September 2014

Being a Catholic today

Retired Bishop Pat Power hopes that the Catholic Church will be a more human Church, a humbler Church and a Church which is more intent on reflecting the person and the teaching of Jesus.

BY Pat Power

Hardly a day goes by without some form of adverse media criticism being levelled at the Catholic Church or some of its members. Sometimes the criticism is vitriolic, unfair and replete with half-truths. At other times, I must admit, it is totally justified.

It hurts me deeply to see the family of God which is meant to be a source of goodness and grace portrayed as a repository of evil. Much of the current negative publicity flows from the Royal Commission and other inquiries into institutional sexual abuse. Can such public discussion be an opportunity for the Church to endorse reforms needed for it to become its best self?

For nearly 20 years I have spoken and written of my hopes for our Church which I have seen to be much in need of reform at many levels. Among those hopes are that we will be a more human Church, a humbler Church and a Church which is more intent on reflecting the person and the teaching of Jesus.

In the 18 months since his election, Pope Francis has demonstrated simply and forcefully those Christ-like qualities which the whole Church needs to embrace. He has walked away from pomp and ceremony and the triumphalism which has previously distracted from what should have been the true mission of the Church. He tells pastors that they need to be at home with “the smell of the sheep”.

The Holy Thursday ceremony of the washing of the feet has been for Pope Francis more than symbolic as he has included women who were previously excluded, as well as embracing Muslims, prisoners and disabled people. He has spoken out unambiguously of the horror and criminality of sexual abuse in every form, especially within the ranks of the Church. He has called on us to be a “poor Church for the poor”.

Much of the criticism of the Church these days is sharpened by the fact that in the past its teaching on sexuality was so negative and unbalanced. This was exacerbated by the fact that it was articulated exclusively by men removed from the realities of intimacy and family life.

The forthcoming Synod on the Family offers an opportunity for the beginning of a healthier approach which will need to admit past mistakes and embrace the wisdom and experience of women and of married people generally.

In a society which seems to take promiscuity for granted, the Church has a clear role in promoting values such as fidelity, integrity and healthy sexual relationships. Homosexual people need to be engaged in a conversation which hopefully will result in a better formulation of Church teaching on all forms of sexuality.

In his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis writes about the indispensible role of women in the Church and of the need to listen to young people and poor people. He makes it clear that the Church at every level must be engaged in dialogue and conversation. Ecumenical and interfaith dialogue is an intrinsic part of being Catholic today as is a healthy interaction with the secular world.

The Good Samaritan Sisters’ origins in the middle of the nineteenth century focused primarily on vulnerable women in Sydney. Today, we see Sister Anna Warlow and her community supporting indigenous, rural and mining communities in remote Western Australia, Sister Rita Hayes assisting Timorese people in their recovery as a nation, and Good Samaritan Sisters in Australia, along with other religious women, campaigning against the exploitation of women through people-trafficking.

Although their numbers are diminishing, religious sisters in Australia bring great credit to our Church and stand for what is best in the Catholic tradition. This came out very clearly in the tributes paid to Sacred Heart Sister, Philomene Tiernan, who perished in the Malaysia Airlines plane shot down over the Ukraine.

Pope Francis humbly and realistically recognises that he does not have all the answers, but looks to local communities to search out, reflect and take action on the issues which are impinging on their people.

As I watch the evening news or read the newspaper, I am confronted with stories of the plight of refugees and asylum seekers, unemployment, homelessness, poverty in a multitude of forms, domestic violence, alcohol-induced violence, suicide especially among the young, mental illness, Aboriginal disadvantage, rural crises and drug addiction, as just some of the ills plaguing Australian society.

At the heart of these tragic stories is the diminishing of the value of human life. Of course, there are many good news stories as well, but unfortunately they do not always attract the same publicity.

Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by the vastness and the complexity of the problems. But I am heartened by the slogan often used by development agencies which encourage us to think globally and act locally. Personal friendships, neighbourly concern and simple acts of kindness can be powerful antidotes to many of our contemporary evils.

I find the image of the pilgrim church an attractive one for today’s Catholics. We are not standing still but are being constantly called to move forward, often re-adjusting to changing circumstances, sometimes falling over or getting lost. Always we need Jesus and our fellow Christians as companions on the journey.

Pope Francis gives expression to the deepest sentiments of my heart: “We have a treasure of life and love which cannot deceive, and a message which cannot mislead or disappoint. It penetrates the depths of our hearts, sustaining and ennobling us. It is a truth which is never out of date because it reaches that part of us which nothing else can reach. Our infinite sadness can only be cured by infinite love”.

Pat Power

Bishop Pat Power retired in 2012 as Auxiliary Bishop of Canberra-Goulburn. Educated by the Good Samaritan Sisters at St Christopher’s School in Canberra, Pat says he has “retained a continuing affection for and appreciation of the Good Samaritan Sisters who have played an integral part in my life as priest and bishop since my ordination in 1965”.

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