Monday, 28 February 2011

Sex, relationships and abortion: moving beyond individualistic secularism

There is a useful contribution on the abortion debate today on The Punch by Joel Hodge. 

The article tackles the myths that sex education and contraception can help reduce the number of abortions -  pointing out that in fact the opposite may well occur.

And points to one of the key roots of the problem, in the separation of sex from concepts of relationships and reproduction.

We repeatedly see the results of a culture that promotes individual pleasure at the expense of all else - in porn, child abuse, and much more.

Tackling the issue at its cultural roots is important. 

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Responding to the priest shortage III: How to get engagement

The Sydney Morning Herald today highlights a new book reporting the results of a survey of priests, and if the Herald report is anything to go by, it will make depressing reading.

A demoralised and demoralising priesthood?

The written survey didn't have that great a response rate - 542 out of  1710 according to the paper.  But still, that is quite a few priests.

And the usual whingeing about not being adequately consulted and so forth aside, the answers are troubling. 

Take these results on doctrinal and discipline questions:

"Only 19.2 per cent thought it sinful for married couples to use birth control.

Almost 70 per cent thought abortion was always a sin but only 40.2 per cent said the same of sex before marriage. More than 70 per cent thought celibacy for priests should be optional and several priests made ''no secret of the fact they were in long-term committed relationships with women''.

Hardly surprising

That many of our priests have absorbed the norms of our secularist culture is totally unsurprising.  That they have a poor view of  their bishops' and Rome's understanding of their problems also highlighted in the article is equally unsurprising.

Both are the result of the pathetically poor, frequently erroneous formation they were mostly given and the lack of any concerted program ongoing continuing education aimed at correcting those failures of formation, all aggravated by the well-documented failures of leadership on the part of our hierarchy.

So how do we turn it around?

First, it has to be said that the priest shortage in my view is only a symptom, not the real problem.

The real problem has been the failure of the Church in Australia and elsewhere to actively take on secularism and its values.

Grappling with secularism

The guiding premise of the 70s and 80s, accepted by liberals and conservatives alike, was that our secularist society offered wonderful opportunities to Christians and for the spread of  Christianity.

It is really only in the last decade that theologians such as Dr Tracey Rowland have convincingly made the case that in fact we live in a society that is deeply hostile to religion, whose very basis is the Enlightenment rejection of the need for God. 

That whereas the heritage of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome in many ways paved the way for the spread of the Gospel in those first centuries, a fair case can be made that our secularist culture has pretty much the opposite impact.

The problem of re-evangelization

This is not, however, the first time the Church has faced this situation.  The dramatic and rapid spread of Islam in the seventh century, for example, saw Christianity all but wiped out in many places.  And in the face of barbarian invaders and many still pagan areas of the West, the collapse of the Roman Empire made preservation  and spread of the Church a battle that was fought country by country, diocese by diocese, parish by parish, monastery by monastery.  The same thing happened after the Reformation, with Catholicism initially wiped out in many places, but slowly clawing its way back through the efforts of religious, priests and the other reformers.

And just as in the past the Church has had to fight for survival, or to reclaim once Christian lands from alien invaders and/or those opposed to the faith, so to, I believe, are we called to fight for our faith now.

Maybe the last remnants of the Christian West overall will fall, either to Islamization or militant secularism or the combination of the two.   Certainly the gay 'marriage' debate in this country, and recent noises from President Obama in the US on this subject don't give much encouragement to optimism.

But just as in the past there will be enclaves that hold on – enclaves that may ultimately provide the starting point to reclaim the world for Christ just as they have so served in the past.

So where do we start?

A lineamenta (working guide) for a future synod on the New Evangelization is apparently going to be released by the Vatican in a week or so.  It will be interesting to see what it canvasses.  But here is my take on the issue.

In the last part of this series on responding to the priest shortage I said the first step was accepting that change – drastic change – is needed. That if we really want more priests, we have to be willing to be courageous, and take on entrenched interests.

Today I want to take this a step further, because I don’t think it is enough to accept that change is needed.

That’s a necessary step to be sure.

But if we are to embark on a program of serious reform, we need to have a clear vision of what it is we are trying to achieve, and how we will know if we are making progress.

What is our real objective?

If you want to engage people on a task, they have to know what it is that they are really meant to be trying to do.  It is not just about activity - how many masses celebrated, how many baptised.  It is certainly not about solving problems of 'structural injustice', or contributing to the debate on issues such as reconciliation, as the supporting essay on the survey of priests in today's SMH implies.

It is about getting people to heaven.

And the biggest reason why priests  - and everyone else - seem demoralised today is that bishops and others, hamstrung by the perceived demands of ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue as well as other politically correct constraints, simply haven't been willing to stand up and articulate this.

My view is that we continue to define the problem of the priest shortage far too narrowly.

A lot of dioceses are worrying about how they will provide for the needs of declining numbers of parishioners in some areas, particularly regional towns for example.

But the function of the Church is not just to provide the Eucharist to whoever turns up at mass or some other service.

It is not just about serving the needs of an ever declining number of practicing Catholics.

The Church's mission is to evangelize everyone

Rather, the Church’s mission is to make disciples of everyone: to baptize and teach all what has been handed down from the Apostles.

So let me repeat the critical point: the Church’s mission is to get people to heaven.

For that reason canon law makes it clear that a bishop is responsible for all of the souls in diocese not just the catholic ones.

And a parish priest has a responsibility for all those within his territorial boundaries, not just those who actually front up to mass.

So any reshaping of lay and clerical roles needs to look far beyond the simple demographics of the number of registered parishioners, or number who sit in the pews each week. It has to start from the ongoing mission of the Church to spread the Gospel.

Start by acknowledging how bad things are

There have been a lot of media stories lately of the kind that I would describe as clutching at straws.  You know the kind of thing - vocations are up, young people are engaged, some group of nuns are doing good things.  We should celebrate these successes of course, they are good news.

But we also need to keep them in perspective.  And if we look honestly at the current situation, things look pretty dire. Pew numbers continue to fall; finances follow closely; fewer and fewer are married in the Church, believe what the Church teaches, or practice it - even those such as priests who are responsible for teaching it.

Small successes won't turn this around: we need big change.

So in my view the first thing we have to do is build a vision of what it is we are really trying to achieve as a Church, and get a real, concrete picture of how far short we fall from that vision.  Only then, with the help of God’s grace, can we really start working out how to change things.  Only then can we gain the commitment of priests to the cause of recruiting their successors!

