Almost everywhere there is some new furore involving the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell.
Last week's offering involves the Cardinal banning the lay church group, Australian Reforming Catholics, from holding their annual conference, or “campfire”, at MacKillop Place in North Sydney, or indeed on any Catholic land.
Pell also banned two Sydney priests from appearing as speakers, on the basis that they would be giving comfort to a dissenting group who would be promoting teachings not in accord with Catholic belief.
There are one or two observations that may be made.
Thankfully the days when the educated elite in the Church made a distinction between the knowledge they were permitted to have, and that permissible to the “Great Unwashed” are over.
Since the second Vatican Council there has been an increasing emphasis on education, discussion and collaboration between priest and people. Indeed the exhortation to the people that their “full, active participation” was called for has largely been realised in terms of discussion: lenten groups, social justice groups, prayer and spirituality groups, adult education and other tertiary education.
This is what Australian Reforming Catholics are seeking to do. They have organised a conference at which lay people, clergy, and the religious will meet to exchange views, knowledge and wisdom in conversation and prayer.
According to Canon Law, the faithful not only have the right but the obligation to meet for the discernment of their views in the light of tradition. Canon 212 (3) reads thus:
They have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters, which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ's faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals.
Australian Reforming Catholics have had the event and speakers organised for months. They have assembled speakers who are genuinely eminent in their fields: the Columbian ecologist, Fr Cyril Hally; the scripture scholar, Dr John N Collins; Sr Susan Connelly, rsj, justice advocate; Rev. Dr Gerald Gleeson, moral theologian and Michael B Kelly, theologian, among them.
This is a group of lay, ordained and religious people who are knowledgeable and competent. This is no ratbag group.
Canon Law recognises the wisdom of encouraging pious organisations from the grassroots. Such organisations nurture faith because they bring faith and surrounding questions to the forefront of our human concerns. Such organisations are clearly evangelical in their ultimate purpose.
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