Tuesday, 31 January 2012

So faced with mass disobedience, what would you do?

Yesterday's post on Toowoomba has prompted an interesting debate on what the Church should do when faced with mass disobedience on the part of priests and other church functionaries, supported in many cases by a large number of the laity. 

It is an debate that is relevant to any number of dioceses in Australia, and around the world, so I think it is worth discussing.

Do you step in quickly and take tough action, including and up to excommunications?  Or do you, as commenter 'carob-molasses' suggests, go softly softly in the interests of keeping the diocese going?

Change is possible

Let me put my cards on the table.  I do think it is possible to turn things around in a diocese like this.

I don't think it is acceptable to let things run on just because people might not be out and out heretics.

We don't just want a church that stumbles on somehow, we want one that is genuinely flourishing, and one rooted in orthododoxy and orthopraxis, not error.

Obedience is one of the most fundamental virtues of our faith.  Without it we are not truly Christians.

It won't be easy of course, and not everyone will be converted. 

So what would you do in practice?

Now I don't know what Bishop Finnigan has actually done in Toowoomba, or what (the few orthodox?) bishops in Austria are doing, for example. 

They may well have done some of this already.  But I think it is worth trying to compile a list, based on what has worked elsewhere, for those dealing with such problems to consider!

I'd also note in this particular case, Bishop Finnigan for example may be restricted to some degree in what he can do as he is Apostolic Administrator, not the actual bishop of the diocese.

Still, here is my list of suggestions, but please do add to the list!

1.  Get everyone engaged in prayer for reconciliation.

Ask every parish to have at least an hours Adoration each week to ask for the grace of renewal for the diocese. 

2.  Find some contemplative prayer warriors...

Find a good contemplative monastery and ask them to pray for the diocese - ideally ask them to send a few monks or nuns to live in the diocese for a period, and provide the necessary support to make this possible.

3.  Find the orthodox people in the diocese, and get them to help.

Form an informal ginger group of those who have been seeking change, and get them to help identify the problems and come up with solutions.   You need a counterweight to the dissenters!  The challenge will be to build and develop this group into a positive force who can bring in others to support the cause, turn them from a minority to a majority.

4.  Isolate and neutralise the bullies and troublemakers.

In a situation like Toowoomba a few will be the active ringleaders of disobedience - many more will be simply intimidated into going along with the seeming majority.  So try and find if there is some common ground - something on their agenda that is useful and achievable that their energies can be redirected to.  Or whether some need a change of job or to gain a bit of perspective by some time out of the diocese...

5.  Make it clear that you are not acting alone

On the one hand, bishops are the leaders, the authentic teachers for their diocese.  But they are part of the universal church, and they can draw on outside help! 

Make sure your diocesan website sells the message that you are part of the universal church.

Bring in people like Cardinal Pell and other strong speakers (clerical and lay) to help preach and teach.  Yes, they might get a bit of flack, and so might you, but the more different voices say the same thing, the more chance the message will eventually get through.

Beg and borrow some solid priests to help out from other dioceses and/or overseas.

6.  Create a clear, positive agenda and push it hard/catechesis

Set up an engagement process to help the people of the diocese see (or at least enough of them) what the (real) problems are, and embark on some solid catechesis, including for priests.

An obvious starting point for most dioceses in Australia might be why the ministerial priesthood is essential, and what can be done to encourage more young men to try their vocation!

7.  Make it clear that ongoing dissent is not acceptable.

A positive agenda though is always going to be swamped if the dissenters are allowed free reign to continue their campaign.  So I do think a formal warning, and prohibitions on using church facilities/promoting dissent is necessary. 

And if that doesn't work, then there are canonical steps that can and should be used to bring about repentance.

Other suggestions?

Monday, 30 January 2012

No healing in Toowoomba: the case for some suspensions, excommunications and interdiction

A reader sent me a copy of the Toowoomba Cathedral Bulletin for this Sunday.  Seems things are as bad as ever there, with a self-appointed 'leadership group' continuing to stir up trouble.

In particular, Fr Ian Waters’ “Canonical Reflection” and Bill Carter’s Memorandum were both available for distribution and all were encouraged to take a copy after Mass.

And then there was this item in the bulletin:


Since the removal of Bishop Morris in May 2011, a group known as the Toowoomba Diocesan Leadership Group has met on several occasions (May, June, July and November in 2011 and more recently 17 January 2012) to respond to this action by Vatican authorities. This Leadership Group comprises all Priests, all Pastoral Leaders, all Directors and Executive Officers of Diocesan Agencies and Ministries, and all members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Diocesan Pastoral Administration Committee and the Diocesan Finance Council: in effect, key people from across the Diocese in positions of pastoral leadership.

The Leadership Group has been in regular contact with the Bishops of Australia and with Bishop Morris. In the latter part of 2011, Justice William Carter, a retired Supreme Court Judge (Qld), was asked to provide a legal opinion on the process resulting in the removal of Bishop Morris. Justice Carter was provided with copies of documentation between Bishop Morris and the Vatican authorities. These included the Congregations for Bishops, for Worship and Sacraments, and for the Faith, and ultimately, Pope Benedict. Justice Carter provided his opinion in late October 2011.

In November 2011, Fr lan Waters, an eminent Canon Lawyer in Sydney, was approached to provide a canonical (Church Law) perspective on the legal (Civil Law) opinion of Justice Carter on the process involved in the removal of Bishop Morris. Fr Waters provided his opinion in mid December 2011.

Both opinions have been given to Bishop Morris. Both opinions have been tabled for discussion at the January 2012 meeting of the Toowoomba Diocesan Leadership Group. Both opinions have been sent to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) and through the Conference to all Bishops in Australia. Both opinions are to be sent to the three Congregations (noted earlier) in the Vatican in the coming week. Justice Carter and Fr Waters have both given recent and extensive interviews on the ABC. Bishop Morris has agreed that this legal material be released to the wider community.

Copies of these documents are available on the front and east tables."

Friday, 27 January 2012

Understanding those Mass attendance figures: some invidious comparisons*

A reader asked me a few days back to explain the percentage of Catholics/percentage attending Mass figures I've been citing in my diocesan profiles. 

I imagine it has others puzzled too, so here is a bit more on what (I think!) it means, and apologies for the delay in responding!

The figures - step one: overall mass attendance rates

In 2006, a census was done of those who attended Mass across four Sundays in May.

It found that 708, 618 people attended mass or a Sunday Assembly in the Absence of a Priest on average on those Sundays.  Thanks to the official census, we know that in total there were 5, 126, 884 people claiming to be Catholics in 2006.  Divide the first figure by the second and you will get 13.8%. 

So on average, around 14% of Catholics turn up at Mass each week.

Step 2: By diocese

But of course the Mass attendance rates vary by diocese.

The Pastoral Projects Office of the ACBC hasn't, for some strange reason, at least as far as I can find, released the percentages by diocese.

But it has provided a table, in the recently released See I am doing a new thing. A report on the 2009 survey of Catholic Religious Institutes in Australia (the relevant table, which uses 2006 data, is on page 17), which, in conjunction with the National Sunday Mass Attendance Report, enables you to calculate these.

What the table I've been using (from the Report on Religious Life) actually provides is a comparison between the proportion of Catholics in Australia and the proportion of Mass goers in Australia.

Take a diocese like Broken Bay.  It has 4.2% of Australia's Catholics located in it.  So 4.2% of 15.1m adds up to 215,329 people. 

It also has 4.2% of mass attendees.  So that is 4.2% of those 708, 618 attenders across Australia, or around 29,761 people turning up to Mass each week in Broken Bay.

Divide 29,761 by 215, 329 and you get 13.8% - in other words, if you have the same proportion of Catholics as you have of Mass attendees then Mass attendance rates for the diocese are exactly on the national average.

