Leadership in our Church – a shared responsibility of service.

The only way that I can approach this topic is from a very personal viewpoint or “a view from the pews”. Leadership in our Church is an important issue that should and must engage us all. Yet, I proclaim neither special insights nor knowledge and in dealing with this topic I know that I may be out of step with many or even simply wrong. But leadership is my responsibility and it is yours. It is our collective responsibility.

The Second Vatican Council was a watershed in life of the Church inspired by the Holy Spirit, through people of courage and vision, and must remain for us a guiding light for the future of our Church throughout the world and in Australia. More than thirty years on, its relevance has grown, not diminished. Its spirit, and its messages, must be reinvigorated if our Church is to be a truly relevant Church for us and for those who will come after us. It is indeed, unfinished business.

Let us commence however by placing on record an overwhelming appreciation for the great leaders of our Church both past and present, who have allowed our Church in Australia to flourish over the last 200 years. When we look at our Church in this country, we can only be reminded of the great achievements of those who have come before us. Bishops, priests, religious and laity, together, built the Church in Australia and allowed it to flourish in all aspects of our lives and the life of the nation. In education, medicine and community services, our Church has been at the vanguard of caring and educating. As importantly, our Church has had a profound influence on the social, economic and political policies and dimensions of our community over time. The recent publication by Edmund Campion “Great Australian Catholics” illustrates to us the great depth and breadth of leadership within our Catholic community. Our Catholic leaders in all their fields of endeavour and enterprise stand as strong testimony to the vibrancy of our Church in this community and as part of the universal Church.

It is worthwhile to reflect on the changing characteristics of our Church in Australia. Campion reminds us that the initial church in Australia was a church of the laity. Without priests, our convict forebears continued the practice of the faith for almost thirty years at the start of the colony’s existence. It was not until 1820 that the first official priests were appointed to the colony being Frs Therry and Connolly. In those early days the Church was kept alive by the strong traditions and heritage of faith brought to this land by those first early settlers. But they like us adapted to the demands of a new and changing world. They were not saints, but they were committed to the faith. They accepted responsibility for the faith, as we must do today.

Campion goes on to describe the transformation of the Church over time in these terms:

“Throughout the 19th Century this rich, living popular religion was transformed by the priests: so that it became the Catholicism, most of it is new until just the other day: parochial, disciplined, observant, dutiful, obedient, fearful, guilty and sin obsessed; and also celebratory, colourful, comforting, heart-stirring, intelligent, pastoral and in the best sense sacramental.”

Described in another way it moved from a “frontier or colonial” Catholicism to “parished” Catholicism. Today I think it is true that in the post Vatican II era we are yet to fully understand this emerging third period. What is clear today is that in Australia we see profound changes in the nature of Catholicism in our community. Catholic schools for many has become the main connection with their faith experience, Australian-Catholics have become wealthier, more educated, more enquiring, less patient, less guilt ridden and, less observant. And yet more Australians claim themselves to be Catholics than any other religion, the numbers in our schools have continued to flourish and demand grows, the Catholic universities and theological colleges are full of laity seeking a greater understanding of the faith, the Catholic institutions delivering social aid and support have continued to grow and expand and Catholics hold senior political, business and community positions. So different from our early heritage!

Another central understanding was highlighted in the Statement of Conclusions released in 1999, following the Oceania Synod. As Fr Michael Whelan, in an article in The Mix, correctly indicated that the Statement perhaps for the first time truly articulated the nature of the Church in Australia as an egalitarian Church reflecting the nature of its people.

The Hon Sir Gerard Brennan, former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, in a recent speech, said, “Egalitarianism, tolerance and freedom in combination can be identified as the most fundamental and characteristic Australian values.” He went on to pose the very important question “but whom do the egalitarian Australians treat as equals“. Do these values pose a threat to the Church and faith in Australia as some claim? I believe that this is not so. Rather, they provide the very basis on which the Church can be strengthened, and faith refounded in our local community. The challenge is for leadership of our Church in this nation to be able to use these characteristics to energise our Church and our faith.

Who are our Leaders?

In considering this issue it is very important to understand that we are all followers, first and foremost. From the Successor of Peter to each parishioner we are all followers of Jesus Christ as revealed to us through the Gospel message. Our first and most important commitment is therefore to be true and worthy followers. Yet we all are called to be leaders. Leadership in Church is not something restricted to His Holiness, the Magisterium, individual bishops, priests or religious. Leadership comes to all of us in different ways, at different times. It takes many different forms and carries with it many varied responsibilities. As the people of God, as Church, we each have a vitally important role in the shared leadership of our Church.

Yet the nature of that leadership, the roles and responsibilities of that leadership differ greatly. It is important to understand that leadership is contextual. Contextual as to the time and place, and the role and responsibilities that we assume. There is no one model of leadership that suits all occasions and certainly not all times. A great leader at one time may be a poor leader at another time. A strong leader in one role may be a weak leader in another. But we do have guidance that is constant, and that is the model of leadership revealed by Jesus Christ through the Gospels. This remains the touchstone for leadership of the Church, today and into the future.

That model was of a loving, engaging father, who called children to him, encouraged them to ask questions, listened, explained and taught. He did not busy himself with structures of authority, as we know them today. His leadership and authority were born out of love and service to God and to the people. Yet he was strong and clear, just and fair, forgiving and compassionate in his leadership.

But what or who is Church?

This may seem a strange question but in many ways our Church seems to constantly struggle with this question.

Cardinal Edward Cassidy, past President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said in 1999 “The Catholic Church is not a national Church, nor is it made up of national churches, but it takes root and grows in different cultures, nations and peoples – one yet rich in its diversity.”

Cardinal Konig, the former Archbishop of Vienna, said:

How can or should the present structure of command, which in the past century has become so centralised be amended or improved? A gradual decentralisation is needed so as to strengthen the concern and responsibility of the college of bishops for the whole Church, under and with the Petrine office. That was the direction specified at the Second Vatican Council. At the same time the competence of individual bishops both locally and regionally needs to be strengthened. For they are the shepherds of their local Churches, the vicars of Christ in their own dioceses. That is why Vatican II described the Church as a communion of local churches.”

As Fr Michael Whelan pointed out:

The Second Vatican Council, in fact, gave no single image of the Church. It did, however, as Cardinal Konig implies here, begin to point to “communion” and “community” as terms of significance, emphasising collegiality, subsidiarity and the primacy of people over the law and structure, using terms like “people of god” and “pilgrim people” and recalling that it is the Sacrament of Baptism that gives us all, equally, our Christian identity.”


In the Apostolic Exhortation “Eccelesia in Oceania” 2001 Pope John Paul II said,

“…complemented and illustrated in the understanding of the Church as the People of God and the community of disciples. Church as communion recognises the basic equality of all Christ’s faithful lay, religious and ordained. The communion is shaped and enlivened by the Holy Spirit’s gifts of offices and charisms.”

Our Church is indeed the people of God. Each of us, men and women, has an equal right to participate in the full life of the Church because of the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. We all have an authentic role in the shared leadership of and responsibility for the Church, acknowledging the vastly different responsibilities and accountabilities and the different nature of authority given or earned, ministry or lay.

Whilst the Catholic Church is a universal Church, its life, its vitality and its energy is sourced through the Holy Spirit in and through local communities, cultures and peoples. It gives expression to itself in different ways and forms. Authentic leadership recognises this as something to be celebrated, something to be encouraged, such that it enriches the whole of the universal Church. Others, however, see this with fear, and rather than understanding how to use this great energy, seek to restrain it, inhibit it and reassert authoritarian ways. This type of leadership, lacking in vision and often full of fear, is not a leadership that can take the Church forward. It is not a leadership filled with the hopeful spirit of the risen Christ. It is often neither a just nor a compassionate leadership.

Another way of putting it is as stated by Bishop Brian Heenan, Bishop of Rockhampton, in his address to the Town Hall Forum on the Statement of Conclusions in 1999, when he said,

I believe it reflects what I have always believed, that tension always exists between the universal and the local Church and that will never change. I strongly believe that the Roman Curia has little hope of understanding and supporting the Local Church, living the Gospel in its own culture, unless it has reliable contact and deep respect for the inculturation of the Gospel.”


