Profile of Catalyst


a. The First Meetings

In July 1994, ten Catholics met over lunch in a private house in Sydney to talk about renewal in the Church. In particular, a proposal was put that we organize a “festival of the laity”. During the discussion it was noted that there was a strong emphasis emerging from the Second Vatican Council that we should think of the Church as first and foremost all the baptized. A “festival of the laity” might tend, in fact, to have the unwanted result of emphasizing the old categories of “clergy” and those who were not the clergy, namely “the laity”. Furthermore, a one-off “festival” might be an ephemeral event, a shot in the arm as it were, but it might have little or no lasting value for the ongoing work of renewal within the Church.

Something decisive and original happened at that meeting. The group of ten took on a life of its own. A precise formulation and understanding of what the group’s life might be, remained to be discovered. We agreed to continue meeting to see if we could discern how we might contribute to the renewal of the Church in a more sustained way.

b. Discerning an Identity and Mission

Other people joined the group, some discontinued their involvement. During this time we agreed that the metaphor of a “catalyst” pointed to the way we wanted to work for renewal. From the very beginning we were clear about the fact that we did not want to be confrontational. Furthermore, we wanted to remain within the Catholic Church and work with and for its renewal, cooperating with all other people of good will similarly wanting to promote renewal within the Church.

We began to focus quite explicitly on “conversation” as the way of being a “catalyst”. We did not see ourselves forming a group or movement that was parallel to or in any way antagonistic towards the institutional Church. Rather, we wanted to become honest brokers of conversation, with the expectation that good conversation could be an effective catalyst for renewal within the Church. Thus, at the end of 1994, we decided to call ourselves Catalyst for Renewal and we stated our mission in the following way:

We are believers who are attempting to establish a forum for conversation within the Catholic Church of Australia Our aim is to prompt open exchanges among the community of believers, mindful of the diversity of expressions of faith in contemporary Australia. This springs explicitly from the spirit of pope John XXIII and Vatican II: “Let there be unity in what is necessary, freedom in what is unsettled, and charity in any case.” (Gaudium et Spes, n.92)

c. First Forum for Conversation: Spirituality in the Pub

Once we had come to an agreement that we would focus on conversation, it remained then to discover concrete ways of doing this. Spirituality in the Pub (SIP) was our first forum for conversation. (See the separate page on this web site for a full description of Spirituality in the Pub.)

In 1995 the first series of SIP evenings was piloted in the Bellevue Hotel in Paddington, in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney. These proved to be so successful that, before that year was out, a similar series was planned for the Pymble Hotel, Pymble, on the North Shore of Sydney, for 1996. There are now some twenty SIP venues in other suburbs of Sydney, the Central Coast of NSW, Newcastle, Bowral, Canberra, Melbourne, Geelong, Ballarat, Perth and Brisbane.

d. Consolidation

In 1996 Fr Michael Whelan SM was employed two days a week as Executive Director. Michael was actually involved much more than two days a week and, with the services of Pauline McNaught as a part time Secretary, was able to handle most of the work entailed with editing and producing our journal, The Mix, which had become our second forum for conversation, and developing a subscriber base.

This was another decisive moment in the growth of Catalyst for Renewal. Through The Mix we were able to reach a national audience and invite many others to join us in our mission to set up forums for conversation for renewal within the Church.

We also began our very popular series of Catalyst Dinners in 1996. These were of a similar format to the SIP events, but held within the context of a meal. Most of the dinners have attracted about 200 guests each. (See the separate page on this web site for a full description of the Catalyst Dinners.)

On November 21, 1996, we were incorporated in NSW under the Associations Incorporation Act (1984).

e. Structure

Catalyst for Renewal Incorporated (CFR) is an association dedicated to renewal within the Catholic Church of Australia.

CFR is not a canonical organisation within the Church, however it does quite explicitly and publicly seek to remain loyal to, and always supportive of, the authentic tradition of the Catholic Church.

