With CNS and The Catholic Leader
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference President Archbishop Denis Hart and Vice President Archbishop Mark Coleridge have last week met with senior Vatican officials to discuss the current crises facing the Church in Australia.
The bishops’ delegation met on 5 October with Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Foreign Minister and former Australian Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, together with Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, and Secretary for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Archbishop Giacomo Morandi.
In a written statement released on 7 October, the Vatican Press Office said topics covered included the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the relationship between the Church and society at large, the restoration of trust and greater participation of the laity in decision-making roles in the Church.
“The people in Rome really wanted to hear from us face-to-face what we judged to be the state of the Church in Australia at this time,” said Archbishop Coleridge of the meeting.
“I said to them at the meeting, we are facing the greatest crisis that the Catholic Church has faced in Australia in its relatively brief history,” he said.
“The word ‘crisis’ itself means we are under both secular and sacred judgment and we have to respond to that judgment.
“There was no surprise in that for the people in the Vatican because they’ve been dealing with crises for a very long time,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
Archbishop Hart and Archbishop Coleridge were also accompanied by Neville Owen, current chair of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, which was established by the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Catholic Religious Australia to oversee the church’s engagement with the Royal Commission.
While officials were paying extremely close attention to the situation in Australian, Archbishop Coleridge said that clericalism was at the heart of their discussion about the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse – the fact that Church decision-making was in the hands of too few – the ordained, all of whom are male and most of whom are celibate.
He said, adopting a new Church approach meant including women and even some young people in the process of governance – those making the decisions, not just implementing them.
“It’s to draw upon all the gifts of the Catholic Church, and women make up at least fifty per cent of the Church, and have astonishing gifts.
“So how do we allow the gifts to flourish for the building up of the Church in new ways and the new situation we face?”
In light of the crisis, Archbishop Coleridge said a plenary council to be held in 2020, would be a very important moment for the Church in Australia to review its mission, including how to give more responsibility to lay people.
“It would be the first plenary council held since 1937, when no women, religious or lay people took part.
“It’s clear then that the Church here is passing through a time of deep, painful and permanent change, which is why the bishops have decided for a plenary council, which was also discussed in our meeting in Rome. The plenary council will have to make bold decisions about the future.
“Now, that may mean asking questions about what to let go, because at times our structures and strategies of the Church in Australia are based upon the facts of other times.
“And even though they might have worked brilliantly once upon a time, they don’t work brilliantly now,” the Brisbane Archbishop said.
He went on to describe the plenary council as a ‘process and a journey’, not just an event, and one that was in partnership with the Holy See.
“At the meeting in Rome one of the key questions asked was ‘how can we in Rome work more effectively with you in Australia to bring the Church beyond the crisis into something better and stronger’,” he said.