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MELBOURNE, Victoria (ChurchMilitant.com) - Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne, Australia is enlisting members of Victoria's gay community to help remake the Church in Australia.
On Wednesday, his archdiocese will host a "Listening & Dialogue Encounter with the LGBTIQA+ Community" to determine the way forward for Melbourne Catholics.
Faithful Catholics have called on Comensoli to call off the meeting, to no avail. According to insiders, the archbishop has known about the upcoming "encounter" for months. The event was announced — in Comensoli's presence — last November, during a day of reflection for archdiocesan employees. Reportedly, many staff were shocked at the prospect of consulting active homosexuals on how best to steer the Church forward. They expected Abp. Comensoli would later halt the session discreetly, behind closed doors.
But he didn't. In fact, it has since emerged that Mary Ryan, coordinator of adult faith formation for the Archbishop's Office for Evangelisation, will facilitate the conference, while Comensoli's auxiliary, Bp. Mark Edwards, will serve as featured speaker.
The Feb. 6 event is part of "Plenary Council 2020," a national consultation ostensibly designed to shore up the Australian Church, which has been decimated by years of sex abuse scandals, collapsing vocations and parish closings.
A key component of the Plenary Council process, "listening and dialogue" sessions serve as a platform on which Catholics — and non-Catholics — are invited to lay out their vision for how the Church must change to correspond with the new times. Toward that end, since 2018, Catholics across the country have been weighing in on the central Plenary Council question: "What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?"
Organizers explain these encounters "help us to prepare to listen to God by listening to one another."
In October 2020, episcopal leaders will convene in the city of Adelaide to "discern," based on lay feedback, "what God is asking of us." The Plenary Council will conclude at a final meeting in mid-2021, at which the hierarchy will implement sweeping changes based on "the results of its discernment." The decisions made at the council, organizers note, will become "binding for the Catholic Church in Australia."
Among Australia's faithful Catholics, concern is growing that these sessions will be used as a pretext to enact radical changes in Church discipline.
They point to the fact that Lana Turvey-Collins, national facilitator for the Plenary Council, is a promoter of same-sex marriage. Turvey-Collins reportedly peppered her social media accounts with rainbow flag images in the lead-up to the national referendum on gay marriage in 2017, removing them only after the country's bishops appointed her facilitator.
What's more, the faithful are troubled by the language used by the initiative's leaders. In a video message introducing the Plenary Council, Perth Abp. Timothy Costelloe described the national gathering as "a call to action," suggesting that God is speaking to Australian faithful "in all kinds of ways."
"Before everything else, our job is to listen," he urged. "We will need to listen to many different voices, for God speaks in many different ways, some of them likely to surprise us."
Costelloe explained that during the "dialogue and listening encounters," God will speak "through the realities of our own lives and the challenges of our times" — an ambiguous statement that seemed to elevate personal experience alongside Sacred Scripture and Tradition.
The archbishop seemed to be bracing tradition-minded Catholics for a coming revolution:
No matter where you might find yourself in relation to the Church — deeply involved, only partially engaged, uncertain or disillusioned or even angry, on the margins, or perhaps a friendly or critical outsider looking in — we need to hear from you for we are sure that God speaks to us all, and the Church needs to listen to everyone. Listening can sometimes be a difficult or confronting thing. Sometimes when we listen really carefully, we hear things that surprise us or even unsettle us. We might have some of our strongly held views challenged or even turned upside down.
"Each person's perspective will be valued," he added.
But Australia's beleaguered faithful are questioning Costelloe's claim. Since the launch of the "listening and dialogue" process last year, they've fought to make their voices heard amid a cacophony of dissent. Many report that Church leaders are ignoring their calls for reinforcement of doctrine and liturgical reverence and are instead entertaining demands for general absolution, approval of contraception, relaxation of all sexual morality and ordination of female clergy (priests, as well as deacons) as well as married priests.
Melbourne Catholics have experienced all this. But Wednesday's "encounter with the LGBTIQA+ community," they say, is an exceptional cause of scandal.
"This is different," a local priest told Church Militant on Friday. "This is different, because it's sponsored by an archdiocese, with the approval of an archbishop and his auxiliary a featured speaker."
Compounding the disgrace, he pointed out, is the fact that session partners include organizations that were instrumental in pushing through same-sex "marriage" in 2017.
The radical leftist Victorian State Government of Premier Daniel Andrews, a self-identified Catholic, has named Victorian Commissioner for Gender and Sexuality Ro Allen a key session collaborator. Andrews' administration — described as "rabidly anti-Catholic" — actively promotes abortion, euthanasia and "gender ... intersex and sexual diversity in schools."
Another major partner is Acceptance Melbourne (AM), a gay advocacy group which lobbies on behalf of Catholics "who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender, intersex and queer."
Rejecting Catholic teaching on chastity and sexuality, AM is bent on transforming the Church in Australia into a body that "embraces and welcomes diversity, and is inclusive and open to all who identify as LGBTIQ, supporting their integration of faith, sexuality and gender identity."
Last June, Melbourne's faithful priests and laity greeted Comensoli's appointment with hope and prayerful support. But now, they're increasingly concerned the archbishop is bent on backing a liberal agenda. His selection by Pope Francis to serve on the central committee of last October's Youth Synod in Rome, they say, coupled with his blessing of Wednesday's "LGBTIQA+ encounter," are ominous signs.