Saturday, 31 December 2011

Vale 2011...

So recite the Te Deum as an act of thanksgiving for 2011 for a partial indulgence.

Recovering our culture: visit Canberra this summer!

St Sebastian, Raphaello c1501-2
currently at the NGA, Canberra
 Well, the year is ending more or less as it began with the battle over the preservation of Western culture hotting up this summer.

Unfortunately, all the signs are that we are losing...

All Christians are extremists?

Over at the Sydney Morning Herald, that newspaper is continuing it's relentlessly anti-catholic campaign  featuring a video program today implying anyone who does more than (as much as?) go to Sunday Mass is raving loony.

The program, called 'Christians Unplugged' looks at three US fundamentalists.  Its mostly what you expect from US fundamentalists as far as I can gather (I didn't bother to watch the whole thing) - a mix of perfectly justified concern about the direction of our society and horrors such as abortion, and extremist rants (at least from an Australian perspective!) about the role of Government.

The problem is not so much the program itself but the descriptor that comes along with it:

"A rare look into the lives of what some would call extremist Christians - a world that goes far beyond Sunday mass. We become absorbed in the lives of 3 people whose theology may be shocking. They are members of a growing movement that believes America has become morally bankrupt [are they suggesting it isn't?], Christianity has strayed too far from its roots [certainly an arguably proposition in many cases!], and government has taken over the church's role in people's lives [more contestible but not really far from many mainstream US conservative perspectives]. These believers think it's time to return to the basics, where everyone takes care of each other, and government has little place in their lives. Some of them even believe it is time to form an independent Christian nation. They are unplugged from civilization [viz the pro-homosexual pornographic, paedophilic secularist construct that the SMH supports?], existing as much as they can on the edge of society, living as they believe Christians did in the beginning."

Meanwhile in Canberra: handwritten

Meanwhile in Canberra the remnants of Western culture are being served up in exhibitions that attest to the vital importance of Christianity in shaping our civilisation.

The first is the National Library's fabulous free exhibition, Handwritten, of works from the Berlin State Library, including several early manuscripts, such as Bede's treatise on the calendar interleaved in a copy of St Augustine's City of God, a missal with a twelfth century chant version of Puer natus est pro nobis displayed, several beautiful books of hours and other manuscript treasures. 

While one can have reservations about religious works treated purely as art and artifacts, such exhibitions are in reality the only way one can readily access early manuscripts save perhaps in facsimiles and other reproductions, and these ones really are worth the trip to look at.  Though I'd have to say that the larger books could have been displayed in such a way as to make more of the page readily accessible to those who can read Latin and have some training in paleography such as myself!

The exhibition also includes manuscript copies of works by a number of great composers such as Handel and Mozart, along with recordings so you can follow along with the score.

Unfortunately at the time I went, rather than focusing on the more interesting exhibits (such as the documents written by Galileo, Copernicus and others) the hordes seemed to be determined to queue earnestly in order to view in order and at length the assorted documents written by various famous scientists, politicians, writers activists and others.  Personally, while I thought the little background explanations of who the people were were good, most of the documents themselves, unless one has enough languages and interest in some fairly obscure topics, or some expertise in handwriting, quickly became a bit tedious.

In the end, I jumped out of the queue and went around backwards, focusing my time on the music and manuscript sections at times when they were largely being ignored.  So my advice would be, do the exhibition backwards, making strategic strikes focusing on the manuscript and music collections when the crowds are low!  The exhibition has timed entry and you can book online (though don't forget to visit the 'Treasures' Exhibition' next door which also has some gems).

Don't forget to grab a couple of the free postcard reproductions, and take a look at the list of transcriptions/translations of the documents available at the online site before your second visit!  Because this is one worth going through a few times.

National Gallery: Renaissance Exhibition

The other big exhibition this summer in Canberra is the National Gallery's Renaissance Exhibition, which I got to see courtesy of a Christmas present (at $25 a pop its a cost one might think twice about on a very low income!).

Again a fabulous collection of mostly religious art work from the Academia Carrara, Bergamo, Italy.

In many ways though, this is I think a problematic exhibition because it was treated purely as art, with little attempt to reflect the origins of the pieces.  An altarpiece, for example, is displayed at great height.

The National Library makes some effort in its descriptors of the Handwritten Exhibition to explain what you were seeing (the annunciation etc) and at least suggest how the missals, books of hours etc were used.  The National Gallery, by contrast, on its supporting material mostly talks about painting techniques rather than the iconography behind the paintings.  That can be a little bit interesting, but unless you are an artist, pretty much equivalent historico-literary criticism of written texts: a tedious and obsessive focus on how the work was produced rather than what it is trying to say!

While the blurbs often give the names of the saints or biblical scenes depicted in various paintings, it doesn't attempt to give the stories depicted, or any information about why those particular saints were favoured by the artists or their patrons.  Perhaps some of that was in the audio tour tape (which I didn't bother getting) but I suspect not given the interest that my explanations to my companion seemed to be attracting.  Nor is the online site much help.

Nonetheless, my suggestion would be, take a quick look through the online gallery before you go, and brush up on the stories of key saints and the reasons for their popularity in Renaissance Italy (think St Jerome and the lion, the Book of Tobit, St Sebastian, St Catherine of Alexandria, St Appollonis and more).

All the same, there are some beautiful works in this exhibition which can certainly transport you as they are meant to do, to thinking of God. And some of my favourites actually included the secular works, especially the pictures respectively of a bored and a supercilious teenager! 

Know what you are getting, but still worth seeing.

Hmm, maybe the NLA management could take over the NGA...

Cosme Tura, c1475
currently at the NGA Canberra

Friday, 30 December 2011

Where are we up to? End of year roundup by State and diocese....

Rorate Caeli today has a post saying that the crisis in the Church is a crisis of the bishops.  It is an obvious point in a way: the fish rots from the head as they say, and nowhere I think has this been more obvious than Australia over the last year!

This is a time of change for the Australian Church though, with more than a few bishoprics already vacant and several more coming up soon.

Accordingly, I thought a bit of end of year state of play listing and performance appraisal might be in order in order to focus our efforts for 2012.

So please, do email me offline, or comment on this post, with any points you think should be noted as I embark on a state by state/diocese by diocese round-up of the state of the Church in Australia next week. 

Remember to be charitable - I'm particularly interested in the good things individual bishops have done; the things we want to see more of in 2012.

I'm also keen to highlight the great parishes (if there are any!) and priests that constitute our hope for the future - the ones promoting 'reform of the reform', that offer both the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form, or that are centres for Adoration, charity or other helpful initiatives.

And I'd be very keen indeed to highlight any key initiatives on the part of the laity.

But where there are problems that need to be fixed, let's be frank about them too.

Send in your thoughts and I'll see what I can come up with!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Woman dies after Melbourne abortion clinic visit...

One of the claims of supporters of abortion is that it is all about protecting the health of women.

Dangers to women of abortion

Shame about all that evidence of the adverse adverse physiological and psychological effects of abortion, constantly suppressed as best possible.

And then there is the problem of the abortionists themselves.

It seems almost inevitable that breaching the 'first do no harm' principle either takes a certain kind of person, or if they weren't already there, warps them.  Regularly carrying out deliberate murders after all...

Consider the latest news about the Croydon Abortion Clinic.

That's the one remember, where anaesthetist James Peters, who allegedly potentially infected 160 women with hepatitis C, worked.

