Friday, 30 April 2010

On 'moral panics' and the abuse crisis

A number of blogs, most recently Muse in Melbourne, have suggested that the current abuse crisis should be viewed as an example of what sociologists label a 'moral panic' - "a social alarm created artificially, by amplifying real facts and exaggerating their numbers through statistical folklore, as well as “discovering” and presenting as “new” events which in reality are already known and which date to the past. There are real events at the base of the panic, but their number is systematically distorted."  They point to past attacks on the Church that have used such tactics, including the Nazis and communists.

There is obviously a large degree of truth to this.  The outright fabrications and distortions repeated in the mass media have every appearance of a beat up.

But there are two points that need to be borne in mind.  First, how does one effectively counter a moral panic?  

Muse suggests that the German bishops in Nazi Germany took a tough action on paedophilia that effectively diffused the attack.  But the reality is that the attack just went on in different forms.  By 1939 10,000 catholics schools had been closed, and the children sent to nazi schools for indoctrination.  When the paedophile attack went away, the Nazis simply went after people for other reasons.  Millions of catholics died, including at least 50,000 priests and religious in concentration camps or along the way there.  And we all know the results of the moral panic the Nazis engineered against the jews.

If only people had recognised Naziism for what it was when it first emerged in the early 1930s, and been able to take effective action to counter it early it was, a terrible destructive war was the only means of destroying this great evil.

Secondly, how does one distinguish between something that is a mere beatup, and a crisis where the symptoms of disorder that have fed the panic are but the tip of an iceberg concealing real problems?

Nazism, like communism, was a true evil that sought any means of discrediting the Church and others, whether or not there was a real foundation for its attacks.  And it is true that extreme atheism and secularism, with the dreadful holocaust of abortion that they are wreaking, and the vigorous enforcement of a counter-truth political correctnesss looks awfully similar in many ways.  Particularly horrifying that our society is so brainwashed that it can't even see this holocaust for what it is.

But what about the liberal chorus that has joined in to push their own agenda?  I'd suggest that they are perhaps more akin to Luther's attacks on the Church - heretical, disobedient and distorted, but nonetheless pointing to some real underlying problems in the Church that did and do need to be addressed (albeit not in the ways either Luther or his modern day equivalents suggest).

Failure to address abuses within the Church effectively in the sixteenth century led to the Reformation.  It would be nice if we learnt the lessons of history, and tackled the broader problems of the liturgy, doctrinal orthodoxy, and orthopraxis quickly and effectively.

The approval of the new translation of the NO Mass yesterday is a big move in this direction.  We  - and more particularly the bishops and priests - need to get behind the Pope and support the reform agenda he has initiated.

Feast of St Catherine of Siena

Today is the feast of doctor of the Church, St Catherine of Siena OP (and my name saint).

St Catherine is one of those female saints who (along with Blessed Mary Mckillop, St Hildegarde and others) scare a certain type of priest unfortunately not uncommon amongst the traditionally inclined: I once heard a sermon on her feast day urging us (especially the women) to ignore her charismatic gifts (her mysticism; her extensive correspondence with Popes, Emperors and Kings; and her mediation work) and instead imitate her (extreme) asceticism. 

It's not advice that could be considered mainstream - for a start, St Catherine's asceticism, which included subsisting for long periods only on the blessed sacrament and taking the discipline up to three times a day (at times in direct disobedience to her spiritual director) is normally regarded as a special vocation, appropriate only to the very few explicitly called to such extremes.

In fact, St Catherine should rather remind us that we are all called to some degree to asceticism, but also to exercize an active role in the world to some degree, particularly in difficult times for the Church such as these.  Not that we are all called on to correct the Pope (he surely has quite enough people attempting to tell him what to do!) or other world leaders.  But nonetheless, she should remind us that not only must we all engage in works of charity, but also that we must not shirk from speaking up and doing what is necessary to address what is happening in our world and in the Church within our own particular spheres, competencies and callings.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Feast of the Holy Abbots of Cluny

Today the Benedictine calendar celebrates the feasts of four of the abbots of the monastery of Cluny, SS Odo, Majolus, Odilo and Hugh.

Founded in 910, as a result of its series of long-lived and holy abbots, Cluny was enormously influential, supporting the revival of the papacy after one of its darker periods, and the reforms of Pope St Gregory VII (a Benedictine with some ties to Cluny) including enforcement of clerical celibacy.

The importance of the legacy of Cluny to the Church has been emphasized by Pope Benedict XVI in a several of his General Audiences last year.  Two of these talks in particular are worth reading (or rereading) today, namely those on:
Cluniac mnasticism had a highly centralized structure (unlike some modern Benedictine congregations), and put an enormous emphasis on the liturgy, particularly emphasising its intercessory value, which consumed most of the day.
And if you think modern day religious wars within the Church are a little over-vigorous at times, have a read of the correspondence between St Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter the Venerable (then Abbot of Cluny), and the various tracts produced by their friends! Talk about propaganda (on both sides). Personally I tend to side with the Cluniacs, but...

Most of the original monastery, located in Bourgogne, including its fabulous library, was destroyed during the French Revolution. The name though stays alive in the remains of the 'Hotel de Cluny' in Paris, which has been turned into the Museum of the Middle Ages, known as the Cluny.

But in any case, to return to the four abbots in question, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia:
  • St Odo was the second abbot of Cluny, born circa 878, probably near Le Mans and he died on 18 November, 942. He reformed several monasteries in Aquitaine, northern France, and Italy, and was entrusted with some important political missions;
  • St. Majolus or Maieul was born in 906, and died in 994. Otto II desired to make him pope in 974 but he refused;
  • St Odilo was fifth abbot of Cluny, born around 962; d. 31 December, 1048. The number of monasteries in the Cluniac congregation (mainly by reforming existing monasteries) increased from 37 to 65 under his incumbency; we worked to achieve a truce system 'the peace of God' that restricted warfare; saved thousands during a time of famine through his charity; and he is primarily responsible for introducing the Feast of All Saints into the calendar;
  • St. Hugh the Great was born at Semur (Brionnais in the Diocese of Autun, 1024 and died at Cluny, 28 April, 1109. A friend of Pope St Gregory VII he played a key role in the reform of the clergy, and was widely recognized for his sanctity even during his lifetime.

Michael Pearce RIP

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Michael Pearce of Sydney, who died yesterday.

Michael did much for the Maternal Heart Community in Sydney, and will be well-known to traditionalists across Australia.

His Requiem Mass will be held on Monday at St Mary's Cathedral at 3pm.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The attack: where are we now, and what is to be done

A month ago, on 25 March, The New York Times published a slanderous article attacking the Pope.

There were three main claims:

 that Pope Benedict XVI had refused to ‘defrock’ a priest (Fr Murphy) who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, “even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church…”;

 “that he and direct subordinates often did not alert civilian authorities…” of abuse cases;

 That he failed to discipline priests involved in sexual abuse in his various roles.

The Pope is innocent

All three accusations have been comprehensively debunked in a number of places. But that hasn’t stopped the media continuing this vile attack as if it were true and authoritative - this scurrilous campaign has infiltrated government (see the recent UK debacle), and every form of the media (even the women's magazines I discovered as I sat waiting for the physio yesterday).  It has changed people's opinions - both catholics and non-catholics alike - and not for the better, about the Church. 

A helpful Australian examination of the misrepresentations and outright lies can be found, of all places, at Crikey (and mentioned on CathNews yesterday, albeit indirectly and without a link being provided!).

In fact, examination of the evidence makes it clear that the Pope is not only innocent of the charges, but has actually played a central role played in a behind-the-scenes battle within the Roman Curia between those who sought to cover up the scandal, and those who sought to tackle it root and branch (this week's Catholic Leader has a good piece on this, including some interesting comments by the rector of Brisbane's seminary, a former CDF employee).

But the Church has a case to answer

But the furor has also exposed some appalling cases, some appalling practices. It has demonstrated that there is a real underlying problem that does need to be addressed.

It shown widespread malfeasance on the part of bishops, and at least on what we have seen so far, suggested that until relatively recently, the Vatican was often part of the problem not the solution. And that there are quite a number of senior Vatican officials who still seem to be part of the problem.

Of course we can note that the Catholic Church is certainly no worse than many other organizations, and possibly better than many, in regard to both the prevalence of child abuse and the cover-up of it. Certainly the wave of anti-papal and anti-catholic feeling that has sprung to the surface in recent weeks has left us all feeling horrified and appalled.

But so too has the attitudes and pattern of behaviour on the part of some priests, bishops and yes, the Vatican, left the faithful appalled and horrified.

The sheer affrontery of some of the offenders revealed in the cases that have come out (for example Marciel) is perhaps understandable: they are after all a species of sociopath, of narcissists, adept at being outwardly charming, even projecting an aura of holiness, even while threatening their victims and attempting (and in many cases apparently succeeding) in bribing and blackmailing their superiors.

That some even made it into the ranks of bishops is rather more horrifying but not completely inexplicable given the disastrous state of the episcopacy for much of the last three decades, and the infilfration of the priesthood by homosexuals and many others who should never have been ordained.

Still, how could even the most liberal bishop think that protecting his priests was more important than protecting his flock? How could a senior Cardinal, a traditionalist one at that, possibly think that the alleged ‘father-son’ relationship between bishop and priest could override the protection of the youngest members of that bishop’s flock? How could bishops knowingly continue reshuffle reoffending priests into positions where they could continue to offend? And could so little compassion be shown to the victims?

What is to be done?

In the last few days we've seen a number of reports at attempts that might be made to end this crisis:
    • suggestions that the Pope might announce an apology at the conclusion of the Year of the Priest.  If so, it probably needs to be backed up by some practical measures, the Raven suggests;
    • a renewed focus on the fundamental messages of the Church, with a more serious attempt at re-evangelising the West, backed by a new Vatican dicastery.  Certainly needed, but it will to be backed by some serious changes in approach given the utter failure of the 'New Evangelization' to date; and
    • prayer and penance, and particularly public penance on the part of those who have made poor or misguided decisions in the past in this area.

I do, however, think that more than this is required.  The Vatican Press Office has been talking about transparency and accountability - and we need to see some of it at the diocesan and parish level.  Julie Edwards (no relation) writing on the CathNews blog, calls for an audit of our structures and practices.  I agree.

The challenge of course is to do this in a way that gives proper respect to the hierarchical constitution of the Church, and the commission of bishops in particular to govern their people.  The challenge is how to bring operating practices up to modern standards without giving space to the liberal agenda (given pride of place again by Cath News yesterday in the form of a piece by Bishop Patrick Power).

But I don't think this need be as hard as it seems.  Personally, being a fan of Benedictine spirituality (St Benedict I mean here, though I'm also a fan of the modern Benedict's!), I think the solution lies largely in effective advisory-only bodies, and effective informal mechanisms which bishops (and priests) should be compelled to listen to - but should be free to accept or reject their advice (take a look at the Rule of St Benedict Chapters 3&61 in particular).  The mish-mash of current structures needs a rethink.

Secondly, while the Church is not a corporation or a government department, it is an institution that shares many of their features, and can learn from practices they are required to follow.  Why don't, for example, dioceses publish online the equivalent of an annual report each year, including some basic performance indicator statistics on their websites?  How many seminarians there are.  How many complaints about priests are received each year on what topics, and the proportion accepted and acted on.  How many people were received, baptised, confirmed, married, had marriages annulled etc etc each year.  Mass attendance figures.  The number of hours confession was available.  The number of hours of Adoration performed.  And much more.

Thirdly, the air needs to be cleared.  That does mean a serious, diocese by diocese examination of the record of the past, why failings occurred, and what needs to be done to fix the problems.  That does mean a performance audit.

The question is which bishops will have the courage to start this process.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

ANZAC DAY - Lest we forget

Today is ANZAC Day, the 95th anniversary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli, and the day above all that Australia and New Zealand traditionally remember their war dead, and all those who have served in the armed forces.

The traditional hymn for the day is Abide with me:

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide.

The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Bishop toll - more bad news

Those who suggest that the current crisis is just a media beatup, or that the Church really has already cleaned its act up need to take a look at the toll of bishops who have resigned over the last year or so for serious reasons.  Think Canada, Africa, Latin America, Ireland...and now Belgium.

Last week saw the resignation of another Irish bishop.  Now Bishop Roger Joseph Vangheluwe of Bruges, whose resignation statement said:

"When I was still just a priest, and for a certain period at the beginning of my episcopate, I sexually abused a minor from my immediate environment. The victim is still marked by what happened. Over the course of these decades I have repeatedly recognised my guilt towards him and his family, and I have asked forgiveness; but this did not pacify him, as it did not pacify me. The media storm of recent weeks has increased the trauma, and the situation is no longer tenable. I profoundly regret what I did and offer my most sincere apologies to the victim, to his family, to all the Catholic community and to society in general. I have presented my resignation as bishop of Bruges to Pope Benedict XVI. It was accepted on Friday and so I retire."

The real question is how many more there are still hiding in the ranks.  And how many complicit in coverups, inaction or worse. 

They really need to resign quickly, and get the pain for the rest of us over so we can rebuild.

We can defend the Pope and those other bishops who are genuinely attempting to tackle the problem, particularly where we have the real facts and the attacks are just attempts to smear by association.  But we really need better information coming from our diocesan bishops to help us do that.

We can defend innocent priests from guilt by association and support them with our prayers. 

We can pray for the victims. 

We can make reparation for past sins of others. 

But the laity should not have to put up with this ongoing plague of wolves pretending to be shepherds, this festering, gangrenous wound.  Amputation is the only possible approach at this stage.

And, the complacency represented by Australian bishops' conferences press interactions aside, I don't think we can be sure that there are no Australians who should be seriously considering their position.

I for one am still waiting for an official explanation for the apparent admission that around 100 priests in Melbourne have been involved in substantiated abuse claims, with only one laicized.  If it's true, that's around a third of Melbourne's diocesan priests.  Of  nearly 20% of all priests in the diocese.

Maybe the figures are wrong.  Maybe there is a credible explanation for the apparent inaction.  If so, we need to hear it.

And I'm also waiting to hear why the official investigator is allowed to get away with compromising police investigations for some supposed right of people to know they are being investigated (a right that doesn't apply to any other suspected criminals), or attempting to impose his own judgments of what is and isn't a crime to discourage victims from proceeding.

The Archbishop, like our PM, must be blessing the Storm (Melbourne Rugby League team) salary cap rort story for its diversionary value.

There is though, a fairly balanced editorial today in The Age on this subject which is worth reading.

I doubt Melbourne is the only diocese where serious questions need to be answered though.

It all makes my stomach turn.

Poor Pope Benedict XVI, having to deal with all this on the fifth anniversary of his inauguration.  Pray for him that he may continue to take decisive action to deal with this plague.

