Fr John's Homily - You and I, are the Catholic Church

5 March 2019 | General Interest


We are the church

Sermon on the Plain III – More practical thoughts and images

Lk 6.39-45, Ecc 27.5-8, 1Cor 15.54-58

Here’s a further challenging Gospel for all of us, particularly this week, as Jesus looks us in the eye to see the logs which block our vision from seeing our own limitations and inconsistencies, yet easily finding splinters of fault with others. Hypocrisy, too, can be a fundamental problem for all of us, in trying to be consistent in doing what we say, or, as they say, walking the walk, as well as talking the talk!

Jesus identified it here first, but it took until Sigmund Freud in the 20th century to label it as projection, and don’t we know, a sort of defence mechanism? It’s almost natural for all of us to be this way at times, often at a subconscious level. But we need to be challenged and made aware of this tendency in ourselves, and, as last week’s Gospel concluded, be wary of judging others, rather than ourselves. Getting one’s own act together is a lifelong process, as is learning from life’s experiences, and Doctor Google, of course, apart from our broader education at all levels, with family and friends, throughout our lives!

We had a second lively open parish meeting during the week to consider submissions to the 2020 Australian Plenary Council, and these have been compiled to be forwarded for consideration at the central level by the planning committee. Effective consultation is about listening to the people, and responding to their needs accordingly, with reference to Gospel values, Church Tradition and sacramental practice, if we’re considering the whole picture of our lives as members of the Church as a faith community first and foremost. This is not just a monolithic, controlling institution, protecting its own image, over and above the needs of its individual members. And haven’t we become more aware of this as a growing problem in our own minds and experience?

We need to be open to considering broadening the scope of lay, religious and priestly ministry and authority in all directions and at all levels of decision making. Our credibility as a Church has been deeply undermined by the protection of clergy perpetrators in particular, neglect of victims, and in keeping up appearances, which might have been a most entertaining British comedy, but no joke here!

In recent weeks, Pope Francis has led a Vatican summit on the protection of children, recognizing the seriousness and the scale of the problem and evils within our own Church. Yes, the problem is elsewhere as well, but the necessity of cleaning up our own mismanagement, denials and failures of leadership, and most critically, acknowledgment of the suffering and trauma of victims, is very clear. In an institution which claims to represent the Gospel message of Jesus as Good News, it has been an appalling wrong not to have heard the voices of victims and removed perpetrators much sooner than has eventually occurred.

Mark Coleridge, President of the ACBC (Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference) preached at the closing Eucharist, and spoke of things changing, but fine words require consequent action, so it remains to be seen how this will evolve. Certainly, here in Australia, our Church now has protocols of practice which focus on child protection as an absolute priority, as it should always have been.

As one who has exercised priestly ministry for nearly 41 years, I have always believed in establishing credibility and respect, rather than just presuming it, as well as trying to provide sensitive, compassionate pastoral care in whatever situation I have been, whether running the Tribunal, as an ecclesiastical judge with annulments, or as a pastor walking with the people of the local parish communities, where I have been involved. No doubt, I’ve often fallen short, but that’s the way it is, as we move on together, living the challenges of this Gospel with hope and a positive attitude, provided in the spirit of the Beatitudes, more so than Canon Law (which I am meant to know something about!!).

As a priest, I have personally been disappointed and disillusioned with Church leadership at times, and this has been picked up by others, without me saying too much. When I was farewelled from Broken Bay Diocese in May 2015, after 18 years of ministry on loan there, I returned to Asquith, where I had been PP for over 5 years, prior to 12 years at Manly, the following is an excerpt from a poem written by a friendly parishioner, who was an ex-seminarian, as he met his wife on pastoral work, and never left the place, I happily baptizing 3 or their 4 children in my time there. He would have made a terrific pastor, but such are the rules and regulations at present!

Why did he come here, and bring all this fun? Why did he leave Melbourne, from whom did he run? Well the rumour was rife that John’s life was hell. So he packed up his bags to escape from George Pell…. Whatever the reason, whatever his aim, Melbourne’s sad loss was our lucky gain. Now we are the losers, it’s us who are sadder, as John returns southwards where the weather is badder. So if you get lonely some time down the track, John, always remember we’d welcome you back”!! (So I’ve got options!)

The fact remains that David Walker, Bishop of Broken Bay, needed a canon lawyer to run the Tribunal, so I was happy to take on that role, as well as be a parish priest and canon law adviser, and later vicar general, and did experience a most fruitful period of ministry over the time I was there.

Our new archbishop, Peter Comensoli (following me from Broken Bay!), has expressed the Pope Francis line, that more attention must be given by Church leadership to the pastoral concerns of the people and decision making at the local level, something I have been banging on about ever since doing a Doctorate in Canon Law in 1986, concerning effective consultation of all, subtitled by me (not in print!) “Democracy in the Catholic Church”! I believe we need new forms of leadership and management structures, with women in particular, and laity in general, represented at all levels, with a reduction of the pyramidal hierarchical model, which so readily has led to protective clericalism, and a sense of superiority or being set apart, which has been a big part of our problems as Church.

I quote him from “The Age” this weekend: “For the rest of my life, the institutional church will be on the nose in Australia… I think the local community, that is where the energies need to go. And speaking to them about life and family and how do you care for the environment, or provide outreach to the poor and the broken. I can’t build a safe archdiocese if I’m not building safe parishes, safe schools and so on… It’s the summation of all of these safe communities.”

As for my perspective, I’ve said from the start, when the issues surrounding Cardinal George Pell became public, we need to remember that he is not the Catholic Church. He is a member, admittedly having occupied senior positions, but, whatever about his situation, the processes of justice according to civil law must be followed, and we, you and I, are the Catholic Church, the People of God here and now!

Let’s remember only 0.035%* or so of our Church make up the hierarchy and the clergy, and the living of the Gospel is at the grass roots, here and now, with all of us in it together, trying to live the Gospel message of Jesus as Good News in our lives. Bad news always gets the headlines and front pages and in social media too.

We need to acknowledge the great work done in the fields of Social Justice, Social Welfare, Health Care, Aged Care, CatholicCare, Refugee and Asylum Seeker Groups, Vinnies, and the like, as well as Parish life in general serving all sorts of needs, ages and stages, and, of course, the terrific work done in Catholic Education, which is a further dimension of service provided by our Church, and why parents make generous sacrifices on behalf of their children, forking out significant amounts of money for Catholic education with a Christian faith perspective. So let’s get on with the action and be grateful for the opportunities we are given to enliven our parish and school communities and beyond. This Gospel message is for real.

So let us all continue to try to practise what we preach as faithful disciples of Jesus, as on we go! That’s why we’re here, isn’t it?

john hannon   30th  February 2019

*Did you know that of the 1.2 billion Catholics of the world, ordained clergy and hierarchy, amounted to 414,000 in 2012, and about 5,100 bishops, compared with 420,000 in 1970 when there were 654 million Catholics? So the ratio has halved within less than 50 years!!


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