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Assembly crucial in shaping future of local Church


A Diocesan Assembly planned for September, together with the ongoing Plenary Council, will play a “crucial” part in shaping the future of the Catholic Church in Australia, according to respected local theologian Fr James McEvoy.

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On the 40th anniversary of his priestly ordination and after more than three decades teaching and writing about theology – much of it looking at how faith and religion fit in today’s world – Fr McEvoy is optimistic that the Church is heading in the right direction.

He believes Pope Francis, the Australian Bishops and locally Adelaide Archbishop Patrick O’Regan, are committed to listening to a community that is discerning “where God is leading us as a Church”.

“This whole movement in the Church means a great deal to me—it’s crucial for the future of our Church,” Fr McEvoy told The Southern Cross.

“It is clearly very challenging for the large community that we are, that everyone is listening.

“COVID has made that trickier, but in the early Plenary process we had more than 220,000 replies and the six Thematic Discernment papers that came out of that are very good.

“We are a diverse Church and there are clearly some tensions in our community but these documents managed to find a way through those differences.”

A member of the group organising the Diocesan Assembly, Fr McEvoy said the gathering would integrate “what has been learned about synodal processes from the national Plenary Council experience, and what has been arrived at through the preparatory process of the Plenary”.

“I am utterly impressed and delighted that our diocese is taking this direction and Archbishop Patrick wants to make our involvement an essential part of the Plenary Council by holding this Diocesan Assembly, with one of the outcomes being the formation of a new Diocesan Pastoral Council.”

As part of his involvement in the local gathering, Fr McEvoy will provide support by drawing upon his extensive theological studies, which have been a hallmark of his priesthood.

The son of Irish migrants who raised eight children in Adelaide, the 65 year old recalled how faith and the Catholic Church provided the “framework” for the family.

After joining the seminary and discerning to become a priest, he was ordained on February 28 1981 and spent the next decade ministering in the St Mary’s, Glenelg and Elizabeth North parishes.

However, after those years of parish ministry, when the then Archbishop Len Faulkner invited priests to undertake further study, Fr McEvoy jumped at the chance.

“I loved theology at the seminary so thought I would do a bit more for renewal’s sake and enrolled in a Masters, and I just fell in love with theology all over again.”

As an academic he has been afforded the opportunity to “think deeply” about theologian Karl Rahner’s writings and see the “coherence of Catholic teaching and the broader picture; the way in which it all leads to God and the love of God”.

“Rahner’s work really moved me,” Fr McEvoy said.

“I was also looking at modernity and the place of faith and religion today. Through this study I stumbled on the work of Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, who is recognised as the most insightful thinker in this area, and I saw more clearly how important it is that we find ways of articulating the fullness of Christian faith and Catholic faith in a way that speaks to the present.”

Working with the Australian Catholic University for the past eight years, Fr McEvoy teaches school teachers and postgraduate students about theologies of the Church, the sacraments, the Church’s mission in the world, moral life and social life.

“I love teaching and am moved deeply when people discover the richness of theology and discover God again, that is extraordinary,” he said.

In a complete change of scenery from the classroom – or Zoom meeting as has been the case in the past 12 months – Fr McEvoy is the chaplain of the Otherway Centre at Stepney.

Each Sunday he celebrates the Eucharist and is available for the pastoral needs of the small but committed local Aboriginal Catholic Community. He loves their diversity and is delighted that over the years they have embraced him as “one of their mob”.

“It is a small community, but it is always serene and beautiful.”

Further details about the Diocesan Assembly will be provided in coming months.


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