Catholics for Renewal


Editorial, August 2020

No time to delay local implementation of Church governance report

After The Light from the Southern Cross: Promoting Co-Responsible Governance in the Catholic Church in Australia (LSC), the groundbreaking report on Catholic Church governance, was leaked in May 2020,  an ‘official’ version (with some corrections and clarifications) has now been published by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) and Catholic Religious Australia (CRA).  This early release came as the result of a concerted campaign by Australian reform groups, including Catholics for Renewal.

 The 208-page report is the result of a recommended review of church governance by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It was prepared by the Implementation Advisory Group (IAG) and the Governance Review Project Team (GRPT) and contains 86 recommendations.

In May 2020 the ACBC assessed the report as ‘historic’, ‘substantial’ and ‘comprehensive’ and respected theologian Professor Massimo Faggioli said it was a model for how a local church can reform its governance structure and “will be studied for many years to come by theologians, historians and canon lawyers

CRA President, Br Peter Carroll FMS hopes that it will “illumine a path of contemporary good governance for the Church in Australia, and possibly beyond”.

The published report is accompanied by a Reading Guide which points to the foundational principles underpinning the recommendations - collegiality, synodality, stewardship, dialogue, discernment, participation and good leadership – and the virtues required for good leadership - integrity, accountability, transparency, inclusivity, sound risk management practices, active engagement and communication (Recs. 3-5) - as the heart of LSC. However, while the Guide is useful in some respects, its questions and other comments give the impression that the ACBC and CRA may be using it to push back against some of their critics, arguing that the Church, though damaged by the sexual abuse scandal, is not only doctrinally sound but also sound in its leadership, and that the failures of a few incompetent bishops and superiors should not be allowed to taint the group as a whole.

In the view of Catholics for Renewal, LSC offers the Catholic Church in Australia a well-considered, theologically sound, and forward-looking roadmap to address its current existential crisis, to re-establish its credibility with the Australian public and, above all, to get back to its God-given mission of building the Kingdom of God in this nation. It brings together both ecclesial and civil virtues, experiences, and perspectives, and seeks to ensure that all are reflected in the good governance of the Church. It proposes reforms that are reasonable and do-able.


But the challenge now is whether the ‘particular churches’ in Australia – dioceses, eparchies, ordinariates and personal prelature – are prepared to move on the LSC recommendations and, if so, when?  

While the ACBC is encouraging the faithful to give feedback to their local bishops on what they think needs to be done on the LSC’s recommendations, the bishops and the Reading Guide show no sense of urgency. They are content to leave consideration of the report and local feedback to their plenary meeting in November 2020, and to postpone most of the recommendations until the Plenary Council which meets in 2021 and 2022. 

But the LSC is not just a document for the collective consensus and legislative action of the Plenary Council. There is need for urgent local discernment, consensus and action which cannot and must not be delayed. Many of LSC’s recommendations can be acted on immediately by individual diocesan bishops.  Two clear examples are the establishment of diocesan pastoral councils (most dioceses do not have one) and annual diocesan reports (including financial statements). These and many others can be implemented by local diocesan bishops immediately.

Catholics for Renewal, therefore, urges all its readers to read The Light from the Southern Cross in full, discern in the Spirit what your local bishop needs to implement NOW, and write to him asking for IMMEDIATE ACTION.[1]

Freedom of expression is integral to the Christian vision and LSC points out that the exchange of views with lay input on matters related to the Church and its leadership has to be encouraged.

Good governance 

Good governance practice flourishes best in a climate of free and open dialogue within the Church. Accordingly, Catholics for Renewal urges each diocesan bishop personally to immediately:

  1. invite your diocesan faithful to give you feedback on this important report; 
  2. convene a public diocesan assembly where you and your local faithful can openly dialogue, listen to one another, and  discern in the Spirit; and
  3. establish a diocesan pastoral council as recommended by LSC and provided for in canon law. 

Such actions are the ‘principle of subsidiarity’ in operation - the local bishop engaging and dialoguing with his people in a synodal manner, respecting their lived experiences, and giving them a co-responsible part in arriving at the decisions which will impact on them as a local community.


Catholics for Renewal thanks and compliments the IAG and GRPT members who have gifted the Church in Australia with an outstanding document.

[1]   Contact details for your local diocesan office can be found in Getting Back on Mission: Reforming our Church Together, Garratt Publishing, 2019, Supplement 1, pp. 304-313.  To purchase the book: click HERE

Image: "Governance in nature"  Uluru