Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Islamic Assault on Australia...

Our Lady Help of Christians and the Battle of Lepanto
artist: Paulo Veronese

Three cheers for Bishop Porteous, who has called on an Islamic organization to remove provocative and offensive billboards claiming that 'Jesus is an Islamic prophet'.

Those billboards...

The billboards in question have apparently been paid for by an Islamic group  calling itself 'MyPeace' (!), which claims that it wants "to encourage Christians and Muslims to find common ground by raising awareness that Islam believed in Jesus Christ". 

Except of course that Islam doesn't believe in Jesus as Christ - a word which means the Messiah, the anointed one!  Unsurprisingly, the group's website is actually all about how (just say the magic words with conviction) and why (instant forgiveness of all past sins!) to convert to Islam.

What we actually believe

Fortunately, Bishop Julian Porteous, currently an Auxiliary of Sydney, has pointed out that to Christians, "Jesus is more than a prophet".  The SMH reports:

"He is the Son of God. He is acclaimed Lord and Saviour of humanity," he said on Monday.

"In Australia with its Christian heritage a billboard carrying the statement `Jesus A prophet of Islam' is provocative and offensive to Christians."

Bishop Porteous, whose comments come a day after the Darlinghurst billboard was vandalised, said it was important religions don't antagonise others with "provocative statements".

"For the sake of preserving social harmony and respect between major world religions these billboards should be withdrawn, along with others which carry messages directly offensive to Christians," he said.

Australians have not been fooled!

Go back even a few months and the general line coming from Islamic organizations was generally the soft-soap approach: yes, there are extremists out there, but most of us don't like them; yes some countries do have nasty old-fashioned sharia law, but don't worry, we don't want that here.

For some strange reason this line hasn't, on the whole, been swallowed by the majority of Australians.

Perhaps because they can see the continued strong growth in the number of Muslims in Australia thanks to our high and 'non-discriminatory' migration policy, and an associated flexing of political muscle in some NSW electorates in particular. 

Perhaps its because they read ongoing reports of serious threats from homegrown and imported terrorists, and note the persistent refusal of local Islamic leaders to actually condemn such actions. 

Or perhaps it is just because the more they learn about Islam and its persecution of Christians around the world, the less they like it!

New tactics

In any case, it is becoming clear that in response, Islam in Australia is switching tactics. 

In recent months we've had a submission to a Parliamentary Inquiry advocating recognition of sharia law from a Muslim peak body, in line with Australia's alleged commitment to pluralism.  The Government came out strongly rejecting this, but don't think this is the last time this argument will get trotted out - after all it has succeeded in the UK and Canada, both of which recognise sharia law courts in areas such as divorce and inheritance law.

And now the claim of 'common ground' with Christians. 

The problem of course is that this one is much harder to counter because many so-called Christians don't actually believe that Jesus is truly divine - that's why so many people support women's ordination amongst many other errors!  Because if they did think Our Lord was truly divine, if they did believe he actually instituted the Church through deliberate decisions as God....

The other problem is that Islam presents an attractive alternative for many in the face of the disintegration of our society.  We might all - including some notable feminists - instinctively recoil at a group of women deliberately calling themselves 'sluts' and demanding the right to wear anything they like or nothing in any circumstances whatsoever, for example, but it is only Islamic leaders who are standing up and effectively calling them on it.  Of course, most of us would think the Islamic position an extreme overreaction in the opposite direction, but in the absence of a clear alternative, some will take the extreme.

The recovery of a Catholic culture

It is precisely for these reasons that we need to work on recovering a genuinely catholic culture, so as to present an alternative.

In the UK, fish on Fridays is on the way back in.  Our bishops should follow suit.

We need a big push to remind people that Sunday is a Holy Day of Obligation that should be taken seriously.

The UK bishops there are also considering reinstating Holy Days of Obligation during the week  - and Ascension this Thursday would be one of my key picks for a similar move here!

To bring back a focus on confession (making it more readily available at a variety of times and places would be a good start in my own diocese!).

There is a lot to be done. 

But a bishop calling Islam on its hypocrisy in demanding that no one do anything that offends it, while freely assaulting the beliefs of other religions is a very good start indeed.

Unfortunately the assault from within is a lot harder to make people realise is a serious threat than an invasion fleet sailing up to your shores.  But pray for victory nonetheless!

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Morris dismissal: more for your reading list

A month on, the implications of Bishop Morris' demise continue to be debated.

Migration and the Australian Church

Worth a look, firstly a Weekend Australian opinion piece by Angela Shanahan.

Ms Shanahan argues that the after-effects of Vatican II had a devastating effect on the Church in Australia, causing a deep polarisation:

Consequently, a polarisation is emerging in the Catholic Church between doctrinal and liturgically orthodox minorities (some championing a revival of the Latin mass) and the mainstream, infected in various degrees with irreverence, lax practices and, in its most extreme manifestations, heresy. Pity the confused everyday middle-of-the-road Catholic. [Hmm, is this hypothetical 'confused middle of the road catholic' part of this irreverent, heretical mainstream?  If so, the solution is surely to unconfuse them on doctrine and practice rather than pity them!]

Ms Shanahan argues that even as the number of practising Catholics has dropped dramatically, to around 11%, the influence of Catholics has, paradoxically, strengthened:

"The church in Australia, both priests and laity, partly because of its origins in the Irish convict-descended underclass, and its traditional links with the Labor movement, has always emphasised social action over doctrinal purity. Since the 70s the Australian church has moved rapidly to the Left, with doctrinal orthodoxy almost gone in many institutions, especially schools. It is a phenomenon of a church under the thrall of secularism that although the schools are bursting with kids, there are no babies crying any more in church on Sunday.

Nevertheless, the Catholic Church is still influential in Australian public life. That is partly because Catholics make up the biggest religious denomination in Australia (about one-third of the population) and partly because of the huge numbers attending Catholic schools: at least one-third of the total school population attend Catholic schools and in some places such as Canberra, a bastion of the green Left, it is 50 per cent. However, this influence is in inverse proportion to its doctrinal strength and to the numbers of practising Catholics, who have dwindled, says the 2006 census, to about 11 per cent.

She argues that the signs of recovery, linked closely to the new conservatism in the Church in Australia, can largely be attributed to migration:

"First there has been an influx of Catholic immigrants, particularly in Sydney and in Melbourne. The new face of Australian Catholicism is largely Asian, Vietnamese, Filipinos and Indians, particularly in city congregations. Along with this is a revival in conservative practices in Australia, particularly among these groups..." There is something in this, though one could add a few other non-Asian groups such as Poles to the list.  Still, it is a phenomenon that isn't just driven by migration, as the growth of traditionalist communities around Australia illustrates.

Cardinal Pell interview

The second article worth a look comes via the Catholic News Agency in the form of an interview with Cardinal Pell.  Fr Z has given it a good spruiking, but I wanted to highlight a couple of points in particular. 
Cardinal Pell defends the decision, and the authoritative nature of the teaching that Bishop Morris rejected.  But he goes on to say:
“He’s a very good man. He had a lot of pastoral strengths. He’s got a lot of good points. He’s done of lot of good work...”

Really?  I understand that the Cardinal has to continue to work with the half of Australian bishops rumoured to have wanted to send a letter of protest to the Pope on Bishop Morris' behalf.   All the same, I do think that these kind of comments are ultimately unhelpful.  This is a bishop who, whatever his good points (and everyone has them), has done enormous damage over a long period.  Who continues to model dissent and disobedience.  How can this be described as good!

Contrast the Cardinal's politic words with some other commentary in the article:

Critics of the bishop who’ve spoken in recent weeks to CNA suggest that the problems in Toowoomba went far beyond the bishop’s public disagreement with Catholic doctrine on the priesthoodThey’ve claimed Bishop Morris - who preferred a shirt and tie to a priestly collar and bishops’ attire - did much to undermine Catholic identity and teachings during his 18 years in office.

