Monday, 31 October 2011

Bishops Power, Morris et al: is it just cowardice?

There is an emerging pattern when it comes to dissenting Australian bishops.

They claim to want 'dialogue'.  A chance to explain just what they really mean, and how it doesn't conflict with the Church's teachings (yeah right!).  A chance to ask questions, raise the hard issues.

But when the opportunity or indeed requirement to go to Rome to do just that arises, they refuse. 

Given a chance to 'dialogue' they reject it...add Bishop Power to the list

We all know about Bishop Morris, formerly of Toowoomba's, refusal to go to Rome when asked to explain his actions, because his priests, seeking to defend his position actually made clear just how hard Rome had tried to work with Bishop Morris, how long they had tolerated the intolerable.

And then there is Bishop Patrick Power, still publicly identifying himself as Auxiliary of Canberra-Goulburn. 

For some reason he didn't go on the recent ad Limina to Rome. 

But that hasn't stopped him stirring the pot over at Eureka Street, and releasing a letter to assorted Toowoomba malcontents claiming that 'Bishop Bill' and indeed the whole diocese are 'victims of a great miscarriage of justice'. 

Of course, Bishop Power's own advocacy of women priests and the rest of the usual swag of liberal causes has long been on the public record.

So why didn't either Bishop Power or Bishop Morris actually go to Rome themselves for a face-to-face discussion with the relevant Vatican dicasteries not to mention the Pope?

Is their claim to courage in tackling the 'big questions' valid?  Or is it actually quite the reverse?

In my view, the highest form of courage in their circumstances would actually be to actually listen to what Rome has to say, accept correction from proper authority as necessary, admit that their views on women's ordination and many other issues are inconsistent with the teaching of the Church, and adhere to the promises of obedience made at ordination. 

At the very least they should abandon the hypocrisy of claiming financial and other support from the Church that they have publicly turned on.

But maybe their actions are more a case of clownage?

In Bishop Power's case, we can only hope that in fact the reason he didn't go to Rome is that his resignation has already been accepted, just not yet announced.  It needs to be, fast.

But that shouldn't mean either he or Bishop Morris has a license to launch endless potshots from the seemingly safe distance of dissenting Australian websites and the secular media!

They are protestants in the true sense...

Of course, the reason offered for this strange reluctance to actually engage in person with the Holy See is that it will not be 'real dialogue'.  Indeed, Bishop Power's latest letter says on Bishop Morris that:

"I admired how step by step he tried to have an honest conversation with Vatican officials and finally with the Pope himself. I do not believe that he always felt that there was genuine reciprocity in the dialogue."

And the test of real dialogue?  Getting what they want of course! 

As one commenter over at Eureka Street, on Father Hamilton's last piece over there attacking the Australian bishops noted:

"If the process of dialogue with Bishop Morris was to be open and transparent, it seems to me that the Pope and Rome would have had to risk talking about, in a public way, what they have decided should not be discussed: the possibility of women priests. Benedict XVI has passed on an opportunity that may have had in it the possibility of change..."

But!  That would be because this is a decision that cannot be changed!

In fact, quite the best comment on Fr Hamilton's latest defense of Bishop Morris was from Eureka Street contributer Moira Rayner in praise of his piece:

"Beautifully put. My protestant heart replies, that simple authority is never the answer..."

What it means to be Catholic

There is, of course, room for discussion in the Church on matters of both theology and pastoral practice.  Yet to be Catholic means to accept that there are limits to this discussion, set by revelation as interpreted by proper authority, and by the governing authority making pastoral judgments about what currently serves the best interests of the Church.

Bishop Power says that "Surely in a healthy Church we should be able to 'speak the truth in love'.  I do not believe any of us are doing justice to the mission of Jesus when we neglect to name the issues which are haemorrhaging the Church at the moment."  Yet to be Catholic means to believe that truth is an absolute, not something that changes with the fashions.

Bishop Power repeatedly questions 'authoritarianism' in the Church. Yet to be Catholic is to belong to a Church that is hierarchically constituted, with the Pope having the authority to do what is necessary to safeguard the tradition handed down to us.

Yet these men continue to be supported by our offerings!

There is a point where action has to be taken to put a stop to this ongoing attack on the Church from within.  And it is now!

What, after all, is the real risk?

If these bishops were laicized yet went ahead anyway and ordained more dissenting priests, how would that be different from the current situation?!  And anyway, the would-be schismatics are mostly of a certain age now, and surely little threat to the long-term of the Church. 

And if they purported to ordain women as priests, it would simply be of no effect - and indeed probably serve to invalidate any chance that other orders conferred by a schismatic movement were valid, for want of proper intention.

But on the other side, their continued status as Catholic bishops risks leading many souls astray.

And they force too many others to hide out in their ghettos, to attend Sunday Mass and no more, or even to leave altogether in disgust.

Enough is enough.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Getting ready for November and saying a placebo and dirige!

c15th Master of Rohan

November is traditionally the month when we especially pray for the dead.

All Souls Day and praying for the dead

Amazingly (though whether they quite compensate for the triumphalist account of a nun abandoning her religion for the new religion of radical feminism is another question) there are two good pieces on this over at Cath News' weekend edition:
Intercession for the dead serves at least three vital functions: it assists the dead, who can no longer assist themselves, to escape purgatory and enter heaven; it gains merit for us, as well as the prayers from heaven of those we have aided; and it teaches us how to prepare for our own death and hence aids our own spiritual progress.

There are many things we can do to aid the dead, including (in rough order of merit and arguably efficacy):

  • having Masses said for the repose of the souls of the dead;
  • saying the Office of the Dead;
  • undertaking indulgenced actions and applying the indulgence to the souls of the dead;
  • saying other prayers and devotions for the dead, especially the rosary;
  • giving alms in their name.
Most of the focus these days, at least among those who still believe in purgatory is on the offering of masses for the dead, and perhaps the rosary.  But I want to advocate also for the recovery of another traditional practice to aid the dead, namely saying the Office of the Dead.

History and structure of the Office of the Dead

The Office of the Dead traditionally consists of Matins (aka Office of Readings), Lauds (aka Morning prayer) and Vespers (aka Evening Prayer), and was traditionally known as 'placebo and dirige', the opening words of the first antiphon of Vespers and Matins respectively (note that the Novus Ordo version of the Office of the Dead has added versions of the other hours as well).  It is rather shorter than the standard Office as all of the introductory prayers are cut out, and at Matins either one or three nocturns of three psalms can be said.

The Office of the Dead used to be said at the deathbed, and as a standard part of the funeral service.  But it was also common to arrange to say it, or have it said, on behalf of the dead person, or the dead in general, on an ongoing basis.   During the middle ages, monasteries and priests were required to say it whenever there were no other feasts.  Pope Pius V reduced the obligation, earnestly recommending that it be said at least once a month and more often at penitential times. 

These days it tends only to be said on All Souls Day (when it takes the place of the normal Office).  But there are good reasons for saying it more often.

Why we should say the Office of the Dead

The Office of the Dead is liturgical prayer, the official public prayer of the Church.  As such it has a higher status in the Church's armory than any devotion, even the rosary.  Rather, it extends out the sacrifice of the Mass, joining to it a sacrifice of praise and intercession on behalf of the souls in purgatory. 

Saying it will act to enhance the value of the Masses we have offered for the dead by helping increase our personal commitment to that offering (which has an impact on the efficacy of the Mass offering, since the 'extrinsic' merits of the Mass are affected both by the holiness and intention of the person commissioning the Mass, and of the priest offering it), as well as acting as a sacrifice of praise and intercession in its own right.

Moreover, we may not be able to attend daily Masses offered for the dead for one reason or another.  But we can say the Office at home individually.  Reflecting the merit associated with this personal effort, saying either morning or evening prayer of the Office of the Dead has a partial indulgence attached to it.

We shouldn't overlook though, the actual content of the Office of the Dead and what it has to teach each of us.  As well as pure intercession on behalf of the dead, the psalms, readings (mostly from the book of Job) and prayers put us in the place of the person approaching death and moving from anger to acceptance in his or her dialogue with God.  As such, they help us prepare for our own death, and to pray for the vital grace of final perseverance.


Many traditional missals (though not, for some reason, the Baronius, which also omits the standard prayers for the deathbed) and all brevaries include some or all of the Office of the Dead.  But to help you learn to say it, there are a number of online versions you could look at as well, including:
In addition, for those interesting in saying the Office in Latin, and/or penetrating the meaning of the words more deeply, over at my psalm blog, I will work through some of the psalms of the Office of the Dead verse by verse through November, breaking down the Latin into easy to learn chunks, and providing extracts from selected commentaries on each verse.  I've already started on Psalm 22 (The Lord is my shepherd), which is said at Matins.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Spirit of Vatican IIism reigneth: when 'continuity' means adherence to the Magisterium of Rahner!

I have to admit I get a certain perverse enjoyment from reading articles that show the convulsions liberal Catholics go through to arrive at their 'interesting' ideas. 

In that vein, David Timbs' piece on Cath News blog today attacking Pope Benedict XVI for insisting on the value of the Petrine Office, and claiming that he is walking away from the notion of the 'people of God', is a classic of the genre.

On papal authority and the unity of the Church

I have to admit that while I've (been forced to) read writers like Rahner, de Balthasar and Congar in the course of my studies, I found them mostly turgid, boring and wrong, so have avoided as much as possible the works of their contemporary disciples. As a result I find myself continuously bemused as to where the distorted ideas reflected in comments on cath news and elsewhere are coming from.

Consider for example the outrage expressed by some at the idea set out in the recent statement of the Australian bishops that it is the Pope who decides what is necessary for communio.  Umm, isn't that what having a supreme pastor in the Pope means (CCC880-896)?  Indeed, Lumen Gentium (23) actually says that the Pope:

"is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful".

Hermeneutic of continuity!

Mr Timbs concludes his blog post by claiming that selective amnesia, rather than continuity has become the guiding principle of the Pope's theology.

Yet it seems from reading Mr Timbs that the the key to correctly understanding Vatican II is to disregard all statements in the documents that insist on the authority of the Pope, the hierarchical constitution of the Church and other pesky bits of orthodoxy. 

Instead, he appears to argue, we should read  - well 'read' is too strong a word really, decide what the documents might mean without reference to the actual text would be more accurate -  the documents in the light of the ideas his favourite twentieth century theologians, such as Rahner and Congar.  Selective amnesia indeed!

So let's take a look at Mr Timbs' piece...

The Petrine vs Pauline charisms

Mr Timbs starts with a paean to St Paul:

"The Apostle Paul did not labour alone in the Gospel. In his letters he goes to extraordinary lengths to acknowledge and affirm those many women and men from all walks of life who were indispensable to his Mission in the service of Jesus Christ.

These were his co-workers.

Paul deeply valued those who joined him in the Gospel mission and, above all, he loved them for the generous self-investment they made in building up the Community. The ties that bound him and his co-workers were their common Baptism and a passionate commitment to Christ and his message."

So far so good.  Pope Benedict XVI for example, has repeatedly emphasized that Christianity is essentially communal in character: a faith something handed down to us, not something we invent for ourselves (say in the mid to late twentieth century!) and not something that can be realized in isolation.

What Paul could not abide or tolerate were fellow Christians who dissembled, played the game of rivalry, who scandalised the communities he served and thereby obstructed the Gospel. Among these were the ‘Dogs’ – the mutilators of the flesh and ‘false brothers’, the ‘Super Apostles’ and the legalistic Judaisers of the James Party. Last and certainly not least was Cephas. His weak backsliding nearly destroyed the Galatian community. For that Paul withstood him to his face...

Gah!  It is hardly fair exegesis to put St Paul's attacks on those seeking to pervert the faith and promote immoral behaviour with his comments on St James and his disciples and St Peter.  Moreover, in the case of the famous incident at Antioch it is worth noting that St Barnabas, normally a Paul supporter, actually sided with St Peter, so the issues were not clear cut.  Nor was St Paul himself as pure on these issues as Mr Timbs would like to suggest - after all he personally circumcised St Timothy!

More fundamentally, it is important to remember that though Our Lord laid the foundations in his teaching for a universal mission beyond the Jews themselves, and for a new approach to the law, he and his disciples followed the Jewish law (correcting its interpretation as necessary), modelling for us the idea of obedience to legitimate authority.  In fact it was St Peter's dream-vision (Acts 10), and not anything St Paul did or said, that laid the foundations for the decision of the early Church to discard Jewish dietary and other laws.

The Pope's theological 'journey'(!)

Mr Timbs then attempts to portrays the Pope's own theological development as a case of Petrine backsliding away from the truth - represented by his disavowal of the ideas of Messrs Rahner et al.  Others can argue about whether the 'radical young theologian of Vatican II who later became orthodox' paradigm best explains the Pope's views, or whether, as others argue, there is a high degree of continuity in his thinking. 

Either way, to compare the Pope's maturing of theological views with the debate on pastoral and theological approaches to Jewish law in the early Church really strikes me as particularly outrageous.  Because who anointed Rahner et al as the standard of orthodoxy!?  Is no one allowed to change their views after reflection on them?

The People of God

Mr Timbs' main difficulty though appears to be (unsurprisingly) with the insistence that the Church is hierarchically constituted.  He says:

"Ratzinger’s unease with some theologies embedded in Conciliar documents can be traced to his unhappiness with the ecclesial notion of the People of God. It had too much of a democratic populist ring about it. For him, it threatened to relativise and jeopardise the absolute authority of the Petrine office. This key element adopted by Vatican II, however, would be quietly diluted by ‘authentic catechesis’ and even publicly dismissed a few years ago by one of our own Bishops as ‘old hat.’ It was not always so.

Well yes indeed.  In fact the Catechism of the Catholic Church has quite an extended treatment of the concept of the People of God, relying on the actual documents of Vatican II without any editorializing that I can see.  But it is easy to see why the Pope is concerned about the distortion of this concept from what follows in Mr Timbs' dissertation:

At the Council Yves Congar OP was astounded at the progressive young theologians Rahner and Ratzinger for daring to propose a model of Conciliarist ecclesiology which would more clearly define papal authority in terms of the College of Bishops acting together with the Pope and the whole Church in the exercise of the Magisterium. In other words, the College of Bishops would never again be a mere Papal rubber stamp but a fellowship of co-workers....

Really?  In fact Lumen Gentium and other documents of the Council do no such thing.  Try reading the actual documents Mr Timbs, and providing citations (and explaining why we should ignore what the documents actually do say) to back up your claims. 

The problem of ultramontanism

Mr Timbs goes on to describe what he views as the terms of the Pope's 'regression'.

He also argues that the last two pontificates have seen a resurgence of 'Papalisation of theology and church'.  I actually do think there is something to this: ultramontanism rather took hold amongst conservative Catholics, particularly in the US.  And exactly parallel to this is the fundamentalist attitude towards spirit of Vatican IIism that Mr Timbs and his confreres have adopted.

In both cases I think the problem dates back to Vatican II itself, and has been fed by the absence of much stress on the importance of continuity with tradition.  All too many papal and conciliar documents of the last fifty years are full of pronouncements written without explicit reference to what came before, as if they were bolts from the blue, when in reality they drew on two thousand years of tradition.

Pope Benedict has actually made a real effort to correct this, and set out what can't be changed because it belongs to the core truths of the faith, and what can be debated (including amongst the documents of Vatican II itself).  A key part of his legacy, I think, will be to have laid the foundations that permit real theological progress rather than endless 'dialogue' and dissent masquerading as theology!

Meanwhile at Assisi

And in that light, the Pope (picture above, Getty Images) has used the revamped Assisi meeting (no interfaith prayers; agnostic philosophers as well as other religions invited) to call on other religions to denounce violence carried out in the name of their faith (who could be be talking about?!).  Interestingly, it was the Hindu representative who  mused on why twenty-five years of 'interfaith dialogue' had born so little fruit...

No doubt Mr Timbs sees all of this as further evidence of papal backsliding however, of 'dialogue to monologue'!   In that view, he can perhaps find some common ground with his fellow hardliners, albeit those at the opposite end of the spectrum to him.  Unfortunately, in my experience, the liberal concept of dialogue means talking only to those who happen to vaguely agree with them, and rejecting outreach to those such as the SSPX who challenge their comfortable assumptions...

Thursday, 27 October 2011

How can a bishop dismissed for doctrinal and disciplinary problems be 'in good standing'?!

A reader from Toowoomba has alerted me to the latest installment of the sorry saga of Bishop Morris.  And it is not good news.

Almost a week since the Australian Bishops' released a statement from Rome on the issue , the Toowoomba Diocesan website continues to highlight links to Bishop Morris' rant against the Australian Bishops - but amazingly, not the actual statement itself, at least as far as I can see.

And worse, a priest of the diocese has publicly attacked Cardinal Pell in the local media for suggesting that it was inappropriate that Bishop Morris continue to act publicly there, and insists that Bishop Morris has every right to continue to act quasi-officially in the diocese.  Sorry, but that claim is utter rubbish.

Use the new media to help heal not hurt!

But first the misuse of Church property - to attack the Church itself!

Go to the Toowoomba diocesan website and you will find it hosts Bishop Morris' latest diatribe attacking the Pope and the Australian bishops.

You will find attacks on the faithful laity of the diocese exercizing their canonical rights as 'zealots' and 'temple police'. 

You will find Bishop Morris' biography and assorted other material by him, and from those advocating on his behalf.

What you won't find, however, is the latest statement from the Australian bishops on the subject!

Or any corrective catechesis on the issues so much debated in this affair, such as the impossibility of ordaining women of women, the invalidity of protestant orders, or the proper use of General Absolutions.

Now the immediate problem is, perhaps, in large part that Bishop Finnigan, the Apostolic Administrator of the diocese, has been in Rome and is still on leave.

Still, some of the more inflammatory material has been on the website for some time now.  And it has been some months, surely enough time to put up something setting out the Church's actual teaching on these subjects (and so many others no doubt misunderstood by many in Toowoomba).  This situation can hardly be helping heal things within the diocese, or in the wider Australian Church.

What you can do

So let me urge my readers to write to the Apostolic Administrator of the diocese, Bishop Brian Finnigan to ask for urgent action to correct this situation.

If you do email or write, please remember to:
  • be respectful and polite;
  • avoid using inflammatory rhetoric; and
  • state clearly what you see as the problem(s), how it makes you feel, and why you think something needs to be done about it.
Not in 'good standing'!

But really taking the cake, in my view, is a letter sent to me by a reader published in the Toowoomba Chronicle today from a Father Peter Schultz of that diocese, attacking Cardinal Pell's reported comments pointing out the obvious fact that it is completely inappropriate for Bishop Morris to be continue speaking publicly and acting quasi-officially in the diocese.

Fr Schultz argues that while the power of governance has been removed from Bishop Morris, as a bishop he still has the functions of sanctifying and governing by virtue of his ordination.  He claims that:

"Only the Pope can remove these functions from Bishop Morris and as of this date this has not been done.  It is therefore entirely appropriate for Bishop Morris to undertake the very tasks for which Cardinal Pell is criticising him."

Quite frankly, balderdash!

Communion with the Church is what it means to be catholic

No bishop claiming to be part of the Church has the right to do or teach whatever they like.

In fact Canon Law clearly states that the Church only 'subsists in' those in communion with the Pope and bishops in communion with him (CL 204).  The Australian bishops' statement clearly states that Bishop Morris breached this communio:

"What was at stake was the Church’s unity in faith and the ecclesial communion between the Pope and the other Bishops in the College of Bishops. Eventually Bishop Morris was unable to agree to what this communion requires and at that point the Pope acted as the Successor of Peter, who has the task of deciding what constitutes unity and communion in the Church."

 A bishop who has been deemed not to be in communion with the Pope cannot under any stretch of the imagination be described as 'in good standing' as I've seen repeatedly claimed in relation to Bishop Morris's status.  In fact on the face of it, he is not fully part of the Church at all.

Secondly, it is worth noting that, contrary to Fr Schultz's assertion, the Pope cannot, technically speaking, 'remove' the functions of teaching, governing and sanctifying.  A priest is a priest forever, and the key reason Popes have long been reluctant to take formal action against bishops is the risk that their continued disobedience will harden into formal schism and cause endless future problems for the Church.

It is possible however for the right to exercize those functions to be curtailed or suspended, either temporarily (eg through voluntary agreement, formal suspension, interdict or excommunication) or permanently (for example by laicization).

We know Bishop Morris has lost the function of governance of the diocese.  We do not know what else Pope Benedict XVI might actually have told bishop Morris in this regard. 

It is worth noting though, that at least in theory (practicalities are another matter), excommunication can happen automatically; it does not require the Pope or anyone else to 'declare' the matter (that's a next step in the process). Rather, certain canonical crimes incur excommunication or suspension 'latae sententiae'.

There are a number of canonical crimes that could also potentially apply 'ferendae sententiae' to Bishop Morris - and from the extract of the letter from the Pope released by Bishop Morris, the formal warnings necessary have already occurred.  But the elephant in the Toowoomba diocese is of course heresy, or persistence in an erroneous opinion despite proper warning - which incurs automatic excommunication.

You are not in good standing if you stand for error!

But rather than argue about canon law technicalities, let's consider what the Pope and the Australian bishops have actually said on the matter.

According to Bishop Morris' latest statement, the Pope stated that:

‘In your Advent Pastoral Letter 2006 – besides containing some very questionable pastoral choices – there are at least two options presented that are incompatible with the Catholic faith:

a) Ordaining women in order to overcome the priest shortage. Yet, the late Pope John Paul II has decided infallibly and irrevocably that the Church has not the right to ordain women to the priesthood:’

b) recognizing Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church Orders”. But according to the doctrine of the Catholic faith, ministers from these communities are not validly ordained and therefore do not share in the Sacrament of Holy Orders; and as such their actions are not joined to the ministerial priesthood.’

Similarly, the Bishops noted that the issues at stake concerned not only matters of Church discipline but also of Church doctrine definitively taught, such as on the ministerial priesthood.

There can be no sense in which someone is found by the Pope to be out of line on matters of both doctrine and discipline, and who refuses to accept the judgment of the Pastor of the Uinversal Church should be out teaching and claiming to act officially on behalf of said Church.

What next?

Let us hope that some of his colleagues can talk Bishop Morris down from his current intransigence.  And that Bishop Finnigan can be effective in communicating to the priests and people of Toowoomba just what the situation really is and why.  We should pray for the gift of understanding to be granted for those concerned.

Unfortunately, however, clerical arrogance, narcissism and outright stupidity are all too often the realities of this fallen world.

