Plenary voices: Dr Philippa Martyr

Ditch the meaningless Catholic Church jargon and turn to the greats, urges Plenary observer Dr Philippa Martyr

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This painting is titled “St. Augustine in His Study” (circa 1480) by Sandro Botticelli. Photo: CNS, Muscarelle Museum of Art

I spent some time listening to the livestream of the Plenary Council session of Wednesday 6 October, where small groups shared their three minutes of reflection on specific items from the Plenary Council’s 16-question list.

I heard a distressing amount of jargon in some responses, which seemed to consist of ecclesiastical cliches strung together.

Let me give you some examples from one response:

  • “Our prayer and discernment reiterated that synodality is our journey.”
  • “We need to come down from the mountain and live in the world – to take the Church back to people rather than to ask people to come back to the Church.”
  • “This is a humble church that goes out, rather than focuses on getting people in.”
  • “We need to speak with boldness and courage.”

This is not going to set the world on fire, nor the Church in Australia. This is the same old stuff that Church documents, diocesan strategic plans, Church agency mission statements, and a great many other small groups of Catholics with time on their hands have been churning out since the 1980s.

I’ve been reading this stuff for 30 years now, and quite frankly, I don’t think I’m paid enough for it.

Some of the small groups couldn’t leave the issue of women’s ordination alone – even though they’ve been told that the Plenary Council has no authority in this area.

The response to Question 13 was especially interesting. Someone was very unhappy that the recommendations from the outdated, selectively curated document Women and Man: One in Christ Jesus (1999) and the more recent but wobbly The Light From The Southern Cross, haven’t been taken seriously. Apparently there were ‘obstacles’ to this. Thank God for those obstacles.

But there’s a bright side. Listening to this sort of discussion at the Plenary Council makes the richness of the Church’s apologetic tradition glow in the dark by comparison.

Crack open St Paul at any random page. Or St Augustine, or other Church Fathers, again at any random page.

Read accounts of the great synods and Councils of the Church. Read the letters of any gung-ho female saint to any Pope of your choice.

There’s meat and potatoes there, and plenty of spice – the fire of utter conviction, and the dynamic and fearless proclamation of the truths of the faith.

So is this all going to be a damp squib? Too soon to tell. Stay tuned.