Secondly, I really don't know what to make of this line:
But the diocese was divided quite badly..."

Does this mean to suggest that if the diocese hadn't been divided everything would have been left  to stand, regardless of its alignment or otherwise with the Church?  Does this suggest a desire for avoidance of debate that explains the laissez faire attitude the Cardinal seems to adopt in his own diocese, allowing for example masses for the homosexual community to continue, not to mention the clearly erroneous comments of some of his own priests to stand effectively uncensured?

Finally though, good to see someone calling Bishop Morris on his behaviour in relation to his dismissal:

...and the bishop hasn’t demonstrated that he’s a team player. I mean even at the end he didn’t wait for the official Vatican announcement. He sent around messages to every parish, to all his priests, the Australian bishops before the official announcement and since then he’s made a number of public announcements which haven’t been helpful.”  I think the bishop actually demonstrated that he wasn't a 'team player' long ago hence his dismissal, but it is certainly true that his behaviour around the announcement and afterwards has been disgraceful.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Australia's refugee settlement program - another case of Immigration incompetence?

Last week the Church's Migrant and Refugee Office was lauding the success of Australia's refugee resettlement program and urging that it be expanded.

Here's another reason to think twice about that! 

Today's Sun Herald reports on a case of a company contracted to run the program that raises serious questions about the management of that program - concerns flagged not least by a refugee advocate, Sister Diana Santleben OP.

Refugees left in appalling conditions

The paper reports that the problems relating to a Newcastle company included:

"A two-year-old boy had died, refugees were left without enough food, and others had been left alone and given the triple-0 emergency number to call, even though they spoke no English.

A wheelchair-bound man was housed in a first-floor apartment with no lift.

...complaints, which stretched back six years, had never been addressed...there were now allegations of theft, rorting of rents and neglect of the refugees."

Not an isolated incident?

The paper reports that despite complaints going back years, the company concerned had its contract renewed this year. 

In fact it was only when the Minister concerned, Chris Bowen, learnt of the problems in the media that action was taken - he ordered an external audit. 

The result was a scathing report by Ernst and Young, and further revelations at Senate Estimates hearings last week, which have sparked calls for a national review of the program.

What is to be done?

The appropriate solution, of course, is not to kill the program, but to kill the Department!

This is, after all, a Department that over a number of years has consistently failed successive Governments at every level: in its own administration, in its policy capacity, and in its contract management.

But it also points to the need for a rethink firstly of the whole contracting out approach to delivering Government services: in-house delivery or reliance on charities have their own problems, but rarely result in the out and out rorting and profiteering at the expense of lives that seems to be the primary modus operandi of our entrepreneurial quasi-private sector, from pink-batts to solar panels to refugees!

And secondly to the need for a fundamental rethink of the whole issue of the treatment of both economic and political refugees, as well as those displaced by war and internal unrest, across the world.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

And just in case you were preoccupied with Cleo...

No, not the magazine, the Masterchef ex-contestant!

It seems that most Australians were, judging by the angst online, tuned into the shock horror elimination of Masterchef competitor Cleo for - gasp - not obeying the rules or following instructions on Thursday's installment.  Yep, that show is past its use-by date!

So you might have missed the week's, as ever, best commentary on the state of play in Australian politics - coming to you not extactly from the French Open in Paris and Sur Le Pont D'Avignon...

***Update: And for the plain English version of this, with the latest, the Sun-Herald has a guide....

Some weekend reading: the John Jay Report

By way of weekend reading, I'd like to draw your attention to two important articles on the recent John Jay Report on sexual abuse in the Church, this time over at the excellent ABC Religion and Ethics Site.

Why has the media ignored the John Jay study?

The first article is by the site's editor, Scott Stephens, and basically takes the media to task for largely ignoring the report. 

He attributes this state of affairs (correctly I think) to the fact that its findings run counter to much of the received wisdom of the secularist and liberal establishment.  And he has some deliciously entertaining things to say on the subject.

The John Jay findings

But the substance of the article is a rundown on the study's findings, and a strong defense of it.  I'm not entirely convinced by all of his arguments, but he certainly makes some strong points.  Here are a few of the key ones:

"First, the study confirmed that the sexual abuse of children by priests is not an endemic or ongoing "crisis" within the Catholic Church. As was already clear from the 2004 Nature and Scope study, there was a sudden and disturbing increase in instances of sexual abuse from 1960, reaching its hellish pinnacle in 1975, followed by a "sharp and sustained decline" from 1985 to the present."

"Using the number of children confirmed each year in the Church - who are thus in contact with priests - as a stable indicator, the report found that cases of abuse have continued to fall from 15 for every 100,000 confirmations in 1992, to 5 per 100,000 in 2001 (that compares to 134 cases of sexual abuse for every 100,000 children in American society as a whole in 2001). In 2010, there were 7 reported cases across the entire Catholic Church in the United States."

But while over 80 per cent of known instances of sexual abuse had occurred before 1985, only 6 per cent had by then been reported. In fact, over one-third of all incidents of abuse came to light in 2002 alone. It is thus with some justification that the Causes and Context report describes "the 'crisis' of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests" as an "historical problem." (I would be tempted to add that those who incessantly call for an end to sexual abuse in the Church are effectively trying to break down an open door.)

Note though that others interpret this delayed reporting pattern differently: it might just mean that abuse that occurred in more recent years has not been reported yet...

Second, the study demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual abuse between 1950 and 2010 were male (81 per cent) and between the ages of eleven and fourteen (51 per cent). Meanwhile 27 per cent were aged fifteen to seventeen, 16 per cent were eight to ten, and only 6 percent were under the age of seven...

Mr Stephen's notes the finding that this is therefore not, in the main, paedophilia, but avoids discussing its other rather less defensible claim that it was all opportunistic, and not the result of homosexuality as such...

Third, perhaps the most significant findings of the study relate to the profile of the priest-abusers themselves...those ordained before 1960 tended not to commit abuse until the 1960s and 70s, while those ordained in the 1960s and 70s tended to commit abuse very shortly thereafter. This would suggest that the foetid cultural soil of the 60s and 70s proved uncommonly conducive to the commission of sexual abuse.

He later points out that it is unfair to characterise this as the 'Woodstock excuse', and goes on to provide an excellent analysis of the problems of that period inside and outside the Church.  He also notes that:

It would also suggest that the dramatic influx of seminarians at Catholic institutions in the 1950s and 60s bore along with it a vile cabal of paedophiles, pederasts, ill-disciplined pissants and even outright predators who precipitated the true sexual abuse "crisis" of the 1960s and 70s...

Pope Benedict XVI and reform of the bishops

The article ends nicely, with an endorsement of the efforts of the work of the current Pope:

"...it has fallen to Joseph Ratzinger to carry out reform among the bishops. This commenced in earnest with the 2001 papal directive Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, requiring all cases of sexual abuse to be reported to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (of which Ratzinger was the Cardinal Prefect), and has continued without abatement into Benedict's pontificate.

Although it might be noted that the latest Instruction puts the onus back on the bishops...

The pope's determination to purge the Church of what he has repeatedly called the "filth" of abuse and concealment, his pastoral care of so many of the victims of abuse, and his insistence on the Church's "deep need to re-learn penance, to accept purification, to learn on one hand forgiveness but also the need for justice," distinguishes him not merely as the person who has done more than any other to eradicate sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

Benedict XVI is also the man who can best bring this desperately evil chapter in the Church's life to a close.

A defence of celibacy

Mr Stephens also links his article to a very nice defence of celibacy from UK theologian Sarah Coakley.

Ms Coakley provides a very helpful perspective on freudian views of celibacy, and perhaps more importantly of the complementarity between celibacy and faithful marriage. The last several decades have seen vowed celibacy consistently attacked: by those outside the Church as unhealthy and repressed; by those inside claiming it implicitly denigrates marriage and the laity. 