Fortunately, there are further steps and grounds for action that could be considered if necessary.  Canon 1371, for example, deals those who teach things that fall short of formal heresy, for example, but have been condemned by the Pope, while Canon 1371 deals with inciting hatred or animosity against the Holy See and inciting disobedience.  And there are other steps that could be taken, all the way up to laicization (as has been done recently in the case of a few bishops) if necessary.

So let's also get behind the upcoming Year of Grace, and pray for the grace of healing for those open to it.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

For bishops (and in the interests of comfort in solidarity) for priests!: some compulsory reading

Fr Z has highlighted a post by Fr Trigilio on his The Black Biretta blog which should be compulsory reading for all bishops.  And which all orthodox priests will no doubt take great comfort in seeing so well articulated many of the problems they constantly struggle with!

Here are a few extracts to entice you to read the whole thing:

"...while most priests are happy being priests, which includes celibacy and obedience, not all enjoy how priests are treated...What many priests dislike, however, is when they feel like they work for a corporation more than for a family of faith.

The corporate business model some bishops and dioceses espouse make pastors feel like middle management and not as spiritual shepherds of the local, neighborhood flock. Most priests do love the priesthood. Most love being priests and doing priestly work. Most are willing to sacrifice time, opportunity and reward for the higher good of saving souls. What most priests do NOT like is the often oppressive bureaucracy emanating from diocesan headquarters. Canon law and liturgical rubrics are not the problem, but often the plethora of diocesan regulations and policies that go well beyond micromanagement. Vatican II spoke of subsidiarity, yet most times even legitimate options afforded priests are being transformed into mandatory rules as if Father is not qualified to decide for himself.

...What really makes priests unhappy, however, is the injustice done to brother priests by their own kind....Professional jealousy and clerical sycophants are what discourage priests. When their bishops do not treat them as sons of the church but as lower level managers whose task is to be a company man at all times, then you get some unhappy priests on your hands. When the same guys have been on Personnel Board for the past 20 to 30 years; when assignments are made not based on qualifications but on church politics and ‘who you know rather than what you know;’ when special treatment is given to those who went to the bishop’s alma mater while those who had to fight tooth and nail to preserve their orthodoxy and virtue while in the seminary are made to feel like misfits after ordination; these make for disillusioned clergy to be sure....

What deflates priests, is not celibacy or Magisterium, but subterfuge, duplicity and deceit from their own ordained brethren. When church ceases to be about faith and more about solvency, then priestly zeal can drop dramatically. Yes, bills must be paid and responsible financial procedures and policies be in operation. On the other hand, bishops do not need ‘yes’ men, they need honest, courageous, and un-ambitious advisors to give them reliable and responsible counsel. Sometimes, you wonder if the old Soviet Union did not reincarnate or morph itself into a diocesan bureaucracy.

Priests are happy being priests and doing priestly things, like celebrating the Sacraments, teaching the faith, visiting the sick, and helping parents form their children into Christian men and women. What makes us unhappy is being treated like we’re guilty before we even know what the accusation is. What kills priestly zeal is corporate red tape and extreme micromanagement... During the worst of the clergy sex scandals, it was not just the perverts who misbehaved and a few bishops who swept things under the carpet, it was also a few middle management clergy giving bad advice and a few becoming a buffer between priest and bishop. When that happens, good priests are unable to communicate important information to their chief shepherd because someone in between has blocked or intercepted the message. Access to the bishop for any priest has to be unfettered as any son would be to his dad. When the corporate model is enshrined, however, it feels like only the vice presidents and board members have access and lower level employees just do their work and keep quiet...

When priests are told they need to get anger management treatment merely because they preached a homily in support of Humanae Vitae and in condemnation of birth control and abortion; when priests are admonished for enforcing canon law and requiring sponsors for baptism and confirmation to be Catholics in good standing; when priests are reprimanded for exercising their legitimate liturgical options as stated in universal law; when pastors spend sleepless nights over meeting diocesan assessments; when assignments and transfers are arbitrary and haphazard rather than based on experience, history and qualifications; then zeal begins to erode and evaporate...

It helps when church authority is employed to discipline all instances of misbehavior (like teaching heterodoxy or committing liturgical abuse) and not just when it involves personally disagreeing with one’s superiors or their prudential judgments. Stepping one someone’s toes is not the same gravity as denying a revealed truth or committing sacrilege, yet often those crimes go unnoticed or unpunished while minor infractions of diocesan policy are punished with severity and swiftness...

When the human element of the Church is fair and just, that enables the rank and file to busy themselves with the pastoral work that has to be done. When there is cronyism, politics, skullduggery and intrigue among the clergy (upper and lower), then the zeal can be robbed from those who find it distasteful and inappropriate..."

A secularist lament for all the "missing babies"!

The Sydney Morning Herald today has a headline lamenting "1500 missing babies" who might have been born but for... 

Has the newspaper suddenly discovered the cause of so many babies slaughtered even before they are born through abortion?

 Well no.

Actually the complaint is about cuts to the Government funding of IVF (a Labor Government initiative we can actually all applaud, no matter what the ostensible reasons for it!), which actually mean that the would-be parents have to pay for additional treatments themselves.  Turns out when they do have to pay, they mostly don't.

Of course, if the newspaper had focused on the babies missing due to abortion, the number, would, one suspects, be a lot higher than 1500!

What a sick society we live in, that one the one hand we allow untold numbers of unborn children to be murdered, while on the other selfish individuals demand public funding for a lottery with a 20% chance of a live birth and results in the death of so many embryos in the process. 

So how about we adopt a more logical approach, and cancel all funding for IVF, and redirect it to supporting pregnant women who do not wish to bring up their child themselves, and are prepared to have their child adopted out?  That way we could reduce the huge waiting list of people wanting to adopt...

Don't expect this to happen under a future Abbott Government though, our leading "catholic" politician has once again committed himself to business as usual as usual when it comes to abortion.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Transparency, good governance and the Church: clearing up some key concepts

Over at Eureka Street Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ has yet another piece defending 'Bishop Bill' Morris and, predictably trying to keep alive the debate on his dismissal. 

And he uses it as a platform for a broader attack on Church governance.  I have some sympathy with Fr Hamilton's more general concerns.  Unfortunately, he has, in my view, chosen the wrong case on which to base this attack, confusing some key concepts.

Keeping the debate alive: how is that a good thing?

Fr Hamilton's article does represent a step forward from the dissenting mob in that it at least accepts the authority of the Pope to act in such a matter.  And no doubt Eureka Street's readers need to talk the bishops' response through for themselves in order to reach some closure on the subject.

But Fr Hamilton then proceeds to undercut any sign of support for the bishops (or the Pope) by arguing that it was a case of poor decision-making process because it was all "informal".  And it launches a more general attack on the Church for its failure to adopt Western democratic standards of 'transparency, natural justice and due process'.

Informal vs formal decisions

And here is the problem.  Fr Hamilton seems to equate judicial processes with good processes:

"The Bishops' description of the actions of the Holy as 'fraternal and pastoral, rather than juridic in character' points the questions raised about governance even more sharply. In Australia, at least, we have come to recognise how decisions reached in informal processes can harm and leave without recourse the people affected by them."

Really?  Firstly the fact that this process was not juridic doesn't mean it was informal.  And more fundamentally, I don't think Australia has come to recognise that informal processes are necessarily bad at all!

First, a process can be formal without being 'juridic' in nature.  And it is quite clear that the process relating to Bishop Morris was very formal indeed: there are documented letters from both sides; there was a call for the bishop to go to Rome to explain himself; there were documented discussions with various Vatican Congregations; there was an investigator appointed; and there were discussions between Bishop Morris and the Pope. 

Contrast all that with the apparent almost complete lack of a paper trail in the discussions and key steps in the processes between Archbishop Hepworth, Monsignor Cappo and Archbishop Wilson in Adelaide, and resulting disagreements on key process issues and outcomes - now that is what I would describe as an 'informal' process!