What this means is that if the proportion of Catholics in the diocese is, like Sale 2% of all Australians, and the proportion of Mass attendees is only 1.7%, the proportion of Catholics going to Mass in the diocese is a lot lower than 13.8% (in fact around 11.7%).  To see just what the proportion of Catholics who turn up at Mass each week at mass then, you have to do the arithmetic above.  And I admit I've been a bit lazy (or short of time!) and haven't bothered to do the calculations for each diocese up until now.

But the results are quite interesting (if depressing), so here are a few.

Comparing the proportion of Catholics with the proportion of Mass attenders

Keep in mind though, that they are just different ways of presenting the same data.  And that they are little old now.  Do let me know if you think I've made an error though. Note also that I'm using the rounded percentages from public reports, so the figures are not exact).


Perth: 14.4% of Catholics attended Mass (diocese has 7.4% of all Catholics; 7.7% of Mass attenders)
Broome: 6.9% attend Mass (0.2% of Catholics; 0.1% of attenders)
Bunbury: 9.6% (1% of Catholics; 0.7% attenders)
Geraldton: 10.4% (0.4% of Catholics; 0.3% of attenders)


Sydney: 18.3%
Wagga Wagga: 16.1%
Broken Bay: 13.8%
Wollongong: 12.6%
Armidale: 12.5%
Bathurst: 11.7%
Maitland-Newcastle: 10.1%
Wilcannia-Forbes: 9.9%
Canberra-Goulburn: 13.3%


Melbourne: 15.3%
Ballarat: 14.5%
Sandhurst: 12.3%
Sale: 11.7%
Hobart: 8.1%


Toowoomba: 13.8%
Brisbane: 11.1%
Rockhampton: 10.9%
Townsville: 8.9%
Cairns: 8.8%

South Australia/NT

Adelaide: 12.5%
Port Pirie: 13.8%
Darwin: 9.6%

I'll let you ponder further what these numbers really mean, although I have to say the Sydney (18.3%) vs Broome (6.9% comparison) is pretty stark.   Of course, the clearest message is that five decades of the spirit of Vatican II have created a nation whose Catholics are mostly of the lapsed variety...

**I've added the most rest of the figures in and provided a more direct link to the report whose figures I'm using since some readers don't seem to have been able to locate it.

PS aCatholicas, I am not a 'conservative blogger' either politically or theologically as you would discover if you read this blog a little more closely.    If you must label me, traditionalist committed to genuine renewal within the Church would be closer to the mark.

Armidale: prayers for a Bishop-Elect please

Continuing my series of diocesan profiles, today Armidale.

Source: ACBC

Armidale's very new bishop is yet to be actually consecrated (or ordained as a bishop if you prefer!) - that is scheduled to happen on 9 February (the principal consecrator will be Emeritus Bishop Matthys, with Cardinal Pell and Bishop Hanna of Wagga Wagga as co-consecrators).

Ranked twenty-third in terms of Catholic population, Armidale had around 43,223 catholics in 2006, and takes in some 91,500 sq kms (NB For this post I've relied, where there is a choice, on figures from a recent diocesan press release distributed via the Bishop's Conference media group - the figures for the diocese's size and number of parishes don't quite line up with the I assume now outdated data on the Catholic Hierarchy website).

Transparency and accountability

In a press release on the upcoming consecration of Bishop-Elect Kennedy, Bishop Matthys said that he was satisfied that he will be handing the Diocese of Armidale to his successor in a good position:

"More clergy are needed but we're not doing too badly. Organisationally and financially we are not facing any difficulties."

Of course, it is hard to provide any kind of independent assessment of that statement,  due to the strange lack of a diocesan website for Armidale, the only holdout amongst Australian dioceses (despite a long running campaign on the part of the Cooees). 

Hopefully this lack will be swiftly rectified under the new regime (though I rather suspect this series is making some other dioceses wish they were likewise free of that affliction called the internet)!

It is true though that the Catholic Schools Office website does have some interesting and useful historical information on parishes, schools and religious communities (as well as the very cute map below depicting the activities of the region):

Source: Armidale CSO website

In 2006 the diocese had 32 priests in total, slightly up on the number when Bishop Luc Matthys took office in 1999.

It has 23 parishes, each of which has a priest - but many parishes contain several churches, some of which are administered by religious sisters.

Despite some significant efforts to promote Sunday observance Mass attendance rates in 2006 at least were below the national average - the diocese had 0.9% of the nation's Catholic population resident, but only 0.7% of those who attend mass regularly (perhaps the absence of a website makes it difficult to find out when Mass is actually on!).

Nonetheless, Armidale has a reputation for orthodoxy and orthopraxis under Bishop Luc Matthys, who celebrated his golden jubilee in December.

I could only find two parish websites on the net.  One was the fairly standard kind of thing you'd see in any diocese.  But the home page of Tamworth's St Nicholas bears clearer witness to the diocese's conservative reputation:

"...Accordingly, we strive to be: a Catholic Church Community - Faithful to the teaching of the Church - Faithful to the Eucharist and to Prayer - Faithful to the Catholic way of life-sharing what we have with those who are in need!"

And its bulletin bears that out, with the parish offering substantial confession times in each of its three churches, a note on which week it is in the Liturgy of the Hours along with the weekly calendar of saints feasts, and other positive indicators of a vigorous parish life.

Liturgy and religious life

I'm led to believe there is a regular Latin Mass held in Armidale - but there don't seem to be any details of it on the web.

There are several active religious orders present n the diocese, but as far as I can see, no contemplatives.

The bishop-elect

Source: The Irrigator
Bishop-elect Kennedy, aged 43, seems set to build on the strengths this diocese already has.  A press release quotes him as follows:

"Bishop-Elect Kennedy said that his initial reaction to his appointment was one of excitement. “I thought I should be nervous. Yet, I felt at peace with the news. The number of people assuring me that I am in their prayers has contributed to that peace," he said. "I am both honoured and humbled to have been chosen to be a successor of the Apostles as the Bishop of Armidale."...

"My age doesn't concern me. I gave my life over to God and this appointment, at this point in my life, is God's Will. My young age presents one quirk, in that I will be the spiritual Father to the Priests of the Diocese, many of whom will be much older than I," he said. "As a 'Gen-X' Bishop, I see it as a positive that I will have an evident ability to relate to younger generations. However, we can all understand one another across generations. I hope that I am seen as somebody who can understand and communicate with teenagers when I am 75."

The youngest of nine children, Bishop-Elect Kennedy said he feels blessed and truly grateful that he grew up in a loving, secure, stable, caring family. "It saddens me that this is less common today."

"My parents came from farming backgrounds. I grew up in the rural Riverina locality of San Isidore near Wagga Wagga. My father was a public servant in Wagga and my mother was a nurse until she became a stay at home mum."

Bishop-Elect Kennedy's education began in a small, two-class country school at San Isidore. He then attended a school run by the Christian Brothers in Wagga. "I was so happy with my schooling that I decided to become a school teacher myself. I taught for three years at Xavier Catholic High School in Albury.”

He then commenced studying to be a priest. He began his priestly formation at Vianney College, Wagga and completed his studies in Rome at Propaganda Fide, obtaining a Licentiate in Sacred Theology.

Ordained into the Priesthood in the Diocese of Wagga on August 14, 1999, he was the assistant priest in Griffith (1999-2000); Rector of St Francis’ Residential College at Charles Sturt University (2001-2003); assistant priest in Albury (2004-2006); and the Parish Priest of Leeton since 2007. His teaching background was one of his qualifications to be a Lecturer at Vianney College where he taught Moral Theology and Church History.

He was the Parish Priest of Leeton, NSW, and the Vicar Forane (Dean) of the Murrumbidgee Deanery when his appointment as Bishop of Armidale was announced in December last year."

Please keep Bishop-Elect Kennedy in your prayers.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Happy Australia Day: now let's get serious about converting Australia!

Today is Australia's National Day, and so a day to relax and celebrate our achievements as a nation.

But also, I would suggest a day to reflect on where we are headed.


