Catholics Speak Out

News & Comment

Catholics Speaking Out

1 June 2016

One night in Corinth the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak out and do not be silent; for I am with you and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you” (Acts of the Apostles 18:9-10

Welcome to our first semi-regular issue of Catholics Speaking Out, newsletter of Catholics Speak Out (CSO). Our aim is to keep you up-to-date with what CSO and its members are doing in terms of renewal of the Catholic Church, both in Australia and overseas. We originally began as Catholics for Ministry in 2003 and have worked through awareness building, speaking out, petitions, research, and direct action to realise and strengthen the spirituality and consciousness that Vatican Council II brought to the Church. We support Pope Francis in actively working toward getting women into leadership positions within Catholicism, including renewed ordained ministry. On October 2013 we joined with several other Catholic renewal organizations in forming an Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Renewal.

1. From Paul Collins: CSO was recently involved in a suggested new process for the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). An international group of fifteen laypeople, sisters, priests and two Australian bishops who had been subject to an investigation by the CDF wrote to the Prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Gerhard Müller and the Secretaries, Archbishops Augustine de Noia, OP and Ladaria Ferrer, SJ outlining a new process that reflected ‘the gospel values of justice, truth, integrity and mercy that the church professes to uphold’, rather than the current procedures which are badly in need of reform, ‘are contrary to natural justice’, and are ‘characterised by the absolutist presumptions of an antiquated legal system that has nothing to do with the Gospel.’

Pope Francis was also sent a copy of the suggested new process (see a copy of the process and the letter to Müller and the secretaries and the list of those who signed). CSO was involved through Paul Collins who together with Irish Redemptorist, Father Tony Flannery CSsR were the organisers of the process and the group.

True to form for those who have dealt with the CDF, the group received no answer whatsoever from the Congregation, not even an acknowledgement of our letter. However, out of the blue Tony Flannery received a copy of a booklet entitled To promote and safeguard the faith (but no letter or note) via the Father General of the Redemptorists, and about a fortnight later Paul received a copy of the same booklet (which was already available on the CDF webpage) via a confused local Canberra Archbishop Christopher Prowse who wondered why he was being treated as a messenger boy.

However, the letter and suggested new process got a lot of coverage in the international Catholic media including the National Catholic Reporter (19 April and 6 May 2016), The Tablet (20 April 2016), America (20 April and 10 May 2016) and Global Pulse (21 April 2016). It also received coverage in Catholic media in Germany, Austria and Spain.

The most significant coverage was in two major Italian outlets. First, the left-leaning national daily in Italy La Repubblica (25 April 2016) gave the process a full page, and Adista (21 April 2016), a Catholic news service based in Rome, reported it and more importantly translated all the material into Italian. These two reports guaranteed that the Vatican could not avoid being aware of what we had done. Also the Irish Times’ Rome correspondent, Paddy Agnew, reported it (28 April 2016) and he sought a response from the Vatican. ‘Vatican senior spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi…[said] that it was very unlikely that there would be any public response from the CDF.’ In Australia the issue was covered for almost an hour on Sunday Night Talk (1 May 2016).

At present we are trying to develop a way of trying to get the CDF to emerge from their fortress and enter into some form of dialogue. Any suggestions?

2. From Marilyn Hatton: Women’s Equality in the Church: the blocks and possibilities. In 2016, I am looking to channel my energy and efforts more effectively to get Pope Francis’s messages of reform and mercy out and to make real his vision of our faith for future generations. His transforming exhortations all emphasise the need for people, priests and bishops to work together to recover the gospel message in our lives and to rid our Church of the destructive effects of clericalism. The barrier to this happening at the moment is our ability to achieve truly authentic and open discussion with our Australian bishops.

You will remember that our individual groups and collectively as ACCCR, made repeated attempts through correspondence and visits to our elected bishop representatives to the Synod, the Papal Nuncio, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and the Vatican to do this for the 2014 and 2015 Synods. Sadly we were not able to achieve anything like honest and open conversation.

I am reminded again of Mary McAleese’s famous quote to the effect that ‘if you ignore me when I talk to you, of course I will start to shout.’  So now, shout we must; our change of name to Catholics Speak Out signals this. I believe that the structural change of women’s equality in the Catholic Church would immediately start to reduce some of the destructive effects of clericalism  and simultaneously begin to restore balance in decision-making and help the existing governance structures to be activated in a way that will bring forth a practice of faith that makes the Holy Spirit and the gospel’s message of  love relevant and accessible to all. 

To date I have worked on facilitating women’s equality in the Catholic Church with others in the international network Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW) through representing Australia and Catholics for Ministry/Catholics Speak Out on the WOW Steering Committee and more intensively in the last two years as one of the four members of the WOW Leadership Group that coordinated the International Conference Gender, Gospel and Global Justice in Philadelphia last year.  Six of us attended from Australia including two members of Women and the Australian Church (WATAC) and the Hon. Kristina Keneally who moderated the Priests Panel of comprised four priests, two from USA, one from Ireland and Paul Collins representing Australia. All bore witness to the need for women’s equality and ordination in the Catholic Church.

