Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Broken Bay: indeed a broken diocese? part I

Vexilla Regis provides, today, an update on the push by Bishop David Walker, aged 73, of Broken Bay Diocese to impose a model of ‘lay leadership’ on the diocese that seems utterly at odds with the tradition and law of the Church. 

Do go and read it over there – and you can find some earlier context on the subject that I wrote about a year ago here.

Accordingly, I thought this might be an appropriate opportunity to provide some more context on the diocese of Broken Bay, or ‘Dioecesis Sinus Tortuosi’ as it is rendered officially in Latin.

It sounds good, but is it actually Catholic?!

This is a diocese I’d like to be able to say good things about, because it is doing many of the things that on the face of it should be done, including focusing on promoting the reading of Scripture; educating the laity in their faith; and engaging in a fair amount of transparency.

Unfortunately it is also a diocese that seems to illustrate that content and motives matter: promoting the seemingly good does not good at all if it is not actually done in a Catholic context!  To give but a few examples.

This is a diocese that heavily promotes lectio divina, with some success.  And reading Scripture is important - provided we are encouraged to read it in the light of the Tradition, instructed by the Magisterium, not just to invent our own interpretations of it as protestants do!

It also has a big focus on educating the laity, primarily through the Broken Bay Institute, again on the face of it a good thing. Provided, of course, that what they are educated in is actually the faith as taught by the Church, rather than errors promoted by theologians such as Richard McBrien.

Transparency and accountability to the laity can similarly be a positive.  But that does not mean that the laity should usurp the role of priests: we are not congregationalists, but rather members of a church that is hierarchically constituted.  And that hierarchy does not start and end with the bishop!

I have quite a few things to say about this diocese, so this is just part one of my ‘state of the diocese’ assessment.

The diocese of Broken Bay

Source: ACBC

Broken Bay is a relatively new diocese, created out of Sydney Archdiocese in 1986 at the same time as Parramatta.

The diocese website states that:

“The Catholic Diocese of Broken Bay covers an area of 2,763 square kilometres, incorporating 31 parishes, 36 primary schools, 6 secondary schools, 1 K-12 and 8 independent Catholic schools.

The Diocese is nominally divided into three separate geographic regions: the Peninsula, containing parishes from Avalon to Manly; the North Shore, from Chatswood north to Arcadia and Berowra parishes; and the Central Coast, from Woy Woy to Toukley, Wyong and Warnervale parishes.”

Australia’s seventh largest diocese, it included some 206, 000 Catholics in 2006, making up 25.2% population of the area.

The decline of the priesthood in Broken Bay

Ever since its creation there has been a steady decline in the number of priests, and this is one of those Australian dioceses where one can't help but suspect that the state of affairs reflects ideology rather than the workings of providence.  Neighbouring Sydney, after all, ordained more than 29 priests in the same period, and even Parramatta under the ancien regime managed at least eight in the same period!  Broken Bay has managed but one, late last year.

In 1990 there were 55 diocesan priests and 81 religious; by 2006 the total had declined from 136 to 117.

Late last year the number had fallen further to 33 diocesan and 52 religious priests, or 85 in total according to the diocesan magazine.

The diocese also has four deacons and an unusually low number of women religious, 62 in 2011 (plus an additional 14 brothers).

'About the bishop'

Bishop David Walker took over the diocese in 1996, and I thought it might be best to tell you about him in his own words (since they also grace the pages of his Wikipedia entry amongst other places).

One of the things I’ve found fascinating as I’ve done these diocesan writeups is the different approaches bishops take to the ‘about me’ page on their diocesan websites.

Some are very detailed, providing a blow by blow chronicle of their careers to date; others highlight particular achievements. Some appear to be applications for some (other) job, listing, inter alia, every academic article and book they have ever written. Some are manifestos of their approach, be it ‘servant leadership’, stomping on devotions, social justice, or whatever.

Some are extremely humble and self-effacing, providing only the barest details of their past career and (often quite considerable) academic achievements. 

Bishop Walker’s is certainly not in this later category, being anxious to assure us of his academic and other achievements. Indeed, Bishop Walker ventures into territory I thought reserved ex-US Presidents and the like, of having a library (at the Broken Bay Institute) named in his honour, and scholarships (for which the donor is listed as the diocese) offered in his name, rather than that of his Office.

His bio does, I think, give a fair flavour of some of his preoccupations, so herewith a few extracts by way of an introduction to the current state of the diocese.

Bishop Walker (from the diocesan website)

Source: Newcastle Aurora Magazine
“Bishop David was ordained Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Broken Bay on 3 September 1996, succeeding the Diocese's inaugural Bishop, the Most Rev Patrick Murphy.