The one whose owner, Dr Mark Schulberg, has previously been found guilty of unprofessional conduct for failing to gain legal consent to perform a late-term abortion on an intellectually disabled woman, has been found guilty of over-prescribing painkillers, and left a 40 year old woman fighting for her life earlier this year after he performed a late term abortion on her

Another death

The latest is that a woman died on December 14 following an abortion there.

The death of the woman will of course, get a certain amount of publicity.  We, as Christians, need to help people see also the thousands of other lives snuffed out there, and see them as equally valuable.

This clinic needs to be closed.

And Victoria's dreadful abortion laws repealed.

The Christmas message: welcome children into this world so that they might help transform it for the better!

In this Christmas season, let's thank God again for the woman who said yes to having a child and thus brought our saviour into the world.

Let's pray for more women to emulate her choice to say yes to life.

And pray for all the children who will never be, and for our society, bereft of the talents and difference they might have made to us all as co-creators with Christ in their own small or large way.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The ABC's Chris Uhlmann: the first right is the right to life!

I almost fell out of my chair last night when the ABC's Chris Uhlmann, co-host of the ABC's 7.30 Report, mentioned the right to life in the context of asylum seekers.

Uhlmann was questioning Opposition Spokesman Scott Morrison on the Opposition's refusal to cooperate with the Government to allow offshore processing, and questioning how they could continue to resist when lives were at stake given the series of tragic shipwrecks of asylum seeker boats:

Uhlmann: "And you knocked back a government measure which would have allowed offshore processing?

Morrison: We more than did just that, we made it clear to the Government over many months why we believed that the Malaysian policy is a failure, and it has been a policy failure.

Uhlmann: Because you're concerned about people's human rights?  And surely the foremost right is the right to life?"


Uhlmann does of course have good pro-life credentials - he once ran for parliament as part of an independent group on a pro-life ticket.

All the same, good to see that the 'Green-stalinist lumpenintelligentsia from Balmain-Glebe' don't always win over at our ABC.

And that journalists can occasionally use their positions to stand up for the good.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Asylum seekers: please, stop the press releases!

The last few days have seen yet another terrible tragedy in Australia, as a boat of asylum seekers headed here from Indonesia sunk off Java, leaving 180 people missing missing feared dead.

A vicious cycle

This is far from the first such tragedy, with the first refugee shipwreck to hit the Australian consciousness, 'Siev X' occurred some ten years ago, in the middle of the infamous Tampa crisis. 

Sadly, the public debate on this issue has hardly moved on from those dark times ten years ago, when refugees were portrayed as so dangerous that it needed a team of SAS soldiers to board the Tampa and ensure they went where Australia wanted them to go.

Instead of being portrayed as poor and desperate people, our politicians denounced them as evil queue jumping terrorists who were willing to sacrifice even their children by throwing them into the sea in order to achieve their objectives. 
And as per usual, a stream of extremely unhelpful press releases has issued forth from Church officials, this time a call to increase Australia's Humanitarian intake of Refugees, from Fr Maurizio Pettenà of the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office, and a call for offshore processing of refugees from Cardinal Pell.

Media manipulation

Ten years ago, the Tampa crisis was engineered to counteract the growing sympathy for refugees being held in detention so desperate that they embarked on long hunger strikes and sewed up their lips. 

The Howard Government carefully ensured that all reporting of the refugees at the time dehumanised them.

As each ship arrived, few details were ever given of who they were and what they were fleeing from. 

Instead they were labelled as "queue jumpers", or even 'economic refugees' seeking to bypass Australia's migration processes.

Instead of being portrayed as the desperate people they mostly really were, all the public was given was raw numbers of arrivals and (as it turned out utterly false) horror stories about them.

And those who came were quickly deported to places where the media was unable to access them like Nauru (does it have an actual government yet or still?) and that other bastion of democracy, Papua New Guinea.

Ten years on...

Ten years on, little has changed, except that the media has picked up Tony Abbott's line from where the Howard Government left off, doing its best to portray Australia's treatment of refugees as soft.  That's utter nonsense, as a recent Media Watch program clearly demonstrated.

In reality, Australia has completely failed in its duty of care of the refugees it insists on locking up, as witnessed by the constant stream of stories about the incompetence of the Department of Immigration and its contractors, with consequences in the deaths and serious harm to many refugees.

No surprise really, since despite a series of scathing reports on Immigration and claims that those responsible for past mistakes had been moved on, the same old faces keep on popping up over there.  Indeed its head was, until he went on extended 'study leave', a long time Immigration official and the Department's main representative on the Tampa Task Force ten years ago, Andrew Metcalfe.

Church officials: time to butt out?

In all of this, the Church has put out a steady stream of press releases - the vast majority of which can be characterised as at best naive, at worst utterly unhelpful.

Take the latest one from Fr Pettena of the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office:

“This is a time to reflect on what we can all do better together to protect people in need. There is a great need for Australia to increase its humanitarian intake. It is important to understand that people who risk their lives at sea do so because  more secure avenues are denied to them”, he said.

Increasing the humanitarian programme will not help!

Unfortunately, Fr Pattena's proposal to increase the Humanitarian intake will have absolutely no impact on people getting onto rickety boats in order to get to Australia.  There are (at least) three reasons for that.

First, Australia's Humanitarian Program does not take any refugees to speak of from Indonesia, where they get onto the boats, at all!  That's a deliberate decision, to discourage refugees from going there.  So unless tht policy changes, any increase in our intake is not going to discourage the thousands already in third countries where they try and stage to Australia.

Secondly, they aren't the same refugees.  Most of those trying to get here by boat at the moment are from Iraq and Afghanistan.  By contrast, almost all of the refugees we take by choice in our humanitarian program are from Africa (70%; 25% of the total are from the Middle East, but that's only because we count boat arrivals in the numbers of the humanitarian program!). 

Thirdly, even if we doubled the humanitarian program from the current 13,000, its a drop in the ocean - as Fr Pettena's own press release points out, there are around 33 million refugees in the world.

What about offshore processing?

Cardinal Pell has spoken up today in the Australian, calling for both parties to work to allow offshore processing of refugees as a deterrent. 

It is unclear just what he means here.  Is he calling on Tony Abbott to support the 'Malaysian Solution' that would, whatever its drawbacks, at least have had a genuine deterrent effect, as it guaranteed that those who come to Australia will not end up settling here?

Or is he reversing his previous position, and asking Labor to support Tony Abbott's insistence on processing in Nauru? 

Given the Cardinal's usual politics the second position seems more likely.  Yet how can this help?

Back in 2001 he condemned the 'Pacific Solution' as 'mean and hard-hearted'.  He was right to do so.

Sending people to desperately depressed 'nations' of 10,000 people like Nauru - where the supply of fresh water was entirely dependent on a single unreliable desalination plant, getting in fresh food supplies was complicated by Nauru's own dire financial situation and unpaid bills (you might remember that the Australian Government ended up paying a lot of extra 'aid' to Nauru), abandoned houses were hastily brought up to some barely minimal standard of acceptability even as the navy ships as slowly as possible carried the refugees there, and lack of hospital facilities meant 40 people had to be airlifted to Australia - was a terrible thing to do.

Worse, the 'Nauru Solution' utterly failed, in that most of the refugees ultimately ended up on Australia anyway, after costing the taxpayer at least three times the (already high) cost of processing them onshore.

