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.
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.