Vatican II

33 Max Vodola Vatican II – The Politics of ‘Aggiornamento’

The Politics of ‘Aggiornamento’

Max Vodola

Contemporary Catholicism is often plagued by ideological rhetoric rather than robust debate when it comes to discussing the significance and implications of the Second Vatican Council. Two conflicting and controversial views often prevail. The first view, expounded by traditionalists, is that the Council was “too much, too soon”. They believe that it was a giant and unnecessary program of reform that was instituted suddenly and with insufficient preparation. They believe that the questions associated with the rapid development of human history following World War II would not have intruded on the Church’s life had it not been for the Council.

One gains the distinct impression that many of these traditionalists wish the Council never took place.

The second view, expounded by more liberal voices in the Church, believe that the “spirit of the Council” has slowly been rescinded by the power of the Roman bureaucracy, particularly during the pontificate of John Paul II. These advocates often feel a sense of disenchantment with the Church and long for the day of the Third Vatican Council in the hope of recreating at some future time what was done in the excitement of the early 1960s. Their sense of disenchantment is sometimes mixed with deep feelings of nostalgia.

Much of the debate centres around the figure of John XXIII and the sudden and extraordinary change that he instituted. However, it was not change for the sake of change. Pope John wanted the Church to discern the signs of the times and renew itself in the light of the Gospel. To do so required a certain amount of aggiornamento (updating), that somewhat ambiguous and politically divisive word which is at the heart of the ideological turbulence so evident in the Church from the very moment the Council was announced. It is a term intimately and controversially linked with the memory of John XXIII.

I suggest there are two important and sometimes overlooked factors here. The first is that aggiornamento has firm pastoral and intellectual foundations in the tradition of the Church and was incredibly formative in the life of Pope John himself.

Secondly, the Catholic Church had in fact begun a very slow and subtle process of aggiornamento, particularly in the areas of liturgy, biblical scholarship and the lay apostolate, long before John XXIII called the Council in 1959. The present controversies about the Council are fundamentally about John XXIII and the politics of change, its necessity, implementation and most importantly, the way change is interpreted in the history of the Church.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, change was not on the agenda of Pope St Pius X (1903-14). In fact, he was an anti-intellectual fighter against many changes that he considered evil. Pius X ensured, by his unrelenting crusade against Modernism, that the fortress-like structure of the Catholic Church would resist any form of change. He placed suspect writings on the Index of Prohibited Books and condemned many modern propositions from historico-critical methods in theology to liberal democratic principles in politics.

In his encyclicals, Lamentabili and Pascendi, both issued in 1907, Pius X used strong words of condemnation and gave orders that all dioceses were to establish a Council of Vigilance and all priests were to take an oath disavowing Modernism.

There was a flood of suspicion and reprisal. Liberal Catholic periodicals were suppressed, and seminary teachers and academics were disgraced and dismissed. According to the eminent Catholic historian, Eamon Duffy, the impact of the Modernist crisis on Catholic intellectual life was catastrophic (Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes, Yale University Press 1997, 251).

However, in one of the great ironies of history, a number of developments in the life of the Church had in fact set Catholicism on the path of aggiornamento. Pius X is best and somewhat fondly remembered for lowering the age for first communion and encouraging frequent, even daily, communion by the faithful. According to Owen Chadwick, this amounted to a revolution in the liturgical practice of worship:

“Historians, in hindsight, if asked which act of which pope did most to affect the Church since 1800, would put their finger on this change of 1905-6, the encouragement of frequent, even daily communion, and the receiving of it by children “(A History of the Popes: 1830-1914, Oxford University Press, 1998, 362).

This development also coincided with the beginning in Europe of what came to be known as the liturgical movement, which began with small groups of scholars who promoted dialogue Masses, vernacular translations of sacramental rites, lay participation and the study of the history and spirituality of the Church’s public worship.

Despite opposition to these liturgical developments, Rome encouraged such lay participation. This was the beginning of restoring the organic unity and sacramental integrity of the liturgy, which had been weighed down by excessive rubrical encumbrances since the Council of Trent.

If Pius X can be recognised for initiating liturgical changes, then Pius XI (1922-39) deserves the credit for encouraging the rapid expansion of Catholic Action, a major effort by the Church to organise, encourage and develop the participation of the laity in the mission of the Church. This development was the cornerstone of what the Second Vatican Council came to articulate as the unique and indispensable place of the laity in the life of the Church, the universal priesthood of all believers and the universal call to a life of holiness in the world.

The apostolate of Catholic Action flourished in Europe through the efforts of the Belgian priest, Joseph Cardijn, and those who joined him in his efforts.

He established the Young Christian Workers (YCW) and encouraged the discussion and dissemination of Catholic social principles according to the real life situation of the participants, through his well-known model: ‘See, Judge and Act’. The aim of the YCW was to bring Christian moral principles to bear on modern industry and to keep the young of the working classes within the life of the Church by forming them as peer leaders in their own right and not merely as delegates of the clergy.

In Australia, Catholic Action began tentatively in 1931 with the formation of the Campion Society at Melbourne University. The suffering of the Depression sparked the beginnings of a new social and philosophical awareness among members of a small group of young Catholic intellectuals and university students. This group included men such as Denys Jackson, Frank Maher, Kevin Kelly and BA Santamaria. They established the highly successful Catholic Worker newspaper and were instrumental in the formation of the Australian National Secretariat of Catholic Action. (See Bruce Duncan’s Crusade or Conspiracy? Catholics and the Anti-Communist Struggle in Australia, UNSW Press, 2001.)

The enhanced role of the laity continued to take shape during the long pontificate of Pius XII, who authorised a number of further significant developments in the life of the Church. These were relatively creative for their time and continued the process of aggiornamento.

On 29 June 1943, the Pope issued the encyclical Mystici Corporis (On the Mystical Body of Christ). This represented a move towards a more organic and sacramental definition of the Church rather than a strictly juridical one that treated the Church only as a hierarchical and entirely supernatural institution.

In a similar way, Mediator Dei (On the Sacred Liturgy), published on 20 November 1947, addressed issues such as the vernacular in the liturgy and the active participation of the lay faithful. In addressing the issue of enhancing public worship in the life of the Church, this encyclical gave birth to the more modern liturgical movement which, in 1955, was instrumental in reforming the entire Holy Week cycle and restoring the liturgical prominence of the Easter Vigil.

As a young seminarian in Rome, Angelo Roncalli embraced with enthusiasm the study of history, archaeology, secular and religious art. His preference was Patristics. At twenty years of age he wrote:

“I do not hold critical thinking in contempt and I will guard against having sinister thoughts about critics or lacking in respect for them; quite the contrary, I like critical studies and I will enthusiastically follow the latest results of research; I will keep up with new systems, with their constant development, and I will study their tendencies; critical investigation is light and truth for me: and truth is holy, and there is only one truth …I shall take comfort in the fact that God arranges everything for the sacred treasure of his Revelation to become ever clearer and purer”(Loris Capovilla, John XXIII: Witness to the Tenderness of God, Mediaspaul, 2001, 25).

In the midst of the great anti-Modernist crusade of the early twentieth century, Roncalli began lecturing in ecclesiastical history at the local seminary in Bergamo, northern Italy. He was sympathetic to those writers and intellectuals who attempted to reconcile faith and reason. He was particularly fond of Antonio Rosmini (1797-1855), priest, patriot and philosopher who devoted his life to reconciling Catholicism with modern political and scientific thought.

Roncalli was also fond of Cesar Baronius (1538-1607), the father of ecclesiastical history. In a lecture at the Bergamo seminary in December 1907 to commemorate the third centenary of the death of Baronius, Roncalli began to speak a language that would later become the hallmark of his pontificate and an essential intellectual framework of the Second Vatican Council.

In speaking of Baronius, Roncalli defended historical criticism and claimed that Baronius had quite rightly been hailed as the founder of this scholarly method. It meant that Roncalli could cautiously assert that the Church had been the first in the field of historical criticism.

This was a clever move of tactical brilliance. According to Roncalli, the general renewal of Catholic scholarship promoted by Baronius was still on the agenda, despite the Modernist controversy that had begun to engulf the Church in a tense atmosphere of suspicion, fear and ecclesiastical sanction. (On becoming pope in 1958, he visited the Holy Office and asked to see his personal file, which contained details of his early career. It was marked: “Suspected of Modernism”. See Paul Johnson, Pope John XXIII, Hutchinson & Co, 1974, 37.)

Soon after his time as a lecturer in ecclesiastical history, Roncalli was appointed secretary to the Bishop of Bergamo, Giacomo Radini Tedeschi. This appointment would have a profound influence on the future pope. He was Tedeschi’s secretary from 1905 to 1914.

Tedeschi was both mentor and father figure to Angelo Roncalli. From this unique vantage point, Roncalli accompanied Tedeschi as he re-organised the diocese, issued pastoral letters, organised Catholic Action and major congresses, revised the seminary curriculum and undertook the patient and time-consuming task of parochial visitation. Roncalli described the Synod of 1910 as the most solemn and important event of Tedeschi’s episcopate.

There had been no synod in Bergamo since 1742. At the Synod of 1910, local customs and laws were brought into line with the needs of modern times and altered circumstances. (A. Roncalli, My Bishop: A Portrait of Mgr Giacomo Maria Radini Tedeschi, Geoffrey Chapman, 1969, 92.)

Another undertaking of a more academic nature would make an enormous pastoral impression on the future pope. As a young history lecturer Roncalli became very interested in the life of St Carlo Borromeo (1538-84), the brilliant and distinguished Archbishop of Milan, who undertook major reform in that diocese after the Council of Trent. Roncalli undertook the monumental task of translating all the pastoral decrees, spiritual exhortations and synodal instructions issued by Borromeo and publishing them in a five-volume series, the last of which was completed soon after his election as pope.

In Borromeo, Roncalli found an intelligent and zealous pastor. In order to reform the diocese, Borromeo undertook meticulous pastoral visitation, followed by an extensive diocesan synod. He convoked six provincial councils and eleven diocesan synods.

Roncalli adopted Borromeo’s belief that the diocesan bishop is the authentic agent of pastoral renewal in his diocese and not some Roman bureaucrat. Following his election to the papacy in October 1958, Roncalli insisted that the papal coronation take place on 4 November, a Wednesday rather than the traditional Sunday. It was the feast of St Carlo Borromeo.

The influence of Borromeo was clearly evident when Roncalli convoked the diocesan synod of Venice in 1957, following an extensive round of pastoral visitation throughout the diocese. It was a year before his election to the papacy. In his pastoral letter to the priests and people of Venice, he wrote:

“You’ve probably heard the word aggiornamento repeated so many times. Well, Holy Church who is ever youthful wants to be in a position to understand the diverse circumstances of life so that she can adapt, correct, improve and be filled with fervour. That in brief is the nature of the Synod, and that is its goal” (Peter Hebblethwaite, John XXIII: Pope of the Council, Harper Collins, 1984, 264).

(Fr Max Vodola was ordained for the Melbourne archdiocese in 1997 and is currently pastor at St Joseph the Worker, North Reservoir, Vic.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

32 Michael Whelan SM Vatican II – The Journey from Here

The Journey from Here

Michael Whelan

On October 11, 2002, Catalyst for Renewal held a dinner to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. What follows is the text from the presentation by Michael Whelan.

In his speech at the Opening Session of the Second Vatican Council on this day in 1962, Pope John XXIII chided the “prophets of doom”, people who “behave as if they had learned nothing from history…. and as if in the time of the preceding ecumenical Councils everything represented a complete triumph for Christian ideas and for Christian life and for rightful religious liberty”.

Pope John clearly envisaged a Council like no other in the history of the Church. In an exhortation – Sacrae laudes – he had referred to the Church “crossing the line into a new age”. The Church could not simply go on, business as usual. Archbishop Capovilla – John’s secretary in Venice and Rome – recalls the words of Pope John to him on the eve of the announcement of the Council in January 1959:

“The world is starving for peace. If the Church responds to its Founder and rediscovers its authentic identity, the world will gain. I have never had any doubts against faith. But one thing causes me consternation. Christ has been there on the cross with his arms outstretched for two thousand years. Where have we got to in proclaiming the Good News? How can we present his authentic doctrine to our contemporaries?”

Aggiornamento (ie “updating”) was needed. And a new attitude was also needed: “Nowadays”, the Pope said in that same Opening Speech,

“The Spouse of Christ prefers to use the medicine of mercy rather than severity. She considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations … (We must, therefore) earnestly and fearlessly … dedicate ourselves to the work our age demands of us”.

Thus the first “pastoral” Ecumenical Council in the history of the Church came into being – a new style of Council for a new time. The Council documents – both in content and style – reflect this pastoral intent, this new mood. Words and concepts such as “people of God”, “pilgrim Church”, “the universal call to holiness”, “collegiality”, “co-responsibility” and “communion”, became common currency. The privilege and responsibility of all the baptised was beginning to re-emerge as the primary determinant of the Church and the way it would function in the coming generations.

If you are looking for dogmatic definitions or the resolution of issues, it would be disconcerting to read the documents of the Council. Those documents, like the Council itself, are an invitation to explore new and more fruitful ways of being Church.

The Second Vatican Council marked the end of a certain way of being Church – an imperial form that had emerged in the fourth and fifth centuries. This form of Church had been consolidated through subsequent centuries by such events as the Gregorian Reform of the 11th century, the Council of Trent of the 16th century and the Counter Reformation that was set in train there, and the First Vatican Council of the 19th century and the definition of papal infallibility that emerged there.

The Catholic Church entering the middle of the 20th century was more of a sanctuary from the world than a sign in it. John XXIII – and many others – saw that this situation could not continue. What they did not see – and perhaps could not have seen – was that the Catholic population and particularly the bishops and clergy were utterly unprepared for what was about to happen.

John XXIII died on June 3, 1963 – a matter of a few months after the Council had begun. The Council Fathers – for the most part – had welcomed Pope John’s invitation to seek out a new way of being Church. The clearest manifestation of this – and a sign of things to come – was their wholesale rejection of the schemas presented by the preparatory commissions as not corresponding with the spirit of aggiornamento requested by Pope John. Would the next Pope have the courage to continue the journey?

Cardinal Montini, Archbishop of Milan, was elected as John’s successor on June 21 – eighteen days after John’s death. He took the name of Pope Paul VI. In a speech broadcast to the whole world on the following day, Saturday June 22, 1963, he gave an unhesitating and unambiguous “Yes” to the Council. He went on to say that his entire pontificate would be devoted to the Council. The Second Session of the Council opened three months later on September 29, 1963.

Just before the Third Session of the Council opened on September 14, 1964, Paul VI published his first encyclical – Ecclesiam suam. In this encyclical the Pope formally introduced the word “colloquium” – meaning “conversation” or “dialogue” – into the Church’s vocabulary, and with it one of the critical mechanisms for moving forward towards a whole new way of being Church.

Paul VI was pointing to a Church that finds its very existence in and through the “colloquium salutis” – “the conversation of salvation” (ie God’s conversation of liberating love). In this encyclical we read:

“We need to keep ever present this ineffable, yet real relationship of the dialogue, which God the Father, through Christ in the Holy Spirit, has offered to us and established with us, if we are to understand the relationship which we, i.e., the Church, should strive to establish and to foster with the human race” (71).

The Church was beginning to rediscover its raison d’être – to be a sign of the liberating love of God in and for the world – and thus the journey from an imperial model of Church towards a Gospel model of Church was beginning to take shape.

The practical implications of Pope Paul’s dialogical vision are considerable. In Ecclesiam suam we hear him say, for example:

“The Church should enter into dialogue with the world in which it exists and labours” (65);

“The dialogue ought to characterise our Apostolic Office (ie the papacy)” (67);

“The child is invited to it; the mystic finds a full outlet in it” (70);

“This type of relationship indicates a proposal of courteous esteem, of understanding and of goodness on the part of the one who inaugurates the dialogue; it excludes the a priori condemnation, the offensive and time-worn polemic and emptiness of useless conversation” (79);

“The dialectic of this exercise of thought and of patience will make us discover elements of truth also in the opinions of others, …. The dialogue will make us wise; it will make us teachers” (83);

“And before speaking, it is necessary to listen, not only to a person’s voice, but to the person’s heart. People must first be understood – and, where they merit it, agreed with” (87).

The ongoing “colloquium”, says Pope Paul VI, must by fostered in four “circles of dialogue” – with the whole of humanity, with those of other religious traditions; with those Christians who are not Catholics and with other Catholics. Of the last “circle” he says: “It is our ardent desire that this conversation with our own children should be full of faith, of charity, of good works, should be intimate and familiar” (113).

One of the most immediate, practical and significant challenges we face, if we are to move forward according to this vision of John XXIII, the Council and Pope Paul VI, is that of facilitating discontinuity amidst continuity and maintaining continuity amidst discontinuity. This will require a new kind of thinking – the kind of thinking that John Henry Newman seems to be implying in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine when he writes:

“(An idea’s) vital element needs disengaging from what is foreign and temporary, and is employed in efforts after freedom which become more vigorous and hopeful as its years increase. Its beginnings are no measure of its capabilities, nor of its scope. At first no one knows what it is, or what it is worth. It remains perhaps for a time quiescent; it tries, as it were, its limbs, and proves the ground under it, and feels its way. From time to time it makes essays which fail, and are in consequence abandoned. It seems in suspense which way to go; it wavers, and at length strikes out in one definite direction. In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter their bearing; parties rise in and around it; dangers and hopes appear in new relations; and old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often” (cf Chapter 1, Section 7).

We could put the challenge of this kind of thinking in the form of different questions, such as:

How can we develop a consciousness that is at once imbued with and utterly faithful to the tradition, yet open to new possibilities for the expression of the Gospel today?

How do we admit that we have been wrong without losing faith in the teaching role of the Church or eroding our conviction that God is with us until the end of days?

This is neither the time nor the place to attempt a thorough treatment of this most complex and difficult issue. However, I raise it here because I believe there is a deep-seated fear, in the minds of many – implicitly or explicitly, consciously or unconsciously – that the discontinuity is sabotaging or will sabotage the continuity. As a result of this fear the continuity we are stuck with is not serving us well. Or, to put it more bluntly, our inability to incorporate into our thinking and deal well with the fact that we are able to make mistakes is imprisoning us.

That said, there are some very significant signs of hope in this regard. Consider the quantum leap that we have found it possible to make with respect to our relations with other Christian Churches. Implicit in that is an admission that we did get it badly wrong – at least in some respects. Of course, it goes without saying that the journey towards greater understanding of and more cooperation with our brothers and sisters of other Christian faiths has barely begun.

Consider further, the enormous changes we have made in the liturgy, despite the 16th century proclamation by Pius V that the Tridentine Missal was to remain the norm forever. Again, the journey has barely begun.

I believe there are also substantial signs in the writings of John Paul II that suggest he is not as fearful as some members of the Curia about opening up new possibilities and moving beyond old ways of thinking and acting. See, for example, his December 1990 encyclical, Redemptoris missio, (eg paragraph 28 where he speaks of the universality of the Holy Spirit), his May 1995 encyclical, Ut unum sint (eg paragraph 95 where he calls for a reform of the papacy), and his January 2001 ecclesial pronouncement, Novo millennio ineunte (eg paragraph 44 where he urges the development of different structures to safeguard communion).

The International Theological Commission’s March 2000 “Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past” is also a promising sign.

However, much more change is needed. And the biggest change of all will be a change of consciousness, a new way of thinking about ourselves – especially our vocation to be the earthen vessels that carry the great treasure of God’s liberating love for the world (cf 2Corinthians 4:7). And we find an interesting ally in an unlikely place.

In the September 2, 2000, issue of The Tablet, the emeritus professor of history at the University of Nottingham, Robert Markus, reviewed Garry Will’s book, Papal Sins: Structures of Deceit. In that review, Markus quoted a statement of Pope Pelagius II from the end of the 6th century:

“Dear brethren, do you think that when Peter was reversing his position, one should have replied: We refuse to hear what you are saying because you previously taught the opposite? In the matter (now under discussion) one position was held while truth was being sought, and a different position was adopted after truth had been found: why should a change of position be thought a crime by this See which is humbly venerated by all in the person of its founder? For what is reprehensible is not changing one’s mind, but being fickle in one’s views. Now if the mind remains unwavering in seeking to know what is right, why should you object when it abandons its ignorance and reformulates its views?”

Markus goes on to note that, significant as the point of view expressed here is, even more significant is the fact that the words were actually penned for Pelagius by a certain deacon who was to succeed him within a few years as Pope Gregory the Great.