Leadership – Authoritarian or Engaging?

The Second Vatican Council sought to provide to the Church a new way forward in the understanding and exercise of leadership within our Church. Many then understood, more so than some today, that there were two models emerging which were in conflict with each other.

The Church model developed over the last few hundred years is closest to a military or authoritarian model in the traditional form. In that model the apex is the Chair of Peter. Down the pyramid flows the various levels of authority until at the base we find the people, parishioners or in military terms the troops. In this model authority flows down from the apex and accountability flows up from the base. Whilst in any military model self reliance is encouraged, at the end of the day it is a tightly structured organisation in which authority is paramount. This model attracts some. It is interesting in my experience that many who in their younger days rejected restrictions and authority actually enter into military, police or other similar services in the very desire to obtain that clarity of authority lacking in their lives. But it is equally true that the vast of majority of people do not. Likewise a highly authoritarian Church would attract some and turn away many others. This reflects the nature of humanity.

At the same time, however, the people of God were and are being encouraged by the Church to embrace democratic principles and practices. Throughout the world, particularly in recent times the Church has been the greatest proponent of democracy as encouraged by Pope John Paul II in Centesimus Annus. Just look at Poland. And in a democratic model, the triangle is turned upside down. At the top are the people who give authority to the lower levels to exercise power on their behalf and accountability flows up back to the people. Notions of transparency and accountability are all essential parts of the democratic processes.

It is not difficult therefore to see that those who seek to maintain a rigidly authoritarian model of Church must inevitably be in conflict with the very people of Church who have been encouraged to participate increasingly in democratic processes, processes that heighten the desire for active engagement, encourage questioning and promote shared responsibility.

The Second Vatican Council was a visionary attempt to bring those models together in a way that could work, accounting for the unique features of the Catholic Church including the Primacy of the Pope and the authentic communion of each Bishop with the Successor of Peter in a model of collegiality. The model seeks to maintain authority where it is appropriate and necessary, but seeks also to actively engage people at all levels from parishioners, priests, religious and bishops in the life well of the Church. It is vision of shared responsibility and leadership.

The great tragedy is that this visionary model may have been pared back and undermined over time.

Joseph Dunn in his text “No Lions in the Hierarchy”, says:

“After Vatican II, for a brief moment, the doctrine of collegiality looked as if it might be taken with real seriousness, and be expressed in structures like the synod which would actively encourage participation, openness and genuine communication. What has happened to that inspiring vision? Edmond Hill put the matter bluntly in Ministry and Authority, “the proposers and supporters of collegiality were naïve enough to hand over its implementation to its most committed opponents, who being anything but naïve have done their best to neutralise it ever since.”

There have now been ample demonstrations that some are seeking to move away from this vision.

This retreat from the vision of a new way forward for the Church also undermines much of the local initiatives within dioceses and parishes. The development of parish and pastoral councils, the active participation of laity, together with bishops and priests, has moved the Church forward in this nation. But with contradictory messages being sent from the Vatican, with a lack of openness and due process being exhibited, how can one be sure that these local and dynamic initiatives at diocesan and parish levels can be sustained.

More than thirty years on it is time to once again proclaim the vision of the Second Vatican Council, to seek a Church based on collegiality, openness, active engagement with its people, whilst at the same time maintaining and respecting the authority of His Holiness and the Magisterium, on matters central to our doctrines of faith. If we do not, then I fear that there will be an inevitable clash between the hopes and aspiration of people of Church and the demands and authority of the hierarchy of Church. For a more authoritarian model can no longer be compatible with or relevant to the reality of the lives of the people of God. More importantly it is not compatible with the Gospel image of leadership.

I am not proclaiming that there should be democratic church if that means “majority rules”. I do not believe that vast majority of the people in Church believe that political democracy is appropriate, but they do seek active engagement and participation, openness and transparency in the very matters that so centrally affect their lives. They don’t want a weak or indifferent Church or leaders whose opinions change with each new trend or view. They do want a compassionate, just and engaging Church that is capable of responding to their needs and aspirations, and responding to the demands of a modern world. Their love and loyalty is not in doubt. But neither should it be taken for granted.

