Catholics for Renewal


News 2013

 At this time of year in Australia many people take holidays. Throughout the year this website is maintained 24/7, but now is a time for its volunteer staff also to take a break . Until the end of January there will be minimal updates to the website


But most importantly!

Here's wishing you a joyous Christmas, and all of us a year of Church renewal ahead!     - CathFR

An Open Letter to Pope Francis and the Family Synod Secretariat from the Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Renewal (ACCCR)
Monday 23 December 2013

Prepared by Catholics for Ministry and sent to Pope Francis and the Family Synod Secretariat under the aegis of the Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (ACCCR) the letter may be accessed here and the Documents page.

Pearls and Irritations   (the Pearl is the Irritation of the Oyster)
Kieren Tapsell blogs on the John Menadue Website, Monday 23 December 2013
(with permission)

(image: John Menadue Website)

Links have been provided to the following blogs by Kieran Tapsell, also on this website's 'Documents' page


  • November 17, Systemic issues arising from the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry, here
  • November 24, Sexual abuse, Don’t mention Canon Law, here
  • December 04, Bella Figura and the Vatican,  here.
  • December 10, Vatican and Zero Tolerance protocols, here
  • December 13, Flogging a Dead Horse at the Royal Commission....  here
  • December 17, ++Mark Coleridge and the Humpty Dumpty principle of Canon Law, here
  • December 21, Cracks in the Church Dyke at the Royal Commission, here 

Priest to sue Church for unfair dismissal
Extract from Brian Morton, The Tablet, Wednesday 18 December 2013

A Scottish Catholic priest has been given the green light to sue the Church for unfair dismissal. Fr Patrick Lawson, who ran two parishes in Galston, Ayrshire, has been granted legal aid to take his case to an employment tribunal, after being removed from his post. The removal followed Fr Lawson’s long-time call for action to be taken against a priest he accused of sexual abuse. Cameron Fyfe, the lawyer representing Fr Lawson, said that it was a potentially “historic case”. He confirmed that an application had been lodged on Fr Lawson’s behalf and said that the case could set a precedent. Fr Lawson, who is suffering from cancer, was removed by the Bishop of Galloway, John Cunningham. He is also challenging his removal in canon law (more).

Pope Francis' Vatican reforms may prompt curial pushback
Extract from Analysis, David Gibson, National Catholic Reporter, Tuesday 17 December 2013

In private conversations, Pope Francis often acknowledges that reforming the Vatican will be a difficult task opposed by powerful interests in the church. Developments on Monday showed both the progress he has made and the challenges that remain. Case in point: Cardinal Raymond Burke, an influential American conservative who has worked in the Roman Curia since 2008, lost one key post Monday when he was left off the Vatican body that vets bishops for the pope to appoint. Those appointments are seen as the key to securing Francis' legacy. But in an interview a few days earlier, Burke -- who remains head of the Vatican equivalent of the Supreme Court -- also publicly raised doubts about Francis' plans to make wholesale changes in a papal bureaucracy in keeping with the pontiff's vision of a more open, pastoral church. "The service of the Roman Curia is part of the very nature of the church, and so that has to be respected," Burke told EWTN, a U.S.-based Catholic cable network that spotlights conservative views. "I can't imagine that somehow the Roman Curia is going to take on a completely different figure. It just doesn't make sense," Burke said. The interview was broadcast Thursday as the centerpiece of a program that highlighted concerns about the direction of the church since Francis was elected in March. Francis' own top collaborators, namely a "kitchen cabinet" of eight cardinals he tapped to help him change the Vatican's byzantine and often scandal-ridden ways, have said the old curial system "is over," as one put it, and will be replaced by "something different." (more)

High Court leaves same sex marriage door ajar
Extracts from Frank Brennan, Eureka Street, Friday 13 December 2013

The advocates for marriage equality and their allies in the ACT Legislative Assembly have scored one of the great home goals with the High Court of Australia ruling unanimously that 'the whole of the Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013 (ACT) is inconsistent with the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth)' and that 'the whole of the Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013 (ACT) is of no effect'. The advocates for same sex marriage did themselves no favour in terms of public credibility by putting their support behind a dog's breakfast of ACT legislation which even if valid and effective would not have provided marriage equality. The High Court noted that the ACT Act provided 'for the automatic dissolution of the marriage if a party marries another under a law of the Commonwealth, or under a law of another jurisdiction that substantially corresponds to the ACT Act'. How could advocates for 'marriage equality' credibly support a 'marriage' terminable without court order, without agreement, without prior notice to the other party — an arrangement able to be dissolved at the whim of one of the parties walking out the door having found another marriage partner, whether straight or gay? (more)

Pope Francis named Time's Person of the Year
Extracts from Cathnews, Thursday 12 December 2013

Pope Francis has been named Time magazine's Person of the Year. He says the title will make him happy if it helps attract people to the hope of the Gospel, said the Vatican spokesman. The Catholic News Service reports. 'It's a positive sign that one of the most prestigious recognitions in the international press' goes to a person who 'proclaims to the world spiritual, religious and moral values and speaks effectively in favour of peace and greater justice,' said the spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi.....'Rarely has a new player on the world stage captured so much attention so quickly - young and old, faithful and cynical - as has Pope Francis,' Time said on its website. 'With a focus on compassion, the leader of the Catholic Church has become a new voice of conscience.' Blessed John Paul II was named Person of the Year in 1994 and Blessed John XXIII in 1962 (more). Image: cathnews

'Spectacular bungling' of an abuse case, archbishop tells inquiry
Extract from cathnews, Thursday 12 December 2013

The Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge has described the Church's attempt to deal with a child sex abuse victim as 'spectacular bungling' and 'drastic failure', and flagged his willingness to revisit cases, reports The Sydney Morning Herald. Archbishop Coleridge told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse yesterday that it was wrong that insurers and lawyers had determined how much victims were paid out. His archdiocese had $52 million from which he was prepared to draw for victim payouts. 'In the end, I [as archbishop] decide whether a sum conforms to the criteria of justice and compassion.' In the strongest statements yet by a senior Australian Catholic Church official about the church’s mishandling of sex abuse claims, Archbishop Coleridge said a 'tsunami' of child sexual abuse allegations had caught bishops and other officials 'like rabbits in a headlight.' The failures of the Towards Healing protocol, in use since 1997, meant other ways of dealing with victim complaints needed to be explored 'if we are serious about coming to the aid of victims,' the archbishop told the hearing (more).

We are at a crossroads for women in the church
Extracts from Joan Chittister, National Catholic Reporter, Wednesday 11 December 2013

The 20th-century Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote: "The only task worthy of our efforts is to construct the future." My concern today is how to construct a new future for women around the world through the global outreach of the church.......In fact, intelligent men as well as intelligent women realize now that feminism is not about femaleness. It's not about female chauvinism either, or feminismo machismo. And it's definitely not about women wanting to act like men. Feminism is about allowing every member of the human race to become a fully functioning human adult, to make choices at every level of society, to participate in the decision-making that affects their lives, to be financially independent, to be safe on the streets, secure in their homes, to have a voice in the courts and constitutional bodies of the world -- to enjoy, in other words, full and equal civil rights. It is about bringing to public visibility and public agency the agendas, the insights, and the wisdom of the other half of the human race. It is about taking their ideas and plans seriously. No! Correction: It is about taking the theology of creation seriously. It is, in other words, about this century's "emancipation proclamation" of women. And since it is 2,000 years after Jesus himself modeled it, it can hardly be argued that we're rushing things. Pope Francis, clearly sensitive to the issue, has himself brought up the notion of launching a study of women, the very thought of which coming out of Rome is at least as earth-shaking as seriously expecting Rome to do something serious about it (more).


Nelson Mandela, who led South Africa out of apartheid and became the nation's first black president, has died at the age of 95 (5/12/2013). At the launch of a Children's fund named after him in 1995 he said:

"There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way it treats its children"


 Report of Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Sexual Abuse handed down
Extract from comment by Catholics For Renewal, Sunday 24 November 2013
The Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Sexual Abuse handed down its report on 13 November, 2013.  The Report "Betrayal of Trust" is damning of the institutional Catholic Church’s handling of
clerical sexual abuse of children. Committee members, in introducing the report, were scathing of the Church. Andrea Coote MP told the ABC’s 7.30 Report:

“A sliding morality has developed within the Catholic Church which emphasises the interests of the perpetrator and the Church. The Catholic Church appears to have compartmentalised the issues in order to avoid the obvious moral conflicts.”

The Report states (page 170). “No representatives of the Catholic Church directly reported the criminal conduct of its members to the police. The Committee found that there is simply no justification for this position.”

Catholics for Renewal seeks the renewal of the institutional Church in the likeness of Christ, in keeping with our duty as members of the Church.  Catholics for Renewal is particularly concerned, as reported by the Parliamentary Committee, that the institutional Church is not accountable and not transparent. This dysfunctional governance was demonstrated tragically in the Church’s cover-up and aggravation of clerical sexual abuse, followed by strong resistance to public demands for transparency. Of course, such a gross deficiency in governance impacts on Catholics in many other areas and has alienated many from the Church....... (read the full CathFR comment and main points here)

October 2014 Extraordinary Synod - Views on Family invited and encouraged - now
Wednesday 27 November 2013

The Vatican has called an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops from around the world for October 5-19 2014 to consider "pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization." Comments on family issues from as many people as possible are invited and encouraged for A preparatory meeting to be held in Rome in February 2014. To make responding quick and easy an online Survey facility has been established (click here) for this purpose by the Melbourne Archdiocese, and various other Dioceses / Archdioceses. Respondents are free to answer as many or as few questions as appropriate, and the final question in particular readily allows free comment on any relevant matter. This is a unique and historical opportunity to offer your thoughts to the Pope on significant Family issues. Online Responses are required by 6 December (hard copy responses may be submitted also via the above facility).

'Evangelii Gaudium' amounts to Francis' 'I Have a Dream' speech
Extract from Amalysis, John L. Allen Jr. National Catholic Reporter, Tuesday 26 November 2013

Dreams can be powerful things, especially when articulated by leaders with the realistic capacity to translate them into action. That was the case 50 years ago with Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech, and it also seems to be the ambition of Pope Francis' bold new apostolic exhortation, "The Joy of the Gospel."

In effect, the 224-page document, titled in Latin Evangelii Gaudium and released by the Vatican Tuesday, is a vision statement about the kind of community Francis wants Catholicism to be: more missionary, more merciful, and with the courage to change.

Francis opens with a dream.  "I dream of a 'missionary option,' " Francis writes, "that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the church's customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today's world, rather than for her self-preservation."
(more).   Image: NCR

No copping out of abuse blame
Extract from Frank Brennan, Eureka Street, Sunday 25 November 2013

Australia's quest to uncover the plague of child abuse and put right the failure of government and non-government organisations (including churches) to deal compassionately and justly with victims, and firmly and appropriately with perpetrators, continues. Quite rightly, the Catholic Church remains in the spotlight. In February, retired judge Tony Whitlam QC reported on the 'Father F' Case in Armidale. He highlighted that all the blame did not lie just with the deceased bishop Kennedy. There were systemic failures not just in the Church but also with psychologists, the police and the courts. This month, the Victorian parliamentary committee's report 'Betrayal Of Trust: Inquiry Into The Handling Of Child Abuse By Religious And Other Non-Government Organisations' was published. The Catholic Church hierarchy now seems more prepared to admit institutional and personal failures prior to 1996 when Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response were instituted. They are yet to admit the pervasive, closed clericalist culture which infected the Church until at least 1996. But that will come.......(more)
Image: Eureka Street

Francis: 'Women called to service, not servitude'
Extracts from Thomas C Fox, National Catholic Reporter, Sunday 13 October 2013

In his first address entirely focused on the topic of women, Pope Francis on Saturday said "women are called to service, not servitude."........."I suffer -- speaking truthfully! -- when I see in the church or in some ecclesial organizations that the role of service that we all have, and that we must have -- but that the role of service of the woman slips into a role of servitude," Francis said, according to Vatican Radio.......He then added: "Many things can change and have changed in our cultural and social evolution, but the fact remains that it is the woman who conceives, carries in her womb and gives birth to the children of men. And this is not simply a biological matter, but carries a wealth of implications for the woman herself, for her way of being, for her relationships, for the way in which we lend respect to human life and to life in general. Calling a woman to maternity, God entrusted the human being to her in an altogether special manner." Francis then warned that there are two dangers always present when speaking about the topic of women. He called them "two extreme opposites that destroy woman and her vocation." "The first," he said, "is to reduce maternity to a social role, to a task, albeit noble, but which in fact sets the woman aside with her potential and does not value her fully in the building of community. This is both in the civil sphere and in the ecclesial sphere." "The other danger," he said, "[is] in the opposite direction, that of promoting a type of emancipation which, in order to occupy spaces taken away from the masculine, abandons the feminine with the precious traits that characterize it." Francis returned to a theme he has repeatedly emphasized during his pontificate, the theme of mercy, applying it to women and the way they help in an understanding and teaching mercy. "I would like to underline how the woman has a particular sensitivity for the 'things of God', above all in helping us to understand the mercy, tenderness and love that God has for us," he said (more).

Vatican urges a slowdown in the rush to reform
Extract from Eric J Lyman, Religion News Service, National Catholic Reporter, Wednesday 9 October 2013   
                              Pope Francis has earned headlines worldwide with his reform-minded comments on any number of topics, from the church being "obsessed" with divisive issues like abortion and homosexuality to the role of women in church leadership. But Tuesday, the Vatican warned churches not to get ahead of the pope and take the reform process into their own hands. The diocese of Freiburg in Germany recently broke ranks and said divorced and remarried Catholics could receive Communion if they were "trying to live according to their faith." The Vatican's chief spokesman, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, warned that the diocese's view was not one the church endorsed, and that the topic would be considered a year from now in an extraordinary session of the Synod of Bishops, which will meet Oct. 5-19, 2014, at the Vatican (more).

