Filth, faith and the Plenary Council (Ord22B)

putting out fireIt always concerned me personally how calm I have been in the face of these years of scandals: horrified, but calm.  And then on Tuesday, suddenly I just clicked it. How long O Lord will you let these clowns run amok with authority in your Church?  How much longer will you permit this fetid stink to poison the air of the world?  It is not a sin to express our anger in prayer.  As Jesus himself says today: It was of you hypocrites that Isaiah so rightly prophesied in this passage of scripture: This people honours me only with lip-service,  while their hearts are far from me.

So it is not wrong to be angry: but let us firstly use the energy of our anger to methodically establish the facts of these matters, and then pursue justice.  Some have understandably called for a canonical process, where the Church, like any authentic truth-seeker, tests one by one each accusation, and then imposes a just penalty.

Secondly, we should remember that if we find evil in the Church, it is in part because we ourselves have brought it there, through our own acts of lack of love.

Which leads to a third step: repentance, and reform.  The Royal Commission, in an echo of traditional Christian teaching, quite rightly called for this. It is no accident then that in this way we find ourselves calling for and approaching a Plenary Council in 2020.  A plenary council is a gathering of representatives from all the particular churches within the territory of a single episcopal conference. (1)  It will consist of priests and other members of the Christian faithful, who will have a consultative vote, and our bishops, who, as the shepherds instituted by Christ, will have the final, deliberative vote on the council’s decrees. (c. 443)  Being a Church of communion, the decrees do not become law until reviewed by the Holy See. (c.446)

Each of us is now asked to submit our ideas to the council for consideration.  This will be a fruitful exercise if we remember one thing: not to limit ourselves to the narrow, small-hearted tinkering with what Jesus has already given us in the gift of teaching, sacraments and hierarchy, but to have a broad, wide-open heart to include the vast fields of challenges to Church and social life, like how to:

  1. Fight increasing anxiety, depression, suicide, substance and sexual abuse.
  2. Reform a Catholic education system producing growing numbers of atheists. (2)
  3. Better sensitively assist and support people who experience same sex attraction and/or gender dysphoria.
  4. Combat our shrinking freedoms of speech, religion and movement.
  5. Better form the clergy about, and propose to youth and young families, the liberation of the Theology of the Body and Natural Family Planning.
  6. Better support couples who are not given the gift of children.
  7. Better support singles, especially when this has not been chosen.
  8. Reintroduce beauty into the arts, architecture and especially the liturgy.

The only question for the Plenary Council is to consider what is the Lord doing?  The living God is not a mute pushover: rather, the only reason we have a Church at all is through his own gift, the traditio, the ‘handing over’ of his own body: As he said in our readings, By his own choice he made us his children by the message of the truth so that we should be a sort of first-fruits of all that he had created.


  1. John P. Beal, James A. Coriden and Thomas J. Green, New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, Paulist Press, 2000, p. 579.
  2.  Accessed 31.8.18.