australian people and to the world that you are a man of peace. Up to now, you have shown yourself to be more intent on issuing threats, on wreaking revenge and on waging war.” Pat has also faced the wrath of John Howard over immigration policy. These are some of the advantages of living in the nation’s capital.
On the subject of women, Pat asserts that “the church will continue to be impoverished and only half-graced and half-alive while women are deprived of their significant voice.” He sees the subject of the ordination of women in the context of a re-examination of the whole structure of priesthood. Pat has a rich association with women, beginning with his mother and sisters, the various groups of religious sisters and other women’s groups with whom he has worked, and his long-time friend, Geraldine. He acknowledges their influence on his character and on his career.
Pat feels in himself the crisis in the church and in the world. His courageous interventions have not been without cost. He admits to “having exhausted myself in opposition to the war”, and to being “in trouble with the Vatican at various levels.” One of his chapters is entitled, “Caught in the crossfire.” Yet he maintains optimism in the changes he sees developing and the ways in which the people themselves are driving reform. It is incontestable proof of the Spirit of God at work.
Pat calls himself a ‘pilgrim’ as one not standing still but constantly called to move forward; a ‘priest’ as one bringing the Good News to his people; and a ‘bishop’ as one entrusted to be a leader and defender of his flock. We could add ‘prophet’ to his title, as one who sees reality and where it is leading, and who fearlessly and relentlessly urges us to look and see and speak out. In the process, Pat has given us a voice.
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26, 325 pp. Review by Timothy P Schilling, 2 December 2015. Commonweal. Extract and link to Review
A quarter of the way through John Boyne’s novel A History of Loneliness, we find the book’s narrator and main character looking for a seat on the train. Fr. Odran Yates is a young Irish priest on his way to visit a friend. The packed train confronts him with the dismaying possibility of having to stand for the next two and a half hours, but he quickly sees the advantage and disadvantage of being a priest in Ireland in 1980. The advantage is the deference his collar summons: several passengers, including a pregnant woman, offer him their seats, and one man insists on buying him lunch. The disadvantage is unwelcome attention: he’s not hungry, and watching eyes keep him from speaking freely with the woman across from him. How times change! Later in the novel, we find the same Fr. Yates being interrogated in a police station in 2011—his reward for having tried to help a lost child in a department store. Thirty years on, in the era of the sexual-abuse crisis, his collar calls up doubt and hostility as quickly as reverence. In this changing environment, Fr. Yates struggles to make sense of his own calling.......(more) Photo:Comonweal
Published by Londubh Books, Dublin, 2013. Extended Review by Peter Johnstone, 10 April 2015
Fr Tony Flannery shares the story of his unjust removal from ministry as a Catholic priest, involving unjust and unchristian decision-making by the leaders of the Church established by Christ. Fr Flannery has clearly questioned his conscience in his behaviour, at all times informed by the teachings of Christ. Those very teachings were not reflected in the Curia’s dealings with him and indeed condemn the Church practices of injustice, secrecy and lack of accountability that permeate the treatment of Fr Flannery........See full review
Self-published through CreateSpace Publishing (South Carolina), 2012 (Paperback, also available as Kindle e-book), Reviewed by Peter Johnstone, 10 January 2015
A novel by John Cogley, Pope John XXIV, has recently come to our attention. Written somewhat prophetically before the election of Pope Francis, Pope John XXIV is the story of the unexpected election of a panic stricken but ultimately revolutionary pope who rekindles the expectations of the Second Vatican Council, doing so at the expense of antagonising powerful interests. The novel provides an informed but entertaining discussion of the grave issues facing the Church................. See full review.