Francis writes to gay Catholics
Extract from The Tablet, Wednesday 9 October 2013

Pope Francis responded personally to a letter from a group of gay and lesbian Italian Catholics sent in June, according to the Italian daily La Repubblica. The group, Kairos of Florence, asked for openness and dialogue, noting that closure to discussion "always feeds homophobia". The Kairos group said they also received a letter from the Secretariat of State, saying Pope Francis "really enjoyed" their letter and the way it was written. The Pope reportedly assured the group of his blessing, but Kairos decided to keep the rest of both letters private. The letter was not the first of its kind to be sent to a pope, but one Kairos leaders, Innocent Pontillo, said that on previous occasions "No one had ever even given a nod of response." (more)

Francis hits 'em where they ain't in meaningful papal interviews
Extract from Eugene Cullen Kennedy, National Catholic Reporter, Tuesday 8 October 2013

Everybody is telling us what Pope Francis means in what he does and says, particularly in what the media refer to as his "blockbuster" interview published recently in Jesuit magazines throughout the world. He followed that up with an even more provocative conversation with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. His Jesuit-oriented interview has been analyzed more than evidence at a crime scene. Each of these interpretations, like Versailles' hall of mirrors, reflects one way of appraising the new pope. The Jesuits are naturally interested in exploring how his training and commitment to the exercises of St. Ignatius affect his outlook and mode of operation. Those interested in his foreign policy look for clues about that while Catholics of the Second Vatican Council speculate on whether he is another John XXIII or not. Others, remembering that a race course once stood where the open arms of the colonnade of St. Peter's Square now close in on new popes, wonder whether he will win the race against old curial racehorses or fade in the stretch (more)...........He even gave a remarkable definition to the Curia, referring to them as the "quartermaster's office" of the church, filling an essential function, overseeing logistics and providing workaday supplies but far from being the general staff in charge of the entire Catholic church (more). [Eugene Cullen Kennedy is emeritus professor of psychology at Loyola University, Chicago.]

Pope Francis: revitalising Vatican II
Extract from analysis by Bruce Duncan, Social Policy Connections, Friday 4 October 2013

Pope Francis has captured widespread attention in a way reminiscent of Pope John XXIII. Both share fresh, warm personalities, and inspire us with an earthy faith alive to contemporary social and cultural issues. But just as Pope John ushered in the great reforming Second Vatican Council, it seems Pope Francis is embarking on a major new process to implement the Council reforms more fully. It is Vatican II, Part II. (read the analysis here)

Team Francis
Extract from Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, The Tablet, Saturday 5 October 2013

The eight members of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals – the ‘C8’ as they are already becoming known – got round the table with him for the first time this week. The three-day meeting at the Apostolic Palace in Rome will set the agenda for what looks likely to become a new era of transparency and collegiality within the Church. Reform of the Roman Curia, the attitude to marriage, annulment and divorce – all are up for change. The cardinals, drawn from around the world, have proven organisational ability and pastoral skills. They know their way around the machinery of government in Rome. Here, we profile the eight men set to make a revolution (more)

Francis orders overhaul of Curia
Extract from Robert Mickens in Rome, The Tablet, Thursday 2 October 2013

Pope Francis and his Council of Cardinals have decided that the Roman Curia should be totally restructured, rather than just slightly reformed, and they have raised the possibility that its work might be co-ordinated by a newly created "moderator curiae" or moderator of the curia. Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi SJ said today: "They are not just going in the direction of a simple updating of Pastor Bonus [the current constitution on the curia's structure and function] with some touch-ups and marginal modifications, but towards the drafting of a constitution with things that are very new - in short, a new constitution." Fr Lombardi was speaking after the Pope and his Council wrapped up three days of inaugural meetings. He said Francis and his eight advisers were looking to strengthen the nature of the Curia as being "a service to the universal Church and the local Churches" rather than being "an exercise of centralised power". (more)

Pope and advisory council discuss synod reform on first day
Extracts from CathNews, Thursday 3 October 2013

Pope Francis and his eight cardinal advisers on church governance spent much of their first day together discussing reform of the Synod of Bishops, but the Vatican downplayed expectations that their discussions would lead to major changes in the near future.Their morning session took place from 9am to 12.30pm in a private library in the Apostolic Palace. Pope Francis opened the meeting with a talk on the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council, in order to establish a "working climate not limited to organizational questions but broadly spiritual and ecclesiological," Father Lombardi said. Among the topics of the pope's reflection were the mission of the church, the relationship between the universal church and local churches, collegiality, the church and poverty, and the role of the laity. Each of the cardinals then offered a summary of the suggestions he had collected in preparation for the meeting, and offered his views on what should be the major areas of the council's work (more).
Photo: CathNews

Pope and G-8 meet
Extracts from Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, Wednesday 2 October 2013

AS a series of consultations aimed at the reform of the Vatican bureaucracy began, Pope Francis told his group of cardinal advisers that humility and service attract people to the church, not power and pride. "Let us ask the Lord that our work today makes us all more humble, meek, more patience and more trusting in God so that the church may give beautiful witness to the people," he said 1 October during morning Mass in his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae. The strength of the Gospel "is precisely in humility, the humility of a child who lets himself be guided by the love and tenderness of his father," he told the cardinals.........The council's field of potential concern extends far beyond Vatican reform, and Pope Francis has said that its deliberations will include the question of the eligibility of divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion (more).

Australia archbishop: Dog incident played role in excommunication
Extract from Brian Roewe, National Catholic Reporter, Thursday 2 October 2013

After it looked like Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart had moved the conversation surrounding excommunicated former priest Greg Reynolds away from an incident in which a dog was fed a piece of the Eucharist, recent comments seem to have brought that particular liturgy back into frame. Hart told NCR Sept. 26 that "from media reports, the Archdiocese is aware of the presence of Reynolds where the sacred species were given by another person to an animal." The comment appeared to corroborate Reynolds' assertion that although he was in the same room at the time, he did not perform the act. In August 2012, an Australian newspaper reported that during a liturgical celebration of the Inclusive Catholics group, a first-time participant broke off a piece of the Eucharist and gave it to his dog as the Communion was passed around the room. Reynolds has denied rumors he personally distributed the consecrated host to the dog, and a witness who attended the liturgy confirmed the dog's owner performed the act. Even so, that particular liturgy still may be the catalyst behind the citation of Canon 1367 in the Vatican decree for Reynolds' excommunication (more).

Catholic Church opts for reform
Extract from Barney Zwartz, Religion Editor,The Age, Thursday 3 October October 2013

The Catholic Church will create independent strategies for handling clergy sex abuse complaints by the end of next year in response to widespread criticisms, it has told the royal commission. In its formal submission, to be released on Thursday, the church says it is happy to contribute to an independent national compensation scheme if that is what the commission investigating child sex abuse in institutions recommends (more).

Catholic Church releases child sexual abuse reform proposals
Extracts from Communications Office, Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, Thursday 3 September 2013

THE leadership of the Catholic Church in Australia has endorsed the development of a reform agenda which could see the most significant overhaul of
the Church’s approach to clerical sexual abuse in its more than 200-year history in Australia. Francis Sullivan, CEO of the Truth Justice and Healing Council, said the reforms are now being fully developed and will be presented to Church leaders in the first half of 2014. “These proposals recognise that we must do better when we are dealing with victims of sexual abuse and as we work to make sure our institutions are as safe as possibly for children,” Mr Sullivan said. The Catholic Church reform agenda proposals include........ The reform proposals are outlined in the Truth Justice and Healing Council’s Towards Healing submission to the Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse.......The Truth Justice and Healing Council Towards Healing submission can be read HERE  (more)

Has the Catholic Church in Australia any credibility left?
Extract from Frank Brennan, Eureka Street, Wednesday 2 October 2013

.....,..............Here is a pope who is not just about creating wiggle room or watering down the teachings of the Church. No, he wants to admit honestly to the world that we hold in tension definitive teachings and pastoral yearnings — held together coherently only by mercy and forgiveness.

He explains:

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

If we are honest with ourselves, many of us have wondered how we can maintain our Christian faith and our commitment to the Catholic Church in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis and the many judgmental utterances about sexuality and reproduction — the Church that has spoken longest and loudest about sex in all its modalities seems to be one of the social institutions most needing to get its own house in order in relation to trust, fidelity, love, respect and human dignity. Revelations out of Melbourne and Newcastle and the pending national royal commission hearings leave us with heavy hearts especially about some of our local church leadership before 1996 but we do have a spring in our step that this new Pope, together with rigorous, independent legal processes (even in the face of much media pre-judgment) and local church commitments to transparency and solicitous care of victims, including the establishment of the Truth Justice and Healing Council, provide us with the structures and leadership necessary for 'cooperation, openness, full disclosure and justice for victims and survivors'. The chief Christian paradox is that we are lowly sinners who dare to profess the highest ideals, and that sometimes we cannot do it on our own — we need the help of our critics and the State. Our greatest possibilities are born of the promise of forgiveness and redemption, the hope of new life emerging from suffering and even death. Out of our past failings and our present shame can come future promise and hope.

Let's be in no doubt that the Australian Catholic Church needed help from the State and from civil society so that we might get our house in order in dealing with child abuse which had been occurring at a most unacceptable rate and which had been addressed in too incremental a way. (more)

Francis faces big decisions on sex abuse
Extract from John, L Allen Jr, National Catholic Reporter, Wednesday 2 October 2013

Although Pope Francis has earned a reputation for taking on tough questions and shaking up the status quo, so far he's been relatively quiet on at least one issue that's arguably done greater harm to the image and morale of the church over the last decade than any other: the child sexual abuse scandals. Even when the pontiff has had opportunities to express concern, he's sometimes let them pass by. For instance, there was no meeting with victims of abuse during his July 22-29 trip to Brazil, even though such encounters had become almost a routine feature of papal travel under Benedict XVI. The activist group recently asserted of Francis: "He has expressed solidarity with nearly every vulnerable population except for those who were sexually abused within the church." (more

Pope calls for less "Vatican-centric," more socially conscious church
Extract from Francis X. Rocca, Catholic News Service. Tuesday 1 October 2013

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In his latest wide-ranging interview, Pope Francis said that he aimed to make the Catholic Church less "Vatican-centric" and closer to the "people of God," as well as more socially conscious and open to modern culture. He also revealed that he briefly considered turning down the papacy in the moments following his election last March, and identified the "most urgent problem" the church should address today as youth unemployment and the abandonment of elderly people. The pope's remarks appeared in a 4,500-word interview, published Oct. 1 in the Rome daily La Repubblica, with Eugenio Scalfari, a co-founder and former editor-in-chief of the newspaper. Scalfari, an avowed atheist, publicly addressed the pope in a pair of articles on religious and philosophical topics over the summer, and Pope Francis replied in a letter that La Repubblica published Sept. 11. The journalist reported that the two met in person at the Vatican Sept. 24. Their conversation touched on a range of topics, including economic justice, dialogue between Christians and nonbelievers, and reform of the Vatican bureaucracy (more).

Pope makes advisory panel a permanent Council of Cardinals
Extract from CathNews, Tuesday 1 October 2013

Pope Francis has made his international advisory panel on church governance, which begins meeting in Rome today, a permanent council of cardinals, thereby emphasising the importance and open-endedness of its work, reports the Catholic News Service.The Vatican made the announcement yesterday, a day before Pope Francis was scheduled to meet for the first time with the panel, which has been informally dubbed the 'Group of Eight' or 'G-8'. The new Council of Cardinals will have the 'task of assisting me in the governance of the universal church and drawing up a project for the revision of the apostolic constitution 'Pastor Bonus' on the Roman Curia,' Pope Francis wrote in his decree, dated September 28. Pastor Bonus, published in 1988, was the last major set of changes in the Roman Curia, the Church's central administration at the Vatican (more). Photo: CathNews: Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, co-oordinator of the Council of Cardinals.

Cardinals meeting consultative Pope
Extracts from Brian Lucas, Eureka Street, Monday 30th October 2013

A consultative group of cardinals will meet with Pope Francis on 1 October. There is eagerness among the world's press for access to the meeting and clear expectations of radical shifts in church policy. Fr Thomas Rosica, from Canadian Salt and Light Television, and a splendid collaborator with the Vatican Press Office, hosed them down: 'It would be unwise to make large investments of funds and personnel to cover an event which is first and foremost a series of private meetings between cardinals and the Pope.'.........According to Pope Francis, 'uncertainty is in every true discernment'. Things are not always as they first appear. Wide and generous consultation with those most knowledgeable, usually those most affected, is essential. He rejects the approach of those who suggest that one should not consult too much — decide by yourself. Rather, it is through discussion that one arrives at the best decisions.The story is sometimes told among those involved in corporate governance of the board that was wrestling with a difficult problem. One member suggested bringing in an expert. Another was resistant until he knew what the expert would say. Those in positions of power need to give permission to their advisers to tell the truth. The worst thing you can do when consulting is to listen only to voices that please. The worst thing one can do when asked to give an opinion is to tell others what you think they want to hear. We trust that the cardinals will be able to say what they believe with humility and honesty. The fact that some have already engaged in a wide consultation among their constituencies is a positive sign......His advice to those who exercise power, and so presumably to himself, is to be humble and leave room for doubt. 'If one has all the answers to all the questions — that is proof that God is not with him'.......Francis is opening up a new way of doing business within the Church and appears open to the possibility of a less centralised bureaucracy. He does not like the denunciations for unorthodoxy being sent to Rome and wants these issues handled locally. In a sentence accidentally omitted from the America magazine translation (of a recent Interview with the Pope) he says, 'It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the Church'.He has defended himself against those within the Catholic Church obsessed with particular moral issues and insisting he speak more about them. (read full article here).
Photo: Brian Lucas  is general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and these are his personal views.

Catholic reformers' letter to Pope Francis: tackle injustice within the Church
Extract from The Tablet, Thursday 26 October, (See Editor's End-Note Monday 30 October 2013 below)*

Dear Pope Francis and Brother Cardinals:

It is out of a deep concern for the Catholic Church, in the face of its many crises, that we, representing millions of Catholics from around the world, have collaborated in writing this letter. We are filled with hope that church governance will be discussed at your October meeting and we respectfully request that you give primary consideration to acknowledging the rights and responsibilities of the baptised to have a voice of influence in the decision-making of our Church.
Like you, we have experienced the catastrophic loss of trust in our Church, arising from the global revelations of Catholic clergy sexual abuse and hierarchical cover up. Abuses of power at the Vatican bank, as well as damaging disrespect and marginalisation experienced by the laity, have caused many ofour sisters and brothers to abandon Catholicism altogether. Our church seems unable to read the signs of the times and so handing on the faith to future generations has become ever more challenging.                           In our understanding, what lies at the root of many of these problems is the destructive effects of clericalism. We support your desire, Pope Francis, to rid our Church of clericalism inorder that we become a community of equals called, through our baptism, to live and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. All Catholics have the right and responsibility, innately deriving from our baptism, to have an effective and deliberative voice in the decision-making of our Church. The full participation of the faith community is in accordance with the Gospel, the tradition of the early Church, and the vision of Vatican II.
To this end we have outlined five areas that reflect the hopes and needs of the sensus fidelium......(read the five areas here).

