Monday, 31 May 2010

Church and Mission 2: The importance of priestly celibacy

In the last part of this series I started to talk about what is really required to make the New Evangelization – viz converting or re-evangelizing the West – effective.

One of the most important, in my view, in view of the collapse of a consensus around moral theology, is the distortion of relationships between priests, religious and the laity that have come about because of the secularization of the priesthood and the collapse of religious life.

In particular, we have lost any sense of the importance of consecrated celibacy as a higher state of life that points to our heavenly destination.

I'll say more about this in the context of religious life in another post, but there is an excellent post on the subject of priestly celibacy today by Fr Ray Blake of Saint Mary Magdalen which I urge you to go and read (on which more below).

Why celibacy is important
One of the arguments for priestly celibacy that I think is often forgotten goes to the heart of the challenge to re-evangelize the West (the “New Evangelization”).

One of the biggest problems of our culture is its highly sexualized culture. As a commenter on a BBC piece on priests entitled ‘What is life without sex like?’ put it:

“The idea of sexual self control is entirely foreign to our society, as is the sanctity of sex itself. In age where prostitution, pornography and promiscuity are rife, people have simply lost what is special about sex.”

It is this problem that is at the root not only of the child abuse scandals, but also of the mass disregard of the prohibitions on contraception, pre-marital sex and much more on the part of the laity.

The priest or religious, if we properly understand their commitment, stands as a symbol of the contradiction to the values of this world.  And as such, constantly calls us to the (lesser) commitment we are all required to make to chastity and faithfulness to our proper vocation.

So why shouldn't priests marry?

Fr Blake's piece today nicely captures the argumetn about why we need the example of men set aside for service to God to stand in contradiction to the world's values:

"Celibacy is nonsense if you just see priests in terms of function. If he is just there to offer Mass or run a parish there is no reason on earth why he shouldn't marry, indeed if he is just a Church functionary it is most probably much better for him to marry and be surrounded by a large Catholic family.


If on the other hand a priest is a sign of absolute commitment to God, of communion, of prayer, of otherness, then celibacy is of supreme importance.

The ancient discipline of priestly celibacy, is not easy...Those who choose celibacy voluntarily accept loneliness and a sense of being unfulfilled by anything here on earth...real celibacy is about living with an open wound, totally unsatisfied by anything here on earth. It should be prophetic, about the Creator not creatures.

Like a hair shirt celibacy is constant reminder and an expression of the bald fact that God alone can satisfy our deepest longings. Celibacy is about the Kingdom of God, about prayer, about the spiritual life, about communion with God but it only works with faith...."

Do go and read the whole thing.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

On judging

Bloggers come in for a bit of flack from time to time, particularly when they are critical of those in or out of the Church, so I always enjoy good defences of our role. So do go and read this one by the excellent Fr Finigan of the Hermaneutic of Continuity blog.

Fr Finigan takes the 'Judge not, lest yet be judged' text and points out that:

"We cannot "judge" someone in the way that God judges us. (He will judge us, by the way.) We do not have the right to make such a judgement, or in fact the information on which to base it. Only God knows the subjective state of an individual's soul... Nevertheless, we can and should judge all of those publicly known horrors as objectively evil.

In the case of politicians who have voted in favour of abortion, embryo experimentation, assisted suicide, and passive euthanasia, we are entitled to look at their voting record and to make an objective judgement that what they have voted for is wrong, and call them to account for it. A public figure, making public decisions, in the public square, may be subjected to reasonable judgement as to the rightness or wrongness of their public actions. The political life of the country would not function without the people being able to express their opinions in such matters.

Within the Church, the same distinction applies. In recent months, a number of bishops have resigned from their office because of public judgement passed on their public actions or their failure to act. Inside the household of the faith, aware of Our Lord's words, we pray and beseech Our Lord to forgive "whatever sins they have committed through human frailty" and ask Him to judge them mercifully....

The media, including Catholic blogs, can do a service for society and the Church in exposing crimes, lies, and failures. To do so is not to contravene the teaching of Our Lord...

Quoting Our Lord's words "judge not..." can be an easy way to cover up public failures, whether in teaching, governing, or the safeguarding of children. Forming a reasonable judgement, on the basis of good information, is not only a right, but a duty of a Christian concerned with the common good. The challenge which Christ lays before us is to distinguish in our minds and hearts such objective judgement from any pharisaical judgement of another's soul."
 
Do go and read the whole thing. 
 
Fr Z has also done a spruiking of it.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Canberra Times on Archbishop Mark

The reception of Archbishop Coleridge's pastoral letter on the abuse crisis has been interesting.

The Acatholicas have been very positive indeed, seeing it as a reiteration of Bishop Geoffrey Robinson's views (albeit without giving him the credit for it). But while the Archbishop certainly uses some of the liberal buzzwords (triumphalism, rigorism, etc), I don't actually think that is a fair read of what he is actually saying if you read more closely.  But hey, if for once they are not attacking....

Waterford critique

At the other extreme, The Canberra Times' 'editor-at-large' Jack Waterford today offers a commentary (not available online) that one would have to say it is not a particularly kind. 

It describes the Archbishop's realisation of the cultural and systematic nature of the abuse problem as a Paulian conversion, and backs up the point with long quotes from the then Fr Coleridge railing against victims groups in the mid-1990s, and his more recent reaction to Bishop Robinson's erroneous views.  Waterford claims that the Archbishop has generally  adopted an attitude of ' a certain affected weariness, defensiveness, and exasperation' on the abuse issue.

It paints the Letter as a job application for the presumed upcoming vacancy of Sydney, claiming such an outcome would be a win-win scenario for both dioceses given that almost anyone would be welcomed (by some?) after than Cardinal Pell (at least provided that they are not Bishop Anthony Fisher)....

What is rigorism?

Waterford also questions whether Archbishop Coleridge is correct in describing Jansenistic ideas about sexuality and the human body as 'rigorism'.  Waterford is (unsurprisingly) wrong on this point.

Rigorism does have other technical theological meanings, but it is often used in this context to mean the opposite pole to laxity in relation to attitudes to the human body and sexuality. 

And there is a genuine theological problem at issue - which is one of the reasons why Pope Benedict XVI devoted his first encyclical (Deus caritas est) to the concept of  love.  Pope Benedict XVI, however, was arguably more concerned about the problem of the laxity of secularism as a threat than rigorism of fanatical belief; his primary focus being the tendency of modern culture to reduce sex to a mere commodity.

Fighting old battles?

And on this issue, I commend to you an interesting article I came across when researching this issue by John Zmirak on Inside Catholic entitled the 'Rigorist menace to faith'.  Zmirak argues that one of the great dangers is constantly looking back and worrying about the battles that have been won already - even while ignoring the danger sign in front of us:

"Read the works of theologians who reject the Church's teachings, and you'll find in them turgid page after page on the dangers of "Puritanism" and "Jansenism"....Such warnings were written even as "free love" was being proclaimed at Woodstock, suburban couples were swapping wives in the 1970s, whole new strains of venereal disease were cooking up in American bedrooms and bathhouses, and abortion was being legalized around the world. Clearly, the real threat to sanity and virtue that needed confronting was . . . Rigorism. Right?

On issues of eros, Christians are inundated with messages urging them to let their consciences go slack and presumptuously assume that God will be "understanding." How many of us have had to argue with a confessor, "Yes, Father, it bloody well is a sin -- now would you please absolve it?" How wearisome it has gotten, this fantasy football game orthodox Catholics have had to play for 40 years, doing research to correct our priests and teachers, greeting each new appointment of a bishop or a pastor with the almost idle musing: "I wonder if he's a Catholic?" Inevitably, since Humanae Vitae, the litmus test has to do with sex."

Do go and read the whole thing.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Reclaiming the New Evangelization with some of that old time triumphalism (!): Culture and Mission Part I

It seems appropriate in this week of the Pentecost Octave (for those using the 1962 calendar at any rate) to start a little series exploring the links between liturgy and mission, and liturgy and the Church’s social tradition. So this is the first part of a series, drawing on some work I did for my Masters thesis.

Pope Benedict XVI's reconceptualization of the New Evangelization

One of the interesting rumours coming out of Rome of late has been speculation that the Pope may be about to establish a new dicastery to promote the ‘New Evangelization’. The term New Evangelization has a bad odour for many traditionalists, and for good reasons.

But in fact, as Gregorian Rite Catholic has pointed out, the Pope has been quietly working to make the term mean something quite different to the spin that it is often given by the veritable industry that sprung up under its guise under Pope John Paul II.

This series looks at some of the elements that I think are necessary to make the ‘New Evangelization’ something real and effective.

And of course the most important of those starting points is a catholic culture and liturgy.

I hope you find this series interesting, and I'd love to receive any feedback you have on it, on or offline.

