The energies of Catholic Australians in recent years have been absorbed by contradictory approaches to being faithful. The first is the church’s institutional integrity (requirements of obedience, orthodoxy and conformity); the second is its moral integrity (what should it be doing, for whom and how), writes Chris McGillion in NCR Online.
The church’s top leadership and its ordinary members have been concerned about these issues in almost inverse proportion. Pope Benedict XVI, like the late John Paul II before him, has been at pains to strengthen the church against the influences of secularism by insisting on stricter discipline in its ranks and a greater acceptance of official teachings on the part of the faithful.
Many Australian clergy and laypeople, on the other hand, regard the declining number of regular churchgoers, the shrinking number of priests and religious, and the scandal of clerical sexual abuse as compelling reasons to move away from old ways of being church and pursue fundamental reform.
The result of these contradictory approaches is often conflict.
The most recent casualty in Australia has been a popular 67-year-old bishop from a rural diocese in the state of Queensland. Earlier this month, Bishop William Morris announced he was retiring, after 18 years in the job, because of Vatican pressure.
Morris endured Vatican scrutiny of allegations that he encouraged debate about ending mandatory celibacy for priests, ordaining women, and recognizing Anglican and Lutheran ministerial orders and - possibly - that he permitted communal confession (the Third Rite of Reconciliation) to be conducted in his parishes in ways that contravened Canon Law.
Morris says he was “deliberately misinterpreted.” He also says that he stands by his conviction that the church needs to be open to discussion about the challenges it faces but instead is being suffocated by “creeping authoritarianism.”
The treatment of Morris has generated expressions of outrage and despair from many Catholics across the country. “I am deeply saddened by this event, and the lack of transparency in the process,” was one of the more restrained comments from a member of the laity.
This case, however, is only the tip of a much bigger iceberg.
FULL STORY Morale falters in Australian church (NCR Online)
A word from our bishop (Journal of the Catholic diocese of Rockhampton)