Call for radical reshaping of Church governance

David Mullin

A leading Catholic layman has called for a radical reshaping of governance of the Catholic Church. 
The New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference’s Council for Young People chair, Dave Mullin, noted the current stories on abuse, both here and abroad, have made for painful reading.

“Proud to be Catholic? At the moment — not so much,” he said in a reflection piece on the current state of the Church. “Unless we pause and think deeply, in order to change our culture, we will betray the victims of abuse once again.”

For too long governance in the Church has taken place within an “in group” that resulted in a cosy culture of “insider-ologues”. The same club members talking to each other. “No-one from outside the ordained men’s club could influence the club,” he said.

At the moment, he noted, bishops and the clergy “hold the major governance strings” and this situation needs to change.

Mr Mullin suggested having a more diverse group of people with real canonical clout helping to lead the Church.

He pointed out the many recommendations from the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to  Child Sexual Abuse that pertained to changes in Church governance.

Specifically, the royal commission’s recommendation 16.7 suggested the Australian bishops “conduct a national review of the governance and management structures of dioceses and
parishes, including in relation to issues of transparency, accountability, consultation and the participation of lay men and women”.

“In New Zealand, we do have significant governance groups which are balanced at national, diocesan, and parish level. We probably could show many others around the world how to develop in this regard,” he said.

Indeed, Mr Mullin queried the process of the upcoming synod of bishops discussing young people. “Why just bishops? That’s an archaic mode of consultation,” said Mr Mullin.

He said part of the challenge is that Church leadership is still tied to ordination both canonically and theologically.

Yet 95 per cent of decision-making in the Church is not directly about theological matters. It is about matters of pastoral initiative and leadership of communities. Baptism, not ordination, is the source of these duties.

“That ordination is orientated toward leadership is entirely acceptable, but surely not exclusively so, especially when it comes to governance,” he said.

Still, he said, the New Zealand bishops need to look at how their leadership is shared, enhanced and strengthened through participation of lay people.

When NZ Catholic asked Bishop Charles Drennan, bishop of the diocese of Palmerston North, where Mr Mullin is based, to comment he said: “I am greatly enthusiastic about Dave’s paper on governance. I have had many conversations with Dave and I am happy to see some of the fruits of these appearing in a discussion paper”.

When pushed on the New Zealand bishops’ own style of governance, Bishop Drennan responded: “I do see great opportunities for evolving our modes of leadership. I believe we need to open the bishops’ table to others — Māori, young people, women, those who find themselves formally disconnected from the Church — and incorporate their wisdom
into our frameworks of decision-making. This would enhance not undermine our
leadership as bishops”.

The full text of Mr Mullin’s paper on governance can be found on the home page of

Posted in

Rowena Orejana

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *