Archbishop Coleridge in Rome for meetings on seal of confession, Plenary Council and Cardinal Pell

By Mark Bowling, 24 February 2020
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of Brisbane, speaks during the Canon Law Society of Australia and New Zealand Annual Conference at the Novotel Sydney Parramatta. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.


Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge has started a two-week-long trip to Rome that will include high-level Vatican talks on the Plenary Council 2020, Cardinal George Pell and the Holy See’s response to Australia’s Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.

Archbishop Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, found himself under a global media spotlight when he visited Rome a year ago for a summit on the sexual abuse crisis in the Church.

He described the crisis as “a global emergency” and advocated “concrete action” to address issues of law, accountability of bishops, and the formation of priests and religious persons.

“I think the Church has failed lamentably and therefore we have to cop whatever criticism comes our way, deal with it in a way that doesn’t cause paralysis and paranoia but does prompt us to action,” Archbishop Coleridge said during the February 2019 meeting.

Before jetting to Rome this week, Archbishop Coleridge made his 2020 agenda clear: “We’ll be discussing the Plenary Council, the situation of Cardinal Pell, the Holy See’s response to the Royal Commission’s recommendations, and the controversy surrounding the seal of the sacrament of Penance,” he said.

“Other topics will inevitably come up. But they will be where we start in our meetings with the Secretariat of State, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for Bishops.”

The High Court of Australia has set March 11 and 12 for the final appeal of Cardinal Pell, who was convicted in 2018 on five charges of child sexual abuse.

The Holy See could initiate canonical proceedings once a final court outcome is reached in Australia.

If convicted of child sexual abuse in a canonical court, the 78-year-old prelate, an inmate of Victoria’s Barwon Prison, would likely be laicised.

The Plenary Council 2020 is also high on Archbishop Coleridge’s Rome agenda, with the first plenary council assembly to be held in Adelaide in October.

Celibacy for priests, the role of women, and the inclusion of divorced and remarried Catholics were among “strongly discussed” topics contained in the final report of the Plenary Council’s Listening and Dialogue phase that captured the voice of more than 222,000 Australians.

Submissions included calls for greater transparency and accountability from the Church concerning the child sexual abuse crisis, and there were also calls for healing and moving beyond the scandal.

Canonical law is also being tested by a new Victorian law that makes it mandatory for priests to report child sexual abuse if it is raised in the confessional.

Similar laws are mooted for Queensland.

By Mark Bowling. Reproduced with permission from The Catholic Leader, the news publication of the Archdiocese of Brisbane.


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