Ms Coakley's work however seems to argue for the need to restore celibacy to its former place of esteem in the Church, something I've argued previously in the context of the crucial necessity for a restoration of religious life if we want a healthier and holier church.

So do go and read both of these excellent articles.

Calendar wars: an embarrassment of riches!

This week is one of those weeks when the liturgical calendar is particularly well filled with great saints all well worth reading about and asking for help from.  But unfortunately with competing feast dates!

In the Benedictine calendar 1962 calendar, which I normally follow for my Office at least, after Our Lady Help of Christians comes a run of Benedictine greats - Pope St Gregory VII (May 25), St Augustine of Canterbury (depicted above with Pope St Gregory the Great who dispatched with a group of monks to convert England, May 26), and St Bede the Venerable (May 27).

I have to admit this line up always poses a dilemma for me since I have a great devotion to St Philip Neri whose feast day is May 26 in the Roman (EF and OF) calendar, but who doesn't make it into the Benedictine at all!

But on the plus side of the ledger, if you don't mind your Masses and Office being out of alignment (or are willing to swap between different forms of it), you could have (depending on Mass availability and the Office you use), actually celebrated the feast of  St Augustine of Canterbury, Apostle to England, in one way or another three times in a row this week - Benedictine calendar on Thursday; Ordinary Form (where it is an optional feast) on Friday (although this does of course compete with that other great English monk-saint, St Bede!); and Roman 1962 on today!

St Augustine famously set out on his journey to England, but got cold feet part way.  St Gregory the Great instructed him to continue on however despite his fears as to the perils of the journey ahead. In the end, the holiness of the lives of he and his monks succeeded in converting many pagans.  He also laid the foundations of a network of monasteries that enabled the preservation of Christian culture through a period of collapse in mainland Europe, and its eventual re-evangelization from England.

St Augustine of Canterbury pray for us, for the conversion of this land, and especially for the return to unity of Anglicans and the success of the Ordinariates.

Friday, 27 May 2011

The Malaysian Solution: confusing Church teaching with opinion

I really do think Catholics should certainly protest the immorality of Government policies in the area of refugees.

But in making the case in policy areas such as this, I do think care needs to be taken not to overstate the case in terms of what is and isn't catholic teaching.

An article on Cath Blog today by Father Maurizio Pettena CS of the Director of the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office in my view crosses the line in this respect, in its critique of the Government's deal with Malaysia to send boat arrivees to Malaysia, while we take some of their refugees in return.

And, as I've previously argued, such overstatements by Church officials are, in my view, extremely unhelpful to the cause of  fidelity to the teaching of the Magisterium.  So let's take a look at some of Fr Maurizio's claims.

Does Catholic teaching require us to support migration as a 'good thing'?

Fr Maurizio seems to suggest that Catholic teaching requires us to support migration on any scale:

"Of fundamental importance in any policy dealing with forced migration is the dignity of human life. As Catholics, we believe that a commitment to respect and empower people from all nations, migration on a global scale – whether voluntary or compelled – can be successfully managed and be beneficial for all..."

Really?  This seems more like a highly contestible set of policy conclusions rather than an actual proposition of Church teaching to me.  It is true that the Church teaches that we are all one family, all entitled to a fair share of the goods of the earth.  And it is true that managing migration flows must be undertaken with respect to human dignity.   But the Church also teaches that nations have a right to regulate migration. 

Pope Benedict XVI's 2011 Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees actually stated that:

"...States have the right to regulate migration flows and to defend their own frontiers, always guaranteeing the respect due to the dignity of each and every human person. Immigrants, moreover, have the duty to integrate into the host Country, respecting its laws and its national identity."

The Malaysian deal

Fr Maurizio goes on:

And all of this leads us to consider the Malaysia deal. What will it mean for people? Why does Australia persist in denying people their fundamental rights? [What rights in particular are we talking about here?]  Why do we still consider ourselves to be “swamped” by boat arrivals?

Australia has one of the most successful resettlement programs in the world [probably true, though it has had some notable failures] and it is appropriate that the number of refugees under this program be increased [This is entirely a policy judgment, personal opinion, not Church teaching.  The reality is that Australia's formal resettlement program is one of very few and already one of the largest in the world.  We don't really know that it could be readily expanded even if there was a case for doing so].  Australia is better placed than other countries in the region to resettle refugees due to the economic success underpinning our Nation.[There are factors that are important here apart from economics.  Culture for one - Muslims in particular, might more readily integrate into a country like Malaysia than Australia.

"The Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office acknowledges the policy of sending the next 800 boat arrivals to Malaysia might be a deterrent for further boat arrivals. We cannot condone this policy; as essentially swapping human life goes against the moral teachings of the Church." This is surely, on the face of it at least, utter nonsense.  We are not sending people off to die, merely sending them to another country to resettle.  Deals between countries and countries and international agencies like this happen quietly under the UN resettlement and other programs all the time.  And what about the benefits to those Malaysia sends to us?

ACMRO has grave concerns for the welfare of the potential 800 candidates that may be sent to Malaysia due to the already heavy burden that Malaysia carries. While Malaysia appears willing to uphold the key aspect of the Refugee Convention to not return asylum seekers to the origin of danger; this alone does not afford asylum seekers the opportunity of a sustainable lifeLet me suggest that the life they have there will be a great deal more sustainable than being locked up indefinitely in a migration centre, whether in Australia or worse, on some tinpot island like Nauru!  And a great deal more sustainable, for that matter, than life in the country they fled from in the first place, which should be the real point of comparison here.

"The burden of irregular migration flows is one which needs to be shared more equally between countries based on their capacity to care for asylum seekers."  Again, a policy proposition.  And there are ways of achieving this without necessarily accepting more refugees - approaches that Australia already contributes to, such as through financial aid to affected countries, financial support for international agencies set up to deal with refugees, and by working to stabilise conditions in the country the refugees fled from in the first place!

The negotiations between Australia and Malaysia represent a bilateral agreement and a step towards a regional framework for managing and protecting forced migrants. Any regional framework is likely to include countries that are not signatory to the Refugee Convention. I'm not convinced that being a signatory is any guarantee of treating refugees with respect - witness France's atrocious policies -  or that failure to sign up means that refugees will be treated badly.

So, in that light and with that knowledge, we say at this point that it is not appropriate then, to send people to any place where their dignity may be eroded any more than it has been in the journey thus far. The case has not been made, in my view, that sending refugees aiming at Australia to Malaysia or other third countries will necessarily erode their dignity.  It may erode their anticipated lifestyle, but that is an entirely different issue to the protection from persecution that the Refugee Convention was set up to provide!

So what position should we take on the Malaysian deal?

I agree that the Malaysian deal as currently known is yet another example of political-appeasement instead of actual leadership.  It is a case of serious overkill to tackle what is in reality a relatively small-scale problem.

I also agree that Australia could do more to support refugees around the world, financially and otherwise.

But the concept behind the Malaysian deal isn't a totally silly; the problem is more in what we know so far of its design.

Deterrence for boats; encouragement for formal resettlement programs

Though the number of boat arrivals to Australia remains small compared to the flows of illegal migrants faced by some European countries for example, they are becoming significant, and we do know that arrival numbers are responsive, at least to some degree, to policy settings. 

Far better for Australia to help the UN by taking some of the millions who have been formally processed as refugees but have no where to go, than to randomly encourage those who, often at the urging of some shonky businessman prepared to send an unsafe boat out to sea, just decide that Australia sounds like a nice place to live!


Secondly, managing racial tensions in Australia would be a lot easier, for example, if the resettlement program, including both those sent by the UN and those who arrive via boat, gave priority to Christians fleeing from persecution (for example from the Middle East so-called 'democratic' revolutions) for example.

