Retired bishops Geoffrey Robinson and Pat Power say the royal commission into child sexual abuse will not go far enough.
Bishop Robinson, who retired nearly a decade ago because of disillusionment with the church’s efforts to deal with clerical abuse, released a book on Tuesday outlining what some will consider radical ideas to put the church on a modern footing.
His long list of changes includes making celibacy voluntary, moderating the moral authority conveyed on priests, and greatly expanding the role of women in the church.
Bishop Robinson says change must come from within the church, because while the royal commission can help victims and target offenders, it does not have the power to solve the deeper problems behind the abuse.
“There has been so much abuse that it’s impossible to blame just the individuals – we blame them too, of course – but it’s impossible to limit ourselves to that,” he said.
“We have to look at any systemic causes of the abuse.
“We have to take a really hard look at the church itself and see what we can find there in the way of causes, factors which have in any way contributed to abuse.”
Standing by his side in support was fellow retired bishop, Pat Power, who believes the Catholic Church faces its biggest challenge in more than 400 years.
“Arguably the greatest challenge that the church has faced since the Reformation,” he said.
The head of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart, declined PM’s request for an interview on the book’s suggestions, though he was sent a copy several weeks ago.
A spokeswoman said the church in Australia had little or no power to make the change being pushed for.
Bishop Robinson agrees, but he has launched a global petition that he hopes will inspire the Catholic equivalent to the Arab Spring.
“They can ignore me; they can ignore Pat Power – that’s easy. But they can’t ignore very large numbers of Catholic people. No-one can do that,” he said.
“I’m a great believer in people power.”
Bishop Robinson says the rank-and-file members of the church should also be invited to join a new council of reform – Vatican III.
But so far the online petition has only just passed 15,000 signatures, a drop in the ocean for an organisation with well over a billion members.
Wayne Chamley from the victim support group Broken Rites says the bishop’s book is a positive development but probably a futile one.
“I hope that it could bring about change, but I don’t have a great expectation that it will,” he said.
“Because I think what you had under the last two popes before the current one was the appointment of highly conservative bishops to positions of cardinals,” he said.
“I think there were something like 82 cardinals appointed in the reign of those two popes and they’re all there and they’re of a particular point of view and not going to change anything that reduces their power.”