What is the New Evangelization?

When traditionalists hear the term New Evangelization they tend to shudder, because of its association things like the often hyped but never much seen ‘New Springtime’ and much more.

What, they wonder, was wrong with the old evangelization (when it was still being carried out), or better still, the term mission?

The first important point to note is that despite the many tomes devoted to the subject, the term New Evangelization, according to a useful doctrinal note by the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, means nothing more than re-evangelizing those who have lost the faith.

The 2007 CDF Doctrinal Note on Evangelization distinguishes several different uses of the term evangelization. The first refers to evangelization in the sense of what used to be called “mission”, namely efforts to convert those who do not know Christ. As a side note, before Vatican II, it is worth noting, mission often had a wider sense than this, including things like ‘parish missions’, and was often synomous with what the CDF note calls evangelization in the wider sense of the term, “to describe ordinary pastoral work”.

According to the Doctrinal Note, the term “new evangelization” designates pastoral outreach to those who no longer practice the Christian faith. It represents a “call to conversion” for all Catholics, especially “men and women whose Christianity is devoid of vitality”.

Evangelization (and re-evangelization) potentially encompasses a wide span of activities: Pope John Paul II noted that it can include “the initial proclamation of the Gospel”, apologetics, preaching, the sacraments, the witness of Christian living and more.  Moreover, since sanctification is an ongoing process, and one that is constantly threatened by the assaults of secularism, it thus requires an ongoing response from the Church, as Pope Paul VI noted in a prescient statement in Evangelii Nuntiandi:
“…. the Church does not feel dispensed from paying unflagging attention also to those who have received the faith and who have been in contact with the Gospel often for generations…This faith is nearly always today exposed to secularism, even to militant atheism. It is a faith exposed to trials and threats, and even more, a faith besieged and actively opposed. It runs the risk of perishing from suffocation or starvation if it is not fed and sustained each day. To evangelize must therefore very often be to give this necessary food and sustenance to the faith of believers…”

As soon as you stop evangelizing, in other words, faith starts dying.

Regrounding the New Evangelization in tradition

The NE industry actively promotes the idea that this re-evangelization push is something with no real connections to the past, something primarily the purview of  'new ecclesial movements' (though I suppose that technically, traditionalism can be viewed as an 'ecclesial movement'!), and constantly hypes Pope John Paul II’s throwaway line that what was required was something ‘new in its ardour, new in its methods, and new in its means of expression’.

Pope John Paul II may well have meant new compared to what had been happening in the previous few decades, but there a good case that he didn’t really mean completely disconnected from the past. Contrary to most of the material that I’ve read, Pope John Paul II actually first introduced the term the ‘New Evangelization’ as pope in 1979, while visiting the Cistercian monastery at Nowa Huta near Cracow, which has operated continuously since 1222.

From that ancient symbol of the evangelization of Poland, the Pope pointed to a contemporary church located in the Stalinist industrial enclave two kilometers away (which he had been forbidden to visit by the authorities) as a symbol of the New Evangelization. The new church had come to represent for Poles the struggle against the socialist government’s attempts to exclude God and the Church from the socialist paradise it believed it was building.

The Nowa Huta parish church might also be seen as symbolizing the link between the initial evangelization of the West and the new, re-evangelization effort the Pope was calling for, for it was to the monks of the ancient Cistercian abbey that the then-Archbishop Wojtyla had turned in order to find parish priests for the new church.

Culture and liturgy

It is certainly no accident that Pope Benedict XVI too, has often made the link between Benedictines and the evangelization of Europe, and particularly their role in creating a truly catholic culture in which faith can be sustained through immersion of the faithful in it. And Pope Benedict XVI has been busily making the case that it is the destruction of catholic institutions and culture that has fundamentally undermined the faith in the West.

For centuries the Church provided an environment in which Catholics could absorb their faith, largely protected, even after the Reformation, from an often alien and hostile secular culture. Catholics lived within what Catherine Pitstock calls a liturgical city: a city whose spiritual walls united the incarnational and eschatological through the constant reinforcement of the liturgy.

The sacred city may well have needed some purification: structures alone can never guarantee the good. Rather, as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in Spe Salvi, they need to be animated by convictions capable of motivating people correctly.

But tearing those walls down altogether in the iconoclastic 60s and 70s simply led to the secularization of the Church rather than the hoped for sacralization of the world.

The bigger problem in other words, was not ‘triumphalism’, but the overreaction to it.

And reviving the faith means building those walls afresh, and treasuring the patrimony of the Church that lies within.

New walls, albeit laid on old foundations never look or function quite as the old did of course, and that's no bad thing.  There were certainly liturgical and other types of abuses before Vatican II, albeit on a different scale to those that came after. Still, the process of purification, of renewal and reform, does need to occur from time to time.

But it's never a good idea to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Do the bishops really understand why the laity are concerned about the abuse crisis?

Archbishop Coleridge of Canberra-Goulburn has issued a Pastoral Letter on the abuse crisis (see the post below).  

The Archbishop's letter

It largely takes the form of a personal history of the development of his understanding of the issue, though skipping lightly past (for perhaps obvious reasons) the internal debate within the Vatican during his period in the Secretariat of State (ie under Cardinal Sodano, one of those who apparently worked to block the Marciel investigation inter alia, and opposed the then Cardinal Ratzinger's more systematic view of the crisis) in the Vatican (1998-2001), though he does make an allusion to the American bishops' attempt to persuade the then Pope of the seriousness of the problem during his brief period as a chaplain to Pope John Paul II (in the first half of 2002). 

He makes some good points on the causes of the problem, and perhaps helps us understand a little more just why so many bishops didn't take the problem seriously enough and treat victims with greater sensitivity early enough (though I have to say, some of it still leaves me puzzled when I line it up against my own experiences, and what was happening in wider society through this period).

But do they get it now?

Unfortunately though, the Letter ends by largely dismissing the concerns of those who remain unsatisfied with the way abuse cases are being handled in Australia, and lamenting the consequent views about the impact on the credibility of our bishops. 

Some of the recent cases that have come to light, and the continuing lack of transparency, make many of us less than convinced that the lessons have been truly learnt, and in the end the letter is unsatisfying to me at least on this point.

The Archbishop talks, for example, about listening to the abused and the responsibility to assist them.  That's all good and true. 

But the issue goes well beyond that, to accountability to the laity as a whole.  The problem of clericalism to which the Archbishop alludes goes also to the sense of just who is entitled to know the extent of the problem, and to know about just how well it is being managed at the system-wide level.

Towards Healing does not go far enough

The Towards Healing document to which the bishops constantly point by way of defense is largely about handling individual cases of abuse. 

Towards Healing contains only three paragraphs about prevention and it is true that there are now much stricter procedures in place for those who work with children, and around prevention.  But the problem is that, as far as I have been able to discover, there is no reporting back to the wider Catholic community on how these procedures are operating; no accounting on just what changes have been made to training for the priesthood, or more importantly, updated retraining for those already priests; no regular reporting that is made public; no auditing of the adequacy of procedures.

And although the Letter talks about the 'cultural' dimensions of the issue, and the sin vs crime debate within the Church, it largely ignores the debate on the administrative structures at diocesan and bishops' Conference level, and in the Holy See, that have contributed to the poor handling of the issue. 

The Archbishop also makes no direct reference whatsoever to Pope Benedict XVI's role in tackling the issue, the action he has taken, or his various comments on the crisis. That's a shame (particularly the failure to consider the applicability to Canberra or Australia of some of the systematic actions he has asked to be taken in Ireland) because I think there are some good points that could have been made.

Reinstating moral theology

The Archbishop muses that in some ways society at large might be responsible for the abuse crisis.  I think that is true.

But that's why the Church is supposed to be 'in the world not of it' - in fact the very meaning of the term that the Archbishop puzzles over.

I think the real failing of the Church here has been the failure to stand up and fight the culture of instant gratification, sexual and otherwise, that has become the norm in our society.  The failure of priests to believe and teach the Church's moral doctrines on topics like sex outside of marriage, homosexuality and contraception: to persuade, rebuke and entreat the laity follow those teachings.

The rejection of the value of asceticism.

And the problem of clericalism as discussed by the Archbishop remains largely unchecked, constantly reinforced by the liturgy.  The new missal will go some way to addressing this.  But more is needed, including a push to return to ad orientem worship, so that the priest faces the same way as the congregation, not standing at the centre of their gaze; including a return to the use of chant and a banning of unorthodox folk pseudo-hymns; and including encouragement of the proper and regular celebration of the sacraments (it's worth noting, for example, that Canberra's Cathedral offers confession for the grand total of half an hour one evening during the week and an hour on Saturday morning).

Until a more consistent renewal occurs, including of processes, accountability, devotional practices and adherence to doctrine, child abuse will continue inside and outside the Church, even if hopefully less frequently by priests.