Some of our bishops have (inevitably) used the occasion (yet again) to call on the political parties to work once again to develop a sensible refugee policy.  Spectacularly bad timing unfortunately, as no sooner had their press release come out then the Liberal-Coalition walked out on the joint talks that had been underway amidst recriminations about the cost of reopening Nauru processing and sharp words came forth from Indonesia causing Opposition Leader Mr Abbott to entrench himself even further on the Coalition's 'tow back the boats' lunacy.

Couldn't we have a positive message for once?  Australia is one of the great countries in the world to live in, and does so much to try and make the world a better place, and just now and then it would be nice for someone to say so.

But if we do have to focus on the challenges ahead, really, despite the high profile of the issue, how we treat refugees is surely a marginal one given the small number of people actually involved.

We have far bigger problems.

Where for example is the call for Australia to recognise the most important right of all, to life? 

Or why not take the opportunity to reiterate the importance of defending the traditional family in order to safeguard the future of our society?

Or perhaps to support the case at least in principle for recognition of  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Constitution, in line with the recently released report?  Small beer and purely symbolic at one level, but also an important recognition that the situation of our Indigenous population remains a far greater national shame, in my view at least, than our treatment of refugees.

Symptoms not the causes

In reality, I think it can be argued that virtually all of the social and economic problems Australia faces are in the end symptoms of a bigger problem, namely a self-indulgent, materialistic culture that puts the individual ahead of the good of society as a whole and rejects the reality of God.

The solution then, is not just nice words and lobbying on particular topics - we the laity do need to take charge and do that of course, consistent with our vocations - but also the adoption of a more strategic approach, viz converting Australia.

And on that front, it is nice to see that the Archdiocese of Sydney's new Lenten resource is directed exactly at that end, namely the promotion of the New Evangelization.

Make Disciples of all nations - the New Evangelization

Make Disciples of all Nations is based around the readings for Year B (in the Novus Ordo calendar). 

Cardinal Pell's introduction to the resource talks about the establishment of the new  Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation, of which he is a member, and goes on to say that:

"In undertaking such a significant step His Holiness has provided us with a timely reminder that it is the duty of the Church “always and everywhere” to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the Church is missionary “by her very nature, since it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father” (Ad Gentes, Vatican II, Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church, 2).

In providing us with this reminder Pope Benedict is aware of the many challenges facing us in evangelising those people who have not heard the Gospel. Furthermore, there are many who have heard the Gospel, and indeed have been baptised, but no longer practise the Christian Faith. [Of course there is one more important group noticeably missing Cardinal Pell's summation that we shouldn't skip over, namely those who are practising Christians, but lack the fullness of unity with Peter!]  In some cases, they have abandoned it altogether. As a way of meeting this challenge, in his address to the new Council in early 2011 the Pope asserted that Christians must ensure that their style of life is “genuinely credible”. He adopted as his own the words of Pope Paul VI, who stated “It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelise the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of the world, in short, the witness of sanctity” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41)...

The general introduction to the resource by the (seemingly anonymous) author of the resource goes on:

The present generation of Christians is called and sent now to accomplish a new evangelisation among the peoples of Oceania”, so wrote Blessed John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation, “The Church in Oceania” (13). Whilst the call posed and still poses great challenges, the Holy Father noted that, “it also opens new horizons, full of hope and even a sense of adventure.” It is an exciting time to be Catholic. Many Australians, in the realisation that materialism has failed to satisfy their deepest desires, are searching for fullness of life encapsulated in truth, goodness and beauty. As Catholics, we know that these are found in the person of Jesus Christ. We therefore have a wonderful opportunity to invite others into communion with him and each other. [Good!  Christianity unity, viz bringing all into the Catholic Church in its fullness is acknowledged!] This is the mission we have been given (Mt 28:19-20)!

Yet we are mindful that sharing our faith in Jesus with our friends, associates, family and society is difficult. At times, we are all too aware of our deficiencies, we feel embarrassed to “go against the crowd” and take the risk of standing out from those around us. Perhaps we do not know what to say or are afraid that people will ask questions of us that we cannot answer....

During this time of Lent, let us acknowledge our deficiencies and failings and draw closer to Jesus reflecting upon his infinite love and mercy and drawing upon his strength. Let us resolve to become more like him. Let us reflect upon his boundless love for us and all of mankind in dying for us thereby reconciling us to himself and each other. In so doing, let us seize “the opportunity of bringing the Gospel, by witness and word, to all people and nations” (Blessed John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 92). 

What a good resource looks like...

Like the Canberra-Goulburn production I reviewed recently, this is a multi-media production.

But unlike the Canberra one, this resource does not wallow in a warm fuzzy cloud of pseudo-ecumenical niceness.  It certainly encourages non-Catholics to be involved in Lenten groups.  But it doesn't compromise on the message in order to achieve that.

It does include personal testimonies, but also solid contextual material on the readings themselves, as well as extracts from relevant Magisterial documents.  It includes traditional hymns, such as Be Thou my Vision and solid set prayers.

And it has some very practical, concrete suggestions on how to put what has been learnt into action. Those practical suggestions aren't warm fuzzy either - the week one suggestions are:

"Begin each day with prayer, offering up all the activities of the day to God.

• Choose an act of self-denial and endeavour to live it every day during Lent.
• Set aside 15 minutes each day for personal prayer, to talk with God in your own words and listen to him.
• Pray for a family member, friend or colleague that they may encounter Christ during this Lenten period.
• Invite a friend to join your Lenten group next week."

It is not perfect.  As I noted above, the Cardinal too seems to want to avoid talking about the need to actually convert non-Catholic Christians to the faith.  The resource also includes allowance for the seemingly standard reductionist version of lectio divina, which bears no relationship whatsover to the lectio divina methodology set out by Pope Benedict XVI in Verbum Domini.

Still, nice to see at least one diocese in this country putting out resources that head us firmly in the right direction!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

On the observance of secular feasts....

When I was thinking this morning about what I might write about for Australia Day tomorrow, I was thinking of arguing for restoration of the novus ordo-esq practice of observing the feast on the nearest Monday, in the interests of celebrating the sacred Australian Long Weekend.

I had forgotten to take account of just how seriously this feast is taken.

Good Friday, Easter and even Christmas Day may be under assault from the secularists, but not, it seems, Australia Day!

I'm currently living in the middle of a construction zone. 

The hillside next to me is being dug up and new optical fibres (I assume for the National Broadband Network) laid. 

The road behind me is being repaved. 

And in my street, three (more) McMansions are currently under construction, perfectly good older houses having been pulled down in the interest of constructing something bigger and better on the same site (its been an ongoing process - last year three houses on either side of me each grew a story.  Only three more left in the street to go...but maybe the allegedly collapsing economy will spare us those!).

The workers at all of these sites are likely to turn up on any day of the year and at any hour - I was out cutting my hedge early, at around 6.30am one morning in the hope of getting it done before they arrived, but nope; last Sunday the hill diggers were at it; and one of the building sites even had someone working on it on Christmas Day.

But this afternoon, blissful silence has once more been restored, as all five sites have closed down apparently for Australia Day. 

I'm betting on it being a four and half day weekend since everything looks very thoroughly packed up.

Well, patriotism is a virtue I suppose...

PS Would it be unAustralian of me to do the rest of my hedge tomorrow just in case the workers are back on Friday?

Ballarat: on building wells!

Today, continuing my series on the state of the Australian church diocese by diocese I want to look at the last of the regional Victorian dioceses in my survey, namely Ballarat. 

Ballarat is also the last of the (known) upcoming vacancies since Bishop Peter Connors turns 75 in March.

Again on this I particularly want to thank those who sent me input, which I've drawn on heavily here.  Related to this, I have received a comment to the effect that things sent to my email address were bouncing for some reason - has anyone else had this problem?  If so, please leave a comment on this post marked not for publication so I can see whether its just a one-off or not!

