TERRY FEWTRELL. Seems Pope Francis is with the People

The latest letter from Pope Francis greatly empowers
Australia’s Catholics to use their influence and puts heat on the
bishops to allow the voices and wisdom of Australian Catholics to be
heard seriously.

Pope Francis recentIy wrote to all Catholics. The letter is remarkable
for several reasons, partly because it was written at all. Addressed
to the People of God, it was a a letter to Catholic laity throughout
the world, sent via the internet. In the past Popes have occasionally
written to the Universal Church, but such statements were prefaced by
a long list of hierarchical recipients, starting with Cardinals and
Bishops and ending with mere laypeople. This was different. It was a
case of ‘cutting out the middlemen’ and going directly to the ordinary

Francis wrote about the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church,
which just keeps getting bigger and bigger. As Australia’s Royal
Commission demonstrated, it takes forensic inquiries to tear down the
secrecy and get to the truth.

It reads as if Francis has also had just about enough of the systemic
and cultural nature of the offences and the pathetic responses from
his delegated leaders – local bishops and cardinals. He calls out
clericalism as leading directly to sexual abuse and its cover up. He
is clearly in agreement with the Royal Commission’s report that
clericalism is a major cultural factor in the church’s betrayal of
trust. Francis sees it as a root cause, saying “clericalism …supports
and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning
today…to say ‘no’ to abuse is to say an emphatic ‘no’ to all forms of

By way of explanation, clericalism is the perversion of priestly
mission and humility into priestly and hierarchical power and
exclusiveness. It is a toxic mix of attitudes, dispositions,
behaviours and judgements that have come to characterise an entrenched
male, celibate priestly class, distracted by perceived status rather
than driven by real service. But it is not limited to clerics, a
sizable minority of lay Catholics share such attitudes.

Francis believes “to say ‘no’ to abuse is to say an emphatic ‘no’ to
clericalism”. He insists that “to acknowledge the truth of what has
happened…is not enough”. He says that the response is a task “for all
of us as the People of God” because without support from the bottom,
“everything being done to uproot the culture of abuse in our
communities will not be successful in generating the necessary
dynamics for sound and realistic change”. This is not just a profound
shift in ecclesiology, it is also sound culture change management. I
doubt a Pope has ever before fused such principles.

But Francis does more than point to a significant cause and insist it
be removed. He is clearly marshalling allies and he sees the ordinary
catholic as strategically important to his cause. “It is impossible to
think of a conversion of our activity as a church that does not
include the active participation of all the members of God’s People”,
adding “every one of the baptized should feel involved in the
ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need”. Indeed, he says
that unless the (lay) people of the church engage in this effort, it
will not succeed.

The Pope’s letter is itself an act of de-clericalisation and his
comments are something of a cry for help. He correctly acknowledges
that cultural change on the scale required won’t happen simply by
decrees from the top. He also seems to be implying that he needs the
support of the people to light a fire that will put heat on all church
leaders, from priests to bishops and cardinals.

The timing of his message has special significance for Australian
Catholics. Australia’s bishops have called a Plenary Council for 2020
to address the state of the church in this country, post the Royal
Commission. Lay Catholics are currently arguing vigorously for proper
representation at this forum, the powers, processes and composition of
which are still undefined. There is justifiable scepticism that it
will be a sanitised affair with few real outcomes. Certainly; the
official process of ‘listening’, which purports to be collecting the
views of the Catholic community only adds to people’s justifiable

But the letter from Francis greatly empowers Australia’s Catholics to
use their influence and puts heat on the bishops to allow the voices
and wisdom of Australian Catholics to be heard seriously. According to
Francis this must occur to achieve the “the necessary dynamics for
sound and realistic change”. The questions left hanging therefore are:
Do the Australian bishops want real change? and Are the bishops on
board with the Francis agenda?

Several groups around the country are advocating for serious change.
Canberra’s Concerned Catholics is part of this movement. But after
reading Francis’ letter that title seems a little timid. Francis wants
active and assertive Catholics.

Those Australian Catholics involved in such a cause have a powerful
two-fold motivation, one as Catholics another as Australians. They
seek reform of the church in an updated spirit of Vatican II, and they
carry an obligation as Australians to ensure that sex abuse never
recurs to damage Australian society and its people. The
recommendations of the Royal Commission are effectively a statement of
requirements on behalf of the Australian community, insisting that
real change occur in the church. The active Catholic groups pursuing
reform, therefore, are effectively agents for all Australians to
achieve those outcomes.

Francis is calling for a church more in line with the theology and
ecclesial direction of Vatican II. He wants significant change. In his
words he wants ‘a church with the smell of the sheep’. He is seeking
allies in “solidarity” with ordinary Catholics in Australia and
elsewhere. All Australians have a vested interest in this cause.

Concerned Catholics of Canberra Goulburn is holding an open workshop
meeting to seek input for a submission to the Plenary Council, at
7.30pm on Thursday 29 November, at the Australian Centre for
Christianity and Culture in Barton.