Also pray that the priests and bishops concerned admit their crimes and sins to their superiors, and resign forthwith.  Far better to admit their guilt and get out quickly than to hang around hoping to get away with it, as many apparently have, only to be exposed later.  There is a lot of pain now, and it looks like it will only get worse for a while.  But only by ridding ourselves of the sources of infection can we hope to recover our health in the long-term.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Cardinal Pell defends the Pope...

Some positive moves on responses to the abuse crisis:
  • on the Archdiocese of Sydney website, Cardinal Pell speaks on video with a strong defence of the Pope, an acknowledgement of the serious nature of the problem, and an excellent commentary on the atheist attack.  Good stuff - let's hope more of his colleagues follow suit;
  • the Canberra-Goulburn website highlights a novena for the Pope (starting 15 May) organised by the Knights of the Southern Cross;
  • in the UK, the bishops of England and Wales have issued a statement on the crisis, and issued a call to public penance and prayer.

Cath News watch...

And just to continue my point about Cath News' unhelpful skewing of the news, today we get:
  • Fr Frank Brennan's piece in the SMH lamenting the decision not to proceed with a Human Rights Charter given pride of place - following up an earlier reporting of the original decision.  But where is the coverage of those welcoming the decision, not least one of the main opponents, Cardinal Pell? 
  • even worse, a piece from a German magazine suggesting the Vicar General of Munich was pressured into being the fallguy for the Pope - without any reference to Fr Gruber's firm denials of this claim;
  • a bizarre and obscure story about a failed carbon offsets scheme that left the Vatican in the lurch with a classic cathnews headline spin of the 'The Vatican forest that wouldn't grow' (typically, the Cath News extract doesn't bother to mention that the Vatican is actually considering suing those involved....)

The biggest real news this week: No to a Human Rights Charter

The biggest Oz news (from a catholic perspective) this week was actually good news - the Government's decisions to 'defer' further consideration of a Charter of Human Rights until 2014. 

The decision is remarkable for a number of reasons, not least that it represents the results of extremely well-organized and effective lobbying on the part of Christian (including catholic) and inter-faith organizations.  And it makes Australia (Victoria aside, as it already has its own version of a Charter) a stronghold against some of the worst mechanisms being used to attack Christians in countries such as Canada and the UK.

The strongest argument used was that a Charter represents a shift of power from the legislature to the judiciary (pointing to the loss of power and effects on some current policies and practices espoused by politicians that would become illegal under a Charter is always helpful). 

The more important argument is the way it has been used in Victoria and overseas to attack the freedom of religion.

No surprise then that its advocates - such as Jesuit Fr Frank Brennan, who headed the Government Committee that recommended proceeding with a Charter - are out in force today whingeing about the outcome and trying to keep the project alive to try again after the next election.

The battle has been won, and all those involved should be congratulated. 

But the war continues....

Thursday, 22 April 2010

What IS the purpose of Cath News?

Christine Hogan has published a post on Cath News, Australia's catholic media alert service, defending its often extraordinary selection and reporting of news items.

The problems, as some of the commenters on the post make clear are several:
  • bad news stories (from a catholic perspective) about the Church seem to get pride of place at the cost of the good news - the coverage of the attacks on the Pope was particularly appalling, with little attempt to include the factual and other responses to the allegations;
  • the selection of opinion and other pieces typically highlight the liberal agenda - today, for example, Hans Kung's latest attack gets pride of place under the heading of 'Opinion', while the excellent refutation of it that I highlighted here yesterday is ignored.  An article on Justice Kirby is justified on the basis that we should care about how the secular debate on same sex marriage - but why then are there no stories on the daily changes on boat people (as opposed to priests and bishops speaking on the issue), a topic apparently much dearer to the bishops' hearts if we go on the number of press releases? And why was the last coverage of life issues December last year!  And why doesn't life even rate its own sub-category, instead being subsumed by 'ethics'?;
  • the spin put on the stories is often as bad or worse than the secular media, with no attempt to distance Cath News from the original story, but rather appearing to endorse it;
  • there is little or no attempt to place the stories in a catholic perspective or point to resources which can be used to give the catholic perspective.  A number of sites for example have compiled a list of resources on the abuse claims - but cathnews has not pointed to them;
  • comments over the specified word length from a liberal perspective are let through while more conservative ones just a few words over are rejected (take a look at the item on Dawkins and Hitchens from last week where a 295 word post was allowed through; a post I wrote a week earlier on a  different topic with only 265 words was rejected allegedly for length reasons).
So just what is the purpose of Cath News?

I would have thought it was to equip readers to deal with the debate in the public square.  Yes, that does mean alerting readers to what is happening in the Church, how the media are reporting on the Church, and some broader issues.  But the problems listed above show why Ms Hogan's justifications simply do not stand up to scrutiny.

Cath News should take a hard look at itself.  It should take a look at some better models, such as the Lifesite, or Catholic World News.

And the bishops should consider defunding Cath News if it won't change.

Fiddling while Rome burns: the bishops and refugees?

Although the Australian Bishops have yet to issue any statements on the abuse crisis, they have issued at least two condemning the Government's recent suspension of refugee processing for Sri Lankan and Afghanistan boat arrivals.

Now let me be clear.  I'm personally appalled by the Rudd Government's decision.  The media (and Opposition) beat-up on the boatpeople crisis is just that.  But really, is this what our bishops should be focusing on, particularly at the moment?

Refugees and the media frenzy

So far this year around 2000 people have arrived in Australia by boat. If past numbers hold true, 90% or more of them are genuine refugees and will eventually stay here. They will be found to be not economic refugees (the main problem in the US and to a lesser extent Europe), but genuinely fleeing from persecution.  The numbers involved though are tiny by world standards - even if the current flows keep up, the numbers can easily be absorbed within our paltry (13,700) humanitarian program.

And let's put the number further in perspective - we currently have around 60,000 visa overstayers in Australia, genuine illegals.  Where's the fuss about them? 

Moreover the number of refugees pales in the face of our massive immigration program, currently running at around 170,000 people a year.

One can easily debunk some of the Opposition and media stereotypes about refugees - Howard's claim that they are 'queue-jumpers' for example is ludicrous given that there are approximately 15 million refugees in the world (and probably more than double that if you include internally displaced people who haven't managed to flee their country), yet the UN manages to resettle only around 120,000 a year.  Some queue!

And I could go on.

I'm not saying that border integrity isn't worth defending.  It is. 

But there are other, more systematic ways of tackling the problem, and in my view compulsory long-term detention of already traumatised people is a very hard policy to see any merit in. 

And more immediately, suspending the claims processing of Afghan refugees when our troops are still over there fighting seems particularly indefensible. 

Rudd's measures don't seem to be working as a deterrent, and are costing him the support of his own base.  Good - that how democracy works.

The role of bishops....

But is this really the number one issue for the bishops?  Personally I think this is one of those prudential areas better left to the laity.  Particularly when all the bishops can come up with are some rather weak arguments.

Bishop Saunders for example in the latest press release says Australia will be judged as a world citizen on how it treats refugees.  Oh yes?  Judged worse than say France, where it is illegal to even assist a refugee?  Worse than the US, Italy and other countries (that the Howard and to a lesser extent Rudd Governments have attempted at times to imitate) that attempt to turn back boats, tow them away, or just leave them to sink?  That deny illegal immigrants access to medical and other services? And EU countries that have followed us in introducing compulsory detention?

This is certainly an issue on which real leadership is required to shift the terms of the public debate.  But this is one where the laity might be  better placed to take the lead.

So here's a creative suggestion - perhaps instead of issuing press releases, Cardinal Pell should be having one of his little chats to the mad monk (aka Opposition Leader Tony Abbott) on toning down the rhetoric on this issue?  After all, in between bike rides, Abbott has after all been doing some triple summersaults with a backflip of late (such as on introducing new taxes, and supporting paid maternity leave), and seems open at the moment to every 'interesting' idea going (such as abolishing unemployment benefits for under 30s and deporting them instead to Western Australia). 

Indeed, perhaps Mr Abbott might be amenable to a scheme where refugees could get out of detention early if they agreed to work (after suitable training) in WA's mines for a certain period, solving our labour shortage problems and detention accomodation crisis in one bold stroke....(and after all, it's not too different from some of the schemes that brought European displaced persons to Australia after WWII to work on schemes such as the Snowy is it)?!

The Pope speaks...and the Australian bishops deflect.

Yesterday in his General Audience the Pope reflected on his trip to Malta, and the emotional meeting he had with victims.  In the press its being reported as the Pope (finally) speaking out on the subject (ignoring his Letter to Ireland, calls for penance and more).  And the Australian bishops' conference apparently agrees with the secular take on the issue, courtesy of ABC Radio's AM program:

"TONY EASTLEY: For the first time [well actually no.  He first spoke about it immediately before his election; he has touched on it numerous times since, spoke directly before and during his trip to Malta] Pope Benedict has spoken publicly on the predator priest sex abuse scandal embroiling the Catholic Church.

The Pope says he shares the victims' suffering and will implement effective measures to protect children.  Leaders in the Australian Catholic Church say his acknowledgement is overdue but say it's better late than never. [How supportive!  There are enough people out there already critiquing the way the Vatican has responded or not to this crisis.  Whether or not we agree with them, its unhelpful to feed this.  And anyway, let's be clear.  responsibility for what priests do and don't do, how they are assigned and disciplined rests first and foremost with bishops, not the Pope.  The Pope is taking the fall - as a good leader often does - for what has happened below him.]

BRONWYN HERBERT: Each week in St Peter's Square Pope Benedict speaks to thousands of pilgrims and visitors to the Vatican.

But his latest address was the Pontiff's first public uttering acknowledging the Church's involvement in child sexual abuse.

POPE BENEDICT XVI (translated): I wanted to meet some people who were victims of abuse by members of the clergy. I shared with them their suffering and with emotion I prayed with them, promising them action on the part of the church.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Over the weekend, Pope Benedict met with eight men in Malta who say they were molested by priests at local orphanage. Victim groups have been calling on the Pope to acknowledge the issue directly instead of using vague references.

Australian Catholic bishops acknowledge the Pope's public address is overdue.

BRIAN LUCAS: There's been criticism from a number of quarters, including from very senior church personnel, that the Vatican, particularly at the bureaucratic level, hasn't been as responsive to this question internationally as it ought to be. I think it's now very timely and important that the Pope make the explicit statements that he's made.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Father Brian Lucas is the general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

(to Brian Lucas) Do you think it's all come a little bit too late for the church?

BRIAN LUCAS: Better that the issue be confronted and dealt with. Yes in hindsight, it would have perhaps been helpful for comments like this to have been made at a much earlier point in time.[So where was the statement from the bishops when this issue first broke?]

BRONWYN HERBERT: The sexual abuse crisis has exploded in recent months and the Pope in his public address promised direct action.

But Father Lucas says in Australia, despite ongoing scandal still being heard in the courts, he's confident child protection policies are adequate.

BRIAN LUCAS: I think Australia has been very much ahead of this issue. From the late 1980s the Australian bishops had in place protocols to deal with these matters. That's well known and publicised in our document Towards Healing, that's very available publicly on the bishops' conference website.

The Australian child protection regime would be a model many other countries could usefully follow.[Complacency.  It's true that there are strict child protection protocols in place.  But that isn't the real issue.  The real issue is whether training, attitudes and supervision of priests, not to mention management practices of bishops, are adequate.  That's a much more questionable proposition.  There are too many recent cases - such as the Newcastle and Toowomba ones, that suggest there is still a long way to go.] 

BRONWYN HERBERT: But despite Father Lucas' assertions, a spokesman for the Archbishop of Melbourne has confirmed the church is in discussions with police to change the way it investigates sex abuse claims.

A spokesman for the Archbishop told AM that only one priest has been defrocked since 1996 despite almost 300 sexual abuse claims being substantiated. [Wow, that's a pretty extraordinary statistic.  It requires a lot of explaining.]

The victim support group Broken Rites says the church has for too long regarded sex abuse as a sin and not a crime.[And more to the point, not a very serious sin.]"

So what should the bishops have said?

A better response might have been to acknowledge and point to the Pope's earlier call to  penance, and perhaps announced some appropriate gesture for Australia (I'm intrigued by the call for bishops and clergy to do public penance being debated in some US blogs); to the clear message in the 2001 guidelines that cases must be reported to the civil authorities; to point ot the Pope's clear record of tackling these difficult issues head on.

To state (or restate) clearly just what the Australian bishops' record is.  How many cases have they in fact referred to the police?  How many priests have been removed from ministery and/or laicized in response to credible claims?

Instead yesterday's Canberra Times was graced with yet another whingeing liberal article (unfortunately not available online) continuing the attack from within this time from Bishop Patrick Power (Auxiliary Bishop of Canberra-Goulburn) repeating (albeit in veiled form) his previous calls for women to be ordained, for an end to 'authoritarian' structures, compulsory celibacy and much more as a response to the crisis.

Bishop Power calls for the voices of the faithful, especially of women to be heard.  I suspect he doesn't mean voices like mine, however, who actually want a return to orthodoxy, orthopraxis, plus some more accountability and transparency.  Nonetheless, hear my voice Bishop Power.  I'd suggest some serious meditation on the texts for last week's mass in the EF about the good sheppard vs the hireling (Jn 10:11-16).

This is a time when all of our bishops - all catholics in fact - need to unite behind the Pope and act on the program he has set out - or if in all conscience they can't, they need to get out.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Feast of St Anselm OSB

The recent rebirthing (sans bishop countdowns etc) of Cooees from the Cloister seems to have allowed them to recover their sense of humour, so I link today to a piece originally from Mark Shea's blog, to the tune of Walzing Matilda.  A brief extract to encourage you to go read the whole thing:

"Once a jolly friar got himself an argument

And couldn't get it out of his mind.
He thought that he could prove the existence of the Deity
Because of the way that the words are defined.


Thus spake St. Anselm, thus spake St. Anselm,
Thus spake St. Anselm, who now is long dead,
And we're awed as we read his proof so ontological;
Who can deny a word that he said?

If that than which nothing greater can be conceived
Can be conceived not to exist,
Then 'tis not that than which nothing greater can be conceived:
This is unquestionable, I insist...."

If only we could abolish the States....

Many years ago, at drinkies for the aftermath of a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) negotiation (which had, as usual for these events, resulted in a hopelessly muddled compromise and millions of unneeded dollars flowing to the States in order to persuade them to do something they should have been doing anyway), one of the senior policy gurus involved in its establishment confessed in his cups that the then PM and his advisors had idly tossed around (in the course of a long and boring overseas plane trip where entertainment was scarce) the idea of attempting to abolish the States  - but had quickly decided that it was politically untenable, and so gone for the creation of COAG instead.  If only they'd given it a try, he suggested, they might not have succeeded then, but the groundwork laid might have eventually had an effect.