The WOW network is also presently coordinating events in Rome (see separate attachment romewow2016) to ensure women’s presence and voice is heard at the International celebrations and mass in the Vatican on June 1 for the Jubilee Year of Priests.

I will not be standing for the WOW Leadership Group at the annual WOW  meeting being held in Krakow, Poland on 22 July 2016, but I will continue to link with the many women and men in the international community who are building relationships at every opportunity to progress women’s equality in the Catholic Church. So I should have a little more time to work for women’s equality as a governance issue for Church renewal in Australia. I understand Catholics Speak Out will still maintain our subscription and membership on the WOW Steering Committee.

There is now a far greater awareness of the importance of women’s equality in the Catholic Church evidenced in Catholic media in Australia and internationally. In recent weeks, Cardinal Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State mentioned that a woman could be appoinnted a Cardinal and could be Secretary of State, as well as fill senior positions in the Vatican that do not require an ordained person.  This has been said before of course. The point is, it takes on a different significance when the person saying it is the current Secretary of State. 

CathNews, the Guardian and The Tablet as well as a number of others papers, have mentioned Pope Francis` speech to the 900 women religious superiors in which he mentioned his desire for women in decision making and announced the formation of a Commission to explore ordination of women to the deaconate. Many of you will also have seen responses to this that said that there ‘no need for a commission, just ordain us’, or heard Pope Francis’s, perhaps well meant humour that was disastrously inappropriate to 900 religious women who have born and are bearing the heat of the day. In case you missed it Jamie Manson's NCR article is depressingly true.

Pope Francis is leading us inspirationally and more prophetically than any other Pope in our lifetime, but he doesn’t realize how the clerical culture has affected his own understanding of women and how to relate to us respectfully.

I will now come back to my opening paragraphs and how Catholics Speak Out will effectively achieve Pope Francis’ vision as Fr. Frank Brennan would say 'with grace'. In conversation/emails with Bernice Moore of WATAC, Peter Johnstone of Catholics for Renewal and Peter Maher of the National Council of Priests I know that we are all determined to continue the important work that our organisations do on governance issues related to Church renewal. As well though we will have to continue to improve our ability to achieve truly authentic and open discussion with our Australian bishops as Pope Francis urges us on.

A possible strategy to get women with appropriate backgrounds into senior Church positions that do not require ordained persons could be an effective focus to start with. Peter Johnstone has been a constant proponent of this strategy. Internationally the USA renewal movements petitioned the Vatican on this issue but the Secretary of State was not mentioning it then nor was Pope Francis leading us. Could you email me your thoughts on this possibility?

3. Forthcoming Meeting: This is a conference Catholics Speak Out members may be interested in attending. It is the Third International Meeting of Priest Movements and Reform Groups in Chicago, Monday, 17 October (7pm) to Thursday, 20 October (midday) at Wingate by Wyndham, 2112 S. Arlington Heights Rd., Arlington Heights, IL. 60005. Cost: hotel $US105.00 per night. Conference fee US$100.00 includes meals. Contact Paul Collins if you are interested in going.

4. From Frank Purcell: Other Kinds of Abuse in the Church. When the clerical sexual abuse scandal became public in the 1990s, the Bishops introduced a set of procedures to be followed when dealing with complaints of professional misconduct.  Those procedures were to be followed in investigating allegations of sexual abuse, physical assault, bullying and harassment and any misappropriation of money by Church employees. Set out in Towards Healing and Integrity in Ministry, they apply to bishops, priests and other church employees.

Three such allegations of misconduct were sent to the Sandhurst Diocesan Committee for Professional Standards in 2013.

  1. One alleged misappropriation of Caritas money by a parish priest, and his verbal abuse of the money counter who discovered the alleged misappropriation.
  2. The second alleged that a member of the Bishop’s Office covered-up the misappropriation of money on the grounds that the parish priest “can do what he likes with that money”.  
  3. The third appeal was about that same member of the Bishop’s Office aborting the appeal to the Diocesan committee. It alleged that his intervention was a conflict of interest and a clear violation of Catholic Canon Law.  The accused Church employee stopped any investigation of the allegations against himself.   

A further appeal was then sent to the National Committee for Professional Standards. That appeal protested the treatment of the previous appeal, and alleged a further unresolved incident in another parish in the Diocese.  The President of its Parish Council was punched to the floor at a Parish Finance Council meeting. 

The National Committee only took evidence from the Bishop and the Chancery Official involved. Neither the complainants nor the victims were contacted for their evidence. The National Committee ruled that no serious violation of professional standards was involved.

The case was finally appealed to the National Review Panel. It found that the National Committee had failed to follow the required procedures, but it too refused to interview the appellants or the victims. It also ruled that there was no serious violation of professional standards. Yet, our legal advice is that such incidents are serious violations of Victorian Law.   As for the victim of the physical assault, all he asked for was an apology. His case, like the original appeal, has not been resolved three years on. Bishops and priests are apparently still members of a protected species – all too often unaccountable for their pastoral, administrative and financial decisions.

Such an outdated Church governance system fails to observe the basic values of Australian society. No wonder Australian Catholics are disappearing out of our pews in droves.  


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