* [Ed: This Catholic Church Reform (CCR) organized letter to Pope Francis also signed by Catholics For Ministry (CFM) and Catholics For Renewal (CathFR) among other organizations, was recently published in The Tablet]

Pope Francis, gender equality and the idea of machismo
Extracts from Analysis, Michelle A. Gonzales, National Catholic Reporter, Thursday 26 September 2013

..........Francis not only rejects an elitist church; he also rejects the reduction of Catholicism to hot-topic moral issues. He does not want to reduce the church to discussions of abortion, gay marriage, contraception and homosexuality. In his comments, he makes a distinction between dogmatic and moral teachings, reminding us that they do not hold the same weight..........By evoking the word machismo, Francis is not only taking a critical stance against social hierarchy; he is also reminding us of his Latin American roots. He is rejecting this patriarchal, essentialist understanding of women that limits their full humanity and the full humanity of men as well, reducing them to gender stereotypes. Francis does not take a dismissive stance toward the chorus of grass-roots, pastoral and academic women who have for decades begged the church to be more open to the notion of women's authority in the church. Rejecting machismo is a rejection of patriarchy and its limited construction of women's voice and authority. Francis calls us into a deeper conversation about the authority of women grounded in a theology of women. This will lead, he seems to imply, to finding an authoritative role for women (more).

Church says mistakes of the past won't be repeated
Extract from Dan Cox, ABC News, Catholic News, Thursday 26 September 2013

The Hunter Valley's Catholic Church has moved to reassure a New South Wales inquiry into child sexual abuse the mistakes of the past will not be repeated. The special commission is investigating claims the church covered up abuse by two paedophile priests, Denis McAlinden and James Fletcher. Documents tendered to the inquiry show the church knew about McAlinden's abuse which spanned 50 years. Representing the Maitland-Newcastle diocese Lachlan Giles has summed up his case, saying church officials should not be "unfairly criticised" for their handling of the allegations. He said they were adhering to the victims' wishes not to involve police. But, he assured the Commissioner that in 2013, and irrespective of what victims want, allegations would be reported to police (more).

Australian priest, advocate for women's ordination, excommunicated
Extracts from Brian Roewe, National Catholic Reporter, Tuesday 24 September 2013

An Australian priest vocal in his support of women's ordination has become the first person excommunicated for such beliefs under the papacy of Pope Francis. Fr. Greg Reynolds of Melbourne, Australia, told NCR by email late Monday night his initial reaction was "shock" upon learning of his separation from the church. Australian media have reported he is the first member of the Melbourne archdiocese excommunicated and the first priest from the area laicized for reasons other than pedophilia. The news came Sept. 18 through a canon lawyer for the Melbourne archdiocese, Fr. John Salvano, who invited Reynolds a few weeks earlier to meet "to discuss 'some canonical issue,' " Reynolds said. The former priest said Salvano presented him the letter of excommunication and proceeded to read it to him, since Reynolds did not read Latin. Part of the shock stemmed from uncertainty with who initiated the excommunication and laicization process. During the meeting, Salvano told Reynolds that while Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart previously considered beginning the laicization process, he had not gone forward with that plan. Instead, unknown people had contacted the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which requested Reynolds' file from Hart. "I have no idea who took the initiative to approach the CDF," Reynolds told NCR (more).

Cardinals' summit shapes up as potential turning point
Extracts from John L Allen Jr,National Catholic Reporter, Tuesday 23 September 2013

Francis' papacy only just reached the six-month mark, so it's probably premature to be talking about make-or-break moments for his legacy. That said, the Oct. 1-3 maiden summit of eight cardinals from around the world, tapped by the pope to advise him on governance and reform, profiles as a potentially critical turning point. When those eight cardinals, plus a bishop-secretary, sit down with Pope Francis in a meeting room in the Apostolic Palace, the expectation is that some serious sausage will be ground on a variety of fronts:

  • An ongoing cleanup of Vatican finances;
  • Reorganization, and potential downsizing, of the Vatican bureaucracy;
  • Ensuring that the right people end up in the right Roman jobs;
  • Vexed pastoral questions such as annulments and divorced and remarried Catholics.

Dubbed the "G-8," the panel was announced in April and styled as a move toward greater collegiality. The American on the team is Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, joined by Cardinals Giuseppe Bertello, governor of Vatican City; Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras; Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa of Santiago, Chile; Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India; Reinhard Marx of Munich; Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Congo; and George Pell of Sydney. Rodríguez is the group's coordinator...........At least some cardinals also seem serious about change. In a recent interview in Germany, Marx said it's important to have a headquarters in Rome that Catholics can be proud of -- not so subtly implying this isn't always the case right now.

Jesuit suggests female cardinals, asks for names
Extracts from Joshua J.McElwee ,National Catholic Reporter, Tuesday 23 September 2013

A noted U.S. Jesuit priest and theologian has taken to Facebook to propose a key change in the structure of the Catholic church: the naming of women to the College of Cardinals, the elite church body responsible for electing the pope. Posting Tuesday on his personal Facebook page, Jesuit Fr. James Keenan asked his friends and associates to propose names of women around the world who should be considered as possible cardinal candidates. "I have been getting lots of likes from all over when I said that I think making a woman a cardinal is a very easy matter, why?" asks Keenan, who holds the founders professorship in theology at Boston College. "Because there are so many good candidates!".....While canon law currently specifies that a cardinal must either be a priest or a bishop, some have also wondered whether the appointment of female cardinals might be a reform Pope Francis is considering. If that were to happen, women among those on Keenan's list are: Linda Hogan, a professor of ecumenics at Trinity College Dublin; Holy Child Jesus Sr. Teresa Okure, a theology professor at the Catholic Institute of West Africa in Nigeria; and Maryanne Loughry, the associate director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Australia. At least one prominent current cardinal has already suggested the naming of female cardinals could be possible. According to U.S Catholic, New York's Archbishop Timothy Dolan said in an interview last year it was "theoretically" possible for the pope to name female cardinals (more).

Advice for the Pope on reforming the Church
Extracts from Geraldine Doogue, Eureka Street, Monday  23 September 2013

The Church isn't offering many endearing images to its stoic believers of late. But one will stay with me for many years. That wonderful moment in March when Jorge Mario Bergoglio walked out onto the Vatican balcony with his simple but inviting Fratelli e sorelle, buona sera! — Brothers and sisters, good evening! — still sends a thrill up my spine. Along with the rest of the watching crowd in St Peter's Square, I thought he'd seemed rather stunned, almost overwhelmed just prior to this emergence. Then came this incredibly pastoral moment followed by the next, his appeal to all of us to pray for him. You could have heard a pin drop in the packed square as people delightedly complied, an unforgettable moment. In the intervening six months, I've wondered: where will he take believers? His recent analogy with the Church as a busy public hospital dispensing vital services was one of the most eloquent for some time from an ecclesiastical leader. Is he re-imagining our Church, amidst its terrible predicaments? I wonder how much he seeks to draw the lay world inside the structure, to tap its wisdom, its experience of these revolutionary times of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Forgive some tilting at windmills. But I wish he'd invite me to be his temporary consultant, to offer him advice for his next 500 days. The laity has a lot to offer (more).
  Image: Eureka Street

A thinning flock of Catholics at all-time low
Link to a report from Barney Zwartz, The Age, Monday 23 September 2013

Based on data from the Catholic Church's Pastoral Research Office and Peter Wilkinson's recent paper on 21st Century Mass Attendance published in The Swag the significant overall decline in Mass attendance from 1947 and 2011 is highlighted in this report. Dr Dr Bob Dixon, director of the church's Pastoral Research Office said that Mass attenders tended to be older, better educated, more likely to be female (61 per cent) and to have been born overseas than the Catholic population as a whole. He predicted Mass attendances would continue the trend of slight decline for another 15 years, then stabilise after the baby boomer generation passed. Immigrants from non-English speaking backgrounds were the main source of growth (link to source).

An intriguing peep inside the papal mind
Extract from Editorial, The Age, Monday 23 September 2013

The former archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is proving to be quite a surprise in his new role as Pope Francis. Six months into the job, and already he is rejecting much of the rigid and unfortunate conservatism of his papal predecessors. His approach is pragmatic, and the message is one of inclusiveness. The priority is getting the church's leaders to ''better understand how human beings understand themselves today'' (more).

Francis stuns the church but will it have a lasting effect?
Edited Extracts from David Gibson, Religion News Service, Catholic News, Monday 23 September 2013

Pope Francis rocked the
Church and surprised the world with a free-ranging interview published last Friday. But amid the widespread praise, and some criticism, there lurks a question: Can Francis make his vision a reality, writes David Gibson. More than detailing a list of reforms or policy change he hopes to make — which may yet happen, after time and extensive deliberations — the pope was sketching out a pastoral vision for the church, and modeling a way for clergy to speak and relate to their flocks. In order to replicate that model, Francis needs enough time to appoint bishops who share his views and who can in turn encourage and promote like-minded priests and seminarians. In many ways, the type of change Francis envisions will take a generation or more. Already, some in this current, more conservative-minded generation of bishops have signaled their unhappiness with the pope. 'I’m a little bit disappointed in Pope Francis that he hasn’t, at least that I’m aware of, said much about unborn children, about abortion,' Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin said this month in an interview that reflected comments made earlier by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput and others.......The cautionary tale that many progressive Catholics point to is that of Pope John Paul I, the 'smiling Pope' whose election in 1978 seemed to herald a new era of a pastoral papacy – and a church molded in the same spirit. But John Paul I died after just 33 days in office, opening the way to the election of John Paul II, an enormously popular figure yet one who began a sharp tack back toward doctrinal orthodoxy and conservatism (more).

Pope comments taken out of context, says Cardinal Pell
Extract from Catholic News, Monday 23 September 2013

The Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, has downplayed the significance of the Pope's call for a less judgmental approach to homosexuality, divorce and abortion, reports The Australian. Cardinal Pell suggested that the pontiff's remarks might have been taken out of context. 'Two paragraphs in Pope Francis's important 12,000-word interview have been the focus of particular attention. He also emphasised the importance of not taking issues out of context,' Cardinal Pell said. Cardinal Pell said the church's moral teaching on issues such as abortion and homosexual practice 'need to be defended and explained when they are attacked.' But in a statement released on Friday, Cardinal Pell said the church did not need to 'harangue people about them every day (more).

Church dumps rebel priest
Extracts from Barney Zwartz, The Age, Saturday 21 September 2013

Dissident priest Greg Reynolds has been both defrocked and excommunicated over his support for women priests and gays - the first person ever excommunicated in Melbourne, he believes. 'I've come to this position because I've followed my conscience on women's ordination and gay marriage.''.......The order comes direct from the Vatican, not at the request of Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart, and apparently follows a secret denunciation in the best traditions of the inquisition, according to Father Reynolds. (more)

Who goes to Mass in Australia in the 21st Century?
Edited Extract from analysis by Peter J Wilkinson Published in The Swag, Vol. 23, No.3
(August 2013). Thursday 12 Sept 2013 Three times in the 21st century, Australia’s bishops have measured the fidelity of the nation’s Catholics to regular Mass attendance. In 2001, 2006 and 2011, coinciding with the Commonwealth Census, the ACBC Pastoral Research Office (PRO) has conducted National Counts of Attendance in every parish of every diocese. The results of the 2011 Count, recently published, reveal a Catholic community with diminished and diminishing fidelity to the Eucharistic celebration. This analysis is based on those counts together with other data and comprises the following Sections; How many go to Mass? Where do Australian Catholics go to Mass? Who attends Mass regularly? and Where to from here?  Full report here courtesy The Swag.

New Vatican Secretary of State Parolin on celibacy, democracy
Edited extract from John L Allen Junior, National Catholic Reporter, Wednesday 11 September 2013

Comments on celibacy and democracy in the church by Italian Archbishop Pietro Parolin, whom Pope Francis named as the Vatican's new Secretary of State on Aug. 31, are raising eyebrows today, with some wondering if they herald looming changes in Catholic teaching and practice. In truth, Parolin's comments represent what might be termed the standard moderate Catholic line – priestly celibacy is a discipline, not a dogma, and can therefore be revised, but it nonetheless has value, and the church is not a democracy but it can and should be more collegial. Those points have been made many times by many different voices, and they don't necessarily point to any specific policy decisions. If anything, Parolin seems to want to temper expectations that Francis will turn the church on its ear, stressing the theme of continuity (more).

Catholics for Renewal submission to the Royal Commission on Child Sexual Abuse
Tuesday 9 September 2013

Catholics for Renewal has made a submission to the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on the effectiveness of the Catholic Church's Towards Healing protocol on the handling of child sexual abuse complaints within the Church. The submission identifies a number of deficiencies in the protocol and proposes wide ranging reforms to its operation and the legal framework governing the safeguarding of our children from abuse and the punishment of clerical offenders. The seven key reforms proposed are highlighted on the Documents page of this website where the full report may also be downloaded.
Photo: Royal Commission

I have a dream …
Extracts from blog,  U.S. Monday 26 August 2013

Across the nation and around the world, people are celebrating the 50th remembrance of the Civil Rights movement. Simultaneous with this is the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. The two leaders, Pope John XXIII and Martin Luther King inspired us and gave us all hope for a more inclusive worldview. But that was 50 years ago. The Civil Rights movement hasn’t reached its full objective but, most of us would agree that it is much further along than the outcomes of Vatican II for the Catholic Church........Already, with the election of Francis, I no longer have to dream of a Church that recognizes that Jesus died for all who do good, not just for Catholics. I no longer have to dream of a Church that embraces atheists and those who love and share their lives with those of the same sex. Pope Francis is giving me hope. I have a dream that reform is coming to our Church and that we, as members of the Church, will have a part in supporting the pope to bring this about. I have a dream. What is your dream for the Church? Please share it with us now (read full blog here).