The measures of success and failure

So the first and vital task in my view is to put together some key measures that get at how well we are succeeding – or mostly failing – in that mission.

We have to know and agree on what we are trying to change before we can actually map out a sensible strategy, and even more importantly, get people to engage with it.

How many priests do we need for example, if in order to turn around our catholic schools and turn out young adults who actually go to mass regularly, get married in the Church, and disdain contraception? Quite a few more than we need on current projections I would suggest!

So we need to measure things like:
  • the number of children baptised in a diocese or parish - as a proportion of all children born there, and as proportion of nominal catholics;
  • how many of those children go on to be confirmed;
  • the proportion of high school graduates who are committed catholics attending mass regularly and believing the truths of the faith;
  • how many people convert each year vs how many leave the Church.
We need to develop our key indicators.  We need to identify the gaps in performance.  And then we need to regularly report against them. Publicly.

The answers will not be pretty in the short term.

But I don’t think we should shirk from telling the truth.

Acts as a model for transparency in the Church!

Now some will complain, I imagine that this is all a bit too cold blooded, a bit too 'business oriented' for a Church - that we shouldn't treat religion as if it were a business.

But let's look at Scripture.

One of the great models of performance reporting in my view is the Book of Acts. It would be so easy to reformat and convert those early chapters into modern bureaucratise in annual report form!

There are those repeated summary statements of what the program objectives are and their context, in the form of those sermons and statements by St Peter and others.

And then there is the actual concrete data on the growth of the Church – from the small group gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem; to the 120 or so who elected St Matthias to replace Judas; to the 3000 or so baptized at Pentecost and so on.

Most importantly, it also gives a warts and all portrait of the divisions, faults and weaknesses of those within the infant Church - you know, the kind of problem management that gets hidden in the appendices and airbrushed over as much as possible in a modern report!

That disconcerting honesty is something we need to emulate.

So too is that growth model!

The Apostles knew where they were starting from; described the problems they encountered in getting there; knew what the extent of what more needed to be done. We need to know that too.

As the Church grew, they explored ways of ensuring there were sufficient clergy to serve the needs of the growing numbers, responding to the prompts of the Spirit.

We need to emulate their openness and trust.  And we need to believe, like them, in God.

I mean really believe, in the God who works miracles and pours out his grace.  The God who moves mountains.

Steps in tackling the priest shortage

So the first step in tackling the priest shortage is acknowledging that we need to change.

The second is building the case for that change, and making sure we know exactly what we are trying to achieve.  Being honest about where we are now, and how far short we fall of where we need to be.

The next step, that I'll talk about in the next part, is putting in place the concrete practical measures that help us make that change of heart and mind, that total conversion to mission that God is calling us to.

More soon.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

RIP The Brig

Dr Who fans will be saddened to learn of the death of Nicholas Courtney, who played Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. 

He appeared (under different guises) with each of the Doctors except the sixth (hmm never did much take to Colin Baker!) up until the revived series, with an extended stint between 1970 and 1975.  His last appearance in the role was in 2008, in the spin-off series the Sarah Jane Adventures.

He was aged 81.  Please pray for the repose of his soul.

In praise of permanent deacons...

The next part of my series on the priest shortage is still coming, but today was the launch of a new website, of the National Association of Deacons,  and so it seems appropriate to mention this worthwhile initiative!

I haven't looked at the material on the site very closely as yet (it only went live today) but at first glance it looks pretty good, with articles on the relevant provisions of canon law, a rebuttal of the notion that deacons have purely charitable or social justice functions, and much more.

Not a substitute for priests

Now I know some traditionalists have reservations about the idea of permanent deacons, but I'm not sure that they should (think of the possibility of more solemn masses; for that reason alone every traditional community should be encouraging such vocations!), subject to their proper utilisation (which of course is a matter for their bishop).

Permanent deacons should not and cannot, of course, be regarded as a substitute for priests (or for that matter, for lay activity).  And I'm extremely opposed to the idea that their function should be to run Sunday services in the absence of a priest (notwithstanding the laws permitting this).

Still, they can certainly aid in the workload of a diocese at a time when this is much needed. 

The advantage of clerics

And as clerics, with all of the relevant obligations that go with this (including as far as I can gather from the website, perfect continence in line with the opinion of canonist Ed Peters, or lifelong celibacy if unmarried), it is surely much better for deacons to undertake tasks such as taking Holy Eucharist to the homebound, than for the laity to be undertaking this and similar functions!

Moreover, becoming a permanent deacon may be a possibility, for example, for an older man who still has some family or other responsibilities (for example towards older children or grandchildren) where becoming a priest is not a serious option.

So please do go and take a look at the site, and if you are an older man (yes, the law on permanent deacons is based around the idea that this will typically be a late vocation), maybe you should be talking to your bishop about this option...

Earthquake condolences and prayers

Archbishop Wilson has sent a message of condolence to the Bishop of Christchurch.  Here is the text:

"To: Bishop Barry Jones,
Bishop of Christchurch.
Dear Bishop Barry,

It is with great sadness that the Bishops of Australia and the Catholic people of this nation watch the unfolding events following the massive earthquake in Christchurch yesterday.

We send out sincere condolences to those who have died and their families.

The proximity of our countries and the solidarity we share in times of disaster lead us to feel enormous grief for what your people are experiencing.

We extend our heartfelt thoughts to you, and hope that in the midst of this, you can find peace and solace.

You and the people of Christchurch are very much in our prayers at this time, and we pray that our Lord will continue to accompany you.

With every blessing,

Archbishop Philip Wilson
President, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

The Pope has also called for prayers.

So please do keep praying, for the repose of the dead, that survivors may yet be found, and for all those grieving, traumatised and afraid.  And that the aftershocks stop, without a further major quake.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

***Another earthquake: please pray for the people of Christchurch, New Zealand!**

Please pray for the people of Christchurch (including my nephew, just moved there for University who seems to be fine), hit by another earthquake after last year's devastating tremors. 

The Anglican Cathedral has been badly damaged and it seems the splendid baroque Catholic Cathedral too (see bottom photo), still closed from September's earthquake, has further collapsed and looks doomed as well.

The SMH reports that the death toll is 65 and rising.

****My New Zealand nephew reports via facebook on Tuesday evening that at the University college he is now living at, power is back on but no internet.  Unlike the centre of town and some suburbs, the campus of the University of Canterbury has reported survived reasonably well - there are a few cracks in the wall in his building but it looks sound enough.  Just as well, as the students had only just poured into town for the start of the Uni year.  But the aftershocks are continuing, and many of the students plan on sleeping in the common room just in case...