For some people, the issue of change suggested above might present absolutely no anguish at all. I suggest that might indicate they have no grasp of the depths and significance, the complexity and subtlety of what is at stake. And I am thinking of such issues as the role of the papacy – raised by the Pope himself – new forms of ministry, especially ordained priesthood, attitudes and teachings pertaining to sexuality, marriage laws, the centrality of freedom and the primacy of conscience, and regulations concerning participation in the Eucharist.

It would be dangerously naïve to think these issues could be dealt with by doing simply this or simply that. It would be equally naïve to think that these issues do not call for urgent and radical attention.

Pope John XXIII issued the challenge, the Second Vatican Council took it up, and Pope Paul VI carried it forward. Pope Paul VI also gave us a wise and practical description of how we might proceed – through good conversation anchored in and manifesting God’s conversation with the world. The privilege and the responsibility are ours to continue the journey.

By way of conclusion, let me suggest three ultimate principles and three practical rules we might bear in mind if we are to thrive in and contribute creatively to the Church of the coming years.

The three principles are:

firstly, the world belongs to God – it is in good hands;

secondly, the Church belongs to God – it is in good hands;

thirdly, we belong to God – we are in good hands.

The three rules are:

firstly, listen with the ears of your heart that you might discern what you must do;

secondly, give yourself intelligently and generously to what you must do;

thirdly, be utterly detached from the outcome!

(Michael Whelan PhD is a Marist priest and is Director of Aquinas Academy in Sydney, a founding Member of Catalyst for Renewal and Editor of The Mix.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

4 Jim Carty, SM – The social teachings of Vatican II

Social teachings of Vatican II, subsequent social encyclicals and United Nations declarations: The convergence of thought and the implications for Australian social conscience.


“Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or wilful destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as sub-human living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator.” (Gaudium et Spes)

This quotation is taken from the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, know as Gaudium et Spes- (Joy and Hope) from the first two words of the document. It is arguably the most important and far reaching of all the pronouncements of Vatican II. The quotation puts into focus the theme of this talk which is firstly an attempt to trace the development of thought on the critically important issue of human rights as taught in “The Church in the Modern World” and subsequent Social Encyclicals and as expressed in the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights. And secondly, to examine the practical implications and imperatives these rights have for Australians and the Australian conscience.


If this forum had been held twelve months ago I think my approach would have been different. However two events of the past year, have dramatically impacted, each in its own way, on human rights. They offer powerful case studies of the gap between the rhetoric and the reality; of the beautifully crafted document and the practical lived expression of human rights; of the erosion or suspension that fear and vengeance can have on human rights. I refer, of course to the unconscionable terrorist attacks on Washington and New York and the exposure of the extent of sexual abuse and its cover up in the Church.

In the case of September 11th there is a real danger that in retaliation, further violations of human rights will occur and innocent people will be punished.

In the case of abuse in the church we have learned not just of the reprehensible actions of clerical predators but of the cover-up by Church leaders-a fundamental denial of the rights of the child to be protected, a scandalous failure of the Church to practise what it preaches and teaches in regard to its duty of care of children. Recall around whose neck the millstone should be attached.

I will return to these and other related events later.

Human Rights Articulated in the Social Encyclicals.

Returning to the text of Gaudium et Spes, we read:

“There is a growing awareness of the exultant dignity proper to the human person, since he (sic) stands above all things, and his rights and duties are universal and inviolable. Therefore, there must be made available to all everything necessary for leading a truly human life such as food, clothing and shelter.”

What are significant in that first sentence, are the words, “a growing awareness”. In other words, human rights and freedoms as we know and enjoy them today are of relatively recent articulation and legislation. The concept of human dignity from which human rights are derived is very ancient one and some philosophers have argued that medieval natural law tradition implicitly contains the idea of human rights. It is latent in the teachings of Christ, especially in his parables such as the “Good Samaritan” and “Lazarus at the Gate of Dives”. Jesus certainly recognised the dignity of each person in his public ministry. However, the idea of human rights did not explicitly surface until relatively modern times, nor was it enshrined in any universal document.

The strong emphasis and teachings of Vatican II on the dignity of the human person and the inescapable rights that flow from them have their origin in Pope Leo XIII ‘s famous encyclical Rerum Novarum, named “The condition of the Working Class”. This document appeared in 1891 when the Agrarian Revolution was in full swing and the Industrial Revolution well underway. Large numbers of people were being displaced off the land and moving to the rapidly developing cities looking for food, work and shelter.

There are two images burned indelibly in my memory that capture for me the inhuman conditions and appalling sufferings that were the context of this encyclical.

The first was a photo I came across while reading a book on slavery in North America. It was of an elderly African-American slave couple, staring into the camera with looks of desolation and a mixture of despair and resignation. They were holding up for the photographer, the stumps of their arms. The caption informed the reader that their master had chopped off the hands of both the husband and wife as punishment for unsatisfactory work. Not only had they been brutally torn from their homeland and forced to work as slaves in exile, they were condemned to spend their last years as victims of further gross indignity and savagery.

The second image was a drawing that appeared in a primary school history book on the Industrial Revolution in England. It depicted young girl of about ten stripped to the waist crawling on all fours in a mineshaft dragging a wooden coal wagon behind her. It is worth noting here that, even though a majority of people at the time accepted or endorsed slavery and child labour, some recognised the in justice and inhumanity and spoke out against them often at great cost to themselves. It is hard to go against the majority as many have discovered in recent days.

In this encyclical then, we have the most important religious authority in Europe committing the Church to struggle with the working class for justice and a decent standard of living-decent wages.

“There had been no precedent for such a systematic statement by a Pope on the Social Question –the complex of problems arising from industrialisation and secularisation in Europe. And yet it set a style and raised expectations, which have continued to this day. It is difficult to think of the Papacy now without such a tradition of active involvement in social debate.”

It was Leo XIII, the patrician, keen to maintain the primacy of the Papacy who started this process and in a sense became the unlikely hero of the working classes.

Leos’ Rerum Novarum was the first major step by the Vatican towards putting the Church on the side of the poor and the working class. It can be seen as the beginning of a process, which eventually led church leaders, including and especially Pope John Paul II, to approve of the notion of an “Option for the Poor”.

Rerum Novarum cannot itself be said to represent an option for the poor. The encyclical expresses deep concern for the plight of the poor, makes a strong protest on their behalf, and calls for changes in society. However, Leo did not make a clear option in favour of the poor, nor specifically refer to human rights. He wished for changes in the economic order, but he was not prepared to approve of the kind of political activity that would be likely to bring about such changes. He was convinced of the prime importance of order in society – stability was a key value of his political theology.

In certain circumstances, especially where the rights of the Church were at risk, Catholics were encouraged to seek political change, but only by legal means. In the last analysis where changes could not be brought about without a threat to social order, Christians were expected to put up with injustice. It was of a kind that actively discouraged the poor from confronting the wealthy to claim their rights; it promised reward in heaven to those who were the victims of injustice on earth.

For the next 40 years the Church, that is to say, the next two Popes, did not pick up on these social issues as expressed in Rerum Novarum, in fact, there was a movement backwards from Leo’s advanced position.

It was not until Pius XI issued “Quadragesimo Anno” that social issues were once again taken up by the Church. This encyclical challenged the capitalist model of society more strongly and more specifically than Leo’s encyclical had done. Pius XII was less radical than his predecessor- he was Pope at the time of the Second World War and was understandably concerned about the dangers of Communism and Socialism. He saw capitalism in spite of its excesses as the answer to overcoming poverty and safeguarding human freedom and dignity than the other alternatives. “His main contribution in this development of thought was his insistence that the right to private property is subordinate to the general right of all people to the goods of the earth.”

It is interesting to recall that in his Christmas radio address of 1942 with the war in Europe well underway, Pius XII proposed a list of basic personal rights including: the right to life, to religious freedom, to family life, to work, to choose a vocation and to make proper use of material goods- and all this at a time when most of these rights were being violated.

United Nations and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

Three years after that address, right at the end of the Second World War, the warring nations, putting aside their weapons and recognising the futility of war once again, established the United Nations to seek ways in which the countries and races of the world may follow, leading to peace, harmony and justice for all. The cornerstone of the Declaration was Article 3, which proclaims the right to life, liberty and security of the person. Articles 4-21 specify other civil and political rights and Articles 22-27 deal with a series of economic, social and cultural rights. And conclude all these rights are laid down as: “A common standard of achievement for all people and all nations.” This universal declaration was the first part of a prospective international bill of human rights. I will refer to the subsequent ones later.

The importance of this universal declaration on human rights is emphasised in the words of Professor Henry Steiner of Harvard Law School: “No other document has so caught the historical moment, achieved the same moral and rhetorical force, or exerted so much influence on the human rights movement as a whole. The principles of the declaration have been built into many international treaties and into new constitutions of states in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. Its influence was crucial, for example, in the peaceful elimination of apartheid in South Africa.”

Pacem in Terris and Vatican II

On the 25th January 1959 Pope John XXIII in St Paul’s Outside the Walls, announced that there would be a Council of the Church. On the 5th of April fully six months before the first session of the Chapter he issued his landmark encyclical “Pacem in Terris” In it he praised the United Nations Declaration as ” an act of the highest importance and an important step forward on the path toward the juridico-political organisation of the world community”. In the same encyclical he set forth a comprehensive and detailed charter of human rights based on natural law.

Pope John was the first Pontiff to directly refer to the United Nations and its Declaration on Human Rights. It marks the beginning of a close and continued association between the Vatican and the UN with frequent references to the Universal declarations in subsequent encyclicals and through addresses to the General Assembly of the UN by two Popes on three occasions. The Second Vatican Council especially in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, proclaimed in the last session in 1965, took up the teaching of John XXIII and amplified it in the light of divine revelation. The human person standing above the rest of visible creation has inviolable rights and duties. Among these the Council listed: “Everything necessary for living a life truly human such as food, clothing and shelter; the right to choose a state of life freely and to found a family, the right to education, to employment, to a good reputation, to respect, to appropriate information, to activity in accord with the upright norms of one’s own conscience, to protection of privacy and to rightful freedom in matters of religious too.”

Earlier that same year (1965) Pope Paul VI addressed the UN General Assembly on 4th August. Conscious of the content of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights he said: “We never cease to support your organisation’s functions and initiatives, which are aimed at peaceful co-existence and collaboration between nations. You, the United Nations, are establishing here a system of solidarity that will ensure that lofty civilising goals, receive unanimous and orderly support from the whole family of nations.”

The Social Encyclicals of Pope John Paul II

Of all the Popes no other has given so much emphasis to human rights as John Paul II. He frequently refers to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In his encyclical “Redemptor Hominis” issued in 1979 he described it as a magnificent effort to the objective and inviolable rights of persons including the freedom of religion. In his first address to the United Nations on October 2nd 1979 he spoke of the Universal Declaration as a milestone on the long and difficult path of the human race. He warned against the declaration being subjugated to political interest and the thirst for power. He also traced the scourge of war to the denial of human rights, which he said

“destroys the organic unity of the social order and then affects the whole system of international relations. Only through safeguarding the full rights of every human being he said, can peace be ensured at its very roots.”

In his second social encyclical “Sollicitudo rei socialis” (1987) he protested against the tendency to look only to the material aspects of development rather than to personal rights in their full range. “More attention” he said, “should be given to cultural, political and simply human rights, including religious freedom, the right to share in the building of society and freedom to take initiatives in economic matters.”

In yet another encyclical “Centesimus Annus” (1991) which was issued on 100th Anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical (not by chance) John Paul praises the way in which the Universal Declaration shifted the centre of the social question to the international level, but expresses disappointment at the failure of the United Nations to establish, thus far, effective means for the resolution of international conflicts. Again he proposes a list of basic human rights similar to those given in the 1979 address to the UN. The Pope in that address gives this list:

“Permit me, he says, to enumerate some of the most important human rights that are universally recognised:

the right to life liberty and security of person

the right to food clothing and housing sufficient health care rest and leisure

the right to freedom of expression, education and culture

the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the right to manifest one’s religion either individually or in community, in public or in private

the right to choose a state of life to found a family and to enjoy all conditions necessary for family life

the right to property and work, to adequate working conditions and a just wage

the right to assembly and association

the right to freedom of movement, internal and external migration

the right to nationality and residence

the right to political participation and the right to participate in the free choice of the political system of the people to which one belongs.”

All these human rights taken together are in keeping with the substance of the dignity of the human person understood in his entirety, not as reduced to one dimension only. These rights concern the satisfaction of man’s essential needs, the exercise of his freedoms, and his relationships with others; but always and everywhere they concern a person’s full human dimension.”

These are in accord and in harmony with the 30 articles that make up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from the UN.

In his second address to the UN on October 5th 1995 he called the declaration one of the highest expressions of the human conscience of our time. And in his message for World Peace Day on January 1st 1998 he took note of the 50th Anniversary of the declaration and warned that it must be observed integrally both in spirit and letter. The transcendent dignity of the human person derives most fundamentally from being created as a visible image of the invisible God. Our human dignity is fully revealed in Christ whose sacrifice eloquently expresses how precious we are in the eyes of the creator. Tarnished by sin, our dignity is definitively restored through the cross and shown forth in the resurrection.

In his long encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” he returns to human rights. Among them he puts in first place the right to life. He teaches that because human life has a sacred and inviolable character, it is gravely immoral to destroy innocent human life and, by extension, to place human life in danger by excessive and unjust laws, for example, the detention of children in camps.

Finally in 1993 the UN sponsored a world conference on human rights, adopting the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action. These instruments agree in affirming that “All human rights derive from the dignity and worth inherent in the human person.”

Human Rights and the Australian Conscience

As I was preparing this paper, I was struck by a most painful and disturbing irony: in the past century (the 20th) during which, as we have seen, a “growing awareness of the dignity of the human person”, and during which wonderful documents have been written enshrining universal human rights which flow inescapably from this “awareness”, we have also witnessed the most brutal, the most bestial the most bloody period in human history. More human beings have died in wars and conflicts in the past 100 years than at any other time- a conservative estimate puts the figure at around 130 million.

That is not to say that real progress in establishing human rights has not been made. In fact in many parts of the world people are enjoying some of the fruits of the struggle. However as recent events both here in Australian and throughout the world suggest continued vigilance and relentless efforts are needed to preserve those human rights we enjoy, to make sure they are not eroded and to help those who are denied them, especially the fundamental basic rights of food, shelter and security.

The two events mentioned at the beginning illustrate this challenge. Understandably the horror of September 11th caused fear and a sense of righteous revenge to eliminate terrorists. But as we have seen in recent days so called “collateral” damage has claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians. Is this justified?

We witness the incarceration of as prisoners captured in Afghanistan and yet to be indicted. They are denied rights to lawyers and family; the threat of a massive pre-emptive strike on Iraq and the inevitable loss of many civilian lives; The simplistic division of the white hats and black hats-“if you are not for us you must be against us” validating whatever decisions that may be taken against the black hats, the axis of evil.

I hasten to add that the rights and freedoms set forth in the international covenants are to be implemented in the measure possible, but are subject to limitations as needed to protect national security, public order, public health or morals and the rights and freedoms of other persons. Clearly some people and groups through their violent acts abrogate certain of their rights.

Nevertheless, in a climate of fear human rights are often the first casualty. During the Second World War America incarcerated Japanese-Americans (with citizenship) in camps for the duration of the war and confiscated their property. They had committed no crime other than to belong to an ethnic minority. The same happened here in Australia. Curiously, in recent years, a class action was taken out against the US Government by some of those former detainees. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff and a token but symbolic compensation was paid.

What has happened here in Australia in recent years and especially since the Tampa incident and 11/9 events? Under the justification of “Boarder Control” we have used our Navy to intercept Asylum Seekers, people fleeing the violence and brutality in their homeland where our young men and women are fighting the very terror from which they flee. For their efforts we force them into detention camps on Pacific islands-many of them legitimate refugees. Access to these detainees is denied. They have committed no crime.

Those who made it to the mainland are held in mandatory detention for as long as two years, including children – Australia is the only Western Nation that locks up children who have committed no crime. But we are improving – a 40 million dollar detention center has just been completed in Port Augusta with state of the art 9000-volt electric perimeter fence – no nastier razor wire.

The continual vilification of these detainees and asylum seekers by way of false propaganda – “children overboard”; “illegals” “terrorists” “diseased” has legitimized verbal and physical abuse and discrimination even to the extent that the Mayor of Port Lincoln seriously urged the government to let the Army use those detainees who riot in response to their illegal detention (according to International law and the UN Convention on Refugees) as target practice!

Some commentators suggest that fear of the foreigner, which has been a feature of white Australia ever since we arrived, has raised it xenophobic head once more taking us back to the bad old days of the “White Australia Policy”. The Government has ruthlessly and shamelessly inflamed and made use of this fear in the community for its own political ends – and human rights are again the causality.

In the case of sexual abuse in the Church, the “good name ” of the church and the “boys club” mentality within clerical circles took precedence over the basic fundamental human rights of the child victims. In 1971 the Synod of Bishops made a major contribution to the development of the social teaching of the church. In part it proclaimed: ” promotion of justice is a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel. (It is not an option but an imperative). It questioned the myths of development – and especially the assumption that western type of economic development could be applied all over the world. It also accepted that a church that presumes to speak to the world about justice must itself practice justice in its own life and structures.” In both case studies the gap between the rhetoric and the reality is staggeringly obvious


The list of human rights as expressed in the encyclicals of the Church and the Declarations of the United Nations are extensive and comprehensive. Sadly the human condition suggests that the struggle for the time when all people throughout the world will be invested with the human rights their dignity demands will be long, arduous and plagued with set backs.

In the meantime we must never forget that in all these rights there are three, which are basic, the right to food, shelter and safety. In a country as rich as Australia this has disturbing and inescapable implications.

In a world which constantly refers to the phenomenon of globalisation of such things as trade, commerce, financial institutions, the money-market, corporations there is also global responsibility of the haves for the have nots. Tragically the “have” countries like the USA and Australia have reduced their aid to those in need in recent years.

Recently the UN held the World Food Summit in Rome with the proposal to find ways to halve the estimated 840 million hungry people throughout the world by the year 2015.In half that time the US will spend over 300 Billion dollars on arms.

Only two developed nations sent top-level delegations- feeding the starving was low on the list of priorities. Pope John Paul insisted in a letter to the Summit that the world had a duty to guarantee the right to nutrition for everyone.

And so we end where we began with the quote from Gaudium et Spes:

“Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or wilful destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as sub-human living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator.”

Universal Declaration of Human Rights- at a glance:

  • Article 1 Right to Equality
  • Article 2 Freedom from Discrimination
  • Article 3 Right to Life, Liberty, and Personal Security
  • Article 4 Freedom from Slavery
  • Article 5 Freedom from Torture and Degrading Treatment
  • Article 6 Right to Recognition as a Person before the Law
  • Article 7 Right to Equality before the law
  • Article 8 Right to Remedy by Competent Tribunal
  • Article 9 Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest and Exile
  • Article 10 Right to Fair Public Hearing
  • Article 11 Right to be Considered Innocent until Proven Guilty
  • Article 12 – Freedom from Interference with Privacy, Family, Home and Correspondence
  • Article 13 Right to Free Movement in and out of the Country
  • Article 14 Right to Asylum in other Countries from Persecution
  • Article 15 Right to Nationality and the Freedom to change it
  • Article 16 Right to Marriage and Family
  • Article 17 Right to Own Property
  • Article 18 Freedom of Belief and Religion
  • Article 19 Freedom of Opinion & Information
  • Article 20 Right of Peaceful Assembly and Association
  • Article 21 Right to Participate in Government and in Free Elections
  • Article 22 Right to Social Security
  • Article 23 Right to Desirable Work and to join Trade Unions
  • Article 24 Right to Rest and leisure
  • Article 25 Right to Adequate living Standards
  • Article 26 Right to Education
  • Article 27 Right to Participate in the Cultural life of Community
  • Article 28 Right to a Social Order that articulates this document
  • Article 29 Community Duties Essential to Free and Full Development
  • Article 30 Freedom State of Personal Interference in the above Rights

“The Human rights movement struggles and stumbles in the face of appalling ignorance, apathy and resistance. The Only certainty is that the abuse of human rights will almost certainly increase if there are no renewed protests or more humane and humanitarian laws.”- The Mobilization of Shame.


Vatican II Documents- Constitution of the Church in the Modern World.

