Time to change Canberra's Catholic Church, faithful say

Time to change Canberra's Catholic Church, faithful say

A group of Canberra Catholic faithful have stepped up lobbying efforts for structural change they say will address deepening disillusion and disaffection in the church.

In a move welcomed by Canberra and Goulburn Archbishop Christopher Prowse, the Concerned Catholics group have presented a submission to senior clergy ahead of a proposed plenary council for the church in Australia in 2020.

Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn Christopher Prowse.

Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn Christopher Prowse. Credit:Matt Bedford

It calls for church leaders to establish pastoral councils in the Canberra archdiocese, designed to give parishioners and lay partners an opportunity to participate fully in the response to next month's final report from the landmark royal commission into responses to child sexual abuse.

The plan also calls for reforms of the church's canon law and better promotion of the role of women in leadership positions.

Concerned Catholics chair John Warhurst.

Concerned Catholics chair John Warhurst.Credit:Gary Schafer

The submission, provided to the chair of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Brisbane archbishop Mark Coleridge, says the church should end a culture of everyday Catholics as "prayers, payers and those subject to outdated canon law" and says compulsory celibacy for priests should be addressed.

Chair of the group, emeritus professor John Warhurst, said Catholic leaders in Australia must begin work to give parishioners an effective role and voice in the direction of the church and provide greater accountability and inclusive decision-making.

Professor Warhurst said the church in Australia should not be an inward-looking organisations dominated by older men.

"We want to be on the front foot and influencing them at a time when they're making key decisions for 2020," he said.

"Like in any large organisation or movement, a good number of people are going about their ordinary local business... but I think a significant minority are disillusioned and in some cases angry about what's happened.

"There's a large number spread around the archdiocese who really want to be part of a group who stirs the pot. The issues raised during the hearings and preliminary reports of the royal commission make it clear there will be plenty adverse comment about the culture and governance of the Catholic Church and many Catholics want to have their say."

He said lay people were not well placed to contribute to decision-making.

"It's a tough ask to hope that these matters will be changed by people who are effectively operating in a branch office of a multinational corporation, but you have to start somewhere."

Archbishop Prowse said he was open to the proposal for new pastoral councils, describing the 2020 plenary meeting as a rare opportunity for the church.

Similar meetings have only taken place five times in Australia, usually following momentous events.

He said the council would consider the royal commission's report, the role of religion in Australia's secular society and issues of families and human life.

"From now up until 2020, we'd like to listen carefully to the different Catholic voices and beyond," he said.


"I welcome this submission, it's thoroughly documented and a lot of work has been put into it. I see it in the first instance as listening to each other, which is a great sign of respect and a sign of seeing where God is leading us.

"The Concerned Catholics group have been quick off the mark and I am delighted they do want to participate," he said.

Tom McIlroy is a political reporter for The Australian Financial Review in the federal press gallery at Parliament House.

Most Viewed in National