Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Address to the Concerned Catholics of Canberra and Goulburn Forum
11 September 2018
“The Role of the Faithful in a post-Royal Commission Church in Australia”
PART 6: CONCLUSION
A few months ago, I was in Rome for a conference on migrants and refugees. It took place at the same time as the Voices of Faith International Women’s Day Conference at which Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland gave a powerful speech on women and the Catholic Church.
I was particularly struck by the image she uses to describe the state of the Church. She said – practically within the pope’s earshot – that the exclusion of women from decision-making roles “has left the Church flapping about awkwardly on one wing”.
It is a tragic description of the state of affairs and many may disagree with her. Others, however, feel that the Church has alienated far too many people with its stance on women. What is undeniable is the need to read the signs of the times and to respond with prophetic courage.
We are witnessing a profound transition in the Church. It is being reborn beyond the clerical structures. There needs to be a bold and strong leadership at all levels to steer the Church to a more humble, inclusive and compassionate model moving forward. There is also a need for committed people like yourselves to act like critical yeast in critical time.
The Church needs the voice of the faithful, the sensus fidelium, to keep its leaders honest, transparent and accountable. The Pope needs voices of women like Mary McAleese to remind him of the many disillusioned Catholic women (and men) who yearn for a more inclusive church.
As a religious bishop, I find myself at times in many situations of conflict. Bishops as you know are custodians of traditions while religious, especially those of the mendicant and itinerant variety are more identified with the people on the periphery.
St Francis was not a rebel but neither was he simply someone who endorsed the status quo of the Church at the time. He was a reformer and even a critic in the best sense of the word. He challenged the medieval system steeped in the pursuit of wealth and power with a vision of radical powerlessness of the Gospel.
Holding both of those charisms in tension is not always easy.
My testimony at the Royal Commission was a good example of this. I found myself being a critic of the very system of which I am a part. I wonder how Pope Francis can live up to his call to be a reformer without upsetting the system. That is a tough task. Nevertheless, that is the call of “ecclesia semper reformanda” that we are all committed to by virtue of our baptism.
May we respond to that call in this time of transition with courage, integrity and faithfulness.
Most Rev Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv
Bishop of Parramatta