The real lesson of the crisis is surely that this is not just a problem of a few flawed individuals whose problems were not adequately recognized, or just a problem of a lack of adequate sympathy for the victims.  Both those things were and are certainly issues.

But in my view, the real problem is much bigger than the current child abuse crisis, and it needs to be treated as such.

Archbishop Coleridge on the abuse crisis

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Canberra-Goulburn has issued a Pastoral Letter for Pentecost on the abuse crisis.  I will make some general comments in a separate post, but here is the letter itself with the Fr Z treatment - important points highlighted, and some more specific comments interspersed.

Seeing the Faces, Hearing the voices

A Pentecost Letter on Sexual Abuse of the Young in the Catholic Church

It has taken a tragically long time for other Australians to begin to see the faces and hear the voices of Indigenous people. For too long Indigenous Australians were simply unseen and unheard; and that was the way the rest of us seemed to want it. Their land was Terra nullius; they were not citizens. Now that Indigenous people are visible and audible, we others are not sure what exactly to do about their suffering, but at least we can see them and hear them - and even say sorry. The same is true, I now think, of the survivors of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and elsewhere. For too long they were unseen and unheard. To see their faces and hear their voices has taken people like me a tragically long time. But at least now we can see their faces and hear their voices, even if we have no quick fix for the devastation we see and hear. [I'm not sure that this is a very felicitous comparison for a whole lot of reasons.  And I'm not in the least bit convinced that dealing with child abuse is anything near as complex or intractable as the problems of indigenous policy.  It is certainly a case of policy failure - but the lessons are there to be learnt, even if not everyone is yet willing to swallow the medicine.]

The story of sexual abuse of the young within the Catholic Church has been the greatest drama of my thirty-six years in the priesthood. So let me tell my own story of growing awareness of the reality; the story is mine but I suspect it is not unlike the story of many. I speak in retrospect but with no illusions about the present or the future. I cannot say that abuse of the young is not still happening in the Church nor that it will not happen in the future. What I can say is that the bitter lessons of the past have made it more likely that I and the Church will deal sensitively with abuse and its aftermath now and in the future.

The first case I heard of was in the 1970s when I was a young priest in Melbourne. When the news broke, I thought it was weird and distressing. I had hardly heard the word paedophilia in my early life and seminary training; I knew what it meant but I would have struggled to spell it. If I thought of paedophilia at all in the Church, I would have found it mind-boggling that a priest, to whom the young are entrusted in a special way, could abuse children. But there it was undeniably, and I thought it was a tragic and isolated episode.

But then more cases came to light though the 1980s and 1990s. Some of these were all the more troubling because among the abusers were priests who seemed well-functioning human beings and good pastors. By the mid-90s, I was serving as spokesman for the Church in Melbourne, so I had to try to know the facts, understand them and speak about them in public. At that stage, I could not accept that this abuse was somehow cultural, by which I mean that it was more than merely personal, that it was the product of a "system". I insisted that it was a matter of personal not communal or institutional culpability, that it did not represent something systemic in the culture of the Catholic Church. Individual clergy and religious had not only sinned grievously but had also committed crimes, and they needed to answer for it personally before God and the law. That much seemed clear to me.

It was at this time that I had my first meetings with survivors of sexual abuse as individuals and in groups. These meetings showed me the extraordinary damage done to many of them by the abuse they had suffered. This was something that I had not encountered or understood previously, and I was deeply shocked. I was taken aback at times by the force of their anger, which was of a kind I had rarely if ever encountered, and it was something in the face of which I felt at times powerless to respond. I could see that these were people in need of all the care and compassion we could offer and that any response that did not have them as its prime concern was bound to fail - at least if the Gospel was the measure of success and failure. I could also see, and have come to see more clearly since, that those abused can be overlooked, even hidden. The challenge for me was to see their faces and to hear their voices, and that was not easy.

Through the 1990s, I came to realise that, just as we had failed to understand the effects of the abuse, so too we had not understood the nature of the pathology or the scale of the problem. We have learnt a great deal on both counts in recent years, though there is still much to be learnt as things continue to unfold; but at least now our learning is set on a firmer base. One thing we have learnt is just how compulsive the pathology can be. At first I thought that most incidents of sexual abuse were one-off incidents, and that can be true at times. But I now know that most paedophile abuse is serial. I was aghast to read transcripts of the trials of paedophile clergy; it seemed that their lives revolved around the grooming and abuse of children. It was apparent that this kind of abuse was something other than a moral lapse, a fall into sin, which could be made good by appropriate repentance, penance and a fresh start. During this period, it was becoming clear to me that genuine rehabilitation of the paedophile was a very uncertain prospect, though the clinical experts were not and are not of one mind on this. Whatever about their professional disagreement, the sense that there was no place for the paedophile in the priesthood was growing stronger in me.

Another aspect of the pathology that I came to see was its hiddenness. This was abetted by a general ignorance in the community, but paedophile clergy were extraordinarily adept at concealing their abuse of the young. I have known priests who lived with some of the worst offenders, and it has been presumed at times that they must have known what was going on and turned a blind eye. But my sense is that those living with paedophile clergy knew nothing of the abuse that was going on and were horrified when it came to light. [The Archbishop Wilson defence.] So too there were clergy who were known to have around the presbytery children - usually boys - but nobody I knew imagined that some of them were molesting the children, as it turned out they had been. It is also true that offenders were often incapable of recognising the grave harm they had done. The wrong-doing, indeed the crime, was hidden even from them. Yet they themselves were highly visible in the life of the Church, especially in the life of bishops. The institutional invisibility of the abused was a major reason why, initially at least, there was so much attention given to offending clergy and so little to their victims who were unseen and unheard by comparison.

A further thing I learnt was the complexity of the field of criminal sexual offence, which lies at the intersection of medicine, law and social morality - not to mention, in the case of Catholic clergy, the Church's moral teaching and the discipline of celibacy. For example, I learnt the difference between paedophilia and ephebophilia. The word "paedophilia" may have been strange to me, but the word "ephebophilia" was totally unknown. Where paedophilia refers to the sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children, ephebophilia refers to the sexual attraction to post-pubescent adolescents. A good deal of what was coming to light in the years of my growing awareness was not paedophilia but ephebophilia. In general, it seems to me now that the Church and society generally have not understood well enough the implications of complexity in this area: again, we know more than we did, but there is still a lot of learning to be done.

It was only as more and more cases came to light that I began to understand the scale of the problem. It is true that the number of offenders is a small percentage of the Catholic clergy and that the percentage is about the same as in the wider community. But viewed from another angle, where even a single offence is appalling, it was an incomprehensible number, with the figure made worse because of the exceptional trust placed in Catholic clergy. That is a trust which has produced wonderful fruit in both priests and people, but it was the same trust which enabled the abuse to happen and made it all the worse. No-one now can deny the scale of the problem, and the urgent task is to go further along the path of understanding and action in a way that is deeply sensitive to the harm done to those who have been abused and determined to do everything possible to root out the evil from the Church. [So here is my problem.  Yes, more certainly needs to be done to help the abused and root out the evil.  But the bigger problem is restoring the trust of all of the laity in the systems of the Church for handling these and other problems.  It is not just about individual priests or victims.]

One question that came to trouble me more, especially when I was working in the Vatican from 1997 to 2002, was whether or not the problem was cultural in the Church. The question was unavoidable as, through those years, I followed closely the drama of the US Church in its attempt to come to grips with the crisis and the way in which the Holy See sought to help, as it did in the unprecedented meeting of the US Cardinals with Pope John Paul II early in 2002. I came to think that the problem was in some way cultural, but that prompted the further question of how: what was it that allowed this canker to grow in the body of the Catholic Church, not just here and there but more broadly? I would part company with some answers to this question, because they seem to me ill-informed, one-dimensional or ideologically driven. There is no one factor that makes abuse of the young by Catholic clergy in some sense cultural. It seems to me rather a complex combination of factors which I do not claim to understand fully, even if I now understand more than I did. I should also say that the combination is not the same from culture to culture or from one era to another. Paedophilia - or the sexual abuse of children - is a universal phenomenon, but it is configured differently from culture to culture and from one historical period to another. So too the factors that have made it cultural within the Catholic Church at this time are configured differently from one place to another, even if there is in some sense a Catholic culture which takes root in different human cultures. But this should not be overstated.

