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Bringing Outback wisdom to big smoke


The Church needs to be flexible, and with the Spirit this can be achieved, says Maltese-born Charles Gauci, known to many as the Outback bishop.

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The Bishop of Darwin and former Adelaide priest brought four decades of pastoral wisdom to the Australian Plenary Council assembly in Sydney recently, sharing his experience as a Church leader covering the vast northern diocese that is two-and-a-half times the size of France.

As one of the Council’s 277 members, Bishop Gauci expressed the view that the Church doesn’t belong to the priests and bishops.

And when setting up the structures of the Church, including parish councils, diocesan pastoral councils and leadership teams, he says “all things have to have the flexibility of not being rigid”.

It makes sense to bishops and Church workers in states where dioceses are huge and diverse. Tourists passing through idyllic, sometimes harsh landscapes often don’t often see the struggles of people who live there.

“In the Territory where I am, in remote areas, (Church structures) need to be adapted to the reality,” Bishop Gauci said.

“As a bishop I should not be a lone ranger, just doing my own thing, I’m part of the Australian Church and I need to be in communion with the Australian Church.

“The Spirit of it is good, but let’s not get hung up on the details and spell it out how it should be in every place.”

For Bishop Gauci, his appointment as bishop in 2018 might have seemed a lot like a foreign assignment after 41 years as a priest in Adelaide, including his work in outlying cluster parishes.

Now he has seen parts of Australia’s north that many of us may never visit.

Long distance travels have taken him from the tropical Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin, to the former mission of Santa Teresa, in the red centre, south-east of Alice Springs – there’s been time for him to reflect on the diversity of landscapes, people and priests that make up the Northern Territory.

The Church mission in rural and remote parts of Australia is challenging for a small number of priests covering vast areas and where daily struggles can seem far different from those in the cities and suburbs.

His conclusion is that the vast Northern Territory is “not his fiefdom – it doesn’t belong to me it belongs to Jesus”.

“So, I need to be myself – listening, learning, having basic directives that the Australian Church sees as important to follow, but how we unfold that, and what it means, that obviously needs to be adapted,” he said.

And the role of women in the Outback?

“To me, men and women are equals. The scripture says so. Most of our Aboriginal leaders are women. We need both, and we’ll be poorer if we don’t,” he said.

Bishop Gauci said he was bringing more women into leadership as part of his project of turning Church “maintenance” into “mission”.

“I’m just about to appoint a director of evangelisation because on my own I’ve got so many things pulling me and I need someone to work alongside me closely,” he said.

First published in The Catholic Leader


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