MARILYN HATTON. Why I’m not leaving the Catholic Church – despite everything

I’m not leaving the Catholic Church, despite the shocking breaking of trust, the horror, the hurt and the un-Christ like behavior and the damage our decision-makers have done to our Church members and our practice of faith. I’m staying because I do not want our Church, with all its potential for good in the world to be reduced to a small exclusive celibate male sect. Christ’s gift of faith will be denied to millions unless we can find a way to radically change the status quo. The Church’s own data reflects its shrinking numbers.

My Catholic faith has given me a moral fabric for life which I don’t always live up to, but this faith with its primacy of conscience and forgiveness, Christ’s message of love and justice and its theology of equality, grounds me and carries me in good times and bad. Saint Paul couldn’t be clearer: “There is no longer Greek nor Jew, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.28)

I want these gifts in our everyday lives and those of our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I want them in the polities of our country and world as we struggle to deal with complex and horrific challenges like war, environmental deterioration, discrimination, poverty, violence and the refugee crisis. I believe in the power of prayer, I am uplifted by participating in collective worship, the gospel interpreted with scholarly rigour, worshipping in song and of course the Eucharistic. I, frequently experience a sense of God’s presence in nature, my family and friends and the people of the world.

My Catholic faith is a crucial part of my identity so I, like millions of others who value Christ’s messages of love and justice, will work to do our best to make the Catholic Church more worthy and capable of delivering Christ’s message of love and justice and a relevant practice of faith to our people.

Its International Women’s Day. I’ve just returned from a celebratory breakfast in the Office of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) hosted by the Office of Participation for Women. Genevieve Jacobs, former ABC broadcaster, journalist and entrepreneur gave a wonderfully frank and thoroughly researched talk on why she stays a Catholic. Her words brought together those celebrating and the ACBC office staff to be church with one another, to break the silence and speak openly about the changes we yearn for, the changes that must happen in our Church now. It evidenced everyone’s good will and resilience in terrible times and was a sign of a turning tide that is moving us from the grief and darkness of clericalism to the light and grace of co-operation, to a healing Church.

Our Church can’t continue as an exclusive male, celibate club that has nurtured hypocrisy and a destructive clerical culture. Of course, there must be optional celibacy, married priests and importantly, non-ordained women and men in decision-making on doctrine and practice. We need also to progress towards full equality for all in our church including ordination. Inclusive language, the Third Right of Reconciliation and Diocesan Pastoral Councils could be in place immediately. But the problem is its almost impossible to discuss these issues.

At a Catholic women’s conference in Adelaide last month, I made the point that these conversations are difficult, because the cultural gap between the laity and the hierarchy has become so great that we can’t communicate openly with each other, the laity don’t want to offend or be disrespectful to priests and bishops and the ordained fear speaking out on any issue that isn’t current church practice. We must be able to speak out authentically to who we are, otherwise we end-up with a banal, half truth discussion that blocks progress for change and makes fools of us all.

As an example, I was recently with a group of women talking to an archbishop who had been at the Adelaide conference mentioned earlier and who remembered my comment about authentic conversation. He bravely reached out to say that he liked the phrase “the feminine genius,” the three of us were aghast. We recovered and explained that while Pope Francis uses phrases like this, for women in western countries this sort of speech is essentially patronizing, “women are in fact are not the strawberries on the cake, but the solid core of the Church.” I mention this to demonstrate the gap between our cultures. The archbishop is a person of goodwill and we appreciated his effort to communicate with us and the discussion we had. Our meeting had good outcomes but we are all on a steep learning curve to communicate authentically. This will be a pivotal issue in the build-up to the Plenary Council in 2020-21 for the Australian church called by the Australian bishops.

The president of the bishops’ conference, Archbishop Mark Coleridge has called for the whole Catholic community to respond to the recommendations of the Royal Commission and to look at necessary reforms in church structures and processes. Thousands of carefully written submissions have been handed-in by the faithful, and will be collated into themes to then create working groups.

We pray the Holy Spirit strengthens the discernment and courage of the ordained and the non-ordained to argue authentically for what we believe at this time.

These excerpts from Bishop Vincent Long’s recent homily are a message not only to our leaders but to all of us as citizens of our Church:“As Church leaders (and citizens), we bishops and priests have a particular duty in living the Gospel message with integrity; we have a particular duty in regaining a sense of trust and credibility through our authentic witness. Only by dying to power, domination, ostentation and rising to humility, simplicity, servant-hood can we be catalysts for renewal and agents of the Gospel ….and truly become servant leaders in the example of Christ.”

Marilyn Hatton is a wife and mother and long term advocate for reform and full equality for all in the Catholic Church.

