Future Church in Australia? One Melbourne Parishioner’s suggestion

Without solicitation, Barry Kearney (a parishioner of St Anne’s Parish in Park Orchards) has forwarded his vision for the “Future Church in Australia” to a very large number of folk in the Archdiocese. He rather innocently suggested that we should “feel free to forward or reproduce in full or in part any of these observations, or to criticize”, so I thought I would do just that. I will send an email to Barry letting him know that I have “blogged” him, so “Hi! Barry, and welcome to Sentire Cum Ecclesia for the first time!”

Barry begins by noting that “The Catholic Church in Australia is in serious trouble”. He identified its “main problems” as:

  • Falling attendances
  • Priests are ageing and are an endangered species
  • Its message is not being heard
  • Lack of leadership

He dismisses (rightly, I would say) the usual answers (“Allowing women to be priests, allowing priests to marry”)—issues which he believes “are important”, but which “miss the main point ie there are almost no young men or women attending Mass.” You have to admit, that is a good point.

He comments: “Young men of the future cannot be priests if the Mass and the sacraments have no part in their lives. Allowing priests to marry will not bring young men to the Eucharist.  Allowing young women to be priests will not bring them to the Mass either. Nor will allowing young women to be married priests.”

He goes on to say: “Church leaders are sometimes encouraged by large numbers of Catholic Youth attending international or national rallies, but those attending are the exception and the reality is that very few 15-30 Catholics go any where near a Church except perhaps at Christmas and for children’s Baptisms and First Communions. And certainly not at Easter, the most significant liturgical celebration of the Church.”

He has a point there, but I would say that it is precisely in these “exceptions” that the hope of the future Church lies, because those who remain are really committed, perhaps more so than the Catholic youth of any previous era in Australia. I might suggest to Barry (and to you, dear Reader) that he have a look at the Spirit of Generation Y report. It is worth a blog entry all of its own.

At this point, Barry gives us some sense of the solution he is proposing. He suggests a “SWOT analysis” such as any business would use “to review where [the Church is] going”.

Now, the Church has been compared to many things (Vine, Bride of Christ, Temple, Household of God, People of God, Body of Christ), but if there is one model that it is totally inappropriate for the Una Sancta Catholica et Apostolica Ecclesia, it is the “business model”. [Of course, that doesn’t mean that parish priests, bishops, parish councils, and archdiocesan business managers don’t occasionally fall into the trap of viewing the Church in this way.] This is the guts of my criticism of Barry’s paper, so if you don’t want to read the rest, you have it right now. But give Barry his due, and read on to see what he has to say.

Anyway, SWOT, it turns out, stands for “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats”.

I reproduce his analysis in full as follows:


  • Is the largest Church in Australia.
  • Has Jesus Christ as its founder.
  • Has as its main source of enlightenment the Bible, which has stood the test of many centuries and is also the inspiration for all Christians.
  • Is immensely wealthy, owning real estate worth billions of dollars
  • Is involved in popular community endeavours such as primary and secondary schools, hospitals, social welfare eg St Vincent De Paul, Catholic Family Welfare Bureau, overseas aid
  • Has an opportunity to give religious education to Catholic children in its primary and secondary schools
  • Has thousands of talented employees including bishops, priests, religious orders, teachers, doctors, nurses, ethicists, administrators, pastoral workers
  • Has tens of thousands of talented business people and administrators who are willing to offer their gifts
  • Has 1,500 Parishes with many talented parishioners eager to make a contribution


