Catalyst for Renewal organisational news.

Marea Donovan Receives Papal Honour

Marea Donovan has been a member of Catalyst for Renewal for over 25 years. Marea was instrumental in the establishment of the Spirituality in the Pub movement, coordinating the SIP committee at Paddington in Sydney and chairing the National SIP Committee, in which role she has mentored and encouraged SIP coordinators across NSW, Victoria and beyond. Always innovative and energetic, in 2020, in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, Marea led the transition of the SIP format into its online form as Spirituality on the Sofa, thereby establishing a new forum for conversation that Catalyst will continue to provide in 2022. Marea has served two 6 year terms as President of Catalyst for Renewal.

In addition to her deep and continuing commitment to Catalyst, Marea has enjoyed a distinguished career as wife, mother, lawyer and governance leader in Catholic education, including as Deputy Chair of the NSW Catholic Education Commission. She remains an active parishioner at St Francis’ Church in Paddington.

In consequence of this rich life of service and commitment, Marea has been recognised by Pope Francis through admission as a Dame to the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great.

This papal honour was bestowed upon Marea by the Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher OP, representing Pope Francis at a ceremony in the Cathedral House of St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney on Friday 3 December 2021. Making the assumption that most readers will be unfamiliar with the format of this ceremony, we describe it briefly.

The ceremony took place in a small reception room. In the presence of the Archbishop, the three award recipients (all women on this occasion) were seated facing other attendees who were the nominators, family and friends of the recipients. Proceedings were led by Mr Chris Meney, Chancellor of the Archdiocese.

Mr Meney opened proceedings with the acknowledgement of country and a welcome to all in attendance. Archbishop Fisher then read a prayer for Pope Francis. Mr Meney provided a brief description of the awards, pointing out that they are made in recognition of distinguished service to the church, not as the culmination of this service but to encourage the recipients to continue in their works and to inspire others in service.

Archbishop Fisher then presented the awards to the recipients, including affixing the cross of the relevant order:
• Margaret Fitzgerald RSC was awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross after faithfully serving the Church for six decades as a Sister of Charity in the fields of education and social outreach. Sister Margaret worked for 35 years in leadership roles in Catholic education, as a Pastoral Carer at St Vincent’s Private Hospital in Sydney and for Sisters of Charity Outreach;
• Ms Patricia Thomas was awarded Dame of the Order of St Sylvester for her work in spiritual counseling and care for those experiencing grief and trauma. Patricia has worked as a retreat director and has provided distinguished service through her ministry with Catholic Cemeteries & Crematoria, NSW;
• Mrs Marea Donovan was awarded Dame of the Order of St Gregory the Great for her support across different Catholic organisations, including the Catholic Education Commission and Catalyst for Renewal.

Upon receipt of their award, each recipient gave a brief address.

Archbishop Fisher then addressed the gathering. He remarked that it was humbling to speak after the inspiring addresses of the three women on whom the awards had been bestowed. The archbishop used the analogy of the athlete Roger Bannister who had been the first runner to run the mile in under four minutes, an achievement previously thought to be impossible. Bannister proved that it could be done and showed a path to others. The story demonstrates the power of models, people who go before us and carve out a path. For Catholics, we have many models in the saints, with Our Lord as the supreme model. He congratulated the award recipients who have done as they ought, showing others the pattern of Christ’s service. The archbishop expressed his admiration for the variety of models provided by just three people, the award recipients. He joined with the Holy Father to thank them for their service to the church.

With formal proceedings thereby concluded, the archbishop graciously hosted the assembly at morning tea.

On behalf of Catalyst for Renewal, we express our deep thanks to Marea for her many leadership roles within our organisation and we warmly congratulate her on this richly deserved award.

Bob Birchall on behalf of Catalyst for Renewal – December 2021.

Marea Donovan (third from left) with Archbishop Fisher, Fr Michael Whelan SM and Mrs Judy Stowe.

Marea’s expression of thanks on the bestowal of her award:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have been invited to spend about two minutes in this my response. I’ve timed myself and my remarks will take a bit more than that– my apologies, Sebastian.

So here I go: Thank you Pope Francis through the good offices of our Archbishop of Sydney, His Grace, Anthony Fisher, for bestowing this Award on me. And thanks to Chancellor Chris Meney for officiating today. I am very grateful for the Award although overwhelmed.

Thinking about it all, I decided that what I am really doing today is accepting this Award not only on my own behalf but on behalf of all lay people; I am accepting it as a woman; as a wife and as a mother and grandmother; and indeed as a daughter of parents who, in a plethora of ways were living, breathing examples of Christian leadership. They showed me – by osmosis really – in their day to day living and in the imaginative ways they ran the schools in their care over the years – the importance of community; of social justice and of deep listening – all I believe integral parts of Jesus’ teachings and on which the Catholic Church is based.

I am a retired solicitor holding the degrees of Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws from Sydney University – so I would like to extend a special welcome and thanks today to my friends from those days – Judy and John Stowe and to John McLaughlin who were fellow law students and who subsequently pursued illustrious legal careers. To Sr Mary Shanahan – also one of the important influences in my life – from our days together now so long ago – when we were both “Freshers” and undergraduate students resident at Sancta Sophia College on the campus of Sydney University – a friendship which has extended from then to the present day in my current endeavours. Thank you, Mary.