The Mobilization of Shame

Robert Drinan SJ

The Church’s Social Teaching: From Rerun Novarum to 1931

Bruce Duncan CSsR

Option for the Poor: A hundred years of Vatican Social Teaching

Donal Dorr

The Social Teaching of Vatican II.

Rodger Charles SJ

Human Rights-Papal Teaching and the UN

Avery Dulles

(Both sessions were fully subscribed. Because of real interest in and serious concern for the implications of our current asylum seekers policy in regard to human rights and the Australian conscience the conversation was lively and engaging. The issues raised during the conversation in both sessions were the same. What follows is a brief attempt to capture the main points.)

Questions and issues for discussion:

What are our legal and moral obligations to abide by the UN Charter on Refugees which Australia has signed-Article 13

What rights if any do you think Asylum Seekers arriving in Australia have?

Do we as have the right to maintain a policy of Mandatory Detention? For all? For Children?

What do you think of the Pacific Solution?

What are the implications of Australia’s current policy on us as a Nation in the light of those words of Vat II- ” they do more harm to those who practise them than those who suffer the injury”

People in your circle saying about the Church and the scandal of Sexual Abuse- especially in the light of the rights of the child and the Gospel teachings?

Can we continue to maintain our standard of living while so many throughout the world are denied the very basic necessities for life? A fundamental human right.



Summary of Discussion

“The Australia that I love has been taken from me”. This quote from one of the participants, sums up what many in the group were feeling in regard to the development of Australia’s treatment of Asylum Seekers especially since the Tampa incident. At that time polls suggested that 94% of Australians supported mandatory detention for all those arriving here by whatever means without a valid visa should be held in detention. And this in spite of the fact that Australian is a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees. Even now some polls claim 80% are still in favour despite the fact that a majority have been determined to be refugees under the articles of the Convention.

The persistent negative propaganda put out by the government has inflamed the underlying fear of the outsider eroding the generous compassion so evident in the community during the time of the arrival of the Vietnamese refugees and the Kosovars.

The stories based on personal visits to the detention camps especially the story of the Avesta family in Curtin highlighted how successful the government has been in dehumanising these people in the eyes of the community and therefore ameliorating or assuaging any sense of guilt- by detaining most in inaccessible camps, Australians are denied access to them; by using spin-doctors very effectively to challenge any opposition and the groundswell of concern; by suggesting some may be terrorists; by being very creative with the truth and facts.

The question was then asked, where is the Church in all of this? Where is its voice? Mention was made of the excellent document published on the 26th March by the Bishop’s Conference on the Asylum Seekers calling for a more humane treatment of them. Unfortunately it has not received wide circulation.

This led to a discussion of the importance of telling the stories and appropriate use of simple language. There is a danger of information overload because of the media coverage and many have made up their minds and now just turn off. “The Church needs to stop being clever and simply say ‘this is wrong’.”

“How can we help?” and “What can we do?” elicited, at first, a response pointing out the difficulty of dealing with a Government that is entrenched in this policy aware that it is still politically expedient to remain so. However it was pointed out that there are in fact many Church and community groups who are involved in a variety of ways- Jesuit Refugee Service, Mercy Refugee Service, Edmond Rice Centre, ” Spare Rooms” movement, to mention just a few.

(Jim Carty SM is a Marist priest with extensive experience working for 15 years in Japan where he was also Director of a Vietnamese refugee camp, later in Hon Kong working with refugees, the physically and intellectually handicapped, and the marginalised in SE Asia. He is the author of a report on refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people in our region. He acquired a Masters of Applied Theology in 1987 from Berkley)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

3 Virginia Bourke, RSJ – Dei Verbum and Catholicism’s ancient genius

Dei Verbum and Catholicism’s ancient genius – an exploration of Vatican II via Dei Verbum (The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation)

[Covering note for those who participated in this focus group at the forum. This paper is not the text of what I presented in my focus group at the forum, but it includes much of what was raised there. That day I chose to present some of the material included here as stimulus for a facilitated group conversation on a few aspects of Vatican II’s revolutionary Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum. The following paper is an effort firstly to draw together some of the necessarily scattered ideas that surfaced that afternoon, secondly to offer a broadened base for considering these, and thirdly to highlight the significant amount of unfinished business in the Church community in relation to divine revelation.]

Focus and concerns of this paper

This consideration of Vatican II’s unfinished business will focus on The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum [translated “Word of God”]. To assess the extent, to which this document has actually reached and benefited the renewing Church, I have deliberately chosen to limit my perspective in this paper to what I hear and observe from personal experience in the ministry of adult faith formation.

Primarily, I wish to illustrate that much of what Dei Verbum sought to feed into the consciousness of people has not yet been done. Even without considering its more landmark teachings, at the grassroots there is still major ignorance and misunderstanding about the three key media of Divine Revelation it stressed, namely Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium. Though people’s misunderstandings are various, I believe what underpins many of them is a type of dualistic thinking or quietism. This is particularly apparent in some religious language usage, including ways of talking about faith itself. Implicit in all of this, I sense, is a serious blockage about belief in humanity’s goodness, evidence that past emphases still lives on and have power over our insides. I think it is this incapacity to believe that God’s Spirit works in and through human beings in the Christian community which gives the major signal that Dei Verbum has not yet been transmitted properly. I say this because one of the landmark features of this document is that, below all it says on Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium; it affirms ‘humanbeinghood’.

Expressed through Scripture and Creeds, Dei Verbum grounds all its teachings in the theological conviction that human experience is revelatory of God. It is strong in its insistence that what we call “Divine Revelation” is actually God’s self-revealing in our lives, not just when we are at our best, but also when we are messy, struggling and suffering from all our limitations. It is this theological conviction which I call ‘the ancient genius of Catholicism’. Without this sort of faith consciousness, I believe, we have little chance of real Church renewal today, particularly that of our Sacramental, liturgical life.

Overview of sections of this paper

Dualistic religious language is unfaithful to Scripture, ancient Christian theology and Vatican II.

Landmark features of Dei Verbum’s theology reaffirm that human experience, reflected on by the community in the light of faith, is revelatory of God.

The ecclesial renewal called for by Vatican II’s other documents cannot work without a basis in Dei Verbum’s theological convictions.

1.1: Dissonance between religious language and human self-understandings

In his book, ‘Paths from science towards God: the end of all our exploring’, Arthur Peacocke writes of the crisis he sees in religious language in contemporary Christianity:

“Today, intellectually educated but often theologically uninformed people – if they are still attached to the Christian churches- are hanging on by their fingertips, as they increasingly bracket off large sections of the liturgies in which they participate as either unintelligible or unbelievable in their classical form, or both … There is an increasingly alarming dissonance between the language of devotion, liturgies and doctrines and what people perceive themselves to be, and to becoming, in the world.”

This paper addresses just one small facet of the crisis Peacocke signals, namely the dissonance some people experience between dualistic, quietistic religious language and their own more positive human self-understandings. The following story addresses the same issue, illustrating Peacock’s claim that people simply “bracket off” religious language if it does not speak with intelligibility and credibility into their real human lives. For the faith community of the Church, the danger then is that faith itself can be misconstrued and left aside by many who have been initiated into it.

1.2: Faith language and upholding the “good news” of being human

I have always remembered an incident related by the late Sr. Helen Lombard SGS: As founding President of the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes in the late 1980s, Helen was invited to address the Members at the opening of Federal Parliament. Experienced communicator that she was, Helen did not waste this opportunity, speaking on one of the contemporary “signs of the times”, the issue of “privatisation”. She challenged her listeners to consider well its implications for ordinary Australians. After her address Helen said she was approached by a still-prominent politician who, intending to compliment her, said something like,

“I was agreeably surprised. I have always rather thought that religious people sound as if they are plugged into the moon, but I must admit I found myself listening to you!”

Whilst it would be possible to question if the stereotype Helen appeared to break was entirely fair, many of us would probably wince at the politician’s remark, because we recognise some truth in it. Helen’s ability to speak with meaning and to hold people’s attention on this occasion indicates that she spoke from a faith conviction far from quietism. What she said and why she said it were consistent with that vision of Vatican II found in Gaudium et Spes #1:

“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of human beings. United in Christ, they are led by the Spirit in their journey to the kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation that is meant for all humanity. That is why this community realises that it is truly and intimately linked with humankind and its history”.

[Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, #1. adapted with inclusive language]

One of the most quoted ideals of Vatican II, this statement is unequivocal in its declaration that the Church and the “good news” of Christ are grounded in human life and human history. It challenges those of us who talk about God and explore faith with people to sound similarly grounded, lest we compromise some of Christianity’s most ancient self-understandings.

1.3: Language that negates Christian faith

When we sound as if we are “plugged into the moon”,

we raise the spectre of ancient gnosticism and its heretical, dualistic belief that the world of the spirit is good, but the world of creation is bad, so Christ comes to liberate us from it;

we deny the true significance of Jesus’ incarnation among us, ignoring the faith declarations and creeds of the early councils, especially Chalcedon and Ephesus, which insist, amongst other things, that Jesus’ full humanity is inseparable from his full divinity, and therefore, not bad;

we negate the affirmation of our own created humanity which the Nicean-Constantinopolitan creed proclaims;

we undermine two primary convictions of Christian Scripture: Christ’s resurrection and the presence of his Spirit are ongoing realities which we encounter in faith, not in some other world, but in the context of human life in this world;

we fail Vatican II’s opened stance towards the world and its vision of the Church as a vital, credible, welcome contributor within the serious conversations of our times. [cf. Gaudium et Spes, chapter 4].

1.4: Scripture affirms that God is revealed through humanity

What we have inherited in Christian faith from its outset gives us neither cause nor justification for dualistic thinking. The letter to the Hebrews is adamant that Jesus was here amongst us as one who was fully human, able to “sympathise with our weaknesses …….. one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” [4:15]. Matthew’s gospel is just as adamant that it is the identifiably human one, Jesus, who reveals “God with us” [Mtt. 1:23]. Far from leading us to devalue our humanity or our world, Jesus affirms it and reveals that God affirms it, by announcing that God’s kingdom is to be lived and realised in the here and now. [Mtt. 4:17 ff.].

1.5: The difficulties of “revising people”

Having noted all of the above, it is also fair to concede that it is not surprising to find people today still sometimes sounding as if they are ‘plugged into the moon’. Dualistic thinking, disparaging the here and now, was certainly abroad as people of my age grew up in the decades just before and immediately after the Council. In the classroom, from the Sunday and Mission pulpits and in the confessional we were brought up hearing that Christian life was about ‘saving one’s soul’, ‘getting to heaven’, ‘avoiding sin and the devil’, ‘keeping out of hell’ and ‘gaining indulgences’ to cut back our ‘time’ in purgatory. Though all of this certainly had its effects on how we approached life in the here and now, it was a life geared towards somewhere else and it gave one the sense that this life was indeed a “valley of tears” which had to be endured as we worked through the obstacle course entailed in living it. When we spoke of God’s “grace”, it was as if it were a commodity piped in from elsewhere, and the seven Sacraments were its major outlets. “Here” was a place it were best to be out of, and “elsewhere” was where God could best be found. It is hard to undo some of this inside ourselves, to be converted to anything else. As Tad Guzie once wrote, “[R]evising books is easier than revising people”.

1.6: Pastoral learnings about faith-talk from practical experience

As a lecturer of young people preparing to teach Religious Studies in schools and as an adult educator working in various parish and diocesan faith formation programs, I know and dread the tell-tale signs when people are turning off and tuning out. I have learned that if I want to pass on the truth of the faith of our community’s Tradition I need to keep connected with life as lived, with the “joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties” of human experience of which GS # 1 speaks.

I find I also need to be careful how I talk of faith itself, avoiding over-assumptions or any glibness that might creep in from frequent usage or from the comfortably overt religious culture in which I live. I have learnt the pastoral necessity of respecting the faith journey that parents too are on when they are struggling to know how to prepare their children about faith, for the Sacraments of initiation, when the religious language they learned themselves at school seems to hold no contemporary meaning for them and, often enough, feels distant from the real concerns of their lives. In the religious concepts and language I use I find I need to emphasise that faith is not a static body of truths people have to believe without thinking. It is not incompatible with questioning and doubt, nor is it cancelled out by the sort of leaving aside that people sometimes do before they have appropriated through personal choice the faith out of which others chose their baptism.

1.7: Faith-talk and resistance to certitude

Some of the people I meet in this way find they resonate with the experience named by Richard Holloway when he writes about faith for people of today:

“I am most comfortable today with borderline thinkers – people who easily or uneasily straddle a frontier, such as believers with doubts, or sceptics troubled by insistent whispers of belief. I feel most comfortable with people like this because I myself straddle this mysterious boundary, so that I share both faith and doubt. Indeed, my definition of faith sees it as intrinsically associated with doubt. The opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty. Where we have certainty we need no faith. Faith comes in where we take something largely on trust, whatever the grounds of our trust may be. “

Beneath some people’s religious language there seems to be a view that faith is a gift God gives at baptism which we are expected to keep in its pristine packaging, preserve amidst the dangers of this world and hand back to God unsullied by any of the experiences encountered during life. I find that faith so construed is the faith that many people have given up. There is a dissonance between the certitude of this faith’s answers and the reality of what happens to people and within people across life.

Against all of this, I find it essential to reassure people that faith can be understood with a lot of compassion for the experience of being human, that is, as a lifelong journey which encompasses many phases. When looked at as a partnership between God’s grace and human response, faith becomes a gift that is gradually unpacked and progressively appreciated more, as life is lived with a deepening openness to God. I find it helps to assure people that God can cope with human mess, and that Scripture and Tradition and Christian history, properly understood, bear out that fact persistently. I find these views of faith relieve people, giving some the freedom and confidence to take up the journey again, to trust that life and faith are not so dissonant after all. Only in a climate where human life is respected in this way do people tend to want to entrust the real issues of their lives into faith-talk, I find.

1.8: “The good news is a human being”

Let me conclude this paper’s introductory section by emphasising that we misunderstand the “good news of salvation which is meant for all humanity”, to which Gaudium et Spes # 1 refers, if our ways of speaking about God and faith give any hint of dualism or fail to take seriously what it is like to be human. Bishop John Heaps does not misunderstand it. In the title chosen for chapter 2 of his book, A love that dares to question, his choice of language is arresting in the truth it speaks,

“The Good News is a Human Being”.

2.1: Dei Verbum provides theological support for practical learning:

I will move now to consider the teachings of Dei Verbum. One of the most liberating experiences of my life has been to find support for the generally pastoral learnings from practical experience I have just outlined within the theology undergirding this document. In the late 1970s at the East Asian Pastoral Institute in Manila, I had the singular good fortune to become enamoured of it through the passionate, humanly-attuned catechetical scholarship of Jose [Pepe] M. Calle SJ, exile from the Jesuit Mission in China some years before and confrère of the great Fr. Nebreda SJ. Pepe, helped his students recognise the groundbreaking nature of what Dei Verbum taught, not only in the way it clarified and transformed what Trent and Vatican I had taught earlier about divine revelation, but particularly in what it affirmed about humanity below the surface of its teachings on Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium. The words which Pepe used to sum up Dei Verbum’s import for the renewing Church still ring in my ears, and even though I have read a lot and been involved in a variety of ministries since, I never learned anything more worth sticking to in ministry than what he used to say:

“God teaches humankind about itself [and about Godself], not merely from without, but first of all from within, through the ordinary or extraordinary experiences of human life”.

More recently I discovered a quote of Karl Rahner which supports the catechetical insight Pepe Calle found in Dei Verbum. Inevitably I find teachers nodding when I use this quote, as a prelude to exploring Dei Verbum with them:

“The theological problem today is about finding the art of drawing religion out of people not pumping it into them. The redemption has happened. The Holy Spirit is in people. The art is to help them become what they are’”

2.2: Signs that Dei Verbum still awaits transmission

I believe that the continuance of a tendency to speak as if God needs to be brought into our lives from some other sphere, and as if faith is simply an adherence to a fixed body of truths, can both be attributed, at least in part, to a failure in transmission of all that Dei Verbum originally set out to offer the people of the Church. Despite a widespread spiritual hunger in people to explore God’s presence and action in their lives, there is ignorance and misunderstanding about how God ‘speaks’ via both Scripture and Tradition within the faith community. Then, for a series of additional reasons, one characteristically encounters heated resistance concerning the Magisterium’s role in teaching and interpreting the Word of God, as outlined in Dei Verbum. Clearly there is much unfinished business from Vatican II re the nature and process of Divine Revelation.

Before moving to a fuller consideration of Dei Verbum’s teachings on Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium, I will offer some practical evidence of the mammoth task still to be done at the grassroots of Church membership to transmit its teachings.

2.3: Contemporary difficulties with Scripture, Church Tradition and Magisterial teachings


Right across Hebrew Scripture, there is the image of God in ‘conversation’ with a variety of human beings. We regularly read or hear the words, “And the Lord said”. When questioned about the meaning of such words in excerpts such as Exodus 3: 1 ff., Exodus 33: 1 ff. or any of the interactions between God and the prophets, it is clear that, below the surface of their responses, many people imagine either that God shouts down to earth from some other sphere, or, more frequently, that God appears in personal visions giving specific, private revelations to the writers of Scripture. In this situation many still understand divine inspiration as a type of verbatim dictation by God to the writers, so God is either the only author, or the only author that needs to be considered. Furthermore, the purpose of Scripture, particularly the Gospels, is seen primarily as providing a trustable record of factually based events upon which to base one’s faith. Below such misunderstandings of Scripture lies the type of dualistic thinking of which I have been speaking, I believe: God speaks from elsewhere and human beings are simply the passive recipients of God’s Word.

As Scripture is misunderstood, so also is Tradition and the role of the Magisterium within it. At best, Tradition is composed of beliefs and practices from the past, which we repeat in order to keep in touch with the Christian faith which began with those who had known Jesus. Tradition is not a living present dynamic, and its rituals, the Sacraments and liturgy, really belong to a former era rather than to our contemporary life in any really credible way. At worst, Tradition is simply equated with conservatism and viewed as yet another version of religious irrelevance to be ‘bracketed off’ in the here and now.

The role of the Magisterium:

Some people sustain dualistic thinking into how they view the Magisterium. It is as if they attribute to the Pope, in particular, and also to the bishops, special, almost super-human powers to hear and communicate the Word of the God who speaks from elsewhere. Other people are more chary about assigning other human beings, including leaders, any significant role in interpreting God’s Word. For them, at best, the Magisterial teachings and dogma of Tradition are honoured human wisdom, judged trustable not so much on the basis of the part God plays in them but on the basis of the Christian credibility and human attentiveness of particular Church leadership at any time in question.

At our present time there seems to be a particular difficulty with trusting Church leadership, partly out of a modern, cultural tendency to query any leadership’s basis for authority, but largely as a response to the fallout from sexual abuse and the enduring dismissal of Church leadership’s capacity to guide married people on the issues raised since the 1970s in Humanae Vitae. People perceive many of those in Church leadership as out of touch with their real lives, unwilling to consult in order to become informed, and non-collaborative in searching beyond themselves for the truth by which the community of faith might be guided. It is as if Church leadership is too human to be trusted as the voice of God but not humanly grounded enough to speak on matters of importance to people of ‘the world’.

2.4: Scripture and Tradition record a community’s ongoing faith journey in partnership with God

It is probably true to say that neither Dei Verbum nor any other of Vatican II’s documents seems to have been able to provide for the people of the Church as convincing an appreciation of the role of the Magisterium as has been needed in practice over the last four decades. However Dei Verbum did provide understandings on Scripture, Tradition and even the Magisterium which, if transmitted more thoroughly, could have helped correct many of the impoverished understandings just outlined.

One of the particular strengths of Dei Verbum was its articulation of Christian faith as a dynamic, living, ongoing, co-operative relationship between God and the human people of the Church. From this faith-view flowed the following understandings of Scripture, Tradition and the role of the Magisterium.

Key understandings on Scripture

Scriptural writings emerged from an ongoing partnership between God’s gift of self-revelation and the faith community’s reflective, well-chewed over response across their history [cf. DV # 3];

Scripture therefore records a people’s faith journey, so the bible is not simply the compilation of a series of special individual revelations.

Scripture is authored ‘truly’ by both God and human beings working in the co-operative dynamic of faith within human life situations at the time of writing, cf. DV # 12:

” [The Scriptures] have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself. To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men [sic.] who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their powers and faculties so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more.”