Those who arrive here by boat or plane and that are likely to have problems with integrating might be better off in an overtly Islamic nation, and 'refugee swaps' to take account of such factors could be mutually beneficial.  Indeed, if the criterion is, as Fr Maurizio suggests, economic capacity, why not ask very rich countries indeed, like Saudi Arabia, to shoulder more of the burden...

Catching up...

Apologies for my silence over the last few days, I've been diverted by other things!

But there have been more than a few things of interest to note, so here is just a quick guide to some of them.

ACBC plenary

I'll come back to the recent Australian Catholic Bishops Conference plenary meeting in due course, but a couple of points of note that warrant highlighting sooner rather than later!

Ordinariate progressing? First I haven't seen any reporting of the establishment of an ad hoc Bishops Commission for the Personal Ordinariate comprising Archbishop Hart, Bishops Peter Elliot, Geoffrey Jarrett and Brian Finnigan. Maybe things are starting to move at last??

So 'acculturation of migrant priests' really does mean heteropraxis and heterodoxy!  Secondly, the Cath News report of the Bishops meeting (picture above from the Multicultural Mass held during the plenary, courtesy Catholic Media) called forth a classic response, with a commenter horrified that their non-Australian born priest actually insisted on following the rubrics and practising the faith:

"...We have in our parish one after another of these men whose spirituality is mainly devotional [perhaps supports devotion to Our Lady as Mother of God, contrary to the Magisterium of Cath Blog and the ACU?] and pre-Vatican theology [presumably insists on being pro-life and rejecting homosexuality as a valid 'lifestyle' option?]...One of these priests announced that only men should come forward for the Washing if the feet on Holy Thursday [oh the horror.  Insisting on actually following the rubrics!] which angered many of the faithful!" [the unfaithful more like!]

Reform of Religious Orders

Just how parlous the state of some of our religious Orders are has been highlighted over the last week by:
  • the Pope's decision to close down a Cistercian monastery (picture above, Flickr: Kraen) addicted to running extravagant parties, some creative financing approaches, and promoting the efforts of a liturgical pole-dancing nun...;
  • the dismissal of the head of the Dutch Salesians after his extraordinary defense of paedophilia; and
  • a letter of support for Bishop Morris from the National Coalition of American Nuns (I'm not going to link to it!); and
  • yet another attack on basic Catholic concepts such as truth as an absolute in opposition to secularist relativism, and the idea of actual missionary work in the traditional sense, from Columban Fr Charles Rue, over at, you guessed it, Cath Blog!
Charity and social justice must be linked to mission, not detached from it

There is also an important speech from the President of Cor Unum, Robert Cardinal Sarah, that is worth a read pointing out that charitable work must be an integral part of the Church's missionary work; that social justice is not an end in itself altogether detached from faith. 

The Cardinal draws attention to the important but entirely neglected teaching on this subject of the current Holy Father on this subject in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est.

Both documents should be compulsory reading for those in our religious orders who would apparently rather play politics, both secular and ecclesial, than actually contribute to the Church's mission of spreading the Gospel...

If you engage in homosexual acts, surely that makes you a homosexual!

The Pulp.it has been collecting up some of the better analyses of the US John Jay study of the abuse crisis, which claims inter alia that just because 81% of the victims were male doesn't mean that the perpetrators were homosexuals (what an interesting definition of homosexuality that is!).

'Policy purity vs political pragmatism'

And on the secular news front, another clanger from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

The Gillard Government has proved itself to be morally bankrupt with its 'export asylum seekers to Malaysia policy', compromised by its need for Green support, and utterly incompetent at selling the merits polices.  Any good policy it manages to put up (and more than a few of the budget measures fall into that category in my view) inevitably seem to drown.
But how could one support an Opposition Leader whose admitted only motivation is political opportunism, as opposed to the good of the nation?  Well, unless you accept of course that the only good for the nation would be calling an early election and electing him!
Here is an extract from the SMH report on (one of the) latest internal stoushes amongst the Liberals:
"In what sources said was a pointed observation about Mr Abbott's style, Senator Minchin said that when the Coalition was last in opposition in the 1980s, ''we supported good reforms''....He [Mr Abbott] told Senator Minchin that faced with a choice between ''policy purity and pragmatic political pragmatism, I'll take pragmatism every time''.

This isn't an approach to Government and the duties of an MP that seems in any way compatible with Catholic social teaching principles. 

No wonder the Liberal party seems to be falling apart at the seams at the moment!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

May 24: Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, Patroness of Australia, New Zealand and China

May 24 is of course the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, and so a particularly appropriate day to pray for the conversion of Australia!  I've written previously about the background of the feast, celebrating victory over the last Muslim attempt to invade Europe by force of arms in the Battle of Lepanto.

Our country certainly needs prayers at the moment:

O God, Who hast appointed Mary, Help of Christians Patroness of Australia, grant that through her intercession our brethren outside the Church may receive the light of faith, so that Australia may become one in faith under one Shepherd. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us.
St Mary McKillop, pray for us.
St Francis Xavier, pray for us.
St Therese of the Infant Jesus, pray for us.

Pray for also for China

It is as well to remember however, that though so many ungratefully reject it, we do, in this country, have the right to worship freely. The situation is quite different in China, a country that also enjoys the patronage of Our Lady Help of Christians.

Pope Benedict XVI gave a reminder of this in his General Audience last week.  Here is an extract from that talk (but do read the whole thing):

"Tuesday, 24 May, is dedicated to the liturgical memorial of Our Lady, Help of Christians, who is venerated with great devotion at the Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai: the whole Church joins in prayer with the Church in China. There, as elsewhere, Christ is living out his passion. While the number of those who accept him as their Lord is increasing, there are others who reject Christ, who ignore him or persecute him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). The Church in China, especially at this time, needs the prayers of the universal Church. In the first place, therefore, I invite all Chinese Catholics to continue and to deepen their own prayers, especially to Mary, the powerful Virgin. At the same time all Catholics throughout the world have a duty to pray for the Church in China: those members of the faithful have a right to our prayers, they need our prayers..."

Accordingly, you might also say the following prayer for China to Our Lady Help of Christians under the name of Our Lady of Sheshan, composed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, and which he has requested be said each year on this day:

Virgin Most Holy, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother,

venerated in the Shrine of Sheshan under the title "Help of Christians,"
the entire Church in China looks to you with devout affection.

We come before you today to implore your protection.
Look upon the People of God and, with a mother's care, guide them
along the paths of truth and love, so that they may always be
a leaven of harmonious coexistence among all citizens.

When you obediently said "yes" in the house of Nazareth,
you allowed God's eternal Son to take flesh in your virginal womb
and thus to begin in history the work of our redemption.

You willingly and generously co-operated in that work,
allowing the sword of pain to pierce your soul,
until the supreme hour of the Cross, when you kept watch on Calvary,
standing beside your Son, Who died that we might live.

From that moment, you became, in a new way,
the Mother of all those who receive your Son Jesus in faith
and choose to follow in His footsteps by taking up His Cross.

Mother of hope, in the darkness of Holy Saturday you journeyed
with unfailing trust towards the dawn of Easter.
Grant that your children may discern at all times,
even those that are darkest, the signs of God's loving presence.

Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China,
who, amid their daily trials, continue to believe, to hope, to love.

May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world,
and of the world to Jesus.

In the statue overlooking the Shrine you lift your Son on high,
offering him to the world with open arms in a gesture of love.

Help Catholics always to be credible witnesses to this love,
ever clinging to the rock of Peter on which the Church is built.

Mother of China and all Asia, pray for us, now and for ever. Amen!

Monday, 23 May 2011

A modest proposal from Michael Mullins: agnostic chaplains in schools!

One of the recurring questions about the extremes of the liberal wing is whether they are in fact Christians in any real sense at all.

Today, there is a proposal from Michael Mullins over at the Jesuit online rag Eureka Street that puts that question up in lights. 