Source: ACBC

Lay-led Communion services and parishes

I want to take the opportunity here to focus particularly on the problem of lay-led Communion services.

There are lot of issues I could focus on in relation to Ballarat, similar to those in a number of other dioceses - an education system that seems to have been captured by liberals, at least if some of the contents of its resource centre are any guide; promotion of new age spiritualities (though that seems to be common to virtually every diocese in Australia!); and so forth.

But Ballarat has long been the Australian 'leader' in the use of lay led Communion services: according to the ACBC report on on the 2006 National Church Life Survey, Ballarat had far and away the greatest number of Sunday services without a priest, averaging 18.3 such assemblies a week back in 2006.

But first some general background about the diocese.

Diocese of Ballarat

In 2006, Ballarat diocese had a catholic population of around 98,922, making it Australia's twelfth largest diocese.  In terms of geographic size, it covers around 58,000 sq kms, putting it well down the list in those terms.

It takes in a number of important regional towns including Ballarat itself, and Warnambool.

The diocesan website (which is admirably easy to navigate, and contains much useful accountability information), notes that:

"The Diocese has a number of provincial centres and large rural areas. There is a wide range and mix of primary and secondary industry and tourism and many places of natural beauty - the Great Ocean Road, the Grampians, the towns of the Murray River, the Little Desert and the goldfields."


Like Sandhurst, many traditionalists will be familiar with Ballarat from the annual Christus Rex pilgrimage.  But it is not promoted within the diocese at all.

I'm told there is a regular Latin Mass in Ballarat, but I can't find any recent reference to it on the web (or in lists of Christmas masses etc).

Source: Diocesan website
Ballarat's current bishop, Bishop Peter Connors, celebrated his golden jubilee of ordination last year.  He was originally from Melbourne where he was Vicar General under Archbishop Little and subsequently an Auxiliary.  He was translated to Ballarat in 1997.

During his tenure, the number of priests has fallen sharply: from 80 in 1999, to 65 in 2006, with a consequent increase in the priest to catholic ratio to one of the higher ones in the country, of 1:1,506.

Indeed, the diocesan website states that:

"There are 52 parishes in the Diocese comprising of approximately 135 Mass communities. 20 of these parishes do not have a resident priest. There are 64 priests in the Diocese, of whom 41 are in active ministry. There are 3 religious women who are parish leaders and a number of religious orders present in the Diocese."

The diocese had one (albeit a particularly notable one, in the form of blogger A Country Priest ) ordination last year. But it was only the third that I can discover for the decade. And the diocese has only one remaining seminarian.

On the positive side, the diocese did have an above average 'mass' attendance rate (I assume the figures include lay-led Communion services) - 1.9% of Australia's Catholics live in the diocese, but 2% of those Australian Catholics who actually turn up on a Sunday.

It is worth noting that this is also a diocese where the sex abuse scandal ran deep, with a higher than average number of offending priests, including the notorious Fr Risdale. On the positive side, I'm told that those who have been affected by this have some positive things to say about Bishop Connor's handling of the issue.  If so, he has evidently learnt from accusations of involvement in several cover ups in Melbourne during his time as Vicar-General and Auxiliary chronicled by Broken Rites and elsewhere, including this case (which was settled out of court).

What works, what doesn't

As I flagged earlier in this series, part of the purpose of these diocesan briefs is to highlight what seems to work and what doesn't, and look at what still needs to be done to position the Australian Church to fulfill its mission of converting Australia, helping all in this country to find salvation.

Many dioceses (including my own) seem to be considering expanding the use of lay led Communion services (aka Sunday Assemblies of Word aka Communion in the Absence of a Priest, aka...).  Yet in my view, all the evidence suggests that far from solving the problems the church faces, makes them worse. 
These kinds of services are a legacy of Blessed Pope John Paul II.

Like altar girls and Communion in the hand, an entirely illicit and untraditional practice was legitimised and even encouraged to spread, in this case by the Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1988.

There are actually three options for Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest, viz:

• Liturgy of the Hours;
• Liturgy of the Word; and
• a standalone Communion service, or Communion with either of the above.

Yet the default seems to be Communion services.

Some of the things that happen in some other dioceses may be a lot more problematic than those that occur in Ballarat.  Brisbane's official guidelines for such services for example explicitly state that:

"In Catholic parishes in remote areas, lay leadership of Sunday worship or funeral rites may be supported or even supplied by the resident pastor of the local Anglican, Uniting or Lutheran Churches."

Pretty breathtaking really!

The problems with lay-led communion (and other) services in my view, are three-fold, namely theological, pastoral and practical.  And then of course there are the outright abuses.

First, the theological problems.

The problem with communion services: the theological issues

The key theological objections, in my view, to lay led communion services is that they tend to undermine our understanding of the theology of the Eucharist, of the priesthood, and of the hierarchical constitution of the Church.

When Vatican II and many other documents talk about the Eucharist as the source and summit of our lives, it is not just talking about the laity's reception of the sacrament, but rather of the whole of the Mass, and most especially of the sacrifice of the Mass - a sacrifice that does not take place in a communion service!  As the Compendium of the Catechism puts it:

"The Eucharist is the very sacrifice of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus which he instituted to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until his return in glory..." (No 271).

Communion services make it far too easy to forget this vital dimension of the Churches life.

Secondly, by putting a layperson in the lead, it is all too easy for such services to promote congregationalism, the belief that the ministerial priesthood is altogether unnecessary.  Indeed, Fr Kevin Murphy of Ballarat as an articles featured over at (a)Catholica Forum with more than a whiff of these errors implied in them.

Pastoral issues

The second perhaps even bigger problem with lay led Communion services is the danger that, in the absence of the availability of the sacrament of reconciliation, they may be bringing death rather than life to these communities.

Reception of Holy Communion can of course be a wonderful source of grace: provided we have the correct dispositions and provided we are in a state of grace (free from mortal sin at least).

St Paul's warnings on this subject (1 Corinthians 11:27-32) remain pertinent!

On building wells!

The third issue is a practical one: stopgap solutions such as lay-led communion services do not promote vocations!

This Christmas the charities have been urging us to give a goat or a duck to help feed a family, or help pay to build a well so a village has a source of clean water: to fund the 'infrastructure' needed to help people out of poverty, in other words.  The issue is that even well-intentioned programs that provide ongoing food aid actually tend to entrench poverty rather than solve it, sapping self-reliance and morale, and creating a culture of dependence.

I want to suggest that a similar principle needs to be applied to spiritual poverty: for too long, some dioceses have been promoting what amounts to a hand out mentality, by actively promoting 'lay led assemblies' rather than working to recruit existing priests from overseas and/or encourage their own young men to try their vocation, and thus build spiritual wells for parishes in the form of priests.

Ballarat seems the classic case in point, with twenty empty churches, and but one remaining seminarian.

Then there are the outright abuses...

All those points aside, even if you do think that Communion Services are a necessary option, there is considerable evidence that they are being used in a way that was never intended, and even outright abused in Ballarat.

First, the clear intention of the Guidelines is that such services only be used where it is not reasonably possible to get to a mass.  Yet in Ballarat, that doesn't seem to be a requirement!

Consider for example the case of Cororooke, an entirely lay led parish with an occasional 'visiting priest'.  Yet it is a mere 9.9 kms (11 minutes) from Colac, which has a Saturday night vigil and two Sunday Masses, hardly a great distance to travel.  Indeed, even many city people drive that at least that far to get to mass!

In fact, as I highlighted not long ago, instead of busing people to a church with a Mass, one Ballarat parish bused potential Mass goers to a communion service instead!

One person from the diocese even told me a story of a lay leader inviting a priest to attend their lay-led service as a congregation member! Well, perhaps it was a call for some much needed corrective supervision and catechesis!