God’s word in Scripture is expressed in human words, concepts and understandings:

“God speaks through men [sic.] in human fashion” [DV # 12];:

” Indeed the words of God, expressed in the words of men [sic.] are in every way like human language …… ” [DV # 13];

Scripture not only reveals something of the Mystery of God but also of the mystery of being human:

“[I]t gave expression to a lively sense of God, [and is] a storehouse of sublime teachings on God and sound wisdom on human life”,[DV # 15],

Scripture cannot simply be read off the page literalistically because the truth it reveals needs to be explored critically, there being different types of truth lying below the variety of genres within the writings, these reflecting the cultures, needs and limitations of the human authors, as in DV # 12:

“[T]ruth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetic and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression. Hence the exegete must look for the meaning which the sacred writer, in a determined fashion and given the circumstances of his time and culture, intended to express and did in fact express, through the medium of a contemporary literary form”.

Scripture is concerned with recording the truth of God’s Mystery at work in the lives of Israel and the Christian community. It would never have seen its concern as that of recording the type of history or science 21st Century people have come to prize [cf. DV # 11].

Key understandings on Tradition

Tradition is a continuation of God’s Word in Scripture through the whole life of the Church:

” What was handed on by the apostles comprises everything that serves to make the People of God live their lives in holiness and increase their faith. In this way the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.” [DV # 8]

“Thus God, who spoke in the past, continues to converse with the spouse of his beloved Son.” [ibid.]

Key understandings on the relationship of Scripture and Tradition

As Trent had taught four centuries before, so did Dei Verbum:

“Thus…. the Church does not draw her certainty about all revealed truths from the Holy Scriptures alone. Hence, both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal feelings of devotion and reverence.” [DV # 9]

God’s Word is ongoing through Tradition as well as Scripture, and the two are interdependent:

” This economy of Revelation is realised by deeds and words, which are intrinsically bound up with each other. As a result, the works performed by God in the history of salvation show forth and bear out the doctrine and realities signified by the words; the words, for their part, proclaim the works, and bring to light the mystery they contain.” [DV # 2]

“This sacred Tradition, then, and the sacred Scripture of both Testaments, are like a mirror, in which the Church, during its pilgrim journey here on earth, contemplates God, from whom she receives everything, until such time as she is brought to see him face to face as he really is [cf. Jn 3:2].” [DV # 7]

Key understandings on the Magisterium:

The Magisterium continues the role of the apostles in transmitting the faith and is the office through which authenticity is assured in what is taught and passed on about Christian faith across the generations.

“In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. This gave them ‘ their own position of teaching authority.” [DV # 7]

” [T]he task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone.” [DV # 10]

2.5 Dei Verbum deepens the teachings of Trent and Vatican I

It is worth pointing out how Dei Verbum did not simply restate the earlier teachings of Trent and Vatican I. Significantly, in terms of our appreciation of a community’s developing faith journey, it went further, opening a fresh spectrum in which to clarify Catholic teaching in the light of the Church’s learning since Trent. It deliberately stretched beneath the divisions of Protestant and Catholic teachings which had viewed Sacred Scripture and Tradition as separate, often competing media of revelation, finding beneath the differences a deeper place of belief. Dei Verbum opened up a broad basis for unity on this issue, as it proclaimed:

“Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine wellspring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal… Hence both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal feelings of devotion and reverence.” [DV # 9]

Likewise, Dei Verbum # 5 and # 6 re-emphasised and strengthened Vatican II’s careful stance on the debate between supernatural and natural bases for faith, over which the fideists and rationalists had struggled before that Council. It saw grace as gratuitous, a gift of God to which one responds willingly in co-operation with the Spirit within, using all of one’s human faculties:

“By faith man [sic.] freely commits his [sic.] entire self to God.” [DV # 5]

In this ‘catholicity’ of approach Dei Verbum gathered all those absolutist positions that had divided Christians on the issue of divine revelation since the Reformation and signaled as its vision the possibility of a more compassionate and dialogical truth exploration rather than polemical stand-offs with their implicit ‘anathemas’ for all those who saw truth differently.

2.6: The truth about Divine Revelation is progressively understood and deepened:

In both its fidelity to the wisdom of Trent and Vatican I and in its deepening of their teachings, as just outlined, Dei Verbum was groundbreaking in the synthesis it was able to enunciate. However, in its recognition of the growth that occurs over time in human understanding of what God reveals, it was revolutionary. Against the backdrop of the entrenched, often emphasised pre-Vatican ideal of a Church that was semper idem [“always the same”], in the same spirit as other Vatican II documents, it taught of a Church that, like each of its members, is on a life journey in faith, as a “pilgrim” [DV # 7]:

” The…. Holy Spirit perfects faith by his gifts, so that Revelation may be more and more profoundly understood.” [DV # 5]

“The Tradition that comes from the apostles makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on.” [DV # 8]

“[A]s the centuries go by, the Church is always advancing towards the plenitude of divine truth, until eventually the words of God are fulfilled in her.” [ibid]

Perhaps more than anything else which Dei Verbum says, this recognition of a ‘pilgrim’ journey of growth has the power to encourage both the community of the Church and us its members, by offering us the chance to be compassionate to our own limitations as we personally and communally participate in that same faith journey.

2.7: Pope John’s intervention opens the possibility for a relational rather than content-focused view of Divine Revelation

Leaving aside for a moment the actual teachings of Dei Verbum’s incarnational theology, it is also worth recalling that the very process by which Dei Verbum came into being at the Council reflected in practice the sort of searching, growing theology about which it eventually taught.

Though Divine Revelation was the second major issue after Sacred Liturgy addressed by Vatican II, the final text of Dei Verbum emerged only towards the close of the Council, after three years of conciliar experience and four painstaking redraftings. In the optimism of his dual call for “Traditione” as well as “Transitione”, and in the trust he wished to place in the Council’s further deliberations of the original curial schema on Divine Revelation, Pope John XXIII personally intervened in the process, insisting that the present and future Church needed more than simply a reiteration of past defensive teachings.

The initial curial schema had re-presented Trent’s and Vatican I’s clarifications which focused solely on the media of the content of divine revelation: Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium. Though Dei Verbum went on to make its own landmark clarifications re these same media, as we have seen, it did not do so before offering a whole fresh context in which to view those media through its attention to the actual nature of divine revelation itself.

2.8: Divine Revelation is first and foremost God’s self-revelation

The very first Chapter of Dei Verbum taught that divine revelation was God’s deliberate self-revelation. It did not simply outline the Church’s role in defending, protecting and transmitting the truths of the deposit of faith as Trent and Vatican I had done in their emphasis on the content of Christian faith. Instead, Dei Verbum focused on naming the pivotal truth of God’s role in revealing Godself as the One in the personal relationship of friendship with humanity. In terms often more like poetry than dogmatic theology, it emphasised the graciousness of God’s self-revelation, particularly through the human life of Jesus, and also through the lives and history of human beings in the community of the Church from the outset of Christianity and across the centuries.

“It pleased God, in his goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will [cf. Eph. 1:9]. His will was that men [sic.] should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature [cf. Eph. 2:18; 2 Pet. 1:4]. By this revelation, then, the invisible God [cf. Col. 1:15; Tim. 1:17], from the fulness of his love, addresses men [sic.] as his friends [cf. Ex. 33:11; Jn. 15:14-15], and moves among them [cf. Bar. 3:38], in order to invite and receive them into his own company.” [DV # 2]

2.9: Through Jesus, humanity is invited to share divinity:

As LG # 2 also does, DV # 2 takes this affirmation of humanity one surprising step further. Both remind us that the true calling of Christians is, as 2 Peter 1:4 expressed it, to become “participants in the divine nature”. That we human beings could have the temerity to view our calling in Christ in this way shocked me when I first became aware of it, until I learned that the Greek Church had always named Christian life in terms of ‘divinisation’ [theosis].

This leads me to recall my surprise when I actually ‘heard’ for the first time the astounding prayer, reminiscent of DV # 2, which accompanies the pouring of water into the chalice of wine each Eucharist:

” By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

When I checked to see if this was a ‘new’ prayer arising out of Vatican II. I found instead that the pre-Vatican Mass had the same prayer in words perhaps even more emphatically affirmative of humanity. The Marian Missal’s translation of the Latin reads:

“O God, who in creating human nature, didst wonderfully dignify it, and still more wonderfully restore it, grant that by the Mystery of this water and wine, we may be made partakers of His divine nature, who vouchsafed to be made partaker of our human nature…”

Hence Dei Verbum is no less strong than Scripture or the ancient creeds in doing away with any basis for dualistic thinking. It emphasises that it is Jesus’ very humanity which reveals God, for he is the quintessential “Word of God”, who speaks “the sum total of Revelation” [DV # 2]. Here “to dwell among men [sic.] and to tell them about the inner life of God” [DV # 4], he also “revealed man to man himself [sic.]” [GS # 22]. Being “’a man among men [sic.]’ speaking ‘the words of God’” [DV # 4], it was “with his own lips” and “from his way of life and his works” that he revealed God [DV # 7].

3.1: The unified relationship between Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium provides a basis for ecclesial renewal

Moving now to the concluding section of this paper, I want to illustrate that the incarnational theology underpinning Dei Verbum is an essential ingredient in supporting ecclesial renewal.

I will begin this reflection by drawing out some of the implications of that teaching in DV #10 which emphasises that Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium are inseparable expressions of the single dynamic of the Spirit’s presence and action in the faith community:

“It is clear … that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.” [DV # 10]

3.2: The Holy Spirit is the life of the living Church

For me this extract provides the hermeneutical key for unlocking the full significance of all Dei Verbum’s other expressions of incarnational theology discussed across this paper. Above all, it signals that Dei Verbum’s theological stance is the very antithesis of dualism. It is not as if the Holy Spirit is called in from somewhere else to do three specialised, separate jobs for the Church and then move away again to an existence outside the world of humanity. For the picture DV #10 paints is of the whole way of life of the faith community, in collaboration with the Spirit of God across the generations. It is a holistic picture of a living, growing process, the very heart of which is the Spirit who, as Paul reminded the Romans, prays within the ‘groaning’ of us and of all God’s creation, as we await the completion of God’s design in us [cf. Rom. 8:22-27].

DV #10 marks an important climax in what Dei Verbum says re the life of the Church from its inception. It explains the process whereby the sacred writings of Scripture emerge from the Christian community’s reflection on what Jesus means to its members in the light of their faith in his resurrection and gift of the Spirit. It goes on to explain that the dogma this community teaches, through its leaders, grows out of a living, worshipping, praying community which struggles to preserve and pass on its ‘beloved believing’.

To many ears this could sound like more religious language “plugged into the moon”. So it is important to recall that it arises from a faith conviction earthed in the expectation that this will make a difference to how we live and treat each other in the practicalities of here and now. Our ancient faith is that Jesus’ resurrection and his gift of the Spirit are ongoing and that we are part of a people who belong to the Body of Christ, as Paul preached to the Corinthians [1 Cor. 12]. This is not a dead body, but one alive with the Spirit’s life [1 Cor. 12:13]. We are charged by initiation “into Christ” to be the arms and legs, face and voice of Christ in the world of our human lives. What we do and how we do it matters in the coming of God’s ‘kingdom’. Thus the creed places our belief in ourselves as Church within what it says of our belief in the very Spirit of God.

3.3: The Church as the “Body of Christ”, the Sacrament of Christ in the world

In Paul’s teaching about the “Body of Christ” it is expected that gifts will be shared by each member of the community with the community, for the good of the community, for the gifts truthfully belong to the Spirit who is the life of the community [1 Cor. 12:12-30]. The faithful community then is the primordial Sacrament of Christ through its continual life of transformation “into Christ” through Eucharist. This is the faith where the ‘holy communion’ of equally baptised persons must discern whether they are treating each other as the Body in everyday life, before they worthily eat the Body together in Eucharistic ‘holy communion’. [1 Cor. 11:29].

3.4: Who is Christ among us?

Across the centuries the Church effectively lost this sense of being the Body of equally initiated people “in Christ”. The one who led, taught and presided at liturgy gradually became the only alter Christus. He exercised responsibility for what had originally been a whole community’s call to holiness, a whole community’s call to be the Sacrament of Christ in the world, a whole community’s call to be the “we” who celebrate liturgy and the Sacraments. Then as the early Church gradually needed it, the Spirit’s gift of leading and presiding became an essential component in the life of the community. Yet, it was never envisaged as the only gift, and it was not meant to draw around itself any meaning beyond that arising from the life of the whole Body.

3.5: Restoring leadership within the vision of “hierarchical communio”

” Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church. By adhering to it the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood [sic.], to the breaking of the bread [cf. Acts 2:42 Greek]. So, in maintaining, practicing and professing the faith that has been handed on there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful” [my underlining]. LG # 12 adds more emphasis to this recovery of the whole Body’s responsibility for the faith when it points to the inerrancy of the whole community through its leadership:

“The body of the faithful as a whole, anointed as they are by the Holy One [cf. Jn 2:20, 27] cannot err in matters of faith”. [my underlining]

The responsibility for the faith is given to the entire community, not just to leadership, but leadership rightly exercises that responsibility, nonetheless. Hence whatever right and responsibility is assigned to the leader is, first of all, an affirmation of what belongs to the whole people.

3.6: The genius of Catholicism: a belief that God is revealed through humanity despite the mess

But leaders are human beings too, and we readily observe their inadequacies against our rightfully high expectations of them. Whereas we cope with the fact that Scripture is limited in its capacity to put human words around divine self-revelation, and most of us learn not to give up on the Church because is has been messy in its transmitting the gospel across history, the reality is that we find it extremely difficult to extend mercy when we feel Church leadership has let us down. If the ancient genius of our faith teaches us to trust that Scripture and Tradition are human instruments through whom the Spirit of God acts in the community, it also challenges us to some compassion re how we view the Magisterium. Church leaders are not separated from the rest of the community’s continual efforts to be converted “into Christ”. Ordination dispenses them neither from having limitations, nor from the responsibility they have to minimise these limitations. They need to be authentic in their calling, so they can speak with the community’s voice and have credibility with us in their leading, teaching and unifying of the Body. In my present work, I find the best way I can help people appreciate the nature of Church leadership and its huge demands on those individuals called to it is by discussing with them the film “Romero” on the life and martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. I think it gives some glimpse into the reality that what we ask of bishops individually and corporately is indeed a ‘big ask’. Vatican II asked no less than we do. DV #10 insists

“… this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant.”

3.7: Church renewal: from inert “it” to fully participating “we”

Looked at in this perspective DV #10 offers a way of recovering a more ancient sense of the Church:

“[as a] dynamic and communal reality [rather than] as a static institution ministering to the needs of individuals who present themselves on occasion [for whom] the church is not a ‘we’ but a ‘they’ or an ‘it’”.

The importance of this need to recover the Church as a “we” rather than as an “it” came into my awareness forcefully after reading a quite brilliant article written a long time ago by a well respected Sacramental scholar and liturgist, Ralph Kiefer. Speaking of the then newly restored RCIA as a mutual ministry of witnessing to conversion into Christ for the sake of the whole Christian community, Kiefer comments,

“[The new RCIA] signals the end of the divorce between liturgy and life, between private devotion and public function, between active ministers and inert laity. For it assumes that the liturgy will be a manifestation of the real life lived by the Church – a life marked by sufficient conversion to be worth celebrating and by sufficient catechesis to enable us to perceive that the proclamation of the wonderful works of God, mirabilia Dei, is possible because they occur among us; a renewed life, moreover, in which the laity are not the passive recipients of hierarchical grace but in which the ministry made sacramental in orders is a mirror of the priestly service of the entire people of God. The real nature of Christian ministry as collegial, shared and mutual is revealed in the preparation of catechumens. The candidates for baptism are not only the recipients of the church’s ministry. They are ministers to the church as well, for it is their experience of transformation which witnesses to the presence and power of the risen Lord before the church.”

If Church renewal since the Council has been about recovering the ancient sense of the Christian community as the place where the real presence of Christ will be identifiable within the world, then the “making of Christians” through initiation and the ‘re-making of Christians’ through a whole liturgical, Sacramental life of transformation into Christ are our raison d’ être. How people respond to the call for Christian life in everyday life does matter, because that is where conversion of life rings true. Otherwise it is just unearthly religious language used in Church. Hence the recovery of the ‘primordial’ sacramentality of the whole participating community with consequences for how members live their humanity is an inspiring challenge:

“The revelation of Christ’s saving, healing and redeeming power in our midst is the making of Christians. That the people, the lay people at that, should now become primordial sacramental signs is a breathtaking departure from the recent past.”


Dualistic thinking cannot support that belief in ourselves as the Body of Christ, which Paul encouraged the Church to have. Neither can it support that sense of Church as the Sacrament of Christ which LG # 1 explores and DV # 10 implies. Neither can it support that belief in conversion of life “into Christ” which the recovered RCIA and all our renewed Sacramental rites celebrate. If we are to believe that when we celebrate liturgy and the Sacraments Christ is really present among us who gather in the here and now, we are going to have to regain the temerity to believe, as did ancient Catholicism, that human life is not only good, but meant to “share in the divinity of Christ”. We are also going to have to address more of the unfinished business of Dei Verbum and find ways of transmitting what it teaches: God deliberately reveals Godself within the real experiences of our human living, as we reflect on them in the light of that dynamic partnership in faith which God graciously offers us – here, now, on this earth, and with eternal consequences!

(Virginia Bourke RSJ is a Josephite Sister who has been a teacher, administrator and Congregational leader. She studied theology at Catholic Theological Union and the Catholic Institute of Sydney. Currently she lectures in theology for the Religious Education Department of the Maitland-Newcastle Schools Office, and at Aquinas Academy.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

1 Claire Barbeau – The challenge of harnessing Vatican II: Moving with the signs of the times

The challenge of harnessing Vatican II: Moving with the signs of the times


Young people exert a very important influence in modern society. Their living conditions, their mental attitudes, their relations with their families, have been completely transformed. Often, they enter too rapidly a new and social environment. While their social and even political influence is on the increase daily, they seem unequal to the weight of these new responsibilities.

The growth of their social importance demands from them a corresponding apostolic activity; and indeed their natural character inclines them in this direction. Buoyed up by their natural ardour and exuberant energy, when awareness of their own personality ripens in them they shoulder responsibilities and are eager to take their place in social and cultural life. If this enthusiasm is penetrated with the spirit of Christ, animated by a sense of obedience and love of the pastors of the church, a very rich harvest can be expected from it. The young should become the first apostles to the young, in direct contact with them, exercising the apostolate by themselves among themselves, taking account of their social environment.

Adults should be anxious to enter into friendly dialogue with the young. Through this, despite the difference in age, adults and young people could get to know each other and share with each other their own personal riches. It is by example first of all, and on occasion by sound advice and practical help that adults should persuade the young to undertake the apostolate. The young, on their side, will treat their elders with respect and confidence; and though by nature inclined to favour what is new, they will give due esteem for praiseworthy traditions.

Children too have an apostolate of their own. In their own measure they are true living witnesses of Christ among their companions.” (Decree on the Apostolate of the Lay People, Chapter III, Article 12)

When I think of the second Vatican Council, a broad spectrum of images comes to mind.

Scenes from the Australian ABC mini series Brides of Christ flash before me.

‘Johnny XXIII’

The dramatic changes the central character faced in her life and the life of the order

I also think of older people recalling ‘how much change Vatican II brought in’, ‘that things seemed different’, ‘that the church is no longer what it used to be.’

The strongest image I have of the impact of Vatican II had on the people of God, was when a religious sister explained how she felt when her order no longer had to wear their long gowns and habit. As she walked outside on a summer’s day, she distinctly remembered experiencing a soft gentle breeze touch the back of her knee and calf. She said she remembered how gentle, warm and soft that breeze was, and she felt the presence of God within and around her. She experienced a sense of freedom, insight and God’s presence all in one experience. She was open to that particular touch and interpretation.

There are moments in my work where I feel this breeze of God especially when I see and feel ‘a spirit of openness to the Spirit of God’. I see this spirit of openness when I am in the presence of young people. You know where you stand when you are with young people. They either say to you how it is, or, depending on how they feel for that particular day, their body language will surely tell you how they feel.

In recent months we have heard how some clergy, religious and lay people have abused young people. As a result strict guidelines and protocols have been implemented by church and state so that young people are protected. Young people are conscious that there are still many good people in the church and some are aware that it was the individual actions of some people who chose to abuse. Yet young people are still committed to enliven the church with their presence and to be involved. I asked some of the members of the Parramatta Diocesan Leadership Team, what they thought of the issue and one mentioned that it has made her stronger in her faith. Another felt that it helped him get a stronger determination to promote the other good things that Catholics do and say.

