Post-conciliar renewal? Some Queensland snapshots

Post-conciliar renewal? Some Queensland snapshots

Michael Gilchrist

The Catholic Church is distinguishable from other Christian Churches in its authority structure and sacramental beliefs. These were essential teachings of Vatican II as of previous general councils. The dissolution of these teachings ultimately spells the disappearance of the Catholic Church as a distinct entity.

The Church in Queensland appears to be on the cutting edge of such trends, even if the examples cited are typical enough of Australia generally.

The Brisbane Archdiocese's Catholic Leader (24 September 1995) has published the edited text of a keynote address by Sr Patricia Fox of Adelaide to a Brisbane Archdiocesan women's gathering - "Women Celebrating the Challenge of Change". Sr Fox has been prominent in official moves to 'update' the Adelaide Archdiocese over the past ten years.

In her address Sr Fox praised Adelaide's Archbishop Faulkner for accepting a "recommendation to set up a more inclusive structure of pastoral leadership and, in so doing, commit himself to learning how to exercise his episcopacy in a new way (my emphasis), in a way more congruent with the vision of a post-conciliar Church and modelling a discipleship of equals."

The address was concerned largely with the theme of "affirmative action". With the alteration of a few words, it could have been written equally of a political party, a trade union, or a football club.

Several Proposals from a Brisbane Women's Forum (September 1-2) complemented Sr Fox's future vision of Catholicism: "that there be grassroots groups for the formation of women in the parishes - consciousness raising; leadership training; parish program: what kind of church would we create."

Sr Fox made it clear in her report that Brisbane's Archbishop Bathersby was also expected "to exercise his episcopacy in a new way", when she questioned his presence at some meetings: "No matter how hard we worked at equality and mutuality ... there is finally an imbalance of power and responsibility by virtue of office. Many times, for instance, it became expedient for the Archbishop to preside at a meeting, communicate a decision ... when in fact another team member had a better grasp of the situation because she/he had done the essential work on the area of responsibility."

Nor did Sr Fox's official role inhibit her from advocating women's ordination. She noted a "growing and powerful consensus among theologians and biblical scholars" which "seriously questions the validity of the theological premises underpinning ... laws and practices of inequality in the Church, including the question of women's ordination. Cumulatively, this serious theological challenging must bear fruit."

Sr Fox sprinkled her address with the customary language of 'renewal': "creative pastoral leadership," "developing culture of participation", "inclusive form of participative leadership," "a more inclusive structure of pastoral leadership," "a more Gospel-based, proactive, discerned leadership" - even singing the praises of the 1991 World Council of Churches Assembly in Canberra as "a vision of how gatherings of the universal Church could be". In fact, one observer at the time described the Assembly as "a Tower of Babel" whose predominant flavour was a mixture of pantheism, animism and liberal Protestantism.


That fewer and fewer young Catholics see the need to attend Mass even while still attending Catholic schools is hardly remarkable, given the kinds of teaching on the Mass and sacraments in vogue since the late 1960s.

A case in point is a recent publication of the Liturgical Commission of the Archdiocese of Brisbane (January 1995), titled Sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist. While the publication is described as "Preparation Ideas for Families", as far as the Eucharist is concerned its contents are typical of many similar productions designed for school and parish use. The watch-words are "meal" and "community" but not "sacrifice" and "real presence", (nor the new Catechism). The style is 1970s 'experiential': "Make rainbow place mats to use at a special family meal"; "Try doing things with your hands tied behind your back".

A "Parent Reflection" (p.25) typifies the bland approach: "When the Christian community meets to celebrate the eucharist, Jesus is present. We recognise his presence in the gathering of the baptised, in the leadership of the priest, in the proclamation of the scriptures, and in the consecrated bread and wine we share. Jesus said, 'Do this in memory of me.' In the eucharist we remember Jesus' self-giving love." While Vatican II noted the senses in which Christ could be said to be present, it emphasised that he is present "especially in the eucharistic species" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7).