Directed Autonomy

Archbishop John Quinn in his book, “The Reform of the Papacy”, says “at the practical level, centralisation (by the Vatican) to the degree that it now exists presents a growing and impossible task in a world church of such diversity and in an age of instant communication and rapid change.”

He looks at alternatives including what is described as directed autonomy as described by Robert Waterman,

“In directed autonomy, people in every nook and cranny of the company are empowered – encouraged, in fact – to do things their way. Suggestions are actively sought. But this all takes place within a context of direction. People know what the boundaries are; they know where they should act on their own and where not. The boss knows that his or her job is to establish those boundaries, then truly get out of the way.”

Perhaps we can learn from this in order to allow this worldwide Church to harness and celebrate legitimate and creative diversity.

Pope John Paul II in his Encyclical Ut Unim Sint (1995) said:

“Legitimate diversity is in no way opposed to the Church’s unity, but rather enhances her splendour and contributes greatly to the fulfilment of her mission.”

Leadership and Justice

One of the most important aspects of leadership within our Church is to encourage a Church that stands for justice in the world. There is no doubt that the Church in Australia and throughout the world has a proud record in recent times of articulating strong and just positions. Pope John Paul II is a champion of many causes for justice. Our own Australian Bishops Conference has issued many outstanding social justice statements based on quality research and strong moral traditions. The Church’s work in relation to recent issues concerning indigenous Australians, such as native title, reconciliation, asylum seekers, its continued commitment to a better and fairer deal for those most vulnerable in our community is obvious. The continued assertion of human rights in East Timor and in other countries is a clear illustration to the world and to the Australian community that the Church has not retreated from its call for a just society.

Leaders, be they lay, religious, priests or bishops, have an important role to play in public policy debates in this community and to seek to influence the national agendas. The greatest mistake that leaders within our Church would make would be to believe that their influence has lessened, or their right to speak out, or to actively participate in issues of public importance has diminished. Some would have you believe that is the case. Nothing could be further from the truth. The role of Church and its leaders in the articulation of a morally and ethically just framework, within which social and economic policy should be developed, will be immensely important in the years ahead. Tensions and divisions within our community will grow as inequality and injustice continues. The people of God and particularly our leaders, in all their different roles, have a clear responsibility to be at the forefront of reclaiming an ethical and moral agenda for this community.

However, is our own house in order? The only thing that diminishes our ability to influence this agenda is if we are seen to be hypocritical or inconsistent in our own approaches and practices. The principles of justice do not change depending on whether we are within or outside of Church. The call of Micah “to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with our God” does not have an extra line “but not in matters pertaining to Church affairs”.

Leadership based on justice and practised with compassion is essential to the ability to preach the authentic message of social justice to the world.

Leadership and Service

One of the most central elements to be understood of leadership is that it must be exercised as one of service.

I was heartened in the Statement of Conclusions, when in describing the role and responsibilities of the Bishop, the Statement said, “in his Episcopal ministry he is ever mindful that he is at the service of the people of God”. Yet in all the statements that followed, service is not mentioned again. Teaching, sanctifying and governing are reiterated many times and yet the true notion of service is not explored. How different this is from the approach of Jean Vanier when in his book “Community and Growth”, predominantly written for the L’Arche communities, he talks of authority as a gift and as one of service. He quotes:

“the Brothers in the Taize community no longer call their leader the ‘Prior’ but the ‘Servant of Communion’. This touches me deeply. Yes the leader’s role is to facilitate communion; a community is fundamentally more a place of communion than a place of collaboration…We must remember that for all of us, not only the leader, are called to be servants of communion.”

He reminds us that Jesus is the model of authority for Christians, and that on the night before he died he washed the feet of his disciples like a “common slave”.

This does not mean that a leader, either appointed or elected, does not have to make decisions, often decisions that will not necessarily be favoured by his or her community. To acknowledge leadership as a gift of service does not indicate a lack of strength, courage or the ability to take the hard decisions. But if one sees oneself as a servant, then one is fully conscious always, that leadership is exercised out of service and out of love, and not out of authority given or mandated.

