Bishops’ Statement on Catholic Action

The Episcopal Committee on Catholic Action—his Grace the Archbishop of Melbourne, Most Rer. D. Mannix, D.D., president; his Grace the Archbishop of Hobait, Most Rev. J. D. Simonds, D.D., secretary; and his Lordship the Bishop of Mail-land, Most Rev. E. Gleeson, D.D.—following its fourth meeting has authorised the publication of the following statement.

AT the general meeting of the Bishops of Australia and New Zealand which was held in Sydney on September 13, 1937, an Episcopal Committee was appointed to undertake the work of stimulating and directing the work of Catholic Action throughout Australia and New Zealand for a period of five years. At the first meeting of the committee, which was held in Melbourne on November 3, 1937, it was decided to set up a National Secretariat of Catholic Action which would accept the direction of the Episcopal Committee in co-ordinating existing organisations of Catholic Action and assisting each diocese to form the necessary diocesan groups as units of a National Movement of Catholic Action. Following its fourth meeting, the Episcopal Committee wishes to indicate to the Hierarchy the main lines upon which the National work has been undertaken, and to suggest some general directions in which the National body should be guided to function.

It was realised from the beginning that progress in the early stages would be slow, and that spectacular results could not be expected. The leaders of Catholic Action have wisely refused to set up extensive and grand organisations within a short time. They have preferred to concentrate on the arduous task of training leaders in every walk of life, so that the new movement would be imbued from the start with the right spirit and would use the soundest methods, tested and proved in other countries and carefully adapted to our own needs. They have realised that the layman must be formed in the spirit of Christ, must study well the means he is to employ, and know thoroughly the environment he. is to penetrate and transform before he can act effectively on it.


The task of the lay movement in Australia is made particularly difficult by the huge distances which separate our main centres of life. It is not as easy here as it is in more densely populated lands to organise conferences or communicate ideas; nor in a country which has just passed from the missionary stage are there always to spare for this new work those priests whose inspiration and guidance are so essential.

The coming of the war itself, which has taken off so many men for military and patriotic service, has further held up development. Nevertheless, no one who has seen the work of the last three years can fail to be deeply gratified at what has been accomplished. We rejoice at the great, though almost imperceptible, changes which have come over the Catholic life of this country, at the vigorous and self-sacrificing spirit being manifested everywhere and among all, particularly among our young men and girls.


In the beginning it was not possible to do more than organise discussion groups for people who were ready to meet together with the intention of deepening their own spiritual lives and informing themselves on the Catholic attitude to the main questions of the day. Gradually, these groups are being changed into groups of leaders, who are prepared to go out and gather the mass of people of their own kind into strong and comprehensive movements. Much excellent literature has now been compiled for their use in the form of handbooks and programmes, pamphlets and special books, which set out the practical means for creating and maintaining these movements. To be commended are the courage and patience of those who have pioneered •in these groups, who have been prepared to experiment and thus discover the most efficient methods.


We approve also the line which has been followed by the National Secretariat in the development of the Catholic Action movements—namely, that of specialisation. This policy—repeatedly insisted on by the late Holy Father—was confirmed by his successor, the present Pontiff, Pius XI., in his first public pronouncement on Catholic Action: “For the apostle, to be listened to, must speak, not to representatives of some abstract humanity which would belong to all countries, to all times; and all conditions, but to a particular group of one’s own kind, in a particular country, at a particular level of the social hierarchy. That is one of the golden rules traced by the ever-lamented Pontiff who was the great promoter of Catholic Action, and who remains now its invisible inspirer.”

Thus the principle is itself beyond doubt or argument, though the exact limits and scope of specialised bodies have to be worked out in Australia and New Zealand according to our own conditions.

It is gratifying to see the progress that has been already made along those lines, and how organisations of farmers, university students, school children, married women, professional men and women, have already developed in this way. Thus each section of the community addresses itself to people of its own kind. This policy—by which trained apostles within different sections of the community dedicate themselves to the transformation of their own particular environment—is the one which promises most for the restoration of Australia to Christ.


Catholic Action is not a mere aggregation of individual activities, but a single organisation which comes into existence and operates under the direction of the Bishop. Those who wish to join in this grand apostolate must, therefore, become members of diocesan organisations established directly by the Bishop and must play their part according to plans designed by him. It is obvious that unless the labours of individuals are consolidated by being linked up in diocesan and, finally, national movements, they will achieve little. The conditions of Australian life to which we have referred require that local organisations should receive the aid and advice that only a national office can provide, that they should have available the programmes drawn up by experienced persons, and that they should join-in the great campaigns of the National Movement. This will provide a feeling of confidence, a concerted force, a conquering spirit and a series of beneficial services that are quite essential for success.


Consequently, we have given our approval to the National Catholic Rural Movement as the official specialised organisation for the Catholic rural community. His Lordship the Bishop of Wagga Wagga (Most Rev. F. A. Henschke) has been appointed Episcopal Chairman of the Rural Movement, signalising the incorporation of this movement of Catholic Action with the official apostolic mission of the Church in Australia.

We urge the formation as soon as possible of a National Movement for Catholic girls. We hope that similar procedure will be followed in due time for young workers, for adult workers, for students, for married women and for groupings of professional men and women.


The adoption of these principles will -enable our organisations to grow according to a clear and well-considered plan. Such a plan has been, already drawn up by the National Secretariat of Catholic Action, Its adoption will prevent duplication, unnecessary competition and waste of effort.

It is based on the very sound principle that, in order to prevent many evils and to give that strength and unity which are so necessary to-day, there should be only one large organisation for the mass of Catholics in any milieu.