  • Is fast running out of priests
  • Is organised into Dioceses and Archdioceses and Independent Religious Orders and has no National or even state structure and so suffers from duplication and fragmentation
  • Has no national marketing plan and probably no marketing plan at all
  • Mass attendance is dropping eg an NCLS 2004 article by John Bellamy and Keith Castle reports that from 1996 to 2000 attendance dropped from 18% to 15%. As older Catholics die and other factors contribute this figure is probably fast approaching 10%.
  • Men are outnumbered by about 2-1 in Mass attendance
  • Youth are deserting all church involvement after leaving Catholic schools
  • Women, despite dominating most functions are denied priesthood
  • Priests cannot marry and so many have left the priesthood and good potential candidates are lost
  • Leadership seems almost non-existent or is inappropriate or misguided
  • Church leaders seem afraid to lead
  • The authorities in Rome are either not aware of the crisis in Australia (and USA and Europe) or have no idea how to solve it
  • Possible changes to solve the issues are not considered because of the ramifications they may have in 3rd World countries
  • There are too many Parishes and this means resources are duplicated and wasted
  • Religion is not being taught effectively in schools or more young people would stay connected and involved
  • Lay people and clergy are often involved in social justice issues which are divisive eg industrial relations, environment, and which have no religious relevance or priority
  • Sexual abuse reports have given the priesthood a bad name


  • Australian Youth are looking for spiritual leadership and experiences
  • The Church has a captive audience of hundreds of thousands of Catholic children in Catholic schools
  • It can get access to the parents of Catholic School children by using School based masses and religious celebrations
  • It has millions of dollars that can be made available to research and execute a Marketing Plan/Reorganisation Plan to overcome its problems< /li>
  • It can use TV and the internet to get its message across
  • It can use PR and marketing experts to promote its message


  • As the Church attendances and priest numbers dwindle, there is a danger that Church leaders will take up popularist causes eg environmental and broad based social issues and lose sight of more fundamental doctrine
  • The Church may retreat into itself and do nothing, alienating itself from its members until it becomes just a provider of community services eg education, health, help for the poor, and dependent on Government Funding
  • It may controlled by extremists who either want to make the Church a relic of the past or the opposite extreme
  • It will run out of priests
  • It will run out of money as it tries to maintain too many Parishes with too few attendees and contributors
  • It will lose members to other faiths or denominations or movements that are more forward thinking or seem more appealing

Now one could argue about the details, but many of his points are valid. However, if you have read this far, you will notice already that there is a certain leaning toward the “business model” of the Church. He talks about resources a lot—both financial and human. Under “Opportunities” we start to hear the language of marketing and public relations. His final comment under “Threats” is about losing members to what might be called “the competition”: “other faiths or denominations or movements that are more forward thinking or seem more appealing” (ie. the mobs that I spend most of my working day liaising with!).

All this points already to what his solution might be: It is this:

  • Employ a Marketing/Research Company to carry out 2 years of Research into how to Market/Organise the Church in the future. The marketing brief would include every aspect of Church activities from the Mass, Structure, the Sacraments, Schools, Community Activities, PR, Doctrine, Leadership, Using the Media including Internet, Church Buildings of the future, Vocations
  • Apart from essential doctrine, the Marketing company could look at all aspects of Church organisation and activities eg women priests, married priests, national structure, parish restructuring, Religious Education for children, financial, and the future of Religious Orders.

All entirely consistent with the “business model” of the Church, but entirely inconsistent with the real nature of the Church (more on this in a mo).

He ends by giving his own view of Australia’s “Future Church”. It is nothing less than a thoroughgoing restructuring of the Church without much consideration of the essential nature of the Church. Suggestions include the following:

  • A proper National structure without independent Dioceses and Archdioceses.
  • All Catholic Religious Education under National Church Control.
  • All religious orders and their assets under the control of the National Church
  • New mega Churches (catering for at least 1000 to 3000 attendees) to replace the archaic local small Churches, which could support married priests and their families or a community of priests, Youth Leaders and Youth programs, better live music ministry and Children’s Liturgy and stronger bases for community outreach.
  • A National Marketing and PR Organisation, using Australia’s top Marketing and PR companies, for TV, internet, Cinemas and Newspapers.
  • Schools would be used to gain access to the parents of Catholic children to try to bring them back to the Church, and to influence children to attend Mass [I think this is most revolutionary suggestion! – Schütz].
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to assess the performance of all Catholic organisations

He concludes by saying that this “is how all Best Practice Businesses operate. We should expect nothing less than best from our Church. We are not getting best practice presently.”

Now, I have a great deal of sympathy for Barry’s perspective. He and his wife are (according to their website) successful business managers, and it probably frustrates the hell out of them to see what an inefficient, lumbering mess the Church is from a business point of view.