Secondly, it is not the case that processes need to be judicial in character in order to constitute good process.  The reality is that most decisions in Australia are not the subject of juridic processes.  Take for example the highest decisions in the land, Cabinet decisions.  There are, at least in theory, a lot of requirements built into the standard Cabinet decision-making processes, aimed at ensuring good decisions: documentation requirements (Cabinet Submission and written record of decision); information that has to be included in the documentation; timing and consultation requirements.  It is not, in the majority of cases (save under ex-PM Rudd!) an 'informal process'.  But neither it is 'juridic'.  And nor is every - or indeed much - detail of the process involved made available to all and sundry.  Indeed, as assorted politicians have made clear in response to a recent leak, going public can positively undermine good decision-making processes by suppressing the necessary behind the scenes free and frank debate.

Thirdly, it is not necessarily the case that informal decisions are necessarily bad ones.  Take the example of Cabinet decisions - sometimes things happen fast, and a decision has to be made without all the formal processes being observed.  But I'm sure we can all imagine instances where failure to make a decision quickly would have far more dire consequences than waiting for all the boxes to be ticked.  And then there are the decisions which are just extremely clearcut, and going through an elaborate process is just overkill.

Fourthly, I think Fr Hamilton is quite wrong to imply that legal processes represent a benchmark for good process.  In reality, as anyone who has ever had anything to do with the courts will know, legal processes are often deeply archaic, more aimed at increasing the workload and protecting the jobs and remuneration of of lawyers by locking out any competition than obtaining good outcomes; and stress form over substance.

Finally, Fr Hamilton seems aggrieved that Bishop Morris has no means of appeal to someone other than the Pope, on the grounds that the Pope's decision adversely affects him.

And here he is picking up an argument from the bishop himself seeking to import a particularly American version of the separation of powers into the Church.  Note that I don't say Westminster system as we've inherited it, since the House of Lords remained the highest court in England; there is no absolute separation of powers in that tradition.   Nor is there in the Australian system, since despite the ever-increasing tendency of the courts to extend their jurisdiction, there remains the concept of 'non-judiciable' decisions, decisions that cannot be challenged in a court (I suspect the dismissal of a Governor-General by the Queen would probably fall into that category, and if so, provides not a bad analogy for the Morris Case).

So why should we consider the modern American system the appropriate model for the Church to adopt?  Particularly when God actually gave the Church a different one, entrusting the keys to Peter!

The reality is the Church is not a private corporation, not a secular government, and in the end, the relationship between the Pope and a bishop is not an employer-employee one. 

The Pope's job, in the end, is not to worry about secular concerns over the "reputation" of a bishop (though the Vatican rightly bends over backwards to protect them as far as possible), but to protect souls. 

In reality, the Pope was acting on behalf of the laity, the flock of Toowoomba (whether they all appreciate it or not!) to ensure that all concerned remain in communion with the Church, to protect their souls. 

It is, in my view, just a manifestation of clericalism to think that the reputation of a bishop trumps concern over his soul and the souls of those entrusted to him.

Improving Church governance

There is, it is true, an objective reality that Church governance in the Vatican, Australia and elsewhere is often of a poor standard. 

Indeed, Bishop Morris' long disregard of Church law around General Absolutions, and the more recent attempt of Bishop Wright to disregard Summorum Pontificum are cases in point. 

The objective reality is that many bishops seem to be able to get away with disregarding Church law altogether for long periods.  And this is where Fr Hamilton's analogy to the case of asylum seekers properly belongs: where there are laws, they need to be enforced and be seen to be enforced, not just ignored by decision-makers at will.   For this very reason, Bishop Morris' dismissal is actually a good step forward for improved governance in the Church.

Actual enforcement of laws aside, timeliness of action is another key challenge for the Church at all levels that is certainly raised by the Morris case.  The situation of many priests accused of abuse is another case in point - timely decision-making on these issues is important for both accused and accuser, yet often seems to be absent (consider the Hepworth case, started in 2007!).

Thirdly, all the evidence is that many, even most, bishops regularly do make arbitrary decisions without much or even any real consultation, process, or even reporting to the laity on the decisions they make.  This needs to change.  Bishops, in the end, are there to govern us.  But good decisions do come from good processes, including hearing out those affected even if the ultimate decision is not one they agree with.

Far too often good processes are indeed lacking in the Church.

There is a need for real reform. 

But the Morris case is not ammunition for it; quite the contrary.

Monday, 24 October 2011

How not to heal the wounds of division: Bishop Morris strikes back - and on the official diocesan website!

I rather over-optimistically suggested a day or so back, that the Morris affair might finally be behind us. 

Unfortunately not.

A reader has alerted me to a response to the Australian bishops' statement from the man himself. 

Worse, it is positively highlighted by a link on the front page of the official Diocese of Toowoomba website!  Hopefully not for too much longer...

Bishop Morris lashes out

The response itself is what you might expect from Bishop Morris given his long history of protestantism - denials that he did anything wrong; refusal to accept the judgment of the Pope; and claims of unfair processes.   Apparently it is the text of a letter he sent the Australian bishops back in May.

And it is followed up by a threat to publish his story in full (how much more is there to tell!  He's been on the ABC and everywhere else).

Is continuing this fight really in anyone's best interests?  After all, there are further canonical consequences that are possible, even if they are rarely applied to bishops...

A challenge...

One of the lines repeated yet again in this document is that Bishop Morris was not actually advocating for women priests or use of protestant ministers, just flagging that the issue was being discussed. 

So here is my challenge to Bishop Morris: come out and definitively, without any equivocation, state that you accept the teaching of Pope John Paul II that women are incapable of being ordained as priests. 

Come out and positively state that you accept that protestant ministers cannot effect transubstantiation, and thus substitute for catholic priests when it comes to the Eucharist. 

Come out and positively state that you accept that, as canon law sets out, the Pope has 'supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church, and he can always freely exercise this power' (CL 331).

Come out and affirm some basic doctrines and disciplines of the Church, and then actual Catholics might take you more seriously.

In the meantime, we should surely be praying for the conversion and  reconciliation of Bishop Morris to the Church, for the souls endangered by his ministry, and the healing of the division his actions have caused.

Healing the wounds of division: what would you suggest?

The Australian bishops (pictured above in Rome on the ad limina visit) are presumably making their way back to Australia at the moment, or are already back. 

The signs of division

Their last action in Rome was to commit themselves, in a statement on Bishop Morris, to 'healing the wounds of division' in the Australian Church. So just how should they go about it?

At the moment the signs of the de facto schism in the Australian Church are blatant and ugly. 

In the continuing name calling and attacks on traditionalists and conservatives, and attempts to deny them the right to pursue their distinctive spirituality. 

In the continued efforts of priests and people to undermine the implementation of the new missal (how many Masses have you attended where the priest has made snide remarks about it, or otherwise engaged in passive resistance?  Personally, I can attest to quite a few). 

In the continuing rejection of orthodoxy and orthopraxis from the pulpit and from the virtual pulpit offered by outlets like Eureka Street and Cath News. 

And I could go on.

What is to be done?

So what can the bishops do, both straight away, and in the context of the upcoming Year of Grace, to heal the divide?  No doubt the bishops already have given some thought to this, but here are my suggestions.  Do offer your own as well.

1.  Focus on rebuilding catholic commitment and identity

Perhaps the stress on Catholic identity went too far in the 50s and earlier - certainly no one wants to go back to the days when catholics and protestant schoolchildren felt obliged to throw stones at each other.  But equally, the reaction went too far in rejecting the value of any markers whatsoever of our identity, anything at all to mark our commitment to the faith and provide witness of it to the wider world.  The reality of human psychology is that we need symbolic demands to signal that something is important.

