Address to the staff of the ACBC General Secretariat – Part 4: New Ways of Being Church

5 September 2019
Austen Ivereigh, Padmi Pathinather and Bishop Vincent Long. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.


Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta

Address to the staff of the ACBC General Secretariat, Canberra

“Working for the Church in the Time of Perceived Irrelavancy”

Canberra, 22 July 2019




It is possible and indeed necessary to speak about new ways of being Church as we leave behind any remnant of the Christendom. Australia was not part of the Holy Roman Empire or the Papal States. But the way of our being Church has been steeped in the old paradigm of clerical order, control and hegemony.

There was a reluctance to break with the past and thus for a time, there was an effort to hold on to the old paradigm by what was known as the hermeneutic of continuity as opposed to that of rupture. Interestingly, this holding on resulted in what was known as restorationism or the reform of the reform, rooted in traditional theology and practices.

Pope Francis is often the critic of clericalism especially in the cohort of young priests and seminarians. One cannot fight clericalism without challenging the system that allows it to fester. Indeed, one cannot fight clericalism while subscribing to theology and practices that infantilise the laity.

Hence, the Pope often speaks of an “inverted pyramid” which is a radical way of exercising power and authority. It is not a top-down and centralised approach reminiscent of the monarchical model.

Rather, it is a synodal church at every level, with everyone listening to each other, learning from each other and taking responsibility for proclaiming the Gospel. Vatican II already spoke of the key principles: collegiality, subsidiarity and sensus fidelium, all of which pointed to a more listening, dialogical and inclusive church.

Pope Francis has really lived up to his vision of the Church daring to break loose from its comfort zone and self-referential mentality. He has challenged us to be a compassionate, merciful, open and inclusive church.

He has privileged a style of leadership, which involves more deep respectful listening and collective discernment.

The Second Vatican Council presented a new paradigm: the Church is not an enclosure which protects its members against the sinful world. It is a fellow pilgrim with the men and women of our age. It is a Church incarnate in the world. Therefore, it is time not of fearful retreat, disengagement and self-referential pomp, but of accompaniment and engagement.

Francis declares, “The thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity”. That is his vision of the ideal Church. Not a perfect society, nor the enclosure for the privileged but a refuge for the poor, an oasis for the weary and a hospital for the wounded.

Part 5 will be published tomorrow.

To read Part 3 of Bishop Vincent’s address, click here.


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