One cannot defend a lot of the nonsense that goes on in the Church. But the Church is a society of human beings—more akin to a family than to a business. Anyone who has seen “The Sound of Music” even only a dozen times will know that you can’t run a family on the “Captain Von Trapp” method. Good leadership in the Church has more to do with responsible and loving fatherhood than good business sense (cf. 1 Timothy 3). Business models are entirely inappropriate when what we are dealing with on the one hand are human souls and on the other hand the Gospel of reconciliation between man and his divine Creator.

The real solution is a whole lot simpler—and harder—than Barry’s analysis suggests. The Real Strength of the Church is Jesus Christ. The Real Weakness is human Sin. The Real Opportunity is millions of sinners in the world who need the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. The Real Threat is that we do not appreciate our Real Strength enough and at the same time underestimate our Real Weakness so much, that we will not take the Real Opportunity when it is handed to us on a platter.

Thanks Barry, for your thought-provoking piece, but like I said in a previous blog, it ain’t rocket science—and it ain’t business management either.

If you want a full copy of Barry’s paper, just email him at: barry@footcareinternational.com

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9 Responses to Future Church in Australia? One Melbourne Parishioner’s suggestion

  1. Peregrinus says:

    Hi David

    Before it is any kind of a business entity or social structure, the church is the Body of Christ, it is the sacramental presence of Christ among us and it is the People of God. As you point out, this limits the relevance and utility of commercial managements tools like a SWOT analysis.

    But the church has many dimensions, and one of them undoubtedly is the “institutional” church – the structure of dioceses and parishes, the orders and congregations, the insititution that owns property, employs staff and volunteers, and manages both.

    It’s a serious mistake to confuse this particular dimension of the church with the entirety of the church; it wouidl be like confusing the Commonwealth of Australia with the Australian nation. Nevertheless this is an important dimension of the church. This dimension is a social structure or social institution and has much in common with other social institutions. For this dimension, management tools may well be instructive and useful.

    A very sad story is currently unfolding in the Diocese of Lancaster, in England. About six years ago a new bishop was appointed. He sold the large and redundant Bishop’s House (sixteen rooms in an acre of gardens) and devoted the sale proceeds to social justice and interfaith projects within the diocese. He established a small office for himself in an annexe to the Cathedral, and announced that he would live as a ‘bishop on the move’, moving around from deanery to deanery within the diocese, and living for perhaps a month at a time as a guest of some of his own priests. By this means he would be closer to the lives and concerns of both priests and people. “My job is not that of managing director of The Church plc” he said, “but servant of the word of God and shepherd of the flock.”

    Five years later, the same bishop disclosed an appalling financial scandal to the faithful of his diocese. The diocese had been ‘living beyond its means’ for a number of years. Central diocesan administration had been dipping into funds that were supposed to be earmarked for parishes, and to other ring-fenced funds, such as those for sick and retired priests. A total of $23.6 million had been diverted in this fashion, and it is unlikely that the diocese will ever be able to repay it. Reduncancies and the closure of a number of projects and institutions have already occurred. The diocese is now working on a recovery plan which will involve a lot more pain.

    The bishop, apparently, always sensed that something was not right, but when his advisers assured him that there was no problem because the diocese was “asset rich”, he apparently accepted that.

    This is of course an extreme case. I don’t know the full story here, and I certainly don’t want to criticise the bishop. But it graphically illustrates that the “business” dimenion of the church, while it must serve the purposes of the church, needs to be integrated into to the life and experience of the church, and taken seriously.

    As long as we have a monarchical episcopacy – and after two thousand years we seem fairly committed to that model – then the ‘business’ dimension of the church is the responsibilty of the bishop. He must ensure that it doesn’t dominate, to the detriment of the mission of the church. He must ensure that it is taken as seriously as he deserves, which perhaps was the problem in Lancaster. But I think Mr Kearney suggests a third responsibility; the bishop must ensure that the “business” dimension of the church serves the mission of the church as effectively as it can. And the skills and experiences which can make the business of church effective probably have a lot in common with the skills and experiences which make other businesses effective.