I have a Master of Arts Degree in Theology and a Diploma in Ministry – the latter two from the Sydney College of Divinity. Thank you Fr Michael Whelan for your guidance and help.

David my husband and I had five children and from very early on, as well as practising as a lawyer in my husband’s and my legal practice I had a busy life in the field of education and in our local Port Macquarie Church school. For St Joseph’s Primary school, under the guidance of my parents, with the support of the amazing Fr Leo Donnelly and a series of Principals, I devised programs which enhanced the role of parents – to a level beyond that of working on the tuckshop and fund-raising! Three of our five children – Susan, Edward and Patrick – are here today, products of that time. And Audrey, one of our eight beautiful grandchildren is here too – all four having travelled from either Port Macquarie or Brisbane. Thank you, team.

Because of the parent/community programs at St Joseph’s Primary, I was invited to become a member of the Lismore Diocesan Education Board, and then subsequently, when the Catholic Education Commission of NSW created a Parent Committee as one of its Standing Committees, I became the Lismore Diocesan representative on that Committee and at its second meeting was elected Chair

Membership of the Commission itself followed shortly afterwards and then I was elected as Deputy Chair – the first woman to hold that position (and a lay woman to boot).

I was always very involved in St Agnes’ Church in Port Macquarie. Now when I tell you this little story I ask that you don’t judge me too harshly! It was the late 1960s, I was in my twenties; the Second Vatican Council about which I knew very little was not long over. Fr Donnelly chatted to me one day after Mass and said, “Marea, I’ m thinking of starting up a Liturgy Committee. Would you consider becoming a member?” I replied, “Oh yes, Father”. At this stage as David and I had a couple of young children we attended different Masses. I rushed home, reported my conversation with Father D and said to David, “David, what is Liturgy”? I have sort of progressed from that stage you will all be relieved to know!

After the move to Sydney, I was invited by Fr Michael Whelan to become a member of the newly formed Governing Body of the Catholic Theological Union, run by the Marist Fathers and which was a campus of the Sydney College of Divinity. I was elected as that Governing body’s inaugural President.

I also was a member of the Tennison Woods Education Committee Board, an undertaking of Sisters of St Joseph in the Newcastle/Maitland Diocese. Thank you for your guidance Sr Jeannine.

I have, since 1995 been an active member ofCatalyst for Renewal; I Chair probably its best known forum – the Australia-wide Spirituality in the Pub network, and head up the Paddington Spirituality in the Pub/Spirituality on the Sofa (S.O.S) Planning Team. So I thank Bob Birchall, Fr Michael Whelan, Peter Leunig, Sr Marie Biddle, Francois Kunc, our daughter Susan for support and encouragement in this field.

I continue to be an active member of my parish at St Francis’ Catholic Church, Paddington.

I have two final comments:

• As a member of the Catholic Faith tradition, I have never, ever found that being a woman was a bar to holding leadership positions.

• And last but not least – I want to thank my husband David for putting up with my sometimes quite frequent absences from home especially when we lived in Port Macquarie – flying to Lismore or Sydney several times each month – and he continues to support me as I strive to be the best person I can in my involvement in a hands-on way in our church – about which I feel passionate.

3 December 2021

Posted by superadmin in News

Marea Donovan to receive Papal Award

We have received correspondence from Chris Meney, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Sydney, on behalf of Archbishop Anthony Fisher, advising us that our Catalyst member, Marea Donovan is to receive a papal award. Marea is to be admitted as a Dame of the Order of St Gregory the Great.

Chris Meney writes: Marea “has been Honoured by the Holy Father Pope Francis. She has been awarded this distinction for her considerable services to the Church in the Archdiocese of Sydney.”

In addition to more than 25 years service to Catalyst for Renewal, including several terms as our President, Marea has held senior governance roles in the Catholic Education Commission of NSW and at Catholic Theological Union. She remains an active parishioner at St Francis of Assisi, Paddington.

A formal presentation took place at the cathedral on 3 December.

Information about the Order of St Gregory the Great can be found at wikipedia and there is some history here.

I’m sure you will all join with me in congratulating Marea on this richly deserved award.

Posted by Gay Walsh in News

Plenary Council

The First Assembly

“In October 2021, the Catholic Church in Australia will gather for the first Assembly of the Plenary Council to be held since the second Vatican Council. In 2018, when the decision to hold a Plenary Council was announced, the entire People of God in Australia began preparing for this historic moment by listening to God and by listening to one another’s stories of faith.” Let’s pray that the listening continues throughout the assembly!

News and reports from the assembly will be added to this page as they become available. Some items may be behind a paywall, which is not something we have influence over, we are sorry.

Information about the Plenary Council can be found on its dedicated website. This includes the Agenda, the Instrumentum Laboris and a list of council members. Unfortunately, the site itself is slow to load.

The prayer for the Plenary Council has been recorded in an inspiring video. Another video discusses the practice of discernment. The Plenary Council has a YouTube channel to which resources may be are being added during the week. There is also a podcast archive: we have learnt that there will be a new episode daily during the week.

The first assembly of the council begins on Sunday 3 October 2021 and continues until Sunday 10 October 2021.

Mass booklets and prayer resources for the assembly will be found here.

Ahead of the Opening

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Chair of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, spoke with Andrew West on ABC Religion and Ethics Report in the week before the commencement.

