Leaked report needs ‘due consideration’ say bishops

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The report suggests changes to the process of assessing suitability of candidates for seminary and formation of priests. PHOTO: Blue Sky Video Production Khanh Lai

Confidential document appeared online before release

In a shock move, a confidential advisory report to Australia’s Catholics bishops and religious superiors has been leaked to French Catholic newspaper La Croix after they were criticised for not publishing it immediately.

But the document titled Light from the Southern Cross that was published online by the newspaper on 1 June is an unfinished version said the Australian Catholics Bishops Conference (ACBC) which commissioned the report along with Catholic Religious Australia last year.

The 200-page report subtitled ‘Promoting Co-Responsible Governance in the Catholic Church in Australia’ was commissioned to review the Church’s governance and management structures, following a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The Implementation Advisory Group responsible for the review presented the report including 86 recommendations to the bishops five days before the opening of their biannual plenary conference from 7-14 May with a request that it be published immediately.

The front cover of the leaked report suggesting changes to Church governance in light of the Royal Commission recommendations.

Among its proposals are greater transparency in some areas of Church life such as publishing diocesan and parish financial reports and being more open about how bishops are selected and appointed.

Following the plenary, president of the ACBC Archbishop Mark Coleridge said that to do it justice, the bishops would consider the report in depth, take advice, and discuss it at their November plenary before publishing it along with their response.

Victoria-based organisation Catholics for Renewal accused the bishops of keeping the report “secret” and called for it to be published before June, with its President Dr Peter Wilkinson saying it “belongs to all the People of God“.

In a 2 June statement the ACBC said that the version that had been published on La Croix is not the final document and that one reason for the delay of its release was “the need for some corrections and clarifications”.

“That process has commenced, and is likely to take several weeks,” it read. “There is also a need to discern how and when various recommendations might best be considered, not least in light of the upcoming assemblies of the Plenary Council.

“As previously announced, the bishops will publish the final version of the report and respond to it formally when they have had a chance to give it due consideration and have received advice from a range of sources.”

According to the leaked report, the first two recommendations are that it be made available following the ACBC and CRA consideration of the discussion and recommendations to various stakeholders and be tabled as part of the deliberations of the Plenary Council 2020, and released to the public “as soon as practicable after its initial consideration by the ACBC and CRA”.

The report suggests the publishing of diocesan and parish financial reports to aid transparency.

Bishop’s delay is “reasonable”

Jack de Groot, chair of the seven-person Implementation Advisory Group that produced the report, said he accepted it was reasonable for the bishops to decide to consider it in depth and publish it after their next plenary.

“There’s always going to be great interest in a report looking at [Church] governance issues and part of that will tie in with the Plenary Council so I can understand that there is certainly a desire to see that report earlier, but it is a report that needs to be under the consideration of the bishops and CRA,” Mr de Groot said.

“I think it’s important that a topic of governance does get the view of people around the community in the Catholic Church about what makes good governance but I think the bishops are entitled to set the timeline that they wanted.”

“There’s always going to be great interest in a report looking at [Church] governance issues”

The report identifies principles of good ecclesial governance as subsidiarity, stewardship, synodality, dialogue, discernment and leadership.

It mentions the Church as historically having “deep resistance” to change and offers suggestions on how the Church might promote the leadership role of lay people at parish and diocesan levels including “recommendations for changes to universal laws, norms or practices of the Church”.

Recommendations include the establishment of diocesan pastoral councils and other committees to assess the suitability of potential priests and bishops, and that the formation and training of candidates for the priesthood have as a primary objective the fostering of “an internal disposition that values a collaborative lay ecclesial ministry”.

Mr de Groot confirmed that the final review of the document for clarifications or corrections was still underway, but said that subject to minor corrections, the report was final in terms of the work of the advisory group as commissioned by the ACBC and CRA.

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