  2. Schütz says:

    Thanks, Peregrinus. I am in basic agreement with most of what you say (as I was with most of what Barry wrote–with reservations). However, having been a pastor of a parish (albeit not catholic) I always appreciated that in the Lutheran system there was a clear separation between the role of pastor and the role of CEO of the parish. The Church Council (or District/Diocesan Council) were responsible for the business side of things, and the pastors and bishops for the pastoral and doctrinal side of things. This seems to me a reasonable way of doing things, and it was always good for me to be able to say “That’s not my job”, or “That’s your job”.

    But then I understand that things are a little different in the Catholic Church, and that the final responsibility for the “business” side of things cannot be so easily dissociated from the pastoral side of things.

    I too have heard the story you relate about the Diocese of Lancaster. What a betrayal of good faith. I guess that what I meant about sin and about families and about mess in the Church. Betrayal and faithlessness happens in families. You have to work with it. It isn’t just a case of firing people or suing them, because in the end it is about a family, and not about a business.

    In families you wear this stuff. In businesses you don’t.

    Apart from that I agree with you!

  3. Peregrinus says:

    Hi David

    I think the issue is not so much how do we respond to problems like the Lancaster problem when they arise as how to we conduct ourselves so as to minimise the likelihood that they will arise at all? Although that may be closer to the mark, it’s a very negative way of putting the matter. Our responsibility as a church is not so much to avoid financial scandal or financial abuse as to be good stewards of our resources; to use them effectively to proclaim the gospel and build the kingdom of God.

    I share your attraction for the Lutheran model, in which the primary responsibility for this aspect of the church’s life rests with people other than the pastor, leaving the pastor free to devote his energies to pastoral matters such as prayer, worship, preaching, teaching and spiritual direction. It hasn’t, up to now, been the Catholic model, but if nothing else it’s a model which may be forced upon us by the clergy shortage, and we may benefit from it. There is, after all, no particular reason to suppose that the skills and aptitudes which make someone an effective leader in prayer, worship, preaching etc will always be combined with good financial and management skills. It’s no more than a happy coincidence.

    The problem in Lancaster may have been (I stress, I’m speculating here) not that the bishop deferred too much to his advisers, but that the advisers weren’t actually very good or very competent. And if the Catholic church fostered a culture in which it was recognised that responsibility for financial and material matters really was at one remove from the bishop or pastor, and that he should be able largely to leave these matters to others, then the importance of finding good managers, and ensuring good practice, rather than simply relying on the judgment and wisdom of the bishop or pastor, would be recognised.

    I think what is essentially happening at the moment is that the traditional role of the bishop/pastor as leader of (and responsble for) every aspect of the common life of the Christian community is being maintained, and this is forcing people down to a relatively low level in the institutional church (i.e. the parish priest) to be jacks-of-all-trades, with consequent inefficiencies.

    Mr Kearney is effectively suggesting that leadership be centralised upwards, at a national level. This results in economies of scale, which in turn enables professionalisation, and (hopefully) higher standards of performance. But it greatly reduces local autonomy and diversity, and of course weakens the local identity of the church. It also signficantly alters the nature of pastoral leadership. In practice the ‘business’ and pastoral lives of the church are closely intertwined; if the pastor is not actually responsible for the business side, then he needs to be very close to those who are, and to have considerable influence with them. The Lutheran model seems to offer a better prospect of this than the Kearney model, but it doesn’t offer the same opportunities for professionalisation.

    I doubt if there is a perfect solution. The Kearny solution, as you describe it, focusses entirely on business considerations. It seems to abandon, without really thinking about it, two thousand years of ecclesiology. I think, to put it no higher, that needs very careful consideration. If nothing else, the price the church would pay for adopting a Kearney model in terms of loss of diversity and autonomy, changing the nature of pastoral leadership, etc, needs to be identified, and a decision taken as to whether the advantages hoped for would justify that price.