Here I mention briefly several factors which, in my view, may have combined to make the problem cultural rather than merely personal, at least in the Australian situation. My reflection at this point is very much a work in progress and I make no claim that this list is complete or even correct:

One factor was a poor understanding and communication of the Church's teaching on sexuality, shown particularly in a rigorist attitude to the body and sexuality. This was mediated in part through the formative influence of Irish Catholicism in the life of the Church in Australia. We owe the Irish an immense debt of gratitude for what they have given us, but for complex historical reasons the Church in Ireland was prey to the rigorist influence that passed from the Continent to Ireland - often under the name of Jansenism - and found fertile soil there. It then passed into the Irish diaspora of which Australia was part. This rigorist influence led to an implicit denial of the Incarnation, which had people thinking they had to deny their humanity to find their way to the divinity. The irony of this is that the Incarnation - the fundamental belief that God took flesh in Jesus - stands at the very heart of the Catholic sense of a sacramental universe. Jansenism grew from Catholic soil, though it was tinged with Calvinism too. But there was nothing incarnational about Jansenism, and the Catholic Church rejected it, even if its influence has been hard to erase, with traces remaining still. Catholic teaching on sexuality offers deep insights and rich resources which we will need to explore in new ways as we seek to deal with the current crisis. [And this is one of the reasons why many remain unsatisfied that the problem has really been addressed.  Because teaching at schools, in sermons, and everywhere else still largely avoids issues of sexuality, and continues not to insist on actual catholic teaching on the subject.  Until there is a serious push to persuade the laity at large on the virtues of chastity; to insist that celibacy for the sake of the kingdom is a higher calling; and to teach that those engaging in sex outside of marriage, using contraception, or engaging in homosexual must not receive communion, the environment will be ripe for abuse to continue.]

Clerical celibacy was not in itself a factor, but - like any form of the Christian life lived seriously - it has its perils. When clerical celibacy works well, it is a unique source of spiritual and pastoral fruitfulness in the Church; when it works badly it can be very damaging all round. It becomes especially risky when sundered from the ascetical and mystical life which it presumes [And again - just what has been done to restore these elements in the lives of the clergy?]: this is a large challenge, especially perhaps for secular clergy in the bustle of their daily lives. The discipline of celibacy may also have been attractive to men in whom there were paedophile tendencies which may not have been explicitly recognised by the men themselves when they entered the seminary.

A further factor was certain forms of seminary training which failed to take proper account of human formation and promoted therefore a kind of institutionalised immaturity. Seminaries were not always seen as schools of discipleship, since faith was taken for granted in a way that looks seriously questionable now. Seminary formation was not tied to a vision of life-long formation, so that a man once ordained was thought to have completed all the formation he would need for his priestly ministry through life. This was fateful, given that paedophile tendencies, usually latent at the time of seminary training, often emerged only after ordination.

Clericalism understood as a hierarchy of power, not service, was also a factor. It was a fruit of seminary training that was inadequate at certain points, and it is almost inevitable once the priesthood and preparation for it are not deeply grounded in the life of faith and discipleship. Clergy could be isolated in ways that were bound to turn destructive. The authority proper to the ordained could become authoritarian, and the hunger for intimacy proper to human beings could become predatory. It is hard to believe that the Church's response would have been so poor had lay people been involved from the start in shaping a response. In more recent years, lay men and women - not all of them Catholic - have been much involved in shaping the Church's response, and that is one reason why we are now doing better. The task belongs not just to the bishops and priests but to the whole Church, with all working together in this fraught situation.

A certain triumphalism in the Catholic Church, a kind of institutional pride, was a further factor. [I dislike this terminology, since it is usually code for an attack on the notion of catholic cultural identity and culture which is not, I think, quite what the Archbishop really means.] There is much in the Catholic Church, her culture and tradition, about which one can be justifiably proud, as one can be of her achievements in this country; and Easter is always a motive for triumph of the right kind. But there can be a dark side to this which leads to a determination to protect the reputation of the Church at all costs. Through the radical social and cultural changes of the twentieth century, the Catholic Church was seen to have risen above the maelstrom of history and not to be afflicted in the way other Churches and Christian communities were. At least in this country, our institutions in areas such as education, health and welfare were mighty contributions to society as a whole; and this gave the impression that we were a Church that went from strength to strength. Others may suffer decline, but we did not. What mattered was to present well in public in order to affirm to ourselves and to others that we were "the great Church". Such hubris will always have its consequences.

Another factor was the Catholic Church's culture of forgiveness which tends to view things in terms of sin and forgiveness rather than crime and punishment. But in the case of clerical abuse of the young, we are dealing with crime, and the Church has struggled to find the point of convergence between sin and forgiveness on the one hand and crime and punishment on the other. True, sin must be forgiven, but so too must crime be punished. Both mercy and justice must run their course, and do so in a way that converges. This relates to larger questions of how the Church sees her relationship with society more generally. We are "in the world but not of it": but what precisely does that mean in the here and now? There is also the large question of the relationship between divine and human judgement. The Church insists that it is to God, not to human beings, that final judgement belongs. Yet how does that fit with the need for human judgement when we move within the logic of crime and punishment? We have been slow and clumsy, even at times culpable, in shaping our answer to such questions.

Playing its part too was the culture of the Catholic Church insofar as it favours a certain discretion, which in the case of the Sacrament of Penance becomes an absolute confidentiality. The Church has long spoken of the sins of calumny and detraction. The first refers to the spreading of false allegations against others; the second refers to the spreading of allegations which are true but defamatory. Both are sinful. There are many things known to us about others - certainly known to clergy - but which charity forbids us to spread abroad. This is not always a matter of protecting the reputation of the Church but of protecting the dignity of others in a way that charity commands. Yet this culture of discretion turned dark when it was used to conceal crime and to protect the reputation of the Church or the image of the priesthood in a country that has never known the virulent anti-clericalism of elsewhere.

The Church may also have underestimated the power and subtlety of evil. This may seem strange to say of the Church which is often regarded as taking evil and sin more seriously than do other Churches and Christian communities. But it is evil we are dealing with in the case of sexual abuse of the young; and it is an evil which is not just personal. It is a power which reaches beyond the individual; it seems more metaphysical than moral. A supra-personal power seems to take hold of human beings who are not in themselves wholly evil. But they are in the grip of a power which they can, it seems, do little to understand or control; and it is a power which is hugely destructive in the lives of those they have abused and in their own lives.

None of these factors alone would have made the problem cultural in the Church, but the combination may have done so. Clearly, some have to be abandoned - rigorist notions of the body and sexuality, gaps in seminary training and the kind of clericalism they can produce, triumphalism, the underestimation of evil. [The issue is whether or not they have been - and I would go further, and suggest that issues around the liturgy and other sacraments - in fact orthodoxy and orthopraxy in general need to be tackled before we can feel comfortable that the problem has truly been addressed.] Others - like the living of celibacy in the priestly life - need to be purified rather than abandoned. Some - like the Church's culture of forgiveness and discretion - clearly need to be retained, though with a greater awareness of what they can encourage and how they can turn dark.

I am perplexed when I hear it said that the Church - at least in this country - has done nothing about the problem. [I don't think many are saying nothing has been done - just that not enough has been done, and it isn't systematic enough.] A great deal has been done by many people, but there is still a great deal to be done. I do not believe that the bishops are simply indulging in "damage-control" and trying to "manage" the problem. That may have been true in the past, but I do not think it is true now. There has been a growing awareness among them that the Church's approach has to be essentially pastoral, with its prime focus on the needs of those who have been abused. [And here is the problem.  The costs and effects of the abuse are not just on the individual but on the whole catholic community.  Action has to go not just to helping the abused, vital though that is, but to restoring the trust and integrity of  the Church's administration more broadly.] That is the thrust of the structures and protocols which have been put in place and are being continually refined as we learn more. What is clear is that there will be no quick fix to this problem, the roots of which go deep and wide. We are in for the long haul. On that journey, there is a need for cool heads and compassionate hearts which resist apocalyptic scenarios and keep striving instead to understand the reality calmly and comprehensively, always with our eye fixed primarily on the victims we have not seen and the voices we have not heard.

I have asked myself often enough who has been to blame in all this. Clearly the victims were not, even though we have treated them too often as if they were. Just as clearly, the offenders were to blame and must bear the full weight of judgement both human and divine. The bishops? Yes, insofar as they concealed or denied the abuse. The media? Not too often, although there have been appalling instances of trial-by-media with the presumption of innocence cast aside; some reporting has been jaundiced by sensationalism and anti-Catholicism, while other reporting has actually helped the Church see the faces and hear the voices. The lawyers? Only infrequently, even though there have been lawyers who have behaved in ways that have not only dishonoured their profession but also treated victims in ways which themselves have been abusive. At times I have wondered if the whole of society is somehow mysteriously and unconsciously complicit in the phenomenon of child abuse, but in the end it seems to me that the blame-game in any of its forms cannot take us far along the path of healing, reconciliation and reform that lies before us.