Terry Fewtrell is a Canberra author advocating Catholic church reform
who will join the workshop panel at the Concerned Catholics meeting.


This post kindly provided to us by one of our many occasional contributors.

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

9 Responses to TERRY FEWTRELL. Seems Pope Francis is with the People

  1. Avatar Alex Nelson says:

    Thanks for the energy and clarity in your analysis of the situation.

  2. Avatar Michael Flynn says:

    Thanks you Terry for this report about the Concerned Catholics of Canberra Goulburn meeting that I attended at the canon law group table.We all seek reform of canon law. As an absolute sovereign Pope Francis as Roman Pontiff under canon 331 of the 1983 code has the power to legislate now and can do so in Adelaide. The Canon Law Society of Australia and New Zealand should do public constitutional conventions to present to the Holy Father a constitution for the Episcopal Conference of the Bishops of Australia. Our history that delivered a new nation in 1901 should be recalled as we emerge from the Roman Empire and its administrative traditions including no women in public office.

  3. Avatar Patricia Boylan says:

    While Catholics are culturally hardwired not to criticise their Pope, many are becoming impatient.
    Marie Collins, former member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors says “The USA bishops had apparently intended to bring in a strong policy to hold their bishops accountable in regard to the abuse of minors. The Vatican has stepped in to prevent this happening.”
    “After this can anyone still believe that those in the Vatican see the accountability of church leadership as a priority? This latest objection by the Vatican Congregation for Bishops to the implementation of strong accountability measures in the USA mirrors the reaction, by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to the PCPM recommended accountability tribunal in 2015.”
    Ms Collins goes on,’The accountability measure recommended by the PCPM included a change in Canon Law which would cede power to discipline bishops from the Pope to the CDF. The Pope approved this as he announce the tribunal would go ahead as recommended. As we know it never happened as the CDF found Canon Law problems and insisted it was not necessary anyway as enough provisions were already there.
    In August in Dublin Pope Francis insisted to me that a new accountability process, in line with his moto proprio ‘As a Loving Mother’ was being implemented and bishops were being held accountable by him. This new process he told me is not consistent across all bishops but has different standards according the culture of the bishop. He later dismissed the concerns I had expressed about this as a “fixation” on accountability.”
    “Behind the Vatican objections is their absolute conviction that Canon Law is more important than any other consideration. Having an inability to accept that if any law prevents proper child protection and discipline of negligent leaders then it has to change. Christ did not write Canon Law men did and men can change it. All that is needed is the will to do so.”
    Ms Collins states,”The current situation is untenable. Ad hock investigations taking place in some cases and different sanctions or none at all being determined by the “culture” of the bishop. As we saw at the recent Synod there are many bishops who cannot agree what constitutes abuse or even deny it is happening in their “culture”.’
    “It is up to the Pope and his Vatican departments to cease pandering to these attitudes and drop their own fixation with Canon Law. They have to make it clear that every church leader must accept what constitutes child abuse and then enforce universal, strong best practice child protection policies including consistent sanctions for any bishop or other church leader failing to protect the vulnerable.”
    “In February, the Pope should present the leaders of the world’s bishops’ conferences with three documents:
    1. A paper setting out what constitutes abuse of a minor – in clear and unambiguous terms.
    2. A comprehensive, best practice, safeguarding policy (including care of victims)
    3. An accountability policy setting out clearly the sanctions which will be applied to any bishop ignoring 1 & 2 and failing to protect minors or covering for an abuser.
    Ms Collins says all these documents must be made public.
    “Every representative at the meeting should be requested to sign and accept that their region will abide by these documents. If any refuse then this fact and their reasons for doing so should be made public. No more obsession with secrecy.”
    “In the future all findings of guilt in regard to any church leader and the sanction being applied must be made public. There has to be an end to the fear of scandal and the culture of unexplained “resignations”.
    Marie Collins says.”If none of this happens then it is up to the Catholic faithful to raise their voices and refuse to accept the manoeuvrings of these men in their clerical bubble.”
    Australians must be asking why are the strongest possible safeguarding policies, with the strength of canon law behind them, not being implemented in every diocese and congregation around the world?
    “How can the Church on the one hand claim to be on the side of the victims/survivors while at the same time fighting against the removal of statutes of limitation in various countries. If removed or dropped more accused could be criminally prosecuted and if guilty the victims/survivors receive justice? The actions are contrary to the words – why?
    Why is real zero tolerance not in place worldwide to ensure any priest who sexually abuses a child is removed from the church immediately?” t http://www.mariecollins.net/comments

  4. Avatar Leah Dobrejcer says:

    For a completely different and critically informed understanding of both the “catholic” church in the “21st century” and of the behind the scenes applied politics of pope francis too, please check out the The Open Tabernacle website.

