1 December 2019

Solomon’s patience needed

I wonder if those brave souls who will constitute the Plenary Council realise what they have let themselves in for. In preparation for the Plenary Council, the first meeting of which is set for Adelaide in October next year, all Catholics were “encouraged and invited to express their views on how they see the Church now and what suggestions for change they would like to see implemented”.

And the people responded with gusto. A total of 17,457 submissions were received with 12,758 sent in by individuals. As to be expected, many of the submissions are as contradictory, one to another, as praying for rain to break the drought and praying for fine weather for the school fete on Saturday.

To sort through these submissions and to legislate on them will require the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon. To give an idea of what is awaiting those constituting the Council, I will quote just two of the mutually exclusive submissions.  

On the one hand this: “To orient ourselves towards the sacred tradition of our Holy Church, and to mortify ourselves and commit to fervent prayer, so that the Church may lose Her disorientation and focus on Her Divine Mission, given to us by Our Lord Jesus Christ: to spread the Catholic Faith, whole and inviolate, for the salvation of souls.”

 And this view: “The sexual abuse scandal, the anti-gay marriage rhetoric, the patriarchal nature of governance and the attitude towards contraception has made it impossible for [my children] to remain active participants. All of my children are strong advocates of social justice and they applaud the Australian Bishops for their stance on offshore detention and other issues such as climate change. However, the Church in Australia must engage with the other issues mentioned if it is to have a hope of retaining educated women within the ranks of its faithful. As a teacher in a Catholic school, I find the only way to recontextualise my faith so that it has relevance to my students is through social justice. I continually promote Caritas and all its wonderful work but I despair at times for the future of my parish and the Church in Australia as a whole.”

 There is a simple test which, I am confident, will settle once and for all the majority of the 17,457 submissions and that test is: “What does Scripture say?” Not even a Plenary Council can legislate contrary to Scripture.

LGBTIQ+ issues feature prominently in the submissions, all calling for some accommodation for them in theology and Church practice and governance. Fortuitously, perhaps, on June 10 this year the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education released a document (dated February 2, 2019) “Male and Female He created them. For a path of dialogue on the issue of gender education.” The theme of the document is “Yes to dialogue. No to ideology.” Importantly, in affirming “Male and female He created them”, it remains faithful to Genesis.

In the vast treasury of the Church’s accumulated wisdom, the Plenary Council will find many documents which will provide guidance if not solutions.

The ordination of women is a hot topic in the submissions. Pope John Paul II gave us Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which will save a lot of time as it determines the question. The push for women Deacons will be dismissed out of hand as an attempted thin edge of the wedge deception.

Christifideles Laici will be of immense assistance when considering the role of the laity in the post-Conciliar Church. There is a push for lay-led parishes. Given the spectacular success of lay-led political parties and lay-led governments and lay-led Catholic schools, I can only conclude that this suggestion is floated to provide a little light relief.

For some respondents the issue of married priests seems to be another hot topic, as though celibacy caused the incidents of child abuse considered by the recent royal commission. The commission identified pederasty rather than celibacy as the common factor.

One topic pressed with some urgency and desperation is the fact that our Catholic schools are not turning out young people with a knowledge of, and love for, the Catholic faith. We Pre-Vatican II Catholics are acutely aware that, for every 100 of us who are called to give an account of our stewardship, we will be replaced by a miserable 20, perhaps!

The problem for the Church in future will not be shortage of priests but a shortage of parishioners. If the Plenary Council achieves nothing more than reclaiming Catholic schools, it will have been worthwhile. If it does not get Catholic schools back on track it will have been a failure whatever else may be achieved.

By Frank Pulsford