Meanwhile the reports from the centre of town get worse and worse, with many hundreds facing a terrible night trapped in crumbling buildings.

Tuesday afternoon update: Hundreds of aftershocks of varying severity continue to rock the city, making the massive rescue efforts dangerous and in many cases, increasingly moot.  For detailed updates, has lots.  But the best coverage for an overview seems to me to be the Sydney Morning Herald's.

I gather Fr Define FSSP, over there holding the fort for Fr Rizzo, is fine. 

And my nephew is on his way home, driving North with a group of friends...

Monday, 21 February 2011

Tackling the priest shortage Part II: It won't be easy

So before Christmas I argued in favour of a radical rethink of diocesan organisational structures - but also for some more action of the promotion of priestly vocations.  And yesterday I started to explain the reasons for my opposition to the current push for more ‘lay leadership’ in quasi-clerical roles. Now I want to turn to some possible ways forward.

But the question we have to focus on first is, do we really want things to change? I mean, do we really really want more priests?  And are willing to do what is required to achieve the objective?

Do we really want change?

I think we can all probably agree that there are no simple, cost-less solutions to the priest shortage.

The hard reality is that more priests requires drastic change, and change is hard.

Yes, it is true that vocations are on the rise. But it is a slow increase, and simple demographics mean that in the many dioceses (and yes there are a few shining exceptions) that haven’t seen many vocations over the last few decades, the number of priests dying, retiring or otherwise leaving is still going to exceed the number of new ordainees unless something changes drastically.

But drastic change is not easy. It requires serious effort, and has huge costs to everyone involved.

As the Gospels dramatically tell us, those with vested interests in the status quo will scream and shout. Those leading change risk literal or metaphoric assassination. And there is no reason to think that the people will be happy about it all, at least in the short term.

So do our bishops actually want more priests?

We have to be clear here that in the end, the number of priests in a diocese depends entirely on the bishop. Young men can decide to pursue a vocation, others can support them; but in the end it is the bishop more than anyone else who has to lead the action necessary to promote vocations, and it is the bishop who can effectively block any potential vocations from flowering.

There are some bishops - and they have their (vocal) lay and clerical supporters - I think it is fairly clear, who have no problem with the declining number of priests.

Some, including some fairly senior bishops in the Australian hierarchy, seem actually to prefer the idea of a lay-led church; one can only speculate on how they reconcile this with the doctrines on the hierarchical constitution of the Church.

Others would like to see a relaxation of the celibacy rules and a return to ministry of those who left to marry, and have some vague notion that Rome will be forced to change the rules if things get bad enough.

Some amongst the Australian bishops even apparently support the ordination of women.

The only hope for these dioceses lies with their successors!

All one can hope for is that the results of change in surrounding dioceses makes the case to the Pope for the early termination of their tenure. Or that God acts in other ways to respond to the cries of his oppressed and deprived people in those dioceses.

Signs of the times?

But just as dangerous to the health of the Church, in my view, is the view that the situation we are in reflects God’s will, and we should work with what we have. It is a view that says if God wants to change things, he will: we just need to trust in him.

This kind of quietism is fairly prevalent at the moment. Take the situation in our religious orders for example. The number of religious in Australia has roughly halved since 1976, and based on the simple demographics of an ageing group of religious, this trend is set to accelerate in the next few years. But most within the religious orders don’t seem to see this as a cause for concern. The Catholic Religious Australia report See I am Doing a New Thing found that few orders planned to make significant changes – beyond continuing the process of handing over or closing down their remaining apostolic works - in the near future. Yet despite this, many remain convinced  that somehow or other God will act to ensure they don’t die out.

Let me say that I simply don’t believe that God works that way.

God expects us to work as his agents.

Though God guarantees the continuation of the Church until the Second Coming, he does not guarantee its continuance in particular countries, as we’ve seen demonstrated over and over. Similarly, there are many once vibrant religious orders that simply no longer exist.

Are these outcomes really God’s will?

Should we therefore find ways of adapting to the situation in which we find ourselves?

Or do they rather reflect the failure of Christians to actively discern God’s will, and, having heard what he wants us to do, to do it?

Hearing God’s will and doing it

My own view is that in general it is our failure to listen and act that is at work in relation to the shortage of priests.

And behind the decline of our religious orders. Behind the failure of catholics to believe in or practice their faith. The failure of most traditionalist communities in this country to show significant growth.

In the case of the priest shortage we can point to factors such poor catechesis and praxis that has failed to create active disciples of Christ. The failure of young people to actively discern their vocation. And the failure of their priests and bishops, of parents and teachers, indeed, of all of us, to do everything we need to do to encourage vocations.

St Ignatius’ aphorism about working as if everything depends on you, but knowing that everything depends on God is particularly appropriate here.

Over and over Scripture tells us that God wants to pour out his graces on us – but we have to ask. Persistently, and fervently.

The courage to change

More, we need to have courage.  We have to be willing to sacrifice and pray.

We have to want to achieve that outcome badly in order to make the hard slog worthwhile.

We have to have our eyes fixed firmly on heaven, and a great sense of the urgency of the salvation of souls.

We have to be willing to embark on a process knowing that we might end up getting martyred along the way.

And above all, we have to actually be convinced that there is a problem in the first place.

So let me come back to my opening point: change is hard.

The first step is shedding the rationalizations that keep us sane, stripping away all our reasons for doing nothing and seeing just how bad things really are.

The first step is accepting the necessity of change.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Worrying about the upcoming Summorum Pontificum clarification?

There is lots of gloom and doom around the blogosphere about the prospect of Summorum Pontificum being undermined by the rumoured 'clarifying' instruction.

Well, I suppose there is no harm in praying, fasting and making one's views known just in case. 

So here's where to go to register your support for a wide reading of the moto proprio.

So what do you do if you don’t have enough (orthodox) priests?

I keep on writing these pieces attacking what I see as the unfortunate adulation of ‘lay leadership’ for the sake of lay leadership.

And I keep on urging action to ensure orthodoxy amongst the clergy (and more broadly).

The problem for bishops of course, is that action is all very well, but how then do they ensure the sacramental and other spiritual needs of their flock are met?

Indeed, just a day or two we had the spectacle of a liberal priest publicly taunting the hierarchy on this subject.

So today I want to start a series that will set out some ideas on alternative approaches that might be at least considered.