Young people have so much to offer. Their enthusiasm, skills and presence are needed in our church. Our parishes are adult driven and focused,but young people must be active participants in the structures of pastoral leadership in the parish, if the church is to be relevant and alive in the 21st century.

Recalling some specific aspects of the Second Vatican Council

The documents of Vatican II highlight the influential role young people play in church and civic society. In my work I have noticed young people expressing a real willingness to engage in ‘apostolic activity’- to engage in innovative ways to make the church accessible to all people of all ages. They yearn to build a sense of community, hospitality and belonging in their parish where all people feel at home.

The Vatican II Liturgy documents stressed that the Liturgy is the source and summit of the life of the Church. Also as the liturgy is the gathering point of the parish, I often encourage adults and pastors to seek ways of inviting young people to become involved and active participants in the Eucharist. There are some parishes in the diocese which ensure that young people are involved by sponsoring them to become Ministers of the Word and the Eucharist and other ministries such as hospitality, altar servers and money collectors. Now this is not the reality that some young people would have experienced pre Vatican II. From what I have heard and read I realise that the parish world was very different. I spoke with lay and religious people, asking their experiences of church from 1962 to 1965. Here is what Stephen who was 18 years old in 1965 said:

“The CYO had a strong presence, which was great, lots of fun. Mass was said in Latin and the priest had his back to you, formal, only one mass. Vatican II happened. Priests turned around and now mass was said in English.” He didn’t know if the change was a good thing. But the good thing was that “there was more than one mass, one in the evening, which meant that he could go out on Saturday night and then go to mass on Sunday night. Although I missed the Latin, I felt that the mass wasn’t universal as it used to be.” However he realised that the church needed to relate more to young people and felt that Vatican II tried to do that.

From my conversation with Stephen I learnt that if you were young and male you could be an ‘altar boy’, but it appears that there was little participation of the laity in the liturgy. Stephen commented that there was more choice of masses after Vatican II. He felt that even though it suited the young person’s lifestyle, he noticed that that he didn’t attend mass with his family as often as he used to. He also pointed out that the Catholic Youth Organisation was huge, especially in Sydney. Initiated by Monsignor Leonard at Summer Hill, the CYO was by far the largest parish based youth activity. The CYO provided social opportunities to get to know other young Catholics on a regular basis. Many couples dated and married through the organisation. It appears that the CYO was successful because it met a need for many young people and families at the time.

So what was the time? In her book Australia in 1960’s Bereson notes that in the 60’s: –

Weekly wages were:

Fitter and turner-$56.40

Male nurse-$60 female $52.10


Bank manager-$97.59

Also that:

Steak $2.30 a kilo

Car $2368.00


Bereson also identifies the 1960s as a decade of social revolution.

Between 1960 and 1970 Australia’s population soared from 10.3 million to 12.6 million, including1.3 million migrants.

The White Australia policy changed in 1966 to allow Asian migration.

In 1967 (there was a referendum and white Australians voted to have Aboriginal people counted as Australian citizens and included in the national census. 5 million Australians voted for change and ½ a million were against.

Karen Marder an employee of the Supreme Court of Victoria was told to lower her hemline or get a new job.

In 1964 Australia introduced compulsory registration of all 20 year-old men for National Service in the Vietnam War. The participants were chosen by ballot.

Reflections on developments over the years

It was against these social changes that Vatican II was taking place. It is not surprising that Vatican II happened in the 1960s. The main aim of the Council was to respond to the signs of the times and encourage Catholics’ understanding of their faith. The Council urged Catholics to live out their faith in homes, workplaces and places of study. During the decade of the 60s, three social teachings (Peace on Earth 1963, Church in the Modern World 1965, Development of Peoples 1967) were written encouraging people to stand for what they believed in. The social teachings of the church convey such an important message of justice, peace and solidarity – messages that young people back then and today, struggle for.

Prior to 1960s the Young Christian Workers were also very popular. Members were involved in everything from YCW football teams, marriage preparation courses to credit cooperatives, which were started up for the young people who came back after the Vietnam War. The Australian Church actively supported YCW, especially during the 1950s-60s. The YCW in Australia took part in the anti-Vietnam war protests, which the official church did not approve of since it actively supported the government’s position of the war in Vietnam. As a result of YCW’s involvement many groups were closed, some against the wishes of young people. Clearly in this situation, young people at the time felt so strongly about what they stood for, that they were prepared to make their voices known and heard.

Even today young people find expression of their spirituality through works of social justice. Why? Because of Jesus’ clear and radical stance for peace, justice and for people who are poor, oppressed and marginalised. Social justice initiatives in schools work, because students work together with other students, responding to an unjust social issue and striving to make a difference in the lives of others.

I spoke with a young man who was in his early teens during the 1970s. He remembers the changes in his Religious Education classes. There was a shift from listening to a catechetically based lesson to a more experiential ‘bean bag’ lesson. Meaning there was a high level of sharing of personal stories of spirituality in an informal fashion. He commented that it appeared to him that the church was going through a period of spiritual adolescence. The Church was trying to awkwardly embrace the new challenges that Vatican II had brought in, whilst still trying to hold on to the past traditions and practices. He became heavily involved in Young Christian Students as it was on opportunity for him to meet other young people (especially girls as he was at a boys high school) and a chance to nurture, deepen and strengthen his faith.

Spiritually and communally, young people need to affirm and support each other in living out what they believe. In the late 70s and early 80s, groups such as Antioch began to develop and work, because together the community members aim to live out their faith through talks, fellowship, music and social outings. Parent couples gave guidance and affirmation when needed.

Young people need adults to walk the walk and talk-especially in the church context. Young people often comment how appreciative they are of parents or adults who help in youth ministry, especially when adults walk with, as opposed to directing and telling them what to do. Even the council fathers knew this! They said:

“The young should become the first apostles to the young, in direct contact with them, exercising the apostolate by themselves among themselves, taking account of their social environment. Adults should be anxious to enter into friendly dialogue with the young. Through this, despite the difference in age, adults and young people could get to know each other and share with each other their own personal riches. It is by example first of all and on, occasion by sound advice and practical help that adult should persuade the young to undertake the apostolate.”

Although the CYO is no longer with us, other youth movements, programs, communities and groups (which the Council encouraged the laity to develop) such as YCS, YCW, Antioch, Josephite Community Aid, Youth, Singles and Couples for Christ, Disciples and Servants of Jesus, Encounter, Branches, Youth United for Community, Action and Networking, Edmund Rice Camps and Justice Activities, Young Vinnies, Veritas, Youth 2000 and many others are currently available across the country. There is a rich diversity amongst these movements and this parallels the diverse ways in which young people express their faith and the backgrounds they come from. These organisations do what they do extraordinarily well. They have located the pulse of ministry with youth and young adults.

So what about the parishes?

Those pastors who are prepared to place young people as their priority in their parish are doing really well. It gets around the diocese when a couple of parishes are young people friendly and have something alive, relevant and needs based. St Bernadette’s at Castle Hill is a parish where there are many options for youth and young adults. The parish is very alive especially at their Sunday evening mass which is called a Life Teen mass. Taken from their website, Life Teen is a total youth ministry program, with its basis being the 6pm youth mass. The goal of Life Teen is to create an environment for teens to have their hearts transformed through encountering Jesus Christ. Then there are some parishes, which are doing what they can for young people depending on the available resources and are trying their best to meet the needs of young people. Then there are others that are really struggling to even connect with young people. When I meet with them I can see they are genuinely trying to locate that pulse – but just can’t find it. Often when they do meet with us, they are nearly at their wits end. I can totally understand why Robert J McCarty, executive director of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry in America, recently wrote an article ‘Ministering to the Millenials’ (2002). McCarty identified some global events and technological developments that dramatically altered the thinking and beliefs of children and young people of the 21st century.

1981 Discovery of AIDS

1993 Free Elections in South Africa

1986 Challenger Disaster

1995 Okalahoma Bombing

1989 Fall of the Berlin wall

1991 Soviet Union Dissolution

1991 Persian Gulf War

1999 Columbine High School Massacre

Day of Terrorism in USA



Major inventions during their brief lifetimes heralds the age of technology

Video games, Nintendo

Microsoft windows




Explosion of Cable TV

Mobile Phones

Fax machines



Satellite dishes

2001 Worldwide Satellite network

Young people in the 21st century have experienced more global, technological and social change in their childhood than any of the Baby Boomers experienced in their lifetime, especially in the affluent western world. McCarty terms the young people of today as ‘Millenials’ saying;

“Millenials live in a world of instant communication and immediate access to information. They are technologically and media savvy, with an emphasis on visual images versus verbal and written”.

 Furthermore, McCarty describes the spirituality of young people. He says young people are believers but do not belong to a particular church.

Spirituality is important and the focus is on the journey.

Journey filled with questions, doubts, and a need to grapple questions of faith with peers and with believing adults.

They want to share their journey with others who are experienced as supportive, welcoming, authentic and caring.

Discipleship is important, not membership.

Young people are open to transcendence, mystery, beauty compassion, inclusivity, and justice.

They see religion as judgemental, elite, abstract doctrine, boring rituals and strict boundaries and rules.

Spirituality as withdrawing from the rat race, competition, hatred and the violence they see in society.”

McCarty argues that the ministry challenge is to reconstruct Catholicism for a new generation by;

Providing prayer experiences that help them heal the sacred/secular split

Nature and the arts are excellent mediums to discover God

The use of symbols and sensual experiences

Possibilities and suggestions

Vatican II affirmed ‘collaboration’, ‘sharing of gifts’, ‘dialogue’ and ‘building community’ with the pastor, adults and young people. These words will remain only words, unless we are prepared to make them a living reality-for all people. Working in this apostolate with young people I experience many joys. I feel privileged to be a part of their world and blessed to be engaged in living out the mission of the church with parishes, movements and groups. However these realities only exist because there is a willingness to be open to the Spirit of God to move with and also challenge the ‘signs of the times’.

At times I do find it challenging to sew the seeds of Vatican II particularly in today’s society and church. In order to seriously engage in making the teachings of Vatican II a reality for young people, we need to look at what is preventing young people from being involved in the Eucharist and address those obstacles with a gospel-based attitude and openness of heart. This takes honesty, time, careful planning and at times, money. If you value something, you make a space for it. Financial investment in providing resources for young people, convey a powerful message to the entire Catholic community. It says that “young people are not only the church of today and the church of tomorrow and we are prepared to create total opportunities for young people to become the best young Catholics they can be.”

I asked a pastor his thoughts on the joys and challenges of sewing the seeds of Vatican II. Fr Mark said:

“Our young grow up in an education system that equips them to be skilled at group processes requiring dialogue, collegiality and the use of subsidiarity. They live in a world that take religious liberty for granted and where ecumenism is not considered a rarity. That is a source of joy for me as a pastor. On the other hand, many youth of faith, like the adults in their lives, do not identify themselves as the People of God. Nor it is obvious to them that the Church is sacrament. The cure for the latter sadness probably lies with us adult believers.”

A young man suggested some possibilities for the future:

“For today and the future, Vatican II is still an important challenge for the church and society. Indeed there is a lot of unfinished business. I once read an article that spoke about this. That because so much effort and resources were put into reorganising the mass, catholic education, etc. after Vatican II (obviously the priority) that the church has yet to fully get behind the development and full participation of the laity. And, this is where we find ourselves today, amid complex and radical changes in societ)”.

I believe this is the challenge of the modern church. Formation and participation of the laity is not simply participation as ministers in the mass and parish life. This is important but the vocation of the laity comes from our baptism as Catholics and is practiced in the world where we live, work, play, etc. (family life, at school, at work, in the neighbourhood, etc.). According to church teaching on the laity, this is where we are called to live out our Christian vocation. However the church is yet to actively support this approach. We are so concerned about maintaining what we have, perhaps caught up in the numbers game, that the focus of most parishes is kept within the parish walls.

To take up the question of the laity, means being actively concerned about the world. It is not enough to have a formation of the laity while ignoring what is happening in their lives, our lives. Opening our eyes to this would lead to other challenges for the church.

The biggest challenge, in respect to young people is the relevancy of the church. Why is it that only a very small fraction of catholic students let alone young people in general, participates in Mass? New education and evangelisation programs, while essential, are unfortunately not enough. It is time to look at how the church can become an integrated and relevant part of young people’s lives – lets read again the documents of Vatican II, understand with open minds and hearts the signs of the times and act courageously as Jesus Christ himself taught us so well to do.”


Bereson I., (2000) Australia in 1960s. Port Melbourne Victoria, Echidna Books

McCarty R., (2002) Horizon Journal. (Photostat copy)

Flannery A., (1996) The Basic Sixteen Documents: Vatican Council II Constitutions, Decrees and Declarations. Costello Publishing New York.


Sowing the seeds of Vatican II: Joys and challenges


How do we invite young people to Church?

How to question the Church legitimately?

Year 12 retreat experiences are fantastic sources of growth and development that are not reproduced in the parish setting. How can we change this mind set?

What keeps young people away?

How relevant is the Church to young people?

What prevents parents from attending Church?

Dialogue is easy when there is something in common. How can we bridge the gap?


We need to stop worrying about ‘bums on seats’ approach

Special programs need to be developed to encourage young people to attend with friends who perhaps are not Catholic

There are a variety of causes for the lack of young people in the Church.

Need to meet young people where they are

Families of different stages of development, not all the same ‘place’ at the same time

Need to allow freedom of expression and risk failure. Don’t always know the outcome, but can develop from the shared experience


Children have different needs to adolescents and can’t be in the same group with same set of needs

Need to see Jesus reflected in the Church practices especially regarding authority, especially as a consequence of loss of integrity by some clergy

Laity and young people fail to understand Church rules, which often lead to misunderstandings

High standard of faith/life education in schools. Teachers are becoming more professional in their approach to religious education


Need to ask young people what they think, give them room

We need to encourage, be warm and friendly, need to welcome

We can’t impose on young people; need to be aware of sensitivities

‘Models’ are not relevant. Need for young people to experience differences

The hierarchy needs to let go of their authority and share meaningfully with young people and the laity. Don’t be afraid of failing


Before we do anything we need to acknowledge that there is a rich diversity amongst young people, can’t put all in the same basket

Need to develop opportunities to develop them as leaders of the Church (especially in the area of TAFE and University chaplaincy.)

Need to recognise the tensions

Way forward – nurture faith developing opportunities

Need to welcome young people at all times

Need to participate meaningfully

Need to invest in resources for ‘picking up young people moving through later stages of youth journey’ (tertiary years)

Establish a National Youth Commission to develop and fund initiatives for, by and with young people

(Claire Barbeau is the Coordinator of the Youth and Young Adult Apostolate in the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

14 Tony Kelly, CSsR – The Church in the modern world – was there too much joy and hope?

Gaudium et Spes: ‘The Church in the Modern World’ – Was there too much joy and hope?

Vatican II, for the people of my generation, remains a matter of vivid personal recollection. Rome during the Council was the place to be. On one occasion I was asked to act as a deacon for the morning Mass that began the proceedings of the day. It was a heady moment, to read the Gospel to the assembled Council Fathers. Alas, self-congratulation was premature. My role also meant that I had to put the mitre of an elderly French Canadian missionary bishop, surely a great occasion for him: unfortunately the mitre seemed to be spring-loaded, for it leapt rocket-like off his venerable head. How he must have cursed this antipodean deacon. Anyway, I was hissed into the sidelines, and remained concealed thereafter. Too much joy and too much hope? Indeed.

The Pastoral Constitution, the Church in the Modern World, completed toward the end of the Council, launched the People of God into a new confident expansive dialogue with the contemporary world. Its first words were ‘The joy and the hope’, Gaudium et Spes; and that is how it is now referred to. Forty years have gone by since the Council opened. Today we are faced with a strange question, Was there too much ‘joy’ and too much ‘hope’, given the way the world has changed, and, for that matter, the way in which we have changed: tempora mutantur, et nos mutamur in illis as the old adage has it – roughly, ‘times change, and we are changed along with them’.

Since that beginning of Vatican II, a generation and a half (odd designation) has been born. It has not known the Church of any other time. These younger people are often puzzled by the longer memories and the seemingly strange loyalties of their elders. They cannot imagine how an ecumenical council was a shock, what the fuss was all about, how the it was all experienced as challenge, a risk, or even a defeat…

A generation has died out, too. They were the wise ones when the council began — influential Church leaders, brilliant theologians, the numerous members of great religious orders, and the vast community of mature men and women who had put a life into bringing up their children in the Catholic tradition.

Now these have gone; gathered out of this world of questioning and seeking and partial evidence into the final mystery. Most went with hope, even greater hope than ever before. But all went without yet seeing any great dream come true… Some went disillusioned and embittered over the number, the rapidity, and the depths of the changes that were called for.

For those of us who span more than one generation, perhaps the central truth of the council is locked away in chapter seven of the Council’s document on the Church: “The Pilgrim Church, in its sacraments and institutions which belong to this present age, carries the mark of this world which will pass, and she herself takes her place among the creatures which groan and travail yet and await the revelation of the children of God”.

We keep being left with nothing but God, nothing but the grace of Christ, nothing but the surprise of what the Spirit can do. No Council ever before spoke of God, of the mystery of Christ and the gift of the Spirit as this one did. Our pilgrim path has taken many strange turns before we confronted with the central mystery of our faith. Our hopes rest in nothing else; neither in the recovery of past golden age, nor in constructing a better image in the present, nor in some perfectly planned Church of the future.

We thought we could get a free ride into the future by catching up with the `Modern World’: aggiornamento would be enough. But in the last forty years that modern world has become a `post-modern’ world of political disintegration, economic collapse, and ecological spasm. There are dreams of a new world order. But, in the absence of any larger story or gracious tradition of humanity, such dreamers are left only with the power of law…or force.

As a new millennium unfolds, the documents of Vatican II will, I am sure, be joyfully re-read by the as-yet unborn. This time with a more gently ironic faith, more accepting of the humble path of pilgrims, more alert to the Stranger that meets us around every turn.

A new question in a ‘post modern’ world

You might keep in mind a question as we discuss this issue: How has the world changed in the last forty years, in ways that the Council could not have foreseen? The world-wide web, the growing unification of Europe, the collapse of Soviet communism, the emergence of feminism, the new ecological consciousness, the innumerable wars, the rise of terrorism, the triumph of capitalism, the unchallenged hegemony of the United States, the prevalence of a consumer culture, the rapid ageing of populations, the rise of biotechnology, the scourge of AIDS, the end of Apartheid, the era of Pope John Paul II, the genocides of Cambodia and Rwanda, the unrelenting exposure of clerical scandal … – these are just some of examples: complete the list in your own way! The Church finds itself in a world that is now frequently referred to as ‘post-modern’.

Our question is worth discussing. After all, joy and hope are gifts that pervade Christian consciousness, if we are to believe the witness of Scripture and the message of the Council. You can make a sampling of the psalms, for instance, and a find a classic experience of the hope that sustained generations of believers for 2700 years, the prayers that Jesus knew by heart, the prayers that Mary prayed, the prayers of praise and lamentation that are the core of Church’s daily Liturgy of the Hours.

The salvation of the just is from the Lord;

He is their refuge in time of trouble;

The Lord helps them and rescues them;

He rescues them from the wicked, and saves them

Because they take refuge in him (Ps 37:39-40).

Why are you cast down, my soul? Why groan within me?

Hope in God; for I shall praise him again,

May saviour and my God (Ps 42: 6. 11)

Then, there is that wonderful hymn to hope in Romans 8, as Paul considers the whole of creation groaning in one great act of giving birth, with ourselves groaning within it, and indeed, the Holy Spirit groaning in us: ‘For in hope we were saved’ (Rom 8:24). And so he asks, ‘Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship or distress, or persecution or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?’ (Rom 8: 35). Why not add, ‘or scandal, or a crisis in loyalty and leadership, or institutional collapse – or any damn thing likely to cause us further embarrassment, confusion or hopelessness’? Well, Paul at least is clear:

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels or rulers [=the demonic state of any contemporary culture], nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord “(Rom 8:37-39).

Perhaps we thought it was going to easy, or that the opening words of that great Council document were nothing more than a romantic ideal:

“The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor and afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well” (GS#1).