Vatican overseer preaches to LCWR on Mary's submission to God
Extracts from National Catholic Reporter, Thursday 15 August 2013

As U.S. Catholic sisters are meeting to discern their relationship with the church’s bishops, the archbishop given expansive oversight of them by the Vatican told their annual assembly Thursday the Virgin Mary teaches the faithful to hand themselves over “completely to the will of God.” Mary, Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain told some 825 sisters during a homily this morning, teaches that it’s only in “submitting ourselves over to the one who made us … that we find fulfillment.”. “She shows to us … what God himself desires to do in us all and through the church when we let the grace of God overtake us without placing an obstacle between ourself and that grace,” he continued. After meeting in a closed-door session this morning to discuss conversations LCWR leaders have had with Sartain in past months, LCWR members are to hear from the archbishop himself this afternoon. Members have been asked by LCWR leaders not to discuss Thursday’s meetings with members of the press. Thursday’s Mass was a special occasion for Catholics, who are celebrating the solemnity of the feast of the Assumption, when it is taught that the Virgin Mary was assumed into Heaven (more).
(CNS photo/Roberto Gonzalez)

What the Holy Father meant to say ...
Extract from Phyllis Zagano, National Catholic Reporter, Wednesday 14 August 2013

So, am I the only person on the planet who thinks Pope Francis said “yes” to women as deacons? The question was about what concrete measures the church should take, “for instance, the female diaconate or a woman at the head of a dicastery?” No matter a little Rome-speak in his answer. I am pretty sure he said “yes” to ordaining women as deacons..... The question came in Italian from Le Figaro religion editor Jean-Marie Guénois and also on behalf of a colleague from the French Catholic newspaper La Croix. Guénois spoke directly: “You said that the church without women loses its fruitfulness.” And then Guénois asked about women as deacons and about women heading major portions of the church’s bureaucracy. Media reports burst with analysis of Francis’ “who am I to judge” comment made on that plane ride from Rio. But a complete English translation of Francis’s mostly Italian 80-minute chat with reporters on the aircraft is posted by the highly conservative Catholic News Agency (CNA). An outgrowth of the Peru-based ACI Prensa, CNA gives free access to Catholic entities. Its aim is to proselytize while it informs. It ran the transcript. It did not seem to focus on Le Figaro’s question about women as deacons or the pope’s apparently positive answer.....But the pope did not rule out — nor has any church teaching ruled out — the restoration of women to the ordained order of deacon. In fact, he led right into the current international discussion about women in the diaconate (more).

Breaking the stained-glass ceiling: Female roles in worship
Extract from Emma Klein, The Tablet, Saturday 10 August 2013

Pope Francis has called for the Church to create a deeper theology of women though he has ruled out women’s ordination. But how can Christianity and other religions carve out roles for women that do not cast them as second-class citizens? Could Judaism point the way? Where do women stand in world religions today? From recent
developments, pronouncements and events, a very complex picture emerges. Not least complex is the position of women within Judaism, one of the smallest, numerically, of world religions. Until the nineteenth century, when the Reform movement in Judaism emerged in Germany, Orthodoxy prevailed and women, with the exception of a few historic figures, were confined to the home and, within the synagogue, to the ladies’ gallery or behind a mechitza or partition – often a curtain. The rationale behind this separation, derived from the period of the Talmud and Mishnah, the oral commentary on the Torah, or Law, was that a woman and her body could distract men and lead to impure thoughts during prayer (more).

Between the Dalai Lama and McKinsey's
Extract from  Michael Kelly SJ, Ucanews, Catholic News, Wednesday 7 August 2013

Characterisations of Pope Francis abound. In something that hasn’t happened since 1979, when John Paul II did it. During WYD, Pope Francis was Time magazine's cover story everywhere in the world except the United States. The accounts of Papa Francesco are varied. Sometimes he’s portrayed as a Catholic Dalai Lama – all sweetness and serenity in the face of the world’s horrors and all the complexity that cultures and institutions create for innocent individuals.  He visits jailed refugees; he says Mass in prisons; as Bishop of Rome (which he prefers as his title to pope) he says parish Masses and hears confessions; he has announced his respectful and non-judgmental attitude to gays; he embraces the disabled and hugs babies. His reactions are warm, humane and tug at your heartstrings. At other times, he’s expected to be a senior executive of a global agency that specializes in refitting and refocusing extensive and well resourced enterprises that have lost direction. He has inherited a Vatican in tumult over alleged corruption, inefficiency, arrogance and the influence of a 'gay lobby' that has adversely affected good governance (more).

Pope: Door ‘closed’ on women priests
Extract from editorsub1, Cathnewsusa, 29 July 2013

Pope Francis reiterated the Roman Catholic Church’s ban on women priests, saying the decision is “definitive” although he would like women to have more leadership roles in administrative and pastoral activities. Speaking to reporters Sunday night while flying home from a week-long visit to Brazil, Francis said “the Church has spoken and says no … that door is closed.” It was the first time Francis — the first non-European pope elected in 1,300 years — had spoken publicly on women in the priesthood. He said women have a special mission in the Church as “first witnesses” of Christ’s resurrection. The Roman Catholic Church’s all-male priesthood has been under attack for years, particularly as Protestant denominations have begun ordaining women (more).

David M. Perry: What the pope meant by his gay priests comment
Extract from editorsub1, Cathnewsusa, 29 July 2013

As has become his trademark, Pope Francis is making changes without changing anything. On the papal plane on the way back from Brazil, the pope took questions from the press corps (a sign that John Allen, of New Catholic Reporter, suggests is indicative of Francis’ good mood). Among many questions, he was asked about the power of the “gay lobby” in the Vatican and recent accusations of homosexual activity by Battista Ricca, the prelate of the Vatican Bank. The Pope took this opportunity speak more generally about homosexuality. As has been widely reported, he said (in Italian), “Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?” He noted that the problem with the “gay lobby,” if it exists, is not that these people are gay, but that they are a lobby (i.e. that the Vatican is a tangled web of pressure groups and rivalries). Finally, he chided the press for focusing on the alleged homosexual acts of Ricca, distinguishing them from the criminal matters like sexual predation on children. Criminals should be punished, but if Ricca sinned, then confessed, he must be forgiven. “When the Lord forgives,” the Pope said, “the Lord forgets.” Francis did not just normalize Catholic perceptions on homosexuality; nor did he address the theological position on sex outside of procreative intercourse between married men and women. In reality, the only concrete matter he touched on was priests who are homosexual but celibate. Under Pope Benedict, as of 2005, Bishops were directed to treat homosexual candidates for the clergy with suspicion, denying a haven to gay Catholics seeking a religious life. But Francis seems to be suggesting that homosexuals are no more likely to betray their vows of celibacy than heterosexuals. That may have concrete policy implications within the seminary, as well it should (more).

Are we still a Church capable of warming hearts?
Report and Extracts from Pope Francis, News.VA, Saturday 27 July 2013

Pope Francis had a joyful but challenging message for the Bishops of Brazil today. As part of World Youth Day festivities, the Holy Father took the opportunity to meet with the world’s largest episcopate. Pope Francis thanked the Bishops for allowing him to speak as “one among friends”. For that reason, he said, he spoke in his native
Spanish, in order “to better express what I carry in my heart.”......he noted that "God always enters clothed in poverty, in littleness".  He noted, too, that, from the beginning, “God’s message was one of restoring what was broken, reuniting what had been divided.” (full report here)

Pope to clergy, religious, seminarians: respond to God's call in 3 ways
Report and Extracts from Pope Francis, News.VA, Saturday 27 July 2013

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis today urged clergy, seminarians and religious to respond to the call of God, proclaim the Gospel and promote a culture of encounter in their lives and ministry. In his homily at mass Saturday at Rio de Janeiro’s Cathedral of Saint Sebastian, the Pope cited these three aspects of their vocation as essential to evangelization. The Holy Father is in Brazil for a week long visit to celebrate World Youth Day with young people from around the world. Tracey McClure reports on what the Pope had to say (here)

Six ideas for a lay adviser to the Holy Father
Extract from Gary Everett, Catholic News, Wednesday 10 July 2013

The Pope is seeking some help to reform the Curia. He has invited a layman, independent of the Vatican, to assist with the reform process.I thought this would be a good opportunity to offer the expert some humble hints, from members of the Church at large, to consider before beginning the process. I am sending my six suggestions (more).

The essentials of true authority
Extracts from Sr Annette Cunliffe rsc, Catholic Religious Australia, Catholic News, Friday 28 June 2013

More than 800 women leaders of congregations, from 76 countries, came to participate.  There was indeed an incredible variety of gifts, cultures, experiences, yet a common commitment to follow Christ through concrete service to humanity.  Our attendance at a private audience with Pope Francis, where he gave a special address, was a fitting culmination. The theme of this 2013 Assembly, “It shall not be so among you (Mt 20,26): The service of leadership according to the Gospel”,was explored in different ways by the women who gave the keynote addresses on the five days. One that spoke especially to me was Dr Bruna Costacurta’s address entitled “Authority in the Bible”. Bruna is a scripture scholar at the Gregorian University in Rome and her talk, as well as other papers, photos and short video clips are available on the Vidimus Dominum website. This particular presentation firstly outlined the figure of the “Ideal King” in Deuteronomy, 17: 14 – 20: “one who should not, with his power, rival the kingship of God, but who rather serves to mediate the presence of the divine in the midst of his people.” We were reminded that, “Chosen by God, and standing in a special relationship of dependence on Him, the king must live by faith ... in the awareness of being the subject of a special predilection, an election that does not flow from his abilities and personal initiative but only as a consequence of the free gift of God’s mercy.”  (more)

Association of US Catholic Priests passes resolutions
Edited Extract from Editor, Thursday 27 June 2013

The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests passed six resolutions at the group’s second annual Assembly this week in Seattle: i)favoring exercise of authority in a collegial manner through consensus decision-making processes with councils and boards; ii) supporting Pope Francis in the reform of the Church to restore credibility, with participation of laity and clergy in the selection of bishop; iii)endorsing Cardinal Bernadin’s Common Ground Initiative to promote inclusive dialogue and collaboration; iv) supporting the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate; v) encouraging the reintroduction of general absolution; vi)supporting the Labor Priests Project of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils and establishing its own Priest-Labor-Union-Friendly Caucus. Seven proposed resolutions did not pass (more).

Evangelical ministry for gay 'cure' closes, apologizes
Extract from Kate Sommins, National Catholic Reporter, Wednesday 26 June 2013

Exodus International -- the evangelical Christian ministry that offered a "cure" for homosexuality and shut its doors last week after 37 years -- will be remembered by some as the only community of support they've ever had. To others, it will be remembered as a nightmare of broken promises and unfulfilled expectations. Exodus was a support group for Christians struggling with sexual orientation, but it also embraced the idea that gays and lesbians could become straight through prayer and counseling. Exodus president Alan Chambers released a statement June 19 apologizing to the gay community for the suffering inflicted by the organization (more).

Pope Francis wants pastors as bishops
Extract fom Thomas Reece, National Catholic Reporter, Wednesday 26 June  2013

In an address to papal nuncios, whose job it is to nominate bishops, Pope Francis described the kind of persons he wants them to put forward. He wants pastors who are "close to the people, fathers and brothers." They should be "gentle, patient and merciful; animated by inner poverty, the freedom of the Lord and also by outward simplicity and austerity of life." They should "not have the psychology of 'Princes.'" The pope spoke at an audience to the papal representatives who had come from hundreds of countries around the world for a two-day conference at the Vatican. The pope specifically warned them against ambitious prelates who want to be promoted from one diocese to a more prestigious one. He cited the ancient view that bishops "are married to a Church" and should not be "in constant search of another." What was missing from Francis's list of episcopal attributes were loyalty and orthodoxy, the two criteria that dominated the nomination process under Popes John Paul and Benedict (more).

Francis takes on Vatican bank: 'trust reluctantly, verify deeply'
Extracts fom John L. Allen Jr. National Catholic Reporter, 26 June  2013

In a move that observers describe as a clear signal of a desire for greater transparency and accountability, Pope Francis on Wednesday set up a new commission to investigate the activities of the Vatican bank and to report its findings directly to him.....Observers say it's too early to know precisely what reforms might result, but it appears to suggest openness to changes that go beyond the merely cosmetic.....The Vatican on Wednesday released the text of a "chirograph," an instrument under canon law giving the commission legal force. According to the text, the broad aim of the commission is to help ensure that "the principles of the Gospel also permeate activities of an economic and financial nature." (More)

Schüller banned from Boston
Extract from The Tablet, 26 June 2013

Cardinal Sean O'Malley has banned the leader of the pro-reform Austrian Priests' Initiative from speaking on church property in the Archdiocese of Boston. Fr Helmut Schüller, whose organisation calls for greater transparency in the Church and the admission of women to the priesthood, was due to speak at St Susanna's church in the town of Dedham on 17 July as part of a national tour. But this week the organisers, Voice of the Faithful (VotF), said they had been informed that Cardinal O'Malley, who was recently appointed one of Pope Francis' eight governing advisers, had forbidden Fr Schüller - whom the Vatican stripped of his title "Monsignor"- from appearing on archdiocesan property. Organisers have moved the talk to a Unitarian Universalist church (more).

Francis looks to the future
Extract from The Tablet, 22 June 2013

Recent events suggest the Catholic Church is beginning a new era in its attitude to other Churches and faiths. Similarities with the beginning of the papacy of Pope John XXIII are inevitable. The key factor may be that Pope Francis takes a more relaxed attitude to those who are not technically of the same persuasion, emphasising, as did Pope John, values and approaches which are held in common rather than differences in doctrine. It was the 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris that set out the possibility that Catholics could work with “people of goodwill” outside the Church, until then frowned upon. That may now be part of the Catholic wallpaper, taken for granted as obvious, but it has not been translated into specific joint projects to the extent it could have been (more).

Benedict and Francis: How much difference is there?
Extract from Alessandro Speciale, Religion Nes Service, National Catholic Reporter, Thursday 20 June 2013
As a millennia-old institution, the Vatican is accustomed to change at a glacial pace. But in the eyes of many outside the church -- and even of some within it -- the arrival of Pope Francis on the throne of St. Peter seems to have started nothing short of a revolution. Even Francis himself, in his speech to Rome's diocese Monday, said Christians not only can, but should, be "revolutionaries." Now, 100 days into his pontificate, a debate is brewing in Rome over whether Francis has set a distinctly different course from his predecessor, or whether the visible differences in style and personality between Francis and Benedict XVI mask a deeper theological and ideological continuity. One thing's for sure. All of the hand-wringing about the novelty and potential difficulty of having two popes living just yards apart has all but disappeared. So far, Benedict XVI has maintained his promise to live "hidden from the world" in retirement, while Francis quickly demonstrated there's little risk of him being overshadowed by his predecessor (more). Photo:CNS/Reuters/L'Osservatore Romano

Francis plays down threat of Vatican scrutiny of religious orders
Extract from Catholic News, Wednesday 12 June 2013

Weeks after authorising a continued investigation of American nuns, Pope Francis told a group of nuns and priests from Latin America not to worry if they found themselves under similar scrutiny, reports the Religion News Service on NCR. The pope's purported remarks came during a meeting with top officials of the Latin American Conference of Religious (CLAR) on June 6. During the meeting, Francis seemed to refer to the Vatican investigation of an American nuns' group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, while telling the Latin American delegates not to worry should they find themselves the target of a similar investigation. "They will make mistakes, they will make a blunder, this will pass! Perhaps even a letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine [of the Faith] will arrive for you, telling you that you said such or such thing. ... But do not worry. Explain whatever you have to explain, but move forward." In what was seen as one of the defining acts of Pope Benedict XVI's papacy, the Vatican's doctrinal office issued a "doctrinal assessment" that criticized the LCWR for not speaking out strongly enough against gay
marriage, abortion and women's ordination ).