A similar comment might be made about the peculiar outcomes of PM Rudd's latest health care negotiations - perhaps a referendum over the Commonwealth takingover health care, even if lost, might be a better outcome than the mish-mash of funding arrangements now agreed to by all the States and Territories bar Western Australia.

You see the issue is this.  Good government is essential for the well-being of a country. 

And there are few more important tests of a nation's commitment to its citizens in the modern world than ensuring (whether through a public, private or mixed system) effective access to health services.

Yet Australia, at least at the State and Territory level, does not, in general, have good government.  The Northern Territory is an outright 'failed State' in the view of many; but the terrible corruption and incompetence that has characterised most of the other States, and resulted in bizarre outcomes like the new Tasmanian Labor-Green coalition, isn't that far behind. 

One can point to Tasmania's long history of signing up to projects (from damming the Franklin to the Gunn's pulp mill) that destroy its natural beauty with low expected returns to economic development; to South Australia, the ACT and others' utter failure to invest in the water infrastructure necessary to support population growth; to the outright corruption of politicians brought out in cases in Queensland, WA and NSW, and let's not even talk about police forces while Underbelly is running on tv...

Health is where our peculiar mixed system of split responsibilities (for overseas readers, the Federal Government subsidizes  - but does not directly run - General Practitioner and other services out of hospitals, as well as pharmaceuticals, and medical insurance; the States run the hospital system; public hospitals provide semi-free services as a safety net, but also serve private patients; depending on location, private hospitals mainly provide elective surgery, not necessarily able to offer all of the services available in public hospitals) holds together only with stitches, the wounds oozing out the seams.

Fall seriously ill (or just fracture a bone or two as I have recently!) and you will find yourself trapped in a system with long queues (because there are some services that the private system simply does not offer, or times when it does not offer them), high costs (even if you have insurance), and often less than optimal treatment regimes.

So any attempt to reform the system, such as that by Kevin Rudd, which involves decentralising control of hospitals to local area boards, funding based on efficient service prices, and trying to ensure that the money really is spent on health, has to be worth trying.

But the problem is the old one of getting between a State Premier and dollars: Western Australia is refusing to give up the 30% of GST revenue required for the Rudd model to work.  It's all former PM John Howard's fault really: his GST deal with the States in 1998 gave the States a guaranteed revenue stream.  And as Alan Kohler has pointed out that the States have ignored the requirements of the deal to abolish taxes such as payroll and stamp duty, and instead used the money to grow the size of government:

"Specifically, they have blown the GST on employing public servants. A recent study of state budgets by the Institute of Public Affairs reveals that expenditure on employment and remuneration of state government employees has gone from $43 billion in 2000, when the GST introduced to $78 billion in 2009, an increase of 78 per cent or 8 per cent a year.

Between 1990 and 1997, the number of state public servants declined from 1.08 million to 941,500. Now it is back to 1.2 million. The largest percentage increase has been in Victoria – up 36.8 per cent...."

Nor is it in the least obvious that we have more and better services as a result - quite the reverse in the case of our public health system.

Not of course, that the Federal system is much better: under Howard, the Federal public service too expanded dramatically.  But, poor policy design of stimulus spending aside, the Federal system has generally proved much more transparent (albeit with some notable exceptions such as the Department of Defense) much more efficient, and much less subject to corruption and utter incompetence than the States.

Not of course that I'm advocating that everything be centralized: those who dream of abolishing the States have always seen the optimal solution as a system of strong regional level government.

The current proposals are at least a small step in this direction I suppose (albeit one compromised by the compromises), so let's hope that Rudd's optimism about getting WA on board proves warranted, and something actually happens this time.

And those bribes to get the States to sign up are mostly sensible ones: personally, I'm just looking forward to only having to wait the new guaranteed maximum of four hours in Emergency (rather than the seven I spent but a few weeks ago) next time I have a serious medical crisis, or I have to sit with someone I know having one.

The Pope: 'romantic orthodoxy'

There is a very nice article in The Guardian by Adrian Pabst which defends Pope Benedict XVI from charges of being a reactionary.  Much of it is a discussion of Hans Kung's attack on the Pope, but it goes a long way to articulating the Pope's underlying philosophy and how it contrasts with that of his attackers.

Here are some key extracts:

"Five years after succeeding Pope John Paul II on 19 April 2005, Benedict is confronting the worst crisis of his papacy. The ongoing abuse scandal undermines the church's credibility and reinforces all the usual stereotypes about the Vatican under his reign – a medieval theocracy ruled by an absolute autocrat who is reactionary and intolerant.

This view is not just bandied by atheists like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. Besides these usual suspects, prominent Catholics are also using the abuse scandal as a pretext to attack the pontiff. In an open letter to all Catholic bishops published on Saturday, the Swiss theologian Hans Küng blames Benedict for the "church's worst credibility crisis since the Reformation"....

Not unlike much contemporary atheism, Küng's tirade owes more to ideology than to reason. His division of Catholicism (and other faith traditions) into a liberal, progressive and a conservative, reactionary wing is a modern, secular distinction....instrumentalising religion in the service of a dubious morality that amounts to little more than "being nice to each other"...

[Kung] also fails to understand the long, intellectual tradition which the pope seeks to preserve and extend – a kind of Romantic orthodoxy that eschews much of the modern Reformation and Counter-Reformation in favour of the patristic and medieval legacy shared by Christians in east and west. [And this is the point on which many traditionalists and neo-cons alike, intent on preserving the legacy of Trent, the counter-reformation, and modern philosophy depart from the Pope.] This legacy concerns the teachings on the church fathers and doctors like St Augustine, Dionysius or St Thomas Aquinas on the unity of nature and the supernatural against the modern separation of the natural universe from divine creativity and grace. In short, Benedict rejects the modern dualism of nature and grace or faith and reason – as spelled out in his controversial 2006 Regensburg address....

The pope's argument is that these modern dualisms have paved the way for the disastrous separation of reason from faith, an opposition that underpins the increasingly bitter conflict between the absolute reason of extreme secularism (and atheism) and the blind faith of religious fundamentalism....
Nor does Benedict merely look back with nostalgia to the foundational creed and the councils of the early church. On the contrary, he links the patristic and medieval legacy to modern Romanticism with their shared emphasis on natural intimations of the divine and on human, artistic activity. It is this Romantic tradition that has helped sustain and create the high culture which the pope champions. That's what underpins his defence of traditional liturgy (including the Tridentine mass) against the onslaught of "sacro-pop" – "parish tea party liturgies and banal 'cuddle me Jesus' pop songs", as Tracey Rowland so aptly writes in her book Ratzinger's Faith.

Beyond the liturgy, Romanticism is also key to saving secular culture from itself. By rejecting both absolute instrumental reason and blind emotional faith, the Romantic tradition outwits the contemporary convergence of soulless technological progress and an impoverished culture dominated by sexualisation and violence. More fundamentally, it opposes the complicit collusion of boundless economic and social liberalisation that has produced laissez-faire sex and an obsession with personal choice rather than objective (yet contested) standards of truth, beauty and goodness – a concern shared by the archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in his seminal book Lost Icons.

Questions remain about how to translate Benedict's vision into a radical overhaul of the curia and relations between Rome and Catholic bishops. But far from being nostalgic or reactionary, this pope is an unreconstructed romantic who is bringing about an intellectual and cultural renaissance of Catholicism.

Monday, 19 April 2010

What the Pope should be thanked for

As we celebrate the fifth anniversaries of the Pope's election and inauguration (on Saturday) it is worth reflecting on some of his achievements to date.