There is no nice way to feel grief, anguish, poverty and affliction; nor, paradoxically, no easy way to enter into the joy and hope that is promised. And yet there is a vast, all-inclusive hope:

“When we have spread on earth the fruits of our nature and our enterprise – human dignity, fraternal communion, and freedom – according to the command of the Lord and in his Spirit, we will find them once again, cleansed from stain of sin, illuminated and transfigured, when Christ presents to his Father an eternal and universal kingdom, ‘of truth and justice, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace’. Here on earth the kingdom is mysteriously present; when the Lord comes, it will enter into its perfection” (GS #39).

This invites us to pray the Our Father in a new way: ‘Hallowed by thy name; thy kingdom come’ – not some other name, let alone our own; not some other kingdom, let alone our own!

I can imagine that many of us were inclined to think that, if we loved the world, the world would love us, and recognise the Church immediately as an agent of wondrous humanity. On this matter we had been clearly warned. Small, beleaguered communities of nineteen hundred years ago recalled the Lord’s words, as he has about to be crucified: ‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you’ (John 15:18-19). This is no excuse for paranoia; but it is worth remembering, for human culture has a deep element of scapegoating within it: anyone or anything that challenges its self-serving certainties contained must be got rid of, if anyone is to live in peace. Recall the words of Friedrich Nietzsche expressing a judgment that has had a powerful effect on modern culture, especially in the literary culture of our own country. In one of his final works, before the onset of mental collapse, this most passionately ambiguous of philosophers wrote,

“The Christian conception of God – God as god of the sick, God as a spider, God as spirit – is one of the most corrupt conceptions of the divine ever attained on earth. It may even represent the low-water mark in the descending development of divine types. God degenerated into a contradiction of life, instead of being its transfiguration and eternal Yes! God as the declaration of war against life, against nature, against the will to live! God – the formula for every slander against ‘this world’, for every lie about the ‘beyond’! God the deification of nothingness, the will to nothingness pronounced holy.”

You might say that the Council, and all the major statements that have followed it, was addressing Nietzsche’s attack. In this reassertion of Christian humanism, no tag was more quoted than the words of St Irenaeus, ‘the glory of God is man fully alive’ – though the rest of that 3rd Century bishop-martyr’s statement was seldom added, ‘… and the life of man is the vision of God’. The human person ‘fully alive’, the ‘transcendent and integral humanism’ of which the Popes have so often spoken, was meant to counter any version of the human that struck against the dignity of the human person or constricted the totality of the values that made for human well-being. With a presentment of the impending crisis, theology soon took the path of liberation in an effort to give people, whatever the oppression they experienced, the impetus to practical hope, even if the joy is somewhat deferred.

We have in fact been struggling with the many meanings of the world in the New Testament. On the one hand, ‘God so loved the world…’ (John 3:16), and Christ is the light and saviour of the world, the giving himself for the expiation of the sins of the whole world, for the sake of a cosmic transformation. A lot of love there. On the other hand, the world, under the power of the evil one, is terminal adversary, the realm to which no follower of Christ can ever belong, and the enemy that Christ has overcome. There is in it a drama of light and darkness. The NT did not bother to make the distinctions that would be made at a much later age: the difference between God’s good creation and those elements in human culture that seek to remove God and deface the human, the sphere of idolatrous self-projections and demonic possessions that lead to self-destruction. Whatever hope might mean, whatever joy might mean, it is unwise to think that that other realm that exists in our own hearts and in the history in which the Church lives is a space of innocence and good will. We dare not idealise the situation even if we assent to the unqualified love of God for all that is, and rejoice in the fact that a great victory has been irreversibly achieved in the resurrection of the crucified: ‘Take courage; I have conquered the world’ (John 16:33).

We still have a long way to go. In fact, the ‘very courageous’ (as Sir Humphrey would say) brave, hopeful, joyous enthusiasm of the council on this point seems to have given way to something far more cautious. Part, perhaps the largest part of the problem, was that we did not realise how rapidly changing that ‘modern world’ would prove to be, especially when the boundaries between Church and world would appear to very porous. In one sense, the Church is nothing else than that part of the world that is alive to the universal gracious mystery at work in human history, as it worked and prays that the kingdom of Our Father would come. From another point of view, the Church, being a part of the world, is exposed to the kind of cultural ‘black death’ that is taking place, an analogy with the terrible toll of the Black Death in Europe of the 14th century which in some cases killed off 40 per cent of the population. What’s happening today leaves us all of us feeling a bit miserable whether we look at ourselves institutionally (marriage, family, law, politics, the world order, education, economics) or personally: how can we bear up under so many problems? We seem to feel the need to start all over again, but find ourselves unsure of what there is to build on, especially with a loss of historical sense, we live in a culture of amnesia with regard to the past, a kind of social Alzheimer’s disease leaving us all too vulnerable to manipulation in the present. All the more reason to be intent on that other kingdom and on that will that comprehends all ages and times.

In some ways, we have begun to feel the need to lighten up a bit, lest we be overwhelmed with the world’s sadness. After all the whole purpose of Jesus’ message is expressed in these words, ‘I have said these things to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete’ (John 15:11). Hope without joy would not be a hope for fulfilment, but at best an expectation that our miserable view of things will be vindicated. Joy without hope would be repressive, and an invitation to retreat from the struggle. A delicate balance, you might say – but a balance that is only kept by wanting, desiring and working for the accomplishment of God’s holy and life-giving will.

Joyful hope

One aspect of the buoyant hope and joy involved is not to take ourselves too seriously – not to be too ideological. I vividly remember feeling two sides of an unredeemed experience in the times after the council. And of these I repent. One was the imposition of a ferocious kind of political correctness. It was manifested in a harsh division of progressives and conservatives with no friendly space in between. The formula of words, the mode of dress, the latest angle, were matters of final and irreversible judgment. We all tended to think that we were so possessed the right Spirit that we administered God’s grace and executed the divine will – strangely identified with our own take on things. It is all a bit foolish now, but I at least remember arguing and posturing in the name of a renewal which was really nothing but a rather silly kind of impatient imposition and manipulation. We came dangerously close to losing our sense of humour, because we were so full of ourselves! When adoration of God’s will goes, we are left with nothing but our own little plans for making our own little names… but ‘Hallowed be thy name’!

And another thing. I think I was right on this one at least, even if I was wrong on just about everything else. Being a young theologian giving talks on council documents all over the place, I recall having a moment of truth. No one was speaking about prayer any more. The promised renewal was all about right liturgical forms, having the right theology, and so on – the patient deep ways of prayer and of attention centred on God and the Father’s will were not much spoken of, and it seemed to me, with the collapse of the older devotional forms, not much practised. I must have taken this seriously since the first book I ever wrote was on prayer (The Human Shape of Prayer). Someone must have read it, since a pirated edition appeared in India at one stage. Times were to change, of course, for now interest in prayer and the experience of God is very high; spirituality is the thing, rather than theology; indeed, rather than belonging to the Church; and that brings its own problems: is it ‘my spirituality’ or the will of the Father that is the central thing? But then there was an odd extroversion in the air: action, the right structures, the right formulae were the essential thing. Nonetheless, slowly, but very definitely, the Holy Spirit taught us that there was only one saviour of the world, and it was not I nor you, nor even Pope John, nor Karl Rahner, nor Yves Congar, nor any one of the numerous celebrities that came later. It required no great humility on my part to admit that I spent too much time in negative remarks about people and their opinions, and not time in promoting the essence and heart of the Gospel. It was all very wordy time; and even today we find it very difficult to say things simply. But there is one simple prayer, ‘Thy kingdom come’. Life to the full comes not from our own ideas or our own design of structures, but by the gift and action of God.

In the same vein, I recall how we loved the laity! Not you, but a hopeless ideal; a laity fabricated out of a clerical projection, that knew the world in a way that poor little priests and religious never could, that witnessed to the Gospel in a way that we ‘churchy’ people never could, a hitherto untapped resource that brimmed with the gifts of the Spirit. That’s true, of course; but there was an element of unreality about it all; and only years of association with lay groups brought home to us the rather obvious fact that no one had all the answers, that we needed one another more than we realised, and that each and all of us, in the end, and at every moment, is only a little branch of the one living vine. The answer is only to be found by surrendering to the Spirit, by following Christ, and praying with him, the prayer he taught us: ‘Thy kingdom come’!

Three questions

Here we are in this time, 40 years after the beginning of the Council, this time, this place, with these people. No, you can never have too much joy and too much hope if it is Christian experiences we are speaking of. I would like to end with three questions, to make our joy abound and our hope increase:

1. Isn’t it time to start loving the Church again, our mother, our realm of life in the Spirit, our access to Christ, the location of a great communion, comprising Mary and the saints, the martyrs and prophets, the dear ones who have gone before us, and the angels and archangels (it is inconceivable that God’s creative power would have exhausted itself with only our form of intelligent life)! A mean-spirited quasi-automatic attack on the Church and its nearest representatives does not make for much joy or much hope for anyone. I believe it is time to be thankful for the gift of the Church and for our place within it. There can be no critical thinking unless there is a basic thanking, manifested in a love that speaks the truth, intent on the kingdom of God and the will of our Father. We are members of one another, not enemies; or if perceived as enemies, forgiveness is all the more necessary: ‘thy will be done – forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’.

2. Isn’t it time to awaken to the joy of Christ’s gift; not later, but now. History has been and will be full of surprises: in the meantime, there is the greatest surprise of all – God’s limitless love for us, now, and in every living moment. The now of our lives, this God-willed, God-given moment, is filled with unstinting grace; we live in each instant from an incalculable gift. Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus – because each moment is a moment in the saving will that guides the universe.

3. Isn’t it time to practice hope and express it in the prayer of one’s last breath. We live longer, but not necessarily better. And even if we live long, it is still too short a span to waste our lives on nonsense, and give ourselves to anything less than God’s will and God’s reign. What then is the hope we are living? How would we say our last prayer in one concentrated last moment? How do the words of the ‘Our Father’ spring into new life? Reflect on that, recall it often, and you come close to knowing what hope is about: surrender to God, to the gift of life to the full, for everyone, despite all failure, evil and confusion? God’s will will be done. Why not make that our most intense and vital intention?

So, let’s start again. Sadder and wiser it might be, and certainly older, with the experience of recent decades, yet, with the joy and hope of the great Council to nourish us, still joyful, still hopeful, still ready to collaborate with that life-giving, reconciling, all-loving will that moves through every atom of the universe. It is time to put the wholeness, the wholesomeness, ie. the ‘holic’, back into Cat-holic. It’s time to be open to unimaginable reach of that will that has been working these 15 billion years to bring us to this moment, to introduce us to Christ and to one another, to receive this now as an instant in the great outpouring of the Spirit renewing the whole earth – the reality that the Council so joyously and hopefully celebrated.

(Tony Kelly is a Redemptorist priest and currently Professor of Theology at Australian Catholic University.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

13 Bishop Peter Ingham – Ecumenical and inter-faith relations.

Ecumenical and inter-faith relations.


In my religious ancestry my father was Catholic from a mixed marriage because his mother was Catholic and had him baptised. She died when he was 8 years old. He and his brother were reared by a childless Catholic aunt also in a mixed marriage. I only ever met Grandfather once. My mother, from a Presbyterian family, became Catholic when engaged to my father so my birth into a Catholic family depended on a lot of humanly unlikely events.

As a young priest from 1964, I was always fascinated by the other churches and sought occasions to meet clergy and join fraternals. Vatican II made that more accessible.

On 24 February 2002 we celebrated the Golden Jubilee of the installation of my predecessor Bishop Thomas McCabe as the first Bishop of the new Diocese of Wollongong. One of the speakers, Fr Pat Kenna, quoted a local person’s reminiscence of the period, which is relevant to this focus group.

“Back in 1952 we Catholics were a very difficult lot to get on with. We did not compromise at all. Catholics were forbidden to take part in non-Catholic religious services. Permission from the Bishop could be sought if you had a very good excuse, like family, but not for a friend. And this included weddings, baptisms, and funerals. Many Protestant people were very hurt by this attitude of ours.

Social life also had its difficulties. For example, the Wollongong Hospital Ball, always on a Friday evening, would have little or no provision for non-meat eaters. What might have began as good-natured ribbing about this would often degenerate into a bad-tempered display.

ANZAC Day commemorations brought these divisions into dreadful prominence annually. Catholics were not allowed to attend the Dawn Service to honour fallen friends or relatives. We could take part in the march but at the end we had to draw aside and not enter the Showground or Town Hall for the Combined Service.”


A) Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) 21 November 1964

“The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council”. (1)

“The Church, then, God’s only flock, like a standard lifted on high for the nations to see, ministers the Gospel of peace to all humankind.

For those who believe in Christ and have been properly baptised are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church”. (2)

“All who have been justified by faith in baptism are incorporated into Christ, they therefore have a right to be called Christians” (3) (Baptism the link). The Church is not divided – we Christians are! Despite our divisions we are still in communion one with the other because we are baptised into the one Body of Christ.

(This is a new step and it was a big step in 1964.)“The separated churches have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the existing attitudes Catholic Church.” (3) (Vatican II challenged towards other Churches and recognised there is already some communion with them.)

“This sacred Council therefore exhorts all the Catholic faithful to recognise the “signs of the times” (John XXIII expression), and to take an active and intelligent part in the work of ecumenism” (4)

“Little by little as the obstacles to perfect ecclesiastical communion are overcome, all Christians will be gathered, in a common celebration of the Eucharist, into the unity of the one and only Church… This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church…”(4) (While this may seem a “tad arrogant”, in fact it is quite a transforming step, a breakthrough, because many of the significant elements of unity are also to be found in other communities.)

“Primary duty is to make a careful and honest appraisal of whatever needs to be renewed and done in the Catholic household itself…”(4) (not a return to the past but our Church reforming itself).

Fr Thomas Stransky (on Staff at the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity) wrote in 1965, “The 1964 Decree on Ecumenism gives a clear and authoritative decision on the future position of the Church in relation to non-Catholic Christians”.

“The decree, which received the overwhelming approval of the Second Vatican Council in detailed voting, tries to correct four major misunderstandings about the grace-filled movement towards Christian unity”.

1. “There is not a Catholic ecumenism …We are witnessing today one Christian movement, and each church is asked to contribute, according to its conscience, whatever can bring about, among all Christians, that full invisible and visible unity that Christ has willed for His Church. The cause of Christian unity is not best served as it had been in the past: by the traditional refusal of serious contact with other Christian communities. The lack of such contact is …an added obstacle; it perpetuates and strengthens mutual ignorance and apathy…We wish to be one in order that, through our united witness in word and action the world may believe.”

2. “Ecumenism is a dynamic movement, not the static stance of Church to Church. The conciliar decree (N.4) provisionally describes the ecumenical situation in the mid-1960s. “Those activities and initiatives which, according to the various needs of the Church and opportune occasions, are started or organised for the fostering of unity among Christians”.

3 “Catholic contribution to Christian unity is not confined to specialists. Ecumenical work is the faithful service of the whole Church …how we can better determine and respect what makes non-Catholic Christians our brothers and sisters and how we can help heal the tragic wounds that make them separated”.

4. “The Catholic involvement in the ecumenical movement presupposes “the continuing reform” (conversion) of the Church to enable the Church to reform itself”.

Pope Paul VI in his first encyclical said, “Let us stress what we have in common rather than what divides us.”

B) Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) 7 December 1965

(Not superficial human optimism – God’s hope – joy in the love of God) “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time … are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts …” (Christians are a gift – we are part of the whole world – the feeling of deep solidarity with the human race and its history. (1)

“The world, which the Council has in mind, is the world of women and men, the entire human family seen in its total environment ” (defines world). (2)

“…enter into dialogue with it about all these various problems, throwing the light of the Gospel on them, and supplying humanity with the saving resources which the church has received …” (Gift of Christianity – saving resources) (3)

The Condition of Humanity in the World Today

“In every age, the Church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel,…it should be able to answer the ever recurring questions which people ask about the meaning of this present life and of the life to come, and how one is related to the other” (we live in a period of tensions, “Signs of the times” gift of discernment) (4)

“Ours is a new age of history … real social and cultural transformation whose repercussions are felt at the religious level also“. (4)

The Constitution on the Church (LG 1-4) and the Decree on Ecumenism (UR 2) situate the mystery of the Church within the whole mystery of God’s wisdom and goodness which draws not only the whole human family, but also the whole of creation, into unity with God. Ecumenism is seen as part of this.

C) Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) 28 October 1965

Note: Inter-religious dialogue is between Christians and other world religions (Jews, Buddhists, Moslems, and Hindu) whereas ecumenism is dialogue with other Christians towards further unity.

“In our day, when people are drawing more closely together and the bonds of friendship between different peoples are being strengthened, the church examines more carefully its relations with non-Christian religions.” (para 1)

“The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions.” (para 2)

“Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, together with their social life and culture.”

“A high regard for the Muslims” (para 3)

“The Jews remain very dear to God, …God does not take back the gifts he bestowed or the choice he made.”

Abraham is the key to common ground between these 3 monotheistic faiths – Islam, Jewish, and Christian.

“It is true that the Church is the new people of God, yet the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed … all must take care, lest in catechising or in preaching the Word of God, they teach anything which is not in accord with the truth of the Gospel message or the spirit of Christ.

“deplores all hatreds, persecutions, displays or anti-semitism levelled at any time or from any source against the Jews.”(4)

“The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against people or any harassment of them on the basis of their race, colour, condition in life or religion.” (5) (A lot of this is not well known among our people, this is our exciting gift to others. No other Church has such rich and inspiring documents.)


I will talk briefly on significant documents by which the Vatican’s Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, since 1988 called The Pontificial Council for Promoting Christian Unity, began to put into practice the thrust of the II Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism. You can then see where today’s practices came from. (Cardinal Bea was its leading ecumenist of this period, succeeded by Cardinal Willebrands, prior to Cardinal Cassidy and now Cardinal Kasper.)

Part 1 of the “Directory Concerning Ecumenical Matters” appeared in 1967 and dealt with:

1. Mandating the setting up of Diocesan Ecumenical Commissions and of National Bishops Committees for Ecumenism

2. Validity of baptism conferred by members of churches and ecclesial communities separated from us.

3. Spiritual ecumenism – the change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement (origins of the Week of Prayer for Unity).

4. Sharing of our spiritual heritage and resources (prayer in common, sharing in liturgical worship with Eastern Christians and with other separated brethren, sharing physical resources (chapels, sacred vessels etc).

A declaration on not celebrating the Eucharist in common (1970) showed up the pain of disunion in the very Sacrament of unity with Jesus and with one another.

Paul VI’s Apostolic Letter on “Mixed Marriages” (1970) was a significant reflection of the new understanding and respect for other churches and ecclesial communities when their members marry Catholics.

Part II of the “Directory Concerning Ecumenical Matters” dealt with ecumenism in higher theological education (1970).

“Reflection and Suggestions Concerning Ecumenical Dialogue” (1970) – its nature and aim, the bases, the conditions, method, subjects and form of the dialogue. We now participate in many official international and national theological dialogues.

“On admitting other Christians to Eucharistic Communion in the Catholic Church” (1972) – An effort to identify circumstances and conditions for limited intercommunion in special circumstances.

Bishops and representatives of diocesan ecumenical commissions met in Rome in 1972. Over the next few years, a working group produced (Reunis a Rome 1975) information to help bishops decide on what form diocesan ecumenical collaboration should take without losing harmony with the bonds of communion in faith and discipline which link the Catholic Church locally and universally:

Local ecumenism takes many forms and is subject to the bishop of the diocese. It involves sharing in prayer and worship, work on common Bible translations, joint pastoral care; eg, in hospitals and penal institutions, shared premises for worship in certain circumstances, collaboration in educational institutes, joint use of communication media (radio, TV, press), co-operation in the health-care field, response to national and international emergencies by raising and distributing funds ecumenically, relief of human need, social problems, social justice, community housing, social welfare, drug education. It also covered bilateral dialogues of theologians, meetings of Heads of Churches; joint working groups exploring fields of co-operation.

Here is described our participation in Councils of Churches which are servants of the Ecumenical Movement at State and National levels.

Remember we had never done any of this before – new territory for Catholics!

Relations with Anglicans

In 1966 Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury met Paul VI and inaugurated a serious dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. It included not only theological matters (scripture, tradition, and liturgy) but also matters of practical difficulty that each side felt. So ARCIC was born – the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission.

