For a long time, I have said that the Catholic Church is in a prime position to be role models for change on the climate crisis front. The Church in Australia is in an interesting place, but one with a lot of opportunity. We recently had the royal commission which has left many hearts broken. We have thousands of really old buildings, some of which are more empty now than they ever were. We have young people crying out for experiences of connection with God, looking for meaning and purpose. And now we have this pandemic that has made people stay at home, the collection plates empty and some are enjoying the ‘mass on demand’ version of church that we now have. While all of this has been happening, the Plenary Council has now been put on hold, but perhaps this was a blessing in disguise because there is so much more to consider!
So what could the Church look like in the future?
Let me pose to you a model of the Church, which I feel could work that would address many of the issues we are facing.
I can see the Catholic Church continuing to run online masses as well as face to face for those who would like to attend. This is beneficial because we aren’t needing to use fossil fuels to attend mass. People can access services when it suits them the most, which is appealing to young people. When people can ‘attend church’ at home, we don’t have people coming into the building as often and therefore young children are at a decreased risk of abuse. Priests can also use their spare time to act in a pastoral manner still. According to the plenary council discussions people want to bring the Church into the 21st century, and this is one way to do that. We can also have different translations for our multicultural communities. The argument against this is of course the Eucharist. But we have in the past had doctrine about only Priests being able to read the Bible. So why not change doctrine about who ‘needs’ to take the Eucharist. Crazy thought I know! Of course, there is also a question about collection plates… but hear me out to the second point.
Instead of using the Church building for a limited amount of times per week, why can’t we change the function of our buildings? In the past of course the temple was used for trade, we have had markets at the building as well. So why not go back to the Church being a central place where people can come to share, donate, buy, sell goods and food? Why not make our church gardens large vegetable patches and community gardens? Young people love that sort of thing? Old people can teach young people how to grow food and make items. This truly would be living Laudato Si. The profits from this would of course serve the priests and pay for their wages. It will allow us to care for the environment, involve the laity more, include all peoples, build stronger parish communities and would encourage participation of young people. We would be able to create a circular economy through the Church. The problem that we face here is the risk of becoming too focused on profit, however, if the process is truly circular, than the profit would go to helping disadvantaged communities.
On the notion of a circular economy, why not create electric car charging stations at every Church? Why couldn’t the Australian Catholic Church be the largest network of electric car charging stations in the country? And why can’t all of our buildings that are able, have solar panels on them connected to the grid? The argument is always that we can’t afford to make these infrastructure changes.
There are many more things that the Plenary Council has to consider regardless of COVID, including ordination of women, the role of marriage, ordaining married men, how it manages the issues of abuse, how it reaches out to the LGBTQ community. It isn’t possible for me to go through these issues here, as they are so large and complex. I definitely feel that COVID will bring to the forefront of peoples minds how we transition the Church to be more ‘21st century’ in light of what we can see that they can do! If the Church decides to jump straight back into its old model, it has a challenge to re-engage many that would have been ‘lost’ during COVID. Many people would have had a ‘break’ from the Church and may find themselves in a place where they do not want to return. The Church is not the only institution where it is clear we cannot return to normal exactly the way we were. Now is the greatest opportunity we have for structural and cultural change.