Reform or Retreat?
A delay can be a blessing when it provides extra time to re-set goals. Until now we have been rushing towards the opening session of a reforming Plenary Council, but hope is souring to scepticism, and goodwill to disaffection. In the Listening and Dialogue phase the people of God offered the results of their prayerful reflection enthusiastically. Analysis reveals that their submissions overwhelmingly sought greater inclusion and much more involvement of the laity in church governance.
We listened, prayed and discerned. But sadly good faith has not been reciprocated. Our bishops have not yet Listened to us: 70% of the 'delegates' - they are more correctly those 'called' to participate in the Council - hold an official position in the church; 76 lay 'delegates' were chosen by the bishops in a closed process. Our bishops do not seek to Discern with us. They have decided to withhold from the Australian faithful the historic report on church governance The Light from the Southern Cross: Promoting Co-Responsible Governance in the Catholic Church in Australia. The ecclesiology that says that the people of God are the church, has once again been set aside.
This report was handed to the bishops on 4th May. They plan to release it ‘sometime’ after their next plenary meeting in November. No date is specified. Why delay? Do they fear the recommendations? All 86? Or some of them? Do they fear the report’s support of the faithful’s view that transparency, inclusion and direct involvement are essential to the good order and governance of the church? Do they fear that this report begins the process of dislodging the unilateral power and control they have exercised over a declining church, a church in crisis?
We can assume that this report calls for more transparency and accountability, exactly the opposite of the present decision to bury the document and delay its release. What the ACBC did say was that “The report identifies key principles of good ecclesial governance synodality, dialogue, discernment and leadership – and offers important ideas on how the Church might enhance the leadership role of lay people and ensure appropriate co-responsibility at parish and diocesan levels.
With the Plenary Council delayed, this is the moment for the bishops to re-set their collective goal and make the report immediately available to everyone. A nationwide, collective parish discernment together with public assemblies in every diocese should be established and convened as soon as possible Massimo Faggioli, a consultant to the report, has predicted that this report “will be studied for many years to come by theologians, church historians, canon lawyers, and all those with an interest in connecting spiritual and institutional reform in the Catholic Church.” Before they do so, let the ordinary faithful of Australia be the first to study it.
Listening to the Holy Spirit and Maintaining the Momentum
seven parishes in Victoria came together to continue their engagement with
church reform and renewal, sharing their website (senseofthefaithful.org.au). They base their mission on the words
of Pope Francis: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and
dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is
unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security” (Evangelii Gaudium, n49). A light from the Southern Cross indeed - to illuminate the universal church.
The Plenary Council facilitation team has suggested that “a program of webinars, podcasts, and other multi-media projects will be rolled out in the latter half of 2020”. It would be more beneficial, and much more productive, if they could forbear to roll out anything other than the expertly informed Governance Report. Along with the ACBC we, the people, “look forward to considering the report in depth” pursuant upon its immediate release.
The time is