The second type of abuse relates to sermons.  Canon law explicitly prohibit anyone who is not a cleric from giving a homily. The Vatican Guidelines reflect this, suggesting that:

"In order that the participants may retain the word of God, there should be an explanation of the readings or a period of silence for reflection on what has been heard. Since only a pastor or a deacon may give a homily, it is desirable that the pastor prepare a homily and give it to the leader of the assembly to read."

Unfortunately it goes on to give Bishops Conferences the right to set their own norms, And the 2004 ACBC Guidelines explicitly encourage what amount to lay homilies:

"Preaching, or giving a reflection on the scripture, is integral to the community's hearing of God's Word, to the sanctification of Sunday, and to their baptismal call to evangelisation and mission. Liturgical preaching or giving a reflection on the scriptures is carried out by women and men formed and delegated for this ministry by their bishop."

In Ballarat, one priest (Fr Murphy mentioned above) actually does provide some assistance for those giving reflections through a dedicated website. Unfortunately, it is pretty colourful stuff - for this coming week the essential theme apparently is the difference between authority and authoritarianism!


I've focused a lot on lay led Communion services here, but I'm sure there are many good things happening in this diocese, and you can certainly read about some of them over at A Country Priest's blog. All the same, this is clearly a diocese with a big task ahead for the next bishop.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The case for Holy Communion on the Tongue only

There is a story today that Frs Wise and Speekman from Sale (see my earlier post on their valiant efforts to bring orthodoxy and orthopraxis to the diocese) have started an online petition to restrict communion to on the tongue only.

They've started a blog in support of their campaign, and it already contains lots of interesting material.

Here is the rationale for their efforts:

"During the course of our parish ministry we have become increasingly uneasy with the practice of Communion on the hand. We have come to the conclusion that what started out as a seemingly good idea has actually been found to encourage a certain carelessness, and not only among the laity.

It has also been our experience that because of the inherently 'routine' action of placing something in someone's hand this carelessness is, in fact, very 'catechesis resistant'.

It is our hope that this blog will stimulate discussion and awareness of what many in the Church see as a problem needing urgent reform...."

So do go sign the petition, and take a look at the blog.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Do they never give up! Bishop Morris and the curse of too many lawyers...

Eureka Street is at it again today, agitating for the cause of Bishop Morris by highlighting to legal opinions prepared (and actually released) late last year (thanks to the person who alerted me to their presence on Eureka Street).

The opinions are long and naturally full of legalese, but the substance of them seems to be that while canon law doesn't provide a process for the dismissal of a bishop it should, and that by the way the one actually used in the case of Bishop Morris is not good enough for them.

I'm not going to bother going though either Fr Hamilton's piece on the subject, or the opinions themselves. I just want to make a few key points.

The legal disease

First, it must surely be obvious to all concerned that prolonging this debate is unhelpful to everyone.  The statements made by our bishops after the Ad Limina visit last year were trying to bring some closure on this issue, and we should accept the Pope's prudential decision whether we agree with it or not.

Secondly, I'd note that the kind of creeping legalism reflected in this latest attack is a disease that really needs to be resisted in Australia, and not just in the Church. 

There is a big difference between the desire to improve transparency and accountability in the church, and creating make work for the lawyers.

The issue at stake here is not, as Fr Hamilton claims, whether natural justice should have been afforded to Bishop Morris: no one disputes that, and to suggest that they do is just plain scurrilous.

No, the issue is rather the content of natural justice, exactly what it requires. 

I for one think that a ten year series of exchanges in which it was perfectly clear what the issues in dispute were is more than enough by way of affording natural justice! 

I for one think that to claim that the bishop was denied natural justice, when the subsequent process being complained about was put in place because Bishop Morris actually rejected a request to go to Rome and make his case, is laughable.

The Liberals though, think that the magisterium of one bishop, who doesn't accept that he is not teaching what the church teaches, should prevail over that of Peter.  And they think that the bishop (or rather his lawyers) should be able to see and respond to every single piece of paper written about him.

In Australia, the legal empire has been working assiduously to ever expand its reach.  They have systematically dismantled the common law regime we inherited and set about inventing their own theories of what 'procedural fairness' requires - which unsurprisingly mostly seems to end up meaning the involvement of lots of lawyers on all sides of any administrative decision-making process. 

Well, I guess one has to find something for all those lawyers to do - the number of them after all doubled between 1986 and 2006.  Has the quality of decisions improved to reflect this 'added value'?  Quite the reverse in many cases I would suggest.

The parish priest process

I'd also note that there is a certain iron in the Judge's opinion, which advocates essentially using the process for removal of parish priests for bishops. 

These days, many bishops, especially of the liberal colour don't actually appoint many parish priests, precisely in order to avoid according them the right to challenge precisely these kind of decisions!  Instead we have seen a huge growth instead in time limited 'Administrator' appointments... 

The Pope and the bishops

The bottom line of the Morris case was always about the liberal claims that bishops are pretty much emperors in their own domain, free to ignore the Church's law and disciples at will. 

It's the old Ratzinger vs Kaspar debate writ large on which comes first, the universal church or the local one. 

It's the protestant virus that seems to have infected all too many bishops today.

The Pope, by contrast, actually believes that 'one, holy and apostolic Church' bit of the Creed.

In this week of the Christian Unity Octave, let's pray for the Pope, his reform efforts, and the restoration of unity with Peter on the part of dissenters:

"That they may all be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

I say to thee, that thou art Peter.
And upon this rock I will build my Church.

Let us pray.

O LORD JESUS CHRIST, who didst say to thine Apostles: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: look not upon my sins, but upon the faith of thy Church; and vouchsafe unto her that peace and unity which is agreeable unto thy will: Who livest and reignest God for ever and ever. Amen."

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Reading Scripture in the light of the tradition...

For those interested in reading Scripture in the light of the tradition, I want to highlight a fabulous resource that has been drawn to my attention, namely the two year patristic lectionary developed for the excellent Benedictine Pluscarden Abbey by Durham University's Centre for Catholic Studies.

Reading Scripture in the light of the tradition

I've argued on a number of occasions that we shouldn't just read Scripture as if we were sola scriptura Christians (or sola NT Wright or any other modern theologian Christians!), but rather need the context provided by the tradition.

This website basically provides the tools to do this, setting out a two year cycle of linked Scripture and patristic and other orthodox commentaries on it. 

The Office and patristic commentaries

Stephen Holmes introduces the resource on the website as follows:

"...Scripture has always been read in the Church in the context of tradition. With the development of the Divine Office (services of prayer celebrated at different times of each day) the daily cycle of Scripture reading came to be accompanied by commentaries from the fathers of the Church, as St Benedict wrote in the middle of the sixth century, ‘Let the inspired books of both the Old and the New Testaments be read at Vigils, as also commentaries on them by the most eminent orthodox and catholic fathers’ (Rule of Benedict, IX). The main surviving early Latin collections of readings from the fathers, or patristic lectionaries, are those of Alan of Farfa and Paul the Deacon from the eighth century. These formed the basis of the patristic lectionary used in the Roman Breviary and many other Latin Breviaries. Over time the readings from the fathers were cut back in length with no thought to their meaning. Attempts were made to improve the patristic lectionary by Cardinal Quiñonez in the sixteenth century, the monks of Cluny in the seventeenth century and Archbishop Vintimille of Paris in the eighteenth, but the inadequate patristic lectionary of the Breviarium Romanum (1568) and Breviarium Monasticum (1612) continued in use until the Second Vatican Council (1962-65)...

The aim of the Two Year Patristic Lectionary is thus:

•To have each patristic reading either related to the Scripture reading or to the season of the Church’s year.
•To have a reading for every day of the Temporal cycle (i.e. including days such as Christmas, Ascension, Sacred Heart).
•To have the vast majority of the ‘patristic’ readings from the Fathers of the Church, although following medieval precedent writers such as Origen have been included. This gives it ecumenical value.
•To use readings from the one year cycle in the Divine Office and the two year cycle of Word in Season whenever possible.
•To include the texts of a complete two-year Scripture cycle, as approved by the Holy See, for use with the patristic readings..."

