Toowoomba's 'Creating Our Future' - or a recipe for further decline?

Toowoomba's 'Creating Our Future' - or a recipe for further decline?

Michael Gilchrist

The Toowoomba Diocese in Queensland has published a "working document" of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan, Creating Our Future, which seems destined to hasten the Church's decline in that part of the world, rather than address problems identified in the Statement of Conclusions.

The Toowoomba document's contents follows the familiar pattern of other unsuccessful, now largely forgotten, blueprints for 'renewal' that have been tried out in several Australian dioceses in recent years. These programs - with catchy titles such as Tomorrow's Church - failed to make inroads on falling Mass attendances and individual confessions, disappearing priestly and religious vocations and chronic religious illiteracy in Catholic schools.

The document's bureaucratic 'churchspeak' seems more likely to mystify than motivate Toowoomba's Catholics, e.g., "The Vision, Mission and Key Pastoral Direction Statement has been birthed from the Diocesan gathering" or "Develop a sense of Diocesan ownership, spirit and connectedness."

And what is one to make of the heading, "Key Pastoral Directions," with its sub-heading: "Through baptism we are called to live out God's dream by ... Developing and updating faith education and spirituality ... Promoting and celebrating life-giving liturgy ... Exploring various pastoral leadership models."

Expressions like "collaborative and participative," "enables and empowers," and "inclusiveness," provide a politically correct flavour, as do such recommendations as, "The sharing of stories of those who have chosen to resist economic pressure to conform", "All Diocesan organisations ensuring gender balance in membership where appropriate", "Indigenous Studies and Perspectives now incorporated into both curriculum and school practice", "Inclusive language in all Diocesan documents, dealings and Liturgy" and "Involvement in Reconciliation activities by all local faith communities."

Creating Our Future's credibility is particularly weakened by its recommendation of Michael Morwood's book Tomorrow's Church. A theological analysis of this book a few years ago revealed so many doctrinal flaws that Archbishop Pell acted to restrict its use in the Melbourne Archdiocese.

Adult Faith Education

Under the heading of "Developing and Updating Adult Faith Education and Spirituality" (page 31) we find recommended (in addition to Tomorrow's Church by Michael Morwood): Eucharist: Participating in Mystery by Fr Frank Andersen (a former adult education colleague of Michael Morwood with similar views), Journeys by Heart: a Christology of Erotic Power by R.N. Brock, In Search of Belief by Sr Joan Chittister OSB (an American radical feminist), The God of Evolution by Fr Denis Edwards (a liberal Adelaide theologian), The Meaning of the Sacraments by Monika Hellwig (a feminist US academic, whose writings have conflicted with Church teachings) and Reenchantment: the New Australian Spirituality by David Tacey (whose planned talk this year at the Melbourne seminary was cancelled by Archbishop Pell).

The 'newchurch' thinking embodied in these writings is to be introduced to "All who have leadership roles in the diocese enrolling in 'Beginning Theology: a Homely Affair' or other appropriate courses of study." Short courses will be on offer for the wider Catholic population through guest speakers, discussion groups on the above readings and short courses "in the new spirituality/theology".

Under a heading of "What opportunities for developing your Faith as an adult have been offered in your parish?", we find among listed periodicals Catalyst for Renewal's publication, The Mix.

And further on, under "ecumenism", about which the document is particularly enthusiastic, the controversial book by the retired Archbishop Quinn of San Francisco, The Reform of the Papacy, is recommended, while Toowoomba's Catholics are urged "to establish Ecumenical Liaison" by, among other things, "using every means of communication, including modern technology, to hear needs within our own tradition, to listen to the stories and needs of other traditions and to act upon them all."

"Promoting and Celebrating Life-giving Liturgy" - another key section of the document - includes among its recommended titles the discredited American document, Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, currently being replaced by the US bishops. This document received no approval from the US bishops' conference at the time it was published by a committee in 1978, yet it has long been used as justification for vandalising beautiful church interiors or as a guide in the design of barren, uninspiring new churches.

Some "Action Paths" listed for "Promoting and Celebrating Life-giving Liturgy" include: "Encouraging the use of creative penitential services in parishes", "Promoting liturgy that is culturally, spiritually, and gender inclusive", "Liturgical experiences that are more relevant", "Liturgical experiences that are nurturing" and "Liturgical experiences that create more consciousness for life in the world." Whatever all this means.

No one would doubt that considerable time, effort and finance go into these kinds of projects. Stella Baxter, Chairperson of the Toowoomba Diocesan Pastoral Council, explains in her introductory piece: "Many hours of listening, reflecting, consulting, praying and discussing have gone into making this document. From the Gatherings of 1998 through the work of the Interim Committee and now the Diocesan Pastoral Council itself this year."

Unfortunately, the spiritual cost-benefits of such exertions have proved all but invisible.

While some innocuous references to John Paul II and Vatican II can be found here and there, much of Creating Our Future could easily be the brainchild of a committee of almost any non-Catholic religious denomination. Its constant use of the expression "dream" (or "dreaming") underlines a pervasive sense of unreality, given the present crisis of faith in much of the Church in Australia (and Queensland in particular) and the readily available blueprints for addressing it, i.e., the new Catechism and Statement of Conclusions, not to mention the many existing spiritual riches of the Church, such as its prayers, Eucharistic adoration and Marian devotions.

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