Changing hearts and minds?

Changing Government policy on this requires not press releases, but real work to change hearts and minds in the Australian population at large.

And to do that means addressing the outright failings and shortcomings of Australia's resettlement polices.

Australians will never be all that sympathetic to refugees when it becomes apparent from court cases and other events that so many of them come here not to enjoy Australia's free and open society, but to convert it into an Islamic extremist one.

Australians will never be all that sympathetic if it seems that many who claim to be refugees can in reality go backwards and forwards between Australia and their home countries.

Or if it seems that their reasons for coming are more economic than political.

What can be done?

So here is my, admittedly fairly radical, suggestion: first, have Church leaders of all denominations join with our bishops in calling on the Government to give priority in both the Humanitarian Program, and in processing those who arrive by boat or plane, to Christians suffering from persecution in their home countries.

Ask the Government to give Christians faster processing, and fast tracking into the community, on the basis that church groups will even more actively assist in their resettlement process in future.

And link that up to a more intensive education campaign for non-Christian refugees in particular, on Australian values before letting them into the community.  In fact, perhaps all refugees could be asked to sign a commitment to respect Australian laws and values before being let into the community...

Then actively publicize that policy at home and abroad.

Finally, and most importantly, we need to launch a sophisticated campaign, using both the catholic media, the media more generally, and through public events and charity efforts, to engage ordinary Australians in interacting with and helping refugees so that they become real individuals.

I'm not saying, of course, that we should only care about Christians.  But with 33 million refugees, we can afford to pick and choose our priorities, and focusing our efforts in this area could serve several purposes (including highlighting and showing solidarity with the real problems of those suffering over there, as well as generating useful new recruits here, as the recent appointment of a former boat person as bishop testifies!).

And frankly, why should we be the ones lumbered with the results of endless warring between Muslim factions in the Middle East?
Of course, we would still get some boat people.

But it would interesting to see what a campaign portraying Australia as a Christian country determined to remain that way would do by way of deterrence!

Of course, that would require our Church leaders to be actually committed to the concept of Australia as a Christian country...they say the words New Evangelization - but do they really mean them?!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

The good news stories....

Some seasonal cheer is much needed, and here it is:
  • now retired bishop of Armidale, Bishop Luc Matthys celebrated his golden jubilee of ordination on December 2.  Ad multos annos!
  • evidence of the upsurge in priestly vocations continues with the first priestly ordinations for Wollongong Diocese in five years scheduled to take place yesterday.  Please keep these two men in your prayers;
  • WA's The Record is back online (more or less).  You can read an explanation for its apparent online demise in the form of a comment on my earlier post on this from Associate Editor Tim Wallace here (I leave it to readers to judge its plausibility.  No doubt true as far as it goes, but whether it is comprehensive is another matter! Personally I find it begs a few interesting questions, such as just why any bishop needs a Media Secretary, let alone one about to retire...!).  However, let's hope that this marks the start of a new commitment to a vigorous and genuinely catholic presence online, given that Australia is sadly underserved in this area...

Friday, 16 December 2011

The campaign to abolish religious exemptions...

Predictably, the case of lesbians who claimed to want to send a child under their guardianship to a catholic school has sparked a call to remove religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.

What a beautifully stage-managed little shot in this campaign.

Expect more, particularly given the naivety or worse of certain of our bishops, whose words and actions play into the homosexual lobby's hands.

This is the next big battle.

We need to get organised, and smart, now.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Same sex marriage and the Liberals: a conscience vote is coming...

Some seem determined to portray support for same sex marriage as restricted to the Labor party (and Greens).  The evidence is against them.

In fact it seems the only reason Opposition Leader Abbott managed to persuade Shadow Cabinet to oppose a conscience vote on this issue is that they went to the last election with a commitment to the traditional view of marriage, and don't want to undermine one of their main lines of attack on Labor, viz broken promises.

In other words, it is not principle that is dictating the Coalition position, but pure politics.

All the same it is far from clear that Mr Abbott's position on this issue will prevail.  Today a report that Liberal MPs will continue to fight for a conscience vote, accompanied by data on the rarity of Labor allowing a conscience vote but not Labor.

With seven prominent Liberal frontbenchers (including all of the obvious candidates to take over the leadership when the Liberals finally dump Mr Abbott) supporting a conscience vote - and thus de facto same sex marriage - expect more in the same vein...

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Holy Father, please terminate the mandate of Bishop Manning immediately...**

This morning the story was a classic example of the homosexual lobby push - an outraged series of articles because a child being raised by a lesbian couple was (rightly) denied a place in a Catholic school in Broken Hill on the basis that their lifestyle was incompatible with the faith.

It started as the story of a heroic parish priest and school principal resisting pressure and asserting that Catholic schools are about teaching catholicism, not condoning sin.

**And now it's looking like a staged stunt by the homosexualist lobby to expose the contradictions in the official positions taken by some of our bishops...

Bishop Manning orders the child to be accepted!

This afternoon the story has become yet another example of the capitulation of our bishops to the secularist, homosexualist lobby, with Apostolic Administrator Bishop Kevin Manning of Wilcannia-Forbes ordering the school to accept the child!

Bishop Manning's argument, apparently, is that the parents choices are not the child's fault. 


But parents are the first educators of their children, and they are already telling their child something contrary to the faith.

And thus the 'parents' presence collecting the child and at school events will be a bad example and source of continuing scandal to other families. 

It puts the school in the invidious position of potentially teaching the child to disapprove of its guardians, and leading to pressure for certain teachings not to be taught, or worse.


And the reasons why the bishop should not have intervened here are made crystal clear in the Sydney Morning Herald's article on the subject:

"The school's decision was met with outrage on the airwaves, while NSW Greens MP John Kaye labelled the move "offensive".

"Any school that receives public funding should not be allowed to refuse the enrolment of a child on the basis of their parents' sexuality," Mr Kaye said."

Enrolment guidelines?

Bishop Manning is apparently proposing to take the issue of an enrolments policy to the bishops conference.

Hopefully the issue will be clarified in line with Church teaching well before that.

**Update: Lesbians refuse the offered place...

And now the news that the lesbian couple concerned have turned down the place at the school the bishop demanded be offered. 

That is a sensible decision - but it is pretty hard to understand why they sought to send the child there in the first place.

So was it all just a stunt designed to expose the contradictions in the official positions being taken by a number of our bishops?

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Same sex marriage debate continues...

The same sex marriage debate, and the tactics the Church and others should take to counter it continue to be hotly debated both here and in the UK.

In Australia and the UK the debate seems now to be focusing on the problem of priests and bishops who either fail to teach all, with the sort of interesting rationalisations offered by Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ in relation to abortion, as well as the consequences of inconsistent teaching and promotion of error.

It is worth noting in this context that while no pope has ever been condemned for heresy, one has been posthumously condemned for failure to teach, namely Honorius I.

Will same sex marriage get the numbers?

On the positive side in Australia, the Opposition seem to be firming up with Shadow Cabinet rejecting a conscience vote, at Mr Abbott's insistence. 

There is some way to go on this yet though, since media reports suggest that at least seven senior Coalition members (note these names to vote against in future elections: George Brandis, Christopher Pyne, Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey, Bruce Billson, Greg Hunt and Nigel Scullion) pushed for a conscience vote.  The matter has to go to the party room next year.

