Open to conversion, renewal and reform?

St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney. Photo by Fidel Fernando on Unsplash

St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney. Photo: Fidel Fernando on Unsplash

The sentence in the document that struck me as pivotal is the importance of a personal encounter with Christ as the basis of the life of faith. Without this, we have nothing to offer for renewal and reform attempts – or dare I say it - revolution. Yes, we need continuity with the past, but a "revolutionary continuity". To me, renewal and reform don't seem to highlight the nature of the required change.

The document focuses on three areas:

1. Governance and Leadership for ongoing renewal and reform

The answer given in this section is that we implement the full range of consultative bodies and assemblies recognized in canon law and that these be permanently established and convoked. The question that arises in my mind is, why wasn't this done 50 years ago at the end of the Second Vatican Council? Why say that the Council failed when we never tried it? Perhaps we tried it somewhat half-heartedly. But the cultural change that a move from clericalism requires, that would have realistically made the enterprise possible, wasn't there. Can we have hope now, because things are so bad that we have no other choice? It would make you wonder.

2. Ministry for mission as Disciples of Jesus

Structures are to serve the needs of mission, but as time goes by, structures no longer adequately serve their purpose. It is the way of institutions.

I am not personally one to overturn and abandon institutions and try to set up better ones in the mistaken belief that the new one will last the test of time. Institutions always need reformation. Institutions always tend to become moribund and not serve the purpose for which they were created. But the reality also is that movements cannot continue for long without institutionalization. Like a marriage, one needs to work on the institutionalized relationship to nourish it and give time and energy. The same with the Church. I have always felt strongly about reform from within because no matter how bad things are with whatever system, be that a legal, health, political, economic or cultural one or indeed a religious system – we need them and cannot throw them out. We can only reform them as these are essential.

I have no magic wand or an infallible way to do this except in the way the document lays out: a participatory, discerning and accountable system of governance and leadership at all levels of the Australian Church. A gospel motivated mission needs to align better with the Church's organizational structures, resources and personnel with the Church's mission. This takes hard yakka and deep faith, and hope in the future, not to mention a good deal of charity.

We are not to make superficial adjustments but rather authentic reform.

3. Becoming the Catholic Church with an Australian Face

The task of evangelization is always to inculturate the Gospel into a particular time and place. I am not sure why the document spoke of "enculturate" when the theological term generally used is "inculturate" but I think I understand what they are getting at. We need to be an Aussie Church even when we are not yet sure about what exactly an Aussie is.

Ecological consciousness and conversation along the lines of Laudato Si; a more serious relationship with Oceania; embracing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into the life of the Church; involving LGBTIQ+; broadening the eligibility for ordination; women in ministry including ordained ministry – are all a part of the mix.

Renewal demands a cultural change: from power to service, from dominion to communion; from a triumphalistic Church to a "Church which is poor and for the poor". Let's abandon "an elitist and exclusivist vision of vocation, that interprets the ministry received as a power to be exercised rather than as a free and generous service to be given" i are all necessary as our Pope tells us.

It will not be easy to genuinely see different races, sexual orientations and genders not as obstacles but rather as opportunities to grow. It will be a process. We need to respond pastorally to issues that tend to polarize Australian Catholics. The challenge is to dialogue with an openness to change perspective while still holding to legitimate Church moral positions. I have no magic bullet or blueprint for this except that everything be on the table, and that there be openness, and that the Holy Spirit be invoked.

The challenge will be to broaden, form and support the range of those who minister in parishes, dioceses and other Church activities. In this enterprise, parishes emerge as important centres for communion and renewal. To a macro problem, there is ultimately only a micro solution.

Columban Fr Warren Kinne lives and works on the Gold Coast.

i Address by His Holiness Pope Francis at The Opening Of The Synod Of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.

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