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4 Responses to MARILYN HATTON. Why I’m not leaving the Catholic Church – despite everything

  1. Margaret Tisch says:

    It is so great to read such inspiring words. I’m in my 80s and I long for equality of women in the Catholic Church. I am heartbroken for victims of sexual abuse by clergy and religious and the effect this has on their families, friends and so many others. I am optimistic but I can’t see the changes we need happening in my life time. Good on all of you women and men who speak your truth. God bless you all.

    Margaret Tisch

  2. P.Boylan says:

    Sometimes it is very difficult to examine upfront your own religion, especially one that provides security as a ‘stable’, social and universal institution.
    The global investigations into child abuse have provided a unique forum to examine the universal church and church leadership behaviour towards women.
    Many women forget to notice that the Vatican is the only country in the world where women cannot vote.
    Many women forget to notice they are banned from ordination and Bishop are banned from talking about it.
    Many women forget to notice that there is hostility to women who raise concerns in the church. (“In 2018 Former Irish President, Mary McAleese was refused entry to a Vatican conference to mark international women’s day. At the conference’s opening Ms McAleese commented that the ongoing ban or the ordination of women made the Catholic Church “one of the last great bastions of misogyny”.)
    Many women forget to notice that more than 100,000 children worldwide have been sexually abused by clergy who have been shielded from criminal trials.
    Many women forget to notice vulnerable laity and religious women have been sexually abused by clerics who go unpunished.
    Many women in the church employed in education forget to notice the church is the largest provider of education in the world and that the Vatican’s failure to protect children in their care, its lack of accountability for child abuse and relocating of criminal priests is an abuse of human rights.
    Many women forget to notice that Pope Francis has failed to implement and in many cases rejected the recommendations of several government inquiries and UN reports to safeguard children or vulnerable adults.
    Many women forget to notice that the Holy See lobbies with Latin American and the Muslim States at the UN to oppose women’s rights, gender equity, reproductive health, sex education, contraception, AIDS programs and so on
    It seems many women forget to notice with all the sacred spin and toxic theology of misogyny that as the major worshipers and as the backbone of volunteer labour in the church, their human rights are being overlooked. Women deserve better than what mainstream religion offers them.
    As the UN secretary general remarked, ‘When we exclude women, everyone pays the price. When we include women, the world wins, we all win.”
    Ever wondered what the Holy See gets up to during the UN’s annual Commission on the Status of Women? It’s time to take a closer look. Catholics for Human Rights at UN.

  3. Peter Donnan says:

    Hi Marilyn:

    You wrote:

    “Of course, there must be optional celibacy, married priests and importantly, non-ordained women and men in decision-making on doctrine and practice.”

    For many traditional Catholics, the entry of non-ordained people into areas of doctrine would be a bridge too far. But your statement makes so much sense and in my view is what Christ would want for his kingdom on earth, here and now. The way, for instance, offending priests guilty of sexual abused find the mercy of God, compared with the ostracism of divorcees from the sanctuary, is curiously lopsided. God’s forgiveness is extended to everyone. What of those who use contraception and who do not accept some of the doctrine in ‘Humane Vitae’? There are people such as Cardinal Raymond Burke and Father Flader of ‘The Catholic Weekly’ who, I believe, would be appalled at the ‘outrageous’ notions that you present. But the facts are, under their [many others as well] institutional defence of Church doctrine, the Catholic Church has driven so many away from the practice of their faith. It is time for another Reformation but one that does not have to be so splintering and divisive, if handled with vision, fidelity to the gospel and courage.

  4. Peter Keightley says:

    Marilyn,

    Having been actively involved in Catholic Parish life for 70 of my 75 years, these are a couple of reasons why I no longer participate in the catholic liturgical practices.
    • The Institutional church refuses to acknowledge continuing Revelation through science and scholarship, and hence perpetuates the practices and liturgies of a pre-modern and pre-scientific world.
    • Consequently it refuses to reinterpret its foundational Fall/Redemption theology, which in the present catechism teaching, is unsustainable in both faith and with any world view based on current knowledge and science.
    • Participation is the one essential for the perpetuation of clericalism. By our attendance we acknowledge that without the “ontologically changed priest” we cannot be part of a genuine Eucharistic celebration. Any serious study of the early church would not only subject that belief to serious question, but would reject it completely.
    • A return to bringing the Eucharist ‘back home” as per the directions of Jesus, is how many now continue their faith journey – not participating in an Institution which in so many ways is inimical to the Jesus message.

    Having been involved in “Reform” issues for many years including having papers published nationally on the above issues – (resulting in being silenced in my parish by the Archbishop of the day) – I have reached the conclusion that the continuing reform agenda based on “Management” issues which has been pursued by numerous groups worldwide over the past 30 years continues to fail in addressing the “real issues”.

    These I submit, are profoundly theological and not “Management ”
    I have great respect for your position and the many other honourable people who are able to continue their faith journey within the Institution.
    However as Pope Francis said – we are not in “an era of change”, we are in a “change of era”. An openness to the Spirit, may produce “new wines” in VERY “new wine skins”

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