A wealth of readings

It is essentially aligned to the Ordinary Form LOTH, but comes with summary tables that would make it readily adaptable for those wishing to find patristic readings linked to the traditional Office, with enough material to spread over a couple of years.

So this week in the 1962 Roman and Benedictine Office of Matins for example, the Scripture readings for the first half of the week are from Galatians.  Under year two in the first half of Ordinary time, you can find patristic readings to go with these including from St Augustine, St Ambrose, St Jerome, St Gregory of Nyssa and Tertullian.

I rather like the fact that while the readings draw heavily on the standard fathers, there are a rather wider selection of the Fathers than is normal, including many monastic classics such as John of Climacus' Spiritual Ladder.  And also one or two more recent selections from medieval and later authors such as Walter Hilton's Ladder of Perfection (one of my favourite works!), Aelred of Rievaux, and even Blessed John Cardinal Newman!

Do go take a look.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Sale's Pentecostalist bishop: healing the virtual schism?

I've been trying to finish each week with a look at a diocese with a good news story to tell, and I want to continue that pattern today with a look at the diocese of Sale in Victoria.

Source: diocesan website
This might seem a rather surprising choice to some in terms of having a good news story to tell, and it is true that is early days yet for this diocese, given that Bishop Christopher Prowse, now aged 58, was only appointed in 2009.

Nonetheless, as we continue to hear reports, both official, from the head of the Congregation of Bishops, and in the form of Australian rumours to the same effect, of priests saying no to offers of episcopal appointments, I think the efforts of someone who said yes and is working to heal the deep rifts in this diocese deserve to be made more widely known.

Sale: the challenge in a microcosm

This is a diocese where the virtual schism within the Australian Church between orthodox catholics and liberals is more visible than in many, made particularly manifest in the long running, but now settled case of Fr Speekman (on which see below), but also through the ongoing efforts of a group of orthodox catholics in the region who publish the excellent Into the Deep newsletter.

Many have disagreed with some of the particular calls Bishop Prowse has made since he took over.  Nor will traditionalists or perhaps even many conservative catholics feel comfortable with his Pentecostalist-charismatic style of spirituality I suspect.

Nonetheless, this is a bishop who, in a relatively short period, has taken some very important and positive steps towards restoring catholic life in the diocese and so I think, particularly deserves our support and prayers.

Let me explain why.

The diocese of Sale

Source: ACBC
Sale is the fourteen ranked geographical diocese in terms of Catholic population, with around 96,000 catholics, and takes in 44,441 sq kms.

It takes in Gippsland (East Victoria) and at its western end includes rapidly expanding outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne. The Cathedral is in the town of Sale (population 13,336 in 2006), but the bishop has shifted (or is in the process of shifting) the diocesan bureaucracy and his own residence to Warragul, which is much closer to Melbourne (104 kms compared to 212 kms from Sale) the main population centre for South West Gippsland. 

In terms of priests, the diocese has more or less held its numbers overall over the last couple of decades, mainly due to an increase in religious priests, though a number of parishes were without a priest due to retirements. In 2010 the diocese had 43 priests in total (32 diocesan) and five permanent deacons.

Sale Cathedral, from the diocesan website
Fr Speekman and the virtual schism

The festering sore in the diocese has long been the case of Fr Speekman, whose sermons you can read on his blog.

You can read the chronicle of the whole case through various editions of Into the Deep and other places, but as far as I can work out, the story goes as follows.  Fr Speekman is a strong advocate of a return to a genuinely catholic approach to education, who was removed as parish priest of Morwell by the previous incumbent, Bishop Jeremiah Coffey following complaints mainly from school authorities to the effect that his insistence on orthopraxis in relation to the sacraments, and handling of the issue, amounted to bullying.

Instead of backing his priest, the then bishop, Bishop Jeremiah Coffey first removed his authority over the schools, and subsequently deposed Fr Speekman's as parish priest. Fr Speekman appealed to Rome and was successful: the bishop was ordered to reinstate him immediately.   The Bishop refused to do so, and instead appealed the decision.  He lost again, but once more refused to comply with the (new) order to reinstate Fr Speekman.  Instead, the bishop appealed once more, this time to the highest court of appeal, the Apostolic Signatura.  Before the appeal could be heard however, he reached the age limit and retired.

There was a widespread hope that the new appointee, Bishop Prowse would withdraw the case.  He chose not to do so, however, and the final outcome was that the Bishop Coffey's decisions to depose Fr Speekman were ultimately upheld.  Nonetheless, Fr Speekman is back working in the diocese and the Bishop has undertaken to talk to him about a fresh appointment there.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of that particular case and more particularly its handling (and a number of other not entirely unrelated ones), it is pretty clear, as Into the Deep has chronicled in detail, that this is a diocese where liturgical and other abuses, and error have been rife, and where the proper relationships between clergy, laity and agencies in the diocese have become unbalanced.  And where the school system in particular is, as in so many places, less than obviously catholic in character.

Correcting these problems is going to take time and a lot of effort.  With the case settled there is now a chance to move forward, and Bishop Prowse seems to have taken a number of important steps in this regard.

Bishop Prowse: a focus on mission

Bishop Christopher Prowse of Sale is 58, and was appointed to Sale in 2009.  Before that he had been an auxiliary of Melbourne.  Bishop Prowse holds a doctorate in Moral Theology from the Lateran.

In terms of spirituality, I gather Bishop Prowse is an advocate of the charismatic movement: he described the late Bishop Grech as a "Pentecost Bishop", and I suspect he'd like to be similarly described.  Certainly his two pastoral letters so far have both been issued for Pentecost Sunday, and reflect something of a pentecostalist flavour.

While I have to admit I rather cringed when I read that in the lead up to one of these pastoral letters, a series of regional forums were held where people were asked to stand up and 'testify' to the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, an evangelical fervour of one variety or another is particularly called for in this diocese, and while I would quibble about some of the particular pitch, they do go to important issues.

In his Inaugural Homily, Bishop Prowse said:

"We find too many Catholics absenting themselves from the practice of their faith or even becoming non-believers ...We find Catholics in public life or the scientific world confused or ignorant about Catholic teachings on ethics or conscience ...This new situation demands that Catholics today are to be well formed in their Catholic faith and well informed of the world around us. It is not the time to be 'dumbing down' Catholic identity. Quite the opposite is called for ..."

The Bishop's first pastoral letter (Pentecost 2010) focused on giving the diocese a more missionary orientation, with a refreshingly direct presentation on the reasons to evangelize not just our own parish communities, but also those who are no longer practising Christians, as well as those who have never been Christians.

The second proposed as the pillars for the diocese's direction a deepening of devotional life, linked to an active missionary life, based in the family.


This is also a diocese that has to get big brownie points for its promotion of the Traditional Latin Mass, clearly intending for it to act as something of a corrective to some of the problems that have crept into the celebration of the Ordinary Form there! 

Bishop Prowse appointed the priest who has long said the Latin Mass in the diocese, Fr Andrew Wise, as dean of the Cathedral.  And through Fr Wise's efforts, the first Solemn EF mass was celebrated there this year for the anniversary of the dedication of the cathedral in the presence of the bishop, and attracted a strong crowd of around 120 people. 

Better still,  it provided an opportunity for great catechesis on the liturgy and the continuity of the tradition, with a series of articles (and pretty piccies) over several months in the diocesan newspaper preparing and promoting the Mass, and then explaining why it is celebrated ad orientem in response to questions afterwards!

There is a weekly EF Mass on Saturday mornings in the Cathedral, and now a Saturday night EF vigil mass said by priests from the Melbourne community.

The diocesan liturgy support publication also looks to be quite good, and new guidelines for funerals were put in place to prevent excessive use of secularist elements.


 Bishop Prowse has also been extremely active in recruiting priests.  A recruitment trip in 2010 resulted in an impressive six arriving in 2011 from Nigeria, Sri Lanka and India, to supplement a number of missionary priests already in the diocese.