In the authoritarian model that some promote for Church, this is often forgotten, or given second place. It is the very model in Church where authority is mandated or given, that places a greater onus on those who are leaders within our Church to listen to, to consult with, and to actively engage with those at whose service the leader is appointed. Yes, it is abundantly true that in our Church bishops and priests do hold special ministries. But it is also true that such ministries are exercised in the service of the people of God, through the love and grace of God.

It is often said that respect cannot be demanded or commanded, it can only be earned. In Church if authority, through leadership, is truly to be used as a gift of God then it must also be earned in the service of people.

Leadership and Encouragement

Edmund Campion in his reflection on the Great Australian Catholics, noted that in recent times leaders in our Church have become “encouragers”. In many senses the Second Vatican Council was about encouraging people, bringing to life the gifts and the talents that exist within all of us. It is said often that Pope John XXIII always preferred to affirm rather than to deny. “Today the Church prefers to use the medicine of mercy rather than severity,” he said. This seems to be highlighted by the Australian Bishops in their letter following the Statement of Conclusion when the Bishops stated that “to correct errors not by blunt use of authority, but through dialogue and persuasion.”

Some critics would say that this “encouraging” approach has failed in Australia. Some even scorn this approach and call for a tougher approach. If we were to simply look at the number of people who no longer actively participate in the sacramental life of our Church but still call themselves Catholics, we might accept that judgement. But that would be an ill-conceived and simplistic judgement. At the same time that our active numbers have been in decline so too has the participation in so many other areas of community life generally. The Church’s decline in active participants takes place at a time when we have seen the rapid increase in individualism, materialism and consumerism promoted through media, economic policies and often by governments. We have been through recent periods where “greed was good”, where individual self attainment was all that mattered and now even during the periods of economic growth there is an increased effort to further marginalise those who are already most vulnerable in our community. At the same time those already advantaged are being further advantaged. So is our Church failing or is it the conjuncture at a period of time of many other factors well beyond the immediate control of our Church? Yes, we as Church do share a responsibility, and it is not a time for complacency. It is time for careful reflection, considered (not simplistic) judgement and new vision. It is not a time for introspection, blame, and turning back the clock of time. It is not a time to see a style of leadership more keen to admonish than to encourage.

Leadership and Laity

As I have indicated in this paper, the leadership of our Church rests with all, laity, religious, priests, bishops and the Successor of Peter. It is important however to touch specifically on the role of laity and leadership in our Church. Following the Second Vatican Council, Australia embraced the role of the laity in a dynamic and vibrant manner in many areas, less so in others.

The emergence of pastoral and parish councils generally, at diocesan and parish levels was one indication. The significant increase in the number of men and women participating in various aspects of Church life increased dramatically. We saw the Bishops Conference appointing committees and commissions involving the laity, religious, as well as priests, to examine issues of social justice, peace and development. Catholic agencies such as Centacare, Caritas Australia and so on, all have at senior leadership positions, the laity as well as priests and religious. Many of our hospitals, schools, colleges and universities function with predominantly lay leadership deeply committed to the Faith.

Yet it is true that there was and is a growing disquiet or discomfort by some in Church. This clearly is behind the sentiments expressed in the Statement of Conclusions on the laity. The Statement recognised the vital commitment to the mission of the Church in the world by the laity and recognises our unique role in the mission of the Church that flows from the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.

The Statement however raised concerns in relation to collaboration of the lay faithful, in the section dealing with the Priests. It says:

“Despite the goodwill involved, in the sometimes functional approach to priesthood, the identity of the priest has been further clouded when tasks have been entrusted to laity that belong to the ministerial priesthood. There has, at times, been a concomitant excessive involvement of the priest that should be attended to by committed and well-informed laity. This situation has had the effect of blurring the lines between baptism and priesthood and the ministerial priesthood with negative effects on both. Clarity in this area is essential for many reasons, not least of which are the preservations of the authentic identity of both priest and laity, good order within the Church and the promotion of vocations.”