When Paul VI met Archbishop Coggan of Canterbury on 29 April 1977 he said “After 400 years of estrangement, it is now the third time in seventeen years that an Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope embrace in Christian friendship in the city of Rome. Since the visit of Archbishop Ramsey eleven years have passed, and much has happened in that time to fulfil the hopes then expressed and to cause us to thank God.” (Page 183 Flannery “Vatican II More Post Conciliar Documents” Vol II)

In 1982 John Paul II met Archbishop Runcie at Canterbury Cathedral “on the Eve of Pentecost to give thanks for the progress in the work of reconciliation between our Communions”.

Meanwhile ARCIC had produced joint statements on Eucharist, Ministry and Ordination and Authority in the Church.

The Pope and Archbishop Runcie’s statement included these significant words:

“Once more, then, we call on the bishops, clergy and faithful people of both our communions in every country, diocese and parish in which our faithful live side by side. We urge them all to pray for this work and to adopt every possible means of furthering it through their collaboration in deepening their allegiance to Christ and in witnessing to him before the world. Only by such collaboration and prayer can the memory of the past enmities be healed and our past antagonisms overcome.”

“Our aim is not limited to the union of our two communions alone, to the exclusion of other Christians, but rather extends to the fulfilment of God’s will for the visible unity of all his people. Both in our present dialogue, and in those engaged in by other Christians among themselves and with us, we recognise in the agreements we are able to reach, as well as in the difficulties which we encounter, a renewed challenge to abandon ourselves completely to the truth of the gospel.” (Page 188 Flannery Vol II)

The meetings and contacts between the present Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey and John Paul II have intensified leading up to the Jubilee 2000. The setting up of the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity (Nov 2001) in addition to ARCIC seeks to bring our two communions into closer contact with representation from around the world focussing on the issues. Archbishop Bathersby of Brisbane is Co-Chair. In the last year he has visited and spoken at the Anglican General Synod and Peter Carnley as Primate, visited and addressed the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. In NSW Anglican and Catholic Bishops have an annual day together of fellowship, prayer and study. This also happens in most other states of Australia.

In 1993, the 1967 Ecumenical Directory was brought up-to-date and enlarged. This is an important document in which the Catholic understanding of Ecumenism is found.

A Bonus to the ecumenical movement is the Pope’s Encyclical “Ut Unum Sint” 1995 on “Commitment to Ecumenism” in which the Pope is reflecting on what this focus group is about: the Council’s teaching, the experience of the past 35 years and our seriousness about the quest for unity. Despite a slow entry into the ecumenical movement, the Catholic Church is now a strong leading and committed player.

In “The Coming of the Third Millennium” (1994) Pope John Paul II issued a provocative challenge, “The approaching end of the second millennium demands of everyone an examination of conscience and the promotion of fitting ecumenical initiatives so that we can celebrate the Great Jubilee of 2000, if not completely united, at least much closer to overcoming the divisions of the second millennium”. (34)

In “Beginning the New Millennium” (2001) the Pope reflected on the ecumenical dimension (12), “The ecumenical journey is certainly still difficult, and will perhaps be long, but we are encouraged by the hope that comes from being led by the presence of the Risen One and the inexhaustible power of his Spirit, always capable of new surprises.”

The 1998 Pontifical Council’s “The Ecumenical Dimension in the Formation of Those Engaged in Pastoral Work” is another important contribution.

In 1995 the Pope’s Apostolic Letter “Orientale Lumen” calls on Latin Catholics to get to know the Christian East so as to come to share and work better together – “the Church must breathe with both lungs, East and West”.

You must also have noticed the Popes striking ecumenical example in every country he visits – a meeting with representatives of other Christian ecclesial communities and interfaith leaders is always on the agenda. Remember the ecumenical and inter faith gathering in the Sydney Domain on the night before the Pope beatified Blessed Mary MacKillop (18 January 1995).

Here in Australia the Catholic Church is a member with 13 other Churches of the NCCA (Anglican Church, Antiochian Orthodox Church, Armenian Apostolic Church, Assyrian Church of the East, Churches of Christ, Congregational Federation, Coptic Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox Church, Lutheran Church, Religious Society of Friends, Roman Catholic Church, Romanian Orthodox Church, Salvation Army, Syrian Orthodox Church and Uniting Church). In NSW every Catholic Diocese is a member of the NSW Ecumenical Council, with other States likewise.

The Catholic Church is an official dialogue partner in Australia with the Uniting Church (Mission of the Church – Inter-Church Marriages); the Lutheran Church (Episcope); and the Anglican Church (AUSTARCC) – on ARCIC Authority. Australian Consultation on Liturgy (ACOL) is a liturgical inter-church body where the focus is liturgy and the ecumenism is taken for granted. It goes back to the early seventies.


Internationally we have Catholic participants on ARCIC (Peter Cross), Methodist (Bishop Michael Putney), and International Anglican RC Commission for Unity (Bishop John Bathersby).

With Non-Christians

The Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Inter-Faith Relations is in an annual dialogue with the Executive Council of Australian Jewry for the past five years.

Through NCCA we participate in a Muslim Christian Dialogue. More so, since September 11, we cannot be out of conversation with these people.

The first three-way formal discussion between Jews, Christians and Muslims in Australia through NCCA was in April 2002.

The Bishops’ Committee with our consultants from around the country is currently working on guidelines to assist people participate in inter-faith dialogue.

Bishop Michael Fitzgerald, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue in Rome, will conduct a workshop in Canberra 8-10 October 2002 to assist Catholics involved in such dialogue to develop a common language, understanding and approach. We are working with non-Christians, not out to convert them!

Possibilities, Challenges and Questions

1) Jn 17.21 – “May they all be one that the world may believe”– will of Jesus, motive for ecumenism

2) Decree on Ecumenism No 1 – Unity and Evangelisation our credibility as Church rests on unity

3) Ut Unum Sint (99) – mission

4) Decree on Ecumenism No 3

The Church is not divided – we Christians are. Despite our divisions we are still in Communion one with another because we are baptised into the one Body of Christ.

Ut Unum Sint “The universal communion of Christians even though imperfect is a firm ecumenical conviction”.

Difficulties along the ecumenical way doctrinally have made the prospect of full visible communion seem less achievable to some whom then focus on more immediate goals.

Ut Unum Sint (78) the journey towards the necessary and sufficient visible unity in the communion of the one Church willed by Christ: one must not impose any burden beyond that which is strictly necessary.


Today Christians see each other, not as enemies or strangers, but as brothers and sisters. There is a greater awareness that we all belong to Christ through Baptism. (A common baptism certificate was designed by the Australian Consultation on Liturgy [ACOL] for ecclesial committees who accept each other’s Baptism – a washing in water with the Trinitarian Formula).

Today Christians work together for justice and peace.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity between Ascension and Pentecost has become a widespread tradition, but not yet in every parish.

Whereas once debates about Scripture influenced divisions, today Christians enjoy common translations of the Bible and many use a common Sunday Lectionary with the three-year cycle of readings.

These are signs of convergence in our approach to liturgy and sacraments.

There is greater willingness to appreciate the holiness and signs of renewal in one another’s Churches. (cf Great Jubilee Year – Unity in Martyrdom.)

Numerous historic meetings have taken place between recent popes and the leaders of other Christian churches in both the East and West. Given our history of division, some of these have been truly momentous occasions; significant agreements reached that have eliminated misunderstanding.

Ecumenism based on conversion to Jesus Christ – it’s a dialogue of conversion of change of heart.

What Ecumenism is not: not watering down of our beliefs, nor finding the lowest common denominator, nor a betrayal so as to be nice, nor a Protestant nor Catholic plot, nor uniformity!


1) People don’t know the principles of Ecumenical activity for Catholics.

2) Misunderstanding that intercommunion or Eucharistic hospitality promotes unity.

3) Ecumenism not seen to be important – people are apprehensive of it.

4) The rhetoric is beyond the reality.

5) A good ecumenist is a well-informed committed member of his/her denomination.

6) Since September 11, focus on inter-faith issues has taken priority. Yet this will never relieve Christians of our solemn concern for the Unity of Christ’s Church.



Participation of lay people in ecumenism at grass roots level has been an encouraging sign, particularly since the Vatican’s first Directory on Ecumenism appeared in 1967.

It was significant that the Second Vatican Council invited observers from other Christian communities.

The Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity has been an inspired success forging collaboration / links with other ecumenical movements

on the international level, through the World Council of Churches (WCC)

at the national level through the National Council of Churches in Australia

at state level through the NSW Ecumenical Council, the Victorian Council of Churches, Queensland Churches Together, and similar bodies in South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

The encouraging progress with movements of prayer such as the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Taize Prayer groups and other ecumenical prayer initiatives.

From what was a late start because of a perceived reluctance of the Catholic Church to change, moving to a real acknowledgment and positive change, to the Catholic Church since Vatican II establishing the principles and the goals for its participating ecumenical movement.

Defining that unity does not mean uniformity.

Need for a focal point – the question of authority. This was addressed in ARCIC’s “The Gift of Authority” published in 1999.

Increased sharing by Christian communities of the Word of God; eg, in the Australian outback where clergy are scarce.

Production of a video on ecumenism called “Portraits of Unity” (available at the NCCA bookshop).

The value of ecumenical prison ministry (Kairos) and ecumenical hospital chaplaincy is recognised.

Generally there seems a lack of appreciation of what is good in other Faiths. For example, many Catholics’ ignorance that Moslems, Christians and Jews are connected through Abraham and that all believe in the same one true God. (cf Vatican II “The Church and Non Christian Religions 3)


Deep conversation about sharing the Eucharist dominated this group. Is this the last obstacle to ecumenism? There seemed some surprise and some misunderstanding about Catholics taking communion in another Christian ecclesial community, as well as members of other Christian communities being admitted to communion at a Catholic liturgy.

Discussion led to many divergent opinions. What is the nature of the difference between the Catholic Church and other Christian communities as far as the Eucharist is concerned? Is the problem of our division over the Eucharist simply a matter of interpretation or semantics, or is it deeper? With desire for unity among Christians coming from the ground up and the growing awareness of community being strengthened, sometimes people act and share in the Eucharist without realising the deeper implications as to why the Church sees sharing the Eucharist as the sign of full ecclesial communion.

Therefore, for the sake of clarity, it’s worth quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1398-1401.

1398 The Eucharist and the unity of Christians. Before the greatness of this mystery St Augustine exclaims, “O sacrament of devotion! O sign of unity! O bond of charity!” (Sermon 272). The more painful the experience of the divisions in the Church which break the common participation in the table of the Lord, the more urgent are our prayers to the Lord that the time of complete unity among all who believe in him may return.

1399 The Eastern churches that are not in full communion with the Catholic Church (Orthodox) celebrate the Eucharist with great love. “These Churches, although separated from us, yet possess true sacraments, above all – by apostolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are still joined to us in closest intimacy.” A certain communion in sacris, and so in the Eucharist, “given suitable circumstances and the approval of Church authority, is not merely possible but is encouraged.” (Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism [15] and Canon 844 §3 [15])

1400 Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church, “have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders.” It is for this reason that, for the Catholic Church, Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible. However these ecclesial communities, when they commemorate the Lord’s death and resurrection in the Holy Supper … profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and await his coming in glory.” (Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism [22])

1401 When, in the Bishop’s judgement, a grave necessity arises, Catholic ministers may give the sacraments of Eucharist, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick to other Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church, who ask for them of their own will, provided they give evidence of holding the Catholic faith regarding these sacraments and possess the required dispositions (Canon 844 §4).

(Bishop Peter Ingham was ordained in 1941 and is currently the Bishop of Wollongong. He is a member of the Bishops’ Committees for Finance, Liturgy, and Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

12 Geraldine Hawkes – Women’s participation in the Church

Conversation on the potential for women’s participation in the Catholic Church in Australia.

Let’s start by recalling some of what was said at the time of Vatican II and which gives us a context for this conversation today on the potential for women’s participation in the Catholic Church in Australia.

“In Christ and in the Church there is, then, no inequality arising from race or nationality, social condition or sex.” Lumen Gentium, n 3

“All men are endowed with a rational soul and are created in God’s image; they have the same nature and origin and, being redeemed by Christ, they enjoy the same divine calling and destiny…But forms of social or cultural discrimination in basic personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, colour, social conditions, language or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.” Gaudiem et Spes, n 29

“Women are gaining an increasing awareness of their natural dignity. Far from being content with a purely passive role of allowing themselves to be regarded as a kind of instrument, they are demanding both in domestic and public life the rights and duties that belong to them as human persons.” Pacem in Terris, n.41

Vatican II offered us the promise of a new way of being church, a new way of being in relationship with one another and with God. The movement for greater participation of women in the church is one sign of this and although for many it is a prolonged and sometimes painful process, I expect that most of us can tell stories of some local initiatives which are working or which are an attempt at increasing the contribution of women in various aspects of the life of the church.

And it’s helpful to remind ourselves of some of the concerted action that has happened nationally in the intervening years and which has brought us to the point of having what we could call a pastoral plan, contained in the Social Justice Statement 2000, for the church in Australia:

In 1977 the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace published the Social Justice Sunday Statement, Towards a More Whole Church, addressing a range of gender issues in the Church.

During the latter part of the twentieth century the Bishops received many suggestions and representations from a broad range of people and groups that the issues concerning the role and status of women were a high priority social justice concern to the community.

In October 1992, Sr Anne Lane pbvm, on behalf of the Sub-Committee on Women’s Issues Catholics in Coalition for Justice and Peace, presented to Bishop William Brennan, Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, a letter with the following proposal: “That the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council recommend to the Bishops’ Committee for Justice, Development and Peace that they, on behalf of the Australian Bishops’ Conference, authorise and finance an independent study researching ‘Sexism in the Catholic Church in Australia’.”

By the end of 1993, Bishop Brennan and Bishop Manning reported to the Bishops’ Committee for Justice, Development and Peace that there was a recognised need to study the actual position of women in the Church in Australia.

In June 1994 the first meeting of the Working Party which designed the research project took place. The Working Party agreed that the general objective of the proposed study would be to gather data by a variety of methods on the participation of women in the Catholic Church in Australia.

In August 1996, the Research Project on the Participation of Women in the Catholic Church in Australia was launched by Cardinal Edward Clancy.

In April 1999, the Report on the Participation of Women in the Catholic Church in Australia, Woman and Man: One in Christ Jesus was presented to the Australia Catholic Bishops Conference.

The Bishops Response to the Report was published as the Social Justice Sunday Statement for 2000 in September of that year.

Their Response contained 9 decisions of national significance and 31 proposals for implementation in dioceses regarding the participation of women in the Catholic Church in Australia.

Decision 8 called for the establishment of a commission for women under the auspices of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. Nine members from across Australia were appointed in December 2000 and the Commission held its first meeting in February 2001. An Executive Officer was appointed in July 2001.

The role of the Commission is to:

promote and facilitate the decisions and proposals contained in the Social Justice Statement

available at

to facilitate the ongoing dialogue regarding the participation of women in the Catholic Church in Australia

So what’s happened since the Commission came into being – has its existence helped draw the church in Australia further along the path of developing an harmonious balance of women and men involved in the life of the Church, enabling the experience and gifts of women to be shared across the many layers of the life and mission of the Church?

The following are some initiatives which have happened or are under way:

The Commission has invited every Diocese to nominate a person who will be a contact between the Commission and the Diocese. This is one step towards facilitating the implementation of the Social Justice Statement at the local level and for the Commission and people across diocese to have contact with each other and to share news and insights regarding women’s participation.

Most Dioceses responded to the request for a contact and a process of formation and information sharing for those who were nominated was held in four centres across Australia at the beginning of this year. A number of those selected had little or no knowledge of the Research and/or the Social Justice Statement.

The Commission hopes that this network will enable the church at the local level to be part of guiding and shaping the whole process from their experience, needs and hopes.

Some dioceses are now in the process of establishing or have established, a commission or committee to coordinate and oversee the implementation of the proposals and other related initiatives.

At the national level the Commission is working towards making recommendations to the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference regarding processes to enable a better balance and harmony of women and men, clergy, religious and lay, in appointments to councils, agencies, advisory bodies, leadership appointments and professional roles.

The Commission is in the process of developing various teams and establishing advisory bodies to assist the Commission with the ongoing development of strategies and action. One of these is the formation of a media response group in order to raise the voice and insights of Catholic women on issues of social concern.

The ongoing development of the website continues as a space for informed discussion and for sharing of information on topics related to Catholic women and the Church.

The development of networks has been a major focus for the Commission, liasing with number of key individuals, parish communities and organisations eg National Council of Priests, CWL, ACLRI, Australian Catholic Theological Association, WATAC, Parliamentarians, Office of the Status of Women, various diocesan based groups and agencies etc.

The Commission holds its quarterly meetings in various locations across Australia in order to provide an opportunity to meet with people from that place and to promote the ongoing dialogue.

The Commission reports through the Bishops’ Committee for Laity and once a year the Chair reports direct to the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

So what kind of transformation were we invited into with Vatican II and what might the church look like if we are to pursue the vision of Vatican II – and the spirit of the Social Justice Statement – with renewed vigour? And what sustains us in this time of working together to bring about new ways of being?

Sometimes I feel a bit daunted about the task and yet I am sustained knowing that we’re all in it together. And while I hope for a transformation that is as cataclysmic and as sudden as the tumbling of the Berlin Wall, I recognise that it will happen in God’s time and that our role meantime is to leave the campsite in a more harmonious condition than we found it.

I also draw on my own journey as a woman involved in the institutional church, initially from the experience of being a member of the Diocesan Pastoral Team (DPT) in the Archdiocese of Adelaide for 5 years and currently as Coordinator of St Paul’s City Ministry. These experiences offer some insights as to what we could look like as we move to enable women more and more to share in the life of the church.

The DPT was established in 1986, following extensive consultation in the Archdiocese of Adelaide. The role of the DPT was to share with Archbishop Faulkner the governance of the Archdiocese of Adelaide – namely the pastoral care of the people and administration of the diocese. It carried out these responsibilities by holding and developing, with others, the diocesan vision (Community for the World) and it defined its role as:

Being attentive to the voice of the people, their hopes and concerns as we face together the complexity of our world in all its complexity and chaos;

Fostering conversations, which enhance each person’s call to contribute to the shaping of our church and our world – making a difference, wherever we are.

Encouraging and empowering each person to accept responsibility at all levels;

Inviting a fresh reading of the Signs of the Times in the light of the Gospel;

Enabling development and implementation of policy.

The Team met regularly for prayer and conversation, sharing the good stories and the concerns about what was happening – or not happening – in each of our areas of responsibility. Over the months and years we developed trust and respect for each other. Whatever we did, we tried to be faithful to modelling collaboration and consultation. Incrementally, the model of leadership made an impact – sometimes a negligible impact – on decisions, processes, systems and structures in the Adelaide Church.

For example, the Visitation program which had traditionally been carried out by the Archbishop, with interim Visitation by the Vicar General, became a process in which of all 4 of us became involved and two teams of two visited the various parishes and cultural communities across the diocese, spending time listening to many groups and individuals, sharing insights and meals, and spending time with those who were sick or suffering in some way.

Other examples of this modelling included attending the monthly meetings of the Council of Priests and, on occasion, meetings with the College of Consultors. These sorts of occasions, while very difficult in many ways, gave an opportunity for the insights that had been gleaned by the women on the Team, following Visitation and from carrying out the various other responsibilities, to be shared with the priests as they made recommendations to the Archbishop regarding appointments to Parishes and various other pastoral matters. We recognised that while this was a step along the way, the systems and structures limited the opportunities for true collaboration and dialogue. This was in spite of the fact that there was a large number of Pastoral Associates working in Parishes across the diocese and a need to consider how the work of parish communities in developing pastoral plans for their community could intersect meaningfully with the work of the Consultors.

The women on the Team often reflected that working in the institutional church was like doing two jobs – one was the work that had to be done because of the role, and the other was the naming of and challenging the contradictions and paradoxes. At the same time, the men on the Team had to be open to hearing the tensions and to considering new ways of carrying out their responsibilities.

The people we met in parishes, in particular, often fed back that the modelling gave them encouragement, not just in terms of church but for the whole of life – in marriage, at work, in families and in neighbourhoods. The style of leadership symbolised the richness and dignity of relationships on the one hand and at the same time illumined the corresponding asceticism associated with making a commitment to sharing space and responsibilities with one another.

