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Group of Australian Catholics appeals to pope for an ear

HONG KONG (SE): “The Church no longer adequately inspires many of our communities. It has alienated too many adults who were born of Catholic parents, attended Catholic schools and lived a sacramental life.

“It has become disconnected from and irrelevant to the lives of too many of our children,” a letter, signed by 3,337 people addressed to Pope Benedict XVI and the Australian Bishops’ Conference, reads.

The signatories to the letter, who describe themselves as motivated out of concern for the Church, range from priests to catechists and active members of parishes, quote canon 212.2-3 from Canon Law in support of their right to speak out on their concerns.

The canon reads, “As Christ’s faithful, we must speak out. Under Canon Law we have a right and a duty in keeping with our knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to our pastors our views on matters which concern the good of the Church.”

The authors of the letter say it is being sent to the Australian bishops on the eve of their departure for Rome for their 2011 ad limina visit.

The president of the conference, Archbishop Philip Wilson, of Adelaide, replied to the signatories saying that the matter would be referred to the Vatican authorities and the pope, as requested.

The bishops did not make any attempt to defend the Church’s position or to respond to the concerns raised in the one-page letter.

The letter notes with concern the decreasing ability of the Australian Church to provide regular Eucharistic services to many of the nation’s Catholics and is critical of the Church’s reticence to embrace the vision of Vatican II of collegiality in terms of respecting decisions made in local cultures.

“Rather,” it says, “it appears as an institution focussed on centralism, legalism and control, with few effective structures for listening and dialogue, and often more concerned with its institutional image and interests than the spirit of Christ.”

A disproportionately high number of people from the Toowoomba area of Queensland, where Bishop Bill Morris was dismissed by the Holy See earlier this year signed the letter, which notes that people are shocked over what is termed the lack of due process demonstrated in his sacking.

It also lists what it calls bad decisions made connected with the sexual abuse scandal as one factor that has tainted the reputation of the Australian Church in recent years.

“We were dismayed by the failure to consult properly on the new English translations of our liturgy. We can no longer accept the patriarchal attitude towards women within our Church, and we fear that an extended claim to infallibility is stifling discussion on many important issues,” the letter goes on, saying that the squashing of discussion on the ordination of women and human sexuality are also seen as stunting the growth of the faith.

“We want and pray for a renewed Church that follows Christ more closely in every way. We need a Church committed to authentic collegiality and subsidiarity. We seek an open, transparent and accountable Church, which respects due process, rejects every form of discrimination, listens to its people, promotes co-responsibility in every facet of its mission and ministry, and is compassionate to its core,” the signatories say.

One signatory, Redemptorist Father Bruce Duncan, quotes Walter Cardinal Kasper as saying recently, “The Church’s real problem today is its lack of communication. (The Second Vatican Council) was a compass for the Church in the third millennium” and the Church must replace its “one-sided authoritative-hierarchical” system of communication with a “dialogical and sisterly” one.

Father Duncan notes, “I would put this in terms of the need to develop new forms of participation in the Church so that responsibility is truly shared appropriately.”

The signatories are calling on the Australian bishops to convoke a synod in every diocese in Australia to discuss how the local Church might be a more authentic witness in 21st century society.

“For all of us, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. As the people of God and your sisters and brothers in Christ, who together seek the kingdom of God, we pray that the Spirit will guide us all ever closer to Jesus in the critical task of renewal,” the letter concludes.

‘…it appears as an institution focussed on centralism, legalism and control, with few effective structures for listening and dialogue’


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