Australian bishop: 'authoritarian' church, compulsory celibacy, role of women cannot be brushed aside

by Thomas C. Fox

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Allow me to share with you some thoughts written recently by an uncommon bishop, Pat Power, the auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Canberra-Goulburn.

He writes with regret that groups calling for church reform are regularly dismissed "as trouble-makers with little love for the Church" when in fact "their hearts are breaking for the Church which they see as drifting further away from the message of the Jesus."

Then he adds that "maybe it has taken this present crisis to bring us all to our senses." He reminds his readers that in 1996 he gave a talk in which he expressed his hopes for the new model of church,

•a more human Church
•a humbler Church
•a less clerical Church
•a more inclusive Church (and therefore more truly catholic)
•a more open Church
•a Church which finds unity in diversity
•a Church which discovers its whole tradition
•a Church which truly reflects the person and values of Jesus.

Since then, he goes on, that he has restated these hopes many times since, including at the Oceania synod of bishops in Rome in 1998 "in the presence of Pope John Paul II, the future Pope Benedict XVI and my brother bishops." He adds: "Surely such aspirations are even more pressing today."

He continues:

The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) called by Pope John XXIII provided so many opportunities for reform by empowering the laity as part of the People of God, engaging with the modern world, other Churches and non-Christian religions, promoting religious freedom, encouraging greater participation in the liturgy, enabling all to have a deeper relationship with God. Unfortunately, these days we are more likely to be warned of the “excesses following Vatican II” or told of the need for “reform of the reform” in regard to the liturgy or the “re-interpretation of Vatican II”.

The reform needed by the Church today will involve much more than just “tinkering around the edges”. Issues such as the authoritarian nature of the Church, compulsory celibacy for the clergy, the participation of women in the Church, the teaching on sexuality in all aspects cannot be brushed aside. Listening must be a key component of reform and at times that will involve listening to unpalatable truths. It needs to be recognised that all wisdom does not reside exclusively in the present all male leadership of the Church and that the voices of the faithful must be heard.

At Easter I pointed out that it was largely Jesus’ female disciples who stood by him dying on Calvary, that Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the resurrection and that she could legitimately be called an apostle in that she was sent to bring the good news to the other followers of Jesus. I wondered aloud if the Church would be in its present state of crisis if women had been part of the decision-making in the life of the Church.

There may be people who question the views I am espousing, but I wish to re-state that there is a whole body of faithful Catholics who are saying “enough is enough” and that we all need to grasp this opportunity to enable the Church to be its best self in bringing the message of Jesus to its own adherents and to the wider society.

Thank you, Bishop Powers, for continuing to voice the hopes of countless disillusioned, hurting, faith-filled Catholics.

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