Catalyst for Renewal: or is it a catalyst for extinction?

Catalyst for Renewal: or is it a catalyst for extinction?

Edward Thornton

In late 1994, a group of Sydney Catholics met to discuss renewal within the Church. The result was the establishment of a body called "Catalyst for Renewal". Its members conduct three main activities:

* Spirituality in the Pub, with speakers invited to address meetings held regularly in Australian hotels.

* Publishing a magazine entitled The Mix, which is sent to members and other interested persons.

* Forums for the Future - meetings held a few times a year, usually in Sydney, which address specific issues, e.g., the role of women in the Church.

Catalyst for Renewal prides itself on seeking to bring together people from a range of backgrounds and with different understandings of Church teachings and practices. However, while Catalyst for Renewal may desire to provide a forum for all kinds of Catholics, if those attending the forum organised to discuss the Statement of Conclusions (issued by the Holy See and the Australian bishops) is typical of their support base, then young people are conspicuous by their absence. In the words of author and commentator, Fr Edmund Campion, the attendees were "grey-haired, educated, well-fed Anglo-Celts, many of them women."

Whilst there are numerous references to Scripture and Tradition in Catalyst's publications, it appears that its use of magisterial texts is selective: although passages from Vatican II are quoted at length, hardly any reference to The Catechism of the Catholic Church is made in articles in The Mix.

The Mix, Catalyst for Renewal's main printed forum, is precisely that: a mixture. Some of its articles arguably provide helpful insights in spirituality. However, an analysis of the overall published output suggests a predominant "vision of Church" (to use their rhetoric) that differs markedly from the one projected by texts such as The Catechism of the Catholic Church and recent papal documents.

Is this situation an indication that Catalyst for Renewal considers documents such as The Catechism of the Catholic Church to be what Fr Rausch, in the December 1998 edition of The Mix, calls "a non-historical orthodoxy or a magisterial fundamentalism"?

As the articles published represent a range of opinions, it is not surprising that some differences of approach are in evidence. Thus, while Fr Gerard Gleeson upholds Church teaching that ordination to the priesthood is reserved to men in his paper, "The Future of Women in the Church", delivered at the second Forum for the Future, Fr Humphrey O'Leary, a Redemptorist, posits the question of whether the Church's teaching on women priests will change in the same way that its "teaching" on the use of the vernacular in the liturgy or ecumenism has changed.

Church practices

The major problem with this argument is that Fr O'Leary indiscriminately lumps together Church practices open to possible change, e.g., vernacular in the liturgy and clerical celibacy, with doctrinal teachings (e.g., reservation of the priesthood to men), which the Catholic Church cannot change.

The recommended reading at the end of each edition of The Mix includes writings not easy to reconcile with Church teachings, e.g., by Sr Joan Chittiser, Fr Maurice Shinnick, Jack Dominian and Nikos Katzantzakis (author of The Last Temptation of Christ). In contrast, works by writers such as Ratzinger, de Lubac or Pieper and others from the Ignatius Press catalogue, for example, are in short supply, at least from the more recent editions of The Mix.

One can only presume that Catalyst for Renewal sees Michael Morwood as a kindred spirit, given that his internet site is listed on its Bulletin Board. And if Morwood does not appeal, there are other attractions on the Board, e.g., an "Enneagram and Spirituality" workshop or a lecture by Sr Veronica Brady, to consider.

Catalyst for Renewal's true colours were evident in the written accounts of the open forum on the Statement of Conclusions, which took place in Sydney on 22 April. While Catalyst claims to be working alongside the bishops, one might ask, which bishops? Bishops Heenan and Robinson, who attended the forum, publicly proclaimed that they were "sandbagged" in Rome, while comments about Archbishop Pell by Mr Brian Fitzgerald (as reported in a recent edition of Eureka Street) were far from complimentary.

A report in The Mix argues that young people have left the Church, as they perceive it to be irrelevant. It goes on to blame the "institutional Church" for stifling rather than facilitating spiritual development.

But while many others would agree that the "institutional Church" has largely failed Catholics over the last 30 years, it would be for far different reasons from those Catalyst for Renewal advances, e.g., inadequate RE programs, ineffective preaching and dismal liturgies lacking any sense of the transcendent.

Catalyst for Renewal might castigate "conservatives" for stultifying the Church. But one may well ask, who are the real conservatives: those who adhere to the entire deposit of faith as proposed by the magisterium - which demonstrably increases the practice of the faith and the numbers of priestly and religious vocations - or those caught in a '60s time-warp, peddling a tired "Spirit of Vatican II vision of Church" that has failed to produce fruit of any substance over the past 30 years, and which now best belongs in a museum for "retro" items.

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