Plenary Council Facilitator Lana Turvey Collins and Chair of Catholic Social Services Francis Sullivan were interviewed by Hamish MacDonald on RN Breakfast . Council member and ANU Emeritus Professor John Warhust spoke to ABC News Radio. Also on the Religion and Ethics Report, former Royal Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald called for more transparency in the church.

A council member from the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Dr Nimmi Candappa, contributed a reflection in Eureka Street.

Archdiocese of Sydney representative Daniel Ang wrote for the Catholic Weekly.

In an article in CathNews, Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra Goulburn spoke of the ‘sense of anticipation’ leading in to the assembly.

Cath News is the daily e-newsletter of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference. If you are not already subscribed, this might be a good time to sign up.

In the current edition (98/3 2021) of the Australasian Catholic Record (subscription required) Boston College Professor Richard Lennan writes on the ecclisiology of the Light from the Southern Cross report and comments on the response of our bishops.

The current edition of The Swag has several relevant articles (subscription required).

The secular press seems to have been quiet. There was an article by Mike Seccombe in the Saturday Paper last week. The last few minutes of Archbishop Coleridge’s interview with Andrew West (Religion and Ethics Report, linked above) responds to aspects of this article: its worth a listen.

Throughout the first Assembly

Some sessions of the assembly will be livestreamed. For the schedule of the assembly, including the sessions available by livestream, visit the Assembly-1 page of the council website. News, key documents, prayers for the council and an archive of the livestreamed masses and assembly sessions are also available from that page.

Esteemed ABC journalist and Catalyst for Renewal member Geraldine Doogue is providing a daily podcast, each evening of the assembly.

Francis Sullivan will write a blog post each day.

John Warhurst will also blog daily.

Garratt Publishing on behalf of the Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn is providing a daily (evening) webinar during the assembly. You can register to attend Plenary Tracker here.

Day by Day

Day 1 Sunday 3 October 2021

Around the country, mass has been said this morning for the Plenary Council. This recording comes from the chapel of St Vincent’s Hospital, in the Diocese of Lismore.

The Plenary Council Opening Mass was livestreamed from St Mary’s Cathedral, Perth WA, celebrated by Plenary Council President Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB,. The recording is found here.

Andrea Dean, Chair of Women and the Australian Church (WATAC) contributed an article to Pearls and Irritations.

Francis Sullivan has updated his blog.

John Warhurst’s new blog entry is here.

In her Plenary Matters podcast (Ep 3) Geraldine Doogue interviews Fr Frank Brennan.

Day 2 Monday 4 October 2021

Mass this morning came from St Killian’s Church, Bendigo, VIC. The celebrant was Bishop Shane Mackinlay, Vice-President of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia.

The Opening Session of the Council commenced at 11am. The first 75 minutes were livestreamed. Click here to watch the recording (starts 10 minutes in).

CathNews has a report of yesterday’s Opening Mass, with links to some news items.

The Australian newspaper has three articles: “Catholic summit no ‘gabfest’ says prelate” and “Archbishop: we are a church poised for renewal, not reinvention as a secular NGO”, the second by Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher. The  third article is by Terry Fewtrell of Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn: “Catholics push for change as Australian church launches summit.” Subscription required.

Father Frank Brennan was interviewed on Sky News (video).

You can still register to attend Garratt Publishing’s Plenary Tracker webinars (7.30pm AEDT nightly). Recordings of past episodes are available to registered participants. Click here to register.

Francis Sullivan has titled today’s blog entry “Listening”. Read it here.

John Warhurst has updated his Plenary Insight blog, asking the question “Does the agenda reflect the hard work of the 17,500 submissions?”

A new episode of the (official) Plenary Podcast features Bishop Shane Mackinlay.

Geraldine Doogue has posted Episode 4 of the Plenary Matters podcast, focusing on lay women at the assembly.

Day 3 Tuesday 5 October 2021

Mass this morning was from St Francis Xavier Cathedral, Adelaide, celebrated by Archbishop Patrick O’Regan.

The video recording of the public segment of this morning’s assembly has been posted here. The second half of this contains the reports of yesterday’s small group discussions of agenda questions and is quite interesting.

There are two items in CathNews this morning: Pope Francis has sent greetings to the assembly; inspiration has been taken from yesterday’s Feast Day of St Francis of Assissi.

La Croix International has a report of Pope Francis’ call for mutual listening.

Inés San Martin has written in Crux Now of Australia’s “grand experiment in synodality”.

A new episode of the (official) Plenary Podcast features Bishop Tim Harris of Townsville and two other council members reflecting on the first day of assembly proceedings.

Francis Sullivan and John Warhurst have updated their blogs this evening.

Geraldine Doogue has posted Episode 5 of her Plenary Matters podcast, declaring that “the real work is underway.”

Garratt Publishing’s Plenary Tracker webinars continue tonight (and at 7.30pm AEDT nightly). Click here to register.

Day 4 Wednesday 6 October 2021

This morning’s mass is from St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, with Archbishop Anthony Fisher presiding.

CathNews this morning reports on the first small group discussions at the assembly.

Marilyn Hatton of the Coalition for Church Reform has written in Pearls and Irritations.

The secular press seems quiet, with nothing new in the Nine papers or The Australian, as far as we’ve seen. Please email us at if we’ve missed anything.

On ABC RN Breakfast radio Patricia Karvelas and Noel Debian discussed the council.

The video recording  of today’s public plenary session can be viewed here. Embedded in this recording is the contribution of Richard Lennan, live from Boston College USA, with his brilliant explication of the church’s mission (6 mins), viewable here.