Because CFR is Catholic it is necessarily ecumenical and welcomes interaction with, and involvement of, people of goodwill from other Christian traditions as well as all those who sincerely seek to develop spirituality in their lives but have no particular institutional affiliation.

CFR is a non-profit venture and is registered in the State of NSW as a charitable organisation, with permission to raise money from the public to support its work.

Given our focus on promoting conversation as a vehicle for renewal within the Church, everything about CFR is geared to that end.

There is a core group of Members who have oversight of, and responsibility for, ensuring that we remain focused on the stated mission. Those Members have four Business Meetings and four Reflection Mornings each year. (Note: These Reflection Mornings are generally open to any Friends of Catalyst for Renewal.) Most of the Members also serve on one or more of the Committees listed below.

An Executive of six – President, two Vice-Presidents, Treasurer and Secretary and one other member – is elected by the Members from among the Members for a set term. The Executive meets approximately once each three to four weeks and is answerable to the Members.

There are various people who work for Catalyst as follows-.

  • Executive Director, who acts in a public relations capacity, handles much of the administration and also edits The Mix;
  • Assistant to the Editor of The Mix;
  • Secretarial Assistant.
  • Promotion/Development Officer

Each of these people assists the Executive in their work.

There are approximately 1800 Friends, people who subscribe to the spirit and mission of CFR. They pay a small annual donation, receive copies of The Mix and are kept informed of various forums of conversation and other related events. They also have access to a limited research and manuscript service. A number of the Friends also have indicated their willingness to be Volunteers in the work of CFR.


a. The Backdrop of the Council

A special event occurred in Rome late in the morning of October 11th 1962. It was the opening of the Second Vatican Council and Pope John XXIII was delivering his Opening Speech. That Speech lasted 37 minutes and focused on four themes: (a) the idea of a Council as the celebration of a faith ever old, ever new; (b) a hope for the Church and world grounded in a confidence that Christ’s Spirit is at work in our times, and a denunciation of the “prophets of doom”; (c) a clear statement on what the Council was about and what it was not about; (d) a remarkable new approach to errors.

The Speech made a profound impact and was to set the spirit and vision within which the Council was to do its work. The full text of the Speech can be found in Walter Abbot’s The Documents of Vatican II, pp. 710- 719.

The last of the themes is particularly noteworthy – the new approach to dealing with error. In part Pope John said:

“At the outset of the Second Vatican Council, it is evident as always, that the truth of the Lord will remain forever. We see, intact, as one age succeeds another, that the opinions of men follow one another and exclude each other. And often errors vanish as quickly as they arise, like fog before the sun. The Church has always opposed these errors. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations. …. Even more important, experience has taught people that violence inflicted on others, the might of arms, and political domination, are of no help at all in finding a happy solution to the grave problems which afflict them.”

There is a spirit, mood and vision here that CFR endeavours to foster. It is particularly evident in the way error is to be confronted. It is mercy, rather than severity, that should move us and be manifest in what we do and how we do it.

b. The Ultimate Context

The ultimate context for our mission – and any authentically Christian mission – may be summarised as follows:

  • the Father, Son & Holy Spirit liberating the human family and entire cosmos and drawing us into the Eternal Mystery of Love;
  • the Pilgrim Church called to be a sign or sacrament of this Eternal Event, always falling short of its vocation, always in need of repentance and renewal, always confident of the promise: “I am with you!”;
  • our individual pilgrimages, emerging from that Trinitarian Life and longing to be home again, yet finding ourselves always in need of liberation from the effects of sin – our own and other’s – still walking on in hope;
  • a call to live in charity, foster charity and do all in our power to see that charity is given the last word in all we say or do, for without charity all else is worthless, with it even our sins work to our good;
  • in the end our opponent is not this or that person, idea or structure but “the demonic”, the forces of evil which can only be overcome by the Spirit of Christ.

c. The Immediate Context

The immediate context for our mission – and any authentically Christian mission at this time – may be summarised as follows:

