I've been trying to resist devoting time to blogging (and blog reading) this week in order to focus (round 1001) on pulling together a coherent draft of my thesis (and I've made some progress. A little bit. Well may be).
But before I could launch into today's effort I made the mistake of checking my inbox and reading an article by Fr Frank Brennan SJ in Eureka Street, lured in by a reference to St Mary's. And I have to admit I'm sufficiently outraged to blog straightaway (yes I know I shouldn't be. It is really nothing that new. But really...!).
Bishop Robinson and that book
In fact it turns out that the article is primarily a commercial for a seminar tomorrow in Sydney on Bishop Robinson's book, Confronting Sex and Power in the Catholic Church. You might recall that last year our bishops issued a statement noting that the book suffered from doctrinal difficulties and inappropriately questions the teaching authority of the Church.
So in the light of that you might expect that faithful catholics would avoid buying the book, and certainly wouldn't be planning to attend a seminar on the thing. Well, faithful catholics mightn't but it seems that 300 odd dissenters, led by Geraldine Doogue, Fr Frank, Barry Brundell msc, Tim O’Hearn and Michael Whelan sm have no such inhibitions. And given this cast, we can no doubt expect to see a slew of media coverage of the event.
And of course Cath News, running true to form, helpfully includes Fr Brennan's piece in its articles for today (isn't cathnews funded by the bishops??).
The only positive thing one can say is that Cardinal Pell has forbidden them to use church premises for the occasion.
The space for legitimate debate
The most insidious thing about all this though, is Fr Brennan's argument in his article that if everyone just dialogued a bit more - Fr Kennedy and Archbishop Bathersby, Bishop Robinson and Cardinal Pell, the Pope and ... - everything in the Church would be fixed, and the Church would 'be more the Church that Jesus would want it to be'.
Now no traditionalist can argue, without being utterly hypocritical, that there is no room, so long as it occurs with an attitude of docility, and within appropriate limits, for discussion of magisterial teaching! But in the end the Church IS hierarchical. There do have to be rules. And when the bishops speak out, as they so rarely do, we should listen. Hard.
What is to be done?
I don't see much point in protests at the seminar itself unless huge numbers could be drummed up. But I do think this stuff is an ongoing festering sore that may well gain even more momentum and so needs to be countered. This is one of those kind of areas that, as Fr Brennan so kindly points out, haven't been managed very well PR-wise by the Church.
Certainly I for one don't feel comfortable that everything that can be done to prevent future abuse scandals from occurring has been done (or to manage the effects of past problems effectively), and I doubt that I am alone in this.
So (and I speak from experience in other spheres of action) if I was planning a strategy on this (and had some dough to spend!) I'd be thinking about doing things like sponsoring a seminar on the Church Fathers on the virtues of celibacy and virginity, or perhaps organising a rolling series of workshops around the country for priests run by someone good and photogenic (Fr Groeschel?) on cultivating asceticism and a vigorous prayer life. Counter-cultural things, in other words, that aim at building fervour and getting out positive messages in related subject areas. I'd be looking at putting together some comprehensive material (and media briefing) on what has been done to date, and what has been achieved, and what still needs to be done. I'd also be thinking about what positive new initiatives or policies could be put in place.
I also have to admit that I actually do have some sympathy with Fr Brennan's argument that a detailed list of errors in the book, rather than just a general statement, would be desirable (I'd happily take a commission to prepare such a list as a starting point for the bishops to draw on and take to the CDF!). The author is, after all, a bishop, and he is talking about topics (such as the abuse scandals) that have a deep resonance with the laity, and so there are some who are going to lock onto almost any solutions that seem superficially attractive. And there is quite a lot to be said for old-fashioned clarity when it comes to erroneous teaching!
At the local level what can we do?
Now in theory I guess, a lay association of the faithful could be formed to do at least some of the things I've talked about above - there are associations after all of those advocating dissent, so why not for those advocating faithfulness to Church disciplines and teaching!
But in the short term, maybe there are some smaller things that can be done. I've been intrigued, for example, by Mulier Fortis' plans for a chrism mass demo thanking priests for their service, and handing out thank you cards to them - probably too late to organise something like that here for this year, but maybe not....do go over and read her posts on this subject!
And of course there is always the power of prayer....