His suggestion for the future of the much debated Chaplains in Schools program put in place by the Howard Government and continued under Labor: kick out the Christians and replace them with agnostics!

Unfortunately, I don't think he means his piece to be satirical.  But maybe I'm wrong...

Protestantism rampant

I've commented several times that the liberal wing of the Church seem to act more as protestants most of the time. 

There is certainly no 'docility' in any shape or form in ex-priest Paul Collins' comments in the context of the Morris affair, that the Pope "needs to do a remedial course in theology"!

And now some comments on a recent post by Joshua and Canberra Observer (have a read also of Joshua's post on his own blog, Psallite Sapienter) that suggest that Bishop Morris' proposal to 'explore' recognition of protestant 'holy orders' went a little further than just talk.

But is it actually just outright atheism?

One of the recurring questions I think we all ask ourselves in theses cases, though, is whether the problem is really a protestant mentality, or just outright lack of faith altogether?

Partly it is the almost total lack of any overt references to God, prayer, providential aid or grace in their public discourses that raises this question.

Now along comes a proposal  - surely worthy of any hardline atheist - on how to subvert the chaplains in schools program, from Michael Mullins.

Agnostics for chaplains!

Many state school parents, Mr Mullins argues, don't want their children to be the subject of proselytization.  Indeed, the guidelines for the chaplain program prohibit it. 

Yet in reality, he points out, believers might feel compelled to fulfill Our Lord's instruction to convert the world:

"At least in the context of Christianity, many ministers of religion understand that their role is precisely to proselytise, in the spirit of Jesus’ command to ‘proclaim the Gospel to all nations’. It is a minority of ministers who would have the training and the disposition necessary to exercise the degree of impartiality required for a chaplain’s role in a state school. [The Church has pointed out in its most recent documents on the duty to evangelize that there is a distinction between evangelization and proselytizing.  One does not need to be 'impartial'  - a chaplain can surely be an advocate for Christianity and truth, a force for promoting a more spiritual environment as the programs objectives state, without forcing it on people.  There is no reason to think that the media hysteria about the recent comments by Access Ministries on the opportunities the program represents are anything but a beatup over an affirmation of the obvious.]

Moreover it is unlikely that the majority [of chaplains] would be sympathetic with the principles of modern missiology, which has the immediate aim of building understanding between different faiths and cultures, rather than winning converts. [Ah yes, a failed paradigm of the 60s and 70s now utterly rejected by the Church.] Such wisdom has much to offer institutions such as state schools, which recognise and celebrate a diversity of faiths. But the program’s guidelines are very vague and do not allude to such principles at all, thereby leaving room for fundamentalist approaches to religion."

Mr Mullins' proposed solution?  Appoint agnostics!

"Rather than tapping the religious fervour that exists in Access Ministries and the like, the most successful chaplains might be individuals who have a broad knowledge of religion but do not have any interest in proselytising. They may be former ministers who have become agnostic in their own beliefs but still mentor young people coming to terms with their spiritual identity.[Is this proposal really for an employment scheme for ex-priests given the Church's pesky insistence that they actually teach and be committed to the faith?  Pretty sure there are lots of Gaudium et Spes generation 'missiologists' in that category...]

But it appears such agnostic candidates – with no conflict of interest – would fail to meet the religious selection criteria as detailed in the Guidelines. However those from groups such as Access Ministries – who do have a conflict of interest – clearly meet the selection criteria."

Fundamentalism as the greatest crime of our time?

Now I have to admit I do have reservations about letting extreme fundamentalists loose in our schools.  I'd feel a lot more comfortable if the Church made a serious push to take a stake in the program in State schools.

Still, I'd rather Christianity was represented in some form than not at all!

Because if its done right, kids can choose for themselves whether to go with the fundamentalists or something else.

The most important thing is surely exposing them to the idea that there is a God and that truth is an absolute.

One can, I think, legitimately take a number of views on the chaplaincy program - restrict it to mainstream players, abolish it, tighten the guidelines. 

But don't actually see how any actual believer could possibly think that the best way of assisting young people to 'come to terms with their own spiritual identity' was by giving them the help of jaded ex-ministers who have become agnostics!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Moving forward from the Morris Affair Part III: the place of docility, discernment and dialogue

I've suggested in the previous parts of this series that a large part of the underlying problem in the Morris affair was the inability of many in the Church today to be able to distinguish between levels of authority.

I want to pick up that issue today in the context of the question of the docility we owe to the teaching and decisions of bishops (including the Pope).

Docility yes.  But when?

We had today at Mass one of those sermons that are one of my pet peeves: full of high sounding words, but without any actual real world context or instruction on how to apply the principles set out in practice.

The conclusion of it (in the context of today’s Gospel on the ‘spirit of truth’) was that we should show docility to the teaching and directives of our bishops.

Well yes.


But what if we had lived in Toowoomba over the last nineteen odd years?

Or indeed struck a sermon teaching along similar lines from our own Auxiliary who shares many of Bishop Morris views and has said so publicly on more than one occasion?

What if we lived in a diocese where the bishop prohibits the Extraordinary Form, perhaps subscribing to the UK Tablet’s view that:

The Vatican is continuing to put ammunition in the hands the pro-Tridentine lobby in the Church, as in the latest instruction, Universae Ecclesiae, issued by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. Does it not realise how much this will encourage divisive tensions in the Church and a spirit of reactionary rebellion against local episcopal authority, not to mention the revival of a misogynistic and elitist clericalism?

The proper response to these kind of situations, these kind of arguments is surely not just to sit back and adopt a mindless acceptance in the name of 'docility'.

Because advocacy of such a position really would, in my view at least, be clericalism in its most unfortunate and short-sighted kind.

Docility needs to be modelled by our leaders

It is true I think that docility when appropriate is not something those brought up in our current culture (myself included) are likely to be very good at!

It is certainly true that over the last few weeks we’ve seen some very public expression of a lack of appropriate docility on the part of the liberal establishment (not to mention the bishop himself) in reaction to the Pope’s decision to dismiss Bishop Morris.  This is extremely unhelpful to the faithful, particularly coming from Religious, one of whose key functions is to model for us the evangelical counsels.

But nor is it docility in my view, for our local Church leaders to simply remain silent, particularly in the face of a media onslaught attacking the Pope's decisions.  Our Church leaders have a duty to explain and defend the decisions made by proper authority even if they don't particularly agree with them.  To display, in fact, a little of that good old collegiality with regard to the decisions of Peter!  One rather late letter (plus one editorial in a diocesan newspaper) doesn't quite cut the mustard in my view.

In the longer term and broader context, the solution, I think, is not to urge passive acceptance of everything the Pope or our bishops say or do, but rather to promote a greater understanding of where docility is and isn’t required. In short we need criteria for discernment.

Criteria for discernment

So let me suggest some criteria for this process as a starting point for a discussion.

1. There should be a very strong presumption in favour of the authority of what the Pope, Roman Congregations with authority to teach Magisterially, the Pope in conjunction with all the bishops, and your own diocesan bishop actually say.

Note that while we owe all bishops respect as successors of the Apostles, it is really only Pope acting alone or in concert with other bishops, and your own Ordinary whose teaching authority impacts on the individual. The views of a bishop of another diocese may be interesting or persuasive, but they are not binding. The same thing applies to Bishops' Conferences: on most issues, they have precisely as much teaching authority as your own bishop gives them.

2. The authority of the bishop(s) is only binding when they act within the limits of their own authority.

A bishop cannot for example make unilateral decisions on the liturgy that contravene Church law – such as to allow children to make their first communion without first making their first confession, to allow General Absolutions in circumstances other than those prescribed by the proper authority, or to forbid the Extraordinary Form Mass in defiance of Summorum Pontificum.

Similarly, a bishop is bound to teach the Catholic faith, not that of some other ecclesial community or religion.

