Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Why the St Mary's affair DIDN'T have to happen...

Over at Eureka Street they are marking the run-up to Fr Peter Kennedy's departure from St Mary's Brisbane this weekend with a piece by Alan Austin, arguing that it was all inevitable really, because anyone who works with the marginalized will inevitably come into conflict with the hierarchy.

It is a pretty sad view of the Church!

So let's be clear. In my view this dispute has always been more about the sacraments (and doctrine), not social justice.

All about power?

Austin - correctly I think - points out that the affair 'has been depicted as a dispute over blessing gay couples and allowing women to preach', when really it isn't. Those things are the symptoms rather than the disease.

His hypothesis however is that it is really all about the inevitable conflict of power:

"Why this pattern of insolence towards hierarchies among workers with the disadvantaged? Is it because all powerful institutions — government, corporate and ecclesiastical — inevitably hurt poor people? Is it that those who identify with outcasts have seen that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely (to paraphrase Lord Acton — writing, incidentally, to a bishop)? And hence all institutions are inherently to be resisted?"

Well, actually I think the answer to most of these questions is an unequivocal no! As commentators on other posts on this topic on Eureka Street have pointed out, there are plenty of saints, blesseds, and worthy men and women who have managed to combine a commitment to social action with orthodox faith and practice!

Human institutions, of course, are subject to the effects of original sin as much as individuals are. And even though we have a guarantee that the Church, divinely instituted, will not fail, we know that it's ministers can often fall short of what they should be. But that doesn't mean that and kind of institution, ecclesiastical or otherwise, must inevitably be a force for evil! Austin's argument is marxism pure and simple...

What the dispute was really about

There is, moreover, one particular protection that the Church has that other institutions do not, and that is its institution by Christ, and the sources of grace and holiness he conferred on it, most particularly in relation to the sacraments. And in my view, that is what this whole fight has really been about.

The most important problems at St Mary's are not its attempts at 'outreach' to homosexuals, its 'inclusiveness' in relation to women, or its social justice agenda (not that there aren't very problematic elements to all of those as they are practiced at St Mary's!). The most important issue is the refusal of its priests to sanctify through the sacraments.

We know that thousands of the 'baptisms' conducted at St Mary's were invalid.

And everything that has come out on Fr Kennedy's views on the divinity of Christ and practices in relation to mass - including the incident of the buddha placed in front of the tabernacle - suggest that his masses are almost certainly invalid as well, for want of the proper intention (and probably form as well).

He has also said 'we' don't do confession any more.

All of the other problems of St Mary's flow from these basics....

So no, it didn't have to happen. If the problems with the liturgy had been addressed early on and firmly, St Mary's might have stayed within the Church, or at least the scope of the damage limited to a few.

As it is, how much damage has being done to the reputation of the Church? And more importantly, how many souls are being led to perdition?


Peter said...

I don't know why the Archbishop of Melbourne doesn't require the Jesuits to suppress Eureka Street and if they don't expel them from his diocese.

The modern day Society of Jesus, in the main, is a hotbed of dissent and succour of heresy. there are many exceptions to be sure, and probably most of its members is subjectively well intentioned.

However the institution is now whited sepulchre that should either be cleansed and refurbished or demolished.


Alan A said...

The blogger writes: "As commentators on other posts on this topic on Eureka Street have pointed out, there are plenty of saints, blesseds, and worthy men and women who have managed to combine a commitment to social action with orthodox faith and practice!"
Yes, this is indisputable. But the observation in the original article was that local worshipping communities which comprise large numbers of marginalised people - Indigenous, biker gangs, sex workers, addicts and people with mental illnesses seem so often to abandon what many regard today as orthodox.
I am genuinely keen to visit churches which do in fact answer the rhetorical questions in the negative.

Terra said...

Alan - Your list is rathr eclectic!

The orthodox view of course is that sex workers, gang members and other sinners need to abandon their way of life and convert. And I'm sure there are many former members of these groups in many congregations (but in most cases, unless their sin was notorious, their past will be invisible to others).

You won't of course find many who come to orthodox parishes for any length of time flaunting their state of sin and not considering repentance however. And that's as it should be! It is one thing for sinners to come along as part of the search for truth - such seekers should be welcomed. Quite another to 'accept' an ongoing state of sin as normal and even desirable as you seem to be advocating.

I do think it is quite wrong though to lump together those who choose a lifestyle (for whatever reason) at direct odds with the teaching of the Church, and marginalised groups such as indigenous, people with mental illnesses and immigrants with poor english.