All can see that this is a time of crisis for the Catholic Church, even though the nature of the crisis would be understood differently by different people within the Church and outside. The word "crisis" comes from the Greek word krisis which means judgement. The Church is under judgement. That judgement is in part human, as many point the accusing finger at the Catholic Church and especially at her leaders. But also and more importantly, the judgement is divine. The God who has called the Church "out of darkness into his own wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9) is acting now as he has done in the past, as the Bible attests: God stands in judgement upon us and calls us into an experience of lamentation that acknowledges sin and looks beyond the disaster that sin has caused to the new future God is preparing for the people he loves. Paradoxically, this lamentation does not preclude the joy of Easter. We normally think that lamentation and joy are mutually exclusive, but now they have to find a home together in the one heart, the heart of the Church, just as they dwell together in the heart of Jesus Christ.

At the moment, the Catholic Church and the bishops in particular are being pounded mightily and dismissed as lacking all credibility or worse. This is hardly surprising, and it can be humiliating. But it is not the end of the world; nor is it the end of the Church. Paradoxically, the Catholic Church has often been at her best when down for the count. History shows that new and unexpected surges of Gospel energy have come not infrequently in the wake of devastation. My hope is that we may now be moving slowly and painfully towards a moment of that kind. That is surely the promise of Easter, which is what sustains me and many others through this troubled time. My deepest and most heartfelt prayer is that the same promise of life out of death may sustain the survivors of sexual abuse whose faces I have come to see and whose voices I have come to hear.

From Archbishop Mark Coleridge

23 May, 2010

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Saturday stories you should read....

Some of the important stories that may or may not make it into Cath News on Monday.....

Church News
  • Archbishop Wilson has responded more comprehensively to the accusations against him made last week on the ABC in an article in The Australian.
  • The Oz also has a very positive and comprehensive article about the approval of the new liturgy, saying that "A new translation of the mass soon to be celebrated by more than 100 million English-speaking Catholics reaches back to church tradition, replacing the more colloquial and dumbed-down liturgy that was adopted by the Vatican 40 years ago."   The quick guide to the changes is worth saving.
Life issues
  • The scientific breakthrough involving the creation of synthetic cells.  The Pontifical Academy for Life have welcomed the discovery, but pointed to the need for ethical considerations to be given priority.  The SMH has a discussion on it and poll.
  • The Defence establishment are apparently attempting (with a noticeable lack of success) to force contraceptives on female troops, according to an article in The Herald-Sun reproting that four women have been sent home from Afghanistan because they have become pregnant.
Liar politicians continued
  • The last few weeks have seen an intense focus on the (lack of) integrity on the part of many politicians - starting with Kevin Rudd's backdown on 'the greatest moral challenge of our times', continuing with Tony Abbott's admitted willngness to tell porkies in the interests of winnning a debate, and now the NSW politician who publicly presented himself as a family man - but in fact lived a double life as a homosexual.  An article in The Age points out that the media have been less than consistent on some of these issues.  Personally, while I dislike the media muckracking and its questionable motivations, it doesn't seem to unreasonable to demand that our elected representatives conduct themselves with integrity, and be seen to do so.  The idea that private lives can miraculously be separate from, and not affect, public lives is without merit. 
Supporting families
  • Surprise, surprise, workplaces are getting less family friendly, not more, according to a new study.  And the Labor Party's dumped childcare policy just reinforces the problem according to Anne Summers.  I know many catholics, particularly at the traditionalist end of the spectrum will find the lack of decent childcare no bad thing, but there is an economic reality that many women down the centuries have had to work, and there is a good case for supporting genuine choice in my view.
Other religions
  • Virginia Hausegger of ABC Canberra has an article in The Age explaining why, from a feminist perspective, the burqa should be banned.  You won't agree with all of her arguments, but some of them are compelling, and its good to see the fightback against pro-'tolerance' twaddle start from within the secular establishment. 
  • By contrast, the SA Government has established a 'high level task force' to help defend muslim women from 'misconceptions' an 'ignorance' on the reasons for wearing a burqa and other issues (such as, one assumes the rationale for assorted provisions of sharia law).

Friday, 21 May 2010

Enjoying the liturgical year



As we come up to one of the biggest feasts of the year, Pentecost, it is worth reflecting on one of the greatest  - but neglected - gifts we have, that of holy time. 

The temporale and the sanctorale

The cycle of times of the year (the 'temporale') starting with Advent, of the major feasts that remind us of core doctrines, and constantly remind us of central events of the Gospel.  The cycle of saints feasts (sanctorale) reminds us that the Church on earth is only a small part of the wider Church, and that we are joined to the Church triumphant in heaven, and the Church suffering in purgatory.  It provides us with examples to emulate.  And it reminds us that we are part of a Church that has existed continuously since Pentecost, reminding us of critical events in Church history.

A good case can be made that the last five decades or so have seen a severe attack on the importance of the sanctification of time: the removal of many octaves in the 1962 calendar; the purging of many un-PC saints from the ordinary form calendar; and most of all the phenomemon of Holy Days moved to Sundays.

And as a result of all of this, fewer and fewer, even (perhaps especially) in traditionalist communities, seem to attend daily mass, let alone pay much attention to the cycle of 'propers' (variable texts set for each Sunday, including the Introit etc, and the readings) of the Mass.  That's a shame, because they are a rich source of spiritual  material.

Creating your own cycle

But there are some ways to incorporate this important source into our spiritual life.  So here's my suggestion.  Focus each week on the Sunday texts, plus those of any major feasts occurring that week, prepare them before Mass, and choose one to meditate on each day.  How much you want to do will obviously depend on time - if you don't have much, perhaps just focus on the collect of the week, or the Gospel.  And add to that basic cycle a cycle of the feasts that mean something in particular to you - the anniversary of your baptism, first communion, confirmation, marriage, and so forth.

Want to be a blogger?

There are some fantastic resources on the web to help you get the most out of the day.  One I've recently discovered is In the Sight of the Angels, which provides material on the cycle of the year, and is looking for someone to help out on the blog - contact the authors if you are interested.

Another great site is the Monastery of Norcia, Italy, which provides recordings of its daily sung Mass and Vespers (unfortunately for Australians, effectively a day late, but better late then never!).

The are plenty of others too.  One of the best aids for those interested in learning (or just listening to) the chants is Renegoupil , which now comes complete with videos.

So make the most of the resources of the internet, and enrich your spiritual life with the traditions of the Church!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Abuse cases: the other side of the story

As I hope I've made clear on this blog, I'm totally sickened by the abuse cases that have come to light, the inaction, the coverups.  The switching from parish to parish, diocese to diocese.  The hear no evil, see no evil attitude of some bishops.  The utter lack of transparency in handling these cases.

There has been and continues to be a massive failure in the Church.

But at the same time, I think we also should find disturbing the handling of some of these cases from the point of view of the cleric concerned and the importance of allowing good clerics to exercise their calling.  We should be concerned about the good priests who sit around in limbo seemingly for years, for example, while 'investigations' that never seem to end take place.  The clerics hounded by malicious accusations that the accusers have not actually been prepared to have tested in the courts, whether secular or ecclesiastical. 

We should be outraged when guilty clerics are moved sideways. 

But what about those who claim to be innocent, and where no case can be established aginst them? 

In the secular world, we claim to believe in an ethos of innocent until proven guilty. 

The Church does, of course, have to err on the side of safety, even if that ends up being unfair to the cleric concerned.  It sometimes needs to take the time to be sure.

But it is in my view totally unacceptable for complaints that have long since been dealt with, or have not tested at all through proper processes because of the unwillingness of victims/witnesses to make a formal complaint, to be regurgitated publicly unless there is a very strong reason for doing so. 

The bottom line is that investigations should be as fast as possible, and where a priest (or deacon) is temporarily removed from ministry, the outcome should be made known: whether it's that there is a serious case to answer, and further action is being/has been pursued; that the evidence is not clearcut, but in the interests of prudence, because it is a case of one person word against another or some similar problem, the suspension is being continued indefinitely; or that the claims are without foundation.  And that should be the end of it unless new cases come to light.

Because we should all know that while it is impossible to judge on the basis of what we know about a person one way or another, not every claim of abuse is true or even credible. 

So just because we happen to like someone doesn't mean they are likely to be innocent.  Just because we dislike them doesn't mean they are guilty.

Still, there are some clues that we can take due note of. 

People who hold orthodox views are far less likely to be abusers than those who have been sucked into the liberal vortex: how we pray does affect our practices.  But its worth noting that perversely, many dioceses and their bishops (Melbourne amongst them) have been infamous for their shall we say less than sympathetic treatment of seminarians with an attachment to traditionalism in the past.

Secondly, people who have an excessively charming, charismatic veneer, particularly to those they deem 'important', but are rude and nasty to those they see as subordinate to them, or who show signs of narcassistic behaviour (such as an excessive attachment to good living) may well be hiding something nasty underneath.  Too many of this type have been ordained.

And we can sometimes make some inferences about people by seeing who their friends and enemies are (and those who have stood up for the good will inevitably accumulate enemies).

Finally, if there is a real basis for a claim of misbehaviour, it is hard to understand why the alleged victim would be unwilling to go to the police or be a witness in an ecclesiastical process, but instead are prepared (or others are prepared on their behalf) to air their vague accusations in the media long after the event.  In my view this is totally unacceptable if the cleric himself claims to be innocent.

There is such case aired in the media today, concerning Rev. Dr ("Scott" - the articles indications to the contrary, he has, I believe changed his name in order to retain the monastic name under which he has published extensively on liturgical matters) Alcuin Reid.  One can't help suspecting that there are agendas at work, other jealousies at play.

The claimed justification for the piece is the presence of Cardinal Pell at a conference (in Ireland) with Dr Reid, and association of the Pope with him by virtue of writing an introduction to one of his books.  This is one of those cases where the media seems to be stretching the guilt by association line well beyond the point of credulity.  Where the justification for publishing the claims looks non-existent.  And where the enemy within the Church is at work.

The article fails to mention, for example, that Dr Reid was subsequently allowed to test a possible monastic vocation, and there is no suggestion that the monastery concerned was unaware of the claims that had been made.   Similarly, he has subsequently been incardinated in another diocese which no doubt was made aware of all of the history and reached its own judgment.   He has not, as the article implies, long been suspended, but in fact has (legitimately) played an active role in many public traditional Masses over the years (you can see photos all over the web).

In the interests of full disclosure, I will say that I have met the Rev. Dr Reid several times and corresponded with him (though not in relation to any of these matters), and have always found him extremely helpful and proper in his dealings.  He is totally orthodox in his views, and committed to Benedictine spirituality.  I have a great deal of respect for the enormous amount of excellent work he has done for the Church liturgically - but note that this work has accumulated for him some enemies both in Australia and abroad.

That is not to make a judgment one way or another about these particular (and any other) claims.  But I am saying that unless the complainants are prepared to stand up and have their claims properly tested, it all looks like the stuff of witch-hunts and we are entitled to disregard them. 

This kind of sliming by media is counter-productive to cleaning up the Churches act.

**  Postscript: I note that Fr Z has put up a helpful post on this subject.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Slandering St Ignatius: I said in my excess, every man is a liar (Ps 115)

Rarely has a single politican managed to provide so many occasion for attacks on the Catholic Church on an issue other than abortion, so many opportunities to bring the catholicism (even more) into such disrepute, than Australia's most prominent Catholic, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who admitted on the ABC's 7.30 Report that he tended to get carried away in the heat of debate and tell porkies.

The problem was not that he admitted telling lies, and not 'gospel truth': as the media, his colleagues and everyone else has been quick to point out, all pollies lie.

The problem is his lack of apparent contrition or intention to try and do better in future.  Instead we are supposed to make sure that we get it writing before we rely on it (oh yeah, and just how many party platform promises before elections survive once the party gains government!).

And it is that failure to seek to learn, to do better in future that is giving  the media a field day.

Because perhaps the most fundamental tenet of catholicism is that we must constantly strive for perfection.  Catholicism does not - in direct contradistinction to some protestant brands of Christianity - teach that believers instantly become saints, immune to sin.  But neither does it teach that it is alright to continue to sin. Quite the reverse.

Left wing online journal New Matilda made the point admirably with a cartoon with Tony in his famous red lycra bathing suit in a confessional leaning back and whistling while the voice behind the curtain asks 'so nothing to confess then?'.

Far worse is the loathsome piece in the Sydney Morning Herald today that attributes his flexible attitude to the truth to his Jesuit schooling.  It concludes that "...Abbott will be comforted by St Ignatius's flexible take on fact: ''I will believe that the white that I see is black if the hierarchical church so defines it.''"

Well no.  St Ignatius famous aphorism is an acknowledgement that there is such a thing as absolute truth, and that the individual - clouded by their own biases and those of their culture - is not always best placed to discern that truth.  Instead of relying on our individual emotions, feelings and prejudices, St Ignatius is trying to tell us, rely on the traditions handed down to us from the Apostles; the truths entrusted to the Church and protected by it.

Mr Abbott needs to cut this stuff off at the knees and promise publicly to do better in future.

So do more than a few Australian bishops.

Death by a thousand cuts?

Oh dear. 

The major conclusion of the Oceania bishopsfest last week seems to be that the poor bishops think they are being martyred by media 'ridicule, derision and character assassination'.

Here's the article featuring comments by Bishop Ingram of Wollongong, President of the Federation of Oceania Bishops Conferences.

He is correct of course to point to the attempts of secular society to exclude religion from the public discourse.

But the bishops should perhaps take a hard look at themselves if they wonder just why they in particular are marginalized and ridiculed (of course Tony Abbott's 'how to know when I'm lying' speech and other such excursions might be another reason why catholics in general are copping it). 

But in the case of the bishops, little to no transparency on the abuse cases, and every indication of continued poor to scandalous decision-making on the subject.  It undermines all of our credibility.

Continuing contenancing of teaching contrary to the Churches in many parishes and schools, plus sacramental and liturgical abuses.

Endless press releases about asylum seekers - but not backed up by any serious research or action.

And little to no real continuing action on far more crucial life issues that I've ever seen. 

If Catholics want to be taken seriously in the public square then they need to be seen to be operating from a tradition that is worth valuing - and that's where good liturgy and much more comes in.

They need to be out there doing serious in depth thinking on key topics, not just spouting worthy platitudes. 

They need to back up their words with actual practical action.  So where is the mission to asylum-seekers?  And I don't mean helping them with their material needs, I mean attempting to convert them!  Because if we don't actually think our faith is worth trying to persuade others to believe in, why should anyone take it seriously as a source of input in the debate?

Actions and words need to be guided by an eschatological orientation, not just a desire to be seen to be politically correct on certain issues.

And if then, they reject the good (as they inevitably will), we should rejoice to be reviled for Christ, not whinge about it.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

In praise of orthodoxy and anonymity: Cath News again

Cath News is at it again, this time seeking to improve the civility of posts by requiring posters to identify themselves by real name and location (and provide a verifiable email address).

Orthodoxy and civility

Such a requirement is not altogether unreasonable if you are concerned about publishing potentially defamatory material (although I really doubt the publisher can escape liability) - but I would suggest it is pretty unlikely to have the desired effect of improving civility.  Firstly, many people are perfectly prepared to say outrageous things and be identified as saying them (though they may not be the people you actually want commenting on your discussion board).  And secondly, faking an identity to meet these requirements would be pretty easy.

More fundamentally, a better way to induce civility would be simply to require posters to keep their postings in line with the teaching of the Catholic Church, or in the form of genuine inquiry as to the basis for that teaching.  Instead, its pages are filled with people getting outraged at the Church's position on homosexual acts and other teachings, which not unnaturally generates in turn an outraged response by those who see the words 'Cath' on the 'Cath News' website and think it does or should mean something.  After all, canon law prohibits the use of the word Catholic by organizations unless they are approved by the relevant bishop or bishops.

Instead Cath News continues to walk ever further away from any adherence to the Church.  Its latest disclaimer on blog entries is "CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources."  Its previous one (still attached to previous blog articles advocating clearly erroneous positions), went "CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate. Our bloggers express opinions which may be at variance from Church Teaching and the views of Church Resources."

Perhaps Cath News should change its name or put a clearer disclaimer up on its site - saying that it is 'intended to provide news and debate about the Catholic Church and and its teachings'.  And going on to make it clear that it does not attempt to do this from within the parameters the Church itself accepts for such debate, viz accepting the guidance of the Magisterium.

Of course, taking this path would make it clear that it is an entirely secular organisation with the objectives of secular society, viz the destruction of the Church.  But really, its Board really needs to take a hard look at what the orgaization is supposed to be about.

In praise of anonymity

Above all though, I have to admit that I completely fail to understand this fettish, repeated in Ms Hogan's blog post, about the evils of anonymity.  We live in a culture that Annabel Crabb has so aptly described as a culture of unrestrained nosiness.

Yet as Christians, it is surely not who we are that is important, but what we actually think, say and do (and by the way, not what we are rumoured to have thought, said or done).

St Benedict for example, urged the abbot to listen to the youngest members of his community, and to visiting pilgrim monks, in case God gave them some special message.

And there is a long history of monks and nuns publishing as 'a monk of x' etc. 

There is a reason why we know so few of the names of the composers of Gregorian chant, and of many prayers and devotions.

Why there are so many thousands, perhaps millions of anonymous saints.

There are many good reasons people choose to post anonymously - not least that it might affect their future employment prospects, or draw past enemies out of the woodwork (internet searches are a powerful thing).

