Editorial Advent – Waiting with hope for Church renewal
“We begin to die the day we don’t act on things that matter.”
– Dr Martin Luther King Jnr
The Australian Plenary Council begins 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. This editorial considers the situation, aspirations, and prospects.
Conversion bill: churches fear state overreach on religion
Limited extract from Barney Zwartz, Contributor, The Age, 17 December 2020
Most Victorian churches are intensely concerned about legislation the state government is rushing through Parliament without consultation to ban so-called conversion therapy to change sexual orientation. It is not that the churches practise or defend any form of coercive conversion therapy; the problem is the massive overreach of the bill and the State arrogating to itself wide control over the religious beliefs and practices of religious believers. Many Victorian churches are concerned about the conversion bill. No faith leaders were allowed to see the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill (2020) before it was introduced to Parliament, and the Attorney-General, Jill Hennessy, has declined to meet church representatives herself. Many Christians – and people of other faiths – fear there is a broader agenda at work by a state government more hostile to Christianity than its predecessors. It showed this, for example, by classing religion as merely entertainment during lockdown, and making restrictions much tighter for churches than restaurants or bars, despite stringent COVID-safe plans applied in churches. They fear the bill may hide an agenda to silence people of faith. And not only believers. Thanks to the broad-brush approach, this legislation might unintentionally intrude on rights and freedoms that are precious to everyone. Freedom of belief and speech are fundamental rights that are important for the common good, for atheists or the LGBT community (which includes believers) as much as religious people. Personally, I accept that the intentions behind the legislation are good. The problem is the apparently rushed and ill-considered overreach which could have broad and – one trusts, but is not quite certain – unintended consequences for freedom of belief, speech and religion. A meeting of leaders of Victorian churches unanimously supported the intention of the bill to protect vulnerable people from coercive practices.....(source)
Victoria’s conversion bill is world-leading legislation
Extract from Nathan Despott and Chris Csabs, The Age, 8 December 2020
For decades, damaging – even life-threatening – conversion practices have been flourishing in faith communities and religious organisations right under our noses. These practices are aimed at changing or suppressing the identities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and asexual Victorians. Melbourne, the ‘liveable’, progressive, sports-mad capital of Victoria is not the place where one would expect an ideology grounded in unscientific claims about the inherent ‘brokenness’ of LGBTQA+ people to proliferate. However, it is now becoming clearer to all Victorians that the scourge of conversion practices is not, and has never been, alien to our state. While conservative branches of several faith traditions often label LGBTQA+ people as sinful or immoral, proponents of ‘conversion ideology’ go even further, implementing practices focused on changing or suppressing the sexual orientation (distinct from sexual activities) or gender identity of individuals. Often, these practices are grounded in the view that these identities are inherently disordered, causing catastrophic damage to LGBTQA+ people. Conversion practices tinker with LGBTQA+ people’s minds, attachments, and their deepest sense of self, ruining family connections and causing suicidal ideation rates that are among some of the highest of any cohort of the population.....(more). Photo: Marriage equality Melbourne, the Age, Dallas Kilponen 20201208
Annual report: Some US dioceses improve financial transparency, others remain secretive
Extract from Madeleine Davison, National Catholic Reporter, 8 December 2020
More U.S. dioceses published audited financial documents in 2020 than before, but more than a quarter still did not publish any audited financial reports, according to an annual financial transparency report by the lay organization Voice of the Faithful. About 70% of dioceses posted audited financial reports on their websites in 2020, up from 65% in 2019 and from 56% in 2017, according to the review. Margaret Roylance, chair of the organization's finance working group, said she was heartened to see that many dioceses published these reports on time despite delays due to COVID-19. "We felt that financial transparency was beating COVID and that made us feel good," she said. On the other hand, 6% of dioceses posted only unaudited reports, and 24% posted no reports at all. The report, released in November, surveys the financial practices of all 177 dioceses that belong to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It scores dioceses' financial transparency practices on a scale from 0 to 100. The organization awards each diocese points for publishing a variety of financial documents, including audited financial reports, information about the diocese's cathedraticum (tax collected from individual parishes) and a current list of members on the diocesan finance council. "From the beginning … our motivation has always been to encourage greater financial transparency, which should foster trust in diocesan leadership and strengthen stewardship," said Roylance, who drafted the financial transparency report.............(more). Photo: US dioceses financial transparency others secretive CNS Reuters Mike Segar NCR 20201108
