GARRY EVERETT. Who Is manipulating what?

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, reportedly said recently: “What Synodal Fathers (Bishops) are wary of, I think, is the way synods might be manipulated today, swept up by the fashions of the age.” He is further reported as being of the view that at the recent Synod on Young People, the young people in attendance “hunted in a pack” and that they “played to a very particular script”.

In the context of the Catholic Church in Australia engaging in a Plenary Council – a protracted consultative process, leading to decision making by the bishops— these statements of the Archbishop are quite surprising. One could be forgiven for thinking that the Archbishop is attempting to manipulate the very process he is involved in leading.

 He does not approve of hunting in a pack, though many lay people may think that that is exactly how the Bishops act when they meet to decide major issues. He appears to think that the process of the synod is somehow easily manipulated, not by the bishops, but supposedly by the lay people who are infected with the dreaded “fashions of the age” ( whatever that might mean). His comments do not augur well for the decision making process, which already has its share of problems.

As the Catholic Church in Australia attempts to rectify its deteriorating image, one would have expected that all attention would have been focussed on accentuating the positives, particularly through spoken communications.

Phrases such as “hunting in a pack”; “playing to a particular script”; and ” manipulated… by fashions of the age,” all have a pejorative tone about them. More seriously, such language reinforces the sense of mistrust and distrust, which lies at the heart of the Church’s loss of influence as a religious and moral force in today’s society. Of course, the same analysis can be applied to Cricket Australia, the Banks and some financial institutions; the superannuation industry: and one suspects, to the Aged Care providers once the proposed Royal Commission has its say.

Trust has been eroded and is not restored by changing a few procedures and imposing some light penalties on those who presided over the abuse of people’s trust.


Trust is an abstract notion which deserves a thorough analysis and explanation by those who are interested in restoring right relationships. One place to start might be to re-visit the work of developmental psychologist Erik Ericcson. In his work on identity formation, Ericcson postulates that the first developmental task is to build trust. As babies, we learn to trust our parents, siblings, teachers, elders and others. Most of us can recall those early experiences. Those deprived of sufficient nurturing of trust develop a dis-trust of others and organisations. In the early 1990’s a study by some European universities, concluded that Europeans generally had lost trust in all their major institutions: judicial; medical; education; churches; law-enforcement; financial….. The two dominant values were individualism and autonomy. Such is the slippery slope of eroding sacred trust .

We are faced with the same problem here, and the words of Bishop Fisher do not indicate that we have carefully thought through how to re-build trust. The paradigm conspiracy advances the notion that the prevailing structures and processes are all focussed on preserving the paradigm i.e. in defending power and privilege at all costs. Simply punishing a few people, while appropriate, will not change the paradigm. The Bishop might be well advised to seek the guidance of experts in cultural analysis and development. Otherwise, in speech and behaviour, he will fail to model proper ways of restoring trust as the first and foundational step in “acting justly; loving tenderly; and walking humbly.” 

Of course, the development of trust is closely allied with notions of vulnerability, forgiveness, mutuality, and acceptance.

Not only do our Church leaders and followers have a long way to go in rebuilding trust, they also have a great distance to travel in agreeing upon the most fundamental and indispensable aspects of that re-building.

So far in the progress of the Plenary Council in Australia, the silence on this aspect has been deafening.

Garry Everett is a member of the Catholic Church and is interested in the processes of organizational changes.


This entry was posted in Religion and Faith. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to GARRY EVERETT. Who Is manipulating what?

  1. Garry Everett says:

    Carey. Thanks for your comments.
    I do not believe that Bishop Fisher is seeking to build trust as I propose. My point is that the Bishop[‘s words convey exactl;y the opposite. I am of the view that he either does not know how to build trust, or does not value that aspect in the future life of the Church.
    He appears as you rightly imply, to want to continue business as usual as far as leadership, authority and power are exercised in the Church. My feeling is that most Bishops have poorly grasped the significance of cultural change that is at the heart of being Church in a new way.