There is no echo of the precise teaching of the General Catchetical Directory on the Eucharist: "In the Eucharist, when the words of consecration have been pronounced, the profound reality (but not the appearance) of bread and wine is changed into the body and blood of Christ. This wonderful change has been given the name 'transubstantiation' in the Church"; nor any mention that, in the words of Pope John Paul II, the Eucharist is "above all else a sacrifice" (Dominicae Cenae, 9).

The Brisbane booklet affirms: "The first symbol in the eucharist is the Church assembled. So the sacramental signs are not just bread and wine, but the ritual of taking, breaking, sharing and eating the bread, taking, pouring out, sharing and drinking the wine. The meal is an essential aspect of eucharist" (p.34).

Contrary to Church discipline (Can 924 ยค2, 926), which stipulates wheaten unleavened bread for the Eucharist, the booklet's cover displays supermarket sliced bread on an altar cloth later reinforcing this under the heading of "Doing Things Together": "Find out about different kinds of bread: bread in different shapes and colours, made from different grains ... Try to make some bread, break the loaf and share it" (p.36).

The booklet's editor, Fr Tom Elich (the National Liturgical Commission's Executive Secretary), had earlier expressed public "dismay" when the Vatican refused permission for an 'inclusive' NRSV lectionary for Masses (see February 1995 AD2000). He told the Catholic Leader (13 November 1994) that "the implications of the [Vatican] ban are very serious for Catholic biblical scholarship, for ecumenical relations between Churches, as well as for the production of suitable liturgical books."


The misinformation prize goes to the author (presumably the parish priest) of a 'letter' to parishioners in the St Patrick's, Beenleigh, Mass bulletin (1.10.95).

In the course of pressuring members of his flock still receiving Communion on the tongue to cease doing so, the writer makes the following claim: "Because of the practicality of the institution of the Eucharist, the Church at Vatican Council II recommended that the faithful should communicate with him/herself [i.e., on the hand] ... Receiving on the tongue has got nothing to do with worthiness or piety. I believe it has got something to do with community. Insistence to receive Eucharist on the tongue is stepping away from the Church's recommendations ".

None of the sixteen Vatican II documents contains any such "recommendation." The topic is not raised.

Perhaps Father had in mind a document issued on 29 May 1969 by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship on the authority of Pope Paul VI, titled Memoriale Domini (Instruction on the Manner of distributing Holy Communion). But this document "recommends" the precise opposite.

After noting that some sections of the Church had departed from the approved manner of receiving Communion, the document indicated that the world's bishops had been asked whether Communion on the hand should be allowed as an option. Over two-thirds said No. Memoriale Domini concluded: "The Apostolic See therefore emphatically urges bishops, priests and laity to obey carefully the law [Communion on the tongue] which is still valid and which has again been confirmed ...".

The document included the concession that where hand Communion was already established, it could be legitimised as an option by a vote of over two-thirds of that country's bishops with Rome's approval. This is what ultimately happened in Australia in the 1970s.

Far from "recommending" that people receive Communion on the hand, this and subsequent Vatican documents emphasise that "on the hand" is the exception and that the wishes of those preferring the old practice should be respected, e.g., Pope John Paul II noted in Dominicae Cenae (11): "It also happens, on occasion, that the free choice of those who prefer to continue the practice of receiving the Eucharist on the tongue is not taken into account in those places where the distribution of Communion in the hand has been authorised ...".

But the practice of falsely attributing a host of "recommendations" to Vatican II - on the presumption of an uninformed audience - is not confined to Beenleigh.


As a final brief "snapshot", we learn that a church built just over a year ago in the northern Queensland diocese of Cairns - Our Lady Star of the Sea, Cardwell - did not include a confessional in its design. When a few diehards wanted to go to confession, this first took place in the bedroom of a flat built onto the rear of the church. Following complaints the confessions were moved to the kitchen.

The Parish Pastoral Council Minutes (9 July 1995) of the mother parish of St Clare's, Tully, reported: "Reconciliation in the bedroom [at Cardwell] is causing quite a problem for some of the older parishioners. Two possible options to this are - reconciliation in the Chapel or purchasing a portable screen to partition off the bed."

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