There is an active focus on promoting vocations, and he has also recruited some seminarians from overseas. 

The diocese had four seminarians in 2011.

The devotional life, discernment and the social justice paradigm

I mentioned there were one or two theological positions articulated in the bishop's pastoral letters that I'd quibble with, and there are two important ones I want to particularly highlight because they cause ongoing tensions between traditionalists, conservatives and charismatics that we need to overcome.

Let me make it clear that I'm not suggesting there is anything erroneous about these positions, they are all areas open to theological debate.

The first issue is the perceived tension, on the part of some, between a commitment to traditional devotions, and practical charity and engagement in the public square on the other. When one of the common themes that emerged from the forums was the importance of  deepening the devotional life of the diocese through things like Holy Hours, Exposition, well celebrated liturgy and so forth, Bishop Prowse responded in his Pastoral Letter that:

"I am delighted to see the emphasis spontaneously given to this foundational aspect of our shared Catholic life...But, may I make this observation? It was not self-evident to me in listening to the comments offered during the Forums how this vital devotional life was to be translated into developing a social conscience and expressing itself into works of charity, especially to the poor and oppressed...A strong devotional life in the diocese without equally strong practical expressions of caritas towards our neighbor will not do. Catholics are not members of a pious sect or devotional clique..."

The bishop is certainly not alone in regarding some traditional practices as somehow private indulgences and not linked to the churches broader mission. 

But the traditional view is of course that we must seek first the kingdom of heaven - and all else will follow from that!  By deepening our spiritual lives, we will be sanctified, and in turn desire that sanctification for others. 

And while I strongly agree that practical charity and active engagement in our families, workplaces, socially and politically are vitally important, surely not everyone needs to do everything!  Too often, conservative and traditionalist Catholics are criticised, it seems to me, for not being engaged on social justice issues when what is actually meant is the particular social justice issues which members of the political left think they should subscribe to: refugees rather than life issues for example.  I don't know if that is the issue here, but I do think this idea that there is a dichotomy between devotional life and the whole of the Christian life is a false one: indeed, prayer in itself can be the ultimate form of 'caritas', far more powerful than any practical work of charity.

One would hope that those committed to activities such as Adoration and more would be encouraged and fostered in every diocese across Australia as an important plank in the program to reclaim our land for Christ, and in fairness the Bishop seems to be saying we need to do just this.

Discernment vs governance 

The other issue I wanted to flag is the question of proper relationships between hierarchy, clergy, church employees and the laity.  There obviously are some real problems in this area in the diocese (and debates more widely on this issue!), so some clear statements are entirely appropriate.  But in doing so, we need to ensure a proper balance that avoids what I'll dub neo-clericalism.

In his 'Everything for the Gospel' (2011) letter the bishop says:

Simply, may I make the following point? Let us ensure that our attempts at missionary activity in the name of the Church are deeply anchored in our Catholic faith. The enthusiasm to be a missionary people needs careful discernment and on-going formation. The wind of the Holy Spirit “blows where it chooses” (John 3:8). However, we belong in a hierarchical communion in the Church. We stand ready to discern what is of the Holy Spirit or what is not of God. Here the particular teaching and discerning role of the Pope, Bishops, Priests and Deacons becomes of service to our missionary activities in the name of the Church. We do not want a fragmented Church."

Can I suggest that the use of the word 'discernment' here, in reference to the role of the hierarchy is potentially dangerous.

I suspect this is just a terminology issue, but it is worth noting that while bishops and priests certainly have a teaching and governing role, and the exercise  of those powers certainly requires discernment, they surely don't have an infallible charism to decide what is or isn't of God!  Rather, they are called, when appropriate, to test such efforts against standard principles, such as conformity with the churches teachings and the advancement of the common good.  That, it seems to me, is a rather lower bar.  Fragmentation may be in the eye of the beholder, and in fact represent desirable diversity!

Making progress?

These points aside, all up, there are clearly a lot of positive steps being taken in Sale, though they may take some time to fully work through in their effects.

They seem like some steps in the right direction to me.

But I'm just attempting to read between the lines here, so do tell me if you think I've missed the mark.

And in any case, keep all those who have been fighting so long for the restoration of orthodoxy in this diocese in your prayers.

**Hmm, I'm assuming the relative dearth of comment on this one means I've missed the mark, and people think I'm being far too kind given the handling of the Speekman case?!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Sandhurst: position vacant*

Continuing my series of diocesan profiles for Australia, today a look at Sandhurst (aka Bendigo), Victoria.

Thanks to those who have provided input and comments, and please do continue to do so!

There are four dioceses currently actually vacant in Australia.  I've already looked in this series at three of them, viz Brisbane, Toowoomba and Wilcannia-Forbes.  Today, a brief look at the fourth.

Source: ACBC

The diocese of Sandhurst, Victoria has been vacant since the death of Bishop Joseph Grech in December 2010. 

So what challenges will the new bishop face?

Well, there is clearly quite a big task ahead of him, so please do pray for a good appointment.  And for a holy priest to say yes when asked!

Victoria and the vocations drought

I've previously labelled Queensland the black hole when it comes to problems in the Church, but it has to be said that when looked at in terms of the cold hard statistics, Victoria really isn't doesn't look that far behind it!

Victoria is Australia's second smallest State geographically (after Tasmania) but second largest in terms of population, with around 5.5 million people, divided between four dioceses: Australia's largest diocese, Melbourne (the metropolitan, with Archbishop Hart, aged 70); Ballarat, where Bishop Peter Connors turns 75 in March; Sale, where Bishop Prowse took over in 2009; and Sandhurst.

The State's relatively high population density perhaps explains why its very high priest to people ratios haven't yet caused a total collapse in the system. And of the four, Sandhurst's ratios are the worst the worst.

Bishop Grech

The late Bishop Grech had an international profile for his work in the charismatic movement, as well as a national profile for his work on migrants and refugees.   Speakers at his Requiem, however, wondered whether the diocese had perhaps suffered a little as a result of this.

Certainly he inherited a fairly dire situation, and not much seems to have turned around during his time in Office.

Bishop Grech took office in 2001, inheriting a diocese with 60 priests (2000).  By 2010, it had only 39, giving it one of the highest priest to catholic ratios in the country, at 2,641 (by comparison, the ratio in Wilcannia-Forbes was 1 priest per 1, 619 catholics for the same year, while Sydney's ratio is 1:1,326).

He had however recruited ten seminarians (some from overseas on five year contract arrangements), and there have been, as far as I can discover, four ordinations over the last decade (including one late last year).

Mass attendance rates in the diocese are below the national average (1.8% of the catholic population, 1.6% of mass attenders in 2006).

Diocesan style...

The diocese has a magnificent cathedral - the third largest in Australia - that will be well-known to many traddies because of the annual Christus Rex Ballarat to Bendigo pilgrimage.

Despite that, its reputation as a diocese is very much on the liberal side of the fenceline when it comes both to education and catechesis, ecumenism and liturgy.

Telling perhaps that the diocesan newspaper, The Sandpiper, headline for the last pilgrimage was "Christus Rex struts into town" and on the website at least, though providing a good selection of piccies, manages to avoid completely avoid mentioning the word 'traditional' or Extraordinary Form...!.

Indeed, the diocese has been aggressively promoting lay leadership of parishes. We can only pray that the appointment of a new bishop will provide an opportunity for a rethink on this!

The diocese has a strong Latin Mass community, with regular Sunday masses now held in both Bendigo and Wangaratta.

It also has a very traditional looking Poor Clare (Colettines)  monastery, and small contemplative community of men at Dookie.

So, Sandhurst residents and others in the know, what is the real state of play there?

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Freedom of religion takes another hit in Australia

Yet another story today, of the relentless attack on the right of Christians to practise their faith by Muslims.

And it is taking place right here in Australia.