  2. carey burke says:

    Garry, I would agree with your suggestion that Archbishop Fisher’s comments are probably an early gambit intended to influence the direction and outcomes of the upcoming Plenary Council. But, ironically, this initiative would claim to have the same aim as the one you espouse for the Council – the recovery of trust in the Catholic Church’s leadership and mission.

    Put briefly, the conservative wing of the Church has only recently found its voice in responding to calls for reform in the light of the continuing clergy sexual abuse saga. The solution advocated is a priesthood and episcopacy characterised by authentic holiness: to achieve this aim includes naming, shaming and shunning those who do not measure up. A current example is a privately funded vetting of the lifestyles and proclivities of the cardinals who would populate the next conclave ( See references to “The Red Hat Report in NCR and Economist)

    In addition to evacuating bad apples from the clergy basket, this approach would also impact directly on the calls for reform in venues like Plenary Councils. Conservative church leaders are not inclined to consider substantive alterations to principles and practices of church governance. With a strong policy on renewed clergy standards, they will be free to argue a “loyalty” to traditional church structures.

  3. Peter Donnan says:

    Questioned about how the Church handled the sexual abuse of the two young sisters by their parish priest, then Bishop Fisher referred to “dwelling crankily, as a few people are doing, on old wounds.” The insensitivity and cruelty of those remarks, even now, is appalling.

    Archbishop Fisher’s ‘pack’ and ‘script’ references, in the context of the Plenary Council, indicate a subtextual apprehension that his agenda will be assailed by hostile forces. It perceives threats in a political sense.

    Listening, trust, change, reform: this agenda is more likely to come from the likes of Bishop Long, of the Parramatta diocese, who told the royal commission in February, 2017 that 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”.

    At the Plenary Council Catholics will be looking to senior clergy who “have the smell of their sheep on them.” Archbishop Coleridge’s webcast on the Plenary Council website refers to involvement of the whole Church in Australia where ‘decisions are made together.’ The facts are, however, that bishops will have a ‘deliberative’ vote at the plenary council and very few lay members can even hope for a ‘consultative’ vote.

    The idea of service, of humility, of washing the feet of the disciples is a far cry from political power in the Church at higher levels and indeed some of our senior leaders. As someone once said, ‘it will be a great time when the Curia convert to Christianity.”

  4. J Knight says:

    We live in an age where expectations about selflessness and servant leadership are rarely embraced by those being led, who themselves are sidetracked by the pursuit of self-interest and ambition as habit!

    It might be argued that ‘Trust’ – a feeling – presupposes (subsides in) ‘Truth’ – and the (dare I say “your own?”) reality – and experiencing this (concurring with or assent to) precedes ‘Belief.’

    So, if those instructing us are poor examples, not worthy of trust, it doesn’t change the truth and shouldn’t affect your belief if you have found a (the?) truth that you believe in.

    So, as a Catholic, and not just a Christian, is my Eucharistic participation, and other sacramental hang ups, in line with centuries of practice, just an enabling behaviour for nasty clerics? Am I just a pack dog too?

    I have no idea of how a combustion engine works, but, before redesigning it I’d try and get the best understanding of how it works. Now, if I was also worried about this vehicle running without greenhouse emissions, then perhaps I’m in the wrong place?

    So if you want to redesign the Church, then you best check out what’s essential for the journey and maybe we don’t need the car?

  5. Trish Martin says:

    In speech and behaviour archbishop Anthony Fisher shows he is not worried about restoring trust. The Vatican State is a monarchy which means that all clerics are anointed by God not appointed, and therefore bishops can claim to be answerable to God alone. Anthony Fisher’s life is ruled by duty to an impersonal world of Canon laws and impersonal Truths expressed in rituals. A priests vocational call means they are trained to conform to ritual, deny eros and the feminine and ignore their own emotional integrity. Trouble is there is little sign of bishops following Jesus whose life, thought and deed was an expression of bringing about life to others and profound healing on a personal level.

Comments are closed.