My own hope (and prayer) is that Pope Benedict XVI will be remembered as the man who laid the foundations for the twenty-first century equivalent of the Counter-Reformation: the man who bought the Church back to a sense of continuity with its past, in particular reshaping our experience of the liturgy, re-interpreting the purpose of ecumenism, and fighting for the restoration of traditional asceticism and discipline; who spoke out on the threats to Western culture and why that culture is important to the life of the Church; and who has not been afraid to speak out in contradiction to secularist hypocrisies.

Some of the highlights so far:
  • the concept of the hermaneutic of continuity;
  • his work on highlighting the continuity of the Church with its past, and the importance of studying the Fathers, and Theologians, through the liturgy and not least through his General Audiences;
  • tackling the deficiencies and misdirections of much modern Scriptural exegesis, including through his book Jesus of Nazareth;
  • Summorum Pontificum and the restoration of the traditional mass;
  • the impetus given to the 'reform of the reform' and more dignified celebration of the liturgy;
  • vastly improved relations with the Orthodox, SPXX and traditionally inclined Anglicans, with some prospect that some in these groups will end up reconciled with the Church; 
  • more realistic appraisals of and relationships with Islam and Judaism, with a genuine dialogue started on how these religions can and should interact with each other;
  • lancing of the boil (albeit with all the pain that implies in the short-term) that was the filth and disgrace to the Church in the form of child sexual abuse, with tough action against the Legion and its founder and others;
  • tackling head-on secularist fantasies about what works (and yes, I do mean that comment about AIDS and condoms in Africa inter alia).
Of course we could all say if I were Pope I would...or, only he would also.....

Far easier to think it or write it than actually do it though.

In any case, think we have a lot to be grateful for.

Keep the Pope in your prayers.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Our Lady's Saturday

In the Divine Office, the Office of Our Lady on Saturday is said.

 So let's commend ourselves especially to her today and ask for her intercession for ourselves, the Church, the conversion of souls, and especially for the Pope (heading for Malta, volcanos allowing), who celebrated his 83rd birthday yesterday, and celebrates the anniversary of his election to the papacy on Monday (Canberrans or those within reach of the town might wish to show their support by attending the special mass offered by the Archbishop and the Apostolic Nuncio, Mgr Lazzarotto at the Cathedral on Monday at 11am.  Good to see such a gesture.).

Friday, 16 April 2010

Mocking Dawkins

Mantilla swish to Sentire Cum Ecclesia for the link to this You tube spoof.  Go and watch it , it is brilliant.

Homosexuality, paedophilia and the Church: Austen Ivereigh in The Age

Given that the debate on the link between homosexual priests and the child abuse scandal is now out in the open, we all need to be equipped with the facts. 

Healthy homosexuality?!

Not least to counter articles like that in The Age today (reproducing a piece from the Guardian) by Austen Ivereigh, described (clearly inaccurately) as a  'Catholic writer and commentator' (and unsurprisingly given pride of place by aCath News).

Why do I say he is not catholic?  Well his closing line gives the clue:

"...Are those priests paedophiles? No - although the damage they cause is considerable. Are they homosexual? Possibly - but not healthy ones. And to claim that their homosexuality is a cause of their abusing is as daft as suggesting that paedophilia is linked to heterosexuality. Bertone should be more prudent."

Here's the thing - there is no such thing, in the Church's view as 'healthy homosexuality'.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it clear that homosexuality is inherently disordered.  The age of the participants in homosexual activity is irrelevant - it is always a mortal sin (though imbalances of power, violation of promises, and the abuse of position can make it a much worse one in the case of priests).

The case for the homosexual link to abuse within the Church

So here is Ivereig's article, given the Fr Z-esq treatment:

:The Vatican secretary of state's attempt to blame gay priests is foolish.

PRUDENCE is a cardinal virtue, but not a virtue always shown by Rome's cardinals. Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, recently denied a link between clerical sex abuse and celibacy, but has since claimed ''a relationship between homosexuality and paedophilia'' which, he said, ''many psychologists and psychiatrists have shown''.

The cardinal's remarks were greeted with horror, [because it might spoil the campaign for normalisation of their behaviour] as well they should have been, for they imply that homosexuals are more inclined to the sexual abuse of minors than heterosexuals, which is simply false.

I don't know which psychologists Bertone has been reading, but the consensus among reputable mainstream ones is that the sexual abuse of minors cannot be and should not be conflated with homosexuality.

As Pope Benedict said in 2008 in a mid-air news conference with reporters en route to the United States, paedophilia was ''another thing'' to homosexuality. [Not really the same point.  The Pope was talking about paedophilia and homosexuality; Cardinal Bertone about child abuse and homsexuality]

Homosexuality is about orientation - same-sex attraction. Sexual abuse of minors is about malformed sexual orientation, immaturity and power. [Let's get real here.  Most sexual abuse by priests - 90% according to the latest figures released by the Vatican - was of teenagers.  It is not technically paedophilia.  And the age of consent is largely a social construct put in place to protect our notion of individual capacity to make decisions.  Age of consent laws were only introduced in the nineteenth century, and typically sat at around 12 or 13 in 1880.  It was only in the twentieth century that they moved upwards. Yes, sexual abuse is certainly about power and immaturity (as well as a few other things!), but to suggest that desire for someone who is a teenager is inherently sexually disordered is a big stretch.  It is not a defined pyschological disorder.]   The statistics that disprove any link between celibacy and the sexual abuse of minors - almost all of which takes place within the family, often by married men and women - are the same as those that undermine any attempts to conflate sexual abuse and homosexuality. [We need to distinguish here - between sexual abuse in general, and sexual abuse by priests.  Priests are a special sub-set for all sorts of fairly obvious reasons.]

So why are some tempted to? First, because the epidemic of clerical sex abuse in the Catholic Church between the 1960s and the 1990s coincided with the entry of very large numbers of gay men into the priesthood. [A truly amazing coincidence!] When Donald Cozzens, a former seminary rector, claimed in an influential book 10 years ago that about half his seminarians were gay, it sparked shocked reactions but few denials.

I was at the British Catholic weekly The Tablet at the time, and phoned around seminary rectors to see if they agreed. Two did; the other two didn't want to say.

Second, because the vast majority of victims of clerical sexual abuse were teenage boys, not prepubescent children. The largest and most in-depth study of sex abuse of minors ever carried out by an institution was commissioned by US Catholic bishops and published in 2004. The independent research, carried out by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, found that just over 4 per cent of Catholic clergy in America had been accused of sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002. About 80 per cent of the accusations were of abuse alleged to have occurred between the 1960s and the 1980s, after which they fell off sharply. Some 81 per cent of the alleged victims were male, and 78 per cent were between the ages of 11 and 17. In other words, the average victim of clerical sexual abuse was an adolescent male.

Karen Terry, the principal researcher on the John Jay team, said it was impossible to know if most of the victims were boys because of the orientation of the abuser, or because ''that's who they had access to''. [An importnat question that surely should have been pursued down to the ground.  Oh wait, it has been in other studies....that's why the Vatican has acted to insist that homosexuals not be permitted to enter seminaries.] The question of orientation was therefore removed from the statistical research. The scathing 145-page report which accompanied the John Jay findings did, however, address the question over several pages, concluding that ''a more searching inquiry is necessary for a homosexually oriented man by those who decide whether he is suitable for the seminary and for ministry''.

Hence the Vatican's November 2005 instruction saying men with ''deep-seated homosexual tendencies'' should not be admitted for training to the priesthood.

