Catholics for Renewal


Open Letter 2011 (0pen letter to Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic Bishops of Australia)

Drafting the Open Letter     (letter available HERE)

The drafting of the Open Letter began in May 2011 when the Catholics For Renewal first came together to discuss shared concerns; the group decided that the occasion of the Australian bishops' ad limina visit in October was an appropriate time to present those concerns and suggest a way forward. The group circulated its initial drafts widely among many Catholics throughout Australia, including priests and theologians, asking for and receiving useful comments and suggestions. From the outset the group sought to write a document which would be both frank and respectful, and of assistance to the bishops in their preparation for the ad limina. All meetings began with prayer asking the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Launch and distribution of the Open Letter

The Open Letter was launched online on 8 July 2011 making it available to be read, signed and commented on. Signatures were sought only from Catholics in Australia. The site allowed all visitors to view the signatures and comments of others, but it did not allow duplicate signatures from the same email address. Information on the website was mainly circulated by word-of-mouth and through personal networks; the Open Letter also received some national publicity in both the religious and secular print and electronic media. Printed copies of the Open Letter were simultaneously posted to 1282 Catholic parishes throughout Australia with the request that the faithful be given the opportunity to read it and, if they so wished, to sign it. The printed copies made no provision for comment.

Meeting with Chairman and Secretary of the ACBC

During June, the group sought a meeting with the Chairman of the ACBC to explain its origin and intent. A meeting occurred in Adelaide on 23 July 2011, at which Archbishop Philip Wilson and Fr Brian Lucas met with Mr Peter Johnstone and Dr Peter Wilkinson. A respectful and open dialogue took place and Catholics for Renewal advised that the Open Letter would be forwarded to Archbishop Wilson by early September, with a covering letter including the number of signatures received and a short analysis with any supporting documentation if requested.

Signatures received

As of 30 September 2011 a total of 8635 signatures had been received: 3755 online and 4880 in hard-copy. Postcodes on the hard-copy returns suggest that signatures came from some 200 parishes. In 13 parishes over 100 Catholics signed the Open Letter. Many priests and religious also signed and there was a balance between male and female signatories. Catholics for Renewal regret the decision of some diocesan bishops to discourage their priests from giving the Open Letter circulation in their parishes and the decision of some parish priests not to circulate the Open Letter. However, Catholics for Renewal does respect the decision that some parish priests made not to circulate the Open Letter after consultation with their pastoral council.


Apart from supportive response from letter signatories and a requested follow-up meeting with the ACBC Chairman and Secretary at the time there was never any Church response to this letter of concern signed by over 8,500 Catholics.

Some Comments received from respondents

Some 1200 online comments were received by September 2011, expressing strong support for the Open Letter and its content. Whilst there was some cynicism about a positive official response to the Open Letter, there was genuine hope for the future of the Church. Common themes which emerged were:

Ordinary Catholics want their right to be heard on matters affecting the good of their Church to be respected; they welcomed the opportunity to exercise that right by signing the Open Letter;

Ordinary Catholics are committed to their Church; they see an urgent need for a renewal in accord with the teachings of Christ and the principles of Vatican II;

The issues of concern identified in the Open Letter are strongly shared by many Catholics; they want them to be addressed as a matter of urgency;

Ordinary Catholics, as the People of God, share responsibility for the Church; they want to be consulted on matters affecting their faith and Church, and have their views heard with respect;

There is an absence of appropriate Church structures and processes to enable the voice of the faithful to be heard (existing structures, e.g. synods, are not fully utilised) and to enable meaningful participation;

Catholics want to work with the Pope and the bishops for the renewal of the Church;

There is a strong sense that the ad limina is the right forum for the Australian bishops to raise the issues set out in the Open Letter for discussion directly with the Pope; they are the key issues currently affecting the Church's mission in Australia;

The reforms sought are achievable and will strengthen the mission and witness of Christ's Church in the world.

Catholics for Renewal
September 2011
Further readership of the Open Letter

The Open Letter of 2011 is still the ‘most read’ article the Catholica website has ever published, with 52,609 views as of August 2018