CfM began in 2003 when Frank Purcell and Paul Collins became concerned about statements from Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, concerning the Catholic doctrine of freedom of conscience. In his 1999 Acton Lecture in the US Pell had said that Catholic religious educators should 'quietly ditch' the notion of the primacy of conscience. He continued: 'This has never been a Catholic doctrine ... It is a short cut, which often leads the unitiated to feel even more complacent while "doing their own thing".' Pell called this attitude 'the Donald Duck heresy' which, he said, 'rests squarely on the fallacy of overwhelming natural virtue.' This is the belief, Pell says, that all natural impulses are good. Donald Duck believed this and was never out of trouble!
Pell repeated these views on 30 May 2003 in the Catalyst for Renewal Bishops Forum when he said unequivocally 'I believe that this misleading doctrine of the primacy of conscience should be publicly rejected.' He went on to refer to the doctrine as 'mischievous'. (Paul Collins deals with Pell's views and the question of the theology of conscience in his book Between t6he Rock and a Hard Place. Being Catholic Today Sydney: ABC Books, 2004, pp 148-160)
Purcell and Collins got a group of 25 prominent Australian Catholics together to write to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to seek clarification on Pell's views on conscience. Needless to say the CDF ignored the letter - CfM has now learned by experience that the Vatican generally ignores all letters sent to them - but the issue did get considerable publicity in Australia and Pell doesn't seem to have repeated his peculiar views since then.
Slowly a small group of people joined Purcell and Collins and CfM got under way in early-2004. CfM is convinced that working together with other Catholics on these kinds of ministerial and belief issues is important.
CfM's next move was to join 29 other Catholics, including priests and sisters, to write to every bishop in Australia - both active and retired - setting out the issues that were later to evolve into the Petition. The letter asked the bishops to include these issues on the agenda of the November 2007 meeting of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. Fourteen bishops (out of 41) responded to this letter. Most were positive, a few non-committal and only one negative, but still friendly. CfM believes that Australian Catholics are lucky. Fortunately we still have a big majority of bishops whose orientation is essentially pastoral and whose primary care is for people and the needs of their dioceses. But they are hamstrung by the Vatican.
Back in July 2006 in the magazine OnLine Catholics (Issue 112, 7 July 2006) Father Eric Hodgens, then Parish Priest of Melbourne's North Balwyn, analyzed the Bishops' Conference and he divided it into three loose groupings. We could call these groups...
* the ‘boots and all brigade'
* the ‘cautious'
* the ‘pastoralists'.
Hodgens describes the first group as ‘hard right wing and fundamentalist'. However, there are very few of them, probably no more than four or five. The cautious ‘support the Roman line for ideological or opportunistic reasons'. There are probably between five to six of these, many in powerful positions. The rest fit into the pastoral category. There are now 42 active bishops. This means that at least thirty fit into the more open, pastoral category. Hodgens argued in July 2006 ‘Now is the time for them [the pastorally-oriented bishops] to caucus, get a leader and act - redeem the situation. And they must do it urgently ... Their successors will simply not have the nous. Now is our last chance.' He is right.
So taking their cue from Hodgens, CfM decided that the time had come to try to find a way to support the pastoral bishops, while at the same time highlighting that an individual bishop's primary responsibility is to his diocese. Only secondarily is he responsible for the universal church through his membership of the college of bishops. CfM also decided that we needed facilitate a major research project to understand fully the actual situation of priests and parishes in Australia. This greadually developed into the major project undertaken by Dr Pater Wilkinson which in 2011 became Catholic Parish Ministry in Australia: Facing Disaster? with an update of the stastics in 2012.
CfM believes that the result of the crisis in ministry will be that more and more people, especially in rural areas, will be deprived of the Eucharist. This is an intolerable, even heretical situation in an essentially sacramental Church like our's.
The result of all this was the Petition to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC). The Petition called for an acknowledgment from the bishops that there is a major crisis in ministry in Australia, that there is no barrier to the ordination of married men, requested that we have a wide-ranging discussion on the ministry and ordination of women, that inactive priests be returned to the ministry, and that the bishops begin a program to select and train women and men for ministry.
Almost 17,000 Catholics including 168 priests signed the Petition. CfM understands that the bishops did discuss some of the matters raised in the Petition and then handed it over to the central committee of of the ACBC for further deliberation. CfM heard nothing definitive for seven months when we received a letter dated 9 May 2008 from the-then President of the Australian Catholoc Bishops Conference, Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide. Wilson says: 'The matter [you] raise in the Petition are of quite diverse doctrinal and disciplinary import. They are also largely beyond our competence as a National Conference of Bishops within the universal Church. Your letter seems to underestimate the challenges to faith which we now confront. It would not, therefore, be appropriate in these circumstances for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to engage in on-going correspondence with you on these issues. The Bishops will, however, continue in other ways to address the current challenges.'
So much for the views of 16,746 Mass-going Catholics including 168 priests, most of them senior parish priests from about 120 selected parishes from across all Australian dioceses.
Undeterred by Archbishop Wilson's response CfM also asked the bishops to set up mediation structures so that Catholics can, in the tradition of the Gospel, work through their disagreements and conflicts in a Christian way. Even though it is mandated by the new Code of Canon Law and has been called for by Pope John Paul II, the Bishops' Committee on Canon Law have admitted that nothing along the lines of a grievance procedure has been established in Australia.
Since then CfM held a meeting in Melbourne in mid-2009 bringing together from across the country some 50 representatives from reform-minded groups and interested religious orders. We spent the day building bridges between the different groups and individuals.
As part of this co-operative process CfM have worked closely with WATAC - Women and the Australian Church - on a number of issues. This co-operation began with the Vatican's imposition of the new, or perhaps more accurately 'olde' English translation of the Mass. After Paul Collins published his pamphlet And Also With You. Is the New English Version of the Mass a Betrayal of Vatican II? Bernice Moore of WATAC approached CfM to see how we could work on this issue together. We sent copies of the Collins pamphlet, and information on the US webpage 'What if we said Wait?' to every parish in Australia and asked for responses.These were many and varied and came to WATAC via post, phone and email. All were honest and many were passionate. These responses were compiled into another pamphlet which was sent to all those who responded - almost all were parish priests- as well as to the Australian bishops.
WATAC also funded the publication of CfM's most ambitious research project - Peter Wilkinson's 2011 Report Catholic Parish Ministry in Australia: Facing Disaster? with an update for 2012 available on this webpage.
CfM have also joined AN AUSTRALIAN CATHOLIC COALITION - A CALL FOR CHURCH RENEWAL and have developed with a number of other Catholic renwal groups a PARISH CHARTER TO CELEBRATE VATICAN II.
Information of these actions is available by clicking on the box on the front page of this webpage.