Consequences of inconsistent teaching

But perhaps the most scandalous problem is the consequences of inconsistent teaching on this subject. 

In the UK context Fr Blake offers a powerful story of a convert homosexual couple amongst his parishioners who sought to live chaste lives in accordance with the Church's teaching, and rejected the option of a civil union because of past teaching on that subject.  They suffered severely as a result, with one of the partners excluded from the care of his dying friend, who was even denied a catholic funeral by his family.  Unsurprisingly he now feels deeply upset and betrayed by Archbishop Nichols' apparent support for civil unions.

It is all too possible for similar situations to arise in Australia.  In the ACT, for example, Archbishop Coleridge spoke out publicly against civil union legislation a few years back and took considerable flack for it.  How are those who took that position to heart supposed to interpret the new, apparently official position of the Bishops Conference?   Fortunately on issues such as this, individual bishops are free to take a different position in respect of their own dioceses, to the party line!

Strategy and tactics

Both the UK and ACT situations also indicate just why relying on the argument that civil unions give homosexuals enough is never going to win the day.  In both places, civil unions are permitted in some form.  Yet in both cases it has not been perceived by the homosexual community as enough, with the seconder of the motion at the ALP Conference being the ACT Government Minister Andrew Barr.  The bottom line is that what they are seeking is endorsement of their lifestyle as mainstream and acceptable, and nothing short of labelling their relationships as 'marriage' will satisfy that objective.

The problem for the Church is that where once its values were shared by the majority of our society, and its lobbying power reflected that, secularists are increasingly becoming the majority.  The gay lobby may only be a tiny minority but they are highly organised, well educated and moneyed, and have been effective in swaying a large number of people into thinking that this is a non-issue through the agency of 'useful idiots' such as the Greens.

In these circumstances the Church has to decide whether pragmatism should rule, or speaking out forcefully, even if that alienates much of its own base, might now be the better strategy.

The argument for pragmatism of course is the hope of at least mitigating the worst aspects of any resulting legislation (for example ensuring that priests will not be prosecuted for refusing to marry gay couples), or even holding the day for the moment at least.

Increasingly though it is a tactic that seems to be failing.

Perhaps we need to read 'the signs of the times' and consider whether a return to the intransigence on such issues of the early church might prove more effective in the longer run in the battle for souls even if we lose some major battles in the short term. 

Many bishops, in those early years of the Church, were forced to flee their sees and suffer other consequences for speaking up for truth. 

If we lose some key battles now, persecution will ensure, and the mettle of priests and people will be sorely tested.  It will have consequences for Catholic Social Service provision and many other aspects of life in this country.

But perhaps those times are coming again inevitably anyway, and the sooner we realise it, prepare and act accordingly, the better off we will be in the longer run.

The blood of the martyrs, after all, was the seed of the Church.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Gaudete Sunday...

To go along with those pretty pink (sorry, rose!) vestments, here is a little "Anglican patrimony" to bring cheer as we enter Ember Week of Advent:

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Fighting the good fight...

Sr Madeleine Lawrence turns 109
Photo: Andrew Sheargold

A few good news items to share.

First, thanks to Canberra Observer for this item: Mercy Sister, happy in her vocation and still recommending it to others, turns 109.

Secondly, the news that one of our bishops, viz Cardinal Pell, joined with twenty other church leaders before the ALP Conference calling on the Government to protect marriage last week.  This is the kind of ecumenism that is sensible - unsurprising however that so many erstwhile champions of ecumenism didn't sign up.

Thirdly, at last a defense of marriage from a bishop, viz new Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Peter Comensoli, that actually bases the case on the good of society. 

And another one from Apostolic Administrator of Brisbane Archdiocese, Bishop Jarrett pointing out that same-sex marriage is not a human rights issue.

Of course whether that is enough to counter-balance the contradictions and weaknesses in the case made by others, including the support for civil unions in comments by newly reappointed Bishops Conference General Secretary Fr Brian Lucas, or the outright reversal of the presumption in favour of the natural law argued by the ever unhelpful Fr Frank Brennan over at Eureka Street, is another matter.

On a not altogether unrelated note, I do love it when archeology throws light on or reinforces Scripture, disproving decades and even centuries of scepticism.  So how can I resist this item about archaeologists excavating what they think is Sodom and Gomorrah - and announcing that their demise was due to a "heat event"!  Hmm, and these days we have global warming....

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

A bishop-elect for Armidale!

Source: The Border Mail
Another new bishop appointment is out (I've set this to come up as the embargo is lifted), namely a new bishop for Armidale, Fr Fr Michael Kennedy of Wagga Wagga.

I've heard good things about Fr Kennedy, so congratulations to him, and let's hope this is the start of a good run!

Fr Kennedy was National Chairman of the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy (that's the good guys), and is aged only 43. 

He was ordained for the Diocese of Wagga in 1999 and is currently the Vicar Forane (Dean) of the Murrumbidgee Deanery.  He is also currently the Parish Priest of Leeton in New South Wales. 

Fr Kennedy started his priestly formation at Vianney College in Wagga Wagga and spent five years in Rome at Propaganda Fide, obtaining a Licentiate in Sacred Theology.  Prior to that he was a teacher at Xavier High School in Albury.

In addition to working as a Parish Priest in the Diocese, he has worked as a lecturer at (the excellent) Vianney College, teaching moral theology, Mariology and Church History.  He has also been Rector of St Francis’ Residential College at Charles Sturt University.

The official press release quotes him  as expressing both surprise and joy when receiving the appointment and hopes that he will be a true shepherd to the people of Armidale.

“I am both honoured and humbled to have been chosen to be a successor of the Apostles as the bishop of Armidale. It is my hope to be a true shepherd and teacher for the people of Armidale so that, together, we may grow in faith and build up the Body of Christ. I begin by asking the faithful of the Armidale Diocese to pray for me, and by assuring them of my heartfelt prayers for them”, said Fr. Michael.

Please keep the bishop-elect in your prayers.

And now for some good news!

I'm hoping for a little run of good news stories to balance out my recent run of whinges (late owls might want to check back tonight for one of particular interest around 10pm tonight!).

And just to get started here are a few items to warm us all up:
  • three men are being ordained as priests for Lismore tomorrow night - the first triple ordination in that diocese since 1967!  Do keep them in your prayers;
  • over a hundred women have registered so far for (free) retreat next Monday in Sydney given by the Sisters of Life;
  • there is a new edition of the excellent Monastic Diurnal, a Latin-English book of the day hours of the traditional Benedictine Office according to the 1962 rubrics, out from Farnborough Abbey (and the introduction to it even includes a nice plug for my Saints Will Arise blog - now if only the guys from blogger can fix the bug that is preventing it updating on other blogrolls!);
  • after more two and half years of attempting to force out Calvary (Catholic) Hospital in Canberra, the ACT Government has finally signed a deal for continued acute care there.

Bishops Plenary wrapup

The media release for the Australian Catholic Bishop's Plenary held on 22-25 November is now (finally!) out, so I thought I'd highlight a few items and point you to the full report and related links for those interested.

Transparency and lay engagement?

A few general points perhaps need to be raised though.

First, it is great that the bishops are actually getting out some kind of statement of what was talked about, even if somewhat belatedly!  So a thank you to all concerned.

That said, what we are getting is clearly highly sanitised.   I do think it would be possible to go just a little further in sketching out main lines of debate on at least some items in the interests of transparency.