Indeed it is right and proper that we should examine the roles of laity and priests. A vicar-general of a Diocese spoke to me of his concern in relation to the priests in his diocese some years ago. He said that when he visited presbytery after presbytery there was in the eyes of those priests a deep sense of loneliness and uncertainty. In many ways, we had busied ourselves with the role of the laity following Vatican II and insufficiently with the role of the priest in the modern Church. That these roles should not be blurred is accepted. His Holiness continues to draw distinctions between the roles of clergy and laity. It is said by some that ministry is only for the clergy, and that a clear distinction must be drawn with the laity. Perhaps that is so, for nobody denies a very special ministry for priests within our Church. They have a unique relationship with their bishops and in turn with the Holy Office.

Yet it is equally true that the role of the laity, in active participation with the clergy, provides the greatest resource, energy and dynamic interaction for the future growth of our Church, both locally and universally. There is a need for clarification of those roles. But it would be a mistake to move backwards, to seek to reassert authority of priests where such authority is misplaced and unnecessary. In Australia as in much of the western world, the decline in the number of priests has meant a re-evaluation of the way in which our parishes are structured. Already we see that much of the responsibility for the organisation of parishes now rests with lay people. This should not surprise us for it was and is exactly the same in missionary countries with the small number of priests, the large distances and massive populations. The Church lived and breathed, came into being and continues through the active involvement of the laity. Perhaps it was only for a relatively short period of time in the Church’s long life where such was other than the case. Perhaps an abundance of priests was the true aberration not the current shortages.

But it is not the shortages of priests that should dominate our thinking in relation to the future structures and the future leadership of our Church nor the future roles and responsibilities of priests and laity. Whether or not there is a surge or shortage in the number of priests, it should not impact on the way that we see the critically important involvement, participation, and leadership by the laity, both men and women, within our Church.

If we were only prepared to recognise the role of the laity as active participants in the leadership of Church because of the lack of priests then this would be a tragedy.

As Archbishop Weakland, former head of the Benedictine order, stated recently:

“the laity have their right to participate in the mission of the Church by reason of Baptism. It is not a shared ministry, delegated by a priest or bishop to them.”

It may not be the same ministry as that of priest or bishop but it is the same mission. I can only urge that the blossoming of the laity not be crushed or hindered, but rather that we forge new ways of sharing in the mission of the Church – together, united, as one, recognising the differences and celebrating the diversity of our contributions. Let us train and skill our laity to give full witness to their mission as leaders.

Campion in “Australian Catholics” published in 1987 finished with the quote from Melbourne writer Wendy Poussard who in 1982 spoke these words:


“Among people who say, ‘I am a Catholic’, I see revival of confidence, a resurgence of Catholic culture. Twenty hard years after Vatican II, I once again hear the voice of the laity claiming our identity. We are the Church. We belong to the past and the future, to the people, to one another. We will determine in the end what the Church is and does. The ministerial servants of Church are accountable to us. The windows are still open.”



Whilst I may share that vigour and enthusiasm, I cannot accept that the ministerial servants of the Church are accountable to us in such unqualified terms. Nor do I believe the laity in the end will of itself determine what the Church is or does, for the laity are not the holders of all wisdom. But I do believe that unless there is active shared leadership within the Church, both lay and clerical, men and women, then the resurgence of the Catholic culture, will at best be delayed, and at worst but an empty dream. There are those who believe that the very nature of authority and accountability in the Church should be radically changed. Perhaps they are right. I am less ambitious in my aspirations. Mine is simply to bring to life the vision that was given to us by the Holy Spirit in the Second Vatican Council, adapted for our time and place in History.

Leadership and the Australian Challenges

It is time for us to re-engage in the necessary dialogue about the future direction of our Church in Australia and throughout the world. To meet the challenges we will need strong but compassionate leaders at all levels within our Church.

The challenges to be confronted include redefining the nature of Catholic communities in Australia to meet the rapidly changing nature of a modern world, attracting young people back to the active participation in the Church, the continued maintenance of a strong voice in issues of social justice in an increasingly secular and inequitable world, the ability to re-engage with those who are poor and marginalised, to confront openly and honestly the hopes and aspirations of women members of our Church and their rightful place in the leadership of Church, and many other issues. They will need to be leaders who can build community rather than impose rules. They will need to allow the evolution of new, different and dynamic communities of faith to meet the changing needs and aspirations of the faithful.