But before I launch into suggesting possible alternative directions, today let me explain my position a little more clearly.

In praise of lay engagement

First let me say for the record that I am actually strongly in favour of greater lay engagement in the Church. The documents of Vatican II certainly provided a push for greater lay engagement in the mission of the Church, and I don’t see that in principle this should present us with any problems.

The high degree of clerical control over parish and other activities that prevailed before Vatican II was in large part an innovation of Trent in reaction to the problem of heresy. While one can argue that we are in that situation again, it is pretty obvious that this time around high levels of clerical control actually makes the situation worse, since so many priests seem to hold erroneous positions and propagate them to their congregations!

But before Trent, the laity were accustomed to organizing themselves in order to articulate their spiritual needs: to have Marian Masses said, to pay for extra music, to organize mystery plays, masses for the dead and much more. So there was nothing particularly new about the twentieth century rise of a plethora of professionally based confraternities, third orders and their equivalents, as well as movements such as Catholic Action, the Legion of Mary and Opus Dei, all aimed at supporting the active involvement of the laity in evangelizing the world.

Indeed, the entire traditionalist movement was in large part something of a return to the pre-Trent situation, since it very often involved the laity organising for themselves to get the TLM.  Provided the groups involved don't go off the rails or devolve into internal squabbling (as is all to often the tendency!), and do submit to broad clerical oversight when necessary, I don't see anything necessarily wrong with this.

Nor do I have a problem with the laity playing a greater role for the laity in the formal governing processes of the Church. I personally subscribe to Benedictine spirituality, and St Benedict urges the abbot to listen carefully to the views of all before making his decision. It is a model worth emulating.

Many lay people have skills and knowledge that can sensibly be taken advantage of by those in holy Orders, and having a lay perspective in decision-making processes is a sensible way of ensuring that all views are heard before final decisions are made. So, radical as this may be to some traditionalist and the clergy more generally, I’m in favour of lay consultative bodies at the parish and diocesan level; in favour of greater transparency on issues such as finances.  And I’m strongly in favour of the laity being engaged in some sensible way on the kinds of discussions of priorities that our bishops’ conferences (hopefully) have.

A key role for lay leadership

I will go even further.

In many areas, lay, rather than clerical, leadership is the most appropriate model.

When it comes to the defense of the family, of life, of medical ethics, education, and politics in general, odds are, the laity will know more about the issues than their priests. There is a role for the clergy in these areas of course – in providing good catechesis on basic principles, making sure that issues are being systematically addressed as needed, and lending moral support to those on the front lines (few things are as effective in terms of abortion mill vigils for example then having a bishop and/or priest or two leading the prayers).

But the lead role in the secular sphere generally will be better left to the laity in my view.

The laity on spirituality, theology and catechesis

I’m also a radical (well for a traditionalist!) in that I do think there is an intermediate area where I do think the laity can be constructively engaged in helping meet the needs of the Church, and even ‘lead from below’, and that is in the areas of promotion of spirituality, theology and catechesis (for example via blogs!).

In these areas they must, of course, be subject to correction and, depending on the task, some greater or lesser degree of supervision by the clergy. Still, there is no good reason why all ideas have to come from the clergy!

But not lay ministry!

But here is where I draw the line. There is absolutely nothing that I can see in the documents of Vatican II or anywhere else that lends any support to the idea that the laity should be preoccupied with Church ministry.

Since Vatican II - and in its spirit rather than what the documents actually say – there has been a push to increase the role of the laity in pseudo-ministerial roles.

I have to admit I still don’t really understand the thinking that lies behind it (by all means try and explain it to me!).

It seem to me to be a purely ideological push that invariably (and inevitably) has a simple substitution effect: told that it was better for the laity to take roles such as teachers in catholic schools, parish organizers and the like, religious sisters exited from their orders – and went straight into professional ministry roles in parishes. And it created a vicious circle. As the recent report ‘See, I am doing a new thing!’ put out by Catholic Religious Australia points out, declining numbers of religious meant the Orders were forced to hand over more and more of the running of their schools and hospitals  - to, more often then not, the ex-sisters who had just left them.

Part of the current push of course seems to be about giving women a more visible role in the Church as a response to calls for female ordination. Yet surely the great irony of the destruction of the religious orders of recent decades is that the destructin of religous life is the single greatest factor in the diminished visibility of women in the Church. As religious, women ran their own Orders, ran schools, hospitals and often played a major role in influencing Church directions. As parish associates and the like they became mere employees, and ended up in a struggle to establish their role - resulting in a scrabble for power with unfortunate results in many cases.

Learning from our mistakes

Yet instead of learning from this terrible mistake, we seem intent now on doing the same thing all over again, this time with priests. Instead of responding to the priest shortage by looking at what we need to do to encourage vocations, to treasure our priests more, measures are being adopted that will positively discourage men from taking on clerical roles.

The biggest step was of course Pope Paul VI’s decree Ministeria Quaedam in 1972, which abolished minor orders and inserted the laity into roles such as lector and extraordinary ministers of communion.

The latest push across the country to put the laity into leadership roles in parish management is potentially even more dangerous to the long term future of the Church.

And will it satisfy advocates of women’s ordination? Of course not!

So what is the alternative? More soon.

Treasuring your priests: ideology, lay leadership and Broken Bay

This is a slightly edited version of a post I put up a few days ago.  I took it down to think about it, since I seem so frequently to be being critical and negative, and I wondered if I could possibly have misinterpeted it all.

But I'm putting it back up with an accompanying piece, the first of a series, since I do think this is an important, not to say critical, issue for the Australian Church to deal with.  And if there is another perspective on this situation, by all means tell us about it in the comments box or email me offline (my email can be found via the profile in the right hand column).

Lay leadership model in Broken Bay Diocese

A reader sent me a copy of an open letter from a disgruntled priest in Broken Bay Diocese, protesting at the bishop's decision to promote a model of lay leadership of parishes without even the pretense being made (as in other Australian dioceses) of a priest being nominally in charge.

I have not printed it here, because although it says it is an open letter, it is not quite clear to me just how open it is meant to be, or for that matter whether it should be.  But it does raise issues that deserve to be highlighted.

The ideology of lay leadership

Because it is little wonder that priests in that diocese are upset. 

The Bishop of Broken Bay, Bishop David Walker, states quite clearly in the supporting material on this new direction that the rationale for this move is not a shortage of priests: indeed, due to overseas recruitment, there are apparently currently enough priests for two to be assigned to each parish, at least in the short term. 