Pope Francis launches into spontaneous Q&A with students
Extract from News Va. 8 June 2013

In a style that seems to have become almost signature of the current pontificate, Pope Francis stepped out of yet another scripted session to engage in a spontaneous question-and-answer period with hundreds of children and teens. The papal audience in the Paul VI Hall with students, teachers and staff of Jesuit grade schools and high schools on Friday became a friendly dialogue between the 76-year-old pontiff and the young people. The students, who had come from six Italian cities and one school in Albania, were passing time singing a Christian rap song, when the Pope entered the hall unannounced. At his sighting, they immediately erupted into cheers and applause. In response, it seems, Pope Francis decided to put his five-page written message aside. “I prepared a text, but it’s five pages! A little boring,” he said to the young people, who responded with laughter and applause. He proposed to give a short summary and then take questions from the students instead. With sensitivity and humour, the Pope answered 10 frank questions, that ranged from his priestly vocation to his decision to forego the usual papal apartment in the apostolic palace (more).

‘I won’t be recommending Vatican III’: Cardinal Pell'
Extracts from Jill Duchess of Hamilton,, Friday 31 May 2013, reprinted Wednesday 12 June 2013

.....But so far there has been no hint of any major reforms. Nothing official has been added since the initial Vatican announcement which just said the eight will be advising the Supreme Pontiff “in the government of the universal Church and to study a plan for revising the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia”............Again, I attempted to prod the cardinal about where we might see modifications and changes in the Vatican under Pope Francis. But he was cautious in his reply. “I am very loath to go too far. The Vatican has made giant strides in communications. I would like to see that continue and develop.” He explained that by this he meant means of technology should be used: “The whole gamut, Vatican Radio, the internet, the Osservatore – every instrument that is used to communicate the Church which is based in the Vatican should be developed further.”This prompted me to suggest that he may also be referring to a need for greater transparency. “No,” he replied. “I mean better coordination, so it will all function more efficiently. And there are some real chances to reduce expenditure.” Giving a few examples, he said: “I’m not sure that in this day and age that Vatican Radio needs to be quite so expensive, because in many parts of the world the radio has been superseded by the internet.  That is just one example.  However, in some parts of the world, such as in some parts of Africa, the Vatican Radio is very much needed.” When I asked the cardinal about the content of what should be broadcast, he replied: “That’s an entirely different matter,” and went on to speak of better spreading the Gospel (more).
Photo: CNS Catholic News Herald UK

Catholics revise figures on victims
Extracts from Barney Zwartz, Religion Editor, The Age, Saturday 8 June 2013

The Catholic Church has revised its figures on clergy sexual abuse victims in Victoria, now saying it has identified 849 victims and 269 offenders. The church submitted the new figures on Thursday afternoon to the Victorian inquiry into how the churches handled clergy sexual abuse, replacing the statistics in its original submission, Facing the Truth. That cited 618 victims. The offenders include 98 priests, 114 brothers, nine nuns and 42 laypeople of whom two are female. There are two seminarians and four are unknown...........the original figure of 618 cases was based only on records from the two abuse protocols, the only ones that held centralised records, but more detailed research was done as the church groups prepared to give evidence (more).

Vatican reform may be slow but it is inevitable
Extract from Dr John C Keng, Catholic News, Thursday 30 May 2013

In a commentary published on May 1 on this website, Father William Grimm threw out a punch line title: “Reforming the Vatican is like nailing jelly to a wall.” He is right to say that jelly will not stick to the wall; however, it will leave a mark, writes Dr John Keng in Ucanews.  Does it matter? I think so. It adds to the momentum of the global outcry to wake up the most chronically nostalgic papacy in recent memory and bring up-to-date anachronistic Church teachings. Fifty years after Vatican II, the Catholic laity and grassroot priests alike have finally seen the light with a Latin-American’s accession to the papacy in Rome. Reviewing Church history, change, believe or not, is actually the norm. It is true that reform creates division and always faces furious resistance from the establishment. But it is also true that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is stronger than the hierarchy. In 2,000 years, history has repeatedly taught us that the collective sense of the believing community often preceded the Church administrators that change, either in the Church’s beliefs or practices, was needed (more).
Image: Cardinal Newman. Advocated that “the consensus of the faithful is the voice of the infallible Church.”

New Petition to Pope Francis
Wednesday 29 May 2013

Further to CFR'S Open Letter to Pope Benedict and the Catholic Bishops of Australia, and a subsequent International Petition to Pope Francis, a new Petition by Australian Bishops Geoffrey Robinson, Bill Morris and Pat Power calls on the new Pope to "seize the opportunity of his appointment to not only sweep the Church clean but to put His / God’s house in order for all time".  Launched only recently, at time time of writing this the Petition already has almost 10,000 signatures, which is another very clear indication that many people similarly share the expressed concerns about need for renewal in the Catholic Church.  CFR welcomes the signs of change initiated by Pope Francis in the way the Catholic Church presents itself to the world. But the need for fundamental reform in the Church's governance, rules and behaviour is urgent. This timely Petition adds to the worldwide groundswell of Catholics calling for Church renewal, now

Sex abuse inquiry's grilling only the beginning
Extracts from Barney Zwartz, Religion Editor, The Age, Wednesday 29 May 2013

This week they finished taking evidence, the last witness being Sydney Archbishop George Pell on Monday. I congratulate the committee. It has been diligent, dedicated and determined, united in purpose and free of party politics, aided by an excellent team including Frank Vincent QC, police adviser Mal Hyde, and Crown prosecutor Claire Quin. The police Taskforce Sano attached to the inquiry has already laid new charges. By the end, Crozier said last week, the committee received 405 submissions and held 160 hearings - just under half in secret - with 45 organisations and scores of victims, families, whistleblowers, academics and experts. Now the committee retires to write its report, due by September 30. Whatever its recommendations, many of which could be confidently predicted now, it has already served a valuable role in giving a public voice to victims and holding the churches to account..........Tragically, the church leadership that tries to suggest the problems are now fixed is still seeking to ''manage'' the problem rather than root it out. The really important questions are off-limits. I do believe that leaders such as Hart and Pell are appalled by clerical abuse, but I'm afraid that, despite their protestations, they do not put the victims first. Protecting the church is still top priority; it's just that the goalposts have shifted.If leaders such as Hart and Pell found giving evidence gruelling, it is perhaps only a foretaste of the forensic grilling they will face when the commission hits its stride. (more)

Submissions to the Victorian Inquiry into the  Handling of Child Abuse Allegations by Religious and Other Non-Government Organisations. Tuesday 28 May 2013
The Inquiry concluded its public work on the Inquiry following appearance at the Inquiry on Monday 27 May 2013 by Cardinal George Pell. His submission can be accessed here. All public submissions, including from Catholics For Renewal, can be accessed here.
The committee now retires to write its report, which is due by September 30.

Church leadership still found wanting
Extracts from Opinion, The Age, Tuesday 28 May 2013

Cardinal George Pell prefaced his evidence before a parliamentary committee on Monday saying he was ''fully apologetic and absolutely sorry'' for sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic clergy, and for the church's response. Yet, in the hours that followed, Dr Pell failed to demonstrate unabridged, unalloyed contrition. Genuine humility - a fundamental hallmark of remorse - was not apparent, and that leaves his apology empty......But Dr Pell said he, personally, had never covered up sexual abuse, and he denied that fellow leaders of the Catholic Church were wilfully blind. Instead, he suggested that because such things were not talked about openly within the church's hierarchy, its leaders in Melbourne in the 1990s were not aware of the ''horrendous mess we were sitting on''. The problem was not the ''structures'' of the church, he said, but the ''inactivity or mistaken decisions'' by its leaders. (more)

Cardinal Pell apologises for Church sex abuse, admits cover-ups
Extract from Catholic News, Monday 27 May 2013

The Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Pell, has admitted to a Victorian parliamentary inquiry that some members of the Church tried to cover up child sexual abuse by other members of the clergy, and has apologised for decades of child sex abuse within the Church, the ABC reports. Cardinal George Pell told the inquiry he was "fully apologetic and absolutely sorry" about decades of child sex abuse within the Church........"I'm certainly totally committed to improving the situation. I know the Holy Father is too," he told the inquiry. Despite being heckled during parts of the inquiry, Cardinal Pell defended the action the Church had taken action to tackle abuse. "Many people in the public think not only were there many mistakes made a long time ago, but there's been no progress at all over the last 20 years," he said. "I don't think that's borne out by the facts of the case. But that's for people to judge." (more)
. Photo: Catholic News

Benedict XVI has left the Church at a fork in the road
Extract from David Timbs, Cathblog, Cathnews, 23 May 2013

"There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and the difference between the two ways is great." - The Didache 1.1 (c. mid C2nd , CE)....   This so-called Teaching of the Twelve Apostles echoes the key important biblical theme of God’s People at a crossroads. Moses (Dt 30:19) and Jeremiah (21:8) provide striking examples. The Essenes’ Community Rule employs the same language as do later non-canonical Christian works, writes David Timbs. But the fork in the road image is ultimately a metaphor for choice. Throughout their sacred history, God’s People have been confronted with the immediacy of critical choices, for or against God, for a future or regression, for authenticity or pretence, for clear identity or absorption into something else. In the intensified drama of the biblical narrative, choice is at a crisis point. It is the occasion of critical options. It’s not about mere survival but literally a choice between life or death, a future or oblivion. The Catholic Church has now arrived at such a moment in its history (more).

'Awful Blight"
Extracts from Barney Zwartz, The Age, Tuesday 21 May 2013

Paedophile priests in Melbourne were moved from parish to parish in a culture of secrecy and cover-up in which the Catholic Church was slow to act, Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart said on Thursday. A predecessor, Sir Frank Little, dealt with all complaints secretly, keeping no records. He moved paedophiles such as serial abusers Wilfred Baker and Kevin O'Donnell to "innocent parishes" where they blighted more lives, Archbishop Hart conceded at the Victorian inquiry into how the churches handled child sexual abuse. "It was an awful blight on the church. I want to put my anger and pain and anguish about this to the committee." He said before 1996, when he became Vicar-General in Melbourne and Cardinal George Pell became Archbishop, the church was "too keen to look after herself and her good name and not keen enough to look after the terrible anguish of the victims. Since the 1990s, that has changed - slowly and with agony, but it has changed." In a public statement, Archbishop Hart said he took responsibility, but he told the inquiry the only person responsible was the archbishop at the time..........."I am appalled by the actions of these criminals against the weakest and most defenceless in the community. I apologise unreservedly for one of the darkest periods in our church's history." He agreed that the church had been slow to defrock paedophile Desmond Gannon, writing to the Vatican 18 years later in 2012 warning that the Victorian inquiry and royal commission meant the faithful would be scandalised................Archbishop Hart said church records showed there had been 1748 priests in Melbourne of whom 59 had offended, or 3.375 per cent. He refused to concede to committee member Nick Wakeling that secrecy such as Archbishop Little's meant the record could not be complete, saying victims had come forward later. "That still leaves 96 per cent [of priests] who live the celibate life, are devoted to their people and are outraged at what their fellows do," he replied (more).

‘Because you give me hope’
Link to April 30 commentary by James Hanvey SJ, Thinking Faith, Friday 17 May 2013

Why has Pope Francis chosen to adopt the model of leadership that is already beginning to characterise his papacy? James Hanvey SJ identifies three particular aspects of the Franciscan and Ignatian traditions that seem to be informing the new Pope’s vision of mission (more)

Pope Francis the smiling revolutionary
Extract from Neil Ormerod, Eureka Street, 13 16 May 2013

It is now over a month since the election of Pope Francis and it is clear that he has a strong agenda of reform in mind. From his symbolic refusal of the red cloak on his election by the conclave, to his washing of the feet of young offenders in detention, both male and female, believers and non-believers, he has set a path of change in the Church starting from the top, but with ramifications for the Church as a whole.........It was not uncommon during the reign of Benedict XVI for people to speak of a 'smaller but purer Church'. While there was some debate as to the provenance of this phrase, and whether Benedict saw this as desirable or merely an observation of the direction the Church was heading, it would seem that to Francis such an outcome would represent a failure of courage on the part of the Church. He knows mistakes might be made in keeping the Church more inclusive, but he is not afraid of this. He knows too that it is difficult to evangelise a world that one constantly demonises. He wants to build bridges to the world, bridges of dialogue and cooperation. Whether they knew it or not the conclave cardinals initiated a quiet revolution in electing this man (more). 
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Don’t let spring turn to winter - Power and poverty
Extracts from Hans Küng, The Tablet, Saturday 11 May 2013

Who could have imagined what has happened in the last weeks? When I decided, some months ago, to resign all of my official duties on the occasion of my eighty-fifth birthday, I assumed that in my lifetime I would never see fulfilled my decades-long dream that – after all the setbacks following the Second Vatican Council – the Catholic Church would once again experience the kind of rejuvenation that it did under Pope John XXIII.....It is astonishing how, from the first minute of his inauguration, Pope Francis chose a new style: unlike his predecessor, he wears no mitre with gold and jewels, no ermine-trimmed cape, no made-to-measure red shoes or headgear, uses no magnificent throne. It is astonishing, too, that the new Pope deliberately abstains from solemn gestures and high-flown rhetoric and speaks in the language of the people, as lay preachers can. And it is astonishing how the new Pope emphasises his humanity: he asked for the prayers of the people before he gave them his blessing; he settled his own hotel bill like anybody else; showed his friendliness to the cardinals in the coach travelling to their shared residence and at the official goodbye; and on Maundy Thursday washed the feet of young prisoners, including those of a young Muslim girl. This is a Pope who demonstrates that he is a man with his feet on the ground............We should then in no way fall into resigned acceptance. Instead, faced with a lack of impulse towards reform from the hierarchy, we must take the offensive, pressing for reform from the bottom up. (more).

