The Catholic Church must make these seven changes now


Many have asked whether the Catholic Church can survive the shock of the conviction of Cardinal George Pell and the impact on its credibility, even utility.

Yet to assume that the institution is exclusively the Church is to miss the point: Cardinal Pell has been sentenced, not Australia’s Catholics.

Believers, and those who identify with the Catholic faith tradition, are the real Church. The institution is but an organised mechanism to give expression to some of that believing community’s social and practical activities.

For the Church to survive, its members need to take responsibility for their future.

The clerical caste has failed us in its mismanagement of the abuse scandal. The protectionism and closed shop mentality that comes with clericalism is a curse for my Church.

Too many clerics have been too self-interested to seek the health of the Church above their own sense of entitlement and advancement. Organisationally they hold all the cards.

What should be done now?


The Australian bishops must act. They are accountable only to the Pope and he is struggling to get on top of the issue.

They should voluntarily subject themselves to a transparent accountable mechanism that is not run by clerics. They must not use Canon Law as an excuse to avoid being accountable to both the Catholic and wider communities.


It is time for an independent body, perhaps an ombudsman model, to oversee the cultural reform of the Australian Church and the performance of bishops.

This body needs to be separate from the hierarchy, conducted under accepted public service principles and staffed by experts in fields of governance, cultural anthropology and ecclesiology.


The bishops have instigated a Church-wide future directions dialogue within the Catholic community. Known as a Plenary Council, it is an important initiative but risks being clouded by perceptions of overt clerical control. To date, only bishops chair the important forums and only bishops and male clergy have full voting rights.

The medieval patriarchy of the institution is starkly out of touch. Continue reading

  • An Australian perspecrtive, offered by Francis Sullivan is the former CEO of the Catholic Church in Australia’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council.
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