Rather, the motive is to provide "active and engaging leadership, which, in my  view, is not available currently."

The faith of our priests

Now in part the bishop's basis for this statement is that many of the overseas recruits are still learning English and becoming familiar with Australian culture.  Fair enough - although only too often the 'Australian culture' issue in relation to overseas priests seems to be code for getting them to unlearn the orthodoxy they came here with and absorb the secularist liberal mentality, rather than learning what is actually required to be effective in a parish in a society of migrants.

Still, the published material by the bishop does seem to support the claims by the priest in his letter to the effect that the real problem is that the bishop considers that many of his priests lack a "mature faith".

Now a "mature faith" is one of those sets of code words that means different things to different people. 

Over at aCatholica, it is regularly employed to justify dissent - as in 'when we were children, we were fed orthodoxy, but now that we can think for ourselves...'  But surely that can't be what the bishop means, can it?

The term does have an orthodox interpretation as well, however, as a blog piece by Monsignor Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington made clear in a blog post recently.  He argues that today many do suffer from arrested spiritual development, and suggests some criteria to test whether our faith is developing as it should.  The normal Christian life, he suggests, requires us to be constantly growing in our faith; to be increasing our understanding of doctrine; to exhibit mature behaviour; for our priorities to go from being worldly to spiritual.  And he puts up two criteria that I think are particularly important:

  • To be able to aptly distinguish false doctrine from true doctrine.
  • To show forth a stability of life and not be easily carried away by all the latest trends and ephemeral fads.
So are our priests 'mature Christians' and if not, how do we deal with it?

Now I'd have to say, based on publications such as The Swag, the dissenting rag put out by the Australian National Council of Priests, and the frequency of other dissenting rants in the media by Australian priests, I'd have to say that it is only too possible that, against Monsignor Pope's criteria, some Broken Bay priests do not have a "mature faith".

On the other hand, if that really is the issue, is the best solution to simply bypass them, and in the process undermine the importance and very nature of Holy Orders?  The priest's leadership role, his mandate to teach, sanctify and rule flows from the sacrament of holy orders; it cannot simply be replaced by a lay charism or skillset, however value that charism may be, however strong that skillset.  And attempting to do so, while disparaging one's priests publicly, can hardly be encouraging to anyone considering a vocation in the diocese. 

Or is the real problem something else?  If so, let's be clear about just what the perceived or real problem is.

Lay leadership of parishes is a fad...

On the face of it, this current trend being pursued by so many of our bishops in various ways looks to me to be nothing more than the latest fad, yet another rabbit hole that will do nothing to turnaround the Church in this country. 

A diversion from where they should be putting their real effort, namely restoring orthodox teaching and reverent worship, encouraging true discipleship among priests, and thus, promoting vocations. And on this, there is a very useful article on the way that irreverent, over-casual worship can subvert good catechesis reproduced over at the Pernicious Papist blog, well-worth a read.

Certainly, the supplanting of priests by lay leaders is a direction that the current Holy Father has repeatedly said is inappropriate and dangerous.  So one can only hope that the Pope will have some tough words to say on this subject to our bishops when they visit Rome later this year on their Ad Limina, and that this will have some effect. 
So, please pray for all priests affected by proposals to increase lay leadership in parishes, and for a rethink on this issue by our bishops.

And do read the series I'm starting on alternatives to the approach that increasingly seems to being taken by our bishops, and toss in your own suggestions and views.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Music (hopefully not) for the Masses!

For those interested in contemporary music in the Mass: Fr Robert Galea of the diocese of Sandhurst has put out a new CD, “Reach Out”, which, according to the ACBC  'contains many beautiful modern songs for use in praise and worship'.  You can get a taste of his offerings here.

Now I admit that I have no taste for popular music whatsoever, so my reaction to the active promotion of this kind of stuff by the Australian Bishops Conference, rather than of the great patrimony of our Church, may be just a tad jaundiced.

But for those of a like mind, Catholic Phoenix also offers a piece today, entitled "Four Catholic Musical Diseases, and Their Cures".  The appropriate one in this case is, I think, St Haugen's Dance:

"Symptoms: This disease affects the aesthetic center of the brain, causing a predilection for the music of Haugen, Haas, et al. Its sufferers are sometimes propelled to the front of the church — occasionally even to the sanctuary — where they take up any available instruments and begin to undergo mild seizures (or “rocking out”), producing a music not unlike the work of Nickelback, only lacking that band’s signature freshness and originality. The disease also causes facial spasms that resemble either religious ecstasy or intense pain.

Cure: Six continuous hours of enforced Palestrina daily for a week."

Friday, 11 February 2011

Proposing vs imposing changes to the liturgy: where does the balance lie and how do you go about it?

One of the most vexed questions at the moment for all camps is when and how to go about changing the liturgy.

Regardless of your views on the merits or otherwise of the 1960s and 70s changes, we all agree, I suspect that that is not how to do it!

But how to best manage the changes to the new missal?  How can some fire be put into the reform of the reform process?  And for those using the 1962 books, how can we resolve some of the obvious problems with them, and get rid of those changes in them that really do not work or are at least less than optimal?

When to impose?

And on this subject, there is an interesting blog piece from Monsignor Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington lauding the Pope's approach of  'proposing rather than imposing'.  Hmm, though he is admittedly talking mainly about the EF mass, I doubt the opponents of the new missal see it that way!

Moreover, coming at it from the other side, proposing rather than imposing is fine for those things that might be viewed as optional extras (though one could debate what might be in that category).  But most of us still run across things that are technically abuses more often then not when we go to a Novus Ordo Mass.  And if we luck out, we will still almost certainly strike an inappropriate casualness and sense of irreverence.  Frankly, a little more proposing (leading by example) and imposing by diocesan bishops seems badly needed.

At the moment of course, the main subject of the imposing debate is the missal.  And on that, while I strongly support the changes and want the implementation process to succeed, I do have some sympathy for those opposed to it.

Do we need to change at all?

The first issue to be addressed is do we really need to change at all?  While many traditionalists view the reaction of liberals to the missal changes with some glee, a case of  'now the shoes on the other foot' see how you like it, I do think it is a fair question to ask.

Liturgy should above all seek to be stable. 

A lot of the focus in recent years has been on the effects of the big bang changes of the 1960s and 70s.  One monastery, for example, described the Vatican II changes as like "leaving a tent to which one is happily accustomed, and seeking a new abode". 