Governance involves Catholics learning to speak and listen
Extract from Richard Shields, Viewpoint, National Catholic Reporter, Friday 10 May 2013
"Let's remember, he is the pope, after all, not the second coming of Christ." Heidi Schlumpf's caveat is well-taken, especially when it comes to questions of church governance. Media coverage leading up to the papal conclave consistently addressed three issues: curial reform, the Vatican bank, and the handling of sexual abuse allegations by bishops. Commentators were not concerned with the ethics of what were already acknowledged as moral failures in the church; it was the lapse
s of governance that allowed things to get so out of hand, becoming crises both for the faith of Catholics and the church's credibility. "Jesus with a MBA" became a catch phrase for the near-impossible challenges the new pope would face (more). Photo:Pope Francis celebrates Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 31. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The Bishop of Rome as Christian radical
Extact from Catholic News, Wednesday 8 May 2013

It was a brief greeting to former colleagues. But if you read Pope Francis’ recent letter to the Argentine bishops conference closely, you get a glimpse of the man, his convictions, and his vision, writes George Weigel in Ethics and Public Policy Centre. First, the man: Jorge Mario Bergoglio has remained very much himself, rather than adopting what some might deem the pontifical style. Any pope who can write his former colleagues in these terms —“Dear Brothers: I am sending these lines of greeting and also to excuse myself for being unable to attend due to ‘commitments assumed recently’ (sounds good?)”—is a man at home in his own skin, and one likely to remain that way. Then, the convictions: Pope Francis believes that the Church in Latin America took a decisive step toward a new future in 2007. Then, at the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, held at Aparecida in Brazil, the leaders of the Church moved far beyond the “kept” Catholicism of the past—the Catholicism that was “kept” by legal establishment or, more recently, cultural habit—and embraced a robustly Evangelical Catholicism in which, as the pope wrote, “the whole of ministry (is) in a missionary key.” The move from “kept” Catholicism to Evangelical Catholicism is for everyone, the pope seems convinced. “Kept” Catholicism has no future anywhere, and not just because of aggressive secularism and other corrosive cultural acids. “Kept” Catholicism has no future because it doesn’t merit a future: or, as the pope put it to his former colleagues, “a Church that does not go out, sooner or later gets sick” in the hothouse atmosphere of its own self-absorption, which Francis has also called “self-referentiality.” (more

Vatican, LCWR approaching critical crossroads
Brief extracts from NCR Editorial, Friday 19 April 2013

“A church that does not go out of itself, sooner or later, sickens from the stale air of closed rooms,” Pope Francis has written in a letter released Thursday to his fellow Argentine bishops. This is a similar message to the one he delivered to his fellow cardinals before the conclave, impressing them enough to elect him bishop of Rome. In his new note he went on to say in the process of “going out” the church always risks running into “accidents,” adding, “I prefer a thousand times over a church of accidents than a sick church.”...........This sounds a lot like the church U.S. Catholic sisters have been building in recent decades. Not only U.S. women religious, but also women religious around the world have been at this work. It is the women who have lived closest to the marginalized; it is the women who have worked on the “peripheries;” it is the women who have gone precisely where Francis is encouraging others to go. And what has been their reward? Have they been lifted up by others? Have they been acclaimed by their church leadership? No. Despite occasional laudatory words to the contrary, these faith-filled women have been too often demeaned and too often tarnished with accusations of alleged infidelity. The most ironic element in this sad story has been that these accusations have arisen out of the ranks of the very men who have inflicted great damage to the church by repeated patterns of sex abuse cover-up..........The takeover of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the result of an extended “doctrinal assessment,” knowledgeable Catholics understand has much less to do with core beliefs than with episcopal obedience.........The Vatican congregation’s doctrinal assessment of LCWR, apparently for now upheld by Francis, is, then, a blow to all who want to restore community and health to the church. If the Vatican insists on carrying out its LCWR takeover, the group will have no choice but to end its canonical relationship with the institutional church. This is because the entire LCWR body almost unanimously voted last August to continue a dialogue with the bishops as long as the effort does not compromise LCWR integrity (read the full editorial here).

Pope Francis appoints group of cardinals to advise him on church government and revision plan of apostolic constitution on Roman Curia
Vatican Information Service, Vatican City, 13 April 2013 – Full text of a communique issued today by the Secretariat of State.
“The Holy Father Francis, taking up a suggestion that emerged during the General Congregations preceding the Conclave, has established a group of cardinals to advise him in the government of the universal Church and to study a plan for revising the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, 'Pastor Bonus'.   The group consists of:

Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State;
Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, archbishop emeritus of Santiago de Chile, Chile;
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, India;
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany;
Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo;
Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley O.F.M. Cap., archbishop of Boston, USA;
Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney, Australia;
Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, S.D.B., archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in the role of coordinator; and
Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano, Italy, in the role of secretary.

The group's first meeting has been scheduled for 1-3 October 2013. His Holiness is, however, currently in contact with the aforementioned cardinals.”

The healing God of the Royal Commission
Edited Extract from Fatima Measham, Eureka Street, Thursday 11 April 2013

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has begun, with its first sitting held in Melbourne last week. Expectations are high; relief runs deep. Both commissioners and victims will be treading a harrowing path together in the coming months and years. It is bound to be a national catharsis. The six commissioners expect to receive more than 5000 submissions. Orders have already been served on the Catholic Church, its insurer, the Salvation Army and the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions. The Commission foresees that it will miss the 2015 deadline for a full report, due to the monumental scope. Though it will not be prosecuting criminal cases, it has established links with state and territory police. There is also a focus on policy corrections for institutions which are found to have failed in their duty of care. The prosecutorial and legal outcomes from the commission will be significant. But other wounds bear considering. The Catholic Church is placed uniquely among institutions under scrutiny. The trust that laypeople hold in priests and other vowed religious is not the same trust held in teachers, doctors and coaches. It is sourced from the stories that feed their faith (more).

The following response amongst others was published on Eureka Street by Catholics For Renewal Chairman Peter Johnstone:  "Let's be very clear about the Church's role in the clerical sexual abuse scandal. The Church not only failed to focus on the terrible damage being done to children but engaged in a cover-up protecting many abusers and enabling them to continue their abuse in new fields. The Melbourne Response and Towards Healing are simply processes to deal with complaints. The Church's apology has been limited to the actions of the abusers and has not addressed its disgraceful cover-up, nor has the Church addressed the inadequacies of its governance structures and practices that supported the cover-up and the shocking decisions of some bishops. Catholics for Renewal has documented these inadequacies in its submission and presentation to the Victorian Parliamentary Committee   ( and has yet to see any attempt by Church authorities to address these real issues of the Church’s governance dysfunctions."  Subscription to Eureka Street is free.

CFR commends International Petition to Pope Francis
Initiated by IMWAC (International Movement We Are Church), Wednesday 20 March 2013

In 2011 more than 8,000 people in Australia signed a Catholics For Renewal Open Letter to the Pope and Australian Bishops concerning the critical need for reform in the church, which was handed to a senior Curia cleric by the then President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. So far and despite our continued effort and follow-up, no response to the substance of our Petition has been received. Since then a number of Catholic renewal groups throughout the world have been considering how we might more effectively impress upon the Papacy the necessity of substantial reform to properly reflect Christ’s teachings in the work of the Church. Catholics for Renewal has stressed the Church’s dysfunctional governance as evidenced in its handling of sexual abuse by clergy and a culture of centralised control and discrimination.  So many decisions and positions have alienated very many Catholics.

Through the advent of online petitions and global connectivity, many more people of faith from across the world can now join together in a common call for the 21st Century church renewal that so many hope and pray for.

With some reinvigorated optimism accompanying the election of Pope Francis and his immediate demonstrations of humility, Catholics For Renewal is pleased to draw to your attention and to commend this new, International Petition, to Pope Francis at the beginning of his pontificate.

The Petition calling for various reforms has been prepared by IMWAC (International Movement We Are Church) with whom we have been in recent contact. As the substance of this internationally accessible Petition is in general alignment with our own more detailed and well publicised views we strongly encourage your support, and pray for support throughout the world. Please encourage your friends and their friends to support this petition.  View and support Petition here.

'Self reform has started' as Vatican officials catch cabs
Extract from Barney Zwartz (Rome), The Age, Monday 18 March 2013

Vatican officials, made nervous by the public example of the new pope, have already begun to moderate their lifestyle, taking taxis around Rome rather than using the large fleet of luxury sedans, Italian newspapers have reported. "The pope, who is used to taking the minibus with his Cardinal brethren, standing in line for breakfast at the self-service restaurant in the Domus Sancta Martha (the Vatican hotel) and settling his hotel bill in person, could look out of the window and see that he is surrounded by people who are not getting the drift and not following suit," reported La Stampa. "Self reform has started." (more)

Your Holiness, if I may be so bold as to suggest ...
Extract from Barney Zwartz (Rome), The Age, Monday 18 March 2013

It may seem slightly irreverent to refer to a ''honeymoon'' period for a 76-year-old celibate pope, but it is an apt metaphor. Francis and his flock, in all its vast diversity, seem deeply enamoured of each other. Progressives have every reason to hope that the spirit of Vatican II, the great reforming council of the 1960s that opened the church to engage with the world, might be restored, that the stultifying hand of an authoritarian Vatican bureaucracy might be lifted, that it might become servant rather than master. Social justice moves up the agenda, and clericalism is on notice. Traditionalists can rest content that the core doctrines and social teaching will be strenuously defended. All the early symbols - and it is entirely symbols at this point, with no appointments made, no agendas laid out - suggest Francis will be a reforming pope, a modest pope, but not a radical pope. Or, if he is radical, it will be in the sense of back to the roots - the humility, service and love that supposedly underlie the Christian message. His style is decidedly unregal, an example he is likely to want other church leaders to adopt. No more princely palaces. And how he has charmed the watching world, in his utterly unaffected way. His first public act as pope was to seek a blessing from the faithful, rather than the reverse; he checked out of his hotel himself, paying his own bill and carrying his own bags. In becoming the first pope in 1000 years to take an unused papal name - itself implying new directions - the choice of Francis was significant: the message is humility, sympathy with the creation, and rebuilding the church. His first homily to the cardinals could have come straight from Martin Luther, emphasising ''the cross'' as the heart of Christian life, without which even cardinals and popes are worldly rather than disciples. In his meeting with the world's media on Saturday, he joked freely and said he decided on his papal name only after his election when close friend Claudio Hummes of Brazil told him ''remember the poor''. Another cardinal, he said, suggested Clement - the pope who suppressed Francis' order, the Jesuits......First, clergy sex abuse. ........Second, the Curia......Third, more women.......Fourth, fewer Italians (more)
. Photo:

Reformer who holds to church orthodoxy
Extracts from Barney Zwartz, The Age, Friday 15 March 2013

Simplicity and a concentration on core values - particularly social justice and outreach - will be among the gifts Pope Francis brings as the 266th leader the Roman Catholic Church. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Jesuit cardinal who has been Archbishop of Buenos Aires since 1998, has won affection and praise for moving into a small apartment rather than living in the episcopal palace, giving up his chauffeur-driven car in favour of public transport where possible, and even cooking his own meals. ''It's a very curious thing: when bishops meet, he always wants to sit in the back rows. This sense of humility is very well seen in Rome,'' his biographer Sergio Rubin said before the conclave. As the first Third World pope, as well as the first Jesuit, Francis will bring different priorities, but his personal humility and simplicity and his recognition that reducing clericalism - privileging priests and prelates, and keeping lay Catholics at a distance - is a key challenge will hearten the faithful around the world. He has accused church leaders of hypocrisy and forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes. ''These are today's hypocrites. Those who clericalise the church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation,'' he told Argentine priests last year. ''Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the word in body as well as spirit.'' (more). Photo:Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio riding the Buenos Aires subway. Photo: AP/Sergio Rubin

Pope for a new Reformation
Extract from Andrew Hamilton, Eureka Street, Thursday 14 March 2013

In the media hugger-mugger before the papal conclave began, most cardinals spoke of the need for reform. But they had in mind different kinds of reform: an evangelical reform that would focus on renewing the faith of all Catholics; a discipli
nary reform that would tightly define Catholic identity, act against dissent and unify the Church against the 'secularist threat'; a structural reform that would address those aspects of governance and culture that contributed to the sexual abuse crisis and to alienation among Catholics. Pope Francis will address these proposals not simply as sociological challenges, but within a Catholic framework that developed in the face of the late medieval pressure for reform of the Church in its head and its members, culminating in the Reformation. In this understanding the Church has divine and human aspects. In its faith and essential structures the Church is simply a gift that is held in trust. It is unchangeable and holy, so that Catholics' access to God through its sacraments and teaching is guaranteed. But the Church is also a sociological reality composed of human beings and their structured and unstructured ways of relating. Human beings are sinful, and so the church needs constant reform. In weighing how Pope Francis may set reform within this understanding of the Church as both holy and sinful, Augustine's complex treatment of the holiness of the Church may be helpful. He argued that the Church would be holy in an unqualified sense only at the end of time (more). Subscription to Eureka Street is free.

How Pope Francis will mend a broken church
Extracts from Michael Mullins, Eureka Street, Thursday 14 March 2013

The election of a new pope is always an exciting moment for the Church and the world. After weeks of uncertainty, it seems there is good reason to celebrate the election of Pope Francis I, and to congratulate and offer support to him in the immense task ahead. The excitement of the election of a new pope always brings with it the expectation that he is a new Messiah and has the ability to fix what is broken with the Church. But a more realistic, and indeed preferable, aspiration is for him to acknowledge before all else the ways in which the Church is broken. With Benedict's resignation acting as a circuit breaker, the world will be looking to Francis to fix the Church. But in reality his role will be to set the Church on the path to recovery, along the lines of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. This will begin with the admission that the life of the Church is out of control in the face of clergy sexual abuse and other systemic challenges. It would seem that such a disposition of humility and honesty is a more effective and inclusive path than attempting to turn the Church upside down. Such a radical approach would further polarise an already divided Church, and we know from his past actions that Francis is more of a bridge builder than a revolutionary.

He was far from liberation theology, which was seen to be the way to decisively switch the allegiance of the Catholic Church in Latin American from the ruling elites to the poor. He preferred to live with the dictatorships, to plead the cause of the poor, but make his statement by making radical changes to his own lifestyle........Early commentaries on the new pope are emphasising his distaste for the clericalism that many believe has been a key factor in the Church's sexual abuse of minors. While he failed openly to challenge Argentina's dictatorship of the late 1970s, he was unequivocal in his condemnation of clerical privilege: 'These are today's hypocrites. Those who clericalise the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation.'...This is enough to give hope to the Catholic Church and its victims (more).
Photo: Acoma Pueblo Mission church under repair, New Mexico. Subscription to Eureka Street is free.

Statement by Archbishop Denis Hart following announcement of new Pope
Extract from Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, Thursday 14 March 2013

As Archbishop of Melbourne and President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, I joyfully welcome the glad news of the appointment of Pope Francis.  For two weeks the Catholics of the world have been without the spiritual father of their family.  We have been looking forward to this special moment when our new Holy Father, chief teacher and shepherd would be announced. The announcement brings great joy and hope and readiness to walk with him on the way to Jesus Christ. ......He is known for commitment to doctrine and social justice, and is a humble man of simple lifestyle.  His appointment is a sign to the Catholics of Latin America and the whole world of the invitation given to all to follow Jesus closely.  He has served as member of a number of offices in the Holy See”
In this time of rejoicing we thank God who has given us a leader and teacher to bring us to God, to care for us and unite us in the service of God and others. We offer our new Holy Father our prayers, obedience and love as he prepares to begin his ministry for us.  On behalf of all Australian Catholics I will immediately write to the Holy Father with our pledge of loyalty, prayer and support.  Yours sincerely in Christ (more).

