The last few days have seen a continuation of swirling angst from the liberals over the Morris affair.
The most upsetting reactions for many, judging from the emails I've received, being the contributions from Catholic Religious Australia, the peak body of our religious orders, and assorted member organisations. I will get to to their contributions (of which another has joined the throng via Cath News' blog today) in due course, but first, a little general context.
Over at Eureka Street, Michael Mullins wrote an editorial yesterday suggesting that this event will turn out to be a turning point for the Australian Church.
Well one can certainly hope so.
Unfortunately I fear we will most likely have to endure the trench warfare between the dissenters and orthodox catholics for quite a while longer. Still, this could be a key turning point in the battle, and we do all have a responsibility to aid the Church.
The question is, in which way will things turn, and what can we do to help.
I think there are probably three main possibilities for a change in the status quo:
1. The sacking of Bishop Morris brings the liberals to their senses, and sees an end to the virtual schism we keep seeing in the Australian Church.
You wouldn't want to be holding your breath judging on what we've seen so far.
2. The "biological" solution takes effect - an an older liberal generation reaches retirement age and dies out, they are replaced by a new generation of more conservative bishops, young priests and religious.
It is already starting with the big turnover in bishops expected this year.
But will it be enough given the damage those in place have already done and will be in a position to continue doing for some time to come? And given at least one questionable appointment already, will we get the good bishops we need?
3. The Liberals go into outright schism and leave the Church.
This would of course the saddest outcome, and everything possible should be done to a avoid it. Yet there comes a point at which the damage they do by subverting from within outweighs the damage caused by leaving. South Brisbane was one classic example of this being the case, and one can only suspect that there may be more South Brisbane's to come.
Pray for conversion
So what can we do?
Well, the first and most obvious thing is to pray - pray conversion of those who seem to reject the very concept of obedience for example, like Sr Clare Condon, leader of the Good Samaritan Congregation.
Sr Clare's contribution to the debate is to offer a meditation on the concept of obedience that is actually an incitement to disobedience. On the question of assent to doctrine, for example, she suggests that:
"The Catholic Church itself with its medieval [more nineteenth century-esq actually, but who would want to spoil a good pejorative?] and hierarchical structures [Yes the Church is hierarchically constructed. Have a read of Lumen Gentium Chapter III] can also distort the true meaning of obedience [Oh really?]. In such a structure of power and dominance, reinforced by a divine legitimacy, obedience can be seen to be simply saying yes to the ‘magisterium’ [But we are indeed required to say 'yes' to the Magisterium'! When the Pope or bishops teach infallible doctrines, we are required to adhere to those decisions 'with the loyal and obedient assent of faith', LG 25] or the ‘lawful’ authority, in an unthinking and unintelligent manner.
Sister Condon's order claims a Benedictine affinity, but her dissertation on the roots of the word obedience as meaning 'listening' entirely bypasses the concept of 'listening with docility' that St Benedict actually teaches. Take this discussion for example:
"The Latin foundational word for ‘obedience’ is oboedire, which correctly translated means – “to hear or to listen”. This translation implies a relationship of mutuality where members of the community are listening to one another... The word ‘obedience’ in the spiritual tradition of the Christian Church calls for a deep and informed response from a conscience well formed by the community and by the sharing of the Word of God in a spirit of listening...Obedience does not come from a battle of opinions or a superimposing of one will over another, but from a place of profound humility and respect." Perhaps Sr Condon might like to consider this gloss on Genesis 3: 'God-Have you eaten of the fruit of the tree which I commanded you not to eat?' Adam,"Well Lord, I'm saddened that you just sought to impose your will over mine by claiming divine legitimacy without telling me about the reasons for your decree. I reject your attempt to require me to accept so-called lawful authority in an unthinking manner. So I informed my conscience by talking to the woman and the serpent here...."
Pray for a return to the authentic charism of our religious orders
For the record, since Sr Condon presumably hasn't read it lately, the actual opening words of the Benedictine Rule are actually not just 'listen', but actually enjoin us to 'listen, accept and obey':
"Listen, o son, to the words of the master and incline the ear of thy heart; freely accept and faithfully fulfill the instructions of a loving father, that by the labour of obedience though mayest return to him from whom thou hast strayed by the sloth of disobedience..."(RB Prologue, trans McCann)
Support those religious and priests who are working for change
Many of the old guard are dying out and retiring. We all know about the big turnover in bishops expected over the last year for example.
The problem is that in many dioceses and religious orders, the old guard have managed to prevent any new guard from arising! Instead of promoting vocations, they've actively discouraged them. And some will be in a position to continue to do so for some time to come (just start your list of Australian dioceses alphabetically and look at just how long certain people have to go before they reach retirement age).
Still, we should do whatever we can, both through prayers and practical measures, to support those who are trying despite the best efforts of their bishops and leaders.
And in particular we need to make sure that those in authority such as the Nuncio know who the good priests are (and aren't!).
3. Speak up!
Thirdly, I think we do need to keep the pressure on for orthodoxy and orthopraxis. Catholics have a right to encounter actual catholicism when they go to Mass and other events sponsored by the Church. Sadly, too often they don't get it.
And contrary to the myth being propagated by the liberals, most of us don't actually bother doing anything about it, knowing all too well that the odds of anything getting fixed are, on the whole, low to non-existent. It took around twenty years, after all, to get action on invalid baptisms in Brisbane, and General Absolutions in Toowoomba. We all know that there are many other Bishop Morrises and Fr Kennedy's out there.
Indeed, in my own diocese, someone told me the sad story of information sessions run about the new Missal where the speaker advocated the view that the miracle of the feeding of the multitude by Our Lord was not in fact a miraculous multiplication of the bread and fish, but a 'miracle of generosity' as people were inspired to share their stashed away stores. Modernism, it seems, is still mainstream, even in the attempt to return to orthopraxis!
Still, we should make it clear that we are not in fact a minority as often claimed, but in reality the silent majority!
I'm not necessarily suggesting we actually really become the so-called 'Temple Police', and take to prowling the Churches and writing to Rome (not that there is anything wrong with people exercising their rights under Church law). But perhaps we do need to become a little bit more vocal in our own parishes rather than leaving the floor to the vocal minority of liberals.
For Part II of this series, go here.