Nor are their views binding (or even necessarily persuasive) on matters of private opinion or areas outside of their expertise, for example in the realm of science or politics.

3. We must accept the dogmatic teaching of the Church

When it comes to the official teachings of the Church, whether things subject to infallible decisions or of the “ordinary Magisterium", there is no right of dissent.

There are different degrees of assent that we are required to give teachings depending on their level of certainty, but no general opt out provision, even for non-infallible teaching. That means for example, that we should work very hard to reconcile teachings of Vatican II with the tradition rather than presuming that they may be eventually overturned and therefore we can agree to disagree. There is some small room for maneuver in relation to Ordinary Magisterium - but really it is restricted to theologians putting their views in private, not just anyone with an opinion!

That said, not everything a Pope or bishop says is meant to be taken as an expression of Magisterial teaching.  We need to be careful to distinguish, for example between the arguments used to reach a conclusion (which we can generally agree with or not) and the conclusion itself; between teaching and expressions of opinion.

4. We must normally accept and obey pastoral decisions with docility

When it comes to administrative and judicial decisions however we are on slightly different ground.

It is perfectly legitimate to seek to influence pastoral decisions before they are made.

Once they are made we don’t necessarily have to like them.

But whether or not we succeed in influencing them or not, in general we are required to accept and obey such decisions once they have been made (so no, I don't think you can refuse to call Pope John Paul II Blessed, whatever your view on the merits of the decision!  On the other hand, no one can force you to pray to him in particular either).

Catholic Religious Australia...

Here is where I think Catholic Religious Australia gets it badly wrong. In her letter to the Nuncio Sr Anne Derwent asks:

"1. How can all in our Church be heard and empowered by our ecclesiastical leaders and processes when private and confidential opinions are given such importance?

We understand that a confidential report by the Apostolic Visitator to the Toowoomba Diocese indicated that the Diocese was in theological and disciplinary decline. Yet closely following the Visitation letters of pastoral support for the bishop were signed and sent to Rome by all Pastoral leaders and members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council and the majority of the priests (except three) of the Diocese. We wonder how the words of this group were heard in this process."

The reality is that we rarely know precisely how decision-makers weigh the various materials they draw on to make a decision. The jury in a trial for example is not supposed to disclose the nature of its deliberations on the evidence, only the verdict is public; when it comes to national; public policy, Cabinet discussions are supposed to be strictly confidential. There are good reasons for this.

Moreover, in the Morris case we really don’t know if in fact Bishop Chaput’s report was decisive at all.

Thanks to Bishop Morris’s defense team, we actually know that there was a long paper trail of disputed issues between the Vatican and Bishop Morris. Then there was that 2006 Advent Pastoral Letter, setting it all out in black and white. 

In reality the Visitation Report may have been nothing more than opportunity for Bishop Morris and friends to put their side of the story – to accord him natural justice in fact – given his refusal to go to Rome to discuss the Letter as requested by the Pope.

The matters in front of the Pope don’t really seem to have been matters of opinion at all, but rather of fact – did the Bishop suggest options for the priesthood incompatible with Church teaching and disciple? (well yes) Did he allow liturgical abuses to occur? (Well yes)  Was he prepared to change his ways? (Well no).  The opinion that the bishop was a good chap doing good things, no matter how widely held, is completely irrelevant to the questions at issue in this case.

An assessment of the statement of the diocese from a duly appointed objective Visitor is just one more factor to weigh in the equation.

5. But there are occasions when we can and should work to overturn pastoral decisions

There is a famous principle that states Roma locuta,  causa finita (Rome has spoken the case is closed).

When it comes to cases like the dismissal of a bishop, then we clearly are in that territory and the proper response is indeed docility.

Even if the decision is, we are convinced, utterly wrong, we should surely offer it up as a suffering. Many falsely accused priests in abuse cases are in this situation.

Still, as traditionalists more than anyone should be conscious, the Church does from time to time, at both local and universal level, make bad decisions.

The Church might, for example, introduce a liturgical form that is a radical rupture with the past. It might compound the problem with a horrendously bad translation of the Latin. It might allow the use of female servers, or communion in the hand just to take a few random examples! 

Should we just docilely accept these decisions? Or do we in fact have a duty to work to preserve the tradition?

Most traditionalists I think, would surely accept that Rome didn’t suddenly come to its senses one day in response to a vision, and miraculously hand down the various permissions to say the EF Mass.

Instead it responded to ongoing agitation and action of the faithful. There were communities of priests and laypeople around the world who refused to let the traditional mass die – a good example, dare I suggest it, of the sensus fidei at work.

Similarly, the current ills of the Church - rampant modernism, widespread liturgical abuse, and neglect of key doctrines in the areas of morals in particular - won't be fixed purely by prayer, important as that is, nor by spending all of our our time gazing pretty pictures, now defunct sequences, clocks and other antiquarian curios, uplifting as those may be (it is a nice blog.  But does it really warrant an ad in our parish bulletin as the sole recommended reading each and every week!?).  God gave us mind and bodies and expects those capable to use them to his causes.

And if we accept that, then we need to at least accept the possibility that the liberals too might occasionally have the right to object to a decision. Provided of course that they are not just advocating for something because it is easier, consistent with the culture, or the opinion of the majority: the test is surely indeed whether it is consistent with the spirit of truth that has guided the tradition handed down in the Church through the generations.  Together with true docility when that is appropriate.

The Morris affair - some reading

A two more useful commentaries have appeared in recent days that are well worth a look.

First, Christopher Pearson has a great column in the Weekend Australian, picking up the Record's editorial and contrasting it with the continuing angst being expressed in various liberal outlets.

Secondly, Fr Ray Blake has another interesting piece on the subject, portraying the situation as a failure on the part of Toowoomba priests and laity to voice and have their concerns recognised; and of the other Australian bishops to engage in sufficient fraternal correction. 

Well I agree in principle.  But there is something of a power imbalance between priests and their bishop.  And I suspect that many if not most Australian bishops more or less actually agreed with Bishop Morris, hence the famous 1999 Statement of Conclusions and the appointment of a co-adjutor for hold-out Archbishop Faulkner of Adelaide back in the day...They may well have counselled caution, but in the end, only the bishop himself could decide whether or not to accept their advice.

And there is a reason why the doctrine of papal primacy is far more important than any notion of episcopal collegiality!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

New Auxiliary for Melbourne: Fr Vincent Nguyen OFM Conv

Rome seems to be working down the (admittedly rather long) list of Australian vacancies, with the announcement last night of a new Auxiliary for Melbourne, Fr Vincent Nguyen OFM Conv.

Fr Vincent is 49, and was born in Vietnam, coming to Australia as a boatperson at the age of 19 in 1981.  He joined the Franciscans two years later, and studied for the priesthood in Melbourne.  He subsequently studied in Rome, and has been Provincial Superior of the Franciscans, as well as President of the Asia-Pacific Federation of his Order.  He is currently based in Rome.

Sounds like a promising appointment...

PS If you want to learn how to pronounce the bishop-elect's surname correctly, listen to the sound file here.  

If you just want to go with the usual English-speaker mangling of any foreign words, it's something close to "wen" (with a soft w).

Friday, 20 May 2011

Some weekend reading...**

A few items of interest for your consideration.

Bishops, transparency and accountability**

Aka, what did the bishops talk about for seven days last week (other than Bishop Morris' dismissal!)?

Finally, some attempt to tell us, via Melbourne Archdiocese's Kairos magazine (picture above from that story). 

Unfortunately the story itself is more tantalising than overly concrete - Archbishop Coleridge, for example, has apparently been developing a proposal for a 'Year of Grace', which would provide "an opportunity for Catholics to come together with a renewed sense of grace and joy in their experience of Church".  Sounds promising.  But what does it actually mean?

All in all, it is a big a step backwards from the reasonably comprehensive media release eventually put out after the last Plenary meeting. 