Take this item on the Ordinariate for example:

"Archbishop Denis Hart, chair of the ad hoc Commission for the Personal Ordinariate, provided a verbal update on the present state of preparation for the introduction of a Personal Ordinariate to be known as the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross."

Well, I guess knowing its name is something new!  But what about likely timing? Will it be in this century?! And are there any practical steps that can be announced (it has been reported elsewhere for example, that the list of those to be ordained has been submitted and approved.  In the UK, the lists actually appeared on the Ordinariate website...).

Secondly, once again two members of Catholic Religious Australia attended as observers.  If religious get to have observers, why not the laity? What about rotating through some of the members of the assorted boards and Commissions?  And is Catholic Religious Australia really all that representative of religious anyway, given that many of the orders that are actually attracting vocations don't seem to actually support the liberal line it typically takes!

Thirdly, if the write up really reflects what took up the time, these must be amongst the most tedious meetings ever!  The report is full of purely information pieces that could surely be dealt with offline rather than taking up the valuable time of our bishops, along with assorted information presentations (though the one from a representative of the Vatican Bank on the state of the world economy sounds like it might have been quite interesting and pertinent) and feel good resolutions on subjects such as Indigenous Australians, Coptic Christians in Egypt,  Caritas, the Bali Nine, and so forth...

Year of Grace

Presumably though, in reality some of the bland writeups belie some substantive discussion and debate, for example on the Ordinariate, mentioned above, and the coming Year of Grace:

"Fr. Peter Brock, Project Officer for the Year of Grace, attended and led a discussion on arrangements for the Year of Grace. More information on the Year of Grace can be sought at"

Social Networking protocols
There are also a couple of press release out on new Social Networking Protocols for those in the Church. 
I have some doubts on some of these, given the scope for them to be overly broadly interpreted.  Take, for example, the instruction that Church workers who blog should:

"...should try to consistently represent the Church in a positive light and communicate evangelically using this medium."

Would Fr Z's blog, probably the most widely read Catholic blog around, pass this test?  Well, on one view of evangelization certainly.  But I suspect not in the view of most of our bishops, given that he is frequently critical of bishops who fail to teach or make odd pastoral decisions, pseudo-catholic newspapers that promote heresy and the like! 

On this topic, those who live in Sydney and/or have the money (or someone to bankroll them!) might wish to consider going along to the Catholic Media Congress 2012 (they have a facebook page), which will include as keynote speaker Mons. Paul Tighe of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.  Early-bird registration opens in January.

Internet and pornography and the clergy

A few recent cases in Australia and overseas no doubt promoted this timely item:

"Sr Lydia Allen RSM, from the staff of Good Shepherd Seminary, gave a presentation on issues relating to internet pornography and clergy. The Conference resolved to establish a working part to consider policy and action on this. Archbishop Philip Wilson, Bishop Peter Ingham, Bishop Brian Heenan, Bishop Eugene Hurley and Bishop Peter Comensoli will comprise the working party."

New evangelization website and newsletter
The report does highlight a new website for the National Office for Evangelization together with a new newsletter, both of which look (at a very quick glance!) quite good and useful.
Schools and school funding
There was also evidently some attention given to schools funding issues and the current reviews in progress.  The lobbying has already started with a website aimed at parents.
Pity more effort couldn't have been made to ensure that what is actually taught in those schools is actually Catholic - certainly the new Together as one at the altar website, providing resources for children in years F-12, will perpetuate the poor catechesis of recent years. 
According to the website, the purpose of the Mass, for example, is not to offer sacrifice (indeed if the word occurs anywhere in the website it certainly isn't obvious, it doesn't even make the glossary), but rather is about "remembering that Jesus is present with us". 
Vatican II, instead of being treated in a hermeneutic of continuity, one of a stream of Councils of the Church of relevance, is given pride of place as befits a spirit of revolution.  Its purpose, apparently, was liturgical reform (pity about all those documents apart from Sacrosanctum Concilium!).
And the key effect of its liturgical reforms was "recovery of the role of the congregation and restoration to them of the responses, songs, acclamations and prayers".  Hmm, firstly totally inaccurate in as much as the dialogue mass existed before Vatican II.  And really, can you actually find this as a key theme in SC?!  Talk about Spirit of Vatican IIism. 
It gets worse.  Consider for example our "fundamental Catholic values" - such as inclusion, liberation, reconciliation...yep, you've got the flavour.  

Some may be interested in assorted bureaucratic appointments - including the reappointment of Fr Brian Lucas as General Secretary to the Conference, the appointment of Mr Jeremy Stuparich as Public Policy Director, and the appointment of  Dr Paul Taylor of the Archdiocese of Melbourne as Executive Secretary of the Bishops Commission for Liturgy and Director of the National Office for Liturgy.

So if you are interested in the membership of Catholic Vocations Ministry Australia, Catholic Social Services Australia, and the activities of assorted other Catholic bodies, and various upcoming meetings and conferences, do go and read the media release.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Bishop O'Kelly supports civil unions?

I had hoped to bring my run of critical posts of our bishops to an end.

Unfortunately, it seems my assumptions about why our bishops haven't spoken up much thus far on the gay 'marriage' debate is correct - because today over at Cath Blog, Bishop Greg O'Kelly SJ of Port Pirie diocese has a piece that is problematic to say the least. 

On the plus side, it does condemn the ALP's decision to change their party platform and support same sex 'marriage', thus launching what one hopes will be the first of several stages of a campaign.  But on the negative side, it gives overt approval to same sex relationships!

No doubt such a piece will meet with some approval from its target audience of Cath News liberals.  But on the face of it, it directly contradicts Church teaching, and Vatican 2003 guidelines on the subject.

What the laity really want: transparency, genuine pastoral concern, and orthodoxy

I have to say I continue to find the state of the Church in Australia at the moment singularly depressing.

On the plus side, we have the new Missal, and the tantalising prospect of some new bishop appointments at some point.  We have some nice initiatives such as the women's retreat on offer in Sydney next week by the Sisters of Life.

Meanwhile, though, more than a week after the Bishops Conference meeting, still no sign of a press release on what was discussed and its outcomes.  Is even that small step in the direction of transparency made for recent meetings now being dropped?

And then there is the Year of Grace - I keep hoping for some substantive information about what is envisaged in it, and how we can become engaged in it so I can blog on it.  But so far all I've seen and heard are content-free puff pieces.

Above all there is the false ecumenism that still seems to flourish everywhere.  It was symbolised by the fact that Archbishop Bathersby of Brisbane's almost last act in Office was to hold a shindig with the Anglicans with whom there is surely no hope of reconciliation in the foreseeable future. 

And the ACU's interesting dip into 'interfaith dialogue' with a course on Jews and Catholics reading Scripture together this summer - because same words, must mean there is common ground, right?!

So where is the course that actually attempts to recover the Catholic traditon on Scripture?  That engages Orthodox perspectives for example, with whom we actually do have some common ground!

And which bishop has actively engaged with members of the Traditional Anglican Communion (save in the Ordinariate negotiation processes, themselves seemingly being hampered by the hardline adopted by Archbishop Wilson of Adelaide, and President of the Australian Bishops' Conference, on AB Hepworth) , or the SSPX? 

On the face of it, Church politics and political correctness seems to be driving out concern for souls.

Will gay 'marriage' get up?