    I use the term “catholic” because it is in no way a , and certainly not THE, universal church. It certainly has nothing whatsoever to do with what Saint Jesus of Galilee taught and demonstrated while he was alive.
    Nor are those who in one way or another believe in its doctrines the “people of god” – such a term necessarily implies that non-“catholics” are in one way or another inferior.

  5. Avatar Trish Martin says:

    The Pope says in his ‘Letter to the People of God’ that clericalism is the major cause of sin by betrayal. The pope states: “an awareness of sin helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past.” Jesus made it clear in three out of four Gospels that a child is God’s icon for entry into heaven (Matt. 18), and so adults must mirror the inward disposition of a child. Clerical abuse and betrayal is not just an error of judgment, it is a grave injustice that changes profoundly that child’s ability for personal growth and to function well in society. In church language the word ‘sin’ means to miss the mark, which is like a misdemeanor when the fact is that innocent lives have been ruined. Bishops still have missed the point that Jesus made about a child being the prime example of heavenly values, there is no official Theology that supports this statement and there is no teaching in seminaries that holds up a child as the example for adults to mirror in order to enter heaven.
    I have grave doubts that the Plenary Council in 2020 will mean much to Catholics who have lost their faith in a Church which has known for decades about the crimes committed by many of its leaders and chose secrecy to prevent a scandal rather than protect the life of a child.

  6. Avatar R. N. England says:

    I’m not convinced that child abuse is confined to those who have risen with the approval of an established hierarchy. Those who rise “democratically”, that is, through their popularity with a congregation, can abuse the authority the congregation has given them. The motley collection of American Protestant evangelists and cult leaders furnishes many examples of the second type of abusers.

    Excessive respect for persons is the problem. We are all human, with selfish genes and alarming frailties. Any culture that relies too heavily on respect for persons will be betrayed by too many of it leaders, and be damaged or fail as a result. Love of a culture that brings the world’s people peacefully and joyfully together in its service, and concern for its viability long beyond our own lifetimes is what it’s all about. Christianity, with its glorious architecture, music, art, and the mythology that draws those together, is part of the rich world culture. But the excessive reliance on personalities and the hubris both need to go, for it to take its place fully in that culture.

    • Avatar Ed Cory says:

      I would argue that ‘excessive respect for institutions’ is the problem. An institution which governs in an authoritarian manner with an emphasis on secrecy in its own workings and correspondingly an absence of transparency and accountability, is an environment ripe for corruption (in every sense of that word). The institution’s treatment of its lay membership, most egregiously seen in respect to abuse victims, screams failure and irrelevance.

      Such an institution does not deserve respect, let alone adherence.

  7. Avatar Kieran Tapsell says:

    Terry, Pope Francis has made these calls for the end of clericalism and the culture of cover up many times before. He has also called for bishops to be held accountable for the cover up. Yet he does not seem to understand the intimate connection between law and culture, because if he did, he would know that the first thing he has to do is act on the recommendation of the Royal Commission to get rid of the pontifical secret over clergy sexual abuse of minors, and to impose mandatory reporting under canon law. As Cardinal Francis George wrote in a 2003 article, if you want to get rid of a culture, you first have to get rid of the law that embodies it. Just recently we have had the remarkable instance of a gay student at Riverview coming out at a public meeting of the school, and receiving a standing ovation. Do you really think that this remarkable change in public culture could have happened if the Crimes Act still called consensual homosexual activity an “abominable” crime and provided a 10 year jail sentence? Clericalism and the culture of cover up are embodied in the pontifical secret imposed by Art 30 of the norms of Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela. The protection of secrecy only applies to clergy and not to laity. On the question of accountability of bishops, Canon 221 of the 1983 Code expresses a fundamental principle of all legal system, that no one can be punished except for breaking the law. How can any bishop be made accountable for a cover up when canon law tells him he has to cover it up where there is no applicable reporting law. Most countries have very limited reporting laws, leaving plenty of room for canonically required cover ups. The laity cannot do anything about this, nor can the bishops. Pope Francis is the absolute monarch, and he can change this with a stroke of his pen. Yet in 2014, he refused a request by the United Nations Committees for the Rights of the Child and against Torture to impose mandatory reporting under canon law. And he has not acted on the Royal Commission’s recommendation about the pontifical secret. While canon law stays the same, the buck for the culture of clericalism and cover up stops with Francis, soothing letters to laity notwithstanding.

  8. Avatar Ed Cory says:

    Couldn’t agree more Terry! Activism by the laity will be required to crash through the entrenched attitudes of our hierarchy. The laity are neutered in the current form of the Plenary Council, consigned to a small minority, and only entitled to a sham vote anyway.

    “Listening” is code for ‘get your grumbles off your chest, and then we will get on with business’. It seems the bleeding obvious – listening is required because you lot aren’t really part of the process – has not registered.

    The various ‘concerned catholics’ groups seem more interested in talking than acting, more interested in staying on-side with power that genuinely challenging it. If real change is to be achieved, we must be prepared to go to the barricades.

Comments are closed.