A QUEENSLAND theologian sees the Australian Church’s plenary council as a perfect opportunity to re-engage with the principles of the Second Vatican Council, and continue the work that it started – a vision of renewal and reform for Catholics.
“One of the great challenges of the Council was to move away from a very legalistic and triumphalist vision of the Church,” Reverend Associate Professor Ormond Rush, from Australian Catholic University, said.
“Two words that were leitmotifs at the Council were ‘participation’ and ‘dialogue’.”
Associate Professor Rush, a priest who served in parishes in Townsville after his ordination in the 1970s, has had a distinguished career as a theologian and lecturer.
He has spent seven years writing his new book, The Vision of Vatican II: Its Fundamental Principles, and hopes it will spur discussion about how the Church continues its transformative journey.
“I want people to take away the excitement I feel for the vision of the Council but also a healthy anticipation and, indeed, an impatience for the fuller realisation of its principles,” he said.
In particular, he hopes to see more progress on challenges to clericalism and recognition of the importance of lay people to the mission of the Church – themes which were essential to the Council’s conclusions but have met some resistance since.
In his book, Associate Professor Rush said he has tried to summarise the vision of the Second Vatican Council into 24 principles.
“It doesn’t cover everything the Council talked about, but I’ve tried to show there is a coherency in what the Council was on about, and we need to look at that whole rather than bits and pieces of it,” he said.
“The Church needed to renew itself in order to be more pastorally effective and would speak to the realities of people’s lives in the mid 20th century then, but in any age.
“So it’s a Council that wants to be more pastoral and grounded in people’s lives.”
Associate Professor Rush said the tension between clericalist and participatory views of the Church had ongoing practical implications, such as a parish priest’s style of leadership among parishioners or in dealing with local Catholic schools.
He said in the wake of the child abuse scandals that rocked the Church, there was a new awareness of resting too much power in the Church hierarchy.
“Clericalism was a word that came up repeatedly in the royal commission (into child sexual abuse(. A lot of lay people knew what they were talking about,” Associate Professor Rush said.
“There can be a sense of bullying, of the image of the parish priest as someone who is all powerful and should control everything.
“I think in the wake of all the horrors that have been done, it’s emboldened lay people to say ‘We need to have a say’.
“People are seeing this as an opportunity for change.”
Associate Professor Rush, who sits on the plenary council’s 14 member executive committee, said it was also time to address the role of women in the Church, an issue that had not penetrated the Church’s awareness at the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, but which extended its principles of participation in line with the social shifts of the past half century.
“True implementation of the principles of Vatican II would mean following those trajectories and including women,” he said.
“We’ve got a long way to go, and hopefully there’ll be a listening to what many of the people in putting their submissions to the (plenary) council have highlighted – that we need greater participation of women at all levels of the Church,” he said.
Associate Professor Rush studied at the Gregorian University, Rome.
He taught theology at the former Pius XII Provincial Seminary in Banyo, from 1991 to 2000, was appointed Dean of the ecumenical consortium, the Brisbane College of Theology, from 1998 to 2001, and President of St Paul’s Theological College, Banyo, from 2001 to 2006.
He was elected President of the Australian Catholic Theological Association for three terms from 2007-2010. He lectures in theology at the Brisbane campus of ACU.