The theme set for the second preparatory day of the Brisbane Synod, 22 March 2003, was based on three "vital signs of faith" - Jesus, Communion and Mission. In his opening address, Archbishop John Bathersby called for the "Action Foci" to be seen within this theme, declared that divisions within the Church were harmful, and called attention to examples of "conservative" and "liberal" positions which he stated were "inadequately" so labelled.
The Archbishop also drew attention to the words of Jesus in cautioning his apostles on their first mission: "Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words - go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet" (Mt 10:14).
In reality, the Church's current divisions are not between liberals and conservatives - irrational terms in the context of Catholicism - but between those who dissent from orthodox doctrine and discipline, and those who give assent to both.
The major obstacle to re-evangelisation and mission is confusion and doubt; for who would want to join or follow a community divided by a babel of voices - in homilies and parish bulletins, among (Brisbane) Catholic Leader columnists, within the liturgy, and in many Catholic schools?
The emphasis on an undefined "vision" of Jesus in the synod commission's handout is hard to reconcile with Christ's warning about the non-acceptance of his teachings through his Church. The commission's own synthesis of responses from synod members sheds some light on this apparent inconsistency.
The tyranny of "weighting" prevailed, for Action Foci were rated according to the number of points allocated by the members. Additionally, the commission claimed "there was insufficient support to propose new Action Foci."
Among important proposals which were thereby excluded were reform of the Brisbane seminary along the lines set out in John Paul II's Pastores Dabo Vobis and the Statement of Conclusions, along with a crusade for vocations; a renewal of Catholic school teacher formation in the Church's teachings on faith and morals, based on the Catechism; and, in Catholic schools, the rejection of content and methodology contrary to doctrine and John Paul II's Catechesi Tradendae.
One question posed in the Synod handout was "what do we do to promote listening and dialogue within the community of faith and resolve differences constructively?"
But no reference was made to the Pope's statement that dialogue must be based on assent to authentic Catholic teachings as presented by the Magisterium.
In group meetings to consider objectives and strategies, many participants objected to the constant emphasis on task groups and more committees.
Being told that "we all need to listen to each other if we are to find and discover that truth" (Christ and His Mission) is, I believe, part of the main problem.
We will only know Christ when we assent to his teaching, as authenticated by the Magisterium. Listening to each other has so far produced further ideas for yet more activities, committees and task groups - many lacking the proper formation.
The Church's divisions are about doctrine and discipline, yet no proposals for renewal through the Catechism and re-evangelisation have got off the ground.
Moreover, the divisions are aggravated by people who have misled - or failed to guide - Catholics regarding orthodox Church teachings. No amount of tinkering at the edges can address that basic problem.
It is also worrying that the laity are being given titles such as "chaplain" and "pastoral director", in contravention of Canons 515, 517 and 519. These make clear a priest is the only lawful person to direct pastoral care, and to whom the laity render assistance.
The term, "pastoral coordinator", promoted also in the synod responses, is likewise unlawful, as is "chaplain", which is correctly defined in the synod glossary as applying to an ordained minister.
Slogans and words that ignore the treasures of Catholic doctrine and discipline court failure. The Statement of Conclusions urged that "formation at all levels must continue and must rely on instruments offered by the Church: above all the word of God, the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church, which offer timely indications for dealing with the different challenges mentioned".
Furthermore, "the bishop may not tolerate error in matters of doctrine and morals or Church discipline, and true unity must never be at the expense of truth ... (using) dialogue and persuasion."
What challenges have been ignored? The Statement of Conclusions identifies them as crises in "faith", in "Christology", in "Christian anthropology", in "moral problems" and in "ecclesiology". These crises involve an indiscriminate adoption of opinions and perspectives as long as they are thought not to impact adversely on other people. Jesus meanwhile is reduced to a prophet who questions the rules of religion.
Also rejected are certain forms of feminism that distort the origin, culture and development of mankind; the legitimation of homosexual relationships and other forms of sexual activity; and truth based on the shifting sands of majority and consensus, rather than on God's Revelation.
If the Brisbane commission can replace the "feelings" or "consensus" of a majority with the reality of divine Revelation, the final assembly in May might produce a faithful blueprint for re-evangelisation and mission in union and communion with Christ and his Church.
Archbishop Bathersby will be issuing his proclamations on 8 June 2003.
Peter D. Howard is President of the Brisbane Association of Catholic Parents.