That the 'new abode' is now found even more deficient than those alleged of the original starting point doesn't change the fact that the new missal and other reform of the measures are just as deliberate an attempt to undermine the liberal reinterpretation of catholicism as the original changes were to undermine the Catholic culture that existed prior to Vatican II.  We should expect angst.

Mind you, the liberals are being a tad inconsistent - instability, after all, is going to be the state of the liturgy by definition if one insists on using vernacular that is not hieratic in tone.  Language, after all, changes over time.

But is Latin actually the answer?

Some have suggested somewhat facetiously that the solution for those who don't like the new missal is to just use Latin.

It is a rather less understood point though, that there has been a quiet process of subversion of the stability of the Latin of the texts of the Mass and Office as well over the last several decades.

The significant changes to the structure of the Mass and Office made in the 50s and early 60s aside, I would suggest the small but constant changes made to the Office have been just as destructive for priests and religious of a conservative bent.  Fr Hunswick wrote a nice post earlier this week on the effects of the changes made to the psalter (Pius XII and the Bea translation, then Neo-Vulgate under Pope John Paul II) in undermining the memorization of the psalms.  In monasteries where the Office is sung the problem was more acute: older monks and nuns often thought they were singing the new version - but actually sang the old, creating constant clashes. A similar point presumably arises in the lectionary with the neo-Vulgate.

And then there are the effects of the constant relearning process demanded.  Amendments to the Graduale.  For Benedictines, the new versions of the hymns put out by Solesmes, and then (extremely belatedly) the chants contained in the several volumes of the new Antiphonale Monasticum, which even changes the basic chant tones!  I imagine there are similar stories in other orders.  It may all be academically better (although that is contestable) - but is that really the right criterion when it comes to what is best for the liturgy?

But the case for the missal...

All that said, the case for the missal changes is I think overwhelming: poor translations have clearly subverted the understanding of the faith.

And maybe the changes will give some momentum to ideas proposed at least in writing, or being modelled by the Holy Father.  He has, for example, moved from giving communion on the tongue to those he communicates at papal masses, to imposing it for all attending these masses.

The missal is necessary, but not sufficient

Personally, I'd like to see a bigger push on some of the things that serve to undermine the congregation's proper understanding of what the mass is about: Mass facing the people, which encourages congregationalism and irreverent engagement with the 'audience'; reception in the hand, which discourages a proper sense of awe at the gift of the Eucharist (already undermined by over-frequent communion for most people, or looked at from the other side, reception in the absence of regular confession); and the disruptive sign of peace, that breaks the flow of the Mass.

Change is needed, and better that we get it done sooner rather than later so that people can get used to it.

So it is good news I think that some reorganization of the Vatican bureaucracy is on the cards rumoured to be with a view to giving the reform of the reform a bit of a push.  As ever though, if it happens at all, it looks to be a softly softly push. VIS news reports:

"It is true that a motu proprio has long been under study to lay down the transferral of a technical legal competence - as, for instance, that of the dispensation for the 'ratum sed non consummatum' matrimony from the Congregation for Divine Worship to the tribunal of the Sacred [Roman] Rota. But there are no grounds nor reason to see in this an intent to promote a control, of a 'restrictive' kind, by the Congregation, of the fostering of the liturgical renewal willed by the Second Vatican Council."

All in all though, it seems to me very unfortunate that the change process on the Novus Ordo looks set to continue over some years, with future promised changes to the lectionary.  Because we do also need stability.

But then again, what about some judicious reform of the NO calendar (put a few feasts back on their correct date, reintroduce Septuagint and the Pentecost octave) to align it a little more closely with the 1962 version..?!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Defending morality...**

Parliament is sitting again, and really it isn't at all pretty.

Debt not levies

Beyond the rather silly debate on emoting with cyclone/flood/fire victims or lack thereof, nothing has shown up the poverty of leadership on both sides of the House than the proposed funding arrangements for the immense rebuilding effort required.  Voluntary contributions will be used to help individuals.  The Government though, must step in to rebuild roads, highways, hospitals, water supplies and much more.

Labor proposes a one-year levy.

But really why is it needed? Australia has a very low level of Government debt by world standards, and increasing it is the right response given the continuing fragility of the non-mining related economy, which will be hit even harder by the flow-on effects of the Queensland and Victoria disasters, including the likely diversion of scarce labour to the rebuilding effort. 

Families will already be hit hard by sharply rising fruit, vege and ethanol (and thus petrol) prices and other flow-on effects of the floods and cyclone.  They don't really need a levy on top of that.

Unfortunately the rational policy response has been made impossible by the success of the Opposition's campaign to make a mountain out of the molehill of Australia's debt levels.

Fiscal cuts will hit families harder

So we face the prospect not only of a new tax, but also big cuts in Government spending. 

Mr Abbott's proposals (clearly cooked up in the five seconds before his Mark Latham moment in response to his apparent disregard of the death of one of our soldiers in Afghanistan) to cut aid to Indonesia and defer key expenditure commitments are small-minded and shortsighted.  And they seem to suffer from the usual Hockey-esq problem of rubbery numbers.

But what will actually come out of the Government could well be a lot worse.  On the plus side, Ms Gillard is taking the opportunity to axe some of her predecessor Mr Rudd's more grandiose schemes (because really, all we needed to solve Greenhouse problems is a Carbon Capture Institute with an HQ in Paris....).   Unfortunately that won't be enough, and guess what: the obvious target being eyed by Government is support for families, now rapidly being rebadged by some as "middle class welfare".

And then there is the Green's death agenda...

Even worse, the Green's agenda on gay 'marriage' and euthanasia will sooner or later make it back onto the Parliamentary program.

So on these issues, a few useful things to go read/sign up to.

On euthanasia, Bishop Patrick Power of Canberra has written a useful article (yes, pick yourself up from the floor) debunking claims of mass support for it.  Good too that it appears on the journal Online Opinion, whose advertising base has been under attack from gay activists for the crime of publishing articles showing both sides of the marriage debate.

And on the subject of marriage, you might want to consider signing the petition put together by the Australian Christian Lobby - with a rather stronger wording than that agreed by our bishops. 

You might also want to consider attending the upcoming "Share the Dream" Conference in Melbourne this April.  The Press Release on this says:

"From 15-17 April at Xavier College in Kew, An expected 1500 people will gather in for the National Family Gathering Share the Dream.

This event is the 3rd of its kind in Australia and is hosted by the Melbourne Archdiocese of behalf of the Bishops Commission for Pastoral Life (BCPL).

