Fr Tony Percy to deliver this year’s Bishop Manning lecture
Fr Tony Percy, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, has been selected to deliver this year’s prestigious Bishop Manning lecture.
The Bishop Manning Lecture is a leading Church forum hosted by the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations in celebration of the significant pastoral and social justice achievements of Most Rev Kevin Michael Manning DD, Bishop Emeritus of Parramatta.
“Catholic Commission for Employment Relations began the Bishop Manning Lecture back in the early 2000s. It sort of follows the interest that Bishop Manning had in the Church’s social teaching and has that sort of focus.
“Bob Hawke was the first one to give it. Noel Pearson had also given it, as did Melinda Tankard Reist.”
The Bishop Manning lecture has grown to be a widely recognised and respected address and Fr Tony said he was very honoured when he was invited to deliver this year’s lecture.
“I was asked by Tony Farley, the Executive Director of Catholic Commission for Employment Relations, and I said that’d be great. The topic arose as we began to discuss things.”
This year’s topic
The topic for Fr Tony’s lecture is: `The Catholic Church in the 21st Century. Where have we been? Where are we now? Where are we going? Who’s going with us?’
It’s a topic that crosses over into some of the discussions that have been taking place in the lead up to the Plenary Council but Fr Tony reflected that his lecture was a bit broader in scope.
“It’s a sort of evocative title, but it’s a good title given the sort of moment we’re in as a Church, as a Catholic community,” Fr Tony said.
“The lecture itself has its own dynamic but I guess you could see it in the context of [the Plenary Council] which would be helpful.
“I think the wish is, and the desire is that we get a lot of younger Catholics to it because they’ve got to carry the whole can forward, and it tries to suggest a bit of a paradigm… it looks at a bit history, a bit of recent history with Pope Pius IX and Pope Leo XIII and how they looked at and responded to change.
“I’ll outline that and then a little bit of research about what are people saying about renewal and communities, parish communities, school communities, the agencies the Church has… they’re all communities, and they all fit into the whole mystery of the body of Christ in the Church.
“We’ll look at that and then ask the question `well, who’s going with us?’
“Things have changed. Pope Francis has said we’re living not just in an era of change, but in a change of era. And so if that’s true, what does that look like and how might we respond to it as a figure like Pope Leo XIII did.
The role of youth
As the expression change of era implies, many have emphasised the importance of youth engagement in the church. In terms of `Where are we going’ and `Who’s going with us’, Fr Tony agreed with Pope Francis’ comment at World Youth Day that young people “are not the future, but the now of God.
“I think what’s important is that we try the best we can with our youth ministry, and we’ve done major things in the archdiocese to do that,” Fr Tony said.
“Two years ago we hardly had any youth ministers in the Archdiocese, and we had no systematic diocesan project. Now we have 20 and we’ve just begun this renewal of this youth ministry in the Catholic Schools where the kids are, and in our parishes where the kids aren’t, and we’re trying to bring the two together.
“And of course as you have these new things you have teething problems but it’s a project that, if we support it and persevere, it will succeed because it’s saying `the way to get to young people is with young people.’
“We’ve discovered a whole lot of really interesting things so when we present this youth ministry subject to kids in a Catholic Schools, and in our secondary schools there’s probably half that are baptised Catholic and half that aren’t, but when we present it as a voluntary subject just about 50 percent of them say we’d like to do this voluntary subject.
“You’d have to say in any stretch of the imagination that’s a major achievement to say `well, you know what, our young ones they are interested in spirituality, they are interested in religion.’
“So I’m very hopeful. We’re just at the very beginning of this and I think, if we trust the young people, and say `YOU go out to the young people”, then I think we’re in for a nice ride. I think that’s what we have to do to try and really encourage them as best we can, and I think we’re doing that in the Archdiocese.”
One of the themes Fr Tony believes to be central to his talk is that of mutuality between clergy and lay people.
“We’ve been through this dreadful period of child sexual abuse, we’ve had a Royal Commission and one of the things it shows is we lacked mutuality with the priests and the people,” Fr Tony said.
“We have tremendous lay people with extraordinary qualifications and talents and we need to make sure they are very much in the mix, in the collage which we call the Catholic Community.
“So there’s been a crisis but it presents an opportunity. We’ve learned so much and need to take what we’ve learned and move forward.”
This is a shortened version of the interview. For the full interview please listen to the embedded audio file.
The Bishop Manning Lecture will take place at the Kirribilli Club in Lavendar Bay, Sydney on March 21 starting at 6pm. Attendance is free but people interested in attending are asked to register at this site.