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Report calls out clericalism


A national centre for Catholic leadership and governance, involving women in the selection and formation of seminarians, giving lay people input into the placement of parish priests, making diocesan pastoral councils mandatory and maintaining a strong Catholic media…

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These are just a few of the recommendations of a 200-page report produced for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse in relation to Church governance and management structures.

The Light from the Southern Cross – Promoting Co-Responsible Governance in the Catholic Church in Australia was published in August and will be considered by the bishops at their November plenary meeting.

ACBC president Archbishop Mark Coleridge has asked that any feedback on the final version of the report be sent to the local bishop who will bring it the plenary meeting.

“The bishops will discuss the report and the broader issue of governance at our meeting later this year, but many of the matters raised are ones that can be implemented at the local level, rather than requiring national consensus,” he said.

The report pays considerable attention to the issue of clericalism, saying it flourishes in contexts where the lay faithful are excluded or marginalised and adopt a “posture of subservience”.

“With increasing numbers of lay leaders (women and men) in church agencies as CEOs and members of church boards, and as active and involved parishioners, the opportunity is there to transform a culture of clericalism and to work collegially and
co-responsibly together,” the report states.

“However, a move from paternalistic behaviour is needed, as well as improved communication on both sides, to enable a change of heart by both ordained and lay people.

“Put succinctly, clericalism in any form in which it appears in the Church must be addressed, and the need to do so is urgent.”

In the chapter on synodality and inclusive practice, the report says many Catholic women and men experience pain at the failure of the Church to enable the fuller participation of women.

“The most visible indicator of the barriers to full participation is that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Australia, as in the Church across the world, remains exclusively male,” it says.

“The Church’s teaching of the inherent dignity of each person underpins the rationale of equal participation in decision-making of women and men.”

Similarly, it calls on the Church to fully embrace the gifts of First Nations Catholics in order for it to be an “authentic Catholic Church”.

The report was prepared by the Implementation Advisory Group, chaired by Jack de Groot, CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society NSW, and the Governance Review Project Team chaired by the Hon Neville Owen AO.

The report can be found at


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