Matthew MacDonald from the Life, Marriage and Family Office in the Archdiocese of Melbourne said that the event aims to draw together families from across Australia to celebrate their role in evangelising society.

“We hope to try and give families something that’s a little like World Youth Day. The idea is to give people a sense that they are not alone in their faith. Even though they might feel like fish out of water or that they are all alone and swimming against the tide – there are many who share their vision and values as well as their troubles and challenges”, he said.

**Extra, extra: On the subject of euthanasia, another article worth adding to your reading list for ammunition: Mercator Net has a nice set of extracts from the personal testimonies that helped defeated legislation in Hawaii.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Norbertine Canonesses: a new religious community is (formally) born

Some good news from the US - Zenit reports that a group of women have made their final profession as Norbertine (Praemonstratensian) canonesses, and been formally incorporated into the order.

The group started in 1997 as a public association of the faithful, has grown to twenty, with nine sisters now in final vows.  As such, they are the first house of Norbertine nuns based in an English speaking country (since Henry VIII's suppression of the monasteries!).   The group have been supported by the men's Norbertine monastery of St Michael's, California, and visited a number of European houses as part of their formation process.

The order - and the sisters - are very traditionally oriented, and the sisters live a cloistered life, devoted to prayer and manual labour.

You can read more about them and the order here. (they do seem to have their own website but the link is down at the moment).

The reality of hell

The doctrine of the existence of hell is one of those central planks of our religion: if hell doesn't exist, what is the point of the struggle to do good? How can we deal with the injustices of this world if there is no hope of justice in the next?  And assuming there is an afterlife, if hell doesn't exist in what sense can we really be said to have free will?

Unsurprisingly given its reality, many religions and philosophies, from Ancient Egypt, to Plato's myth of Ur, to Aztec religions as well as many more recent ones share something similar to the Catholic belief on this subject.

Yet for equally obvious reasons many people do want to deny the doctrine, explain it way, or act as if it doesn't exist.

The Magisterium of me...

Take this rant from the US National aCatholic Reporter, picked up with glee by the aCatholicas in this country:

"I’m writing about hell because it is an unthinkable, horrible, destructive concept that can’t possibly be true. I frankly can’t even imagine how anyone came up with something so horrific. Could any wrong merit the terrible pain of burning in fire, while fully conscious, for a week or a year, much less eternity? What kind of a monster would inflict that on anyone? How could such cruelty and sadism be consistent with a God of love? I don’t buy it for a minute.

I don’t care if scripture mentions hell or Jesus talked about it, if saints had visions of it, or if it’s a time-honored Catholic teaching. It simply can’t be justified on any level."

Well at least the author, Carol Meyer, is honest about her position - her view is right no matter what authority might say otherwise!  Hmm, where have we heard that before recently...oh yes, a certain Melbourne priest on why women should be ordained for a starter!
But sadly, also someone who does not understand that it is ultimately our choices, not God's, that serve to condemn or save us.  We can choose the good, choose to live eternally with God - or we can choose to reject him and be excluded forever from his presence.  And doesn't understand that if we choose to sin, to hurt others and/or ourselves and fail to repent and do penance, then our actions will still catch up with us in the end.

Lessons from nature

Ms Meyer goes on to argue that punishment can't be real because God's creation is so benign:

"The bottom line in all this is the nature of God. When we look at creation (and thus at God), we see that it is essentially benevolent, kind, and nurturing. Yes, there is some pain and certainly death, but it is part of a beautiful process of life, growth and rebirth, not some never-ending punishment for being imperfect. I’m not sure where we got the idea that the meaning of life is about judgment, that it’s some kind of cosmic test almost impossible to pass. Nature is about harmony, balance, compassion, unity, interdependence, joy, and all life coming to its fullest potential."

Well, yes and no.  It is true that creation is good, and allows us by reason to understand that God is good.  But at the same time, Australians suffering over the last few weeks variously from the ravages of bushfires, floods, cyclones, plagues of locusts and heatwaves might beg to differ about the entirely benevolent view of nature!  Indeed, the Old Testament repeatedly speaks of natural events such as these as evidence of God's anger at times when his people turn away from him and worship false gods instead, a reminder that his justice must be faced sooner or later.

  Twisting doctrine
Still, in a way Ms Meyer's honesty about her rejection of Scripture and church teaching, which cannot in any way, shape or form be reconciled with Catholicism is, in many ways, a lot less dangerous than some of the other forms of denial of the doctrine in my view.
The classic example of course is the claim of Hans Urs von Balthasar  - who died unexpectedly a few days before he could be made a Cardinal by Pope John Paul II - that hell could be empty.  This view too seems totally at odds with both Scripture and Tradition.  But a theologian can argue the case with a great deal of sophistication, and by virtue of his credibility, persuade many, to their downfall.
Another less obvious form of this denial of reality is an excessive focus on righting wrongs in this world, while neglecting to remember that our true treasure lies in the next.   That views Social Justice as an alternative to God's eternal justice rather than as a complement to it that keeps it in a proper perspective.  It is the view, to use words from one of Sr Carmel Pilcher's Cathblog entries on her fellow Josephites, that lauds dying "not with their own salvation uppermost in mind, but imploring a loving God to be compassionate toward the poor and the needy".
The narrow way
It is of course the hope of heaven rather than the fear of hell that should primarily motivate us. 
But fear of hell is always a good place to start, a grounding for us in why we must strive to stay in a state of grace at all times, and prepare ourselves for the one inevitable event in all our lives, namely death!
Let us pray that all those we love may yet be granted a holy fear of hell, and be converted.

Monday, 7 February 2011

The Australian Ordinariate progresses...

Bishop Peter Elliot has put out a press release on an "Ordinariate Festival" held in Queensland on February 1 to 3. 

The meeting apparently enabled Anglicans from all States came together with Catholics to understand more about Pope Benedict’s offer of a Personal Ordinariate for former Anglicans seeking full communion with the Church. The meeting was followed by a meeting of the national implementation committee. 

On February 26 another Ordinariate Festival will be held in Perth, at Holy Family church Como, hosted by Bishop Harry Entwhistle (Traditional Anglican Communion. Other festivals are envisaged for Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide to inform people as plans for an Australian Ordinariate take shape.


I do think that the credibility of the enterprise has been enhanced by the fact that the participants included clergy, laity and religious women from the official Anglican Church of Australia (ACA) as well as the Anglican Catholic Church in Australia (TAC).

