Restructure for Australian Catholic Bishops Conference

The Australian bishops voted this week to "reconfigure" the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, which includes a plan to restructure and downsize the current 19 Bishops' Committees to 12 Commissions.

In a pastoral letter released yesterday, the Bishops meeting at Mary Mackillop Place in Sydney said that the changes would provide more flexibility and opportunities to discuss "pastoral issues of national significance".

The letter said that the restructuring would provide for greater collaboration between the Bishops' Commissions and the laity and the clergy. The Bishops said that, under the plan, the work of Conference and the responsibility of the bishops will also be spread more evenly among members of the Commissions.

The reconfiguration of the Conference "streamlines" the committees and agencies which serve the Conference, the Bishops said in the letter.

The current 19 Bishops' Committees will be replaced by 12 Bishops' Commissions. They are: Doctrine and Morals; Liturgy; Mission and Faith Formation; Catholic Education; Pastoral Life; Relations with Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders; Justice and Service; Church Ministry; Caritas; Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations; Administration and Information; and Canon Law.

Some existing commissions or agencies will take on new advisory roles. For example, the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office will continue in its current form, providing advice to the new Commission for Pastoral Life.

The Commission for Australian Catholic Women will become the Council for Australian Catholic Women, a permanent advisory council to the Bishops' Commission for Church Ministry and the Bishops' Commission for Pastoral Life.

"We wish to reassure Catholic people that all current activities and areas of interest of the ACBC have been preserved under the new Commission structure and there should in fact be better co-ordination among the different areas," the Bishops said.

"The fact that an area of pastoral care may no longer be the subject of an individual Committee is in no way to devalue its importance," they stressed. "Each Bishops' Commission will be served by advisory bodies, providing for the appropriate expertise and ensuring a balance between clergy, religious, lay men and women."

As part of the new structure, all Commissions will now have access to more stable executive support, the letter said.

"We pray that this reconfiguration of the ACBC operations will provide a more flexible structure to respond to the current and emerging needs of the Catholic Church in Australia," the Bishops said.

"In particular, we trust it will allow us as bishops to respond creatively to these needs, in close collaboration with clergy, religious and lay people."

Meanwhile, the Bishops this week have invited a group of Islamic leaders to their Plenary Meeting to have lunch together, to engage in interfaith dialogue and to visit the tomb of Blessed Mary Mackillop.

Bishop Issam Darwish, the Melkite Bishop in Australia welcomed the Islamic delegation and said the luncheon and dialogue meeting was one of the fruits of the Australian Christian-Muslim Friendship Society, formed some years ago.

Following the meal at Mary Mackillop Place, a group of bishops accompanied the Islamic leaders on a visit to the tomb of Blessed Mary Mackillop, who is on the path to becoming Australia's first saint.

The Islamic delegation then met with the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations for a dialogue.

Sheikh Kamal Mousselmani, the Australian Representative of the Supreme Islamic Shiite Council of Lebanon, said face-to-face meetings with people of different faiths was important.

"When we meet is when we dialogue," he said. "We must believe that we are not doing this for our benefit, but for the sake of Allah, of God, and the benefit of the people. This is what God has requested of us."

Ahmad Kamaledine, President of the Lebanese Muslim Association, said the meeting with the bishops had been a good experience.

"It is good to get together with fellow religious faithfuls," he said. "We must be united and be seen to be united."

Mr Kamaledine said he hoped such dialogue would concentrate on encouraging people to return to the practice of religion in order to help fight anti-social behaviour in the community.

"Knowledge, not ignorance, these are the things we hope to produce," he said.

Photo caption, from left to right: Bishop Ted Collins, Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett, Mr Ahmad Kamaledine, Dr Moustapha Alameldin, Bishop Issam Darwish, Sheikh Kamal Mouselmani, Bishop Michael Putney, Sheikh Yahia Safi, Dr Khalil Moustapha, Bishop Jeremiah Coffey, Mr Houssein Hajj and Bishop Kevin Manning.

A Pastoral Letter on the Restructure of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (Australian Catholic Bishops Conference 11/5/06)
Catholic Bishops and Islamic leaders meet together for lunch and dialogue (Australian Catholic Bishops Conference 11/5/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations

Arabic Heritage League Award for Parramatta's Bishop Manning (CathNews 9/5/06)

12 May 2006