Sight Magazine – Australian Catholic Church council has only touched the “tip of the iceberg” on key challenges, academic says

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Sydney, Australia

Australian Catholics had only glimpsed “the tip of the iceberg” at the first meeting of the Fifth Plenary Council held last week and failure to tackle some issues head-on was a stain for the church, said a senior scholar and board member. .

John Warhurst, professor emeritus at the Australian National University, said he was hesitant in his optimism about progress in the Plenary Council, the first since 1937.

John Warhurst. IMAGE: Provided

The national meeting, attended by 278 members from across the country – including bishops, members of religious congregations and lay people, addressed 16 issues, including questions relating to the Royal Commission on the Institutional Response to Sexual Abuse on children, euthanasia laws, education and the role of women in the church. . The role of First Nations peoples and the governance of the Church were also on the agenda.

But Warhurst says the 16 issues on the agenda were “too bland” and did not do justice to the 17,500 submissions and “community ferment” during the consultation process.

“Sexuality, including justice for LGBTQI + Catholics, is the elephant in the room. This cannot be avoided, although the authorities are working hard to do so, because through many families and children it affects most of us through various divisions within the church, ”Warhurst wrote in a blog before the end of the plenary council on Sunday.

In an interview with Seen, Warhurst said the subject was nearly invisible in the church at the moment. While big changes such as the recognition of same-sex marriages would be “something only the Vatican could possibly handle,” Warhurst said that “if you back away from that for a bit, there’s the whole question. [what you would call]pastoral care towards homosexual marriages ”.

“It would mean much clearer support for same-sex staff and same-sex students in Catholic education for example, or in higher education.

He said the role of women in ordained ministry “also remains an uphill battle.”

“There was a lot of talk [about women’s roles in the church]and it was spread across many areas … but I think it needs a consolidated approach. “

He said if the discussion came to women’s ordination or women’s ministry “then we would have to go to Rome, but that could be a strong statement from the Australian church.”

“My reluctance to be too excited is not just about the diversity and polarization within the church, but the whole council process itself. “

Warhurst, who is also chairman of Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn, said the first rally process “turned out to be too compressed and rushed”, particularly in the 36 hours before it closed.

He said this led to key elements, such as the final group documents and the press release to proceed without proper consideration, something he warned should not be repeated.

However, he acknowledged that a lot of work would be done over the next nine months leading up to the Second Plenary Council session with a report to be provided to members and many public conversations before July.

“So for July itself, I think the timing will be a really crucial issue – if there is a possibility of more time – but if there isn’t, it will have to be extraordinarily good. [and]tightly organized and focused to get through what’s involved, ”he said.

His feelings were countered by the hope felt within the church hierarchy, including Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher who spoke of “the adventure of the gospel” in his homily at Mass in Sunday closing for Sydney members.

He also cautioned against members using holy rather than worldly wisdom.

“If, as a church in Australia, we can keep the commandments and repent when we fail, if we can let go of any possession or privilege, ideology or attachment, structure or aspiration that hinders the journey of the gospel, then the hearts of the faithful and of the church can be truly renewed, ”said Bishop Fisher.

“Follow Christ the Good Teacher and all will be well. Guided by divine rather than earthly wisdom, the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia must now continue its prayerful and attentive discernment work in preparation for the Second Assembly next year. God bless the board members and the organizers in the meantime!

On the last working day of the First Assembly, Saturday, a series of proposals were presented for consideration in the nine months leading up to the Second Assembly in Sydney.

This included steps to better embrace the rich liturgical traditions of the Catholic Church in Australia, particularly its Eastern Rite churches, a renewed emphasis on vocations and on strengthening partnerships between Catholic schools and parishes.

Chairman of the full council, Archbishop of Perth Timothy Costelloe, said the council’s steering committee will now determine work ahead for the second assembly to be held in Sydney from July 4-9, 2022.


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