But the biggest catastrophe on the horizon is surely the prospect that same sex sham marriages will be legalized in this country early next year.  Assorted punters are claiming the left/Green alliance don't have the numbers. 

I wouldn't be so sure!  Certainly, if Mr Abbott allows a conscience vote as he is apparently 'open' to doing, they might well succeed.

It is then, deeply disappointing to read Bishop O'Kelly's piece today.

Labor losing its way

Bishop O'Kelly does, it is true, condemn Labor's drift from fundamental principles:

"Where I grew up, a member of a railway family, to be Catholic was to be Labor; to be otherwise was almost an act of betrayal. We were brought up to be trenchantly loyal. The Party stood to defend and support working-class families through ensuring that justice triumphed over economic and political discrimination.

True Labor never envisaged an attack on human institutions such as marriage, through defining an anomaly as an equivalent. A same-sex union is never comparable to a family founded on the Sacrament of marriage.

To equate them is to devalue an institution which is the foundation of society, a vowed communion of father and mother and children.

The ALP is losing its foundation and identity as it becomes peopled and controlled by interest groups who join it in order to have their sectional issues declared as national policies."

The problem is how he then argues the case.  He makes the case about the effects of changing the nature of the institution, and the can of worms it opens in relation to polygamy and other pushes for liberalization.

The problem comes with these paragraphs:

"Most of us know people of same-sex attraction and are proud to name them as friends, or cherish them as members of our family. There is no difference in attributes like kindness and generosity, social conscience and honesty, religious faith. [!I beg to differ here.  The whole point of the Church's condemnation of homosexual practise is that it is a fundamentally selfish act, the pursuit of personal pleasure over the good of society.  More fundamentally, because it is a sin, it is a rejection of God.]

There must never be social or political discrimination against any human being.[We need to distinguish between just and unjust 'discrimination', and between discriminating against a person, and discriminating against what they do. ] There must be legal protection for same-sex couples to ensure appropriate justice in areas like property, inheritance, personal access, and so on. [These legal protections already exist in Australia, but the Vatican guidelines explicitly prohibit support for them.  That is because the protections around property, inheritance, and so forth were originally intended to protect procreation, not its rejection!]

But a same-sex union is not marriage, and can never be. Marriage is a vowed union of a man and a woman in a love from which human life can spring. A same-sex union is clearly not that, so this term marriage cannot be applied."

The clear implication of all this is that so long as you don't actually call it marriage, it is fine.  Civil unions, full steam ahead...

What the Church actually teaches

In the UK, Archbishop Nichols has stepped back somewhat from his earlier position to 'clarify' what he meant.  No wonder given he was reminded of  these statements in the Vatican Guidelines on the tolerance of homosexual relationships:

"Where the government's policy is de facto tolerance and there is no explicit legal recognition of homosexual unions, it is necessary to distinguish carefully the various aspects of the problem. Moral conscience requires that, in every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth, which is contradicted both by approval of homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons. Therefore, discreet and prudent actions can be effective; these might involve: unmasking the way in which such tolerance might be exploited or used in the service of ideology; stating clearly the immoral nature of these unions; reminding the government of the need to contain the phenomenon within certain limits so as to safeguard public morality and, above all, to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defences and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon. Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil."

It would be nice if our teachers actually taught the faith.

Monday, 5 December 2011

AB Hepworth: a (real) bishop?

Christopher Pearson's piece in the Australian (if you hit the paywall, search for the article via google!) over the weekend provided another round up of the unfortunate Hepworth case. 

It contains one interesting piece of information that hasn't been mentioned previously as far as I know, and that is that the Archbishop's episcopal consecration may in fact be valid (albeit illicit).

Pearson on the Hepworth case

Most of the opinion piece is just another rehearsal of the reasons why the Adelaide process turned into a long-running farce, to the point that when, after three years, the archdiocese was finally shamed into actually doing something on the matter, they managed to set up the process that he had asked for in such a way that Hepworth felt unable to co-operate with it.  And if I understand Pearson correctly, Archbishop Wilson has apparently continued down this path by refusing to provide the report of the investigation to Hepworth (where's the outcry on denial of 'natural justice' from the liberals in this case!).

Some of the article attempts to make the argument that the notwithstanding the norms set up for the Ordinariate prohibiting Catholic priests who defected from returning to ministry, the Archbishop should be treated as a special case, and was led by some in Rome to believe that he would be.

But the interesting really interesting part of the article is the story that Hepworth had himself consecrated as a bishop by a bishop of the Polish National Church (*Fr Chadwick of the Anglo-Catholic Blog says this isn't so, but rather the TAC as a whole claims valid orders from that group), and thus he may (subject to investigaton and verification) really be a bishop in the eyes of the Church.

Does this really help?

To be honest, sympathetic as I am to the man, I'm not really sure that this information helps Archbishop Hepworth's cause at all! 

In fact it just adds one more canonical obstacle to his reconciliation, given that consecration as a bishop by a Catholic priest without the approval of the Pope merits automatic excommunication.

The bottom line is still that it is one thing to fly from your diocese in horror at sexual predation and blackmail.  Quite another to then go on and defect to another ecclesial community, attempt to marry, divorce, remarry and get oneself ordained as a bishop.

Mr Pearson suggests that the Vatican has historically been reluctant to laicize bishops. 

That's true, but only because of the fear that they might do exactly what Archbishop Hepworth has apparently already done, and set up alternative churches that then might have valid orders.

Moreover, there is still the problem of the Archbishop's purported marriage(s).  The special permission for married clergy for Anglicans entering the Church to be married does not extend to allowing them to be bishops.


Mr Pearson concludes in his article "that Dempsey's role and Wilson's handling of matters will linger in the minds of Vatican bureaucrats, the Australian Bishops Conference and the laity of the Catholic Church in Adelaide, probably for at least the next five years".

I'm not quite sure of the significance of five years is (Archbishop Wilson is only aged 61!).  Does he mean until the next ad limina?  If so, that seems an unduly optimistic assessment given that the decisions in question were clearly made at the recent one.

Still, we should be praying for Archbishop Hepworth, for the grace to be reconciled with the Church despite it all; for the members of the Traditional Anglican Communion, that the Australian Ordinariate might finally move forward; and for the relevant members of the Adelaide archdiocese.  On the face of it, there is a lot of repentance and conversion needed on all sides here...

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Catechism for the confused: the 'Hebrew Bible' and the Trinity

I've mentioned a few times of late a debate on Church architecture over at Cath News that I've been participating in.  It has, I think finally ground, to a halt, mired in a sea of passe theology and outright error.  I'm not going to post any further over there since each time I post a new stream of interesting heresies of marginal relevance to the actual topic appear in response, along with a rejection of the idea that doctrine cannot change!

Still, the last response by 'Francis' over there did elicit a number of erroneous opinions that I think probably are fairly widely held, and would take more than the 250 words permitted over there to dispel.  I'll skip over his or her views on changing doctrine - I think we've all heard the liberal line on 'creeping infallibility' and the like ad nauseum of late. 

The more important (and widespread) problem raised by the post is the denial of the divinity of Christ.

So I've decided to take a bit of space here to set out what I think are the key issues on the Old Testament, the revelation of the Trinity, and the divinity of Our Lord.  Do jump in if you think I've got it wrong anywhere, or you think it could be said better, this is hard stuff!

One God, three (equal) persons

First though, the the set of statements I want to respond to.

