Marilyn Hatton ...


July 10, 2008

Marilyn Hatton

Marilyn Hatton is a woman who perhaps represents many older women today in the broad mainstream of Catholicism in this country who have "been through the mill" of actually raising a family through to adulthood and learning a lesson or two "from the coalface". She is a mother and grandmother and remains a committed Catholic speaking up and asking for a Church that is more responsive to the real needs of the people it is meant to be serving. She is a passionate advocate for women being given greater input into spiritual leadership and is national convener for Ordination of Catholic Women (OCW). In today's commentary, Marilyn asks some pointed questions about what we are honestly seeking to achieve through World Youth Day.

World Youth Day in Sydney…

The eve of World Youth Day (WYD) 2008 and Pope Benedict XVI's arrival in Australia prompts a flood of questions about the impact of such an event on the youth of the Catholic Church

Pope Benedict

Such an international, celebrated and publicized event can't help but make an indelible impression on young people. Just the joy of being together with kindred spirits from all over the world, and being away from the care and supervision of family for the first time, is awe inspiring.

We can all recall memories of the excitement of such a 'rite of passage', the anticipation, freedom, and the sense of belonging to a wider adult world and the privilege of participating in it, is almost sacred. Add to this the excitement for those flying in from overseas to a different country and culture. These are young people eager to be led.

So it is timely to question what the Church is offering as a leader with responsibility for guiding these vulnerable young people.

What does the Church offer young people today?

How will WYD 2008 impact on these young people? Perhaps, positively the greatest gift will be the sense of belonging to a universal Church with its long history which has influenced the development of many of the finer aspects of western culture, music, art, scholarship, and most importantly, the radical freedom of the gospel message with its principles of social justice, equality, inclusiveness, respect, and forgiveness, the occasion to meet the God of love; the experience of deep conversion.

Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, vividly describes a God of love. However, the reality for many of the faithful is that much of the Vatican and bishops' practices alienate the faithful and certainly do not reflect a God of love.

A recent example is the latest decree from the Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith that excommunicates women who are ordained as well as the bishops who ordain them. In the last weeks media across the world has been resonating with responses to the decree.

Aussie WYD Pilgrims in Cologne when it was announced Sydney would be the host city

This decree is about exclusiveness. It is based on a belief that says men are more privileged and appropriate for ordination, than women. It alienates women who already do 75% of pastoral care in Australia. All the scholarly evidence indicates that there is no scriptural barrier to women's ordination in the Catholic Church. If Pope Benedict XVI or our Australian bishops for that matter, decided to ordain women to-morrow and lead on this important issue, they could.

The place of women in our Church…

Future generations live in a world where women's leadership and skills are widely recognized and valued. Our young people see the exclusion of women from ordination as sexist and importantly as inconsistent with the gospel message, as well as societal standards. This decree further alienates women, men and younger generations, who as Catholic parents have the responsibility for passing on the faith. This must surely be of concern to our bishops.

As today's young people take on the responsibilities of adulthood and they have to make judgments and decisions about professional ethics, corporate honesty, sexual practices, sexual preferences and birth control. Will the impressions of the WYD 2008 sustain them or will it seem irrelevant to their lives?

How responsible is the church being about WYD 2008 if it does not also move rapidly to address its own authoritarian practices that do not resonate with young people or that seem irrelevant to the challenges they face?

This is an issue for all of us who have had the gift of faith in our lives and who are concerned about ensuring that future generations benefit from this gift which has the power to nurture and sustain them through the challenges of life.

What has to happen to move the leaders of the Catholic Church from daily practices that portray an authoritarian God in contrast to the vision and practice of a God who beckons, a God of love and forgiveness?

It is as though our church leaders are embroiled in their own milieu to the extent that they either cannot, or do not want to see the way an authoritarian portrayal of faith is so alienating in to-day's society and is so unnecessary.

Many of our wonderful dedicated parish priests who are carrying enormous loads as their numbers dwindle say that they are compromised not only by the shortage of priests but also by this authoritarianism and a paralyzed episcopate. Although, some of our Australian bishops are courageous.

Why all the fear in the leadership levels of our Church?

Why are so many of our church leaders afraid of a faith based on the freedom of the gospel, a faith that relies on free will and understanding and puts its efforts into building the well informed conscience of its members, and most importantly, one that leaves judgments to God?

The Catholic faith has so much to offer the world's citizens at this time when understandings of social justice, democracy and reconciliation are crucial to resolving our challenges to peace and environmental survival.

The church's stance on issues of sexuality, women's ordination and leadership in the church frustrates believers, so that at best they are passive or withdrawn with feelings of hypocrisy about embracing their faith and the Catholic Church. It stultifies their natural spontaneity to worship and rejoice in their experience of God.

Pope Benedict XVI and our Australian bishops can lead in this urgently needed work of reshaping the practice of faith in the Catholic Church so that the gospel message is proclaimed for us and for future generations. Unless this happens the WYD celebrations, however well intentioned, will be simply irresponsible – more a con than a conversion.

Marilyn Hatton

Mother of three and grandmother, Marilyn Hatton's professional background is in public and social policy. Her interests include education, sustainable societies and environments, and transference of the Catholic faith to future generations.

LINK: OCW website —


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