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.


A Canberra Observer said...

And will we see the Australian article featured on CathNews? methinks not, not liberal enough [komrade].

Yes, does seem like the Cardinal is trying to have 50cents each way.

But it is currency throughout the religious and clergy of Australia - whatever the crimes or failings of a cleric/religious etc you hear the refrain of "he/she is such a nice/prayerful/pastoral man/woman" as if this somehow absolves all.

And yes, Bp Morris and his local clergy would seem to have tried steal a march in the information war. And to a great degree it seems they succeeded. However I wonder what many of the 'regular' Catholics now think, having heard of the long, long process that was undertaken?

PM said...

Angela Shanahan is mostly right but, having spent enough of my childhood before Vatican II to remember what it was like, I would like to enter one caveat. It was not so much that the Irish church emphasised social action over doctrinal purity, as that it was voluntarist (ie emphasising will over intellect) and devotionalist in its piety and 'practical' in outlook. It was not very interested in theology, and in large part we have substituted one kind of pragmatism and touch-feelinesss for another.

The John Jay report suggests something similar. My pet theory has always been that it was the collision between a formation based on restraining the will(rather than the growth in the virtues and the gifts we find in St Thomas) and the 'do whatever you feel like' outlook of the 60s that caused the catastrophe. Ockham has a lot to answer for!