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Drowning in Data - a failure of leadership

This week's revelations in the Fairfax press of the 70 parliamentary inquiries and their recommendations which now quietly gather dust should prod some Catholic organisations into greater action.

The Sydney Morning Herald has claimed that 'millions of taxpayers' dollars' have been wasted on federal inquiries that were then ignored. And such waste may be quite deliberate, when inquiries look like they might return with politically awkward recommendations.

It might be suggested that Catholic hierarchs, similarly, have used the necessity for 'further study' as a means of avoiding dealing with an issue. Take the introduction of guidelines for overseas-born clergy. These guidelines were being prepared last year, and were to be approved at the 2005 May meeting of Bishops. But no, the guidelines need more study and a decision has been deferred until November.

The Bishops Committee for Justice, Development, Ecology and Peace is to hold a conference on climate change in Canberra in November, "to really find out the facts", as Bishop Toohey told Online Catholics last year. Googling "climate change" returns about 23,500,000 results. There is the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme; every university, every government, every scientific organisation has information on climate change; there is even a Climate Change Portal. One wonders how many more 'facts' the Bishops will need before making a decision?

In this Year of the Eucharist, the Bishops Conference decided to 'move their discussion on the Sacrament of Penance forward' by 'seeking more material' from their relevant committees.

The recommendations of the Senate Inquiry into Children in Institutions, completed last year, inspired the Bishops to establish an 'Action Committee' pretty jolly smartly. And what did they do? Recommended a 'scoping study' of agencies that may have a role in the ongoing response of the Church. What is there to scope? The Senate Inquiry made clear the need to publish data about abuse within the agencies and to end the habitual preference for secrecy.

The Action Committee has so far shown little appetite for action.

Leaders, including Church leaders, clearly should not act in a precipitous manner. Of course they should be well informed. But equally, there comes a point when the research phase of any project must conclude. Decisions and action must be taken.

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