Dr Philippa Martyr: Well done on the Instrumentum

Reading Time: 3 minutes
The Church should actively encourage kneeling for reception of Holy Communion, writes Dr Philippa Martyr. PHOTO: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY 2.5Reuters
The Plenary’s Instrumentum Laboris, its working document, is refreshingly honest and helpful, writes Philippa Martyr. PHOTO: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY 2.5Reuters

Some highlights of the plenary council working document

The Instrumentum Laboris has been released to guide the next stage of the Plenary Council Process. I’ve read the whole thing, and to my relief and astonishment it has tried to pull the whole messy process back to the sane middle ground.

Spoiler alert: There will be no ordination of women or admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to Holy Communion. But there needs to be a deep and total renewal of the Church in Australia, based on a rediscovery of the person of Jesus Christ.

I am hoping to unpack the implications of the Instrumentum over the next few columns, because there’s a lot in its 76 pages and 207 sections. It’s a shame it opened with the old furphy about how the process represents “the contributions of more than 222,000 people” (s4), because I did the maths and this simply isn’t the case (it’s more like 12,000).

there needs to be a deep and total renewal of the Church in Australia, based on a rediscovery of the person of Jesus Christ.

The other furphy is that it claims the Royal Commission was an important factor in changing patterns of belief and practice in Australia (s33).

The National Centre for Pastoral Research’s own data doesn’t back this up. We also know that Catholic belief and practice in Australia has been radically changing since Vatican II and the rejection of Humanae Vitae in 1968. But there were a couple of standout points that I’d like to start with, before I work through it in order.

The best bit for me was Section 94. This sits in the middle of the document, and it’s a written apology for the wrongs committed by the Church and its leadership.

If you read this in context, it’s more specifically an apology for the last 50 years of pastoral and at times criminal neglect. It commits our bishops to public atonement for this and calls all of us to a firm purpose of amendment.

Plenary Council 2020 Logo. Image: Supplied
Plenary Council 2020 Logo. Image: Supplied

The other best bit was the strong message throughout that we are a small part of a much larger Church on earth. I’d watched in dismay as the lunatic fringe told us that our Plenary Council process was going to shape the way forward for the Church. They believed that Rome was waiting to follow our lead into a gloriously synodal future, led by elderly married lady priests and unfettered democracy.

I can’t blame these people. They were temporarily drunk on the false promises of the Amazon synod and the German Church’s determination to leap off the demographic cliff while weighted down with big bags of money.

By contrast, the Instrumentum Laboris makes it clear that we’re just a small part of a much bigger Church that’s existed for a long time and has a reasonable sense of direction. It also might not need advice on reform from a tiny little micro-Church with a millisecond of Catholic history.

Being a natural pessimist, I still think the Plenary Council could be too little, too late. I don’t want to limit the actions of the Almighty, but we’re on a demographic trajectory now that will take a miracle to get us off it. But let’s wait and see.

Related: