It is picked up in this weekend's Cath News' Perspectives edition.
So let's talk about how Cath News could have handled this article better!
But let's also have a think about how the Church as a whole is responding to these ever louder attacks on it.
How should Cath News handle attacks on the Church?
Thanks to all those readers who alerted me to this article offline, and suggested responses to it.
First let me say, I do actually think it deserves to be reported in Cath News: it did after all appear in the mainstream Fairfax media, and Cath news' remit is to alert us to such articles.
The surprising thing really is that it took until the weekend for it to appear over there!
But the article itself and the way it was presented in Cath News does encapsulate the problem we have in Australia at the moment in responding to the relentless onslaught of attacks on the Church.
A vile attack on the Church
We should be clear that this is not a neutral 'news' story, but rather a full on attack on the institution and its teachings from an extreme secularist source.
It is dressed up as coming from a well-meaning 'Catholic'.
But have a read of it - it blatantly attacks Cardinal Pell as representing a hard, uncaring face of an outdated and evil institution that is even responsible for the suicides of young people who think they are homosexual. It attacks a number of core doctrines of the Church, and advocates a kind of hippy-Zen Buddhist-New Age version of spirituality to replace an authentically Catholic one.
Consider for example this section of the original story:
"I was a child of the tradition of grumbling patience, but something happened to change my tune. A teenage boy came into the social circle of a friend of mine and his wife. My friend became aware the boy was struggling with his emerging homosexuality in the context of a conservative religious family and church community. It was a delicate matter and my friend, a generous and compassionate man, tried unsuccessfully to find the right moment to offer some reassurance. Tragically, the boy eventually took his own life."[So your 'friend' interfered with the family's approach to dealing with this situation and it had tragic consequences.]
Studies indicate same-sex-attracted young people may be several times more likely than heterosexual young people to attempt suicide. Let's change this! It strikes me as obvious that church teachings on sexuality are wildly complicit in this shocking statistic.[And instead of accepting some of the blame for 'your friend's' unwarranted interference, instead of blaming a society that exposes our children to homosexual propaganda from an early age and over-sexualizes our children, you want to blame the Church...]
The Catholic Church teaches that homosexuality is ''objectively disordered'', that homosexual acts are unnatural and sinful. Since for most of us sexuality is inseparable from the essence of who we are, the church is teaching adolescents (at a time when their self-image may be particularly vulnerable) that they are in some way rotten at the core. [This is outrageous nonsense!]The church's unhealthy, misguided teachings and attitudes infiltrate and stain families and communities, conjuring up ancient, ignorant prejudices within us and validating them.
It is an outrageous attack on the Church, and should be treated as such.
So what could a genuinely Cath News type service do to frame the debate a little?
How to cover it in Cath News
First, as one commenter points out (and indeed, good to see a few sensible comments get through the gate in amongst the dross), drop the associated piccie of St Mary's Cathedral (given that the piece is by a Melbourne writer, and quotes a Melbourne priest, it's the wrong one in any case). If there must be a picture, use one that caricatures the article, not supports its message!
Secondly, why quote from the SMH rather than The Age version, implying it is all about Sydney? Unless of course, you want to have a dig at one of the few bishops Cath News does allow criticism of...
Thirdly, think a little harder about the headline! The original story was entitled 'Don't tell the Cathedral'. Cath News entitles it 'Kinder, wiser Church needs to step out of the shadows' (talk about editorializing!). But a genuinely Catholic media alert service might say something like: "Fairfax media claims Church not compassionate" or "Dump Catholic teaching on homosexuality, devil and hell The Age/SMH demands".
Fourthly, try a bit harder with the selection of extracts from the article that appear in Cath News!
The full story attacks Cardinal Pell, attacks Catholic teaching on homosexuality, the existence of the devil, hell and promotes syncretism. Why not give a bit more flavour of that, alerting us properly to what the article is a actually about, rather than using a selection of extracts that might make it seem like this is actually a positive call for reform from within?
Finally, and this is an ongoing problem with Cath News' presentation style, why not find some ways of making it a lot clearer that you are quoting the original article, not saying it yourself! A few more 'the article says/claims' and such like prompts would be extremely helpful in making it clear that inclusion of the story does not mean endorsement of it!
Responding to stories of this kind
The suggestions above all constitute simple things Cath News could do within its current presentation style to appear more genuinely Catholic.
But what we really need is not just to know what form the secularist attack is taking this week, but how to respond to it.
Cath News could potentially do something here - at a minimum, for example, encourage posters to provide links to authoritative teaching on these issues, or to examples of the Church's compassionate ministry on these subjects.
Here are a couple of obvious ones:
- Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith on pastoral ministry to homosexuals;
- Courage, a genuinely Catholic ministry to homosexuals (with, I'm surprised but glad to find, some Australian contact names that will be very familiar to many of us, yet more good work being quietly done by pastorally sensitive and entirely orthodox priests!).
And perhaps encouraging us to speak up in the public square by pointing us to the letters to the editor link along with the article!
The real issue, though, is one for the Church as a whole: where is the opinion piece from a leading (orthodox) Catholic in response? Where are the letters to the editor condemning this vile attack on the Church?
Our bishops should be responding to this kind of thing.
So should we.
If Fairfax won't publish them, find somewhere that will (The ABC's Religion and Ethics site, The Punch and many other places spring to mind).
Some creative thinking on circuit breakers for this debate, new ways of responding and acting, is needed. We shouldn't be 'circling the wagons' as Archbishop Coleridge put it, shouldn't be trying to keep going on with business as usual.
This is a case where we really do need to read the signs of the times, stand up and fight, aided and empowered, rather than undermined by, the institutinal supports the Church has at its disposal.
Cath News delenda est!