MARILYN HATTON. Pray and light a candle for our church in crisis.

For years a small but expanding number of Catholics in Australia have beenappealing for church reform and have struggled to gain attention from our bishops. Our prayers and entreaties for change in the clerical, male-dominated cloisters have fallen on unattentive ears.

The wind is changing since the announcement by Archbishop Mark Coleridge of the Plenary Council in 2020/21. Recently when receiving best wishes and prayers from the renewal movement for Pope Francis’s summit with the bishops, Archbishop Coleridge responded promptly, with thanks and appreciation and an invitation to ”light a candle for us as we gather in Rome”.

Now as the bishops from around the world gather at the Vatican to ponder how to respond to the hell of child sex abuse, recognising evidence of change, reform advocates are calling on the power of prayer as we launch a campaign of silent prayer, particularly in response to the invitation from our Australian representative, Archbishop Coleridge. During the February 21-24 Rome meeting we are calling for national silent prayer to support Pope Francis and the bishops.

We expect the Rome meeting to focus on Australia, given the prosecution of two Australian bishops in connection with sex abuse (one of them since exonerated) and the ground breaking Royal Commission report into institutional child sex abuse which provided church leaders with a set of forensic and solidly-based recommendations for church reform.

Our message to all is to “come together and be still around a lighted candle and pray” that

Our bishops will call on the Holy Spirit to guide their discernment and strengthen their courage to make the radical decisions required for the change that Pope Francis himself is calling for: to rid our church of clericalism.

We ask people to reflect in silent prayer for five minutes, ending with a plea that our bishops will seek the courage to go forth in peace and remove obstacles to reform. People are also invited to send a photograph to include in a montage to be sent to Archbishop Coleridge as a sign of our support and hope.

Our campaign is being coordinated by Catholics Speak Out, Concerned Catholics of Canberra-Goulburn and the Christian Meditation Community under the umbrella of Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Renewal (ACCCR). All ACCCR groups have contributed to this campaign. We welcome other groups like St Vinnie’s, parishes and senior colleges to join us too.

As the Rome event is dominated by the ordained, this is an opportunity for the laity not only to support our bishops’ critical decision-making on child protection and abuse, but it is also a chance to speak out on important reform issues for root–and-branch change. These must include review of Canon Law, first promulgated as late as 1917, and revised in 1980s.

Why would we not review Canon Law now, when so many have been damaged and our church has lost credibility and the faithful are yearning for an inclusive practice of faith?

Canon Law as it is, is no longer adequately serving the faithful or the episcopate. It is blocking full equality for all in our Church. Our faith is a faith of equality, we are all made equal in Christ’s likeness. There is no justice in a Church in which all its members are not treated as equals. Many of our bishops and priests understand this and would welcome change. Changing Canon Law would immediately start to rid our Church of destructive clericalism.

We urge the Pope and our bishops to have the courage to review Canon Law now.

An article in La Croix (14 February 2019) talks about “deliberative and consultative voting” in Church decision-making. Within Canon Law, the ordained are the only deliberative voters, the laity have no voting rights, they can only be consulted for advice.

This has to change. The laity must have an equal voice in voting on issues of doctrine and practice. Some of those who seek reform do not understand how the Canon Law that is central to decision-making in our Church, also constrains us. The laity contributing equally to decision-making on doctrine will support our bishops in the critical shift from clericalism to collaboration.

This is the leadership that survivors and all the faithful are calling for. It would start the journey from clericalism to collaboration and to a radically different Church, one whose governance is synodal, transparent, inclusive and accountable. This would be a Church that restores trust with the faithful and alienated alike. A Church that heals. Our hope lies in the gift and power of prayer at this critical time.

Marilyn Hatton is a member of Catholics Speak Out and Concerned Catholics and former Convener of ACCCR.

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John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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