However, it is through my next role at St Paul’s City Ministry that I have gained even more hope for the church in this post Vatican II time. Those who use the service we offer through St Paul’s have found it to be a valuable ministry which offers them, as decision makers in government, business and the various professions, a safe space to explore the ethical challenges facing them in the workplace. From our point of view it’s about meeting people on their ground and on their issues and we see our role as accompanying them as they search for and help create peace, balance and integrity in the workplace and to be all they can be.

I have found this role, which is ecumenical, to be one of liberation as we are able to draw on what are traditionally women’s strengths of listening and of often just staying with the issue and with the people, with more emphasis on processes than arriving at quick outcomes or solutions. We draw also on the richness of the various Christian traditions. We are not bound by the usual structures, and the inward looking approach that seems to be prevalent in many Christian communities is absent. Our energies are spent on the people and on modelling the values we find in the person of Jesus in the Gospel stories.

I feel energised by the possibilities for us as church to be this kind of listening, companioning, collaborative Christian community, where all people and their hopes and struggles are the focus, and where the institution can be more fully the place of wisdom, reflection and spiritual nourishment, where God’s story informs and encourages and builds up the people of God to be all they can be, for themselves and for one another.

Some people would say that the absence of women in shaping the systems and structures, development and proclamation of the church teachings has led us to be less effective in bringing about this kind of church, the promise of which was contained in Vatican II. Until we make space for women to contribute their gifts and experience – through formation and education, participation in decision making and reflection on current systems and structures and so on – the life and mission of the church, as well as the whole of society, will continue to be diminished. And communities of families, workplaces and neighbourhoods will keep searching to find other channels for nourishment of the spirit to sustain them as they face the complexities of living and dying in 21st century.

As women continue to play a more active role in the world, a new language and new relationships need to be developed if the church is to be able to be a faithful companion to people in the world as described by Paul VI:

“Their own field of evangelising activity is the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics, but also the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media. It also includes other realities which are open to evangelisation, such as human love, the family, the education of children and adolescents, professional work, suffering. The more Gospel-inspired lay people there are engaged in these realities, clearly involved in them, competent to promote them and conscious that they must exercise to the full their Christian powers which are often buried and suffocated, the more these realities will be at the service of the kingdom of God and therefore of salvation of Jesus Christ, without in any way losing or sacrificing their human content but rather pointing to a transcendent dimension which is often disregarded.”

Evangelii nuntiandi n.70

There is therefore much in the way of challenge to the Commission for Australian Catholic Women and, therefore, for the entire church across Australia.

Recently in The Catholic Weekly, Monsignor Vince Redden, priest and chaplain to CWL, is reported as having said, “For all its care and insight, the Commission for Australian Catholic Women will only be truly successful if its efforts reach deep into the roots of the local church. The challenge lies in changing deeply rooted patriarchal ways of acting. When we see women widely represented on diocesan committees and boards, when we see them in significant chancery appointments, when we see them actively recruited for local community committees, being recognised for their real pastoral and evangelising skills, then we might just start to see significant cracks in the stained glass ceiling.” Reaching deep into the roots of the local church is, I believe, a key challenge for the Commission for Australian Catholic Women.

As we open up the conversation now to listen to your insights and hopes and dreams for women’s participation in the church, I’m conscious we haven’t heard any quotes from women. Since we’re reflecting on Vatican II, we know that the reported voices were men’s, but since we’re in post Vatican II and as a sign of hope and of possibilities ahead, I conclude with the voice – contained in only two words – of a young woman whose life is deep in the roots of the local church. It’s a story that perhaps will underpin all that we are trying to be and do as we share the struggle and joys of being church today.

Our parish holds a welcoming ceremony for parents and their children in the weeks leading up to Baptism. One Sunday, a young mother presented her baby for the ceremony and when she was asked what name she had given her child, she responded “Natasha”. When asked by the Celebrant, what do you ask of God’s Church for Natasha, the mother smiled, gazed at the baby held secure in her arms, and replied, not baptism which was the expected answer, but the word that was truly in her heart, and that was “Happiness”.

What then is your dream of happiness for women as baptised members of the Catholic Church?

Geraldine Hawkes

Commission for Australian Catholic Women Phone: 0417 803 258

(Geraldine Hawkes is the Coordinator of St Paul’s City Mission (Adelaide), the Chair of the Bishops Commission for Australian Catholic Women and a member of the Catholic Bishops’ Advisory Board for Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

11 Robert Fitzgerald, AM – Leadership in our Church – a shared responsibility of service

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

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

10 Patricia Egan, RSJ – Participation and co-responsibility in the local church

Participation and Co-responsibility in the Local Church.

This focus group set out to look at the extent to which the Vatican II vision of participation and co-responsibility has become a reality at parish and diocesan levels in the Australian Church, and to examine some of the factors that have been helping and hindering the implementation of that vision. It was considered in three stages:

What was the Vision? What did Vatican II say about participation and co-responsibility?

What is the reality of participation and co-responsibility in the Australian Church? How far have we advanced in implementing the vision?

By way of open discussion: what factors are helping and hindering its implementation?

A. What did Vatican II say about Participation and Co-responsibility?

The Vatican II documents are very lengthy and not particularly easy to read, but let’s isolate just a few points they taught about participation and co-responsibility:

Every member of the Church by reason of baptism has the right and duty to participate in the life and mission of the Church.

The first time the Council mentioned the participation of all the faithful was in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC), the first of the sixteen Council documents, promulgated on December 4, 1963:

The Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people” (1 Pt 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their Baptism. In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit. (SC14)

Clearly, then, the Council’s program of renewal and aggiornamento would involve an awareness on the part of ‘all the faithful’ that they had ‘a right and duty’ by reason of baptism to participate fully, consciously and actively in the liturgy as the source of the ‘true Christian spirit’, and therefore by implication, the right and duty to participate in the life and mission of the Church.

Participation and co-responsibility were integral to the Council’s Ecclesiology of Communio

The concept of communio has been described as the guiding idea of the Second Vatican Council and its fundamental meaning in the Council documents is participation in the divine life, fellowship with God. Thus, Lumen Gentium, in speaking about the ‘Mystery of the Church’, refers to God’s plan to raise all humankind to ‘participation in the divine life’ which was realised in a unique way in history in Jesus Christ. What took place in Jesus is continued by the Holy Spirit who dwells in the Church and in the hearts of believers (LG 4).

From this understanding of communion there arise other dimensions of meaning in the theology of communio

Church as a Sacrament of Communion. The Church, the People of God, the Body of Christ, is called to be a sacrament of communio, “a sign and instrument both of communion with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (LG 1). I don’t think we Catholics have begun to explore the full import of that powerful sentence, which represents a fundamental shift in thinking about what the Church is and why it exists. William Frazier wrote an article a few years after Vatican II in which he explained the significance of the model of Church as ‘sign’ by comparing it with the model of Church as sanctuary

Communion and Mission. Established by Christ as a ‘communion of life, charity and truth’, the Church is called by him to mission: to be an instrument for the redemption of all, sent forth into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth (c/f. Mt 5:13­16). (LG 9).

Communion and Equality. Our communion, as participation by the baptised in the life of God, precedes all distinctions of charism and office. The Church is a community of people who are equal in baptismal dignity and in the call to discipleship, while differing in charisms and ministries (c/f. LG 32)

Communion and EucharistOur communion in Christ is expressed most fully in the Eucharist. What are we to say, then, about the level of attendance at Sunday Eucharist which has declined dramatically to 16% and still on the way down!

The universal church is a communion of local churches. The Church exists in and out of local churches united by the bonds of communio in Christ.

It was in the context of this ecclesiology of communion, that the Council went on to stress that “the lay apostolate is a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself” and that through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation “all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord himself” (LG 33). This was a radical departure from earlier Church statements about the involvement of the laity in the Church. In 1906, for example, Pope Pius X wrote in Vehementer Nos (1906) n.8:

The Church is essentially an unequal society, that is, a society comprising two categories of persons, the Pastors and the flock, those who occupy a rank in the different degrees of the hierarchy and the multitude of the faithful. So distinct are these categories that with the pastoral body only rests the necessary right and authority for promoting the end of the society and directing all its members towards that end; the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors.

In the Council documents themselves there was tension between the two models of Church: the hierarchical model that had been operative for centuries, and the model of Church as Communio based upon biblical scholarship and early Church history and practice, with its emphasis on the collegiality of the bishops and the participation of all the faithful. That tension has made the interpretation of Vatican II and the implementation of its ‘plan for renewal’ complicated and even contentious, and as we know it continues in the Church at the present time.

3. All the baptised are called to participate in the Church’s mission in the world and in the Church.

The Council had a great deal to say about the Church’s mission and about the world in which it seeks to further that mission – for example in Gaudium et Spes, Ad Gentes (Decree on Missionary Activities), Gravissimum educationis (The Declaration on Catholic Education) and Unitatis redintegratio (Decree on Ecumenism) and it placed a lot of emphasis on the role of the laity in that mission:

The faithful are by Baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetic and kingly functions of Christ, and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world. (LG31)

The lay faithful are “called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth”, and as well, they can be “called in various ways to a more direct form of cooperation in the apostolate of the hierarchy” (LG 33). See also AA 33

There has been an ‘explosion of lay ministries’ in the Church. A question we might take up later is: has this been at the expense of participation in the Church’s mission in the world?

There is a passage in Karl Rahner’s book Grace in Freedom where he compares the Church to a chess club. He said that in a chess club, the main thing is that chess be played well, and that the master of the game be trained there. Everything else, the functionaries, the cash registers, the president, the club meetings and statutes, are necessary but their true meaning and purpose is to serve chess. In the same way the whole organisation of the Church – all presiding ministers of the Church, from the Pope down, all sermons, all papal decrees, all canon law – exists only to assist the true Christian life in the hearts of people. And the true champions of the Church are those who possess and radiate most faith, hope and love, most humility and unselfishness, most fortitude in carrying the cross, most happiness and confidence. If a Pope does that, for example, the way Pope John XXIII did, then for once the president of the club is a champion player!.

4. Appropriate structures and attitudes are needed to ensure the full, conscious and active participation of all the faithful.

The Council proposed various structures for participation:

Synods of Bishops (LG 22)

Episcopal conferences (LG23)

Council of Priests (LG28)

Diocesan Pastoral Councils (CD 27)

Councils – parochial, interparochial, interdiocesan, national, international to assist the apostolic work of the Church (AA 26)

Parish/Regional Pastoral Councils were not mentioned in the Council documents but discussed later in a 1973 Curial circular Omnes Christifideles; and formalised in the Code of Canon Law. Like the diocesan pastoral council, they investigate and consider matters relating to pastoral activity and formulating practical conclusions concerning them (CD 27)

From the Council documents themselves and especially in the writing of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II we can identify attitudes that are needed if the proposed structures are to empower God’s People to participate fully and effectively in the life and mission of the Church, eg.

A willingness on the part of pastors to “recognise and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the laity in the Church, to employ their prudent advice, to assign duties to them in the service of the Church, to allow them freedom and room for action, and to encourage them to undertake tasks on their own initiative”. (LG­37)

An openness on the part of the lay faithful to “make known their needs and desires with freedom and confidence.” They are “not only permitted but sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church”. (LG 37)

A willingness to read the signs of the times, to recognise the evolutionary nature of human life, to gain from the talents and industry of individuals and groups within society (GS 40), and to learn from the human sciences (GS 4, 44), an openness to dialogue and collaboration.

A willingness to recognise that the lay faithful have a special responsibility for the Church’s mission within the “vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics, the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media”, as well as the everyday realities such as human love, the family, the education of children and adolescents, professional work, and suffering.

The more Gospel-inspired lay people there are engaged in these realities, clearly involved in them, competent to promote them, and conscious that they must exercise to the full their Christian powers which are often repressed and buried, the more these realities will be at the service of the Kingdom of God and therefore at the service of salvation in Jesus Christ (EN,70)

A spirituality of communion, best developed by Pope John Paul II in his January 2000 Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte:

A spirituality of communion indicates above all the heart’s contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us, and whose light we must also be able to see shining on the face of the brothers and sisters around us. … means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore as “those who are a part of me” … makes us able to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship. A spirituality of communion implies also the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: … Let us have no illusions: unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion will serve very little purpose. They would become mechanisms without a soul, “masks” of communion rather than its means of expression and growth. A Spirituality of Communion supplies the institutional reality with a soul

B. What is the reality of participation and co-responsibility in the Australian Church?

As one of numerous examples that could be given: the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese to which I belong has put enormous emphasis on trying to implement the Vatican II vision of participation and co-responsibility at the local level. In 1992-93 a Diocesan Synod was held that had as its stated purpose:

To hear God’s People and empower them to participate fully in Christ’s mission

The Synod involved a huge commitment of time and energy on the part of clergy, religious and laity in years of preparation, in the actual Synod itself and in its implementation. The outcome of the Synod was a Diocesan Pastoral Plan that called for the establishment of the Council-Assembly-Team model of pastoral planning, at parish, regional and diocesan levels.

The functioning of these structures was to be according to a set of ten principles, based on the ecclesiology of Communio that constituted a most important dimension of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan.

The model has been implemented and used for the past ten years for parish pastoral planning. Every parish would have a parish pastoral council that in an ongoing way develops parish plans and conducts regular parish assemblies.

The Clergy and two representatives of parish pastoral councils attend the regional pastoral council, and one representative from each of the regional pastoral council attends the diocesan pastoral council. This network of pastoral councils has been used for several major diocesan consultations associated with diocesan assemblies:

The development of a diocesan policy regarding the Sacraments of Initiation

A four-year consultation preparing parishes for the time when there will be fewer priests. This involved what we called cluster planning.

A consultation on whether to introduce the permanent Diaconate into the diocese.

Several other projects like responding to the Woman and Man report, the question of Young People and the Church, Evangelisation and the reality of declining Mass attendance.

Through my association with the National Pastoral Planning Network I am aware that similar pastoral planning structures and processes have been used in other dioceses throughout Australia

Knowing something of the work that goes on in these dioceses, one has to agree with Walter Kasper, who wrote that “Lay interest, and the preparedness of lay people to take a share of responsibility, is perhaps the most valuable and most important contribution of the post-conciliar period”.

C. Discussion: Some factors helping or hindering participation and co­responsibility?

Some of the obvious factors influencing the way Catholics participate in the life and mission of the Church and the extent to which they participate, would be:

The continued existence of differing ecclesiologies, both in Church teaching and in the minds and hearts of people

Lack of ongoing Adult Faith Development resulting in people not understanding and acting out of the ecclesiology of communion

The Leadership of the Clergy

Declining Mass attendance with only 16% of Catholics attending regularly

People: their different gifts, experiences, motivation,

Influence of our culture on people’s time, attitudes, values

In some cases, lack of structures and processes for participation

History of the Church vis-à-vis lay involvement

The following points were raised in the discussion that followed the presentation:

The Vatican II Documents

Comparison between the everyday reality and the words/ideals expressed in Vatican II documents including those used in the presentation. Are priests well read and educated in them? Some obviously are well trained.

Great need for education of parishioners in knowing and understanding Church documents, not only those of Vatican II but also encyclicals of Paul VI and John Paul II, which quote extensively from Vatican II. Publications from The Story Source can help.

The Vatican II documents can sound very condescending towards the laity. People are called to be ‘adult’, but not treated as such. The Church still works out of a paternalistic model. Sadly, those who can’t accept this simply do not go to Church any more.


Quote from an American Vietnamese speaker at a recent conference: “Mission should define the Church, not Church the mission”. Structures can be ‘top down’ unless animated by appropriate spirituality.

The development of structures and spirituality can go hand in hand. Maitland-Newcastle diocese recognised the need for this at its Synod and as a result

One of the principles written into the Diocesan Pastoral Plan was that every meeting should include a period of prayer and shared reflection (at least 15 minutes) on the Scriptures and their application to the lives of people and the matters at hand

A Diocesan Team of three people (a religious and two lay people) was employed to work with parishes in promoting the diocesan pastoral plan and especially the ecclesiology on which it is based.

What of the “Call to Holiness” approach to participation and decision-making (c/f. Mary Benet McKinney’s book, Sharing Wisdom)? This was very influential in Maitland-Newcastle and the principles of decision-making by discernment are written into the Diocesan Pastoral Plan.

Ideally, major decisions are not taken unless the community has arrived at what everyone can “accept gracefully and support wholeheartedly” (c/f. Acts Ch. 15). This was the case at the diocesan assembly that considered the introduction of the permanent diaconate. There was energetic debate but no clear consensus was reached. In the spirit of the Synod principles, the matter was not decided by a majority vote because the community had not adequately discerned.

Issues with permanent diaconate? Mainly the exclusion of women; laws of celibacy (If unmarried a deacon must remain celibate)

Adult Faith Development (AFD)

AFD is crucial because unless people understand the teachings of Vatican II, and in particular the ecclesiology of communio, there will be little development of the Council’s vision of shared responsibility

The continued existence of differing ecclesiologies – the hierarchical model side by side with the communio model can be a source of tension and can prevent appropriate participation and co-responsibility.

What was done about this in Maitland-Newcastle? A Diocesan Adult Faith Development Commission was formed to promote and coordinate AFD; the Tenison Woods Education Centre was established to provide courses throughout the dioceses especially for rural areas.

Generally greater opportunities available in city areas than in rural areas, but not all parishioners are motivated to participate.

An excellent resource recommended by one participant is a set of four videos by John Maxwell, Developing the Leaders around You, available from The Word Bookstore, President Ave Sutherland.

The Leadership of the Ordained

In practice the leadership of the Clergy remains the major influence in today’s parishes: the determining factor if the majority of parishioners are to be encouraged to participate.

Disenchantment on the part of some when they move from an active to an inactive parish. It should not depend only on the leadership of the Parish Priest. An attitude of “This is our parish. Its life depends on us” is needed.

Parish Priest can make or break! Example of parish that was alive with many Bible study groups, Lenten groups, etc, but with change of PP, now has nothing but a Finance Council

Problem for young people who cannot relate to older mentality. There are few young priests for young people to relate to.

Structures for Participation

It was noted that in some parishes there are neither pastoral councils nor teams – only finance councils!

Same people on pastoral councils and teams? Ideally no. Discernment of people’s gifts should see those with planning, visioning skills on councils and those with organisational skills on teams. In small parishes there are often insufficient numbers to have two groups.

An assembly is a meeting to which all parishioners are invited. They are meant to give everyone in the parish the opportunity to participate and be co-responsible for decision-making about the life of the parish. Not everyone is motivated to attend!

Structures reach only a limited number of people: 16% of Catholics attend Mass regularly; of those only a small percentage actually participate in parish life beyond Mass.

Experience of pastoral councils in a multi-cultural parish? At Kensington the Kids Church program has had good results, involving parents in sacramental preparation. Marrickville also has a good multiculturally based sacramental program.

Parish Councils in ‘priest-less’ parishes? Sometimes work very well especially with good regional and diocesan support.

Do parish pastoral councils set the agenda for the Diocesan Pastoral Council or vice versa? Both. In Maitland-Newcastle some of the major projects were initiated because of grass roots submissions to the Diocesan Pastoral Council.

How successful are regional pastoral councils? Depends on the personnel involved, their understanding of and commitment to the ecclesiology of communio.

Diocesan assemblies: how often? Every two years or so. Have a different constitution from the more formal ‘Diocesan Synod’ (c/f. Code of Canon Law 460-468)

Brisbane Archdiocese currently preparing for a Diocesan Synod. Lot of work involved. Canberra Goulburn’s Diocesan Synod in 1989 was a significant event, involved widespread participation, build up a strong sense of diocesan community.

Some optimism about participation – both a right and a duty. Stories shared of success in participation.

Small Church Communities

Conviction that the future lies with small Church communities rather than parish structures. However, some organisation, formation, coordination is needed, if these are to be ‘ecclesial’ and more than groups of like-minded people getting together to nurture their own faith.

Examples given of belonging to groups such as Paulian Small Communities for 25 years and the benefits these have been to individuals and the parish communities concerned.

Overall optimistic comment from one participant:

There have been huge changes in a relatively short time. Don’t underestimate the good that has been done and can be done in local parishes. We need recognise and acknowledge the achievements even if it is years before ‘success’ is obvious.

This is what we are about:

We plant the seeds that will one day grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realising that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it well.

It may be incomplete but it is a beginning, a step along the way,

An opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,

but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers not master builders, ministers not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

(Attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero)

(Patricia Egan, a Sister of St Joseph of Lochinvar, is Chancellor of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, and has been leader of the Diocesan Pastoral Planning Team for the past 12 years.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II