Members of marginalised groups such as these have made up a significant proportion of every traditional parish or community I've ever been part of or visited. In my observation, it is the ageing parishes stuck in 1970s liberalism that de facto exclude these groups.

Alan A said...

Thank you for this reply, Terra. May I call you Terra? Your distinctions are entirely valid and helpful.
So, to unpack one issue: Most large cities of the world have a small number of local Christian churches which have within the active family a mix of conventional citizens and those from my admittedly eclectic list above. Those disadvantaged because of non-moral issues (mental illness, disability, ethnicity) participate visibly – sometimes extremely confronting to attendees not used to it. Those marginalised by moral choices (sex workers, drug users, alcoholics, outlaw bikers, unmarried couples) include some who have repented and been forgiven and others yet to find that state. All are welcome to attend and participate.
I have had direct experience of two such communities in Melbourne as a member and indirect experience of others in various parts of the world.
In all cases, regardless of denomination, regardless of location, regardless of era, the liturgies, the dress, the theology and the spiritual terminology used are quite diverse. Those with an orthodox theology such as you and I are certainly welcome. But so are others with different spiritual expressions. There seems no settled praxis or theology. Rather an ongoing tussle for truth.
So I remain keen to find local churches which are orthodox in their church life but which also openly welcome significant numbers of sinners visibly yet to have repented. Because the implications are significant.

Terra said...


As you point out, 'visible minorities' can be challenging for a comunity to accept, and some are much better at doing it than others (my own community has had more than a few people who found other parishes too uncomfortable). I wouldn't underestimate the importance of this as a sign of a parishes commitment to charity.

But I really don't get your point about the desirability of significant numbers of visible sinners being present.

The purpose of the Mass is to worship and offer sacrifice to God - by committed christians on behalf of the whole world. It is the work of the baptised believer, offering themselves through the priest, and being sanctified through the prayers and reception, where appropriate, of the eucharist.

It is not about outreach. In the early church after all, you didn't get to go at all until you'd shown some commitment, and all of those not fully inducted were turfed out after sermon.

These days we take a much more relaxed view about who can be there, but I think the basic idea that it is for the committed, with maybe a few drifting in from time to time to see what it is all about remains consistent with the underlying theology of the sacraments.

That's not to say that christian communities shouldn't be out there in various ways, attempting to draw in sinners - and activities such as the work of orders like the Missionaries of Charity, Franciscans of the Renewal, soup kitchens operated by parishes and even vigils outside abortion clinics all do that.

Alan A said...

First, Terra, yes, the Eureka Street piece is mine. Have followed the St Mary’s saga for some time. On Line Opinion 9 March has an earlier item.
Now, you comment: "I really don't get your point about the desirability of significant numbers of visible sinners being present." Okay, ponder these questions:
Should local churches look to the life of Jesus of Nazareth for guidance as to how we should live together and minister today? If so, what are the visible indications we would expect to find if a local church is being faithful to His example? Do the Gospels in fact reveal that the ministry of Jesus was characterised by (a) identifying primarily with the poor and social outcasts through His language, dress and drinking habits, (b) blatant disobedience of the written rules established to guide the people of Yahweh, (c) defiance of the religious hierarchy who called Him to obey the law, (d) generating profound and passionate anger towards Him from theological conservatives and (e) being overwhelmed by the numbers of sinners and outcasts who flocked to Him?
I am happy to share my own tentative responses to these three questions. But this is your blog so you may have first shot.
One more quick question, Terra: “The purpose of the Mass is to worship and offer sacrifice to God.” Are there acceptable alternative views as to its purpose?
Finally, totally agree with you on blogging.

Terra said...

Alan, On the mass, I'd simply note that at the Last Supper only Our Lord and his inner circle of apostles were present. And the early Christian communities practiced a similarly tight discipline. That's a tradition that has been handed down the centuries - until our own rebellious generation insists on something novel.

Your list in my view misses out a few big and important things (like the call to repentance) and radically distorts most others. Jesus, for example, didn't practice disobedience for the sake of disobedience but to point to the real purpose of the laws - on the contrary he more often conformed to the requirements of the Law even though he wasn't bound to do so.

So is the Gospel primarily about social justice? No. Active charity towards other Christians and wider society is certainly an important part of our faith, but Our Lord didn't spend his life as a social worker! Our efforts in the social sphere must be an outcome the practical manifestation of right belief and right prayer, and always keep in mind that the biggest deprivation of all that the poor generally suffer from is spiritual not physical.