A few simple things that could be done:
  • reintroduce Friday abstinence from meat, as has been done in the UK recently;
  • reinstate a few Holy Days of Obligation - a measure that could also help increase Sunday attendance by signaling the importance of the Mass;
  • ditch the ties, scarves and tiny crosses and ask all clergy, seminarians and religious to wear garb appropriate to their state in life, viz clericals (even a soutane!) or a habit.
2.  Promote beauty and continuity in the liturgy

A lot of work has been done to promote the new Mass, but at the same time, much occurs that undermines all that effort.  And then of course poor attention to the ars celebrandi, awful music and much more does the rest.  If we want to improve Sunday mass attendance that has to change.

When the Holy Father gave free permission for priests to say the Traditional Latin Mass, he suggested that it could help the 'reform of the reform' process by exposing people to the Church's traditions in relation to the liturgy.  But for that to occur, people need to have a chance to actually attend one!
  • All bishops could offer either a solemn Traditional Latin Mass in their cathedrals for some significant occasion - such as the start of Advent.  Or if that requires too much work, commission someone to do it for them;
  • All bishops should ensure that the TLM is available daily and on Sundays in their dioceses, and that their priests and seminarians are taught how to say the TLM, even if they don't wish to regularly say it, and that the laity are encouraged to attend on a 'go see what it is about' basis;
  • To ensure that priests and bishops remember that Latin is the official language of their rite,  perhaps each cathedral could ensure that at least once a month the main Sunday mass was either a TLM or a Novus Ordo Mass performed in Latin, said orientem and with sung chant;
  • All bishops and priests should be encouraged to put their personal views on the new missal aside, and preach a series of sermons (perhaps some common notes to use could be compiled) on the reasons for the major changes;
  • Run chant workshops in all dioceses and in schools, designed to teach everyone the basic repertoire of chants that all Catholics should know set out by Pope Paul VI (of all people!).  And then ensure that they are sung regularly in all churches;
  • implement Vatican II's promotion of the Liturgy of the Hours by mandating Sunday Vespers (in the OF or EF) in all churches.
3.  Promote vocations even more

There have been promising increases in vocations in many dioceses.  But they aren't going to be nearly enough.  Even more effort is required to help people understand why priests and religious are essential.  Some things that could help:
  • Ensure that confession is available somewhere in the diocese every day, including before (and after) Sunday Masses, for several hours (at least) of the day.  The loss of a sense of sin is at the root of many of the problems in the Church today, and the idea that God gives forgiveness through priests is essential both to countering that and helping people understand why lay parish leaders are no substitute for priests!  There are other things priests currently do that can and probably should be delegated to laypeople, in order to help recover this central part of the priestly ministry;
  • Ban altar girls, eliminate the need for Extraordinary Ministers of Communion by reverting to communion in kind only, encourage reception of communion kneeling and on the tongue, and ensure Adoration is a regular feature of all churches.  The other central element of the priestly vocation is the Eucharist.  But belief in the real presence and the sense of the sacredness of priestly hands has been almost lost by many, undermined by subtle things that accumulate.  But they can be readily reversed.
4.  Close down the sources of dissent

Bishops have the power to decide who can use the term Catholic.  And they have the power to regulate who can teach the catholic faith.  They even have some control some of the outlets that currently regularly promote dissent.  It has to stop:
  • close down Cath News and give the contract to monitor and report on what is happening in the secular media to Xt3 or a new organisation that can put it in context and be an active voice for the New Evangelization;
  • revoke the authority to teach of dissenting theologians infecting the next generation of students at our so-called catholic institutions.  Test all Catholic teachers in our schools, and require an explicit to orthodoxy and orthopraxis from them (ie no one who is a practising homosexual, divorced and remarried without an annulment, or living in a de facto relationship should be able to teach in a catholic school);
  •  close down or take away the right to describe themselves as Catholic from dissenting outlets such as Eureka Street;
  • redirect the efforts of the Bishops' Conference bureaucracy to the things that really matter.  We are supporting a bureaucracy devoted to things like producing film reviews (!) and lobbying the Federal Government on assorted public policy issues.  All of these things could be better done by the laity.  So redirect effort to supporting lay activism in these areas, while the bishops focus on how to improve transparency and accountability in the Church at all levels (opening Bishops Conference meetings to interested people would be a good start) and how to address the internal problems of the Church.
5.  Foster genuine lay engagement

A lot of lip service is currently given to the importance of the role of the laity.  And a lot of effort is currently misdirected at promoting 'lay ministry', trying to make the laity into pseudo-priests as Extraordinary Ministers and more.  All this does is reinforce clericalism and the idea that the only way to holiness is through 'ministry'.

What is really needed, in my view, is much greater focus on accountability and transparency within the Church, particularly on things like how money is spent, and how well the Church is doing in achieving its mission - the number and proportion of baptisms, of conversions, of Catholic marriages, and so forth.

And much more active education and support for Catholics to engage in the real lay mission set out clearly in the documents of Vatican II, of seeking personal holiness and transforming the wider world:
  • Invite the Catholic media (including new media!) to attend and report on Bishops Conference meetings;
  • Encourage each diocese to produce an annual report with useful information to promote accountability, and then have a pseudo-Senate Estimates process to allow the laity to ask questions based on it of the responsible diocesan officials;
  • Run regular, solid programs on the Church's Social Teaching and back it up with concrete practical charity initiatives at the parish level - ensure every parish has a visible charity outreach of some kind, whether a food bank, soup kitchen or whatever;
  • Run a program (there is one in the UK) to encourage lay people to act as spokespeople for the Catholic perspective;
  • Actively support the formation of lay organisations to dismantle assorted bureaucratic bodies on issues like refugees, freeing up the priests concerned to act as priests;
  • Encourage bishops and priests to give active support to lay initiatives on key issues such as abortion, for example by regularly attending abortion clinic vigils, or holding prayer vigils on these issues in their cathedrals;
  • And encourage certain bishops to refrain from regularly sharing their personal views on every issue under the sun with the media... 
Can it happen?

We can hope that our current bishops come back from Rome inspired and reinvigorated. 

But the real hope has to be with the large crop of new bishops about to be appointed.  So if there are good priests in your diocese who might be being overlooked, let the Nuncio know about them!  And if there are ones you fear are up for promotion, but will prove to be unfortunate choices, make sure that is known too.

We've already seen what seems to be one fairly bad appointment.  We don't need more.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Bishop Morris: The final chapter?

The statement of the Australian bishops on the dismissal of Bishop Morris of Toowoomba has now been released.

There is nothing startling in it.  Indeed, the only surprise is that it took a week or two of discussion in Rome to get arrive at it when it is what they should have come out with at the time, given that all of the facts alluded to in the statement, and all of the doctrinal and pastoral issues alluded to, were common knowledge.

Still, better late than never I guess. 

Here it is in full, with my comments interspersed:


"Our letter to Bishop Brian Finnigan in May said that, during the Ad Limina visit in October, we would have discussions concerning the events which led to the departure of Bishop William Morris from the pastoral care of the Diocese of Toowoomba. That has been done.

We had individual meetings with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Subsequently we had a joint meeting with Cardinal Ouellet and Cardinal Levada. As well, we ourselves met several times.

We were very appreciative of the time given to us by the Cardinals and the personal and pastoral concern which they expressed. Our discussions with them were substantial, serious and candid. [The Vatican officials must have been much tried in the virtue of patience!]