To meet these challenges leaders who are able to capture the spirit of the Second Vatican Council and the special characteristics of the people of God in Australia will be required.

We will require bishops who, appointed after consultation with the Catholic community, are able to embrace a spirit of leadership that is open and welcoming. They will need to embrace new emerging models of Catholic community and centres of faith to meet the needs of the faithful. Loyal to the Magisterium of the Church, clear in their statements on moral and theological issues, yet welcoming of consultation, participation and engagement with all members of the faithful. They will need to be people who are able to stand in strong defence of the Church and the teachings of Jesus Christ, and will be able to articulate with courage, the social teachings of the Church. They will need to be people prepared to enter into public debates when needed, accepting criticism in defence of the fundamental principles that underpin the spiritual and social teachings of our Church. They will need to be people who have a commitment to community and as a consequence will pursue vigorous engagement with religious, lay and priests, in exploring fundamental issues of concern to the faithful. Above all they must embrace the role of the faithful in the shared leadership of Church.

Our priests will need to continue to explore ways of becoming even greater teachers of the Gospel, articulated in terms relevant to the hopes and aspirations of the faithful and of our current times. They must be great teachers, rather than great organisers or administrators. They must believe in the development of actively engaged communities, where leadership is a shared responsibility. They must, with the faithful develop practical means and ways that allow the full participation of religious, laity and those currently excluded, in the life and leadership of the local Catholic community. They must explore and encourage new models of faith communities to meet the demands and opportunities of the modern world. The community of faithful must recognise, encourage and support the role of the priest in the life of those communities, as pastor and teacher.

Religious leaders face great challenges as religious institutions go through great change. They must be people who have the love and the loyalty of their congregations to bring about the changes necessary to meet the new needs. They will be people capable, together with their counsellors, in identifying the needs particularly of those most vulnerable in our community. They must be leaders who are prepared to articulate the social teachings of the Church, enter into public debate when necessary and to take a stand based on the rich heritage and integrity of the works of their orders. They will be required to seek ways to ensure the charisms of their institutions live on but in new ways and that their resources are used to promote the gospel message in word and deed especially for those most vulnerable. They must never relinquish their responsibility to enliven and enrich the lives of the faithful.

The laity must share responsibility for the future of the Church community in Australia by accepting responsibility for both the strengths and weaknesses that exist within our Church. They must be prepared to explore new models of community to encourage all the faithful to full participation in the life of the Church. They will claim their rightful role in the shared leadership of their local and other Catholic communities, always working with our priests, recognising their special ministry as pastor and teacher. They too must be prepared to study the social teachings of the Church, then bring them to life in their local communities.

A Way Ahead

Archbishop Weakland in his book “Faith and the Human Enterprise” said this:

“In Church we need today a new and positive approach, one that will unite us, we need a new and hopeful vision of our role towards this world here and now.

“We need a new agenda, one that is positive but discerning, true to the Gospel and tradition but not afraid to raise the right questions for Church and cultures today, one that is humble but not fearful.

“What structures are best for this moment of history, so that both the unity of being and the plurality of cultural expression can be held together in that kind of creative tension that will bear fruit for the Church as it relates to the world?”

That is the challenge that now confronts us. We need to re-energise the vision of Vatican II not diminish it. We need to continue to modify the structures and processes of Church to allow the emergence of new and reformed Catholic communities in which responsibility and leadership are shared. We need a Church that can respond to the questioning of the faithful in our modern world, and not be fearful of it. We need to do so in an environment of prayerful collaboration, respect and openness.

We raise issues not to weaken our communion with Church or each other, but rather because we wish to strengthen it. We do so because we are concerned and committed to maintaining, indeed, growing and re-energising the Church in Australia and in the world.

Our Church must be welcoming and open to the issues raised and willingly seek to address the concerns of a questioning faithful in a modern demanding world.

