I keep it so that I am regularly reminded of an element of canon law not often brought to the attention of the People of God and I’m indebted to former Irish President, Professor Mary McAleese, for doing so.
Mary is pursuing a Licentiate in Canon Law and is thus well qualified to comment on matters canonical.
She highlights, in speaking and writing, Canon 212, 2-3:
1 The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.
2 According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.
Have you been made aware of that canon?
It could be said that the Plenary Council currently being prepared for is an acknowledgement of this canon.
I have thought long and hard about what the Council promises.
The key question – What do you think God is asking of us in Australia today? – is critical, and astute.
One ordained man I spoke to said that he felt people were responding in terms of what they thought God was asking of ‘the church’ ie the institution, governed by a hierarchy, in Australia today. The implication was that this is not the essence of what the Council is asking.
I replied that if he was right, then it could well be an expression of people’s frustration with the slowness of response, given that individuals and groups like Catalyst for Renewal and Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn (chaired by Emeritus Professor John Warhurst AO) have suggested various ways of shifting from a narrowly clerical (therefore male) and often defensive position for many years. In addition, how many parish and diocesan assemblies, Lenten discussion groups, chapters of religious congregations, Catholic school staffs and groups of friends having coffee after Mass or wine on Friday night have asked the same questions and offered the same suggestions?
The revelations about the extent of sexual abuse of children and young people by clergy and other church personnel – and the highly effective and sustained cover-up of such crimes (sins) – are obvious catalysts for these submissions but they are not the only ones.
The People of God are far more educated than they have ever been; they can’t help but listen to colleagues, neighbours, even friends and family who ask why they ‘hang in there’ and they are only too familiar with the shadow of resignation that crosses the face of clergy with whom they raise issues.
They have been to all manner of meetings, they have completed surveys, they have written to bishops, they have prayed and agonised, and they have remained faithful. Their names appear on rosters, they contribute financially and they try to remain well informed.
They are well aware of the community’s expectation that women be represented, acknowledged and promoted in the secular society in accord with their numbers, gifts and potential. They see daily that this expectation has little real impact in the church.
The People of God are all too familiar with Genesis 2:27: “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.”
The People of God also know that Jesus instructing all who were present at the Last Supper to “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19) is not meant just for those who were present at the Last Supper. When Jesus issues a clear injunction – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind….You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37/39); “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44); “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12) – he’s surely speaking to all who would be his disciples, not specific groups?
The regular pleas of individuals and groups like those named above seem to me to be well founded on a knowledge of scripture and theology, on a genuine love of the church and on the persistent hope that in spite of everything, the church not become little more than a quaint anachronism.
Hence my response to the question of the Plenary Council, written with love:
I believe God is asking of us in Australia today that we hold to account those in whom so much has been invested and remind them that "When someone is given a great deal, a great deal will be demanded of that person; when someone is entrusted with a great deal, of that person even more will be expected." (Luke 12:48).
Pope Francis wrote:
“I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, time and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.” (Evangelii Gaudium 2013).
I’m dreaming too…