But this document suffered from the same category error as Bertone is making. It is not the homosexually inclined priest who is at risk of abusing: almost all gay priests lead healthy celibate lives. [And the evidence for this is?  More to the point, violations of celibacy are not the only crime we should be concerned about due to the infiltration of homosexuals in the priesthood]. The ones who are most at risk of abusing are emotionally stunted men whose psychosexual development has gone awry.

That does not make them paedophiles. Only a handful of clerical abusers have been authentic paedophiles, seeking out prepubescent children (male or female; paedophiles don't usually care) as victims. Those that there have been have had a very large number of victims and have wreaked havoc. [True enough]

But most accused priests fall into a different category. Almost all the accused are alleged to have molested one minor (only 3 per cent of the accused in the John Jay study had more than 10 alleged victims); the classic perpetrator was a priest in his 30s who spent some time, mostly less than a year, sexually involved with a boy in his early teens. That boy has usually been someone who has had his boundaries violated early in life, probably by a relative.

Are those priests paedophiles? No - although the damage they cause is considerable. Are they homosexual? Possibly - but not healthy ones. And to claim that their homosexuality is a cause of their abusing is as daft as suggesting that paedophilia is linked to heterosexuality. Bertone should be more prudent.

Today on the frontline: do your Friday penance....

The Pope called yesterday, in a sermon for Catholics to do penance and speak out not just on what is useful to this world, but of eternal realities:

"Now, under the attacks of the world, which speak to us of our sins, we see that to be able to do penance is a grace – and we see how necessary it is to do penance, that is, to recognize what is wrong in our lives: to recognize one’s sin, to open oneself to forgiveness, to prepare for pardon, to allow oneself to be transformed."  The pain of penance, the pain of purification and transformation – this pain is grace, because it is renewal – it is the work of the Divine Mercy."

So please do offer your Friday penance (such as the traditional and encouraged practice of abstaining from meat) for those who have suffered child abuse (whether from those in the Church or outside it), and say a prayer in support of the Pope.  In fact your could sign up here to indicate your support and prayers for the Pope.

And then, having fired a few spiritual shots to support everyone's efforts, you could visit the frontline yourself:
  • The Sydney Morning Herald demonstrates that yesterday's Miranda Devine article was just a tokenistic attempt to pretend to be balanced, with a story that repeats discredited allegations and yet another outrageous poll on whether the Pope should be arrested (as at 7.30 this morning five hours to go, and its a massacre so far), so please do go vote.
  • On the ABC website Bob Ellis suggests bombing the Vatican on the grounds that's what we did to Afghanistan for similar reasons, and comparing the Vatican to Bin Laden (surely this sort of thing is a breach of our Human Rights Act?).  Do go on and comment to indicate your outrage.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Deportment under fire?

The Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn's facebook page has alerted me to an article on Eureka Street that argues (among other things) that keeping silent in the face of the attacks on the Church is the right approach.

The article by Andrew Hamilton argues that the right response includes "...absorbing angry and unfair criticism of yourself and your bosses and not responding to it..."

Sorry, I don't agree. 

There are certainly times when you can't defend yourself and doing so would be counter-productive.  Suffering silently through unfair criticism is certainly meritorious.  So I personally think, for what little that is worth, that the Pope was right to stick to heavenly things over Easter and ignore the media beat-up as much as possible.

But that doesn't mean that no one should speak up and 'defend the boss'.  Because the problem is that the Church's authority to speak out is at stake here.

Do our bishops really imagine that their condemnation of Rudd's disgraceful freeze on refugee processing will get any traction with readers in the face of the ongoing attacks on the credibility of the Church for example?

Unfortunately too many of the attempts to defend the Pope have been clumsy and defensive, and have added fuel to the fire rather than damping it down.  As Andrew Hamilton's typically backhanded piece points out:

"Bad deportment will persuade people that you didn't get it. If you are defensive, leave it to your lawyers, blame the media, regard the fairness of the way you and your organisation have been treated as the central issue, protest that your organisation is better than many others that have got off lightly, defend the integrity of your masters, and dissociate the organisation from wrongdoers within it, you will convince people that you haven't got it at all. You may have good arguments, particularly about the mistakes made by the media, but you show that you have missed what matters."

What was (and is) needed was a consistent attempt to correct very quickly the factual errors and refute the more egregious claims.  That's starting to happen.

But you also need to set out the positive agenda - even if its all been said before.  It would be particularly helpful for our bishops (and laity) to be out countering the claims from ex- and current priests that celibacy, the 'failure' to ordain women  and the Church's refusal to abandon its moral teachings are at the root of the abuse problem.  That's been a lot slower coming.

To acknowledge the problem and quickly clearly set out what has been done to fix it.

Andrew Hamilton's piece goes on to suggest that you need to be ".. making it clear through your words and gestures that the people who are closest to your hearts are those who have been damaged by your organisation, that your highest priority is their flourishing, that you take responsibility for your organisation's deficiencies, and that you are working seriously to identify and remedy its deficiencies to ensure that no one will be damaged in future."

The problem is that really hasn't happened.

The Liberal agenda continues to be sold as the fix, and the real solutions  - such as better seminary education, better ongoing support and supervision of priests, a return to the values of prayer and asceticism - have barely had been mentioned.  There's a reason for that.

We live in a country where the laity still can't absolutely rely on the validity of the sacraments on offer in Churches calling themselves catholic (think of how long it took to fix the Brisbane baptism problem; consider how many times you've wondered whether the formula of absolution was actually correctly used when you went to confession, or that a sin wasn't really a sin...).  Where heresy is still openly preached in many churches. 

Hamilton claims that "The Catholic churches in the United States and Australia have generally learned harsh lessons in deportment as the extent of abuse became public. As most of us have to do, Catholic spokespersons have learned from their mistakes. And the churches are generally safer, more modest and better places for the learning. Current evidence suggests that the European churches are still learning under fire...."  That strikes me as a hopelessly optimistic assessment of the state of things in Australia.

Personally, I'd like to see our bishops commit to a program like that the Pope has set out for Ireland, including:
  • a mission to priests and religious including study of recent papal teaching and a fresh look at Vatican II's actual teachings in the light of a hermaneutic of continuity;
  • a renewed emphasis on Adoration; and
  • something we can all do now ourselves, offering of our Friday penances for those who have been abused.  Remember to do it tomorrow...

The Sydney Morning Herald (belatedly) tries for some balance!

There is a helpful article in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning by Miranda Devine entitled Evildoers, not Pope, are to blame.  It compares the tactics of aggressive atheists to communismist attacks on the Church.

It is by no means a puff piece - the author critiques the continuing mishandling of the media by the Vatican bureaucracy (and yes Louise I take your point about generalising and 'the Vatican' but the reality is that so many members of the system are contributing that one can't just point to individuals and say it's their fault.  Either a whole lot of individual are shooting their mouths off in an uncoordinated way, in which case, why can't they get their act together and coordinate their messages like every other large organisation?, or there is a strategy and on the face of it not a good one).

But she does point out the over-the-top nature of the campaign being waged by Dawkins, Hitchens' et al:

"The pursuit of the Pope reached absurd heights this week with news that atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have asked the Australian barrister Geoffrey Robertson to draw up a case to arrest Benedict XVI for alleged cover-up of paedophilia in the Catholic Church.

That these exhibitionist atheists should seize on the tragedy of child sexual abuse by a small minority of Catholic priests to pursue their vendetta against religion is stomach-turning."

