We cannot be complacent about the challenges facing Church social service agencies, writes Denis Fitzgerald. Source: CSSV
Social service organisations are an outstanding example of the Church in action in Australia, however, the challenges these agencies face are building.
On any given day, our social services agencies provide services as diverse as family and relationship services, mental health support, homelessness services, community building, and disability and youth services.
On top of this, some agencies also provide chaplaincy services for those in prison, in youth justice or immigration detention, in hospital and beyond, as well as providing assistance to Indigenous Australians and recently arrived communities.
The list of services provided is as diverse as the list of needs is long.
Love of neighbour and the call to work with humility for a more just society are central to the mission of the Gospel, so these endeavours are to be welcomed and celebrated. But there is no room for complacency.
Vatican II serves as a beacon: "The Church has always had the duty of scrutinising the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel."
Some of the "signs" our social service agencies are grappling with at the moment include:
- The impact of the sexual abuse and "catastrophic failure of leadership" laid bare by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex abuse.
- The diminished standing the Church has in civil society.
- The rapidly changing nature of our communities with a both growing population and an ageing one.
- The challenges laid out by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si' on responding to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
These challenges are draining but springs of hope can emerge on the darkest landscape, whereas the smoothest path can mask weaknesses and risks.
No single person, parish, organisation or diocese can successfully digest these changes in isolation. No single review can answer all current questions, let alone identify those that are emerging.
That is why it essential to gather to bring our collective experience and understanding to bear on the issues of the day.
The Catholic Social Services National Conference will be held in Melbourne, February 21-23. Details: Hearing Healing Hope 2018
– Denis Fitzgerald is Executive Director of Catholic Social Services Victoria.