We shouldn't misrepresent ourselves - a priest pretending to be their own parishioner in order to defend themselves for example or such like behaviour is of course clearly wrong.

But I really don't see that a person cannot have an opinion without having to tell us everything about themselves.  A name may or may not be meaningful.  So the pressure is inevitably to go further.  Someone has to justify their opinion by claiming to have 'four degrees'.  Someone else tells us everything down to what they had for dinner and what birds they see when they look out the window in order to reassure the reader that they are dealing with a 'real' person.  Frankly, cults of personality are dangerous; distraction from truth through trivia is one of the worst features of our society; and the impulse to tell all on facebook is something we should be resisting not encouraging.

So in my opinion, if people make inappropriate comments on a blog, simply delete or reject the comment, or ban them. And if someone chooses to blog anonymously, decide whether to read it or not on its merits.

Above all though, it would be nice if Cath News actually tried a little harder to operate within the parameters appropriate for a Church sponsored organization.

Abuse in Australia update

  • Archbishop Wilson has issued a denial of the claims made on Lateline last night
The story certainly raised some questions, but so far at least it seems to be the ABC attempting to establish guilt by association - albeit an association that does not look good on the face of it. The most serious allegation supportable by objective evidence seems to be the failure to report the McAlinden case to police - but who should really be held accountable in a case like this, the bishop concerned or his subordinate Vicar-General, who was presumably acting under instructions?  And to what extent should the Church be held accountable when the parents of the abused child themselves decide not to take the matter to the police?  There are issues of power, authority and possible intimidation of course, but still...In any case, we must await the outcome of any investigations....
  • Cardinal Pell on two cases of priests who continued to minister after accusations of abuse
Cardinal Pell has spoken up calling for tougher action against priests who continue to act as priests after being directed not to.  The most recent cases concerned are in the Melbourne Archdiocese, where AB Hart has apparently written three times to a priest who has continued to say mass for annual St Patrick's Day celebrations, but not apparently taken any further action.  Even more serious perhaps is the case in Broken Bay Diocese who after being suspended celebrated a wedding (it is worth noting that if he was formally suspended - it is unclear just what 'removed from ministry' really means - the wedding may well be invalid for want of proper form viz an offically approved witness...), and was given an official function to celebrate his fifty years of service!

**Update: apparently the priest concelebrated the mass, so was presumably not the official witness.  A statement by the Bishop of Broken Bay can be read here.

Have the lessons been learnt?

The real issue underlying these and previous cases is whether or not our bishops have really learnt the lessons from the abuse crisis. 

There isn't much evidence of it. 

Certainly there has been absolutely no transparency on issues such as which priests have had action taken against them, the number of priests involved in complaints, the action taken against them, the time taken to resolve accusations, and much more.

Continuing my theme of Benedictine spirituality, the daily readings set for the Rule of St Benedict are currently on the chapters relating to the role of the abbot, covering both his role in ensuring the salvation of his flock, and listening carefully to advice from all, whether in high position, or the youngest in the monastery in making decisions.  They are chapters that hold wisdom worth considering for anyone in a leadership role.

But there is one line in these chapters that really struck me as an appropriate subject for meditation at the moment for all those in a position of authority, particularly in the Church, namely St Benedict's injunction for the abbot  "not to shut his eyes to the faults of offenders; but as soon as they begin to appear, let him, as he can, cut them out by the roots, mindful of the fate of Heli, the priest of Silo."

Monday, 17 May 2010

Archbishop Wilson in the ABC's firing line for abuse cover-ups

ABC's Lateline tonight apparently features a story with accusations that Archbishop Wilson of Adelaide (and recently re-elected Chairman of the Australian Bishops' Conference) has been involved in cover-ups of abuse and failing to report a case to the police.

The story from the ABC news site:

"The Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, is coming under increasing pressure to explain what he knew about clerical sexual abuse when he was an office-holder in the NSW diocese of Maitland-Newcastle in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Archbishop Wilson has just been re-elected as chairman of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference, and is widely tipped as a possible successor to the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, if Cardinal Pell leaves Sydney to take up a senior post in the Vatican.

The Maitland-Newcastle diocese has become notorious as perhaps the epicentre of Catholic clerical sexual abuse in Australia. Four serious paedophile priests have been jailed since 1997. Father Vincent Ryan's crimes led to a $6 million compensation payout to victims - a record for the Catholic Church in Australia so far. Father John Denham is due to be sentenced later this month, and the compensation settlement with his victims is expected to be even larger. Yet another priest, Father David O'Hearn, is due to stand trial in the next two weeks.

Now a victim of convicted paedophile Father James Fletcher, who died in jail in 2006, says Archbishop Philip Wilson was a priest living in the bishop's house in Maitland when Fletcher was also living there in the late 1970s, and that Philip Wilson should have been aware that he was being sexually abused in Fletcher's upstairs bedroom.

Peter Gogarty says Philip Wilson regularly saw him in Fletcher's company as he was being taken upstairs to Fletcher's bedroom, and after he came back downstairs. At one point, when Bishop Leo Clarke became suspicious, Gogarty was banned from being in the bishop's house, but Fletcher continued to sneak him in the back door. Peter Gogarty says Philip Wilson should have intervened.

"Jim started sneaking me in the back door in the kitchen in the back of the house, straight past the common room where I would regularly pass Philip Wilson and then up the stairs to his bedroom," he said.

Conveniently for Jim Fletcher, Peter Gogarty was attending a school right next door to the bishop's house. He says the abuse would occur at lunch time and many afternoons after school. He says he has spoken to Archbishop Wilson over the phone in recent years about what the archbishop thought was going on.

"I asked now Archbishop Wilson what he thought was happening at the time. Did he know that Bishop Clarke had banned me from the house? His response was, no, he didn't know anything about that, and that as far as he was concerned Jim was a good bloke and he didn't think Jim was up to anything untoward," he said.

Peter Gogarty says he can't accept this explanation from Archbishop Wilson.
"I think, how could a man living in a house with another man not even be remotely curious as to why his house-mate was taking at least one boy up to his bedroom, and there may have been others."

Two weeks ago, Peter Gogarty lodged an official complaint with the NSW Police.

Today Archbishop Wilson responded to a series of questions put to him by the ABC. He has denied any knowledge that Jim Fletcher was sexually abusing Peter Gogarty in the bishop's house.

In 1978, Philip Wilson was made director of Religious Education for the Maitland-Newcastle diocese and taught at St Pius X High School, Adamstown, in Newcastle. St Pius X was the scene of horrific sexual assaults on young boys by another teacher at the school, Father John Denham. Denham is due to be sentenced this month over 135 offences on 39 victims. It is expected that the compensation settlement for Denham's victims will be even higher than that paid out to victims of Father Vincent Ryan, and that it could potentially bankrupt the diocese.

A former student of St Pius X High School from 1975 to 1979, Stephen Kilkeary was taught religion by Archbishop Wilson in 1978 when he was in Year 10. He says the atmosphere at St Pius X was violent, and that boys were frequently sexually assaulted. He says he finds it impossible to believe that Philip Wilson did not know about what was going on:

"My view would be that it would be impossible for anybody not to know, it was so rampant, so endemic. Everybody talked about it, not just at the school, even in the local community it was widely known that boys were being sexually abused at the school," said Mr Kilkeary.

Responding to questions put to him by the ABC, Archbishop Wilson has denied that he had any knowledge that Denham was assaulting boys at St Pius X while he was teaching there.

McAlinden allegations

Two weeks ago, a former principal of St Joseph's Primary School, Merriwa, west of Newcastle, accused Archbishop Wilson of being involved in covering-up the sexual assault of an eight-year-old girl by Father Denis McAlinden in 1985. At the time, Philip Wilson was secretary to then bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, Leo Clarke, and he was sent to the school to talk to parents. Former principal Mike Stanwell says Philip Wilson assured him that McAlinden would be sent away to get help. Instead McAlinden was transferred to another parish where he came into contact with other children, and later he was transferred to a remote parish in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Over the next decade he sexually assaulted five more girls under the age of 10.

In 1995 Philip Wilson took a statement from one of these girls who recently lodged an official complaint with the NSW Police. The ABC has obtained a copy of her letter to police, which states:

"I have advice from a Senior Counsel that based on the documents which are now in the possession of the NSW Police, there are sufficient grounds to warrant an investigation by the Police.

"The purpose of this letter is to formally complain about the conduct of the people noted above, and to request on behalf of all the victims of Father Denis McAlinden that you undertake an urgent inquiry into their conduct."

NSW Police are now investigating documents which show that only days after Philip Wilson took the girl's statement in October 1995, Bishop Leo Clarke launched a secret "defrocking" process, promising Denis McAlinden in a letter that his "good name" would be protected. That letter concludes: "A speedy resolution of this whole matter will be in your own good interests as I have it on very good authority that some people are threatening seriously to take this whole matter to the police."