The struggles and tension that I have highlighted in this paper are not new and my analysis not original and possibly flawed. But they are issues that confront all of us as followers and as leaders.

Leadership is our shared responsibility. Our guide, however, is Christ himself, who shows us that leadership and authority are gifts from God to be used in the love and service of the people of God.




Brennan, Sir Gerard, Discerning the Australian Social Conscience, The Jesuit Lecture Series, Jesuit Publications, 1999.

Campion, Edmund, Australian Catholics, Viking Press, Australia, 1987.

Campion, Edmund, Great Australian Catholics, Aurora Books, Australia, 1997.

Cassidy, Cardinal, The Catholic Weekly, 8 August 1999, Sydney.

Dunn, Joseph, No Lions in the Hierarchy, Columbia Press, Dublin, 1999.

Heenan, Bishop Brian, The Town Hall Public Forum on the Statement of Conclusions, Catalyst for Renewal, Sydney, 1999.

Quinn, John R, The Reform of the Papacy, Herder and Herder, New York, 1999.

Vanier, Jean, Community and Growth, 2nd Revised Edition, St Paul Publications, 1989.

Waterman, Robert H, The Renewal Factor, Bantam Books, New York, 1987.

Weakland, Archbishop Rembert, Faith and the Human Enterprise, Orbis Books, USA, 1992.

Whelan, Fr Michael, The Town Hall Public Forum on the Statement of Conclusions, Catalyst for Renewal, Sydney, 1999.

Leadership in Our Church – Workshop Notes

Over the two workshops a lively discussion ensued in relation to the role of leadership in our Church. The following only highlights some of the key points made and does not attempt to create a consensus view:

Leadership is a shared responsibility for all who call themselves Church. It does not rest with one person or one position. The question remains whether we are all prepared to accept the challenges and obligations that go with shared leadership.

Leadership is often misunderstood and confused with good management or administrative capacity. Leadership is the ability to engage people with good management skills, to tap into those with true vision, to be a catalyst for using other people’s talents and bringing the collective gifts into a powerful alliance for a common good or purpose.

Leadership must be informed, listening, able to discern the gifts of others, supportive and encouraging.

Leadership in Church is missionary, it can only be exercised in the real world, not simply within Church constructs. True leadership in Church is one that can build and encourage a multiplicity of communities; operating differently but all centred in the Christian event – the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The military model of leadership and restrictive hierarchal structures are no longer appropriate to enliven the Church in the modern era. The notion of “leadership circles”, where all are actively engaged in the ministry of leadership is a more appropriate model than the traditional top down pyramid.

Respect can never be imposed but can only be earned. True leadership earns respect, through authentic service to the leaders community.

Servant leadership takes years to learn. Not only must the leaders understand the true role of the servant but also the followers.

The role of leadership in the family by parents must be given greater recognition. It is a leadership role equal to other leadership roles in the Church.

Parish leadership must be about facilitating and co-ordinating the myriad of communities that can legitimately exist within the parish community – at schools, within workplaces, around youth, in retirement villages, as well as the worshipping community on Sunday.

Shared responsibility for leadership and Church will not be achieved until the issues of the role of women in Church are advanced and movement made towards the ordination of married men and women.

Language can be either divisive or inclusive. We must be careful in the use of our language, especially that which can alienate others or appear to create elite or class structures.

The role of the follower must be more fully explored and developed. In part it is to invest the leader with the ability and authority to lead. Without engaged and informed followers, leadership will always fail.

Leadership is always contextual as to time, place and role. Expectations that a person will always be a great leader in all circumstances is flawed and the current models in Church which appoint people for life or very long periods, in an ever changing world, may lead to unachievable expectations and ultimately failed leadership.

Leadership requires a real engagement in the world as it is, whilst seeking to change it, based on the gospel message. It requires courageous action and advocacy.

Leadership in the Catholic Church will be transformed, if we can truly embrace ecumenism. Alternative models of leadership in other religious bodies will help inform the role of religious leadership in our Church in the modern world.

Pope John Paul II has called for a re-examination of the Papacy in his encyclical Ut Unim Sint (Christian Unity). This should be