I had stated that "The New Testament reveals the God of the Old Testament to be Father, Son (eternally begotten remember) and Holy Spirit. One God, three persons, all of whom participate in the actions of the others. It is perfectly legitimate to talk of Jesus giving the commandments to Moses, and so forth."

Francis responded:

"[1] Jesus is not the Father: never has been, never will be [true] [2]The Father is, always, greater [false]. [3]The Hebrew Scriptures know nothing of the Trinity [false]. [4] To say that Jesus gave the Decalogue to Moses is as nonsensical as saying that he sent Gabriel to announce his own conception or that he was talking to himself from the cross..[The first two statements are false] [5] To say that Jesus is God is not to say that God is Jesus.[false]"

Attribution: The Father is wholly in the son...the son is wholly in the Father...

Let us start with the first and last of Francis' statements. 

Francis correctly asserts that there are three distinct (divine) Persons in the Trinity.   So the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father. 

What the writer has clearly forgotten, misunderstood or never been taught, however, is that all of the attributes of God are common to the three Persons.  So we talk about 'the Father Almighty', but in fact the Son is also Almighty, as is the Holy Spirit (take a look at the Creeds and the decisions of Lateran IV). 

Moreover, each of the Divine Persons is one and the self-same God.  Thus the Council of Florence actually  defined that 'the Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Holy Spirit' and the reverse.  Though we might attribute actions to one Person of the Trinity, in fact that they are actions of all. 

So it is in fact one could say that not only is Jesus God, but God is Jesus, God is the Father, and God is the Holy Spirit.

One God, three co-equal persons!

Francis then goes on to assert that "The Father is, always, greater" [than the Son].

Well no, this is actually a condemned heresy.

The Athanasian Creed provides a good summary of the essentials of our Trinitarian faith:

"And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence.

For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost.

But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost.

The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal.

And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite.

So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty.

So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God.

So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord.

Even if one restricts one's comments to Christ's (by definition limited) human nature, one needs to take care: we do after all owe 'latria' or adoration to the human nature of Christ as well as to his divinity, the reason for devotions such as to the Sacred Heart. We cannot really separate Our Lord's Godhead from his manhood - a doctrine called the 'hypostatic union'.

The 'Hebrew Scriptures'

The root of Francis' problems in this area is surely in part the attitude to the Old Testament exhibited in the use of the term 'the Hebrew Scriptures'.

The term 'the Hebrew Scriptures' can be used to describe the Bible books that Jews currently use.  But it does not describe what Catholics consider to be the Old Testament, nor does it reflect how they should be interpreted.  Nor does it reflect the fact that the Church is the guardian of Scripture, the legitimate inheritors of the Old Testament tradition.

It is worth noting that the Catholic Church has accepted as canonical a number of Old Testament books that clearly had been part of the loose 'canon' of Jewish texts in use (as witnessed by their translation as part of the Septuagint) that late first century Judaism rejected (in part on grounds that has recently been proved to be spurious, such as the claim that the deutero-canonical books were not written in Hebrew) because they gave too much aid to the Christian cause!  You can find a useful set of slides summarising some key implications of the Dead Sea Scrolls for this debate and others here (there is an associated free podcast on the Sacred Page Blog a few weeks back, but I'm afraid I found the style of presentation too breathlessly evangelical to be able to get through!).

Indeed, the evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls shows that the text of the 'Hebrew Bible' seems to have undergone some manipulation in places in response to Christian use of certain verses (you can read English protestant theologian Margaret Barker's interesting summary of the state of play in biblical studies, including the conclusion that where the Hebrew Masoretic Text and the Greek Septuagint seem at odds, we should probably go with the Septuagint here, starting at page 13).

More fundamentally, one should not, as a Catholic, read the Old Testament in isolation from the New. 

I'm not saying that there can't be insights gained from studying the rabbinical tradition of Scriptural interpretation, no doubt the aim of the upcoming Conference organised by the ACU, "Jews and Catholics Reading the Bible" (though one has to wonder how many participants will take the appropriate care in separating out what is and isn't compatible with the faith).

But we do need to keep in mind that much of this rabbinical tradition developed after the fall of the Temple in direct opposition to Christianity and was specifically directed, in part, at refuting its claims (just as many works of the Church Fathers contain polemics against the Jews of their time: historians have plausibly argued that there was clearly a competition going on for the hearts and minds of those in the two 'faith communities' even as late as the fifth century AD).

Vatican II's Verbum Dei devotes a number of paragraphs to setting out that the Old Testament was deliberately so oriented that it should prepare for and the New, and clearly states that the New is hidden in the Old, and the Old is made manifest in the New (LG 14-16).  One cannot, in other words, legitimately read one in isolation from the other.

And in fact, of course, the revelation of the Trinity is strongly hinted at in the Old Testament in a number of places, such as the use of the plural by God to refer to himself in various places, the references to the Spirit (hovering over the waters of creation for example), and in the Messianic prophecies of the psalms and elsewhere, and so forth.

The words used to denote God in the Old Testament cannot be conflated with God the Father

The Old Testament then, does in fact contain the basis for Trinitarian doctrine, albeit in shadow only.  Nonetheless, it is a mistake to simply assume that all the references to God in the Old Testament are references to the Father alone.  We cannot definitively conflate the various words used to mean God in the Old Testament (translated variously as Lord, God, etc) with any one person of the Trinity. 

We can perhaps speculate as to which person of the Trinity was primarily acting in a particular case given their respective missions and the language used in particular references.  But the conventional, traditional view is that references for example to the fatherhood of God in various places in the Old Testament are not in fact necessarily to the Person of the Father, but to the quality of the fatherhood of God in general (See for example Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma).

Moreover, there are other important Trinitarian doctrines that come into play here as noted above, namely the unity of the Trinity, and their mutual penetration and 'indwelling'.  As Our Lord said in John 10, 'I and the Father are one'.  The result of this is, as the Fourth Lateran Council defined, all of the 'ad extra' activities of God (ie works of God outside of the internal relations of the Trinity, even the realisation of the Incarnation) are common to all the Three Persons.

So in fact, Jesus can be said to give the commandments to Moses, as did the Father and the Holy Spirit; Jesus could indeed announce his own Incarnation, not least because he was eternally begotten, he didn't just come into being when he was born! 

So there it is!

The key to keeping all of this straight is to keep repeating the words of the Creeds to yourself, and pull out the Athanasian Creed from time to time...

Friday, 2 December 2011

I do not want a goat for Christmas thank you very much!

Last year two of my siblings, instead of actual Christmas gifts, presented me with email certificates saying a goat or chicken or part of a well or something had been given to third world people on my behalf. 

I'm sure they meant well, but frankly, at the time I was hurt and outraged. 

I would have preferred no gift at all.

What are Christmas gifts supposed to be about?

Was that the wrong reaction?

It was prompted firstly because I don't see Christmas gifts by family and friends as an expression of almsgiving (though given my own paid employment challenged and thus mortgage-stressed state...) but rather an expression of our interest, care and affection for each other.

It is not, in my view at least, contrary to what a new post on the ACBC media blog suggests, about whether we really need another bottle of wine or not (though a nice bottle for Christmas would certainly go down well, and my Amazon wishlist is quite long!), it is not about how much we have or don't have. 

And I'm certainly not advocating spending vast amounts of money on useless consumer goods. 