Choice came down to simply the best candidate
Extracts from Barney Zwartz
(Rome), The Age, Thursday 14 March 2013
The church's first South American Pope, Francis, elected in the fifth ballot of the conclave in Rome on Wednesday night, is regarded as a humble man of orthodox theology and wide vision. In his first appearance, on the veranda of St Peter's Basilica, soon after his election, he came across as charming and modest, with a warm smile. The Jesuit cardinal, who had been Archbishop of Buenos Aires since 1998, won affection and praise for moving into a small apartment rather than living in the episcopal palace, giving up his chauffeur-driven car i
n favour of public transport where possible, and even cooking his own meals. In 2005 he was the cardinal the progressives grouped behind, because their main advocate, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, was suffering from Parkinson's disease. He got 40 votes in the last ballot before Joseph Ratzinger was elected as Benedict XVI, but this time the Italian and curial cardinals hoping to avoid Vatican restructuring had no candidate of similar stature.........It clearly symbolises their recognition that the centre of gravity in the church has moved south – Latin America has the largest Catholic population in the world. It also indicates their desire to focus on the gospel (the church's message of salvation in Christ) and the recognition of Third World priorities such as under-development and poverty rather than such First World concerns as gay marriage or women priests. At another level, it is a safe and responsible choice that will be well received by the 1.2 billion Catholics, one-fifth of the world's population, who owe allegiance to the Pope......His attitude to Vatican reform is not yet clear. Much will be revealed by his eventual choice of secretary of state, the No 2. But scandals, such as the infighting and cronyism revealed in the "Vatileaks" episode last year and the ongoing turmoil at the Vatican bank, need urgent attention. He may well allow local bishops more flexibility to engage their differing cultures and challenges than his more authoritarian recent predecessors.

Jorge Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires on December 17, 1936, the son of an Italian immigrant, and began studying for the priesthood with the Jesuits in 1958. He taught literature, psychology and philosophy, before becoming the provincial (head of the order in Argentina) from 1973 to 1979. Then he became rector of a seminary, and studied in Germany before becoming auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992, archbishop in 1998 and cardinal in 2001. He is theologically orthodox and a social conservative, especially on issues of sexual morality such as same-sex marriage, contraception and abortion. In 2010, he said that gay adoption was a form of discrimination against children.

During the exhilarating years of liberation theology in South America, which was eventually disowned by the Vatican, Bergoglio demanded that the priests follow a more traditional Jesuit spirituality and serve in parishes rather than becoming political activists. But he embraced its central message of "the preferential option for the poor" when many church leaders were complicit with dictators' regimes across the continent. In 2007, he told Latin American bishops that they lived in the most unequal part of the world, which had reduced misery the least. Unjust distribution created a "social sin that cries out to heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers". He is credited with modernising one of the most conservative churches in the world, which will stand him in good stead in Italy (more). Photo: Getty Images, The Age,

We need a pope who can handle the truth
Extract from Brian Lucas, Eureka Street, 10 March 2013

Much of the pre-conclave discussion by media commentators, commenting on the comments allegedly made by various cardinals and other commentators, focuses on the qualities of the prospective pontiff and expectations about his agenda, especially a reform agenda for the Vatican bureaucracy.

Everyone has a point of view and the more a particular perspective is recycled and repeated by various media outlets the more 'authority' it has. There is an almost insatiable thirst to find something to satisfy media demands. Cardinal Pell's comment about a governance agenda for the new pontificate was quickly, and unfairly, exaggerated into a purported criticism of Benedict's qualities as a governor.

There seems to be an assumption that the next pope needs to be a first rate pastor, theologian, teacher, media personality, administrator and diplomat while being humble and holy.

No single human can be expected to be good at everything. This is why, learning a lesson from the world of corporate governance, the effective chief executive is the one who has the skills to work with collaborators who are better at most things that he or she is.

The next pope does not have to be the best theologian. He needs to be able to identify and collaborate with the best theologians, communicators, diplomats, and administrators. He needs to have the strength of character and confidence to surround himself with those who will not merely defer to his status but tell him the truth.

Awareness of the need to tell the truth, and less inclination to say what might please a superior, is at the heart of good bureaucracy. My suspicion is that some of the clerical culture that can pervade church life stumbles when confronted with this choice.

Without the checks and balances of civil bureaucratic processes, where one can appeal against a failed application for promotion and where there are set criteria and defined position descriptions, church bureaucrats feel they are at the mercy of a superior's whim. Promises of obedience inhibit giving frank and fearless advice (more).
Photo, Catholic News.  Brian Lucas is general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and these are his personal views.  Subscription to Eureka Street is free.

Vatican could learn a thing or two about renewal from women religious
Extracts from Joan Chittester, National Catholic Reporter, Wednesday 6 March 2013

Like most people in the Catholic community -- and far beyond that, I'm sure -- I am following the transition from one papacy to another with great interest. Which in itself is something to be considered. After all, there have been six papacies in my lifetime, so you would think that by this seventh one, the fascination may have faded. On the contrary: The sense of fascination this time is even more heightened than in the past. We are about to elect a new pope who will face serious 21st-century issues using 19th-century structures to resolve them. The cognitive dissonance of a situation like that cries to heaven for resolution. And this one may take heaven to resolve...........For that reason, women religious may have something to teach the church about the process of conversion and development at this very important moment.Religious life, too, had been encased in another world. Women religious lived separately from the world around them, they dressed in clothes that had been designed centuries before, they gave up a sense of personal or individual identity. As a result, they got further away from the people they served by the day, further away from their needs, further away from their feelings. The renewal process of religious life required three major changes before they could possibly pursue anything else of a particular nature, like future planning or ministry decisions. Renewal, they discovered, was a matter of demystification, integration and relevance. Religious life had its own kind of monarchies to be deconstructed before anything creative could possibly happen or the gifts of its members be released for the sake of the world at large.

The first step was to take the Second Vatican Council's direction about collegiality and subsidiarity, the concepts of shared responsibility and personal decision-making. That meant that the kind of absolute authority that had built up around religious superiors had to be relinquished. Major decisions began to be shared with the community at large. Personal decisions began to be entrusted to the sisters themselves, all adult and educated women who had been deprived of the minutest decision-making: for example, the hour at which they would go to bed; the right to make a doctor's appointment; the structure of their lives between prayer times. Major superiors began to be expected -- and allowed -- to be Jesus-figures in the community, spiritual leaders not lawgivers, not monitors, not queen bees.

In the second place, religious had to learn to integrate themselves into the society they were attempting to serve. That did not necessarily mean eliminating a kind of symbolic dress, but it did mean updating it in a way designed to simplify rather than to separate. Most women religious chose, like Jesus, to set out to be the sign rather than do it the easy way and wear the sign. Grave and sober voices everywhere warned women religious that to do something like that would eliminate generations of respect from the people around them. I can only speak personally for my own community, of course, but I can promise you that separated from the people, locked away from the world like specters from another planet, and dressed to prove how special we were in relationship to everyone else around us generated nowhere near the mutual respect the community feels now from those who come to the community to seek spiritual support, to search out individual sisters for compassion and guidance, and to take their rightful places with us in ministry and spiritual reflection.

Finally, addressing the questions of the time that plague the world -- peace, justice, women's issues, sustainability -- and admitting the questions undermining the current credibility of the church, as well -- clericalism, sexism, sexuality, the implications of interfaith societies -- make sisters honest and caring members of a pilgrim church. From where I stand, the church hierarchy itself could well take the opportunity, the crossroad, that Benedict provides us now and themselves do a little demystifying, a large bit of collegiality and a serious amount of communal discernment with the people of God on the great issues of the time. It means being willing to learn something from women, of course. But then, if they could do that they would be almost a third of the way to the goal already, wouldn't they? Now there's a thought.    (read full article here)

Victorian Catholic Church response to Child Abuse
Saturday 2 March 2013

In a new Fact Sheet published by Facing The Truth on 1 March 2013 The Catholic Church in Victoria has offered a response to Child Abuse. Fact Sheet 7 "Learning from the Past - How the Catholic Church in Victoria has responded to Child Abuse is sub-headed "Church provided new options for victims" and may be accessed here.

Reform dominates the agenda
Extract from Editorial, The Tablet, Saturday 2 March 2013

It would be entirel
y understandable if Benedict XVI wanted “business as usual” signs to go up at the Vatican as soon as possible after his retirement, and for the new man in charge to carry on the good work of the old though perhaps with extra energy. What is emerging is something rather different – a growing groundswell of conviction, apparently at all levels in the Catholic Church, that things cannot go on as they are. The scandal of clerical child abuse and subsequent episcopal cover-ups refuses to die down. The dramatic resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien has calmed nobody’s nerves, and the growing evidence of dysfunction in the Vatican is hardly disputed. But the most significant crisis in the Church is the breakdown in koinonia – love, trust and fellowship – between the hierarchy on one hand, and priests and people on the other. If the leaders of the Church are not careful, the laity could desert in droves. A retreat could accelerate into a rout (more). 

Church blame in the frame
Extract from *Fr Frank Brennan SJ, Eureka Street, Thursday 28 February 2013

.................The unaccountable hiddenness of Vatican clericalism has reached its use-by date. The God of the scriptures looks first to those deaf victims and decries the silence in the house of God. Lets hope the Royal Commission can help us hear the voices that need to be heard for the good of us all, and for the good of the Church. And let's hope our cardinals elect someone who can insist on
justice, compassion, transparency and due process within his own Curia. Meanwhile we would all be well advised to take more seriously the notions of good and evil, grace and sin, repentance and forgiveness, individual complicity and sinful structures. Whatever our language or theological matrix, we need to own collectively what we could have prevented institutionally. We have a responsibility to call everyone including the pope to account, and not just after they resign (more).  *Fr Frank Brennan SJ is professor of law, director of strategic research projects (social justice and ethics), Australian Catholic University, adjunct professor at the College of Law and the National Centre for Indigenous Studies, Australian National University. 

Australian Catholics respond to Cardinal Pell comments
Extract from Catholic News, Thursday 28 February 2013

Prominent Australian Catholics have largely rejected claims by Cardinal George Pell that the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI weakened the papacy, and dismissed notions that the Archbishop of Sydney is angling for the top job, reports the Age (more).

Benedict's final farewell. Pell sees papacy as mixed blessing
Edited extract from Barney Zwartz, The Age, Thursday 28 February 2013

A frail Pope Benedict made his public farewell to the world's Catholics on Wednesday morning, hours after one of his closest allies - Sydney Archbishop George Pell - criticised his decision to resign and said the church needed a stronger leader. Cardinal Pell, who was close to the Pope when both served on the key Vatican watchdog congregation and played an important role gathering support for him at the 2005 conclave at which Benedict was elected, said the resignation created a precedent and left the church in an even more uncertain position. Cardinal Pell, Australia's only voter at the coming papal election, was unexpectedly candid in a television interview. He said: ''People who, for example, might disagree with a future pope will mount a campaign to get him to resign.'' He called the Pope a brilliant teacher but said government was not his strongest point. ''He's got to know his theology but I think I prefer somebody who can lead the church and pull it together a bit,'' he said. Benedict was the first pope to step down voluntarily since 1294, and conservatives fear the precedent will open the church to other possible innovations at a time when it faces profound challenges (more).

Transcript of CFR submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry on 23 January 2013
Friday 22 February 2013

This is now available on the Victorian Parliamentary  here.

Cathblog - Benedict XVI has left the Church at a fork in the road
Extracts from David Timbs,  Catholic News, Wednesday 20 February 2012

"There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and the difference between the two ways is great." - The Didache 1.1 (c. mid C2nd , CE). This so-called Teaching of the Twelve Apostles echoes the key important biblical theme of God’s People at a crossroads. Moses (Dt 30:19) and Jeremiah (21:8) provide striking examples. The Essenes’ Community Rule employs the same language as do later non-canonical Christian works, writes David Timbs. But the fork in the road image is ultimately a metaphor for choice.
Throughout their sacred history, God’s People have been confronted with the immediacy of critical choices, for or against God, for a future or regression, for authenticity or pretence, for clear identity or absorption into something else. In the intensified drama of the biblical narrative, choice is at a crisis point. It is the occasion of critical options. It’s not about mere survival but literally a choice between life or death, a future or oblivion. The Catholic Church has now arrived at such a moment in its history...............John Henry Cardinal Newman insisted that it was precisely the laity who, in critical times, preserved the integrity of the faith and guaranteed its survival especially when Church leaders had lost their way and failed Christ. Newman strongly cautioned the hierarchy of his day not to presume on the laity and not to think that, despite their own doctrinal orthodoxy, all will be well with the Church. He warned them against thinking that, ‘the laity should be neglected and relegated to an audience, or at its best, playing a support role.’ Clerical leadership at the highest levels needs to pay close attention to Newman. Until the laity assumes positions of governance at all levels, there will never in fact be a completeness and integrity in the Ecclesia Dei. It will continue to resemble a quaint business enterprise controlled by a self-selecting and self-perpetuating clique of ornately draped clerical elites. It’s time for them to make a choice. Clearly, the laity has long done so. ‘There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and the difference between the two ways is great.’  (more)

Viewpoints: Successes and failures of Benedict XVI
Extracts from BBC News Europe, Thursday 14 February 2012

Pope Benedict has led the Catholic Church since 2005, and his papacy has reflected his belief that the Catholic Church should retain its core traditional, conservative values in an era of rapid change. He rejected calls for a debate on the issue of clerical celibacy, and reaffirmed the ban on Communion for divorced Catholics who remarry. He has also said the Church's strict positions on abortion, euthanasia and gay partnerships were "not negotiable". This outspoken orthodoxy has divided liberals and more traditional Catholics, while the recent leaking of personal documents suggests a lack of control over the machinations of the Vatican. How has Benedict XVI managed the world's largest Christian community? We asked six scholars and analysts for their perspective on key areas of the pontificate (more).

