BY GARRY EVERETT
If we accept that wonderful depiction of the word crisis as meaning conflict and opportunity, as well as breakdown and breakthrough, Catholics should welcome the Royal Commission. Fifty years ago the universal Church welcomed the “aggiornamento” that became the crisis we know as Vatican II.
If we have learned our lessons from how the Church did and did not manage that crisis, we should apply those learnings to the current situation of being Church in Australia today.
The most important learning from Vatican II for us to grasp is the realisation that the process of engaging in, and of managing, a crisis, follows a pattern. This pattern or model, is something we must attend to, if we are to offer any hope of a better future .
Fr Gerald Arbuckle, a well respected Australian cultural anthropologist, uses a 6-stage model to describe what happened in Vatican II. For brevity’s sake, I provide the merest outline below, from his book Refounding the Church:
Stage 1 – Understanding the present situation
Stage 2 – Initial un-ease and stress. Symbols shattered
Stage 3 – Church reactions, but attitudes remain unchanged.
Stage 4 – Chaos, disintegration; denials; grief; feuding; heat but no light.
Stage 5 – Self help; new leadership emerges; new groups, new ways.
Stage 6 – New cultural consensus emerges.
One danger in the model is that we may assume that in our current situation, we have already passed through most of the stages due to our previous efforts to address the sexual abuse issue. We are waiting for the new to emerge. However, the advent of the Royal Commission indicates that, as Church, we may not have handled well any of the 6 stages, and that as Catholics, ordained and lay, we should begin and complete the whole process again, together!
It is encouraging to see that some priests have already begun local programs, and developed local resources, to help their people make sense of what is happening. This is pastoral leadership that needs to be emulated by ALL priests. Understanding the problem is the first, and perhaps most important of Arbuckle’s six stages.
If that is not done well, the solutions will not be useful. It is to be hoped that the priests and other leaders, are using some theory/practice models to guide their efforts in producing desired changes.
In Arbuckle’s model, Stage 4 is worth closer examination. We should not be surprised that this stage involves not only sadness and grief, denials, anger and a sense of loss, but also that there are experiences of feuding and conflict among us. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross observed similar patterns in the stages of dying as a human being. Stage 4 is called chaos, and reminds us that disagreements among the faithful, within and between priests religious and laity, are to be expected.
Those who know the history of the second Vatican Council, will recall the often historic and heroic struggles that occurred among the bishops and theologians gathered there. We recall the almost unanimous rejection of the original schema developed by the Curia; the courageous interventions of a individual bishops which changed the course of the Council; the honest reporting of events which served to tell the truth, that the Council was chaotic—for a time!
What is needed in our Catholic Church in Australia in today’s crisis, is wise pastoral leadership. Such leadership knows the paths that must be taken and the signs that attend them. If a leader has not experienced a chaos of the kind we are entering, and has no means for negotiating its complex courses, there can be little hope of sure guidance emerging.
The Catholic Bishops of Australia are meeting this week, and it is reported that one of their intentions is to review/revise their protocols for the handling of complaints regarding sexual abuse.
Perhaps they should put aside that schema and turn their attention to developing more comprehensive ways and means of proceeding from Stage 1 to Stage 6 as outlined by Gerald Arbuckle.
This is the wise, compassionate and necessary leadership that is required of being Church in a time of crisis. If the Bishops feel inadequate to undertake such work, they should call on those who have the requisite insights and skills.
The current Pope has advocated a shift from collegiality – among Bishops only – to co-responsibility – with the laity – for the life and actions of the Church. It is time to give witness to that call.
Jesus taught us that resurrection is a reality. But before resurrection we must pass through the valley of death. Being Church in Australia today, is asking us to go willingly and intelligently into that valley, but not in fear, and not without hope.
If we understand the stages of life and ministry of the Good
Shepherd, we will in the words of our great hymn:
“tell our story”
“break our bread”
“know our rising from the dead”.
Garry Everett is deputy chair of Mercy Partners in Queensland and a former Deputy Director of the Queensland Catholic Education Commission and previous chair of the Brisbane Archdiocesan Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.
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