    An angle which might be worth exploring is not centralisation, but collegiality. If you take all the pastors in a deanery or a diocese, some of them will have management or business skills. Could those pastors, on behalf of their colleagues, take the lead in setting up structures, and appointing and supervising professional administrators, who would serve the business needs of all the parishes in the diocese? The individual pastor would still have a direct relationship with the administrator of his parish (who would probably also serve other parishes) but he would be supported in that relationship by the collegial efforts of his colleagues. Something similar could operate at an inter-diocesan level, and might be of great benefit to smaller dioceses (like Lancaster).

  4. Schütz says:

    The danger with pastors relinquishing complete control on the business side of things is that they lose their autonomy to carry out their ministry.

    Conversely, the danger with leaving the business side of the Church in the hands of the pastors is exactly as you describe.

    As you say, no easy solution.

  5. Barry says:

    Hi David,

    I had a look at your blog in general, and in particular at your comments on my article. I think it is great that you are spreading God’s word and your opinions on the Web.

    I feel it is a bit patronising to comment that I rather “innocently” offered people who read my article the chance to reproduce it or criticize. I would see it as openness. Having been involved in University politics during the 60s, trade union politics during the 70s, the abortion debate in public meetings, schools and university in the 80s, and co-founding Open Doors Counselling & Educational services during the 80s and being honorary financial director for 19 years until 2004, and having been in business for 28 years, I think naivety is long gone.

    I sent my unsolicited to every priest (who has an email) in Victoria, Tasmania, and to numerous people like yourself, whose email addresses were available on Church Website in VIC, TAS and NSW. About 270 in total.

    Any way, back to your blog. You say,

    Good leadership in the Church has more to do with responsible and loving fatherhood than good business sense (cf. 1 Timothy 3). Business models are entirely inappropriate when what we are dealing with on the one hand are human souls and on the other hand the Gospel of reconciliation between man and his divine Creator.

    The administrative model of the Church we have today was not handed to us by Jesus Christ. It has evolved over time. There is no reason why it cannot evolve to become quite different in the future. The SWOT analysis I used to analysis the Church today is not just a business tool, it is just a common sense way to analysis any organisation. Good leadership in the Church should surely include common sense. As I mentioned in my article, if the Church does not get its act together, it may end up just running social services, and “the Gospel of reconciliation between man and his divine creator” may disappear into the background.

    I could not agree more with your comment that:

    The Real Strength of the Church is Jesus Christ. The Real Weakness is human Sin. The Real Opportunity is millions of sinners in the world who need the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. The Real Threat is that we do not appreciate our Real Strength enough and at the same time underestimate our Real Weakness so much, that we will not take the Real Opportunity when it is handed to us on a platter

    If only 10% of Catholics are attending Mass and the Eucharist and if priests are an endangered species, how will the millions of sinners in the world receive the “love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ”?

    I have no doubt that there are some wonderful young people involved in Church activities, but the problem is they are so few. I think it rather naïve to think that they will be the sure answer.

    I had an interesting phone conversation after my email with Fr Noel Brady, Parish Priest of

    Resurrection Parish St Albans West. He told me in a very friendly fashion that some of my suggestions would never happen and were against Canonical Law. I don’t have a problem with making suggestions contrary to Canonical Law. The Church made the laws, and they can change them.

    He then told me that it is not all doom and gloom in the church and that his Parish has over 600 people attending 10.30 Mass every Sunday, a thriving Youth Group and 15 Choirs. They have a welcome Ministry of 85 people, the most popular Ministry in the Parish, the Parish Office is open 7 days a week, and their weekly collection averages over $7,000.

    He emailed me an article that he wrote for “Summit” entitled “Liturgical Hospitality” (see attached). He said he is quite happy to have it reproduced. I have been considering visiting a few evangelical churches to see how they operate and what I can learn from their activities. I’m not sure how often our Church Leaders do that. Perhaps all we need to do is to visit St Albans West.

    And I will.

    It seems a remarkable success story. Fancy being welcomed into a Catholic Church. I had a recent experience when I attended Mass away from Park Orchards, sat down, and was told a few minutes later that I was in someone’s seat ie the seat they normally sit in. And it wasn’t the priest’s.

