10 July 2023

Are Catholics actually angry? It's time to examine our consciences

| Terry Fewtrell
Join the conversation
man with stained-glass window

Archbishop Christopher Prowse has claimed the Catholic community is angry about the Calvary Hospital plans. Photo: File.

”The Catholic community is angry!”

It’s an attention-grabbing statement, especially when made by senior clerics Archbishop Christopher Prowse and his former Vicar General, Fr Tony Percy, regarding the Calvary Hospital takeover. But such statements bear analysis these days.

The Catholic community today is much smaller than it once was and is dwindling year on year. The two senior clerics know this, as does anyone who attends Mass regularly (as I do). The decline in numbers is just one aspect and the demographic reality means the trend will grow exponentially.

But perhaps more significantly, Catholics are much less inclined to be stirred up by their clerical leaders. When it comes to the crunch, Catholics are guided by their own consciences and make up their own minds – and those minds are typically Australian.

The plebiscite on same-sex marriage revealed no significant difference in the voting patterns of Catholics to those of other residents in their streets. Polls in Canberra suggest it would not be much different on the issue of euthanasia.

The reality is there is a growing disconnect between ordinary Catholics and their episcopal leaders.

None of this should surprise the bishops, as it was clearly spelled out in the submissions from lay Catholics to the recent Catholic Plenary Council process. They conveniently ignored it then and continue to do so. But ultimately, there is a price to be paid for this lack of trust and confidence.

READ ALSO Risks to business, not risks to reproductive rights, are at the heart of the Calvary tussle

The greatest factor in this equation is the poor leadership displayed by the bishops at the height of the sexual abuse scandal. Defending an institution rather than victims hardly wins respect. Cover-ups never help.

But over and above that, Catholics are far from impressed by a leadership group that takes refuge in inertia, is slippery to deal with and raises hopes for change and improvement, but then finds copious reasons for doing little. Hypocrisy is ultimately the killer factor.

And so, we come to the current Calvary Hospital dispute. The Archbishop has particular difficulties in this regard – all of his own making. In his nine years in the role, he has steadfastly refused to implement proper governance structures.

Most recently he’s failed to implement recommendations from a Governance Committee he established in 2021, to publish an archdiocesan annual report and financial statement. It seems opaque trumps clear.

In 2022, he set up a working party to advise on establishing a diocesan pastoral council. Only in the past few months have we learned that he has rejected sound legal and governance advice from this group of eminent Catholics with impeccable legal and pastoral qualifications.

They were fobbed off on the basis that further investigations are required. This rejection is seen by many as the last straw. It is hard to help people who seemingly don’t want to be helped.

The Archbishop’s two immediate predecessors worked constructively within a diocesan pastoral council structure. Indeed, Canberra Goulburn, under the leadership of former Archbishop Carroll, became a pathfinder for lay involvement and pastoral assemblies.

Archbishop Prowse, however, will have none of it. It’s reached the point where his reasons for not implementing appropriate governance accountability and transparency are seen as disingenuous.

So, when Archbishop Prowse goes public complaining of the lack of transparency and accountability of the ACT Government, he has no clothes. He may have a case, but he is the last person who could credibly prosecute that case.

The royal commission into sexual abuse in institutional settings endorsed diocesan pastoral councils as a form of open and accountable governance and recommended that Australia’s Catholic bishops seriously evaluate their wider implementation.

READ ALSO Calvary Health Care starts legal proceedings to pause transition of Bruce hospital to ACT Government

The working party was then established by the bishops following these governance recommendations.

Despite all this, Archbishop Prowse continues to push back – to find implausible excuses for not implementing recommendations, despite a clear lack of accountability in the reporting on entities of the archdiocese. Currently, some structural accountability falls short of the reporting requirements of the Australian Not for Profit and Charities Commission.

One doesn’t have to look far to find technical and other discrepancies in the reporting and accountability trails of archdiocesan entities. If a Commonwealth Government wanted to be thorough, it could likely find reasons for excluding Catholic agencies from several sources of public funding.

If that were to happen, however, it’s likely that the local Catholic authorities would resort to their faux victimhood claims. Yet, just like the sexual abuse scandal itself, it’s the organisation that is failing. I would rather not have to tell this tale. But the truth needs to be stated. Sadly, we come back to hypocrisy. Beware an archbishop crying wolf.

Terry Fewtrell is a 76-year-old, lifelong Catholic, who is active in church reform movements, including Concerned Catholics of Canberra Goulburn. His views are his own.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
GrumpyGrandpa12:34 pm 10 Jul 23

I’m not Catholic, but I’m angry.

The Little Company of Mary had a long-term contract to manage the hospital and the ACT Government passed legislation in order to takeover the management.

There is something really sucky about that.

It’s called sovereign risk…

Chief Minister asked the ACT to support non-discrimination. The Calvary decision was a very poor return of no-support to the ACT

His views certainly are his own and probably those of the current Pope but whether either are Catholic is debatable. Those of us who look forward to the Batican II mob euthanising themselves, will reestablish a more faithful Church and social order aligned with the one, holy and apostolic Faith. In the meantime if the State wants us out of the game then the hospital bills will be larger than ever and only the first of many unbudgeted bills!

I agree with only two things Terry Fewtrell says. The first is that the Catholic response to the Henry VIII-style dissolution and confiscation of Calvary Hospital by the ACT Labor government has been feeble. The second is that the (nominal) Catholics of Canberra, as a whole, have not shown themselves to be “angry” in the slightest degree over the confiscation. Indeed, they have not even shown themselves to be interested.

Even as late as the 1970s the Catholic parishes of Canberra were thriving; Sunday Masses were overflowing; there were strong lay organisations; and there was still a significant, eminently healthy Catholic and Christian influence in the ACT Labor Party, albeit a rapidly diminishing one. Yet within a quarter-century all this had collapsed. In about 2000 a priest friend of mine pointed this out to Francis Carroll, when he was Archbishop (1983 to 2006), noting that the Archbishop no longer had available to assist him any significant body of “troops on the ground”. The Archbishop did not disagree. Christopher Prowse has only been Archbishop since 2013; and it is unreasonable to hold him significantly responsible for the dismal present situation, as Terry Fewtrell seems to do.

Terry presents himself as a member of “Concerned Catholics of Canberra Goulburn”. When he laments that Archbishop Prowse has rejected the advice of a “group of eminent Catholics with impeccable legal and pastoral qualifications” regarding a possible “diocesan pastoral council” and a diocesan renewal, he presumably means this particular group. Its relevant submission to the Archbishop can be read on its site at https://concernedcatholicscanberra.org/. The unspoken but pervading core message of the submission seems to me to be that the Catholic Church, in Canberra as elsewhere, should be guided by the fads, values and agendae of the Left-secularist power-cults. I disagree.

A 2018 enquiry found that the Roman Catholic Church in Australia was worth “tens of billions of dollars”. World-wide it is the biggest and oldest and richest business corporation the world has ever known. The medieval imaginary is only window-dressing. I’m not being cynical.

What a well written & well thought out logical article. The Catholic Church hierarchy is all about power & control.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.