And, unless of course one happens to be one of the head honchos of liberal-central Catholic Religious Australia who apparently attended the whole thing (if you are going to have others attending, why no lay representatives?).

The lack of transparency certainly stands in huge contrast with the meetings of the USCCB, whose next meeting is going to be televised and covered via facebook and twitter - which will probably be worth watching for the discussion of the latest report on the abuse crisis which (rather implausibly) blames it all on the Woodstock Syndrome.

***A press release on the meeting has now come out, I will post on it separately when I have a moment or two!

John Allen and the Liberal dissent movement

Secondly, Life Site News has a useful (though rather long) opinion piece on Fr Z's great and allegedly 'fair-minded' friend, John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, and his attempts to legitimize dissent.

Allen has done a lot of damage over the last few years, seeming all the more plausible for his seeming reasonableness. 

But in reality Allen coined and popularised the term 'Taliban Catholic', and has regularly defended the indefensible.

The Queen in Ireland

You may have noticed the Queen's historic (and brave!) visit to Ireland this week in the news (picture above from Reuters; below AP).  William Oddie has written a useful article in the UK Catholic Herald that puts a bit of context around the trip, in the form of Britain's appalling record there.

Australians, I suspect, are rather more familiar with the history of British brutality than most Brits are, and Mr Oddie's article barely touches the surface of the issues.  Still, it is a very useful scene setter.  Here is an extract:

"There is a good deal to acknowledge, for the fact is that we consistently behaved abominably in Ireland. We like to think of ourselves as a tolerant and civilised people; and on the whole we are. But we also have very selective memories; we are inclined to think that apart from a few untoward and probably unauthorised events, we can’t have been all that bad in Ireland. But what happened at Croke Park represents only the tip of a very large iceberg (of that, more presently). You can read about what happened on the first “Bloody Sunday” on the GAA’s website, in their own sober and incontrovertible account):

“The night before [a Gaelic football match at Croke Park in November 1920] Michael Collins sent his ‘Squad’ out to assassinate the ‘Cairo Gang’, a team of undercover British agents working and living in Dublin. A series of shootings took place throughout the night which left 14 members of the British forces dead.”

The following day British forces, including the infamous “Black and Tans”, exacted their vengeance: they opened fire on the crowd at the match in Croke Park, killing 14 civilians. That evening, three IRA prisoners in Dublin Castle were beaten to death by their British captors. In the GAA’s own low-key assessment, “The events of the day had a profound impact on the people of Ireland; it seemed as if the British authorities had deliberately chosen an easy target – a stadium full of innocent people – to exact revenge for a military loss suffered the night before. Bloody Sunday shocked the British public too and while it is too simple to say that it helped end the War of Independence it must certainly be considered a key factor”.

He goes on to talk about the history of the black and tans more generally, pointing out that they:
"They burned and pillaged towns and villages throughout Ireland, including Tuam in County Galway, and Trim, Balbriggan, Knockcroghery, Thurles and Templemore. They even, in effect, laid siege to Tralee, as a reprisal for the IRA’s murder of two RIC officers. All the businesses in the town were closed down and for a week no food was allowed in; three civilians from the town were shot dead. They killed a priest and threw his body in a bog. Most astonishing of all, they sacked and burned down the entire centre of the city of Cork, which the Queen, God bless her, will also be visiting. You can see footage of the Black and Tans in action (including the burnt out city centre of Cork) on Youtube."

The Pope on prayer

And finally, for some, as always, great spiritual reading, the Pope (pictured above on a gondola during his recent Venice trip) has embarked on a new series of General Audiences on the subject of prayer.

The first and second of the series is now up on the official website, but unless you'd care to read it in Croat (OK so it is available in French and Italian as well!), the third will no doubt take a little while yet to meander its way through the translation process...

Space station talk

Finally, the Pope is giving the astronauts on the International Space Station a call this Saturday night - it will be livestreamed on Vatican Radio and TV at 1356 Rome Time on Saturday May 21 - that's 9.56PM Australian Eastern Standard Time.

Hmm, positively invites some photoshopping possibilities...in the meantime here is a golden oldie.

Climate change and Americanism

This must be 'my throw a bone or two to the liberals' week (admittedly interspersed with a few brickbats!), because earlier in the week I actually praised (sort of) Cath News (and yes they have managed to continue to maintain a better balance, long may it continue!). 

And now I want to recommend an article on, of all things, Eureka Street!

The problem of speaking with authority

Over at Eureka Street,  Tim Stephens basically argues that whatever Cardinal Pell's private views on climate change, propounding them so often and so vigorously in public forums risks being interpreted as an official position of the Church, and thus causing confusion:

"On Wednesday, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that 'a dire warning about the need to mitigate man-made global warning from a Vatican-appointed panel of scientists has not yet convinced Australia's highest-ranking Catholic', Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell.

The 'warning' came from... the first report released by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, an independent body within the Holy See.... The report echoes the positions of both John Paul II, who spoke at length about environmental questions, and Benedict XVI, who has expressed similar anxieties and has overseen the Vatican's endeavours to become the first carbon neutral state.

The Vatican's views, however, are not shared throughout the Church, and Pell's is the loudest and most persistent voice of dissent. He has not taken aim at the Pope for his views on climate change, but has been exceptionally vigorous in his criticism of climate change and climate scientists.

The difficulty is not that he holds heterodox views on this issue. We are all entitled to our opinions. What is concerning is Australia's most senior Catholic clergyman vigorously advancing a position that could be interpreted as a statement of the official stance of the Catholic Church in Australia....

Pell has said to me that when it comes to commenting on climate change he makes clear that he is simply speaking as an individual and expects no-one to accept his claims simply on his say-so. However he does not include this disclaimer each time he speaks on climate change.

The reality is that given Pell's prominence and his constant interventions in national discussions as one of Australia's best-known climate change contrarians, his views gain a good deal more attention in the media than the views of Australian bishops more generally.

I agree.

And do read the whole article, it has some interesting material on the science and the extent of the Cardinal's contributions on the whole topic (just resist the temptation to read anything else over there, in the interest of avoiding righteous anger!).

The underlying issue that I want to highlight though is that we have a major problem in the Church at the moment with the inability of catholics at all levels to be able to distinguish between what is and isn't open to debate.  Bishops publicly pronouncing on issues that actually are matters of private opinion, or even making quasi-political judgments (most often occurring in cases where several ways of implementing the Church's social teachings in particular are arguably open) does not help this problem.

In fact it encourages the, 'well let's just reject the lot' mentality.

Conservative politics and the Church

Indeed Cardinal Pell's influence on this and other issues reflects more closely the views of American catholic conservatives than the mainstream of the Church.  And his influence extends well beyond our shores.

One of my favourite sites, the Pulp.It, for example, departed from its normal (and stated) focus on the blogosphere to pick up the Sydney Morning Herald article.  And it has notably declined to pick my commentary on said article (thus far at least)! 

Now every blogger is entitled to put his (or her) own slant on things, not least in the selection of whether and which pieces to highlight.  In fact that is the whole point of blogging!  So I'm certainly not disputing the Pulp-it's right to do that.

All the same, sorry Tito, because you've been a very good friend indeed of this blog, but this does strikes me as at least suggestive of the continuing influence, albeit no longer in the realm of outright heresy, of the Americanism condemned by Leo XIII

American foreign policy

In my view, American exceptionalism is still pervasive amongst US and some Australian catholic conservatives, leading them to take what often seems to be a, shall we say, fairly unique view of Catholic Social Teaching, and to ignore inconvenient views of the Holy See on issues such as the application of Just War principles and climate change. 

Now it's true that those inconvenient views don't have the same level of authority as infallible doctrine.  Still, at least some of them do come under the umbrella of the ordinary magisterium, and others should surely at least be treated as important to consider rather than publicly rejected outright.