    I told Noel Brady that his Parish must have a remarkable Priest. Turns out that Noel used to own and run Hotels. Perhaps the business model can teach something to the religious model after all.


    Barry Kearney
    Managing Director

    Footcare International

  6. Schütz says:

    Thanks, Barry, for your reply. Sorry about being patronising. I don’t know you. I just know that putting out statements like the one you did and in the way you did is a bit like sticking your head in the lion’s mouth. Not everyone is going to be gentle.

    I could have been harsher in my criticism. What is at issue is not simply canonical law, but the whole nature of the Church itself.

    Would I still be patronising if I suggested that you spend some time reading the Catechism, from paragraph 748 onwards?

    Paragraph 752 sums it up well:

    “In Christian usage, the word “church” designates the liturgical assembly [cf. 1 Cor 11:18; 14:19, 28, 34, 35], but also the local community [cf. 1 Cor 1:2; 16:1] or the whole universal community of believers [cf. 1 Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13; Phil 3:6]. These three meanings are inseparable. “The Church” is the People that God gathers in the whole world. She exists in local communities and is made real as a liturgical, above all a Eucharistic, assembly. She draws her life from the word and the Body of Christ and so herself becomes Christ’s Body.”

    This is why the Church is organised on local diocesan basis rather than on a national basis. It is because of this local, pastoral and liturgical understanding of the very nature of the Church itself. You and I both belong to the Church of Melbourne. Denis Hart is our pastor. There is no such thing (in the eyes of God) as the “Australian Church”, because an “Australian Church” cannot exist as a local, liturgical or pastoral entity. There is no such thing as the “bishop of Australia” and if there is no bishop, there can be nothing called “the local Church”. This is what St Ignatius meant when he wrote in the 2nd Century:

    “Let everyone revere the deacons as Jesus Christ, the bishop as the image of the Father, and the presbyters as the senate of God and the assembly of the apostles. For without them one cannot speak of the Church” [St. Ignatius of Antioch, Catechism para. 1554].

    Our problem is not with method, but far deeper, at the very heart of what it means to be of “the faithful”. “You do not have, because you do not ask”, our Lord said. He also said “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed” etc. We have fallen into the trap of thinking of the Church in secular terms rather than in terms of faith and of the Holy Spirit. The Catechism begins its section on the Church by saying: “The article concerning the Church also depends entirely on the article about the Holy Spirit” (para 749). I should warn you that many evangelical churches have fallen into this trap too. I speak from experience.

    New methods, PR and Marketing etc., won’t do the trick–if they are approached as “methods”. The wisdom Father Brady gained from his experience as an innkeeper is, I suspect, less a matter of business sense, and more one of genuine hospitality born of Christian charity. Real faith, real hope and real love will do far more to build up the Church than “common sense”. I am not suggesting that common sense be ditched in favour of stubborn lack of any sense at all. I am suggesting that, if the history of the Church is anything to go by, what will make the different is uncommon sense, committment, courage and sometimes naivety that arises from a whole hearted proclamation of the Gospel of Christ.

    All that having been said, I will just point out one other thing. An honest comparison of the Catholic Church to other Christian Churches must take into account the phenomenon of the “cultural Catholic”. There is no such thing as a “cultural Baptist”. All people who describe themselves as Baptist go to church, because when they stop doing this they stop calling themselves Baptists. Not so with Catholics (or Anglicans for that matter), where identity tend to continue long after activity has stopped. This in part explains the low rate of participation of Catholics compared to those of other Christian communities.

    Furthermore, declining worship attendance is a common experience among all Christian communities today. However, it is also generally reported across the board that those who remain active in these communities do so at a higher degree of committment than in years past. While they are not necessarily better educated in their faith, they do demonstrate a higher degree of attachment. This is so with the young people especially. If a young person is at Mass today, they are there because they want to be. In other words, they are displaying faith and courage, just what is needed for the “future Church”! We need to be ready to challenge them to put their faith into action.