Bishop Leo Clarke died in 2006, the year before NSW Police established Strikeforce Georgiana to investigate sexual abuse in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese. Bishop Clarke was never interviewed about the full extent of abuse in the diocese.

In previous media statements, Archbishop Wilson has claimed he referred all complaints of abuse he received about Denis McAlinden to Bishop Clarke. But Peter Gogarty says he doesn't think that is good enough.

"I don't think passing on your responsibility to someone else resolves you of you own responsibility. I just see that as an easy opt out to say, 'It is not my problem'," he said.

Diocese cover-ups

Archbishop Wilson is not the first former vicar general of the Maitland-Newcastle diocese to be accused of a cover-up. In 1996 NSW Police wanted to charge Monsignor Patrick Cotter over his concealment of sexual assaults by Father Vincent Ryan in the early 1970s, but the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions ruled that Cotter was too old to stand trial. Cotter died in 2007.

Last year another vicar general, Father Thomas Brennan, was convicted of making a false written statement to protect Father John Denham, and placed on a 12-month good behaviour bond. He is the only person in a position of authority in the Catholic Church in Australia to be convicted for covering-up abuse.

The present bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, Michael Malone, has been warned by police for "tipping off" Father Jim Fletcher that he was under police investigation. The Ombudsman's report into the incident was highly critical of the bishop's role. Bishop Malone has since apologised to victims for his poor handling of the issue.

Peter Gogarty says he believes Archbishop Wilson's response to media queries has been inadequate.

"I would really like him to come clean and apologise for all of this, and I would like him to look people in the eye who have been hurt by all of this and say, 'I am sorry'." "

Perpetual Profession of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles/Benedictine FAQs


Eleven of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, currently located in Kansas City, made their perpetual professions on Saturday in the church cared for by the Institute of Christ the King there.  You can find lots of lovely photos of the ceremonies on the Kansas Catholic blog.

Its been a  long journey for this new community, who first started out under the wing of the FSSP in 1995, but have since moved aside from them, moved dioceses under Bishop Finn's patronage, and have now made the final steps necessary for canonical establishment as an institute of consecrated life.  The Sisters are in the process of constructing a monastery, and support themselves through vestment making.

I've been meaning for some time to do some FAQs on Benedictine monastic spirituality, since I keep hearing many misconceptions perpetuated on this subject (especially by priests!), so this might be a good opportunity to make a few points.  Feel free to debate my take on the subject...

1.  Do Benedictine nuns have to practice papal enclosure?

No.  Strict papal enclosure was imposed on all female religious after the Council of Trent as a way of responding to Protestant propaganda about religious, but (unlike many other Orders such as Franciscan, Dominican and Carmelite nuns) it was not part of the original charism. 

St Benedict certainly encouraged a strict division from the world for both his monks and nuns, but a good case can be made that the charism was originally for the 'mixed life' rather than strictly contemplative (his monks acted as chaplains to nearby communities, and their immediate successors, both monks and nuns, included many missionaries; and St Benedict's emphasis on hospitality is pretty much incompatible with strict enclosure) of the type allowed for under current canon law as 'constitutional enclosure'.

In fact the most famous story we have about the first Benedictine nuns concerns St Scholastica's annual trip to visit  her brother St Benedict at the foot of his monastery, something certainly not possible under papal enclosure.

St Benedict's Rule (except for the section on priests) in principle applies equally to men and women, and includes provisions on how to behave outside the monastery, rituals for long journeys, and instructions on dealing with guests within the monastic enclosure.

In the nineteenth century revival of monasticism, the charism split two ways - in the US Benedictine nuns became actives, and lost the right to solemn profession, whereas most of their European sisters accepted papal enclosure.  Today canon law allows more leeway, and while some traditional nuns (such as Le Barroux) continue the tradition of strict papal enclosure, others (such as Jouques), while maintaining the forms of enclosure (grille and parlour so forth) take turns at extern duties, and practice hospitality in the spirit of the Rule.  I understand the Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles are on the more active side of the fence (which may be why they are making perpetual profession rather than solemn profession??).

2.  How is the seeming affluence of some Benedictines compatible with the vow of poverty?

Actually, Benedictines don't technically make a vow of poverty (though it is certainly encompassed in the vows they do make) - they actually promise stability, conversion of life, and obedience, in accordance with the Rule of St Benedict.

And there is an interesting difference between Benedictines and Franciscans.  St Francis wanted his friars to both be poor and look poor - to wear patched habits and so forth.  St Benedict by contrast instructed his monks to wear the patched habits within the monastery - but when going outside on a journey, to be given a nicer outfit stored up for the purpose. 

Similarly, Benedictines generally wear choir cowls over their normal habit in Church to present a nicer face to the outside world. Benedictine poverty and austerity, in other words, was to be practiced in secret within the monastery, but not to be made obvious to the outside world.  So don't make assumptions about how the monks or nuns are living based on the little glimpses you get to see!

Secondly, though, religious poverty in the Benedictine tradition is about collective ownership of goods - no solemnly professed monk or nun 'owns' anything personally, anything they use is supposed to be allocated to them by the abbot/abbess on the basis of need only.  That means that if you give a monk a gift, the abbot decides whether or not he gets it, or it goes to someone else.

3.  Can the monastery buy up lots of nice stuff under the guise of common ownership?

It depends!  If we are talking expensive tvs/entertainment equipment, aeroplanes (yes one new Cistercian community owns its own plane) and the like, then I think that is totally inconsistent with the Rule.  St Benedict specifies a certain degree of austerity - no more clothes than are needed for the locality and type of work done for example.

But the Rule does assume the monastery will spend up big on necessary things - like books in particular, since reading and study is a big part of the life. 

He also put a lot of emphasis on adapting the Rule of the monastery to individual needs - if some needed more things in order to persevere in the life, then the abbot should allow what was necessary (and others should not be jealous of whatever privileges they were allowed), since perseverence is far more important than uniformity.

And whereas St Dominic, for example, specified that the chapels of his order should not be filled with expensive items, prohibiting for example the use of silk, Benedictines have always prized beauty, particularly in the worship of God (Cistercians of course, split off in the more austere school of monastic life, with whitewashed chapels instead of wall paintings and so forth).

Benedictines have also traditionally tried to make their monasteries appear attractive - they live in them for life, remember, not wondering about as friars and others do, and shouldn't often leave them.  They do not generally get four week overseas holidays a year; or to go out to visit art galleries or attend a concert,  or have a meal.  Instead their recreation periods are strictly regulated, and are generally communal (typically a group walk). So if they are allowed an occasional more relaxed form of entertainment in the monastery as a special treat, or spend some communal money on entertainment, that's not (necessarily) inconsistent with poverty.

By way of context, it's worth knowing that the most ascetic Order of them all, the Carthusians, filled their monasteries with some of the greatest art works of the middle ages until the Reformation (and subsequent waves of anti-catholic forces) destroyed so many of them.

4.  Do the monks/nuns eat the same food as guests?

St Benedict's Rule puts a lot of emphasis on hospitality.  The monks were supposed to maintain a separate kitchen (where meat could be served, in contrast to the diet specified for the monastery itself), and the abbot or a senior monk was to dine with the guests.  Even the internal fasts of the monastery were to take second place to the duty of hospitality, with an instruction to break the fast in order to dine with a new arrival.

It's an approach that has firm roots in the desert monk tradition, where two visiting monks were scandalized  by the rich meal offered to them by a famous monk - they didn't realize that what he offered them was very far from his normal fare.

Within the monastery proper, the Rule specifies a regime of either one or two meals a day depending on the season (but able to be modified by the abbot if the needs of the time and place demand it), with no meat of four-hoofed animals (so birds and fish are ok).  The monastic fasts specified by the Rule are generally about how many meals and when the meal is taken (in Lent, the one meal is delayed until the evening, rather than being mid-afternoon for example) rather than quantity consumed. 

St Benedict's emphasis was on moderation in food (and other things) rather than strict asceticism (he specifically allows wine with meals for example, even while noting that many see it as unsuitable for monks), and on ensuring that everyone has enough to eat to cope with the other rigours of the life.  In this light, over time the Rule has generally been modified somewhat - most monasteries do allow some light breakfast (though not the Benedictines of Mary I believe), and many eat at least some red meat (Dom Gueranger didn't think frenchmen could survive without it, so his Solesmes Congregation set the trend)!  But most also have regular stricter fasts.

Some men's monasteries allow male guests to eat in the refectory, so you do actually get to see what the monks eat.  But elsewhere, if the religious are feeding you, don't assume  - what you are consuming in the guesthouse may not be what the monks or nuns are eating (or not eating)!

And that's probably enough for now!  Congratulations to the Benedictiens of Mary, Queen of Apostles, and please keep them in your prayers.