Today’s edition of ABC Radio’s Religion and Ethics Report also focuses on the council. This episode demonstrates the diversity present at the assembly and highlights the challenges that exist in building consensus on proposed actions.

Francis Sullivan and John Warhurst have updated their blogs again this evening.

Geraldine Doogue has posted episode 6 of her Plenary Matters podcast this evening.

The new episode of Plenary Podcast (commissioned by the Plenary team) features Bishop Michael Kennedy (Armidale, NSW) , Br Peter Carroll FMS (Provincial Marist Bros), and Marco Ceccarelli, a Laity member from the Archdiocese of Perth

Garratt Publishing’s Plenary Tracker webinars continue tonight (and at 7.30pm AEDT nightly). Click here to register.

Day 5 Thursday 7 October 2021

This morning’s mass is according to the Maronite Catholic Rite and is celebrated by His Grace Archbishop Antoine – Charbel Tarabay, Maronite Archbishop of Australia, New Zealand and Oceania, from St Joseph Maronite Catholic Church in Sydney.

In CathNews this morning there are two items. The first previews today’s agenda and suggests that consideration will be given to how a public response will be made to victims and survivors during the Council journey. The second reports on Archbishop Fisher’s homily from yesterday’s mass.

There are a further two items in Crux Now, the first summarising some of the reports of discussion groups and the second on bridging the gap with Australia’s indigenous peoples.

There was no livestream of today’s session. Members participated in a special plenary that was not broadcast. This session addressed two agenda questions:

  • How might we heal the wounds of abuse, coming to see through the eyes of those who have been abused?
  • How might the Church in Australia meet the needs of the most vulnerable, go to the peripheries, be missionary in places that may be overlooked or left behind in contemporary Australia? How might we partner with others (Christians, people of other faiths, neighbourhood community groups, government) to do this?

We understand that the decision to close this session was based in concern for victims and survivors. The council will need to address not only the questions themselves, but also related issues of governance, reporting and transparency that will, now and ongoing, satisfy the People of God that abuse has ceased, that systems of prevention are and will remain robust and that the needs of survivors are being prioritised.

Frances Sullivan has written about the issues in today’s blog. The sense is that the task is far from complete.

John Warhurst has offered a thoughtful reflection on hierarchy and formality and how these impact the proceedings of the council.

We wait to see whether there will be a formal statement about today’s proceedings.

Geraldine Doogue has caught up with John Warhurst for a conversation in the Plenary Matters Podcast Episode 7. This is a must listen.

Today’s edition of Plenary Podcast changes format to a panel discussion of today’s proceedings. There is no pointer as yet to emerging action.

Finally today, ABC TV’s The Drum features Geraldine Doogue and Francis Sullivan with others in a high quality panel discussion. The plenary segment begins at 20 minutes in.  Initially the discussion focuses on the problem of a small number of priests who are refusing vaccination. From 30 minutes, a more substantial discussion of today’s issues proceeds.

Day 6 Friday 8 October 2021

Mass this morning was from the Diocese of Wollongong, NSW celebrated by the Most Rev Brian Mascord.

An article in CathNews focuses on the presence of Eastern Catholic members of the council.

After yesterday’s closed session, the livestream of the morning session returned today. Again, you need to move about 10 minutes into this recording before the Welcome to Country commences. The focus of this session is small group feedback. The group considering prayer and liturgy has begun to form tentative proposals. Unfortunately I heard nothing about the current translation of the liturgy. In other areas too, it is difficult to discern any clear directions at this stage. Two days of diliberations remain (Friday and Saturday).

There are two articles of interest in Eureka Street. Tracy McEwan and Patricia Gemmel have written on ‘Raising Women’s Voices’, one theme that may be gathering attention in the assembly.  Jesuit Bill Uren’s piece is on the restoration of the third rite of reconciliation.

The ABC aside, the secular press continues to ignore proceedings, as far as we can tell. (Again, if there are items we have missed, please let us know by emailing

Francis Sullivan and John Warhurst have again updated their daily blogs this evening.

We have mostly omitted the plentiful reporting of the official diocesan media. As John says in his item tonight, they mostly ‘fail to present a variety of voices’. The Catholic Weekly in particular displays a strident sameness. However John reports that Canberra Goulburn’s Catholic Voice has provided some material that is ‘instructive’. You’ll find Catholic Voice here.

Geraldine Doogue has posted episode 8 of her Plenary Matters podcast this evening.

Today’s episode of of Plenary Podcast is another panel discussion with four guests.

Francis Sullivan and John Warhurst have again updated their daily blogs this evening.

Garratt Publishing’s Plenary Tracker webinars continue tonight (and at 7.30pm AEDT nightly). Click here to register.

Day 7 Saturday 9 October 2021

This morning’s mass came from St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, VIC, with Archbishop Peter Comensoli presiding.

The first part of the morning assembly was again livestreamed, with the recording available here. Again, the focus is short reports from the groups addressing the agenda questions. It is evident that the groups are beginning to formulate their proposals.

CathNews does not publish on the weekend.

An article in La Croix International  cites the assembly’s focus on mission.

An article in Crux Now discusses the liturgical diversity of the Australian church.

Francis Sullivan and John Warhurst have again updated their daily blogs with two typically insightful pieces.

