MARILYN HATTON. Why I’m not leaving the Catholic Church – despite everything

I’m not leaving the Catholic Church, despite the shocking breaking of trust, the horror, the hurt and the un-Christ like behavior and the damage our decision-makers have done to our Church members and our practice of faith. I’m staying because I do not want our Church, with all its potential for good in the world to be reduced to a small exclusive celibate male sect. Christ’s gift of faith will be denied to millions unless we can find a way to radically change the status quo. The Church’s own data reflects its shrinking numbers.

My Catholic faith has given me a moral fabric for life which I don’t always live up to, but this faith with its primacy of conscience and forgiveness, Christ’s message of love and justice and its theology of equality, grounds me and carries me in good times and bad. Saint Paul couldn’t be clearer: “There is no longer Greek nor Jew, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.28)

I want these gifts in our everyday lives and those of our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I want them in the polities of our country and world as we struggle to deal with complex and horrific challenges like war, environmental deterioration, discrimination, poverty, violence and the refugee crisis. I believe in the power of prayer, I am uplifted by participating in collective worship, the gospel interpreted with scholarly rigour, worshipping in song and of course the Eucharistic. I, frequently experience a sense of God’s presence in nature, my family and friends and the people of the world.

My Catholic faith is a crucial part of my identity so I, like millions of others who value Christ’s messages of love and justice, will work to do our best to make the Catholic Church more worthy and capable of delivering Christ’s message of love and justice and a relevant practice of faith to our people.

Its International Women’s Day. I’ve just returned from a celebratory breakfast in the Office of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) hosted by the Office of Participation for Women. Genevieve Jacobs, former ABC broadcaster, journalist and entrepreneur gave a wonderfully frank and thoroughly researched talk on why she stays a Catholic. Her words brought together those celebrating and the ACBC office staff to be church with one another, to break the silence and speak openly about the changes we yearn for, the changes that must happen in our Church now. It evidenced everyone’s good will and resilience in terrible times and was a sign of a turning tide that is moving us from the grief and darkness of clericalism to the light and grace of co-operation, to a healing Church.

Our Church can’t continue as an exclusive male, celibate club that has nurtured hypocrisy and a destructive clerical culture. Of course, there must be optional celibacy, married priests and importantly, non-ordained women and men in decision-making on doctrine and practice. We need also to progress towards full equality for all in our church including ordination. Inclusive language, the Third Right of Reconciliation and Diocesan Pastoral Councils could be in place immediately. But the problem is its almost impossible to discuss these issues.

At a Catholic women’s conference in Adelaide last month, I made the point that these conversations are difficult, because the cultural gap between the laity and the hierarchy has become so great that we can’t communicate openly with each other, the laity don’t want to offend or be disrespectful to priests and bishops and the ordained fear speaking out on any issue that isn’t current church practice. We must be able to speak out authentically to who we are, otherwise we end-up with a banal, half truth discussion that blocks progress for change and makes fools of us all.

As an example, I was recently with a group of women talking to an archbishop who had been at the Adelaide conference mentioned earlier and who remembered my comment about authentic conversation. He bravely reached out to say that he liked the phrase “the feminine genius,” the three of us were aghast. We recovered and explained that while Pope Francis uses phrases like this, for women in western countries this sort of speech is essentially patronizing, “women are in fact are not the strawberries on the cake, but the solid core of the Church.” I mention this to demonstrate the gap between our cultures. The archbishop is a person of goodwill and we appreciated his effort to communicate with us and the discussion we had. Our meeting had good outcomes but we are all on a steep learning curve to communicate authentically. This will be a pivotal issue in the build-up to the Plenary Council in 2020-21 for the Australian church called by the Australian bishops.

The president of the bishops’ conference, Archbishop Mark Coleridge has called for the whole Catholic community to respond to the recommendations of the Royal Commission and to look at necessary reforms in church structures and processes. Thousands of carefully written submissions have been handed-in by the faithful, and will be collated into themes to then create working groups.

We pray the Holy Spirit strengthens the discernment and courage of the ordained and the non-ordained to argue authentically for what we believe at this time.

These excerpts from Bishop Vincent Long’s recent homily are a message not only to our leaders but to all of us as citizens of our Church:“As Church leaders (and citizens), we bishops and priests have a particular duty in living the Gospel message with integrity; we have a particular duty in regaining a sense of trust and credibility through our authentic witness. Only by dying to power, domination, ostentation and rising to humility, simplicity, servant-hood can we be catalysts for renewal and agents of the Gospel ….and truly become servant leaders in the example of Christ.”

Marilyn Hatton is a wife and mother and long term advocate for reform and full equality for all in the Catholic Church.

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