Catholics for Renewal


February 2018


Getting Catholic Church renewal happening now


Catholic for Renewal has  recently taken three new initiatives to get Catholic Church renewal happening.  They concern freedom of religion, grassroots consultations in preparation for the 2020/21 Plenary Council,  and the need for urgent action  on the Church’s dysfunctional governance as recommended by the recent Royal Commission.

Image: Urban Renewal - Graziano


Freedom of Religion


Following the resounding ‘Yes” vote by the Australian public in the November 2017 postal survey on marriage equality, those who had opposed marriage equality quickly moved to shift the debate to religious freedom. In response, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull appointed a 5-person Expert Panel, with the Hon. Philip Ruddock as Chair, and Jesuit priest Frank Brennan as a member, to review whether Australia’s laws adequately protected the human right to freedom of religion. The Panel was asked to examine “the intersections between the enjoyment of religion and other human rights” and to report its findings by 31 March 2018. A deadline for public submissions was set at 14 February 2018.


Freedom of religion is of great importance to this nation, and critical to the life and ministry of the Catholic Church. For these reasons Catholics for Renewal has made a carefully considered submission.


For Catholics for Renewal it is a fundamental principle that the State must ensure that all persons of religious faith are able to enjoy their right to freely practise their religion, but only as long as that practice does not unfairly prejudice the rights of others. Our submission was based on the essence of  Vatican II and its statements relating to the proper relations between church and state, the right of every human being to religious freedom, and the need to overcome and eradicate every type of discrimination. In our submission we raised concerns about possible discrimination in the Catholic education sector, and supported the Royal Commission’s recommendation that the ‘seal of confession’ should not exempt priest confessors from reporting paedophiles known to be at large in the community.  The full text of our Submission can be accessed HERE.


Grassroots consultations to prepare for the 2020/21 Plenary Council


At their recent plenary meeting, Australia’s bishops decided that, as part of the preparations for the 2020/21 Plenary Council, every diocesan bishop should set up a ‘diocesan working group’. As Catholics for Renewal is based in the Melbourne Archdiocese, we wrote to Archbishop Hart on 25 January 2017 suggesting how a Melbourne  working group might be selected and how it might facilitate essential grassroots consultations. A copy of the letter can be accessed HERE.  Others are welcome to use any part of the letter if they wish to approach their local bishop. To date, no response or acknowledgement of the letter has been received from Archbishop Hart. This is “business as usual”.

Urgent action on governance and the Royal Commission recommendations


Catholics for Renewal is increasingly concerned that Australia’s Catholic bishops are showing no inclination to urgently address the culture of unaccountable clericalist leadership exposed by the Royal Commission. The Commission made 21 “Recommendations to the Catholic Church” (full list HERE), including this one requiring immediate action:


“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 ”(Rec. 16.7)

In a recent article, Peter Johnstone, our immediate past president, wrote that, on this and other recommendations, Australian Catholics should  not be prepared to let the bishops “kick the can down the road” to the Plenary Council’s decision time in 2021.  The national review of church governance needs to get underway immediately. Elizabeth Proust, deputy chair of the Truth Justice and Healing Council has already commented: “I don’t see any sign that the lessons have been truly learned to the point where the institution of the Church is being questioned by those who’ve got the ability to change it.”  Peter’s article, published in Pearls and Irritations can be read  HERE.