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Abp. Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia.Vocation Brisbane / YouTube

AUSTRALIA, June 18, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Australia’s senior Catholic cleric has said that a recently released report commissioned by the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ACBC) which calls for radical changes to Church governance is only an “interim version” and that it will be amended before a final report is published.

The Light from the Southern Cross: Promoting Co-Responsible Governance in the Catholic Church in Australia,” a 208-page review of the governance of the Church in Australia, recommends significant increases in the influence of laity, especially women, while criticizing the Church’s male-only priesthood.

The review was commissioned in response to a recommendation from a five-year government inquiry into institutional child sexual abuse in all areas of Australian society and published earlier this month in La Croix International

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the ACBC, said in a statement published this week that the report published in various media outlets is “an interim version rather than the final report.” 

Coleridge, who last month welcomed the report, stressed that saying that the report will be amended “is not to deny the strength and quality of what the Governance Review Project Team produced in a comparatively short time.”

“The bishops are profoundly grateful to them for the service they have rendered to the Church,” he said. 

“But inevitably, especially given the pressure to have the report in a form to give the Conference before its meeting, there is a need for some amendment and clarification at certain points. This is why the bishops have been asked to provide their feedback before 17 July. After this feedback has been received, the report will be amended. The amended version will then be published in late July or early August, accompanied by a reading guide.”

The Church in Australia is currently preparing for a plenary council, scheduled to begin next year. A plenary council is the highest formal gathering of the Catholic Church in a particular country. The last one held in Australia was in 1937. Decisions made at the council must be approved by Rome. If approved, they will be binding on the Church in Australia.

Coleridge said in his statement this week that “[it] will be up to the Plenary Council to determine what response the Church will make to the report as a whole; and given that the Council is the work of the Holy Spirit, it is the Holy Spirit who will have the final say.” 

Last year, Coleridge presided at an event in preparation for the upcoming plenary council, where it was proposed that the Church in Australia develop a “rite of blessing” for same-sex couples and for divorced Catholics calling themselves “married” to people not their spouses.

The proposal was made on large screens at the Brisbane Assembly, a two-day event organized by the Brisbane archdiocese. Coleridge, primate of Brisbane, was seated in the front row immediately underneath the screens when the proposal was displayed.

Shortly afterward, Coleridge gave his concluding speech for the event in which he asked the audience of approximately 400 people, “So, brothers and sisters, sisters and brothers, I ask you, are you ready to surrender? Are you open to being transformed? Are you willing to let God reshape you? Are we as a Church, as a diocese, willing to let God reshape us?”

At the beginning of the two-day event in Brisbane, Father Noel Conolly, a Catholic priest and member of the Plenary Council Facilitation Team, gave a presentation calling for major reform in the Church. Conolly said, “We're in the birth pangs of a new church in Australia. A listening church, a discerning church, a pilgrim church. It won't be the same church, I hope, after the plenary council. Well, hopefully, it’ll be the same church, but it will have a totally different kind of culture.”

Father Glen Tattersall, a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, told LifeSiteNews that Coleridge's statement on the Church governance report is “an unconvincing attempt at damage control.” 

“The report on Church governance has been leaked by his allies – hence his notable failure to raise questions about who is responsible for the leak, or to call anyone to account,” Tattersall said. 

Tattersall said that one bishop has confided to him precisely how unhappy he was to receive the report. 

“The report is so far removed from a Catholic understanding of Holy Orders and pastoral governance, that it is likely to be irremediable,” he continued.  

“I would have thought that the integrity of the office of President of the ACBC would demand that the incumbent, as a priority, address the theological errors of the report, instead of heaping praise upon its authors and hiding himself behind the process of ongoing consultation. The only thing that is ‘transparent’ about this statement is that it avoids any issue of substance.” 

Tattersall also questioned Coleridge’s assertion that the upcoming Plenary Council is the work of the Holy Spirit.

“The toxic divisions of the Church in Australia are too easily passed over by the inevitable assurance that the Plenary Council is the work of the Holy Spirit. That’s a bold claim, made without a shred of evidence. What if it isn’t?”