    I know a priest who regularly said mass each Thursday for vocations in his parish. He developed a “culture of vocation” among his large band of altar servers. In three years, he had three young men attend the seminary. Two of them are still at it. If each parish priest in Melbourne were able to encourage just one young man from his parish to attend the seminary every seven years, we would have enough priests to serve our Church. But they don’t, because too many of the older priests don’t believe in the priesthood enough to encourage the young men who do come into their sphere of influence. They don’t believe in the priesthood because they don’t believe in the Church as a supernatural, Spirit- and grace-filled entity.

    In fact, it is often the “older generation” who are betraying this younger generation, because instead a Church on fire with the Holy Spirit and filled with faith, hope and love, they see people who are “running churches”, as if they were businesses or voluntary organisations.

    I’m sorry. I’m a head in the clouds sort of fellow when it comes to the Church. I’d best stop my ranting now. If nothing else, your paper has gotten me thinking about these issues.

  7. Barry says:

    Dear David,

    Thing is, I have never had a problem putting my head in the Lion’s mouth. In a good cause. And I have no problem with criticism, “harsh” or “gentle”. Christ was crucified for his words and actions. What can happen to unworthy me? Being a layman, I am free to say what I like, in good faith. If I am wrong, so be it. It’s just honest, heartfelt opinion, based on a lifetime of learning and observation. If all I achieve is that a few people think a bit more about the pressing problems our Church faces, then I have made a contribution. If there is a solution nothing like my ideas, great. If I achieve nothing but make myself unpopular with some fellow Catholics, well, I’ve made an effort and next Sunday afternoon I’ll watch the footy instead of composing emails .

    I’m in a business peer group, with CEOs from all kinds of industries and organisations, including non-profit and charitable. Usually there are about 12 in a group, with a very highly qualified Chairperson. We meet monthly and our group continuously questions each other’s business plans, sometimes harshly. The chairman meets us one-on-one monthly for a one hour session where he challenges us and questions us. I have meetings every 2 weeks at work with my senior staff where they can suggest or question anything.

    Beyond business, I always examine my own personal habits, faith, activities and failings, and try to improve all the time. Plenty of room for that. I have no problem challenging priests, bishops, politicians or any one else. And from time to time I do. We are all humans, and can all improve. I suppose the trick is to try to be aware of our own frailty and weaknesses, first, before venturing beyond.

    My philosophy at work, when some one makes a mistake, is find out what went wrong, try to fix it, and try to ensure that the error does not happen again. Sometimes we look at a manufacturing process, or clerical process, and decide it can be eliminated completely. And when looking at others’ mistakes, I remind them that we all make mistakes, and that I, as the Managing Director have the dubious honour of being in the position to make the biggest mistakes, and often do.

    I’m not saying the Church has made a whole lot of mistakes, but apart from Christ, I know of nobody who hasn’t.

    David, I really don’t care about all the hierarchy and structures, and where they come from. They did not come from Christ. They can be changed. If we cannot have one national body, the Bishops can meet together and have a consensus, and take some united action. But they may have to give up some power or sacrifice some autonomy. In 1989, when my wife and I were running the Pregnancy Action Centre (now known as Open Doors Counselling & Educational Services) AIDs was all the news, schools were panicking about AIDs education, and some very unsuitable information was being given to children in Australian schools, including Catholic primary schools. Although the Pregnancy Action Centre was established as an ecumenical pro-life counselling centre, we had already made a program called “It’s OK to say NO!”, a video based slide m we sold to over 50% of all state and independent secondary schools.

    We decided to make a new series of 3 videos called the “Wonder of Living”, using actors, a live birth sequence, and live foetal imagery from Lennard Nilsons acclaimed fim, “The Miracle of Life”. We approached every Catholic Bishop and Archbishop ( and some Anglican and Jewish leaders) asking for financial support. We received substantial support from the Bishops of Ballarat, Bendigo, Sale, Tasmania and Canberra. Nothing from the Archbishop of Melbourne. And the Archbishop of Sydney said he was funding a Sydney program about the same issue. We made the program, and the Sydney program wasted over $50,000 as it was a disaster. Our program went into 4,000 state and independent primary and secondary schools. There was no value based, pro-family sexuality program in Australia until we made it. It was a huge success, adopted and promoted by Catholic Education Offices across Australia and even some state education departments.