But choosing (or better still making) a gift that reflects our knowledge of the other's interests and concerns, however tokenistic, is a gesture of love. 

Of course, we often guess wrong, resulting in those appalling presents that we quickly discard!  Yet there can be something endearing even in a badly chosen gift I think.

While I suppose one could see a charity gift as such a misreading of the desires of the nominal donor, I'm afraid I'm far more inclined to view it rather as an attempt to assuage guilty consciences at consumerist lifestyles, rather than an act of love.

Choose your charity carefully!

The main reason for my outrage though, was at the presumption of acting in my name without my authorization. 

Personally, I want to be able to choose where the alms I do give go myself. 

I want to be sure that 'my' money isn't in practice being diverted to support vast bureaucracies, used to promote abortion, or otherwise fall subject to the ills to which certain types of aid organisations seem to be prone. 

And then there is the choice of cause.

I was actually pretty tempted to respond in kind this year by announcing that the siblings concerned had helped support a nice traditional monastery through my offering for a mass for their conversion (neither are catholics)...However, like giving a goat to a needy village, I think this is one of those areas where it is better to just do it, rather than to tell everyone that you have done it.

Almsgiving for Christmas

That is not to say of course that we shouldn't make an extra effort to give alms at Christmas time - of course we should.

I'd be happy (though retailers would not be!) to see a push from our bishops and the various charities saying spend less on Christmas presents and give to Vinnies or Medicines Sans Frontiers (to compensate for another relative refuses to support them on the grounds that they refuse to get involved with contraception), or some other suitable cause instead.

But my take on it is, ignore the cutesy marketing push, this commodification of charity, and do it in your own name, don't presume to do it on behalf of someone else.

Unless, of course, you are really sure it is want they want and are on board with the cause.

But am I being unfair or missing something?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

And for a truly, astonishingly appalling state of the Church piece...

Please, dear readers, steel yourselves!

Then go and read the latest rant by Fr Eric Hogdens over at the ABC Religion site.

It is all about how the Church today is divided between the evil hierarchy and humble 'rank and file' liberal catholics. 

Yes well, a bit of quick stomping by the hierarchy might well be in order in this particular case!

But please, do leave a comment over there and say exactly what you think of it....

Gay marriage: time for our bishops to stand up and be counted

Noticeably absent thus far from the steady stream of press releases from last week's Bishops Conference is anything on a key issue dominating the headlines at the moment, namely proposals to legalise same sex marriage.

A critical weekend...

In Queensland, civil-union legislation has just passed after the ruling Labor Party allowed a conscience vote on the issue.  That makes four - Tasmania, the ACT and Victoria have all recently recognised civil unions.

And a bid to change the Labor Party's Policy Platform to support same sex unions is due to go to its National Conference which starts tomorrow.  Prime Minister Gillard has put forward a compromise position supporting a neutral platform stance, and allowing a conscience vote on the issue - but she may get rolled on even this compromise.

There is also pressure within the Liberal Party, according to the ABC's 7.30 Report, to allow a conscience vote.  And even if it isn't allowed, as ex-Senator Minchin has pointed out, some Liberals could well cross the floor on the issue.

And standing behind all of this are the Greens who plan to put their legislation up early next year and think they may even be able to get have the numbers...

So where are our bishops on all of this?

If ever there was a time to be out there lobbying, this is surely it.  Yet thus far there has been a deafening silence as far as I can see.

That's probably because many of the bishops actually support civil unions, as UK Primate, Archbishop Nichols has come out publicly to do.  Indeed, the pro-family petition the Australian bishops put together last year opposed same sex marriage 'noting' that alternatives such as civil unions were available!

It is hard to know whether the problem here is that the hierarchy really doesn't see the practice of homosexuality as both a serious sin and a serious threat to the health and future of our society; are concerned about the consequences of being targeted by the extremely well-organised and extremely vicious gay lobby; or the concern is that taking a hard line might drive more people, especially young people, out of the Church.

But really, the time has surely come to fight.

Normalising homosexuality

The problem for the pro-family lobby is that the gay lobby has used the techniques pioneered by the tobacco industry to get its message across. 

You don't need ads if you can use films (remember those cowboys) and tv shows (think Glee, Modern Family, etc) to present homosexuality as normal and good; practising homosexuals as heroes and role models. 

You don't need ads if you can intimidate the opposition with cries of homophobia, and work to cut off the sources of income of anyone who dares question the PC line, as has occurred in the recent paypal campaigns against various anti-gay power lobby groups in the US, and past campaigns around online advertising in Australia.

But success is possible - why this fight matters!

In the case of big tobacco, dogged campaigners fought the good fight, and continue to make considerable headway.  In the country which has had the most vigorous anti-smoking campaign targeted at youth over the last decade for example, namely Canada, back in 1999, 28% of 15-19 year olds smoked.  By 2010 the prevalence rate had dropped to 14%.  That's an impressive result that shows that attitudes can be changed even in the face of well-organised resistance.

We need that kind of effort here. 

In the end, the issue is not just the defence of the family.  That's important, but in the end, a lot of other things need to happen to claw back the centrality of the family in Australia - action on divorce law, action to reduce the number of sole parents, and to promote adoption instead of abortion for example.

Legalization of same sex marriage would erode the family further, and could be the proverbial straw, but more likely will just continue the process of slow erosion.

We need to be upfront in recognising that the real issue at stake here is, as gay lobbyists make clear, the idea that homosexual relationships are of equal value as heterosexual ones.  They aren't, and we should say so.

Why we should oppose homosexual relationships

Homosexual practice may not kill our bodies like smoking does (unless of course one happens to contract AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases as a result). 

But it certainly does kill souls.  Which is why our bishops should be standing up to be counted on this issue.

And it has serious long-term consequences for society on a number of levels.

It embodies the selfish pursuit of individual pleasure at the expense of the good of society mentality.  This is the mentality (and behaviour) that characterised the Roman Empire in its dying days - we need to learn the lessons of history, not repeat the mistakes!

And it promotes lifestyles and relationships that are far more likely to be fragile, likely to involve poor health, and likely to be promiscuous, as a recent Mercatornet article reviewing the evidence on same sex adoptions points out.

What we can do?

In the very short term, a good start would be prayer!  Even if you are not a Labor supporter, the outcomes of their National Conference will have an impact on all Australians.

Secondly, now is surely the time for a renewed push against activities within the Church that seem to validate homosexual practice.  Yes, Your Eminence, Cardinal Pell, that does mean closing down that 'Acceptance' Mass at Newtown in Sydney.

Instead, perhaps our bishops could consider founding an apostolate along the lines of Courage, which helps those suffering from same-sex attraction live a life of chastity.

Thirdly, it would be good to see some pastoral statements from our bishops on this subject.  And a sermon or two (preferably supported by some solid, orthodox sermon notes) from all priests so we all know the arguments would be good.  Perhaps you could suggest this to your own bishop...

Fourthly, get ready to lobby your MP and Senator again - come the new year, this issue will go red hot.

Finally, we need some activists to get together and develop a real longer term strategy, drawing on the lessons from other successful campaigns, because even if the Greens don't get their way this time, this issue will keep on coming back until we win back the hearts and minds firstly of catholics on this issue, and then of society more broadly.

**Resources on same-sex marriage

In fairness, A Priest Down-Under has pointed to a Melbourne Archdiocesan website on the subject.   If there are other examples of such diocesan initiatives, do let me know...