We recommend all Catholic organisations which desire to be associated with Catholic Action to take this plan into serious consideration and to consult the diocesan authorities when preparing new developments within their own ranks.

It is most desirable, also, that the diocesan authorities in turn should not commit themselves to policies which may have a bearing on national issues, without first taking counsel with the National Secretariat—the administrative organ of the Episcopal Committee —which is in a position to know the mind of the Episcopal Committee. The national unity and strength which we all desire can only be attained if all agree, loyally to co-operate in the national plan, the preparation and supervision of which is one of the most valuable functions of the National Secretariat.


This co-ordination is all the more desirable because of the very nature of the problem which Catholic Action is designed to meet. It is nothing less than the complete rebuilding and reform of modern society; not a mere tinkering with details, not the filling in of occasional gaps. It includes in its scope almost all modern issues except those pertaining to purely economic or purely- political affairs. It involves, as the late Holy Father said, not only a change of individuals, but a change of the whole environment in which individuals live—in effect, the making of a new world whose traditions and institutions will be based on Christian teaching.

This magnificent and inspiring programme will not be achieved by isolated and haphazard efforts, however noble and energetic, but only by the drawing together of these changed individuals into collective and disciplined mass movements of Christians combining their prayers, their talents and their actions towards the restoration of all things in Christ. The Supreme Pontiffs, clearly foreseeing the calamities which now have come upon society, have established in Catholic Action a spirit and a technique particularly adapted to bring about this reform of men and of institutions.


It is scarcely necessary to remind Catholics that Catholic Action—especially in these times when political passions have grown so fierce—must stand clearly apart from all politics. Consequently, it is undesirable that leaders in Catholic Action should also act as leaders in political movements, though they will retain, of course, the normal rights of citizens to belong as ordinary members to such political parties. Great care should be taken that local political matters be not discussed at meetings of Catholic Action bodies and that the movement be not used in any way for the support of political parties.


Attention is called to the valuable results that would follow from the more systematic organisation of the sale and distribution of Catholic literature. If efficient press units are established in parishes for this end they will not only give considerable assistance to the Catholic press, but will also be able to place popularly-written and inexpensive pamphlets in the hands of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The National Secretariat is now able to supply detailed information on the practical organisation of press units to those who wish to undertake this valuable apostolic work.


We are pleased to see the generous collaboration of Catholic Action with other Catholic organisations, whether they be pious, charitable or. socioeconomic. It is not the wish or the intention of Catholic Action to supersede existing Catholic bodies or to take dver work which they are performing satisfactorily, but rather to assist and support them in every way. In turn, these other bodies should do all in their power (as auxiliary societies) to further the growth of Catholic Action and collaborate in its campaigns.

Moreover, those auxiliary bodies should not enter into competition with Catholic Action by adding to their present activities new works of a kind that fall within the sphere of Catholic Action. They should, rather, seek to carry out more perfectly the purpose for which they were originally formed, and by which they can be of great value to the Church.


We remind Catholic Actionists that their work is not mainly for themselves. The fact that they are seeking their own sanctification is assumed. Catholic Action does not exist merely for those who are convinced Catholics; rather, its main purpose is to enable those whose faith is already firm to assist those who, under the pressure of the pagan environment in which they dwell,” are inclined to be led astray. Thus, certain restrictions on membership, which are necessary in other Catholic societies, are not so advisable in Catholic Action, which must be able to attract to its ranks many who would not readily accept heavy religious obligations.

However necessary this may be for the ordinary members of such movements, it is to be constantly emphasised that the most careful attention must be given to the sound preparation of those who are chosen to lead and direct these movements and to the maintenance of a lofty standard of energy and sacrifice in the groups or committees of such leaders.


We call on the clergy, on whom falls particularly the essential task of the formation of lay apostles, to renew their valuable aid to this work. We recall the words of his Holiness Pope Pius XI., addressed to them:

“It is, therefore, your chief duty, Venerable Brethren, and that of your clergy, to seek diligently, to select prudently and train fittingly these lay apostles.”

And again:

“Catholic Action, although of its nature a work for the laity, can never begin, nor prosper, nor produce its proper fruits, without the assiduous and diligent activity of the priests.”

Already we have received with joy accounts of the self-sacrificing labours of numerous priests, who, though already burdened with pastoral duties, have given themselves to this necessary and fruitful task. We have been particularly gratified to notice the attention which has been given in recent years in the ecclesiastical seminaries to the instruction of students for the priesthood In the principles of Catholic Action. The groups of chaplains who meet together regularly in many places are building a body of information which will be most valuable to themselves and their lay collaborators. For only the priest can inspire the leaders of Catholic Action with that apostolic zeal, that sense of vocation and responsibility which must animate all their actions. The purpose of all such formation must be to produce true leaders and apostles—enthusiastic, energetic people with an attractive personality, able to use their own judgment in a crisis, capable of controlling and administering their own groups and movements, in obedience to their Bishops and in close collaboration with the clergy.


In conclusion, we give our blessing to those valiant soldiers of Christ who have already laboured so courageously for the establishment of His kingdom on earth. We confidently look forward to a most glorious harvest from the seed which they have sown. We renew our appeal to all the laity to take their proper place in Catholic Action, and thus to extend and support those magnificent projects the success of which is of such importance for the Church and for our fellow-citizens.


Archbishop of Hobart. August. 23, 1941.

Bishops’ Statement on Catholic Action (Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), Thursday 4 September 1941, page 25)(Trove)