St Benedict for example starts a list of the 72 'tools of good works' (which includes the spiritual and corporal works of mercy) with the instruction to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, etc!

So much as I've been enjoying this conversation you haven't said anything that convinces me, and I can't see that I'm convincing you - are we reaching the limits of fruitful dialogue?

Alan A said...

No, Terra, I am happy to continue for now. We have not yet clashed violently. And may still find accord. Just three questions. Then I will be happy to conclude.
Were the first five books of the Bible literally written by Moses? Do the creation accounts in the first two chapters of Genesis record literal historical events? Does the Old Testament have precisely the same historically accuracy as the New Testament?

Terra said...

By all means let's continue, but not in ever widening spirals!

How about we return to the original issue you were arguing, about the purpose of the mass and outreach? I've put my answer to your question, I'd like to hear why you think I'm wrong, and what this mysterious other view of the purposes of the mass is!

Son of Trypho said...

I would like to query some of Alan A's points - b, c and d in particular.

If Alan is still around can he outline those points with some concrete examples?

Alan A said...

Thanks, Terra. Expect we shall wrap this up shortly. Will explain the relevance of the Pentateuch questions then. But first, to respond to Son of Trypho:
Jesus disobeyed the religious rules (my point b) when he broke the sacrifice laws, when he ate and drank with the ritually unclean, refused to fast at the required times, harvested and ate wheat on the Sabbath, refused to wash before meals, when he told his followers not to call teachers Rabbi and to call no man on earth Father. (Oops! I keep forgetting that one!)
Jesus defied the religious hierarchy (point c) when he condemned the scribes, pharisees and priests with extremely insulting language, bamboozled them with his polemical adroitness and when he cleansed the temple. At his trial he treated the chief priests and elders with contemptuous silence.
The anger Jesus generated from theological conservatives (point d) is seen when the scribes, pharisees and priests accused him of blasphemy, or of being satanic, were filled with fury at him, conspired to kill him and did so.
Most of these are recorded in the three gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Some are recorded in John’s gospel also. Happy to provide texts if needed. More (but not too much) very soon …

Terra said...

Alan - I rather suspect that we all konw the relevant Scriptural quotes.

What I suspect Son of Trypho was getting at is why you insist on interpreting them like a protestant, without looking to the Tradition of the Church on why Jesus did what he did. At WYD Bishop Eliot used the analogy of the Bible as akin to the family photo album - unless you know who the people are and what they were really doing when the picture was taken, its open to wild misinterpretation.

I would highly recommend a look at the Catena Aurea, the Sunday Sermons of the Fathers, or other good patristic texts as an aid...

And to come back to my original question, the Tradition of the Church on the purpose of the Mass and the proper attitude to sinners has been pretty consistent (albeit with the usual bumps on the road). What is the argument for adopting a hermaneutic of suspicion toward this Tradition, and an approach that preaches rupture?

Alan A said...

Okay, to the matter of the Mass. I am certainly not advancing a hermaneutic of suspicion toward your or any tradition, Terra. My approach, I would hope, is the very opposite of rupture.
I have no problem whatsoever with your preferred form of Mass. I always find it exhilarating and awe-inspiring. But it is not the only form, is it? Variations are found within the Catholic community around the world, in language, liturgy, lay involvement and in the teaching on its purpose and significance. The Pope adjusted things slightly in his apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum as recently as 2007.
More variations still are found in other parts of the family of Christ. Many emphasise sacrifice, as you and I do. But others just as faithful take seriously the command of Yahweh, repeated by Jesus, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I disagree with them, but they have an argument.
Some insist that the terms Communion or the Lord’s Supper must be used, not the unbiblical Eucharist or Mass. Picky. Those who believe the teachings in Peter’s letters and Revelation about the Christian community being a priesthood of all believers would seem to have a pretty strong case.
Views vary according to what weight we give certain Scripture passages, patristic texts and other teachings of the Church. God has not given us clear instructions. Grrrr. So perhaps He is happy with diversity.
The Salvation Army, as you will be aware, doesn’t have any form of Communion at all. It claims that nowhere does Scripture teach that any ritual is essential to salvation or Christian living. I disagree with them also, of course, but the Salvos are still very firmly within the broad, varied, multifaceted, colorful, chaotic Christian family. As is St Mary’s at Trades Hall, South Brisbane.
More soon …

Terra said...

It’s not my personal Tradition, Alan, it’s the Tradition of the Church I’m talking about!

