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World News

'Are we prepared for the adventure?' Pope Francis launches ambitious consultation on future of the Catholic church

by Donna Birrell

Pope Francis has launched a two-year consultation on the future direction of the Catholic Church.

The process will see every Catholic parish around the world asked for their views in a process which is seen as one of the most ambitious attempts at reform for generations.

Announcing the consultation at a Mass at St Peter's Basilica yesterday, Pope Francis said:

"Are we prepared for the adventure of this journey? Or are we fearful of the unknown, preferring to take refuge in the usual excuses: 'It's useless' or 'We've always done it this way?"

The consultation will work in three stages: a 'Listening' phase in which people in parishes and dioceses will be able to discuss a wide range of issues, including sexuality and women's ordination; a 'Continental' phase in which Bishops will discuss and formalise the findings and a 'Universal' phase in which Bishops meet at the Vatican in October 2023. 
The Pope is then expected to draw up a document with his views on the findings. 

Brenden Thompson, CEO of the organisation Catholic Voices told Premier what it may mean for the Catholic Church:

"It's not a surprise as Pope Francis sees himself as a pope of reform, but also a pope of discernment. He's a Jesuit. So this kind of worldwide discernment that he's trying to bring about in the Catholic Church, this cultural change, this change of hearts and minds, is very much in keeping with the style of Pope Francis the Jesuit but also, Pope Francis the reformer.

"It's extraordinarily ambitious, to try and do anything on the kind of global scale of trying to include not only the voices of 1.2 billion Catholics, those who go to Mass, but Pope Francis also wants the voices of those who are on the margins to be included. He wants people who are not Catholic, as well as those who are lapsed from the practice of their faith. He wants the voices of migrants and refugees, the voice of the homeless. So it's a chance for listening processes, spiritual conversations to happen not only with Catholic parishes, but between Christian denominations as well, and also with those who are not Christian.

"The whole purpose of it is to try and listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying, through people's experiences. So the real purpose of this scenario is how do we get people to speak given the kind of polarisation and division that exists not only in the world, but also within the church? It's a huge programme of cultural reform, the ultimate jury is the Holy Spirit and how we are attentive to what the Holy Spirit is saying, and people's experiences.

"Pope Francis wants there to be complete freedom, he wants people to be heard. 

"And that kind of facilitation, especially about tricky issues is going to be difficult. There's going to be some heartache, but I also think there's going to be a lot of joy in learning to listen to one another. Pope Francis is trying to lead this church as a church that's leading with listening.

"Pope Francis has been clear that if you're coming to this process with an agenda, you're going to be disappointed. Of course, there's going to be friction and frustration, because faith is so deeply held by people, there's going to be a lot of passion. So not everyone is going to be pleased. And it won't lead automatically to the kind of discernment that Pope Francis wants. There will be friction and tension - that's like a family, the Church is a worldwide family. But how do you deal with those frictions within a family context? It can only be done with love.

"So I think it has every chance of being a success."


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