A joint letter, signed by members of the executive of the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes, and recently published in S.A. Catholic (January 1993) raises the question of what kind of Church the Catholic Church is or should be.
According to the signatories' selective interpretation of Vatican II, the local bishop should be able to institute important policies independently of the Pope. In fact Vatican II and Canon Law make it clear that bishops must align such policy decisions - e.g., inclusive language in the liturgy - with those of Rome.
If local bishops see fit to depart (or allow others to depart) from the universal Church's clearly stated positions it is difficult to see what loyalty they, themselves, can reasonably expect from the generality of Catholics in their dioceses.
The fact that those in charge of Australia's religious congregations have seen fit to support an independent line from Rome - as indicated below - is itself a disturbing sign of the present state of religious life in Australia. The text of the joint letter appears below.
What this letter appears to be saying is that the religious signatories believe that Archbishop Faulkner should continue to pursue his policy of introducing inclusive language into the liturgy whether or not this is in line with the position of the Pope and the Holy See. In this respect, they have overlooked key statements from both Vatican II and the Code of Canon Law (as revised in 1983):
"The order of bishops is the successor to the college of the apostles in their role as teachers and pastors, and in it the apostolic college is perpetuated. Together with their head, the Supreme Pontiff, and never apart from him, they have supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff. The Lord made Peter alone the rock-foundation and the holder of the keys of the Church ..." (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Chapter Three, par. 22, Flannery Edition, p. 375);
"Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is on the Apostolic See, and, as laws may determine, on the bishop ... Therefore no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority ..." (Vatican II, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, par. 22, parts (1) and (2), Flannery Edition, p. 9).
"It is the prerogative of the Apostolic See to regulate the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, to publish liturgical books and to review their vernacular translations, and to be watchful that liturgical regulations are everywhere faithfully observed"; and, "It pertains to Episcopal Conferences to prepare vernacular translations of liturgical books, with appropriate adaptations as allowed by the books themselves, and with the prior review of the Holy See, to publish these translations" (The Code of Canon Law, 838, n. 2-3). All the emphases are ours.
Catholic Religious Leaders' Joint Letter
"While most of us live in other parts of Australia, we, the executive of the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes, wish to express our support for Archbishop Leonard Faulkner of Adelaide as he grapples with the difficulties currently facing the Church over language in liturgy.
"The Second Vatican Council states in the Introduction to the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, "... it is through the liturgy, especially, that the faithful are enabled to express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church," (par. 2). The present struggle is about issues contained in this paragraph.
"Who Christ is for the Church relates to the God revealed in Jesus. Biblical learnings have opened up for us a better understanding of the images of God used by Jesus himself. At the same time, the symbols available to us to express the little that we can of the infinite mystery of God change and develop. Thus, the words the Church uses to describe the relationship of human beings with that God must also change if they are to hold firmly to sound tradition and take on new vigour to meet present-day circumstances and needs (ref. Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, par. 4).
"The nature of the Church, too, is expressed in its liturgy. Of particular relevance here is, we gather, the distinction between the Church universal and the Church as local Church. The Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church n. 11 describes it thus: 'A diocese is a section of the People of God entrusted to a bishop, to be guided by him with the assistance of his clergy so that, loyal to its pastor and formed by him into one community in the Holy Spirit through one Gospel and the Eucharist, it constitutes one particular Church in which the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and alive.' It is to be borne in mind that this description of the Church is in direct contrast to the business model, and that therefore the bishop is not to be thought of as a branch manager executing directives from the central body.
"As we know, language both reflects our understandings and, in turn, shapes them. Despite the pain involved in letting go of what we can control, in this instance language, our primary concern as Church is to be open to an ever-deeper understanding of God's relationship with us. It is our prayer that the Church of the Archdiocese of Adelaide will, with their bishop, continue to provide for the Australian Church an example of true discipleship. May we all, gathered around Christ, encounter in our actions and in our worship, the God Jesus portrayed - God, who is compassion and love."
Sr Angela Ryan (president ACLRI) and executive members of ACLRI, Sr Mary Cresp RSJ, Fr Bill Uren SJ, Br Julian McDonald CFC, Br Alex Turton FMS, Br Gerry Faulkner CFC, Sr Jan Geason RSM, Fr Paul Cahill OCarm, Sr Christine Keain RSM, Sr Barbara Amott RSJ, Sr Helen Foley SGS, Sr Gabrielle Burns PVBM, Fr Pat Corbett CSSR, Sr Leonie Mayne RSJ, Sr Helen Clarke RSC.