Geraldine Doogue has posted episode 9 of her Plenary Matters podcast, which features an interview with Professor Greg Craven, past Vice Chancellor of Australian Catholic University and a peritus at the council. The conversation is discordant with what we have understood to be the tone of the proceedings at the assembly. Be sure to listen and form your own judgement.

Today’s Plenary Podcast features a discussion with Monica Cavanagh RSJ and Salena Hasham.

Tonight’s episode of Plenary Tracker discussed the situation of LBGQT+ persons in our church. This is recommended listening. If you have not yet registered for these webinars, you can still do so at this link. Recordings of previous episodes are available.

Day 8 Sunday 10 October 2021

The Mass to close the first general assembly was celebrated at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Brisbane. Archbishop Mark Coleridge presiding.

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe’s closing address to the assembly (delivered yesterday) has been posted here (video).

The Plenary coordinating team has also recorded a wrap of the week.

Geraldine Doogue has posted the final episode (#10) of her Plenary Matters podcast, featuring discussions with Archbishop Coleridge and, from Rome, Susan Pascoe. This is again excellent listening.

John Warhurst has updated his blog, observing that the ability of synodality to resolve differences remains untested at this stage.

Francis Sullivan’s post strikes an optimistic note, whilst remaining realistic.

The final episode of Plenary Tracker summarised the week’s proceedings. It was revealed tonight that 3,500 people have been registered for these webinars. We thank and congratulate Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn for their skill, professionalism and generosity in providing this forum.

Early Reactions

Without trying to be comprehensive, we’ll post links to significant news and commentaries in the several days following the assembly.

The Concluding Statement of the assembly has been added to the Council’s Key Documents page. If you have read nothing else, this is a useful summary.

On Monday 11 October, there  are two items in CathNews, the first reviewing the Concluding Statement and another reporting on the closing mass.

A report of Archbishop Costelloe’s closing address was released by ACBC Media.

Paul Collins has submitted a critical piece to Pearls and Irritations.

An item in The Australian is behind its paywall.

From ABC News comes this item (text), not especially focused on the assembly.

On Tuesday 12 October, writing for Pearls and Irritations, John Warhurst sees hard work ahead.

The current episode of God Forbid on ABC RN features Maeve Heaney and Monica Doumit in discussion James Carleton.

Catholic Voice (Diocese of Canberra Goulburn) has a series of Plenary Reflections. You’ll find numbers 2, 4 and 5 here. If you find numbers 1 and/or 3, please email the link to . Thank you! (There is of course, coverage in other diocesan newspapers, but as we noted last Friday, we are leaving these for your own searching. Pick your favourite.)

As we’ve noted here before, the secular press has largely ignored the assembly. ABC Radio has also gone quiet, after some good early coverage. We’ll close this page now, but it will be retained here as a historic record, for your enjoyment. We finish with one final invitation to send us links to significant items we may have missed: please email us at

Thank you for joining us during this most interesting period for our church.


Posted by superadmin in News
Vale Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

Vale Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson passed away on 29 December 2020 after a long illness.

Born in 1937, Geoff was ordained in Sydney in 1960. He studied philosophy, theology and canon law in Australia and in Rome. In 1987 he was consecrated as auxiliary bishop of Sydney, retiring due to ill health in 2004.

Geoff worked extensively in the area of professional standards in ministry. He was very critical of the church’s response to the scandal of clerical sexual abuse. He lead the development and implementation of the Towards Healing protocol which changed the focus from avoidance of scandal and protection of reputation towards hearing and responding to the needs of victims. His 2007 book, ‘Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: reclaiming the spirit of Jesus’ remains relevant and compelling today. It has been said that Geoff provided a bright light during a very dark period for the church.

Bishop Robinson was a patron of Catalyst for Renewal and a frequent speaker at our forums, dinners and reflection mornings. We note his passing with great sadness and with joy and gratitude for his immense contribution to our church.

A few days prior to Bishop Geoffrey’s death, Michael Whelan wrote to him in a letter that we reproduce here with permission.

Christmas Eve 2020

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson
Dear Geoff,

Thank you for the leadership you have given through your courageous and intelligent responses over many years. Your instincts, it seems to me, have been governed by Jesus’ words, “The Sabbath is made for people not people for the Sabbath”.

This has been especially the case as you led the way in facing up to the horrors of sexual abuse in the Church. I know that cost you dearly. But your statement to me one day symbolizes your own attitude and actions: “I will never defend the indefensible”. I frequently call those words to mind and with them, yourself.

Thomas Merton, in his inimitable way, used a phrase to describe a fundamental option we face today: “Survival or prophecy?” You have been on the side of prophecy.

You told me once that your desire, many years ago in Rome, was to pursue postgraduate studies in Sacred Scripture. However, when asked by your bishop, with typical humility you agreed to study Canon Law. But you have always been a deeply biblical person Geoff. You came to a remarkable appreciation of the Sacred Scriptures, not through the classroom but through life. You were able to transcend the system because of that. Your world was much bigger than the institution you in fact served so faithfully.

You have been an example and inspiration for me personally Geoff. I shall always remember you with affection.
Until we meet again.

Michael Whelan SM

A video recording of the funeral mass for Bishop Geoffrey is available at . (The recording is available until 5 January 2022 and will then expire.)

