Updated: May 22, 2020 06:42 AM GMT
A woman prays outside St. Patrick's Catholic Cathedral in Melbourne. A secret report is recommending radical changes to the way the Australian Church is run following scandals that led to calls for greater scrutiny. (Photo: William West/AFP)
The Catholic Church in Australia is considering introducing major reforms that could give women and laypeople a greater say in church affairs and make financial dealings more transparent.
Such proposals are contained in a secret report commissioned by the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference in the wake of various damaging scandals, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.
The report has listed 86 recommendations calling for groundbreaking changes to make the Church more open and shed the veil of secrecy that allowed many cases of abuse within the clergy and cover-ups to go unpunished for years.
It was drawn up in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse, which exposed serious flaws in the way the Catholic Church was being run.
Abuses included the activities of pedophile priests and their subsequent protection when such offenses came to light.
Proposals in the report would have "far-reaching implications for the Church’s life and mission," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane as saying
"To do it justice, the bishops will now take advice, consider the report in depth, conduct discussions at a provincial level, and otherwise prepare for a full discussion at their November plenary," he said.
The report calls for dioceses to set up councils to act as an advisory body on pastoral issues to members of the clergy. It is hoped these councils would contain an equal number of men and women.
Church organizations and dioceses would also be expected to adopt rules requiring greater accountability and transparency, particularly concerning its financial dealings.
The Australian Church has often been criticized for keeping information about its vast wealth confidential.
The bishops' response to the report is not expected until the end of the year following their November plenary.
Critics, however, are pressing for a much quicker response, with some demanding a reply by July.
Peter Johnstone of the Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform called it "supremely ironic" that the bishops were sitting on a report urging them to be more transparent.
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