Plenary Feedback: Francine Pirola

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‘Marriage, the most common vocation in the church, appears in only one proposal.’ Photo: CNS, Crosiers

The Plenary Council’s working document, Towards the Second Assembly, was circulated to members for feedback by 4 April. Although Towards the Second Assembly has not been circulated for the wider Church to read, The Catholic Weekly will publish the feedback of members between now and the release of the final Plenary Council documents, in the interests of transparency, openness and co-responsibility.

General Comments on the draft document.

There is an overemphasis on bureaucratic solutions to identified initiatives: create a new diocesan position, start a new institute, write new policy, set up another grant or governance body etc. The reality is that the work and the mission of the Church primarily happens on the ground among everyday lay Catholics who just get up and do it. They don’t wait for a grant or need permission. They hear the call of the Holy Spirit and they go to work, often funding it from their own pocket.

Almost every religious order and lay movement started this way. The role of the “institutional church” should be to animate, support and amplify such initiatives, rather than duplicate (or worse, displace) them with a proliferating body of “church professionals”, which increasingly feels like a new clericalism.

Would it not be better if all proposals were reviewed in the context of an awareness of the many lay initiatives that already exist (including programs, movements, groups, courses, and mission activity) and where appropriate be reframed to support these initiatives, rather than simply duplicate or compete with them?

I would also suggest there are a number of omissions that need to be included in at least one of the papers. For example:

  • The role of parents and the transmission of faith in family is totally absent, as is the importance of the domestic church. (The words parent (0), mother (0), father (3 referring to Heavenly Father, otherwise 0), do not appear anywhere in the document. Marriage, the most common vocation in the church, appears in only one proposal (p7, 6a) representing a very limited vision. I have made some suggestions under specific papers.
  • There is an overemphasis on the role of women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and almost total neglect of migrant communities and lay men.
  • There is no mention of our blessed mother Mary, patroness of the Australian church.

As an example, I suggest the following proposal:

Proposal: That the recitation of the noon Angelus be encouraged among all Catholics and normalised in all Catholic institutions including schools, hospitals, agencies, parishes, families, religious and lay initiatives. [That it include at the end: “Mary Help of Christians, pray for us”, plus the relevant patron(s) of the organisation/group.] That existing lay organisations dedicated to promoting devotion to our Blessed Mother be enlisted to promote, innovate, resource, and fund a revival of Marian devotion among all levels of the Australian faithful, with the gratitude and support of the Australian bishops.

Aged care in crisis

We have a social and political crisis in aged care at the moment – an area of mission for us, yet this is not addressed at all. We need some proposals that:

  • Acknowledge the dignity of the aged, the importance of their contribution to our community and our responsibilities to care for them.
  • Call out the political environment that undermines the dignity of our aged through legalising euthanasia and assisted dying, especially in places where palliative care is under-resourced.
  • Advocate for the right of Catholic aged care and hospitals to operate within the ethics of the Catholic faith.
  • Advocate for the protection of conscientious objection among employees in other institutions subjected to pressure to participate in medical procedures such as euthanasia and assisted suicide, in violation of their conscience.

Francine Pirola is Co-Director of the Marriage Resource Centre.

The Catholic Weekly will publish the Plenary Council feedback of members online in coming weeks. Some submissions may be edited for style, compared to the original versions submitted to the Drafting Committee. Plenary Council members who wish to share their feedback may email [email protected].