Following is the text of the homily given by Bishop Peter Ingham (or listen to this at 25 minutes into the video):

“My friends whenever somebody we love dies, I believe, we too die a little bit ourselves. We know that we can never be exactly the same again.  An area of life – a familiar voice, footstep, a shared memory – has suddenly disappeared and cannot ever be recreated.  It is a heart-rending experience because Geoff, whom we loved and still love, has a place in our hearts, but we can no longer find a place in his.  A violence has been done to us, because we have lost a place where we loved to rest.

So, mixed with our sadness and grief there may well be even some anger, that the balance of our lives has been so roughly upset.  And there’s nothing wrong if our prayer is telling God we feel angry – God is big enough to take that.

Yet woven into all this mixed emotion, there is also a deep gratitude to God for all that Geoff has been to us.

In our different ways we came to know, to love and to appreciate Bishop Geoff Robinson.  Geoff played a part in our lives and has left his influence upon us – that’s the power of goodness and love, generosity, justice and truth.

Our love and appreciation for Geoff and his love and appreciation for us have, even if only in a small way, affected all of us. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here today or be tuning in to this Mass.

Geoff has chosen the scripture for today’s Mass and, if he is measuring himself up against the ideal God asks of us, namely to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with God, we would say Geoff has passed the test admirably.

The Canon Law Society Journal has described Geoff as a man of truth and integrity, a dedicated priest, a pastoral Bishop, a renowned Canon lawyer and a humble servant of the people of God.

People have spoken to me about Geoff’s courage, that he has been a prophetic voice for the Church, that he has been someone who really made a difference, made a great contribution to humanity, that he has been a light in the darkness. Others have spoken about Geoff’s superb intellect, his clear mind, his ability to focus, his determination. Whatever he undertook, there were no half-measures with Geoff. Everything he did, he did well with all his heart. He had an open attitude that was inclusive particularly of marginalised people. Anyone who knew Geoff realised they were in the presence of a thoroughly good man.

To mark Bishop Geoff’s 60th anniversary of priesthood, a plaque on the wall of Saint Joseph’s Church, Enfield, expresses that the parishioners are grateful and blessed to have had Bishop Geoff in residence since October 1988.  The parishioners are honoured to call him ‘our Bishop’. It says he is our preacher, our counsellor, our teacher, our listener, our friend and faith-journey companion. This community is blessed to have been brought closer to Christ by his ministry. He has shown us that he is a true disciple of our loving God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

On everyone’s behalf, I offer our deepest sympathy and the comfort of our presence and prayers to Geoff’s brother, Denis, his sisters Patricia, Frances and Helen and to their families, to the Archdiocese of Sydney which he served so wholeheartedly, to the parishioners of St Joseph’s, to his many collaborators and colleagues, and to his many friends and admirers among the people of God, laypeople, religious, bishops, priests and deacons.

Geoff had a coronary bypass on Christmas Eve in 1992, which he said became a deeply spiritual experience that caused him to go back to the foundations of his own beliefs and to look at everything in his life again in the light of his near encounter with death.

Bishop Geoff’s love of Holy Scripture still flourished and sustained him right to the end. As a young priest in Rome, he had obediently accepted Cardinal Gilroy’s wish that he study Canon Law.  His own preference would have been to study Sacred Scripture. 

Scripture has nourished Geoff’s spirituality and prayer and this has always flowed through to his commitment to his moral sense of truth, of justice, and of charity.

When Geoff successfully organised a series of Scripture seminars throughout Sydney in the 90s, teachers and parishioners flocked to them showing a thirst for the Word of God. Geoff wanted to improve the biblical literacy of teachers and of the wider community.

In 1994, Geoff was granted a 10-week study leave.  It was a field study during which he spent a week in the Sinai desert, three weeks in Turkey (Asia Minor of first century Christianity) and six weeks in Israel.    His study leave led to a book he published in 1997 called “Travels in Sacred Places”.  Geoff dedicated the book to all people who struggle with their ideas of God, people who seek to hand on to others a knowledge and love that will sustain them.

In October 1994, Geoff published his book on Saint Mark’s Gospel (almost 600 pages) entitled, “A Change of Mind and Heart”. This began as a series of talks to teachers in Catholic schools.  Geoff’s writings through his many books and through his homilies easily reached and enlightened his readers and listeners. Geoff sought to promote conversation within and beyond the Catholic Church exemplified by his organisation of the Ecumenical Halifax-Portal Lectures and his involvement in Catalyst for Renewal and Spirituality in the Pub.  As someone said, “Geoff always saw beyond what he saw.”

In 1967, Geoff became Lecturer in Canon Law at Saint Patrick’s Seminary, Manly, during those challenging years of the revision and renewal of the Code of Canon Law, to accommodate the teachings of the II Vatican Council.

Geoff not only was part of the unanimous vote of Canon Lawyers to form the Canon Law Society of Australia and later of New Zealand, but he also served on its Executive for 14 consecutive years, serving as Secretary for six years and as President for eight years.

Our Bishops’ Conference enlisted the Canon Law Society to comment on the draft texts of the Church’s new Code of Canon Law by way of amendments and the drafting of new canons.  Geoff was the convener, the organiser and was inspirational in his ability to bring others with him.

On the international level, Geoff was part of a core group of canonical advisors who made a positive contribution to the shape of the Church’s new code of law promulgated in 1983.

Geoff was the architect of an Institute of Tribunal Practice in 1978 to train people who work in Church Tribunals.  Geoff devised its structure and content and organised the lecturers.  It is still ongoing, now under the Canon Law Society and reaches out beyond Australia, to Papua New Guinea, to the south west Pacific, and to south east Asia.  Geoff’s 1984 book “Marriage, Divorce, Nullity – a Guide to the Annulment Process in the Catholic Church” was revised to accommodate changes in Vatican jurisprudence and re-printed in 2000. It has since been translated into other languages.

When, in 2008, Geoff received the Owen Oxenham Award for Outstanding Service, the President of the Canon Law Society, Rev. Professor Ian Waters said, “Bishop Geoff’s superb intellect, his generosity and his availability have resulted in significant contributions in the areas of Sacred Scripture, of Catholic Education, of Ecumenism, of Spirituality and Professional Standards.

Any of us who were at Geoff’s ordination as Auxiliary Bishop in 1984 would have heard him say that, as important it was to be ordained the Bishop, the most important day of his life was the day he was baptised. In respect of that, Geoff simply wanted to be buried ‘as a Christian’.

Bishop Geoff’s appointment as Vicar for Education in the Archdiocese of Sydney, as Chair of the Catholic Schools Board and Chair of the Education Commission NSW opened up a new field for his conscientious pastoral engagement. People who worked with Geoff in this capacity speak of how he was always fully informed and alert to the wide-ranging agenda impacting on Catholic Education and able to respond in a clear and highly intelligent manner. Geoff could balance sometimes competing demands of the State political agenda impacting on Catholic schools and the rightful position of the Church on such matters.

He maintained and prioritised an excellent relationship with the Catholic Education Office and the Executive Director of Schools.  He promoted strong relationships between School and Parish, particularly between the Principal and the Parish Priest. Geoff would always insist on considered, balanced and evidence-based decision-making in relation to major restructuring, such as with school closures, amalgamation of schools, or the founding of new schools.

Geoff was always available as a source of wise counsel on sensitive issues, giving his time to discuss options, implications while respecting the role of the person seeking his advice.  In general, he always acted with integrity and a strong sense of justice, particularly for those for whom life was challenging. Geoff was always the pastor with the mission of the Church uppermost in his mind.

Bishop Geoff always seemed ahead of the game. Another good example of that was his perception which led to his intuition about the impact of what the sexual abuse crisis would bring. 

Geoff stood for a truth we didn’t like and did not want to own, because so many, at all levels of the Church, were in denial of what was coming to light. Geoff’s commitment to truth and justice made him suffer for his beliefs.

I joined the Bishops’ Conference in 1993 when Geoff was chair of the Bishops’ Committee now designated Professional Standards. By 1996 it was largely Geoff’s leadership that gave us Towards Healing – pastoral protocols on how to receive complaints of abuse by church personnel.

Next step was Integrity in Ministry, a code of conduct setting standards of behaviour for those involved in the ministerial life of the Catholic Church.  Geoff outlined further steps in the process of the church facing up to this issue, an issue which has done irreparable damage not only to victims and survivors, but also to secondary victims: their families, the parish, the school communities and other people as well as to the credibility of the Church at large.

Geoff began by personally listening to victims, hearing their stories, witnessing the pain and damage done to them.  Through that, he began to understand something of the complexity of factors which lead to abuse. He also realised the need to get into the mentality of those responsible for abusing.

Geoff urged us, his brother bishops, to listen to victims and to deal decisively with complaints of abuse. He saw the need to go further, trying to understand the weaknesses and failures in the Church’s systems which enable such a betrayal of trust and power. All this was years before the Royal Commission of 2014.

At the time, some thought Geoff was going too far. Subsequent events have shown that we all owe Geoff a tremendous debt of gratitude. Didn’t Jesus say, “The truth will set you free”?

I believe history will show Geoff Robinson to be one of the very significant leaders of the Catholic Church in our country, a real champion. His focus was on the pastoral side of reaching out both to victims and perpetrators with compassion and mercy. He was a light in the darkness, ahead of his time – prophetic. As with all prophets, he suffered for his honest appraisal of our situation.

In many ways, the wheel has come full circle. For while the Vatican was initially alarmed at Geoff’s proactive stance and he was even taken to task by the Nuncio at the time, we now have Pope Francis setting up the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors, and the Pope’s spokesman Fr. Hans Zollner endorsing the very insights Geoff had taken, back at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st-century. A prophet is not welcome in his own country.

As Bishop Power wrote, Geoff “was a faithful son of the Church wanting the Church to be its best self while knowing it was ecclesia semper reformanda – the Church continually in need of reform.

Bishop Geoff’s courageous book, “Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church – Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus” came from his deep-held desires for the Church to be true to its mission of bringing Christ to the world and from his own great honesty and courage in naming the challenges facing the church today.

Through the liturgy of this Mass of Christian Burial, we gather in friendship here, to ask God to forgive whatever sins Bishop Geoffrey may have committed through human frailty. We ask God to take care of Geoff, now that his earthly life is over. We commit his bodily remains to the earth, but his spirit lives on. We all cherish many happy memories of what Geoff has been to each of us.

Through this Mass we share in the sacrifice of our redemption, the mystery of Christ who has gone before us through death on the Cross and has, by his resurrection, bequeathed to us all, the one sure ground of hope and fulfilment. Death is a mystery with which we can hardly grapple at all satisfactorily without faith; death, without faith, leaves us puzzled and disturbed.

