As Vice-President of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania (FCBCO), I represented FCBCO at the Plenary Assembly of Council of the Conferences of the European Bishops (CCEE) which was held in the Principality of Monaco, 6-9 October 2016.
Unlike our Plenary Assemblies, on the whole it was mainly the Presidents of European Bishops Conferences that are involved in the Plenaries. Even then the number at the Assembly was approximately 80.
Various reports were given and tabled at the meeting: Migrants and refugees; family and gender ideology; Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe.
Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomes gave a report on behalf of the Latin American Conferences. There were also reports from Africa and Asia. I gave a report for Oceania.
I mentioned within Oceania there is a wide variety of social, cultural and economic situations. Some countries are quite wealthy whilst many in the region live a substance existence. There are social justice issues involving inequality among peoples (health, wages, access to government welfare, etc) dependent upon where you live and at times your ethnic background.
In 2015 the Executive of our Federation made a statement to the COP21 meeting in Paris. Of particular concern to us are rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and unusual rainfall patterns. These are affecting many of our communities in a harmful way.
The protection of the atmosphere and the oceans are powerful examples of the need for political representatives and leaders of nations to take responsibility for the wellbeing of peoples beyond their own particular shores or borders. This requires courageous, selfless, far-sighted governance shaped by the principles of justice and fairness that reflect and protect the best of the human person.
At our executive meeting in August this year we echoed the international outcry at what is happening to asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru. Callousness can never be the proper response to human tragedy. We applauded PNG’s Supreme Court’s decision that the Manus Island detention centre is unconstitutional and illegal and we trust the Australian and other authorities will act swiftly in implementing a humane plan of rehabilitation for the detainees.
Border protection is also an issue. Australia’s policy of “Stop the Boats” is not the answer. Our governments approach to refugees and asylum seekers is less than welcoming. Refugees and asylum seekers face very harsh conditions.
In Australasia, there is a growing secularisation with civil jurisdictions open to legalise euthanasia, redefining marriage to equate it with same sex unions, relaxing further abortion laws…and the list goes on.
The issue of sexual abuse by clergy and religious has been highlighted in Australia with the present Royal Commission into Institutional responses into Child Sexual Abuse. This has not only done great damage to the lives of the many victims, but calls for positive steps to put our house in order. This is happening but great damage has been done.
In many places there is a rapid decline in the number of active clergy, with ageing clergy. For a long period of time there has been a very noticeable drop in the number of ordinations and with those entering seminaries in the last 30 or so years.
A Synodal model involving true dialogue and not just passive listening, is a possible way forward. This offers great hope for pastoral renewal with genuine dialogue and consultation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Whilst in Oceania we are a gathering of individual particular churches, it is important that we don’t become isolated. Our bonds with the particular churches of Europe assists our dialogue and helps us all to remain one universal Church, exercising the mission entrusted to us.