These meetings have given us a more adequate understanding of what was done by the Holy See in an attempt to resolve the difficulties with Bishop Morris [Really?  There was an awful lot of material in the public domain at the time, and it was pretty clear that a number of Australian bishops were in the loop with Bishop Morris' exchanges with Rome along the way...], which concerned not only matters of Church discipline [a concern Bishop Wright of Newcastle has hopefully taken note of the need to stay in touch with in relation to the TLM] but also of Church doctrine definitively taught, such as on the ministerial priesthood [so yes, the teaching that women cannot be priests is infallible!  Nor are protestant ministers interchangeable with Catholic priests...]. What the Holy See did was fraternal and pastoral rather than juridical in character. [So stopping carrying on about alleged breaches of 'natural justice'!] Although efforts continued over many years, a critical point came when Bishop Morris failed to clarify his position to the satisfaction of the Holy See and then found himself unable to resign as Bishop of the Diocese when the Holy Father made the request.[ie A bishop cannot just ignore Rome and the Pope!]

What was at stake was the Church’s unity in faith and the ecclesial communion between the Pope and the other Bishops in the College of Bishops. Eventually Bishop Morris was unable to agree to what this communion requires and at that point the Pope acted as the Successor of Peter, who has the task of deciding what constitutes unity and communion in the Church. [This is what makes us Catholics and not protestants!]

We express our acceptance of the Holy Father’s exercise of his Petrine ministry, and we reaffirm our communion with and under Peter. We return to Australia determined to do whatever we can to heal any wounds of division [hopefully by insisting that all bishops actively teach the faith on these subjects to correct the errors that have been allowed to fester under the guise of claims of 'creeping infallibility' and the like], to extend our fraternal care to Bishop Morris [who needs to be brought back to the fullness of the faith], and to strengthen the bonds of charity in the Church in Australia.

Bishop Power gone?

PS A notable absence from the list of Audiences with the Pope over the last few weeks was that of dissenting Canberra Auxiliary Patrick Power.  Does that mean that his proferred resignation has been accepted?

Unbelievable...Newcastle's new bishop strikes out the TLM

Rorate Caeli features a story about some extraordinary comments of the newly appointed Bishop Wright of Newcastle-Maitland,who seems to have decided that, contrary to Summorum Pontificum, he can prohibit the TLM being celebrated regularly on Sundays in his diocese.

Apparently Bishop Wright hated being forced to attend a Novus Ordo Mass in Latin while in Rome on a previous trip, and therefore doesn't consider that praying in the official language of his Rite something suitable for the 'common worship' of the community!

The sentiments he expresses are in line with his previous comments as a parish priest.  The difference of course is that now he is a bishop.  Let's hope that he comes home from Rome enlightened about what it means to be in communion with Peter.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Ad limina messages

Pope Benedict and Cardinal Pell at the opening of Domus Australia
Source: The Australian

The Australian bishops ad limina visit has, I think, pretty much wound up now, and there are assorted reports around of interest.  In particular, the Pope's comments to our bishops touched on most of the key issues that need to be tackled in Australia.

The Pope's remarks to the bishops

The full text of the Pope's remarks to our bishops can be found on the Vatican website, and cover the need for sound catechesis and a commitment to the conversion of Australia; the need for liturgical reform; and the need for greater transparency, concrete action and fidelity to the faith in order to correct past mistakes. 

The Pope opened with some rather pointed remarks about the need to actually stay in communion with Rome, rather than having bishops inventing their own denomination a la Bishop Morris:

"This pilgrimage to the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul provides you with an important occasion to strengthen the bonds of communion in the one Church of Christ. This moment is therefore a privileged opportunity to reaffirm our unity and the fraternal affection which must always characterize relations in the College of Bishops, with and under the Successor of Peter."

The Pope then goes into a bit of positive spin, pointing to the increase in vocations (well, in some dioceses at least!) in the last few years, and the boost given by WYD and the canonisation of St Mary McKillop.  He uses the example of St Mary to point to the need for more emphasis on sound catechesis and mission:

"All the members of the Church need to be formed in their faith, from a sound catechesis for children, and religious education imparted in your Catholic schools, to much-needed catechetical programmes for adults. Clergy and religious must also be assisted and encouraged by an ongoing formation of their own, with a deepened spiritual life in the rapidly secularizing world around them. It is urgent to ensure that all those entrusted to your care understand, embrace and propose their Catholic faith intelligently and willingly to others."

VIS news particularly highlighted the Pope's comments on the need for liturgical reform, using the new translation of the Mass as an opportunity to ensure that Mass is "a moment of greater grace and beauty, worthy of the Lord and spiritually enriching for everyone."  The CNS report on the subject includes some entertaining (and extremely pertinent) remarks on the translation and some of the sillier opposition to it from Cardinal Pell.

On problems such as abuse and the failure of too many of our bishops to actually teach the faith and ensure their priests live it, the Pope pointed to the need :

"to repair the errors of the past with honesty and openness, in order to build, with humility and resolve, a better future for all concerned. I therefore encourage you to continue to be pastors of souls who, along with your clergy, are always prepared to go one step further in love and truth for the sake of the consciences of the flock entrusted to you [a message on AB Hepworth and others?], seeking to preserve them in holiness, to teach them humbly and to lead them irreproachably in the ways of the Catholic faith".

Other highlights of the visit appear to be:
  • the official opening of Domus Australia, pictured above.  You can watch the opening on xt3, and/or read the Pope's speech on the vatican website;
  • a coming statement on the Bishop Morris affair - Archbishop Wilson declined to comment in advance, but Cardinal Pell noted the inappropriateness of Bishop Morris' continued public teaching in Toowoomba, and Archbishop Coleridge of Canberra talked up the discussions with Vatican officials, which from the sound of it were largely a (clearly needed) lesson in the meaning of communion with Rome; and
  • the announcement by Archbishop Wilson of Adelaide (President of the Bishops' Conference) of a forthcoming 'Year of Grace' to start next Pentecost (a good idea, though now looking a little unco-ordinated with the year of faith starting next October!).
All up, some pretty important messages in all this....

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Taking comfort from one's friends...

There is a story in the Australian, highlighted naturally by Cath News, about Australia's Anglican Primate coming out in support of Archbishop Wilson and Msgr Cappo's handling of the Hepworth affair.

Quite why his opinion is relevant is not immediately obvious - AB Hepworth and his group are not members of the official Anglicans, but of a breakaway group that has long since left it.  So it would certainly have been an actual news story if the Anglicans came out in support of the Traditional Anglican Communion!

But in any case it is not hard to understand why the Anglican leader might want to join forces in solidarity with his liberal Catholic colleagues given that Archbishop Aspinall and his ecclesial community have likewise has come under for for the mishandling of sex abuse cases. 

Remember the sorry saga of Dr Aspinall's predecessor, Australia's Governor-General Peter Hollingworth, who resigned in disgrace in the face of allegations that he covered up abuse and failed to investigate claims?  And then in Adelaide there was a court case late last year in which the judge severely criticised the Anglicans for reemploying a convicted paedophile priest in the 1970s!  And it is just one of a number of problematic cases in an ecclesial community rent by divisions over women priests, homosexuality and much more.

Interestingly, according to the Australian, the Anglicans are also apparently rethinking their policy of automatically reporting all claims to the police:

"In an exclusive interview, the Anglican Primate said he had been swayed by concerns that the automatic referral to police of historic complaints - made by adults alleging abuse when they were children at the hands of priests or other church workers - could "disempower" the victim or even cause the person involved to suffer "re-abuse"."

A Year of Faith: Putting to bed Vatican II?