Pope Saint John the 23rd said: “The priest is to be a good Shepherd who seeks to reach souls and to look upon the truth.” The Pope then added, “Truth and goodness are like two wings to keep us airborne.” Any bird will testify you need both the left and the right wings to be able to fly! 

So today let us not so much more mourn Geoffrey’s death as celebrate his homecoming, his birth to eternal life.  We give thanks to God for Geoff’s life, dedicated to the Lord in the service of his Church.  We give thanks to God for the example Geoff’s goodness, generosity, and consistency gives us; and we give thanks to God for the lessons that we have learnt from Geoffrey Robinson.

May Bishop Geoff’s gentle soul rest contentedly today in the happiness of God’s home where Jesus, “the way, the truth and the life…has gone ahead to prepare a place” for him and for each and everyone of us.

May Geoffrey rest in the Lord’s peace and receive the reward of his goodness. Amen”

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A Personal View of Six Discernment Papers for the Plenary Council

A Personal View of Six Discernment Papers for the Plenary Council

Patricia Gemmell has a Masters in Theology and for 34 years has been a parishioner of St Leonard’s Naremburn, NSW. Patricia is also a member of the Australian Grail National Leadership Team. This article first appeared on the website of The Grail in Australia in June 2020 and is re-published here with permission of the author.


We are all familiar with Karl Rahner’s statement, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” The more I advance on the Plenary Council journey, the more it seems to me that the Church of the future will be synodal or will not exist at all. This makes me wonder about the connections between mysticism and synodality. I’m sure there’s a theological essay in there but I have other fish to fry right now!

Can we make some general statements about the 6 Discernment Papers to illuminate the way forward? I believe we can.

If I were to pick the one thing that stands out as being of most importance, it would be the key analysis in Humble, Healing and Merciful. Let me quote some of it:

God is asking the Church in Australia today to start afresh from the place of humility…The Church in Australia is in need of healing. It bears a great wound and must not act as if it were not wounded…Overlooking and blocking out trauma, however, does not result in healing but leads to more pain, paralysis and, ultimately, death.

As long as the Church takes a “business as usual” approach, we will continue to experience “night” under the shadow of the sexual abuse scandal and other challenges. No matter how much energy we invest…in an attempt to draw people back to the pews, we will struggle to flourish.

Not surprisingly, the first recommendation in this paper is to DO sorry. It’s a recommendation found in most of the papers, in one form or another. It’s recognised as a foundational step to renewal.

The concepts of synodality and co-responsibility recur frequently. “In a synodal Church there is an openness to the Holy Spirit in a genuine process of conversion by both a humble leadership and an actively engaged community.” (Inclusive, Participatory and Synodal) This is very much the vision underpinning much of what is written in these papers, which face the challenges honestly but hopefully. Unfortunately, I don’t see much of this hope in the wider Catholic community, so there is much work to be done between now and the first session of the Plenary, if we are serious about changing a deeply entrenched culture of clericalism.

There is no substitute for reading the papers themselves and I hope you do so. I was heartened by some of the recurring priorities and proposals, especially seeing the very first proposal and one of the last (in the order they appear on the website) call for Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’, to be the inspiration for an integral ecology approach in this country.

Of particular interest and relevance at this time is the recurrent call for the embedding of Indigenous knowledge and culture in our Church, and the forging of deeper links with our First Nations Peoples. Several times Pope St John Paul II’s address to them in 1986 is quoted:

You are part of Australia and Australia is part of you. And the Church herself in Australia will not be fully the Church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been joyfully received by others.

It will come as no surprise that there were many questions and proposals around the participation of women, issues of governance and ministry, ongoing lifelong formation of bishops, clergy and laity at all levels, and a call for communal discernment to become a more deeply embedded process in our activities. It was also interesting to see how often a proposal was made for a national Catholic body to be created to oversee and co-ordinate various functions, in recognition of the fact that it is not always effective or desirable to have the dioceses all doing their own thing.

There was much in these papers to delight the reader interested in a life-giving culture of renewal. From a personal and parochial perspective, I was particularly impressed with the proposals made by the Prayerful and Eucharistic Writing Group, and especially their calls for “a collaborative model of ordained and lay sacramental ministry” and “formal approval and encouragement for suitably qualified lay women and men to break open the Word within the community.”

I don’t wear rose-coloured glasses. I am aware of the deep divisions in the Catholic Church in Australia, the resistance of some to the Plenary Council and the non-engagement of many others. However, that we have come this far in our journey of communal discernment is a great achievement, and we must build upon it.

We need forums for ongoing dialogue and discernment. It is clear that not all parishes or dioceses are going to provide these, and indeed, why should we expect that? If we are going to move from a culture of clericalism to a culture of synodality and co-responsibility, now is a good time to start. We at the grassroots must take the initiative. Various lay groups are already starting to do so. However, we need more than to meet in our silos and echo chambers. We need to engage with those who disagree with us or who bring a different faith perspective. It’s uncomfortable and it’s challenging and we don’t do it well.

Discernment takes us to the heart of things, to the things that really matter. Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom and all the rest will follow. For St Paul unity in Christ was everything. Jesus and the gospel must be our compass. Can we seek out our delegates to the Plenary Council and start processes of respectful dialogue and prayerful discernment with them and others, so that together we can begin to discern where the Spirit is leading us? And in the doing, can we learn to be united in our differences, knowing that in Christ we are all one?

Patricia Gemmell

June 2020

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