Catholics Speak Out

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Australian Preparation for the Synod on the Family 2015

10 January 2015
Paul Collins

As 2015 begins research by Peter Wilkinson (Catholics Speak Out) and John Costa (Catholics for Renewal) into diocesan websites has revealed that Australian dioceses are showing almost no interest in preparations for the forthcoming Synod on the Family in Rome (4-25 October, 2015). A difficult and complex forty-six question survey was issued by the Vatican in the Lineamenta, or preparatory document for the synod, on 9 December 2014. Melbourne archdiocese has issued a simplified – but still complicated - version of this survey.

As at 1 January 2015 a scan of diocesan websites found that only five dioceses were seeking reactions from Catholics via a questionnaire. They are Melbourne and Sydney archdioceses, and Broken Bay, Armadale and Bunbury dioceses. Responses to this survey have to be returned by 12 February 2015, a very tight timeframe.

The diocese of Lismore had two articles on the synod in December in the diocesan newspaper and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and the diocese of Bathurst websites made the Lineamenta available, but there was no mention of the synod survey. It seems that no other dioceses are doing anything, including Brisbane and Darwin whose bishops have been elected by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference as Australia’s representatives at the forthcoming synod.

‘There does not appear to be much interest by the vast majority of bishops in getting reflections from their people or anyone else at this stage,’ Peter Wilkinson says. Anecdotal evidence indicates that there is little or no interest at the parish level either.

However, Catholic renewal movements in the church have been preparing actively. An initiative taken by Catholics for Renewal has been supported by the Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Renewal (ACCCR), which includes Catholics Speak Out, Women and the Australian Church, Catholics for Renewal, Inclusive Catholics, the Friendship Group, Aggiornamento, Australian Reforming Catholics and the Cyber Christian Community have written personally to Archbishop Mark Coleridge (Brisbane) and Bishop Eugene Hurley (Darwin) and asked them a series of questions and requested their response.

ACCCR asked the two bishops firstly how they intended to contact the 87.8% of Catholics who are described as ‘“drifting away”, often because of the doctrinal and pastoral issues at the core of the Synod.’ The letter also asks the bishops how ‘the voices of Catholics in rural areas, where parishes are being closed and the Eucharist is rarely available, are going to be heard.’ The letter asks the two bishops: ‘Do you intend to reach this wider Catholic audience in the communal search and synodal reflection?’

The letter also questions the bishops about the role of women in the family, pointing out that ‘the Lineamenta gives scant attention to the faith formation role of mothers and wives, and women’s constrained role in the Church. Nor does itadequately recognise the heroism of those women raising and educating their children as single parents, or the scourge of violence against women in families.’ It tells the bishops that ‘the Church’s attitude to women’s equality continues to undermine the status of women across the world, sadly legitimising in the minds of some offenders their unjust treatment to the point of violence. Will you seek to have these matters critical to the interests of women in families included on the Synod agenda?’

The letter claims that the sexual abuse crisis cannot be side-stepped by the synod. ‘The Lineamenta makes no mention of the damage done to families by the sexual abuse of children by clerics and religious, by the breaching of trust, and by the cover-ups by some bishops. This damage to families and its causes must be faced by the Synod, which has to confront a governance system and clerical culture that failed not only the abused children but their families as well, and worse, exposed further children to harm.’ It asks the bishops: ‘Can you ensure that these issues are recognised in the ACBC’s input to the Synod?’

The final challenge that the letter lays down for the two bishops concerns the diversity of the Catholic lay presence at the synod. It says that ‘the lay presence at the 2014 synod was positive, but not sufficiently representative of the diversity of families. Will you advocate for a large presence of men and women, mothers and fathers and gay parents at the Ordinary Assembly and whom will you consult for Australian lay representatives?’

The letter notes the significant failure of Australia’s Catholic universities and theological faculties to show some leadership in opening-up the moral and theological issues that the synod faces. It says that ACCCR is  ‘disappointed that to date our academic institutions have not provided leadership in breaking open theologically many of the issues that concern couples and parents, such as contraception, cohabitation, and admission to the sacraments after divorce and remarriage. Catholics want to understand what lies behind the Church’s teaching and practice on such issues, and the possibilities for change. Will you encourage these institutions to involve themselves much more in engaging a better-informed and more reflective faithful?’

This letter was sent to Archbishop Coleridge and Bishop Hurley on 3 January 2015.



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