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?


HolyCatholicApostoli said...

8. Teach Authentic doctrine in Catholic Schools.

Teach the teachers correct Catholic doctrine (especially regarding the Sacraments and Morality).

Promote Weekly Mass for school children (as a class, during school hours - led by a Priest who does not tolerate Liturgical abuse), and make available the Sacrament of confession before these Masses, also promote Eucharistic Adoration.

Teach the 10 Commandments.

Read as a class from the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (maybe 5 Questions a day)

Anonymous said...

There’s an irony here.

The objection being voiced by the Toowoomba Diocesan Leadership Group is that the process by which Bishop Morris was removed failed to afford him fair procedures. This, it was said, was possible because canon law does not provide a defined process for the removal of a bishop. Instead, the matter was dealt with under the extremely general terms of canon 19, which provides that where canon law fails to provide explicitly something which is needed [e.g. a mechanism for removing a bishop] “the question is to be decided by taking into account laws enacted in similar matters, the general principles of law observed with canonical equity, the jurisprudence and practice of the Roman Curia, and the common and constant opinion of learned authors”.

And, although canon 19 doesn’t say who is to decide the question, in relation to the removal of a bishop by the pope the only person who can decide the process is the pope, since no-one else can tell a pope what to do. And for the same reason, there is no appeal against the pope’s decision about the process to be observed. If the pope wishes to act in accordance with canon law, he will establish and observe a process which takes into account the various factors mentioned in canon 19. But if somebody affected by the process thinks he hasn’t taken them properly into account, or if in fact he has decided to ignore completely canon 19 and the considerations which it requires to be taken into account, tough. There is no canonical recourse.

All of this leaves popes a fair amount of room for manoeuvre, should they wish to take it. And, as far as I can see, the complaint in this case is that the process adopted did not take account of similar processes for which canon law provides explicitly, or of canonical equity, etc, with the result that it did not afford Bishop Morris fair procedures.

Leave aside for the moment the question of whether that complaint has any substantive merit. The call is now for those behind the complaint to be disciplined, by being subjected to canonical penalties. But the people concerned are not bishops; they are pastors, diocesan officials and diocesan employees. And, for the most part, canon law does provide processes to be followed when disciplining them.

Following these processes will have two results. First, it will draw attention to the complainants, and to the complaint they are making. Secondly, it may tend to substantiate the complaint, since the contrast between the process which would be afforded to these complainants and the process which was afforded to Bishop Morris would be quite stark. Attempts to discipline those behind the complaints, therefore, could foreseeably have completely the opposite outcome of the one desired, which is to vindicate the removal of Bishop Morris. Prudential considerations might therefore dictate a different course of action.


Richard Collins said...

Maybe call a retreat of the religious of the diocese and speak to them a la Archbishop Sheen fashion.
That is, speak about the crucifixion,sacrifice and redemption.
According to ++ Sheen, the subject matter often accentuates those who, in his words, "are filled with the demonic".
Invariably, within 24 hours they had left the retreat and left their vocation.

Papal Bull said...

Friends, wake up.

The Holy See, in particular the Congregation for Bishops and indirectly successive Popes, but also most especially successive Nuncios, have only themselves to blame for bishops like Morris, Heenan, Power, Robinson, Faulkner, Young, Little, etc, etc. Rome does not see the far distant colonies as important and so less diligence is paid to vetting Australian clergy for the episcopacy and I believe the Holy See will continue to neglect us.

The Pell's, Fisher's, Elliott's and a handful of others are not the norm, past, present and will not be in the future. Those kinds of bishops, thanks to Nuncios, COB and the popes (wonderful and holy as they are) will be in the small minority. Hence the "moderate" (code for centre-left) Wilson's being elected to the Presidency of the ACCB. Get use to more Morris' and Power's being appointed or emerging from the current crop of bishops as they near 75 and feel freer to go more public with their own dissent from the Magesterium.

The Church in Australia is a Titanic and White Star Lines HQ are going to send us more hopeless helmsmen. Some readers might say: but look at the appointment of Father Michael Kennedy! Yes that is an excellent appointment but remember it is to a diocese with less Catholics than a large metropolitan parish. The Vatican wouldn't make such an appointment to a larger diocese for fear of a local (liberal) clergy revolt, not to mention the howls from left wing Religious and Catholic school teachers.

Don't throw stones at Bill Morris or his fan club. They're only following their consciences. Throw stones rather at the Vatican and its nuncios who give us such bishops who in turn give us generations of misguided laity, diocesan bureaucracies, seminaries, and "Catholic" (sic)education systems.

Write letters to the Vatican with names of orthodox clergy and hopefully the COB will bypass hopeless nuncios, who, if you know how the sysytem works, are the real king-makers especially in countries like Australia where the Vatican doesn't care much for, and simply rumber-stamps the Nuncios recommendations.

Uncle Fester said...

Well Papal Bull, there's certainly a lot of truth in what you say, and there's a lot more bishops to add to your list like Bathersby, Foley, Putney, Faulkner, Malone, Carroll, Wilson, etc etc. But the fact that Rome removed Morris from the tiny see of Toowoomba (catholic population wise) shows they are making an effort and let's face it, how on earth did our little Billy Morris get so much attention from Rome amongst the 4,000 plus bishops around the world, and how on earth were we so blessed to get the wonderful Archbishop Chaput as the visitator in Toowoomba?

I think we can safely say that Australia is now on the radar, just like America is, and please God it will continue.

HolyCatholicApostoli said...

AD2000 seem to say good things about Archbishop Wilson, back when he was appointed as co-adjutor of Adelaide
http://www.ad2000.com.au/articles/2001/feb2001p3_117.html, in particular mention the crossing of state boundaries to find good Bishops.

Antonia Romanesca said...

“I do think it is possible to turn things around in a diocese like this.”

Mmm, that venue of self- expression is still a Catholic diocese? Kate, you are being legalistic! :) :) You are a saint, to believe that degenerate place can be dragged back to the contemporary world. You surely have the patience of the Blessed Virgin. You are a true optimist!

Some rather heavy stuff is ‘about to go down’, up there in the Vale of Toowoomba, one can’t help but fear. ‘Observers prudently digging deeper trenches for their own safety’, is the phrase which springs to mind!

Kate said...

An inveterate optimist I think is the appropriate description.

Yet in the secular world such places can be turned around, as numerous management sucess stories attest. I've seen it done, even done it myself as a manager, in just as difficult circumstances.

This will be a horrible task for any bishop to take on, but with the help of grace and prayers, I'm a firm believer in miracles!

Anonymous said...

You've done it yourself - what, as s supervising solicitor in a firm?

+ Wolsey

Kate said...

No Woolsey (for one thing I said I had a law degree, not that I was a lawyer!), I meant lead a group of people and transform an unproductive, disaffected and disconnected group into a highly productive effective team that pulls in the same direction as the rest of the organisation.

In fact my very first management job involved taking over a group described as a sheltered worskshop in extremely difficult cirumstances (I was part of review team that resulted in the previous head of the group leaving, and was much younger and less experienced, than the male dominated group I was put in charge of). But we did turn it around - I had a pretty horrible first twelve months, a not much better six months after that, but gradually the majority came on board and for years afterwards kept me in touch with the groups successes and those of individuals within it.

Now a diocese isn't quite the same thing as a secular workplace. But when it comes down to it, going into and leading a diocese like Toowoomba is basically a challenge in leadership.

I'd have to admit that not all of my subsequent management reform efforts were as successful as that first one - success depends on a whole lot of factors particular to each situation.

And the example of Our Lord shows that even the best leaders will suffer martyrdom in some circumstances.

But the basic point is that with the aid or grace and prayer, things can change. And perhaps in this case, even in the worst case scenario, the (symbolic rather than literal) blood of the martyr bishop could be, as of old, the seed of the Church!

Papal Bull said...

The fact that Our Lord recognised that there were and would be people and places that would not welcome and reject the Truth and so his dispiples should leave those towns, shake their dust from their sandals and move on elsewhere is Divine guidance enough that some places are just beyond help, Divine or human. Toowoomba wouldn't be the first diocese (but would be in since a very long time) to be suppressed. It's next bishop if liberal would be accepted but would be just as bad as Morris presciding over a dying liberal experiment; if "moderate" (code for centre-left) he might be accepted but no real change would happen and if orthodox and wanting to implement orthodox reform, he would fail trying as the whole presbyterate, most of the laity and church agencies, especially education would obstruct and frustrate his every move, decision, appointment. He would have to be willing to fight, but the Vatican/Nuncio want peace at any cost. Toowoomba will not get a younger version of Pell or Elliott (which it needs) but a bland "moderate." Someone like Bishop Les Tomlinson but probably not from that far south.

Louis said...

Papal Bull,

It beggars belief that Toowoomba would receive another bishop in the liberal / unfaithful / heterodox mould. Why would the Pope and Holy See go through all that angst for some 13 years and finally depose the bishop only to appoint another like him.

If you are correct and this is what happens, it will only hasten the demise of what little authentic Catholic Faith is left in this diocese. All that will be left is for the last remaining Catholics to turn off the light before taking their families to NSW.

Antonia Romanesca said...

To Louis of Toowoomba diocese, Queensland:

“If you are correct and this is what happens, it will only hasten the demise of what little authentic Catholic Faith is left in this diocese [Toowoomba].”

Please do not succumb to despair yet, semper fidelis Louis of Toowoomba! I am still in a bit of a muddle about how many priests in the Vale of Toowoomba have turned upon the Curia. We have read two still loyal to the pope, then three. One very recent report in the quality dailies, [where the Dissenters were trumpeting their latest plans], boldly proclaimed that ‘all priests’ in the diocese supported the revolt. It was heartening to read a previous corro. confidently claim that quite a number of Toowoo. priests are still loyal to the Pope. Are you able to give your own personal estimate [of how many priests are “still standing”], as a resident of that vale of tears?

It shall be interesting to see what Melbourne Vicar-General, his Lordship Leslie Tomlinson, shall make of Sandhurst Diocese in Vic. Perhaps if things [finally!] start to go well in that diocese and he is able to maintain appropriate controls of The Certain Element in that diocese, then you shall have less cause for dark despair vis a vis Toowoomba.

Perhaps + Tomlinson shall be able to demonstrate, [with the backing of ++ Hart, His Em Pell and the Nuncio - and behind them, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone], that proper and successful Catholic Episcopal custodianship can be a reality there, rather than being a diocese with a deeply honourable and good bishop under perpetual siege from ‘noble mavericks’.

Remember that there are orthodox Catholic Sandhurstians who have had to ‘just hang on and hang on’, especially through the long wait of the recent 13 months. An awful lot of Catholics have abandoned the Church in that diocese, seemingly permanently. You are not one of those, in your own diocese. All praise to you for that and may you achieve more influence - but in Toowoomba, not after having fled through the border to New South!