“We begin to die the
day we don’t act on things that matter.”
– Dr Martin Luther King Jnr
As of today, 10 December 2020, 297 days remain before the Opening of the 1st Session of the Australian Plenary Council on 3 October 2021. This gathering of the 36 particular churches (dioceses) in this nation will be a rare opportunity to synodally address many of the most pressing issues that challenge our Church in our times. A long Advent is before us as we wait in hope for much needed renewal.
Though never stated officially, a
principal reason for convoking the Plenary Council was the outcome of two major
government inquiries: the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of
Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations (2012-13), and the Royal
Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2012-17).
On 23 February 2017, giving evidence to the Royal Commission, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB admitted that there had been “a catastrophic failure of leadership”. Archbishop Wilson said “people were all at sea and really unaware of what they needed to do”. Archbishop Hart said the response was “totally, totally inadequate ... totally wrong.” Archbishop Coleridge said it “was ... a colossal failure of culture that led to the colossal failure of leadership.” And Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP stated: “It was a kind of criminal negligence to deal with some of the problems that were staring us in the face. [T]here were people that were just like rabbits in the headlights. They just had no idea what to do, and their performance was appalling.”[iii] (HERE)
These findings and admissions led
to one of the most significant recommendations of the Royal Commission:
"The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should conduct a national review of the governance and management structures of dioceses and parishes, including in relation to issues of transparency, accountability, consultation and the participation of lay men and women. This review should draw from the approaches to governance of Catholic health, community services and education agencies" (Recommendation 16.7).
That review was completed earlier
this year and published as The Light from
the Southern Cross: Promoting Co-Responsible Governance in the Catholic Church
in Australia [iv] (HERE). It was discussed in depth at the Bishops’ plenary meeting 2 weeks
While there are some
recommendations in that document which will require legislation by the Plenary
Council, many others - such as establishing diocesan pastoral councils,
publishing annual diocesan reports, and convening more frequent diocesan synods
and/or assemblies - can and must be acted upon immediately by diocesan bishops.
In their written statements to
the Royal Commission all the archbishops referred to a range of policies,
procedures and reforms that they had undertaken in relation to their
archdioceses. Archbishop Costelloe also made this commitment: “Because the
Catholic Church, as an institution, has been responsible for many shocking
incidents ... the Church has an obligation to now be a significant part of the
Catholics for Renewal would
remind the archbishops of this commitment to “be a significant part of the
solution” and to now act on it urgently, for as Dr King counselled:
“We begin to die the day we don’t act on things that matter.”
A brief 'video summary' of this Editorial (4'30") is available HERE