PARRAMATTA (NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA)
Catholic Outlook – Diocese of Parramatta
August 23, 2020
By Fr Frank Brennan SJ
During the week, I participated in a webinar entitled ‘The Light from The Southern Cross: Promoting Co-Responsible Governance in the Catholic Church in Australia’. Zoom conferences and webinars are now commonplace for those of us enduring the pandemic lockdown. This webinar was run out of the offices of a large law firm in Sydney. The proceedings were chaired by the distinguished broadcaster Geraldine Doogue. More than 150 committed Catholics tuned in. There was quite a buzz to the proceedings. And most of the time, the technology worked well. Geraldine introduced the keynote presenter Francois Kunc who is a judge of the New South Wales Supreme Court. He had the unenviable task of providing a 15-minute overview of the 208-page report containing 86 recommendations for improved governance of the Catholic Church in Australia. I was one of nine responders. The other responders included three of the key authors who were part of the seven-member Governance Review Project Team commissioned to provide this report to the Church’s Implementation Advisory Group which had been set up by our bishops after the Royal Commission. Another responder was one of the theological advisers to the review team. The discussion was lively, informed, and respectful. Men and women were at the table in equal numbers. Appropriately, the laity heavily outnumbered the clergy.
But something wasn’t quite right. There was no bishop on the panel. We were told that invitations had been extended but to no avail. Like most things in the Church, there’s probably a back story. But I was left thinking that a discussion about co-responsible governance in the Catholic Church could well do with a couple of bishops at the table. Most of us who spoke would have been in our 60s. When looking to future governance of our church, it’s probably best to start as we’d want to finish. If co-responsibility is to work, bishops and young people will need to be at the table.
This report had been presented to our bishops at the last minute before their last conference in May 2020. Instead of publishing it promptly, the bishops decided that they wanted to sit on it until their next meeting in November 2020. The report in draft form was leaked fairly soon after the bishops completed their meeting in May. Following the leak, the bishops did a rethink on their schedule. On 12 June 2020, Archbishop Coleridge, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, announced that the bishops “would provide their feedback before 17 July.” He wrote, “After this feedback has been received, the report will be amended. The amended version will then be published in late July or early August, accompanied by a reading guide. This version will be widely available, and people are encouraged to read the full report (and not just the recommendations) and to provide feedback to their local bishop to help him in shaping his response.” That’s the last we heard from our bishops before the webinar went ahead on 19 August. On Friday, two days after the webinar, the bishops finally published the revised report. If co-responsible governance of our Church is to be a reality, we all have to do better than this. And we all have to get moving if bishops are to receive feedback and formulate their own responses in time for their November meeting.
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