The right of Christians to restrict use of their facilities to Christians

The Salvos have, the Sydney Morning Herald reports, a retreat centre.  The Centre's booking form apparently clearly states that the Salvation Army can cancel any booking should a group's use of the facilities be ''inconsistent with Salvation Army beliefs or purposes''.

So it shouldn't have been surprising that a tentative booking made by the Lebanese Muslim Association for a summer camp for boys would be rejected on the grounds that the only acceptable guests were those practising Christianity!

The Association of course, has screamed 'discrimination'.  Well yes, but justified discrimination!

The Salvation Army, unfortunately, rather than fighting the good fight has backed down, apologised, and claimed that staff 'misinterpreted' the guidelines.

Yet another shot in the war on freedom of religion

So what's next, Christians will be forced to allow those  who flagrantly reject the teachings of the faith to send their children to our schools?  Oh wait, that's already happened, courtesy of Bishop Manning, Apostolic Administrator of Wilcannia-Forbes.

Or perhaps that Christians will be compelled to turnover their clearly underutilised churches to Muslims to use as a mosque?  Or perhaps that churches will be compelled to allow same sex 'marriages' on their premises?  Yep, already happening overseas....

Wake up friends, there is a war against Christianity going on here on two fronts, viz with the secularists on the one hand and the Islamists on the other.  And if we don't start fighting it, we will have lost before we even fire a shot.

Living a Year of Grace: why do we have to hate being catholics?

One of the things I find most distressing in the Australian Church today is the continued insistence of diocesan bureaucrats and others that we shouldn't be proud to be catholics, and that the way things 'used to be' was all bad until wonderful Vatican II came along to save the day.

In my view, it results in meaningless twaddle that undermines, rather than promotes the faith.  Maybe its a paradigm that plays well with the brainwashed members of the older generation (though I doubt it), but it just makes me cringe and want to run away. 

'Living a Year of Grace'

A classic example of this seems to be the new Lenten Resource produced by the Archdiocese of Canberra and authored by its Coordinator of Spirituality & Faith Formation, Shawn Dwyer.

Living a Year of Grace  is apparently intended to be a warm up to the Australian Year of Grace, but if this is a sample of what is yet to come, then I'm going into hibernation until the Year of Faith, which sounds like it might actually be about Catholicism, starts!

I haven't read the whole thing, just sampled the free download sent out to promote the resource.

But just those few pages are more than enough!

Promoting false ecumenism

The first alarm bells have to ring when the email advertising the leaflet declares that it "is suitable for use by any Christian faith tradition".

Any? Anyone at all that even vaguely claims to be Christian? 

So you know it is going to be utterly content free, surely a difficult thing to achieve when we are talking about a series focused on the theologically dense Sunday Gospel readings for Lent!

But then you get to the text. 

Right in the first few pages there is a little discussion dissing converts, with the clear subtext being that conversion from some other form of Christianity to Catholicism is a bad thing (I guess this is meant as a sop to those ecumenical readers, but really, putting yourselves down is embarrassing, not appealing), about mere 'belonging' rather than actual conversion to the truth:

"We have all heard Catholics who either describe themselves, or are described by others, as ‘converts’. Get them to talk about what they mean by this and invariably it will come down to ‘he or she used to belong to another church (or to none at all) and now he or she is one of us’.[That is they have rejected error and found truth.  Because the Catholic Church is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic.]

Belonging is very important to human beings so it is not so surprising that we automatically focus on this consequence of the conversion experience...[Odd to see a liberal catholic rejecting the importance of the catholic community! Odder still to imply that conversion to the Catholic fiath is a merely human response, rather than a result of grace!   But in any case, surely joining a genuine community, formed of those to whom the tradition has been entrusted and handed down to, rather than some group that has either rejected part of the tradition or entirely made up its own largely human 'faith tradition' is actually a good thing!].   In fact, we are going to find throughout this program that conversion is at the very heart of our relationship with God. We do not convert in order to belong – we belong because we are constantly responding to the grace of conversion." [True, but neither can we be Christians apart from the Church!  This all sounds a bit like that protestant youtube video that has gone viral, you know the one - 'Why I hate religion but love Jesus'.]

Rejecting eschatology

There is, though, a second, not quite so ecumenical moment in these first few pages of the sample text, when the author describes a discussion with some Jehovah's Witnesses.  Apparently they don't constitute a 'Christian faith tradition' for the purpose of this resource, which is fair enough.  Good to know that there is a line being drawn somewhere!

Except that the point of departure between Catholics and the Witnesses for the author appears to be the idea that there will in fact be a Second Coming, that there is a final judgment, and that fear of God might be a good starting place for us in thinking about conversion in the here and now!

Now I know from my own encounters that the Jehovah's Witnesses are more than a little over the top on this issue and have some fairly weird ideas around what is going to happen, but that really doesn't mean we have to go to the opposite extreme!

I suppose it is fairly standard liberal avoidance stuff that I've talked about recently at length.  One can perfectly understand why liberals want to water down the meaning of John the Baptist's call to repentance, but still, disappointing to see regurgitated in this context.  The message is all focus on the now, and carry out 'random acts of kindness' .  The sub-text is, let's try and forget about death, judgment, heaven and hell. 

Schmaltz rather than the patrimony

The whole resource appear to promote the fallacy that lectio divina doesn't actually require any contextual knowledge of Scripture, that rather, if we just read a passage through and pray over it long enough it will miraculously become meaningful. 

The sheer arrogance of this anti-intellectual approach seems to me to run counter to the approach to Scripture set out in the Catechism, and drawn out in Pope Benedict XVI in Verbum Domini that suggests starting from the literal meaning of the text, as the basis for the other senses of Scripture.  It rejects the idea of looking at what the Tradition has to say about the meaning of the text in favour of 'sharing a word or phrase' that seems meaningful.  And it bears no resemblance whatsoever to lectio divina as it was actually practised in the monastic tradition.

As the nineteenth century Benedictine Solesmes foundress Cecile Bruyere observed in her book on the Spiritual life:

"The knowledge of doctrinal truth is the root of prayer, hence its great importance; it is likewise the safeguard against many illusions of the imagination, the corrective of pious dreaming and of false mysticism.  It is absolute presumption to expect to obtain, by immediate light from God, that knowledge which we can and ought to acquire for ourselves as part of our work in this world." 

Then there is the accompanying CD, which apparently features the music of Stephen Kirk.  It is the kind of muzak that goes well with a content free approach I guess.

The nature of Grace

I have to say, though, the thing I find most upsetting of all is the straw man approach to 'what used to be taught' as Catholic spirituality, such as this paragraph from Archbishop Coleridge's introduction to the booklet:

"Grace is a concept with which we may have become unfamiliar. Grace is not a thing. Too easily we fall into the trap of thinking of it (if we think of it at all) as something we wait for from a God who may or may not dispense it. The thought that God doles out grace only in response to the correct approach from us is one that once dominated Catholic spirituality. [Really?  Where?  Why even say this - why not just present the positive picture of what grace is, and quote the Catechism for example, and/or use St Augustine's famous restless hearts quote?] Unfortunately, our rejection of this miserable interpretation of grace has found many of us backing away from the concept all together – to the detriment of our understanding of what it is that God is bringing about in our lives."

Maybe I'm just too young (though I'm over the half century mark now!), but these kind of  characterisations of 'what used to be' invariably seem to me to be utterly unrecognizable.  They bear little or no resemblance to anything I've ever heard or seen taught, or what I've read in any pre-Vatican II texts or Catechism.  Indeed, the only place I see these kinds of misrepresentations of what catholics 'used to believe' is in places like the acatholica forum or on the rabid comments on anti-cath news.

And even if some nun somewhere or other did once upon a time distort the faith in order to convey some truth's overly simply, the 'it used to be terrible/but now we've fixed it' paradigm just seems inappropriate many years on!.  Not to mention somewhat at odds with the concept of the hermeneutic of continuity!

Bring on the Year of Faith.