Communique on the Diocese of Broome, Suffragan Diocese of the Metropolitan See of Perth
Extract from Commuique, 28 November 2020
This year, the Holy See appointed and sent the Most Reverend Peter W. Ingham, Bishop Emeritus of Wollongong, as Apostolic Visitator to the Diocese of Broome.Considering all the circumstances surrounding the whole Diocese of Broome, the Holy See has granted the Most Reverend Christopher A. Saunders a six-month sabbatical leave outside of the Diocese of Broome. This period will begin on the 28th of November, the vigil of the Season of Advent, which inaugurates the new Liturgical Year of the church.This period will represent a significant moment for a fruitful discernment of the whole situation of the Diocese, including the organization of its structures and with particular attention to the pastoral care of the faithful. Furthermore, it will offer the opportunity to clarify matters that may have created suspicion, confusion and uncertainty within the Local Church. During this period the present Vicar General, Mons. Paul Boyers, in the capacity of Apostolic Administrator Sede Plena, will administer the Diocese of Broome.......(more)
Prayer included in gay conversion ban
Extract from CathNews, Eternity News, 27 November 2020
Prayer-based religious practices are included in a bill introduced to the Victorian Parliament this week that would outlaw therapy that aims to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation. The purposes of the bill “to affirm that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not broken and in need of fixing” and “to affirm that no sexual orientation or gender identity constitutes a disorder, disease, illness, deficiency or shortcoming” are in tension with traditional Christian teaching. The bill aims “to affirm that change or suppression practices are deceptive and harmful both to the person subject to the change or suppression practices and to the community as a whole.” The bill says “a change or suppression practice” includes “carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice, a deliverance practice or an exorcism.” Referring a person to either a medical-based or religiously based practice is also change or suppression practice is also captured. If “serious injury” is caused, punishment includes up to ten years in prison and/or a large fine. Intentionally engaging in a change or suppression practice, to being negligent in engaging in one also attracts those penalties. A lesser charge of “causing injury” will incur large fines.....(more). Photo: Conversion therapy proposed legislation Bigstock, CathNews 20201127
Pope Francis declares support for same-sex civil unions for the first time as pope
Extract from Michael J. O’Loughlin October, A,erica, The Jesuit Review, 21 October 2020
Gay couples deserve legal protections for their relationships, Pope Francis said in a new documentary. Also in the film, which premiered in Rome on Oct. 21, less than two weeks before the U.S. presidential election, the pope condemns the Trump administration’s child separation policy at the U.S.-Mexico border, which he calls “cruelty of the highest form.” The filmmaker, Evgeny Afineevsky, asked Pope Francis during an interview for the documentary about the place of L.G.B.T. Catholics in the church. Francis reemphasized his belief that L.G.B.T. people should be made to feel welcome in the church.
“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family,” the pope said. “They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable because of it.” But Francis said for the first time as pope that gay couples deserve legal recognition for their relationships. Before he was elected pope, Francis served as archbishop of Buenos Aires, and in that role, he advocated for same-sex civil unions in an attempt to block a same-sex marriage law. Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in 2010, which then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio called a “destructive attack on God’s plan.” But in meetings with other Argentine bishops, Cardinal Bergoglio urged them to support civil unions as a way to keep marriage distinctly heterosexual. Bishops rejected the idea, but an L.G.B.T. activist in Argentina said the cardinal called him to say he personally supported the idea of civil unions. The comments in this new documentary represent his most public declaration of support for same-sex unions since becoming pope.....(More)
Appreciating and discovering hope in Pope Francis' 3rd Encyclical Fratelli Tutti: Seeking the common Good
John Costa, 16 October 2020
When human values around the world become increasingly diluted and polarised both by extreme 'Left wing' and extreme 'Right wing' politics, it's very timely to receive Pope Francis' 3rd encyclical Fratelli Tutti: Seeking the Common Good. For all peoples of the world regardless of beliefs trying to make sense of increasing conflict and confusion and looking for ways to move collectively towards something more morally and humanly based amidst the realities around us this encyclical offers a hopeful way forward. We can immediately start reading Fratelli Tutti as it's very accessible, however a little prior background reading can provide further context and fuller sense of its direction. I can suggest two background papers on the encyclical as a helpful lead-in. The first 'Saving liberalism from itself' is by Jesuit Damian Howard SJ and can be accessed HERE , from Thinking Faith. The Second, 'Pope Francis’s new encyclical On Human Fraternity and Social Friendship' is by Fr Bruce Duncan and can be accessed HERE from Peals & Irritations. Finally the (3rd) Encyclical Fratelli Tutti itself (with Index added) can be accessed HERE. The two prior Encyclicals of Pope Francis are Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith, June 2013), and Laudato si (On Care For Our Common Home, May 2015). The Cardijn Institute and Social Policy Connections invite you to a (free) Zoom Seminar on Fratelli Tutti by Fr Bruce Duncan & Danusia Kaska on Thursday 22 October from 7:30 - 8:30 pm. Details and registration above or HERE