And on that, it really is contrary to both Jewish and Catholic tradition to use the tetragrammaton (Y…h).

But in any case, I’m not talking here about the form of the mass – there is a legitimate diversity of APPROVED rites. Yes, the Church can change some of the minor details such as Latin or vernacular. But that isn’t a license to do whatever you like and assume that God doesn’t have a problem with it! Similarly, God actually has given us some guidelines on interpretation of Scripture through his Church. Vatican II’s Verbum Dei for example reaffirms the constant teaching of the Church on the importance of the Fathers (para 8) and sets out the Church’s authority to interpret Scripture definitively. Similarly, yes, there is a priesthood of the faithful (which by the way doesn’t include those as yet outside the Church whose presence, you are claiming, is the test of a good community). But the priesthood of the faithful differs ‘essentially and not only in degree’ from the ordained ministerial or hierarchical priesthood (Lumen Gentium 10).

And let me offer this patristic gloss on Matthew 9:13: “Yet God does not condemn sacrifice, but sacrifice without mercy. But the Pharisees often offered Sacrifices in the temple that they might seem to men to be righteous, but did not practice the deeds of mercy by which true righteousness is proved.”

So I think its my turn for a few questions. Do you believe in the validity of Tradition at all, since you seem to be arguing for a sola Scriptura terminology? Do you actually believe that the Church subsists in the Catholic Church in the sense set out in the 2007 statement of the CDF on the subject? Because your comments seem to be according an equal position to ecclesial communities such as the Salvos, who, good works notwithstanding, catholics believe don’t hold the fullness of truth – ie subscribe to errors. And do you accept Vatican II’s teaching on the authority of the magisterium to both interpret Scripture and legislate on liturgical matters (within limits)? Because you seem to be suggesting that anything anyone anywhere does is equally legitimate, and an infinite variety of interpretations of Scripture can all be legitimate.

The Catholic position is that God is not happy with this ‘broad, multifaceted, colorful, chaotic Christian family’. Rather, as Unitatis Redintegratio makes clear in its opening paragraphs, he calls us to unity, asking all to come into and stay in full communion with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that he established. It is a message that was re-emphasized in the CDF’s 2007 doctrinal note on evangelization. It bears repeating.

Son of Trypho said...


Aside from your point concerning tradition and interpretation (which is correct imho) I'll go down a very different path - lets look at modern biblical criticism/historiography.

Alan A - It strikes me that you are taking a very conservative interpretation of the texts as actual history without taking consideration of its historical context and/or supporting facts.

Lets put aside whether you could actually argue (as you do) that the events are literally true recollections of what happened and that there is no discernible perspective/intentions on the part of the authors. (Modern scholarship would argue that you cannot)

You seem to suggest that "the hierarchy" included the Pharisees, scribes, priests, elders and chief priests - an enormously comprehensive list which I think is trying to draw a parallel to the Church hierarchy today and would not have been identified as a hierarchy by Jews as such in that period.
(You could argue the case for the Great Sanhedrin possibly, but that narrows down your list significantly and would call into question most of your proofs)

I would suggest that these figures all had different views/beliefs and opinions and were not monolithic, nor were they in agreement with each other - there were subscribers to a wide variety of religious perspectives (eg. Sadducces, Pharisees, Essenes, Josephus' Fourth Philosophy, Therepuetae, Onias' sect in Egypt, Sicarii, Zealots, apostates, Hellenized diaspora perspectives, Samaritans and many of these were themselves split by competing interpretations) nor were they unified in their opposition to Jesus or His followers after the Resurrection.

Nor were any of these views particularly dominant over the whole of Jewry (diaspora and Judaean/Galilean, Samaritan etc) and you don't explain how, for instance, the High Priest and his retinue for instance would have been able to monitor the activities of a relatively obscure Galilean and his small circle of followers and their wanderings through the backwater of Galilee - an area which they essentially ignored.

Your interpretation doesn't take into account the political situation and circumstances of the period either - Pilate was a particularly poor Roman administrator and Josephus (amongst others) records that he had committed a number of excesses and errors during his administration which had exacerbated tensions in Jerusalem with the leading religious (and no doubt political) figures in that city as well as the general population.

Nor do you take into account the Roman difficulties with messianic pretenders and religious extremism and how that impacted on the situation, nor the general policies and practices of Roman provincial administration.

It strikes me that you have put aside all of these things (amongst many others) to take a relatively literal acceptance of the accounts as historical fact because it fits your interpretation and suits you to do so. Yet I would suggest that you would not apply the same uncritical acceptance to the stories of the Torah etc? Why would that be?

