A Church based on clerical hegemony has run its course

vincent long

“Some have likened the state of the Church to Shakespeare’s state of Denmark.

“It is hardly an exaggeration”, says a Vietnamese-born former boat refugee, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse and Paramatta Bishop, Vincent Long.

There’s an “unprecedented momentum for deep reform, the model of the Church based on clerical hegemony has run its course”, the bishop said, 30 June, while delivering the Dom Helder Camara Lecture at Newman College, Melbourne.

For the Church to flourish, “it is crucial that we come to terms with the flaws of clericalism and move beyond its patriarchal and monarchical matrix,” he says.

“We have struggled under the weight of the old ecclesial paradigm of the clerical order, control and hegemony with a penchant for triumphalism, self-referential pomp and smugness.”

It has to change “into a more Christ-like pattern of humility, simplicity and powerlessness as opposed to worldly triumphalism, splendour, dominance and power.”

He says he agrees with Gerald Arbuckle that we need to re-found the Church rather than renew it, going to the very cultural roots in a hope-filled journey under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

“What is urgent is that we need to find fresh ways of being Church and fresh ways of ministry and service for both men and women disciples. New wine into new wineskins.”

Long says the tone for sweeping Church reform in Australia was set in 2016 when Archbishop Mark Coleridge proposed a Plenary Council to discuss “the critical issues of the times”.

Concerns in Australia include dwindling Mass attendances, a decline in priestly and religious vocations and the critical and damaging public fallout of the royal commission into child sexual abuse.

Cosmetic changes, mediocrity or restorationism dressed up as renewal won’t work anymore.

It will not be a simple restoration project or doing old things better; the Church needs to focus on new horizons says Long.

He says it will be a Church in which women and men are aware of their baptismal dignity.

“So long as we continue to exclude women from the Church’s governance structures, decision-making processes and institutional functions, we deprive ourselves of the richness of our full humanity.

So long as we continue to make women invisible and inferior in the Church’s language, liturgy, theology and law, we impoverish ourselves.

“Until we have truly incorporated the gift of women and the feminine dimension of our Christian faith, we will not be able to fully energise the life of the Church.

Long is of the view that the Church in Australia is uniquely positioned to move into a new fresh future.

The painful Royal Commission brought about a heightened level of consciousness and an unprecedented momentum for deep reform.

“The Church cannot have a prophetic voice in society if we fail to be the model egalitarian community where those disadvantaged on account of their race, gender, social status and disability find empowerment for a dignified life.”

As he notes, Australians are offering goodwill, enthusiasm and hope in the Plenary Council.

“Could we be a leading light in the struggle for a more fit-for-purpose Church in this place and in this time?”

“Could Australian Catholics rise to the challenge and co-create the synodal Church that Pope Francis has envisaged?”

In October 2021, the Catholic Church in Australia will gather for the first Assembly of the Plenary Council.

The initial phase of listening drew nearly 220,000 people across Australia and 17,500 individual and group submissions.

These submissions were distilled into the six national theme papers and then further distilled again into the working document and finally the agenda.

Momentum for the Plenary Council ebbed and flowed during this process, which has been disrupted by the pandemic but by and large, there has been considerable goodwill, enthusiasm and even a sense of hope for the future of the Church in Australia

Submissions have been distilled into six national theme papers, which were further distilled into the Council’s working document and agenda.


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