The first virtual Nuns on the Bus tour begins, highlighting voting rights, poverty and pro-life policies
Extract from Dan Stockman, Global Sisters Report, National Catholic Reporter Project, 24 September 2020
Saying they could not stay silent, the Nuns on the Bus began their virtual tour of the country Sept. 23 with a range of speakers talking about the need for a government that serves everyone. The online event by Catholic social justice lobby Network featured House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Cory Booker as well as several activists and clergy from various religious denominations. Social Service Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, began the event by noting it was being held in the shadow of more than 200,000 deaths caused by COVID-19 and the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She added that the kickoff also began as President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr were honored at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. "Our politicians are once again attempting to wrangle Catholics with the all-too-flawed, narrow and politically opportunistic view of our faith," Campbell said. "We need to be multi-issue voters in our complex reality."....(more). Photo: Nancy Pelosi virtual 2020 Nuns on Bus kickoff Netwok Screenshot Globa Sisters Report 20200923
Can we save Jesus from the Church?
Consumatum est was reportedly, the last expression of Christ on the Cross— “it is finished”. The same expression could be applied today to the Catholic Church in Australia as we know it. This is a hard truth to accept, and an even greater challenge ”to practise resurrection”. How do we imagine a new Church in Australia for our times? Has the Church become incapable of sensing its own reality? Many books and articles have been written about a future Church. Journalists, scholars, and arm-chair critics have contributed. Much of these contributions has been helpful. However, I suspect that too little attention has been paid to the words of a former teacher of mine: “90% of solving a problem is to be found in properly understanding the problem“. I am not a sociologist, nor an anthropologist, but I wish I were. Even being a novelist would help. At present I am reading a novel in which Faith, in the guise of the Abbess of the convent, is challenged by science, in the guise of a medical examiner. They see the problem, two suspicious deaths , differently. The reader is forced to wonder whether they can understand each other and work together to solve the problem. In one sense, the problems of today’s Church in Australia cannot be solved just by looking inwards. A heart surgeon is as much concerned about the state of the artery, as he or she is concerned about the obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption and lack of exercise, of the patient. The artery and those other aspects of the body have to function together for the heart to be effective. Years ago, the World Council of Churches used to proclaim: “The world sets the agenda for the Church”. In essence, the reason for a church to exist, is to be on mission to its world. If you don’t understand your world, then you definitely will not be able to shape your mission effectively. This is good sociology as well as wise theology.....(more)
One of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was that the Catholic Church in Australia conduct a review of diocesan and parish governance and management. The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia accepted that recommendation and the Implementation Advisory Group was tasked with conducting and presenting that review.
The Implementation Advisory Group established the Governance Review Project Team to lead the review. The GRPT presented a version of the report to the Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia in May 2020. That version, which was not the final version, was leaked and published.
That version was subsequently amended, making a number of corrections and clarifications. The final version of the report, entitled The Light from the Southern Cross: Promoting Co-Responsible Governance in the Catholic Church in Australia, was presented to the Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia in mid-August 2020. The report was published online on August 21, 2020, along with an accompanying Reading Guide.
Re: The Next Pope: the Office of Peter and a Church in Mission. George Weigel
Extract from Letter, Rose Marie Crowe, 9 August 2020
George Weigel, in his new book, The Next Pope: the Office of Peter and a Church in Mission, purports to outline the tenor of the next pontificate, effectively dismissing the validity of our present pope, Francis, who, Weigel hints, is hostage to something he labels pejoratively as ‘Catholicism Lite’. Curiously, he proposes as a template the tactics of evangelicals and fundamentalists who maintain “clarity of teaching and strong moral expectations”. In reality, these groups espouse the literal interpretation of the Bible and derive their ethos from the most punitive verses in Scripture, applying them to justify the condemnation of others. Weigel equates truth with doctrine and mercy with the “purification” of those who “acknowledge that they have squandered their human dignity.” Though he cites the parable of the Prodigal Son to support this theory, he misses the central message of the parable: that the Father runs to meet his son, embraces him and celebrates his return without requiring that he debase himself.