But in fact if anything conservatives seem to be hardening in their positions.  Take this recent post by Dr Robert Royal on The Catholic Thing, which actually lauds the idea of American exceptionalism, claiming a religious mandate for America's aggressive foreign polices over the last century:

"The killing of Osama bin Laden a few weeks ago raised, yet again, the question of American exceptionalism. I was in Europe for the JPII beatification at the time and, surprisingly, most of the media over there praised the SEAL operation, as well as the only country on earth that could have carried it out. [Really? I don't want to take away from the considerable achievement this involved, and the service to the world it represents - it certainly passes the just war principles test in my view.  But I can think of more than a few other countries that can and have carried out political assassinations and snatch and grabs of this type in the not so recent past.  Think of Russia.  The UK in Ireland and elsewhere.  Israel.  And that's just for starters]. 

Denial of American exceptionalism was far stronger and stranger here, tapping at moments into the deep current of self-loathing that has been with us since Vietnam. But nations are anointed at certain points, by Providence or history, to play exceptional roles: Greece, Rome, Israel, France, Italy, England, and – for the past century – America.

Now Australians, myself  included, are generally supporters of our alliance with America. 

But personally I'd have to say that most Australians would take a rather more sceptical view of the providential nature of many US foreign policy ventures of the past century.  Indeed, I'd argue that more than a few of them have created greater problems than they solved, the invasion of Iraq currently standing at the top of that list.

While patriotism is certainly an important virtue, Catholics need to stand outside their national and political allegiances at times, and critically assess  issues from the point of view of their faith first and foremost.

And bishops, in my view at least, should do their best to help that process by focusing first and foremost on teaching the applicable principles rather than engaging directly in the political debate (subject of course to the extreme exceptions) from whatever perspective.

Catechesis vs theological speculation: the Holy Spirit e-conference

I  listened in, yesterday, to the e-conference on the Holy Spirit sponsored by the Australian Bishops Conference and Broken Bay Institute. 

The archived versions of this and previous conferences are available online (though read below before you decide to rush off and listen!).

A great idea...

These conferences are a great idea - because I think there is a great hunger out there for real catechesis, particularly in the more remote parts of the country where access to things like Theology in the Pub is lacking.

To join in, all you have to do is click on the video link on your computer screen, and you can listen in.  Or alternatively, depending on where you live, you could have joined one of the groups of people listening together with a facilitator to pick up the discussion (though I have to admit I thought my local diocese's promotion of the group event as a 'networking opportunity' perhaps missed the point of the event...). 

In sum, the conferences are easy to access, well managed, and a really smart use of the available technologies.   So these e-conferences could be a great way of tackling the widespread lack of understanding of theological basics amongst our clergy, religious, and laity. 

The positives...

And there was a lot of good stuff in yesterday's presentation. 

I really liked the mix between 'content sessions' (given by Fr Denis Edwards of Adelaide and Sr Janette Gray RSM of Melbourne), and very engaging 'testimony sessions' (Fr Chris Ryan MGL and Mrs Jan Heath).

On the whole, the material seemed pitched well, and included interesting and pertinent content (Sr Janette, for example included an interesting presentation on medieval devotion to the Holy Spirit; Fr Edwards gave a nice exposition of the Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testament, and included quotes from a song by one of my favourite saints, Hildegarde von Bingen).

But...the difference between cathechesis and theological speculation

There was a problem with some of the material and presentation style though, and it goes to the difference between catechesis and theological speculation, an issue flagged by the Pope in his address to Indian bishops on their ad limina visit earlier this week, and equally pertinent in the Australian context.  Pope Benedict XVI said:

"Within the Church, believers’ first steps along the way of Christ must always be accompanied by a sound catechesis that will allow them to flourish in faith, love and service. Some of you have told me of the challenges you face in this regard, and I support you in your commitment to provide quality formation in this area. Recognizing that catechesis is distinct from theological speculation, priests, religious and lay catechists need to know how to communicate with clarity and loving devotion the life-transforming beauty of Christian living and teaching, which will enable and enrich the encounter with Christ himself..."

The e-conference was clearly pitched overall at the level of catechesis, not theology.  Unfortunately in subtle and less subtle ways it crossed the line several times into the realm of theological speculation.

I'm not talking here (in the main) about the choice of theologians quoted in support of various points.  While the presenters' favourite theologians (such as Rahner, Congar, Nicholas Lash, etc) were generally amongst my, to put it kindly, least favourites, the actual quotes used seemed mostly unproblematic.

Using traditional terminology

A key principle when engaging in catechesis though (well theology too if you read repeated decisions of Popes and Councils on the subject, but that's another debate) is to stick to standard terminology and categories in order to reinforce the Catechism and other official documents, rather than inventing your own.

Why then did Sr Janette decide in this particular context to ignore the traditional terminology, and refer to 'Holy Spirit' sans a definite article?  She did, in response to questions, give an explanation that saying 'the Holy Spirit' suggests a thing rather than a person.  But the traditional form of address to the Holy Spirit is there for a reason, perhaps to suggest mystery of the second person of the Trinity?

And why did she want to suggest that the Holy Spirit is in a sense the first person of the Trinity (in the sense that we perhaps encounter him first) rather than the second? 

Why talk about baptism as an action of the Holy Spirit (hinting at some of those invalid formulations) when it is explicitly done in the name of all three Persons?

Thirdly, and above all, why (other than by way of making a political statement in defiance of a recent decision of the US bishops and in support of radical feminist theology) did she have to include a 'litany' to the Holy Spirit addressed as female extracted from recently censured  US theologian Sr Elizabeth Johnson? 

Whether or not you accept the rationalizations offered (notably by Fr Edwards rather than Sr Janette herself in relation to the feminization of the Holy Spirit!) in response to questions on these issues, it just comes across as simple defiance, dissent or even subversion.

And of course there was a dose of good old Spirit of Vatican IIism...

The other problem with the conference was that in my view it served to reinforce rather than educate on the general failure of Catholics to distinguish between different levels of certainty in doctrine and doctrinal documents, and on the difference between doctrinal definitions and pastoral practice decisions.

The problem is reasonably straightforward: decisions of the Church on questions of faith and morals that are irreformable (such as the possibility of female ordination) are treated as if they were still open to debate, while at the same things that are actually open (such as the use of the EF Mass) are treated as if they were closed by virtue of a perceived violation of the spirit of Vatican II.

The problem is in part that the liberals regard everything relating to Vatican II as directly inspired by the Holy Spirit (there is a corresponding - and equally dangerous in the opposite direction  - hefty dose of ultramontanism, at least when it comes to anything said by Blessed John Paul II, practiced on the part of conservatives).  This perspective got a good push at yesterday's e-conference from both lead presenters, linked to a paen in favour of 'change' (the liberals seem not to have noticed that they are the ones resisting change at the moment, not traditionalists and conservatives!).

It was noticeable that while Blessed John Paul II was quoted several times, there was not one reference by the two main speakers to the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI.  And there was not one reference to the 'hermaneutic of continuity' or like concepts.

This kind of thing does neither themselves nor the Church any favours. 

The Church does not teach that everything a Council says, does or thinks is directly inspired - it reserves that status for Scripture!  Even when it comes to infallible decisions, the charism is a protection against error, nothing more. So whether or not something outside of Scripture is or isn't inspired is generally a matter of theological speculation.  It isn't Church teaching.  And insisting otherwise just perpetrates the confusion over what Catholics do and don't have to believe that is proving such a dividing point in the Church today around the world.  Even more so when many of the things being insisted on are matters of (changeable) pastoral practice rather than actual dogma.

Moving forward

The bottom line is that the Bishops' Conference decision to sponsor these conferences is a good idea.

But perhaps a little more thought and supervision is required to make sure that they really target the deficits in catechesis that are so evident in Australia at the moment, reflect the leadership being provided by our current Holy Father, and are structured to reinforce rather than subvert official Church teaching...