Friday, June 29, 2018

In Melbourne, It's Peter's Day – Pope Turns Page For Aussie Mega-Fold

A year to the day since Cardinal George Pell became the highest-ranking cleric ever to face indictment on civil sex-abuse charges, with the Vatican's finance chief set for trial over the coming weeks, the Pope has taken advantage of the brief lull to recast the leadership of Australia's largest diocese.

At Roman Noon on this feast of Saints Peter and Paul – which, as a Curial holiday, doesn't normally see appointments – Francis named Bishop Peter Comensoli, 54 (above), as ninth archbishop of Melbourne: already a towering assignment as home to a broadly diverse fold of 1.1 million Catholics, yet even more of a challenge these days not merely given the national church's ongoing sex-abuse tumult, but as the site of Pell's court proceedings.

Head of the Broken Bay diocese encompassing Sydney's northern suburbs since 2013, the archbishop-elect succeeds Archbishop Denis Hart, who reached the retirement age of 75 in May 2016.

A native of Wollongong on Sydney's southern edge, Comensoli was named an auxiliary to Pell in 2011 – a choice that reportedly came as a surprise even to the now-embattled cardinal. On the broader scene, meanwhile, with the Australian church enduring the fallout of crises ranging from last year's legalization of same-sex marriage (following an advisory national referendum) to Pell's travails in the context of a five-year state inquiry on abuse that saw generations of the nation's hierarchy take the brunt of its critique, Francis' pick represents a mandate for a shift of era and fresh set of eyes, but with a premium on experience and consistency.

By contrast, had the pontiff been looking to fully shatter the mold, the Melbourne seat would've gone to Bishop Vincent Long, 56, the outspoken Franciscan friar and refugee from Vietnam currently leading the Parramatta diocese on Sydney's western front. Having become Australia's first Asian prelate on his appointment as an auxiliary to Hart in 2011, Long revealed that he was a survivor of abuse himself while testifying to the royal commission in early 2017. From another angle, another veteran of the Melbourne church – the native son Mark Coleridge, 69, now archbishop of Brisbane (and recently elected as president of the Oz bench) – was widely presumed to be the front-runner for the nod, yet the calculus ostensibly favored a candidate able to chart and carry out a long-term vision; by that standard, Comensoli won't reach the retirement age until 2039.

A veteran social-media hand – one set to take the Aussie bishops' lead role on communications and family life later this year – within minutes of the announcement, the archbishop-elect released this video-message to the Melbourne church....

In a printed statement from Broken Bay, meanwhile, the Pope's pick gave a deeper treatment on the church's ongoing state of crisis:
“I am deeply aware of the painful witness you bear because of the crimes committed in the Church against the most innocent, our children and the vulnerable. I share the bewilderment and anger you feel at the failure of Church leaders to believe victims and to respond to them with justice and compassion. This is not the way of Jesus Christ. It is our solemn shared duty to right the grievous wrongs of the past and ensure that the future is very different. I pledge myself without reserve to that task, and I ask you to join me in building on the work already underway in the Archdiocese to create safe communities of faith, where trust is earned and care is offered.

“Having been appointed by Pope Francis, I recognise the challenge he has placed before me to lead God’s people in Melbourne tenderly, mercifully and joyfully. As a shepherd after the heart of Jesus, the Lord expects me to reach out to all with a Gospel boldness. Therefore, I place my stewardship of the Archdiocese of Melbourne under the intercession of Ss Peter and Paul, on whose feast day this announcement is made.”
Likely in tandem with the thick of Pell's dual trials on historic sex crimes, Comensoli will be installed in relatively rapid order on August 1st – whether intentionally or not, the feast of St Peter in Chains.