Devine helps us to understand how paedophiles got away with it, pointing to parallels with an entirely secular Australian case:

"It is so awful as to be unbelievable. But it did happen, in Australia, Germany, the United States, Ireland and elsewhere. Catholics have to accept that fact, and that for too long church leaders allowed themselves to be hoodwinked by paedophiles, who are by nature, brilliantly deceptive. This was an important lesson from the Wood royal commission; paedophilia is often unchecked because of the naivety of people who cannot bring themselves to believe it is occurring.

As we saw from the trials of the Sydney paedophiles Robert ''Dolly'' Dunn and Philip Bell, the predators use positions of power in an institution to gain access to children and escape detection. They are endlessly patient, willing to performing hundreds or thousands of good works for every foul deed.  God knows what drives them except a desire to extinguish what is most good and pure about humanity....But it also has to be said that if paedophilia seems to be on the increase, it has been enabled by the eroticisation of our culture over decades, and even priests are not immune."

She also points to various attempts to 'normalise' paedophilia through political action and even defining it away as a psychological illness.

The most important message though is about the nature of the attacks:

"Yet the baying from atheists and fellow travellers for the biggest scalp of all has only escalated.  The process is not unfamiliar to people who have lived under communist rule when destruction of the church was a goal.  Professor Piotr Jaroszynski from Poland's Catholic University of Lublin has written in the Catholic country's mass newspaper that the offensive against the Pope is recognisable particularly to Poles who lived under communist rule. "It has elements that have been very well planned, rational to the extreme, but at the same time there is a singular hatred for Catholicism hidden under concern for victim."  The struggle against religion has taken the form of a new religion. Its new priests "find their greatest ideological enemies in priests, religious brothers, and sisters. They cannot physically destroy them (as was done in communist countries), so they try other methods."

What is the motive: to destroy the credibility of the strongest moral voice left? Would the world be a better place without the Catholic Church? Without Christianity? That is the end point of this game, which should frighten everyone, whether religious or not."

You might also want to check out an article in The Australian, 'The Pope-hunters' pathological campaign'.

Unsurprisingly, Cath News (the daily alert service that we the pewsitters pay for via the bishops conference) fails to pick up either of these, instead featuring on its website stories such as the local Jesuit Provincial welcoming the media attack in a minor US publication....

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The role of the laity and the outrageous attacks on the Pope - Part I

The last few weeks have seen an extreme escalation of outrageous attacks on Pope Benedict XVI, culminating in a new low where ridiculous claims of 'crimes against humanity' made by overtly religion-hating atheists are given serious air time in our media.  It has also been marked, in the main, by silence on the part of our bishops.  The reasons for that are pretty obvious given that they are the previous (and next) target; indeed in many cases the correct target.  But it can't continue.  Ignoring the issue will not make it go away.

In the face of this attack - which is but a thinly veiled attempt to discredit the Church's stance on a range of moral and social issues, not least homosexuality and abortion - all members of the Church, bishops, priests and laity must stand up and be counted in defense of our Church.

But there is an underlying reality too that needs to be acknowledged.  On the one hand it is sheer hypocrisy on the part of many of the accusers to target the Church on the abuse issue.  All the evidence suggests that child abuse, and cover-up of it on the part of priests is no more prevalent than in other religions and Christian ecclesial communities, and in society generally and probably less so.  And it is particularly ironic that much of the attack is coming from those that advocate a loose sexual morality in general.

Yet even though we realise that we are all sinners and history repeatedly attests to this in the state of the Church itself, nonetheless the institutional Church should be held to a higher standard than prevails in society at large.  We do rightly expect our priests to be better than we ourselves because they do represent the Church to the broader community.  Preaching and leadership should come from example as much as words. 

In other circumstances the scourge of child abuse that afflicts our society, which can rightly be seen as the logical product of the secular worship of self and pleasure, is something the Church would and should be denouncing from the pulpits.  The increased prevalence of child abuse within the institutions of the Church itself is a serious scandal that the Church needs to acknowledge, deal with more effectively, and learn from in order to reform itself.  For real reform is needed.

Priests who abused children should be swiftly removed from the priesthood.

There is a certain truth to the argument that we can't hold bishops in particular to the standards of today when the advice they were being given at the time was so different to what we now know.  Back in the 1960s and 70s, for example, it was thought that psychotherapy could 'cure' pedophiles and other types of sociopathic behaviour; today there is no such optimism.

All the same it is quite clear that many bishops (such as, to take a not at all random example, Archbishop Weakland, apparently one of the sources of the New York Times' attacks on the Pope) made appalling decisions for all the wrong reasons.

Nor is it entirely clear that everyone has absorbed the lessons from the experience.  Many priests for example accused falsely or otherwise of abuse, seem to be held in limbo for years rather than swiftly investigated and either charged, removed from ministry for prudential reasons, or cleared.  This is as unjust as the shuffling of guilty priests from position to position, and cannot be sustained if we want to recruit and retain good priests!

And other types of abuses of the rights of the laity continue unabated, and will surely lead to the next wave of scandal if not corrected.

So what can we do?

1.  Defend the Pope publicly

Pope Benedict XVI is clearly part of the solution in this case, not part of the problem. 

That's not to say that the Vatican has handled this issue well, now or in the past - it hasn't, and some heads need to roll.  But we all need to take every opportunity to point out that Pope Benedict XVI consistently did what he could under Pope John Paul II to see that the problem was addressed systematically, resulting in the decision to refer all abuse cases to Rome to ensure action, and faster action at that, in 2001.   Since he has become Pope he has taken decisive action, for example against the Legionaries and their founder, in meeting representatives of the victims on his trips, and most recently in his letter to Ireland.

If you have any doubts about his determination to address what he described as the filth afflicting the Church in a powerful sermon to the bishops immediately before the Conclave that elected him, read his Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland.  In fact, read it anyway if you haven't already, it is clear, concise and very helpful.

If you want to blame a Pope for the abuse scandal, far better targets are Pope Paul VI, who relaxed so many of the disciplines of the Church that helped guard against such problems.  Or better still, Pope John Paul II under whose long reign most of the abuses occurred, and who refused to listen to those who tried to tell him...

So write letters to the editor, comment on newspaper articles, vote in online polls, get out the message around the watercooler.

It is probably a waste of time to try and lobby Cath News to actually report the various defenses of the Pope that have been published, as opposed to highlighting and giving space to the continuing stream of overt and more insidious insider attacks on him and the institutional Church, but if you do frequent the Cath News boards for whatever reason, you could try (again).

If you're on facebook, there are several groups supporting the Pope you can join.

2.  Pray for the Pope

The FSSP offered a novena for the Pope a few weeks back.  You can currently sign up to join the spiritual bouquet being offered through the Institute of Christ the King.  Or you could just say some prayers yourself... I've put the novena prayer up in a sidebar.

More soon....

I'm baacck.....(probably)

After a period of rest and recollection, posting will resume forthwith. It will be slow at first, as I'm still recovering from a radial head (elbow) fracture (inter alia), and so can only type a little at a time.

But the times seem to call for some activity on the part of the laity to counter the acatholics (as usual being given free reign on cath news as well as the usual haunts), aggressive atheists, and those who fallen from within, so more soon. 

We'll see how it goes, no promises about perseverence, so read at your own risk without expectations!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Defend the Holy Father - poll on ABC

I've just been alerted to a poll on the ABC website that could do with some responses.  The question is:

Should the Pope be charged with ‘crimes against humanity’, over the alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church?

At 5pm Tuesday the results are running:

Yes 76.0%

No 24.0%

So please go and vote and let your friends know....

And there's one on the 7 News page as well: Should Pope Benedict be questioned by police over the Catholic church's child abuse scandal?  Currently going at 83% yes.  You can find it here.