  • we live at the end of an era, a time of massive transition;
  • it is impossible to estimate just how massive that transition will be or how long it might take – generations? centuries?;
  • there is evidence of at least the beginnings of wholesale disintegration of thought patterns, assumptions & presuppositions, institutions and organisational structures, customs & norms of behaviour, rituals and symbols;
  • as might be expected under the circumstances, there is much anxiety and lots of confusion about what should be done and how we should proceed;
  • all sorts of deformative coping mechanisms are coming to the fore – manipulation, power grabbing, apathy, withdrawal, depression, intolerance, aggression, violence, various forms of fundamentalism etc.;
  • both the Church and civil society are places where this scenario is being played out; in particular, an institutional form of Church is dying and there is still nowhere in sight a new form to replace the old; and this process of death and rebirth might take centuries;
  • amid the dangers are many opportunities and challenges; as Pope Paul VI said in Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975): “We live at a privileged moment of the Holy Spirit”.

d. A Modus Operandi

In the pursuit of our mission we will endeavour at all times to act with a specific spirit and intention as indicated by the following:

  • promote foundational thinking which endeavors to find the roots or foundations of an issue; it asks ‘What is happening?’, ‘What principles are at work here?’, ‘Are there any unacknowledged assumptions operating?’; it moves beyond ideological positions, superficial questions & issues, the merely concrete & immediate, to the sources or foundations of these; foundational thinking attempts to both discover and explicate the underlying dynamics so that the more immediate, concrete reality can be dealt with both compassionately and intelligently within the full context;
  • model or witness what we are intending to communicate and promote;
  • consider all matters within the perspective of the long term and the big picture and the ultimate context;
  • engage in constant prayer, reflection & self-examination to minimise the possibility of personal agenda distorting our work;
  • keep lines of communication open with appropriate Church officials, informing them of developments with our work as appropriate;
  • leave Church officials room to manoeuvre and save face; generally avoid forcing a Church official to choose publicly between his or her personal opinion and official Church requirements;
  • speak in accord with the mind of the Church, and, as far as possible, get references from official Church documents to support any significant statements we make;
  • build up rather than tear down, affirm rather than negate; promote a coalition of renewal, foster reconciliation, bridge-building & networking; promote a vision, and give witness to, a reality that offers a viable and attractive alternative to all that is negative, death-dealing or simply not life-giving; avoid being preoccupied by what is wrong or not happening;
  • keep emphasising baptism and what unites us as Christ’s faithful;
  • use language that is clear and free of emotional overtones, avoiding words and images that are tendentious or inflammatory;
  • maintain a high level of professionalism and excellence in all we do and in the way we conduct ourselves, especially under fire;
  • remember that the big issues are ultimately issues of spirituality; that is, they are about our relationship with God, ourselves, other people & our world and how we live those relationships on a day to day basis.

e. Sample Conversation Themes

There are some themes about which we are especially keen to promote conversation. For example:

  • freedom & conscience – much official Church teaching to draw on here that ought to be disseminated and explained more widely;
  • predictable patterns in times of crisis – for both individuals and institutions there is a dying to live at the heart of it all, a paschal rhythm; our faith can give us a constructive vision to go on with hope, even when death and disintegration seem to be winning the day for the moment;
  • tradition – a critical concept to understand given our emphasis on it; not to be confused with mere repetition;
  • Church – what are we talking about? A new ecclesiology underlies just about everything else we would want to consider, such as: priesthood – and associated issues; authority, power & wealth in the Church; divorce and remarriage; the structure and life of parishes; the election of bishops; the role of the Church in the civil order, new forms of ministry, the place of various segments of the population in the Church – eg young adults, women, gays, professional people, young parents, the aged etc. the pastoral rather than legalistic approach.


Sr Maryanne Confoy rsc
Br Julian McDonald cfc
Rev. Francis J. Moloney, SDB, AM, STL, SSL, D.PHIL., FAHA
Sr Mary Shanahan rscj
Rev Andrew Hamilton SJ