Australian Reforming Catholics

Position Statements of Australian Reforming Catholics

This page includes some of the more notable papers prepared for Australian Reforming Catholics. Those published below are:

(Click on the item to view the full paper)

1. Catholics Call for Greater Accountability in Decisions - a brief summary of the 2004 Annual Conference

2. The Sacraments, Relationships and Meaning - a reaction to the controversy of the words used in Baptism at South Brisbane

3. Grassroots Claim Misleading - a commentary on centralisation issues in the Church

1. Catholics call for greater accountability in decisions

A national conference organised by Australian Reforming Catholics (ARC) was held at the Independent Theatre in North Sydney on 23-24 October 2004.

In an atmosphere of "Conversations Around Jesus Christ Our Friend" and prayerful desire to be led by the Spirit of God, the participants found agreement on some broad and some specific reform issues that they ask all Catholics in Australia to consider.

A theme that kept recurring under the many aspects discussed might be called "ownership of the Church". If the Church is the People of God (so defined at the Second Vatican Council in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) then the People should own it. A cursory glance at the present structures, traditional as they are, suggests that a male group identifying themselves with "Church" owns the People. The participants considered that in an era when people are mostly literate, even in religious and theological spheres, and communication is instant around the world, people should no longer be passive listeners. There is a growing appreciation of the truth that the Holy Spirit informs and instructs all of the People, not only a male hierarchy, and there must be ground shift to give effect to these developments. Surely the process will be slow as progress in that direction is not yet happening. But it must not now be denied. Such a shift can only occur with a greater sharing of responsibility of the authority that is now exercised by only a few.

Those present at the conference insisted that the accountability of the clergy should be exercised in a manner by which the People of God participate in decision-making processes. People should not be in situations where they are simply the "first to know the latest". Situations where parishes are closed, parishes are amalgamated, clergy are appointed, significant expenditure of money is undertaken, etc. are examples where clergy can often act as if the decisions should not be questioned. Participants stated that they want effective involvement before decisions are made.

In addition to the participation in decision-making, the participants at the conference strongly believe that all should be able to exercise their right of freedom of expression, even for example, the freedom to discuss such topics as the ordination of women.

Amongst a range of issues, the primacy of the individual informed conscience and the ability to act upon it emerged as an issue of crucial importance.

2. The Sacraments, Relationships and Meaning

The Secretariat of Australian Reforming Catholics is astounded at some of the responses to the controversy concerning the words used during Baptism at the Catholic Church at South Brisbane.

By all accounts, it appears that the priests at this Church have been endeavouring to provide the sacraments and liturgical celebrations in a manner that engages their people in a meaningful way. To be accused of not performing valid Baptisms into the Catholic Church must be particularly disheartening.

There are two major issues that arise from this controversy. The first is in relation to the images and concepts by which we seek to engage in an understanding of God through the person of Jesus Christ. Our Church was helped in its understanding by the doctrine of the Trinity and the titles of Father, Son and Spirit. However, we do not claim to know everything about the mystery of God and words are also inadequate in many ways in leading us through this mystery, just as they were for the writers of the Old Testament. In an age now where many people feel less included, for example, through images and words that imply a God who has male characteristics only, our Church should be more open to using language and practices that enable more people to come towards that mystery. If the words "Creator, Liberator and Sustainer" enable some people to come closer to the meaning of the Trinity, then why should there be such a problem if people have a choice about the way it is expressed? Our understanding is that not all people are baptised at the South Brisbane Church with these words and if some are assisted in faith through their usage, then there should be concentration on what is most important.

The second issue arising from this controversy is most crucial. To state that the sacrament is invalid because alternative words have been used to convey the same fundamental meaning and intent is to reduce the sacrament to the realm of magic. The sacraments are about relationships with God through Jesus Christ. If I say "Good morning to you" when it is past midday, is my greeting less acceptable? Or if I genuinely attempt to greet a person in their language and get it all wrong, are they likely to refuse to accept my greeting? Those who wish to claim that the Baptisms are invalid when the intent was to perform a valid baptism appear to have ignored the Church's fundamental teaching about the efficacy of the sacraments. This states that the sacraments derive their efficacy from the saving act of Jesus (ex opere operato) and need no extra human intervention to make them effective. As long as a person responds to the invitation to a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, the sacrament takes effect. In the case of infant Baptism, this occurs through the response of those seeking that relationship for the child.

It appears to Australian Reforming Catholics that more attention should be given to ways of helping people to respond to that invitation rather than causing needless heartache and concern to those who have come to our Church seeking to understand and respond to the mystery of God through Jesus Christ.

John Buggy, Australian Reforming Catholics

3. Grassroots claim misleading

Fr Lucas, who is the General Secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference, told the Business Review Weekly that ordinary business 'efficiencies' had to be balanced by the requirements of a charitable organisation. "If you drive for efficiency with over-centralisation you could lose local contact and the volunteer support which decentralisation promotes," Fr Lucas is quoted as saying. But others do not agree that the Church's operations are especially decentralised, particularly in terms of financial decision-making.

Australian Reforming Catholics spokesperson John Buggy, told Online Catholics that there is widespread dissatisfaction amongst the laity about excessively centralised control in financial decision-making. "The attempt by Fr Lucas to make out that the Church is decentralised because its accounts are not consolidated is misleading. While funds may be collected and administered at local levels, the direction and use of large amounts of money is more and more dictated centrally. Centralisation is more defined by the decision-making in an organisation than by its accounting practices," Mr Buggy said.

The BRW editorial called for the establishment of a charities commission to regulate the non-profit sector, such as exists in the UK and New Zealand. Fr Lucas said that in his opinion a charities commission would simply add an extra layer of bureaucracy.

"Fr. Brian Lucas' statement that he does not want more bureaucracy appears to be a convenient rationalisation for no accountability. If he doesn't want more external bureaucracy, then why does he not opt for some form of self-regulation? There appears to be no thought given to the fact that Catholics, at least, have a right to know and influence how the Church is using their money. At present any structural opportunities for doing this are totally inadequate," Mr Buggy said.

A number of dioceses elsewhere in the world publish detailed accounts. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also publishes accounts.

"Fr. Lucas believes that having a charities commission, as they do in Britain, 'may not deliver any better outcomes'. We would question not only how he can make this assessment, but also how he can seemingly dismiss the issue of accountability simply by making such a statement.

Australian Reforming Catholics says that increasing numbers of Catholics are dissatisfied with the lack of transparency and accountability in the Church. "More and more Catholics are concerned with matters such as the deployment of assets of parishes, for example," Mr Buggy said. This frequently occurs as if the people were not the source of the largest proportion of those assets, he believes.

"You have only to observe the way in which a Cardinal can direct religious administrators at the local level to refuse access to their premises by those Catholics he does not like to see the extent to which decision-making is centralised, in many cases with no accountability," Mr Buggy concluded.

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