There has been some angst around the fact that Archbishop Hepworth, the head of the TAC, is a Catholic priest who defected from the faith, and twice attempted marriage (both I gather invalid since had not been laicized).  My own view is that the angst is unChristian: we should surely welcome such prodigal sons back to the Church should they repent and desire to return!  Certainly many priests who have 'left' the priesthood have been allowed to subsequently return.

And if such a lost sheep leads many others back into the fold with him, so much the better, a wonderful example of God bringing something good out of sin. 

Whether such a penitent would make an appropriate Ordinary for the new Ordinariate however is a whole different question.  The standards expected of bishops and their equivalents in terms of jurisdiction are nicely articulated by St Paul in his first letter to Timothy, which we just happened to be the reading at Matins today in the traditional breviary:

"The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way;  for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil; moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil."

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule...after all the new Ordinary for England is a very recent convert indeed!

In the meantime, please do keep praying for the conversion and successful entry into the Church of all Anglicans.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Liturgy in times of disaster...dependence on God or dependence on man?

How should we respond to God in the wake of natural disasters such as the storms affecting Queensland and the US at the moment?

One would hope by turning to God, acknowledging our dependence on him, and in repentance and entreaty. By granting him the worship we truly owe him.

Unsurprisingly, though, there are some who would rather turn such events into celebrations of ourselves instead.

Cath News strikes again...

Cath News today has a classic  piece from the indomitable Sr Carmel Pilcher a Josephite described on the blog entry as a "liturgical consultant", arguing that one might obtain more sense of the sacred by a bare bones mass at the site of devastation after a disaster, than through attention to the solemn celebration of the liturgy with elements such as incense and fine vestments.  Sigh.

Sr Carmel argues that:

"...Mass in a burnt out paddock, or near a tree scarred from a collision with a motor vehicle might bring them more consciously into the presence of the sacred than would the sparkle of gold chalices or the rich brocade of vestments."

She also wants the liturgy to be shaped so as to allow people "to recount stories and share experiences".

It is not all about us!

I suppose it is to be expected, given her lead in, that Sr Carmel views attention to the solemnity of the liturgy through the lens of worship of the self and community rather than God:

"Some Catholic leaders believe that Mass is the time for us to leave behind our cares and distractions. Ensuring the dignity and sacredness of the celebration through the extraordinary is their primary preoccupation, leaving the expression of the human concerns of a community to personal supplication. [Perhaps Sister has never looked at the prayers set for our use in times of disaster - at the words of the litanies, the collects and texts for Masses for help at times of flood or storm, or for their aftermath which are rich in entreaty and lament?]

Particular attention is given to such elements as the wafting smell of incense, beautifully embroidered vestments and the gold of chalices and patens that are intended to lift us beyond our human lives and into the sacred presence of the divine." [Such elements may well help us to reconnect to absolute truth and beauty after the devastation, to remind us that this earthly life is but a short breath, to reorient us to what really matters.  But that is not their primary purpose, which is to give glory to God.]

It is worth remembering though that the real reason we should use nice vestments, demand well sung music, pay attention to the performance of the ritual is not just about us.

St Benedict instructs:

"If we wish to petition to men of high station, we do not presume to do it without humility and respect; how much more ought we to supplicate the Lord God of all things with all humility and pure devotion."

Of course these days we often forget the appropriate respect in petitioning those in positions of power, so no surprise that we do likewise in relation to God (or is it vice versa?).

St Benedict stresses the need for appropriate reverence and awe in the liturgy - and yes, sites of devastation might help evoke that sense of awe in us. But our response needs to focus on Him, not us.

So please, in the wake of the cyclone, the floods and fires let's rediscover the worship of God.

Lest his scourging continue....

From lightning and tempest spare us O Lord!

So a big thank you to everyone who prayed for North Queensland. 

Though the danger is not yet over, the effects of the cyclone have been miraculously mild, with no deaths or serious injuries reported as yet, given its appalling strength (winds up to 300km/hr) and size (six hundred kms wide).

The cyclone changed its timing, and thus the tidal surges (flooding) were not as high as they could have been if the cyclone had coincided with the high tide as originally predicted.  And most importantly, it hit the coast in a relatively unpopulated region, with Cairns (my sister and family are fine - no power and lots of uprooted trees but house seems to be ok!) getting off very lightly indeed, and Townsville similarly not too badly hit.

There is of course a lot of damage - power is out to 170,000 people and will take weeks to restore in some areas, power lines are down making travel dangerous, and pictures of houses cut in half and other devastation are starting to emerge.  The sugar cane and banana crops have been utterly destroyed, and all up the cost impact is estimated to be up to $42 billion.  Still, the most important thing is lives, and today in the Cairns evacuation centre, a baby was born, so a net gain so far!

So join me in singing a Te Deum today (after a lot of  repetitions of "A fulgure et tempestate libera nos Domine" in the litany of the saints last night!).

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Please pray for Queensland and others (again/still) - this time it's a cyclone!**

**Update: Cyclone Yasi has been upgraded to a Category 5, the same level as the devastating Cyclone Katrina.  Around 30,000 people are relocating from coastal areas from Port Douglas to Townsville, with the Cairns CBD likely to be well and truly underwater.  High winds today are likely to make travel difficult to impossible in advance of the cyclone hitting the coast, expected this evening.

Australia's wild weather

Australia's weather continues to play havoc:
  • a monster cyclone is due to hit Queensland's North tomorrow, and poses severe risk of loss of life depending on just where it hits the coast. Certainly my sister in Cairns received a call warning to the effect that it could hit the centre of town, taking out power and telecommunications for some days (they are hopeful their new house will stand up to it - on a hill and a fair way removed from coast, so hopefully out of the way of tidal surges, but whether even the most protected room in their fairly sheltered and steel framed house will withstand the forecast 250 km winds remains to be seen...)**they are now evacuating entire hospitals (one of which my brother-in-law works in) to Brisbane!;
  • in Adelaide (where my elderly mother lives) there has been an extreme heatwave, with temperatures going over the Fahrenheit one hundred mark.  Fortunately it has fallen back to a more moderate forecast for today of 35/95!; and
  • here in Canberra we are getting warnings of likely flash flooding on Thursday, with a major downpour forecast.  Meanwhile today is extremely hot (already 35 and still climbing) and very very windy, so extreme fire danger, exacerbated by lots of grass growth due to a cool and wet summer now dried out by a couple of weeks of sun...
And of course, many in Victoria are still flooded out, while the mop up continues elsewhere.

So please do say a prayer or two....