Terra - please feel free to jump in! :)

Alan A said...

Terra and Son of Trypho, I have just coloured in red all the statements from you both with which I disagree. Very few. None at all on your blog, Son of T (though you left out the Levites).
There are certainly misunderstandings, however, due to my clunky journalistic approach. Non-technical language and the constant quest for brevity are not always helpful. And, yes, we do sometimes spell out tetragrammatons.
Son of Trypho, would it be more satisfactory if my shorthand ‘hierarchy’ on 19 April at 12.04 was altered to ‘those within the religious community with the power to destroy him’?
Terra, yes I am familiar with the CDF’s 2007 doctrinal note. An exceptionally valuable pastoral document. This is why the CDF’s decision in the St Mary’s matter just three months later was such a shock and disappointment. Particularly in light of paragraph 8.
Terra, let me approach your two key questions with a local observation. This will bring us back to St Mary’s via the Pentateuch.
In my time in France I have been astonished at the pervasive hatred of the Christian faith generally and the Catholic Church in particular. Deep resentment towards the Catholic hierarchy is found also among the Catholic faithful, including many clergy. Much broader and more vehement than in Australia or the US or England. I am learning that this is not confined to France. Much of this seems of the Church’s own making.
Just over 100 years ago a devout Catholic scholar here, Albert Loisy, published his findings that the first five books of the Bible were not written by Moses and that the Genesis creation and other stories recorded spiritual not historical truth. He also pioneered Modernist criticism of the New Testament. (I am sure you know this, Terra and Son of T, but other readers may not.)
Those within the religious community with the power to destroy him did so. With the support of many other devout Catholics, he pleaded his case with the Vatican for some years. But in 1908 he was excommunicated.
This raises two questions (for now): After 1908, in the eyes of God did Abbe Loisy and those who believed his findings to be Truth (ref Thomas Aquinas) still belong to God’s Church?
Was the tradition which demanded Loisy’s expulsion, when other Christian traditions did not, inspired by the Spirit of God?

Terra said...

Ahh, the modernist storyline. At last we come to the core of the issue.

So what you are really saying is that big bad Church just couldn’t come to terms with modern scholarship or reasonable criticism and accept that the Bible was essentially mythology rather than literal history. So no wonder everyone hates it! And here we are replaying the same old intransigence at St Mary's and elsewhere.

For the record, in fact the situation in France (and Europe generally) has much deeper roots -modernism just gave it a helping hand. And the Church has certainly not been perfect – but neither can it reasonably be argued that she ‘caused’ this hatred by her own actions. We have to be constantly reminded that the devil hates the Church, and constantly wars against it.

Remember the French Revolution? Which killed thousands of catholics, and embarked on a systematic campaign of dechristianization? The clergy were disproportionate victims of the Terror. But an estimated seventy percent of the victims of the terror were not aristocrats, but peasants and workers, many of them martyrs for the faith. The Revolution had its roots in the ‘Enlightenment’ and the desire to drive God out of the world. And laicite has continued to thrive in France, aided at various times by Marxism and naziism.

Loisy and the modernists represented an attack on the Church from another angle and gave that movement another plank – instead of denying God altogether, he attempted to reduce concepts of the divine to the purely ‘spiritual’ realm. Long held oral traditions were attacked as unsupported by any hard neutral evidence. Bible stories - both Old and New Testament - were treated as myths designed to teach symbolically, without any historical basis behind them. Loisy’s famous line was that Jesus preached the Kingdom, but what came was the Church.

It has been one of the fascinating developments of recent decades to see Loisy and other’s claims systematically undermined by archeology and modern scholarship. Unfortunately, they have done a lot of damage along the way before being demolished. But a read of the couple of recent articles on Biblical Scholarship over at First Things by Professor Reno might prove instructive. Similarly, I really would recommend reading Pope Benedict XVI’s General Audience series on the apostles and key figures of the early Church rather than the modernist series on such topics that can be found on catholica.

I do believe we’ve reached the limits of useful debate on this one. After several days of exchanges I'm still none the wiser on why its a good things to have lots of visible sinners at a mass and why we should hate all institutions, and I won’t have this blog used to promote heresies such as modernism, so am closing off this debate at this point.

I may however do a separate series on modernism at some point where we can discuss this more systematically rather than have positions unfortunately distorted by the need for brevity.

Thanks for your contributions though Alan and Son of Trypho, it has been interesting.