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Zooming in on Church reform

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Catholics from reform groups across Australia and New Zealand met via Zoom last month to discuss the Plenary Council and Church governance.

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Participants representing 17 reform groups and other invitees joined the forum of the Australian Coalition for Catholic Church Reform (ACCCR) to discuss the way ahead for Church decision making, especially in the lead up to the Plenary Council now scheduled for October 2021.

Presentations included several overviews of the Plenary Council process to date, reviews of the six official discernment papers meant to shape the Plenary Council agenda, and the Implementation Advisory Group’s recent governance report, The Light from the Southern Cross.

Speaking shortly after the forum, ACCCR Convener, Peter Johnstone, said that the coalition was increasingly harnessing the energy for renewal Australia-wide.

“Catholics want a Church that lives and models the teachings of Jesus,” he said.

“We believe that this is the most representative meeting of Catholic reform groups ever held in Australia.

“We were pleased to also have New Zealand Catholics share their views.

“Catholics are insisting that the now deferred Plenary Council, when it does meet, addresses the real issues of a debilitated Church and failed Church leadership.

“We are determined to press for reform and to challenge the Church leadership to hear and respond to the spiritual and community needs of the faithful.”

John Warhurst, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University and chair of Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn, was co-chair of the forum.

“We trust in the sense of faith of the faithful that has emerged from the submissions, but we are deeply concerned that the papers which have been written for the Plenary Council fail to marshal reform ideas into a relevant framework for a meaningful Council agenda,” Professor Warhurst said.

“The most prominent theme emerging from the 17,500 submissions is greater Inclusion for all, especially women and minority groups. But the issue appears to have been sidelined in the discernment papers,” he said.

Concerning the governance document, Andrea Dean, president of Women and the Australian Church and also co-chair of the forum, said it was a progressive, wide-ranging report with implications which reach well beyond the remit of the Plenary Council.

The ACCCR will draw on these discussions for the next meeting in July which will come up with local and national action plans.

“The Catholic reform movement is harnessing the momentum for renewal by gathering the wisdom of the faithful in setting a path that truly reflects the gospel,” Mr Johnstone said.

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