Stronger lay presence urged for Church

CALLS for changes to the way the Church is governed were made at a gathering called by a recently formed group Concerned Catholics of Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese.

About 200 people at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture in Barton heard addresses by former NSW Premier Kristina Keneally, Truth Justice and Healing Council Chief Executive Francis Sullivan and convenor of the Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Renewal, Marilyn Hatton.

The speakers called for changes to the way in which the Church is governed, flagging that there should be a stronger presence of the laity, notably more women in decision making.

Mr Sullivan received many commendations for his work at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

He spoke of his experiences in dealing with harrowing accounts over four years at the commission, slamming an unhealthy approach of clergy “cover-ups” and proposing change in Church governance.

“We [the laity] have been far too passive and accepting,” he said.

“We placed clerics on pedestals and were happy to leave them there.”

Mrs Hatton also called for greater participation of the laity, particularly the inclusion of more women in the structure of the Church.

She spoke of those in the Church being prepared to “leave comfort zones”, the need to “work together” and to concentrate on having “effective practices of faith”.

Ms Keneally, a self-proclaimed feminist, attended the 1991 World Youth Day in Poland where she met husband Ben.

She was also the NSW Government’s Spokesperson for World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney.

She expressed concern that the Church had become irrelevant to many young people and felt the gifts of each member of the laity could be better used in the parishes.

“We are the Easter people,” she said.

Other speakers included Australian Family Association Canberra President Paul Monagle and Judy Bowe, of the Missionaries of God’s Love.

Mr Monagle spoke about the spiritual battle for Christians in a largely secular society.

Sr Bowe spoke positively about celibacy in religious vocations. She said there was a great richness in celibacy and it was premature to assume that removing the vow for priests and religious should be seen as a solution.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse and Bishop Pat Power attended the meeting along with priests from the Archdiocese.

Meeting chair Prof John Warhurst, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Australian National University, thanked Archbishop Prowse for attending and listening to the group’s concerns.