Rather than seeing “more effective ways to communicate the Gospel to the age,” Porteous said, the document is more about “adapting to the times rather than finding new ways to evangelize the times.”
“The true ‘sign of our times’ is that our society has lost sight of Christ, lost a desire for truth as it embraces all sorts of ideologies, and no longer knows that there is a loving and merciful God who has created the universe and desires that all come to salvation and know the truth,” he said.
“What is lacking is the nobility of vision found in the great works of the Catholic intellectual tradition,” the archbishop continued. “The text is like a modern office block in comparison to a cathedral: functional but lacking that which elevates the mind and heart and witnesses to the transcendent.”
The archbishop also warned that the document embraces “a number of proposals that are inconsistent with authentic Catholic faith and would simply hasten the demise of the faith in Australia.”
He criticized the document’s attempt to revive general absolution as a replacement for sacramental confession. At one point the document goes “directly against Catholic teaching” by asking bishops to “continue to review the universal teaching of the Church which precludes women from the papacy, the episcopacy and priesthood.” In the archbishop’s view, it lacks efforts to promote the “authentic religious life” of women religious, and instead promotes the ordination of women as deacons.
Rather than discuss a positive role for priests, including “clear and unambiguous promotion” of priestly vocations, the document instead calls for changes to Catholic teaching and practice by proposing that lay people be allowed to preach at Mass.
“The desire for the clericalization of the laity reflects a confusion about the complementary roles of priest and laity in the sacred liturgy and more generally in the mission of the Church,” Porteous said.
The document’s intentions to promote lay involvement and the involvement of women have merit, but its specific proposals go awry, he said. Porteous questioned the document’s proposal of a lay body to parallel the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. Many proposals on this question “clearly go against the consistent teaching of the Church, expressed most recently in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, that such governance by divine intent, is solely entrusted to bishops.”
“The language used in the document at times is more akin to that of a secular report than of an ecclesial document,” he added. In his view, it too often presents the Church “on the horizontal level as simply a friendly community.” He cited descriptions of the Church as “supportive and inclusive community” or “a just, compassionate and outward looking Church.”
“While we hope this is true, there is no real witness in the document to its deeper reality as, for example, the ‘Mystical Body of Christ’. The mystery of the Church is not in evidence,” said the archbishop.
“The document mouths the aspirations of the times giving them a Christian veneer. It uncritically adopts the language of the day, like its repeated declaration that we are ‘an inclusive Church’,” he lamented.
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For Porteous, Catholics need to take the path of “entering more deeply into the mystery of the Church to unleash the power of the life of grace.”
He called for the Catholic Church to be prepared “to be a prophetic voice speaking truth with love within the culture, to challenge the prevailing ethos.”
“Have we become afraid to speak out what we believe?” he asked. “If we shrink from our prophetic task we will become caught in a spiritual paralysis.”
Kevin J. Jones is a senior staff writer with Catholic News Agency. He was a recipient of a 2014 Catholic Relief Services' Egan Journalism Fellowship.