GARRY EVERETT. Critical yeast in critical times.

The title of this piece is taken from an address by Bishop Vincent Long, to the Concerned Catholics of Canberra, on the 11th of September this year. The Bishop had been invited to outline his vision for a Catholic Church, in the post Royal Commission (into sexual abuse) era. He addressed the topic by focussing in three reflections.  

Firstly he analyses the immediate past condition of the Church in Australia, and what led to such a catastrophic failure of its ordained leadership. Secondly he addresses the need to form a new role for lay people within the Church. Finally, he outlines what he calls “a Church oriented to mutuality and partnership.”

A bold vision indeed, but not necessarily a new one. More than 50 years the Second Vatican Council had presented a similarly challenging vision. So what went wrong?

In a nutshell, the clerics (bishops and priests) charged with implementing the vision lost their nerve and their way, and the forces of resistance ultimately prevailed. The debates focussed on whether the renewal of the vision was “disruptive renewal” or “continuous renewal;”, when in reality there was little substantial renewal at all.

Bishop Long recognises the same danger for his vision of the Catholic Church for Australia. His major cry is for the lay people to be more outspoken: “a critical yeast in critical times”. Can they be?

Bishop Long closes his address with an admission that: “ it is a tough ask”, but one that we should take seriously.

With the Church universal and local, divided on the renewal agenda, there is little likelihood of any change appearing on the horizon very soon. Even Pope Francis is being criticised by fellow Bishops, and social media is revealing the depths of the division to all Catholics around the world. If those with all the power can’t change the Church for the better, how can the powerless lay people be expected to trump that situation?

Perhaps Bishop Long’s vision was emboldened by the Me Too# movement. That movement is being led by women seeking major changes in their life experiences, and Bishop Long calls for a greater role for women in the Church. That movement is also a movement” from below” and is not being driven by those in power i.e. males. Finally the MeToo# movement wants accountability and appropriate punishment for those who have abused women. Bishop Long says: ” For the Church to flourish it is crucial that we come to terms with the flaws of clericalism, and move beyond its patriarchal and monarchical matrix”.

To my mind, that would require us all to be much more transparent and accountable for our motivations and decisions, and to be deterred from bad behaviour by suitable penalties enforced by law. We have a long way to go.

Many lay Catholics in Australia are pinning their hopes for substantial change on the current processes and future outcomes of the Plenary Council. The final decisions of that Council can only be taken by Bishops and clergy. Already some clergy have asked to have women religious included. However, the model is inherently flawed . It does not reflect Bishop Long’s call for a Church “oriented towards mutuality and partnership”. Until all big decisions flow from such mutuality and partnership, no real change will occur in the Church.

I leave the final words to the Bishop: “ It seems to me that the Church cannot have a better future, if it persists in the old paradigm of triumphalism, self-reference and male supremacy”.

Garry Everett is a retired educator and facilitator of change in organisations. He has an abiding interest in contemporary issues in the Catholic Church, and in its future structures and processes.

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3 Responses to GARRY EVERETT. Critical yeast in critical times.

  1. Ed Cory says:

    “Many lay Catholics in Australia are pinning their hopes for substantial change on the current processes and future outcomes of the Plenary Council. The final decisions of that Council can only be taken by Bishops and clergy.”

    Exactly – the very people who have brought us to this point. To be clear, the very people who were blind and deaf to the Spirit while this inhumanity was being perpetrated, and whose timidity seems to know no bounds: these are the people who now say ‘trust us’.

    The Chilean solution appeals, but the replacements would be drawn from the same gene pool – selected, trained, inculcated with the same values systems and culture as the originals, and probably mentored by them too.

  2. Gregan McMahon says:

    I can see no way out of this bind. Bishop Long and other well-meaning people seek a partnership of clergy and laity, but that would require an impossible pair of changes. The laity (to which I belong) would have to start taking responsibility for moral and organisational decisions. But we reneged on that responsibility centuries ago, preferring to keep our heads down and follow the rule book written for us by the clergy rather than our own consciences. This is now the defining characteristic of most of us. What chance is there of that changing? Or being allowed to change? We’re talking about an autocratic institution here.
    And the clergy, again for centuries, have amused themselves writing rules, so that they would need to surrender their claim to know what’s required for everyone else to get to heaven. Once that goes, so does their claim to relevance. It’s not going to happen.
    To have to ask for women religious to be included in a “plenary” council shows how absurd the rule book has become.

    • Peter Donnan says:

      Bishop Long, of the Parramatta diocese, told the royal commission in February, 2017, the church needed to “dismantle the old model” of Catholicism and end a “pecking order” that had lay people “right at the bottom of the pyramid”. I attended the Canberra forum Garry Everett writes of: Bishop Long presented a positive vision and spirituality but in my view reform agendas will need to be embraced by more senior archbishops. It’s a top-down, middle-out, bottom-up process so voices such as Bishop Long are integral to that momentum.

      C. Lamb, writing in ‘The Tablet’ this year, observed that the two synod gatherings on the family in 2014 & 2015 saw fiery exchanges, even a protest letter from a group of cardinals. To its defenders, the more open synods of the Francis papacy are exposing divisions under the surface and Lamb reported remarks of the Archbishop of Chicago, Blase Cupich, a prominent synod father: “It’s giving people a growing sense that we are moving into an adult Church, not an infantile Church. This is the way adults deal with differences, they don’t look to Daddy to solve all their problems, or hide them because they are afraid of conflict.”

      So your view of reform, Gregan, that “It’s not going to happen” may have been true centuries ago but there are strong winds of change in the Church of today and change is afoot.

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