Dr Richard Gaillardetz, an eminent lay theologian who raises some of the hard questions for the Catholic Church concerning its governance, is coming to Australia for the National Pastoral Leaders and Pastoral Planners Conference. This is a conference organised by pastoral associates, a challenging leadership role occupied mostly by women and increasingly important to the functioning of the Church.
Richard will also be delivering public lectures with discussion in Melbourne and Sydney 7 and 9 September respectively (details at these links).
Today the Catholic Church is challenged by a series of scandals: the sexual abuse of children by clergy and religious, the cover-up of this abuse, the indifference to the victims, and more recent attacks on Pope Francis from within the Church. There is also the disease of clericalism with its culture of power, lack of transparency, distrust of the laity (now well-educated), and inappropriate and dysfunctional governance. These failings are inherently contrary to the mission of Jesus and prejudice that mission. The scandals have impacted severely on the People of God. What then keeps the remaining faithful, some 10% of all Catholics, engaged and constant in the practice of their faith?
The Catholic Pastoral Leaders and Pastoral Planners have done well to attract Dr Richard Gaillardetz as a keynote speaker for their national conference in Melbourne 4-7 September. Gaillardetz’ main topic, “Wrestling with the Faith in Times of Scandal: Why Belonging to the Church Still Matters”, is a timely topic for Australia as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse finalises its report. Richard has been auspiced by Catholics for Renewal and Catalyst for Renewal to address that same topic at public lectures in Melbourne (Thursday evening 7 September) and in Sydney (Saturday afternoon 9 September). Further details and bookings arrangements are linked here.
The National Pastoral Leaders and Planners Conference follows on from previous conferences held in dioceses such as Newcastle/Maitland, Brisbane Adelaide and Melbourne since 1987. They have been a valuable way for Pastoral Leaders, clergy and Pastoral Associates, to gather and reflect together. This Conference is being hosted by the Association of Pastoral Associates Melbourne together with the Priests of Melbourne and the National Pastoral Planners Network. It is a collaborative effort, driven mainly by the PAs wanting to work with our priests and other leaders.
The conference is evidence of the increasing role of the laity and especially women in the leadership of the Church, a development that is greatly needed if the Church is to recognise the importance of gender balance in its leadership. It has been argued before the Royal Commission that serious governance and accountability failures in the Church in Australia and universally have been exacerbated by the exclusion of women from the Church’s top-level decision-making. The increasing presence of women at the parish level, and indeed in some dioceses, serves to demonstrate the negative impacts of their exclusion from top decision-making.
Dr Richard Gaillardetz is Professor of Catholic Systematic Theology at Boston College and chair of the theology department. He has authored or edited 13 books and published numerous articles. Gaillardetz has expressed a clear vision on matters such as power and authority in the church, the role of the laity, and the Magisterium and the sensus fidelium (sense of faith of the faithful). He has been President and Vice-President of the Catholic Theological Society of America.
Gaillardetz has gained an extensive understanding of the directions of Vatican II and their implications for the Church today and is well placed to address pastoral practices that hold promise for shaping Catholic identity in this time of scandal and, hopefully, renewal. His second keynote address to the conference will be on Pope Francis and the Church of tomorrow, the challenge of crisis and hope, which is perhaps the key issue exercising the minds of concerned Catholics throughout the world as we witness the struggle between the progressive supporters of Francis seeking renewal of the Church in the light of Vatican II and the traditionalists wanting “reform of the reform”.
Gaillardetz’ interests include the role of the laity and of bishops in the Church. He has written of Vatican II’s teaching about the laity’s primary obligations in the secular world, and has suggested that:
it is legitimate to wonder whether in the global church of the twenty-first century a new vision of church leadership is needed, one that remains faithful to our tradition but which is also open to the unique demands of our time.
The topic “Wrestling with the Faith in Times of Scandal: Why Belonging to the Church Still Matters” will no doubt generate some valuable discussion at the conference and at the public meetings in both Melbourne and Sydney, providing a forum for the faithful to consider the meaning of their faith when their institutional Church is failing.
Many have left the Church having been alienated by perceived hypocrisy and particularly the scandal of clerical child sexual abuse where the institutional Church has incredibly favoured paedophiles over children, the last straw in an institution which they saw as failing in accountability, transparency and inclusiveness. But many know their faith is bigger than any failings of the institutional Church and have stayed to demand a Church which lives the faith. This has caused many to wrestle with their faith before deciding that “belonging to the Church still matters.” That decision to stay in such circumstances is for many another act of faith. Gaillardetz has much to contribute as Catholics come to grips with these challenges. There will be a lot of soul-searching and thoughtful contributions at the Melbourne and Sydney events.
National Pastoral Leaders and Planners Conference website
Public lectures with discussions in Melbourne
Public lectures with discussions in Sydney
Peter Johnstone is President of Catholics for Renewal.