    17 years later, it is still the only program suitable for use, and it is still being used widely. The point is that with the fragmented nature of Catholic Church hierarchy, it took an independent ecumenical group, to do it, and in the process the 2 biggest Archdioceses gave nothing, but one managed to lose $50,000 going it alone.

    Today, nothing has changed. The original “Wonder of Living Program” needs replacing, and the Catholic Church Hierachy has been approached and will not help. My wife and I are no longer directly involved in Open Doors, but we remain as patrons, and Open Doors is going out on a limb again, this time completely alone.

    In 1985, the Pregnancy Action Centre (Open Doors) needed funds to employ a full-time social worker. Abortion was in the news, and the Cathoilc Bishops conference decided to re release its statement on abortion which said that “every Australian woman was entitled to receive professional, pro-life counselling” and that they would “not rest content” until they had access to it. They sent it to every Australian politician and to the media. Armed with this wonderful statement, we went to visit the then Archbishop of Melbourne, and asked for help. We were told that the Archdiocese had no money for such an enterprise and that any way, the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau was doing that job. We had a meeting with the Director of CFWB and the Episcopal Vicar for Social Welfare, and they both agreed that CFWB was not in a position to do this as any one considering abortion would not go there. They agreed that the PAC was the right organisation to carry out this work. Result, we reported this to the Archbishop, and got nothing.

    We then wrote to the Secretary of the Australian Bishops’ Conference, quoting their statement and their promise, pointed out that our own Archdiocese said they had no money, and asked for support from all the other bishops. We did not get even an acknowledgement.

    These are personal but old stories, but I presume that the Church in Australia is still frozen in inaction in many needy areas.

    David, it’s interesting you say that we are not an Australian Church, and that we have to have Dioceses etc. In my Parish we used to have St Anne’s at Park Orchards and St Gerard’s at Warrandyte. 3 masses until last year, when we lost our parish priest and St John’s Mitcham started to administer us and we reduced to 2 masses soon after. This week we had the last Mass at Warrandyte, and now we have only one Mass from next Sunday. Soon we lose our Parish altogether, probably to be absorbed into North Ringwood. I understand why – no priest and not many parishioners attending Mass. As more priests become ill, die or retire, more and more Parishes will close, until we may have just a handful. It’s all very well to say that we are bound to have Bishops and Archbishops etc etc, but what use are they if we start to lose all our priests and Churches. Some priest are working harder than ever, alone, in multiple parishes, and they are in their seventies.

    Time is running out, and a few young people, and a handful of vocations will not solve the problem. As you stated in your Blogged comment on my article,

    The Real Threat is that we do not appreciate our Real Strength enough and at the same time underestimate our Real Weakness so much, that we will not take the Real Opportunity when it is handed to us on a platter.

    We need radical surgery on structures and processes. The doctrine is fine. Jesus gave us that. The rest is up to us.


  8. Schütz says:

    Dear Barry,

    Don’t confuse notions of hierarchy and power, with the pastors of the Church and their pastoral calling. Episcopal leadership of the local church belongs to the very essence of the Church as Jesus Christ established it, and we can’t get around it. Jesus took a great risk when he put the Church into the pastoral hands of sinners like the apostles and bishops, but there it is. One guesses that Jesus is big enough to look after himself (see my blog above for more on this on a humerous note).

    Thanks for your contribution, and stay in the discussion.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Sexual abuse reports have given the priesthood a bad name – true and more to the point is that the church hierarchy is through its continued practice of further abusing victims of clergy abuse via the so called “Independent Commission into sexual abuse”, its compensation panel (which members agree does not actually pay compensation) and Carelink is actually creating the next generation of abuse claims against the Church.

    As well these actions continue to bring the church into disrepute through its support of processes which are in contravention to many articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are in contravention to many aspects of the Rights of the Child and is in contravention of a number of Australian statutes.

    It is my belief that unless an Archdiocese can show that its acts in accord with its own teachings that it should have its rights to act as a charity and as a religion removed until such time as it can show that it acts in accordance with the law in this country.

    John Brown


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