The Pope has been busy this week, even as he takes to using a moving platform, a la Blessed John Paul II, to reduce the amount of walking he has to do in processions etc.  The picture of him above (Reuters) is from a report in the SMH highlighting tomorrow's opening (which you can watch live streamed on XT3) of the Australian pilgrim house in Rome, Domus Australia, jointly funded by Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Lismore dioceses (hmm, what an interesting self-selection.  Could those, perchance, be the dioceses in this country seriously committed to actual orthodoxy???!).

Pope Benedict XVI has also announced a 'Year of Faith' to start in October next year on the anniversary of the opening of Vatican II in a Motu Proprio Porta Fidei.

Putting VII in its place?

It's hard to resist the idea that the intent is finally to put to bed the dominance of Vatican II  - and utter disregard for all that came before it - in modern Catholic thinking.

As such, it is another shot fired in the war between traditionalists and those advocating continuity on the one hand, and those arguing for a radical break in the history of the Church (liberals) on the other - the latest developments on which on the intellectual front are chronicled in the latest of Sandro Magister's Chiesa blog.

The Motu Proprio has three main themes:
  • the continuity of the faith and God's presence throughout the history of the Church;
  • the importance of good catechesis on the actual content of the faith, with a paean to the importance of the Catechism of the Catholic Church; and
  • the need to actually spread the faith through active evangelization.
Vatican II just one point in a long history...

The Motu Proprio itself of course does emphasize the value of Vatican II - when correctly interpreted:

"They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church's Tradition ... I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning.” I would also like to emphasize strongly what I had occasion to say concerning the Council a few months after my election as Successor of Peter: “if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church.”'

But it makes several comments on the history of continuing witness in the Church, in direct opposition to those who have chosen assorted arbitrary dates (the legalization of Christianity under Constantine; the dark ages; the triumph of nominalism in the fourteen century; Trent; etc) as the beginning of the start of the rot.
Indeed, in his Sunday homily this week VIS News says that he:
"...explained that the mission of the Church must be considered in the light of "the theological meaning of history. Epoch-making events, the rise and fall of great powers, all lie under the supreme dominion of God. No earthly power can take His place. The theology of history is an essential aspect of the new evangelisation, because the men and women of our time, following the tragic period of the totalitarian empires of the twentieth century, need to rediscover a global vision of the world and history."
Catechesis and knowing the actual faith
The Pope also stressed the importance of knowing the faith, presenting the Catechism of the Catholic Church as one of the key fruits of Vatican II.  He points to the importance of Catholics knowing the Creed by heart (something being undermined in most Australian dioceses by bishops and priests desperate to avoid having the laity say words like 'consubstantial' in the new translation of the Nicene Creed).
He suggests that:
"...the Year of Faith will have to see a concerted effort to rediscover and study the fundamental content of the faith that receives its systematic and organic synthesis in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Here, in fact, we see the wealth of teaching that the Church has received, safeguarded and proposed in her two thousand years of history."
The third key theme, unsurprisingly, is the need to actually spread the faith, and give a renewed focus on mission.  It is pretty clear I think, that this Pope is using the catchphrase of the New Evangelization to attempt to return the Church to its proper mission focus - again in stark contrast to those who for the last fifty odd years have advocated the view that any variety of faith (or even none) is just fine, all will be saved, and missionary work is old-fashioned and should be dumped in favour of action for social justice now.
Should be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Ad limina photos

I thought readers might enjoy a few shots of the current ad limina visit of our bishops, taken by Fr Brian Lucas.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Falling backwards into (almost) good policy...

It has been a strange few weeks in Federal politics in Australia. 

Almost good ones for our hapless government.  Sort of.  And they might almost get three in a row with the Queen's upcoming visit!

Talk fests

Last week, two talk fests - on tax reform and jobs - were widely reported as good press for the besieged Government. 

They might have made it look to some as if the Government was finally attempting to actually govern.  Yet they are surely destined to go no where.  Labor has had more than enough problems getting its mining and carbon taxes through; the prospect of a government with no political capital left whatsoever doing anything more in this area is laughable.  And the chances of anything more than a few tokenistic measures aimed at propping up (yet again) the manufacturing sector? Don't hold your breath.

Mind you, that's no bad thing - the lure of tax reform may keep an army of lobbyists on behalf of vested interests in jobs, but constantly fiddling with somethng that isn't actually broken is counter-productive to the wider economy.  And trying to prop up our manufacturing sector with stopgaps - we've been there and done that and it doesn't work.

Carbon reform

Then this week, the Carbon Tax was finally passed - and unlike the (policy-wise superior) Rudd Emissions Trading Scheme, actually has the support of the Greens and so faces no obstacle in the Senate.  In the end, the overall package looks like reasonable policy (assuming of course that one accepts that some precautionary action in this area is justified), involving some genuine tax reform via the compensation package

And refugees...

The biggest policy change of all though, is surely the Government's decision to revert to 'onshore' processing of refugees and use bridging visas to allow those who have completed preliminary clearances to live in the community.

The media are portraying it as a humiliating defeat for the Government, given its promise to overturn the High Court's decision to stop the proposed Malaysian refugee swap.  And from the point of view of being unable to implement its stated policy, that's true.

But the reality is that the final outcome is actually a sensible one, that we should get behind and support.

I personally thought the Malaysian deal wasn't a bad one.  Despite the neo-colonialist cultural imperialism implicit in the liberal hysteria about Malaysia's use of corporal punishment (surely not an alien system to many of the refugees concerned), the deal would have had a deterrent effect on the boats (at least until all the places in the scheme had been used up), potentially saving lives at risk on leaky boats.  It would have benefited the 4,000 refugees who would otherwise have been in indefinite limbo in Malaysia. 

Still it was only ever a stop-gap due to the limited number of refugees Malaysia agreed to accept.

It could have been Nauru...

And the outcome could have been a lot worse, particularly given reports today that the Immigration Minister and other members of the Labor Right actually argued for sending refugees to Nauru for processing.

Nauru was always a much worse solution in my view than onshore processing (or the Malaysia deal). 

As the Immigration Department has previously pointed out, it has no deterrent effect, given that anyone sent there and found to be a refugee would inevitably end up in Australia in the end. 

The refugees would have been in detention, not living in the community (such as that it is - Nauru is not exactly well endowed with infrastructure and opportunities). 

And, as the last round of processing on Nauru demonstrated, it would have been enormously expensive.

In fact the only arguments in favour of Nauru are political (putting pressure on Opposition Leader Abbott) and practical: last time around, Nauru's isolation made it much easier to restrict access to the refugees, and thus hide what was actually happening to them from the eyes of media and refugee advocates.  And given Immigration's continuing appalling mismanagement of refugee detention centres in Australia, one can see why the Department would be in favour of options that reduce the scrutiny on them.

So the strange combination of Abbott's determination to say no to anything put forward by the Government regardless of policy merit, and Prime Minister Gillard's repeated tendency to dig herself holes to fall into ('I'll never support Nauru') has actually led to an outcome that is perhaps the best of a set of bad options....

And needless to say, not even being stuck in Rome has prevented our bishops from taking the opportunity to put out a press release welcoming the decision.

Now of course, we must await the serious revamp of administration necessary to give effect to the new refugee policy - instead of relying on use of defense bases as a stopgap to house refugees, Immigration will (presumably) have to find some actual properties of its own.  It will have to set up systems to monitor and assist refugees living in the community. 

Can we expect the change in mindset and concrete action necessary to make it happen quickly and efficiently?  I wouldn't bet on it...

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Ad limina: it's on!

We should all pray especially hard this week for the Pope (photo above of him visiting a Carthusian monastery in Italy last week, from Reuters) this week.  And for grace to touch the hearts of our Australian bishops as they meet in Rome this week for their ad limina visit and listen to his teaching. 

You can listen to an interview with Bishops' Conference President Archbishop Wilson on Vatican Radio done shortly before they left.