As Melbourne readies itself to emerge from ‘the world’s longest lockdown’, there is much to be done, particularly for those among our communities that have been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lives and livelihoods have been lost, the need for social housing and rental support has greatly increased, as have the calls for assistance from those suffering from mental ill health, social isolation, job loss and family and domestic violence.
Those who were already vulnerable and marginalised, are more so now, due to the compounding impact of the pandemic. It’s within this context, that Catholic Social Services Victoria and its members remain deeply committed to serving those who are most vulnerable and marginalised, and to calling out the political and social structures that entrench disadvantage.
In a statement released on 19 October 2021, Bernie Cronin, Chair of Council of Catholic Social Services Victoria, reflects on the role of Church and social services within this context, and in light of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia which recently completed the first of two general assemblies. Around 280 members – including bishops, priests, congregational leaders, lay men and women from across the country – discussed 16 agenda questions – and they will meet again in July 2022 to conclude the plenary process, and to present ‘a way forward’ for the Catholic Church in Australia.
‘Now is the time to strengthen the body of the Church in Australia as a mission-driven, outward-focussed people,’ says Bernie. ‘We need to fully embrace the recent words of Pope Francis – to be active on the peripheries, to be with those who struggle, and to bring mercy.
‘Each year, our 45 member organisations, with their 7,000 staff and 17,000 volunteers, touch the lives of 200,000 people who need help. Each encounter with someone in need is an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who walked alongside those who were suffering, thousands of years ago. Today, we are that living sign of Jesus’ love, mercy and compassion.’Bernie Cronin, Chair of Council, Catholic Social Services Victoria
The Fifth Plenary Council of Australia has recently completed the first of two general assemblies, which saw 280 members – including bishops, priests, congregational leaders, lay men and women from across the country – discuss 16 agenda questions. These members will meet again in July 2022 to conclude the plenary process, and to present ‘a way forward’ for the Catholic Church in Australia.
Reflecting on the first assembly and some of the summaries given by the smaller working group representatives, Bernie says, ‘I was most struck by the report of Sabrina-Ann Stevens from North Queensland calling for recognition around the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which is a must and is one of CSSV’s core positions. It has been my strong view for some years that the Bishops of Australia and the broader Catholic community has a real opportunity to walk in solidarity with our Indigenous leaders and communities and to show leadership in supporting the call for truth-telling and justice.’
Bernie also reiterated the position of CSSV’s Council as outlined in the open letter to plenary council members in early October, calling for the principles of Catholic Social Teaching to be acknowledged by Church leadership as central to the Church’s mission, with a particular lens of ‘justice and equity’. ‘Essentially, the deeply embedded work of our agencies within the Australian community are very much about justice and equity. We are not only about providing individual charity to people, but we’re seeking to address the underlying structural causes of disadvantage,’ says Bernie.
Moving ahead toward the second assembly gathering in July 2022, Bernie says, ‘There’s no doubt that the Church needs to look deeply into itself, to reform itself and to overcome many deeply entrenched structural problems, but to fulfil its total ambit, we ask the plenary council members to have a forward and outward-looking agenda item or theme based on justice and equity. ‘This is a crucial moment in the life of the Church in Australia,’ he said.
‘There’s such an exciting and forward-looking opportunity for the Church, through the Plenary Council, to consider “How do we move ahead?” How can the Church use its collective activity to address structural causes of disadvantage, to enact the values of the Gospel, to assist others – meaning all people – to welcome the stranger, to walk his or her path, all of which are firmly rooted in the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. This is solidarity, the dignity of the human person, care for our earth and the common good, in action.’