New Evangelisation in the context of the Royal Commission
Extract from Fr Noel Connolly SSC, St Columban's Missionary Society, Wednesday 13 February 2013 (published 8 February 2013)

It is an irony that we are being encouraged to boldly call people back to the Church, at a time when the Church has never been more distrusted, exposed and held up to criticism. Yet there may be a special meaning and opportunity in this. I have a Leunig cartoon on my office wall in which a man meets God in the person of the wounded man lying on the side of the road. God begs the man, "Help me I am God and I am wounded". "You’re not God," says the man. "God is all powerful." "I am all-vulnerable" says God. "I am in pain. I am at your mercy." It was too unbearable for the man. He became so infuriated he killed God.  Whatever the theological niceties, it is a very revealing cartoo
n. Most of us want God to be powerful because we would like to be powerful, to be in control, and not to suffer. We fear the pain, the chaos, the lack of order and loss of certainty if vulnerability is at the heart of life. But now, because of our sins of deed and omission in the area of sexual abuse of children and the care of victims, we are learning to be a more vulnerable and much less powerful and respected Church. It is also ironic that this may be a better starting point for mission. David Bosch in 'Transforming Mission' reminds us that crisis is the more natural state of the Church. We have often needed failure and suffering to become aware of our real nature and mission. We too easily become triumphant in our successes, thinking that they are a sign of God’s blessing and that failure means we have been deserted by God. Denis Edwards reminds us in 'How God Acts' that Jesus also had to find God’s saving love in rejection, failure, darkness and death. God’s love is vulnerable and contrary to all human ideas of power. God enters into, has compassion for and embraces the suffering of the world. 'The Cross is not the abandonment of divinity but the revelation of true divinity,' Cardinal Walter Kasper. This crisis may force us to be humble and respectful. We have been taken down from the pedestal and freed from perfection and power, to know shame, to feel powerlessness and to share the anxieties, struggles and "sins" of our brothers and sisters. We are called to the same vocation as Jesus, "to empty ourselves" (Phil. 2:1-11), to live in humble solidarity with those to whom we are missioned. As with Jesus, sharing the life of the community is the core of mission not just a tactic or strategy. Mission is always in amongst the people not apart from or above them (more).

Ex-Benedict, where will the Catholic Church go?
Edited Extract from Editorial, The Age, Wednesday 13 February 2013

As the late Cardinal Carlo Martini of Milan was dying last year, he took a last pointed swipe at the Vatican and what he considered a hopelessly outdated Catholic Church. ''Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up; our rituals and our cassocks are
pompous,'' he said. ''The church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical path of change, starting with the pope and the bishops.'' His comments of just five months ago are worth considering now as the 117-strong College of Cardinals prepares to elect a new pope following the sudden resignation of Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger). Where the Catholic Church goes from here, what kind of direction and inspiration a new leader might provide, is vitally important to us all. That is because, on issues such as artificial contraception, abortion and homosexuality, even divorce - all legitimised in modern civil law systems - the church has trod a determined path of opposition. Cardinal Martini articulated what many lesser Catholics sensed from afar. The liberal reforms of the Second Vatican Council - hallmarked by messages of tolerance and inclusion, and the recognition of the people as ''the church'' - have been undermined, if not deadened, by decades of conservative Vatican leadership. He argued that unless the Vatican softened its stance on vitally important issues, such as those mentioned above and more, it risked losing a generation of followers. Whether that matters to the next pope depends on how the church sees itself, say, five decades from now. The church is facing enormous challenges. Its congregation is declining in traditional strongholds, such as Europe and the Americas, though increasing in developing nations in Africa and Asia. Its claim to moral leadership has been truly compromised by the way it handled scandals involving sexual abuse by clergy in Catholic dioceses from Ireland to Germany, the United States to Australia ..(morePhoto: The Age, Joe Armao

A Guide to the Next Papal Election
Edited Extract from Paul Collins, Catholics For Ministry (prepared in recent anticipation of a Papal election)

The death of a pope and the election of a new one is always a ‘big’ story. But getting factual and reliable information is no easy task when dealing with the papacy. The aim of this Guide is to assist Catholics and others, including journalists and commentators, who are interested in understanding how the process actually works. It offers suggestions as to who might be the next pope and how that is decided. The death of the pope and the interregnum. The pope remains pope until he dies or resigns. Despite the fact that diocesan bishops and officials of the Roman Curia (the papal government) have to submit their resignation at age 75, popes stay in office until death. Many today think that there should be a mandatory retirement age for popes at eighty. Others respond that the problem with a papal retirement is the quandary of what the church would do with a resigned pope and there are concerns about the kind of influence he might continue to have. Another view is that there should be a set term-limit for the pope, for example ten or fifteen years. Very few popes have resigned willingly. The last indisputable papal resignation was that of Celestine V [1294] who was ‘persuaded’ to retire by his successor, Boniface VIII [1294-1303].....(more)

Pope Benedict XVI resigns because of failing health
Edited Extract from Nick Miller,The Age, Tuesday 12 February 2013

The surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI – the first by a pontiff for almost 600 years – has led to calls for his replacement to be the Catholic Church’s first black leader. In a letter to his Catholic brethren Pope Benedict, 85, said his advanced age and the pace of change in the modern world had left him unable to “adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me”. Tributes have poured in from religious and political figures around the world – but many also expressed their shock at the news. Some commentators argued that the Roman Catholic Church should take the opportu
nity to modernise, after eight years under Pope Benedict in which it was accused of being overly conservative, and hobbled by sexual abuse scandals. There are already calls for the next Pope to be from Latin America, a stronghold for the faith. Others say it is time for the first African Pope, with some online betting sites putting Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana as an early favourite successor.....Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria has also been named as a potential African successor.....Another candidate favoured by betting sites is Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet, formerly archbishop of Quebec City – even though the 68 year-old head of the Congregation for Bishops was once quoted saying being the pope “would be a nightmare”...... There has not been a Pope from outside Europe for at least 600 years....Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said to expect a new Pope by Easter, which falls on March 31 this year. Pope Benedict will have no official role in choosing his successor, and is expected to retire to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo. In a statement released by the Vatican, Pope Benedict said he had “repeatedly examined my conscience” before “coming to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministery”. He said the modern world, “subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith”, required a “strength of mind and body” that he had lost in the last few months....Cardinal Pell said that "Pope Benedict has always loved the church and worked to do what was best for her"  (more). Photo: The Age, CNS/Paul Herring

Some thoughts for the Men in Red
Edited Extract from David Timbs (Melbourne),, 14 October 2012

It is regrettable that in the past few decades it has become increasingly difficult for the laity to have their voices heard in the Church beyond the local community. Parish councils or parish leadership teams, finance committees, liturgy and social justice groups are common and seem to function well. They have become a normal element in day to day parish life. Happily too, this profitable involvement of lay co-responsibility in the local Church has been extended, at least in some part, even into the domains of national church governance and policy making. This is all an authentic fruit of Vatican II. [A link to the 1965 Vatican II decree on the Laity, Apostolicam  Actuositatem can be found in the source article]. Having ears but not hearing - It is, however, on the national and international levels that lay Catholics are experiencing the most difficulty in being acknowledged and having their voices heard. This represents an unfortunate regression from what the Council promised in its vision of the Church. An example or two might help..... (read more).

The truth about sex abuse
Edited Extracts from Barney Zwartz, The Age, Thursday 31 January 2013

Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston was the first, and so far only, archbishop to resign over public revulsion at his handling of child sex abuse by his clergy. Named in hundreds of lawsuits, subject of dramatic public protests, and publicly rejected by 58 of his priests, Law resigned in December 2002........Pope John Paul II's response, widely seen as a gesture of blatant contempt for Boston's faithful, was to appoint Law archpriest of one of Rome's four great basilicas, Santa Maria Maggiore.........Australia now has two important inquiries into the sexual abuse of children by clergy and others, and how the churches responded: a well-establis
hed Victorian parliamentary investigation and a royal commission, which has yet to begin hearings. The Catholic Church has promised full co-operation with both, but critics - including many who have given evidence to the Victorian inquiry - are sceptical..........Peter Johnstone, president of progressive group Catholics for Renewal, was one of many witnesses to suggest the church could not be reformed from within. He said the church was governed by an ancient and anachronistic system vesting power in men who were celibate, often socially isolated, usually old, unable to communicate with the faithful, and under the supreme control of a papal monarch who demanded blind obedience. He found it significant that although many church leaders have apologised for sexual abuse by clergy, there has never been an apology for the church's ''own betrayals of trust. [The Pope] regrets the deeds of clergy and damage to the church, but he does not mention or apologise for the many self-protective and immoral decisions in concealing those deeds.''....(Truth, Justice and Healing Council) CEO Francis Sullivan is blunt that the church mismanaged the issue until the Towards Healing protocol, introduced in 1996, improved and systematised its procedure, but even now it must recognise it still has much to improve. He promises that the church will ''embrace'' the commission, and will make all documents available. He has had no contact, let alone instructions, from the Vatican. Photo, The Age: Pope Benedict XVI with Catholic clergy at World Youth Day in Sydney where he apologised for sex abuse by clergy . According to a senior priest who did not want to be named, ''the fundamental dilemma in these sexual abuse cases is the assumption that silence equals a cover-up. A cover-up is destroying documents, telling lies. I'm confident our bishops didn't do that. Mostly the complaints were vague and they were faced with a denial and a victim who explicitly didn't want to go to the police.'' According to Jesuit priest Michael Kelly, this will be a difficult year for the Australian church, ''maybe the worst in its history''; yet he also thinks the two inquiries may be the circuit-breaker that triggers many of the changes for which so many Catholics long. ''It will put a nail in the coffin of clericalism, that 'them and us' culture that fosters an elitism which is the very opposite of Christian discipleship,'' Kelly wrote in the online journal Eureka Street earlier this month. ''This period will reveal what the Church is and isn't. It isn't a command and control army or a football team doing what the captain and coach tell it to do. It is a community of faith at the service of the world.''(full report here).

Church may lose 'shield' against legal action
Extract from Catholic news, Wednesday 30 January 2012

The Victorian sex abuse inquiry is likely to recommend at least six state laws be reformed to hold the Catholic Church to account, including removal of the legal ''shield'' it has used to avoid being sued by victims, reports the Age. Chairwoman Georgie Crozier (photo) said the committee already had a good idea of the sort of recommendations it would make. Fairfax Media understands the committee is eager for several laws to be changed this year. The Victorian inquiry does not need to await the outcome of the royal commission into the sexual abuse of children, set up by the Gillard government and yet to take formal evidence. Ms Crozier said she expected the state inquiry to be of great use to the commission. Enabling the church to be sued, mandatory reporting of suspected abuse, concealing crimes and extending the statute of limitations for child abuse are all issues that could be dealt with by the Victorian government (more)

Church 'centuries out of date'
Edited Extract from Stuart Rintoul, The Australian, Thursday 24 January 2013

A group of Catholics pressing for reform within the church has told an abuse inquiry the church is a "private and conflicted organisation" with a 17th century system of governance. The group, Catholics for Renewal, said the church was "self-protective" on the issue of pedophile priests and must be made to report abuse allegations to police. In its submission to the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations, the group, chaired by senior Catholic Peter Johnstone, quoted the late cardinal Carlo Maria Martini saying that the church was centuries "out of date". It said the church's governance was "feudal in origin", autocratically ruled by socially isolated and increasingly aged bishops. Furthermore the church did not approach "modern standards of good governance or established Australian values of transparency, inclusivity and accountability". Mr Johnstone is a former chairman of Jesuit Social Services and has worked in senior positions at all levels of government, including director general of Community Services Victoria. He said Catholics for Renewal was a group of committed Catholics who loved the church, but felt "very let down" by the way it had been run (more).
Download the CFR Presentation , and its Appendix .

Child sex abuse link to celibacy
Extracts from Barney Zwartz, The Age, Thursday 24 January 2012

Many Catholic priests take a flexible approach to celibacy, tolerated by church leaders, and some believe sex with children or men does not count, a former Melbourne priest said on Wednesday. ''An enormous number of priests struggle with celibacy,'' Philip O'Donnell told the state inquiry into how the churches handle child sex abuse. ''There's a tolerance for imperfection in celibacy, and that may have led to a lessening of outrage at sex with children.'' He said he had no training about celibacy in the seminary and that many priests were ill-equipped. ''Chosen celibacy is a gift, but mandatory celibacy is for many priests a millstone,'' he said.....In
other evidence to the (state child sex abuse) inquiry, Catholics for Renewal president Peter Johnstone (photographed) said the church's handling of sexual abuse was directly related to its dysfunctional government. Although Australian church leaders claimed that responding to abuse was a local matter, in fact the Vatican kept strict control. The worldwide church was governed by a 17th-century system whereby ultimate power was vested in men who were celibate, often socially isolated, usually old, unable to communicate with the faithful, and under the supreme control of a papal monarch who demanded blind obedience. Mr Johnstone said Catholics for Renewal was an organisation of committed, progressive Catholics who represented views shared by several Australian bishops and scores of priests who were bound by rigid vows of obedience not to publicly say so (more). Download the Catholics For Renewal Presentation here and its Appendix here.

Push to link sex abuse inquiries
Extracts from Richard Willingham, The Age, Friday 18 January 2013

Victims of abuse who have already given evidence to the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations may be saved the pain of having to go through new hearings for the royal commission. There has been some concern that abuse survivors may have to give their evidence again, to the royal commission, which could cause unnecessary trauma. The terms of reference released last week say that commissioners are not required ''to inquire, or to continue to inquire, into a particular matter to the extent that you are satisfied that the matter has been, is being, or will be, sufficiently and appropriately dealt with by another inquiry or investigation or a criminal or civil proceeding''.......The committee meets next week and on Wednesday will hold another day of hearings, including evidence from Catholics for Renewal (more).

Report by the Hon Antony Whitlam QC released
Extract from Catholic Diocese of Parramatta, Thursday 17 January 2013

The Catholic Bishops of Armidale and Parramatta have made available the report from former Federal Court judge, the Hon Antony Whitlam QC, who was commissioned by the dioceses to conduct an independent inquiry into processes related to the management of a former priest following allegations he had committed acts of child sexual abuse. The Bishop of Armidale, Most Rev Michael Kennedy, and the Bishop of Parramatta, Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, accept the findings of the report. Mr Whitlam’s report comments on deficient record-keeping, lack of or ineffective assessments and inefficient inquiries. However, he also comments that had current procedures for reporting child abuse by the Catholic Church and protocols regarding the transfer of priests been in force, the former priest “F” would have been “stopped in his tracks” (more).

The unknown unknowns of the sexual abuse royal commission
Extract from Eureka Street, Sunday 13 January 2013

An old adage has it that governments only agree to hold an inquiry when they know what it will find. Yet that has not always been true of royal commissions, and it is certainly not true of the royal commission into the sexual abuse of children in institutions, whose members and terms of reference the Gillard Government announced last week. At this stage all that can be predicted with any confidence is that the task of Justice Peter McClelland and his fellow commissioners will be long and expensive, and that the evidence they will gather is likely to shame profoundly many of the institutions that come under their scrutiny (more).
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(see News 2012 here)

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