Born on 13 November 1938, Bishop David was one of six children (one died in infancy) in a close-knit family, who spent their childhood in the eastern Sydney suburb of Clovelly. His early education was with the Sisters of St Joseph and with the Marist Brothers at Marcellin College, Randwick. He subsequently entered the Seminary, studying at Springwood and Manly.

In 1960 he gained the Baccalaureate of Theology, graduating magna cum laude. He was ordained for the priesthood by Cardinal Gilroy on 21 July 1962 and in the same year obtained the Licentiate of Theology.

His priestly career began in the conventional pattern with service as assistant priest in Campsie and Granville. During this time, he was invited to return to Manly to study for the Doctorate of Divinity degree. Even then, his deep interest in spirituality led him to complete a thesis on the spiritual influences in the western tradition - focusing on the early spiritual writer, John Cassian. Again, (in 1966) he graduated magna cum laude.

In 1967, with this background, he was invited to teach in the Catholic Theological Faculty of Sydney, at Manly, lecturing to religious brothers and sisters in the Institutes of the Faculty, The Holy Spirit Institute (for religious brothers) and the Mater Dei Institute (for religious sisters) and to seminarians doing a basic degree in Theology. In 1969 he became Director of the Mater Dei Institute, leaving a year to study overseas.

As he came to realise the importance of reaching out to make serious theological study and reflection more available to the Catholic people, he developed the idea of writing out his lectures for people to study at home. In 1969, in conjunction with Fr Neil Brown and Fr Peter Neville, he was a founder of the Catholic Correspondence Centre, and in 1973 began to give evening courses at North Sydney. Teaching on spirituality was supplemented by writing, beginning in 1976 with an Introduction to the first Australian edition of The Spiritual Life by Evelyn Underhill, and Anglican spiritual writer and guide. Then in 1977, he published God is a Sea: the Dynamics of Christian Living, a simple introduction to some classic spiritual writers.

In the first six years of the Correspondence Centre about 6500 courses were sent out and about 16000 courses followed. This understanding and promotion of spirituality was extended when he pursued more postgraduate study in the Scriptures in Rome and at the University of London King’s College where, in 1972 was awarded the Master of Theology degree in New Testament (Distinction).

The following year he joined the staff of the Catholic Theological Faculty of Sydney, teaching Systemic Theology and later headed the pastoral studies department. He served for a time as secretary of the Catholic Theological Faculty of Sydney and as rector of the Post Graduate House for three years...

...founding the Centre for Christian Spirituality at Randwick, where face-to-face and distance courses in Christian spirituality were offered. The Centre found ready interest, with about 10,000 people taking courses from 1978 to 2001. He remained Director of the Educational Centre for Christian Spirituality until his appointment as Bishop.

Following the retirement in Broken Bay of the inaugural Bishop, Most Rev Patrick Murphy, David Walker was appointed his successor on 9 July 1996. He was ordained to the young Diocese of Broken Bay on 3 September at Our Lady of Dolours Catholic Church, Chatswood, by Cardinal Clancy. The ceremony was attended by 33 Bishops, 150 priests, and an overflowing congregation of more than 800 people.

During the past ten years, Bishop David has consolidated the Diocese of Broken Bay – extending organisations and pushing the Diocese into new fields. Amongst his initiatives have been the groupings of parishes into three Deaneries and the amalgamation of several Parishes to further extend the quality of pastoral care afforded to the people of the Diocese.

Ecumenical activity was given particular impetus with the establishment of the Diocesan Ecumenical Commission in 1998. Strong relationships and dialogues have since been formed with the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle.

The establishment of The Broken Bay Institute, in 2003, is evidence of Bishop David’s commitment to promoting a truly Australian spirituality, fostering theological and spiritual education...

In 2006, many of the ministries and agencies of the Diocese were brought under the one roof at the Caroline Chisholm Centre, Pennant Hills. This move has supported the vision for Broken Bay that promotes and models collaborative ministry as the best practice for sustaining, guiding and healing the members of this faith community and the community itself.

In the same year, Bishop David announced a new ministry for women that would be based on a deep and personal commitment to Jesus. The program, Ecclesial Women, will enable women to participate more fully in the life, and leadership, of the Diocese – supporting the Bishop in the pastoral care of the people. This program will commence in March 2008.

Bishop David brings to his appointment a continuing commitment to faith renewal and to be responsive to the changing needs of the Catholic Church in Australia.... "

And please do go on to Part II of this series on Broken Bay.

Psalm 118 (119) Ghimel: Towards martyrdom!

Today’s verses in this continuing Lenten series on Psalm 118 come under the third letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Ghimel.  St Robert Bellarmine sees these verses as enumerating the obstacles to the observance of the law, and praying for their removal from his way.

The first obstacle is original sin and mortal sin: the cure is God’s reviving grace.

The second is the blinding veil of our emotions, for which the cure is the intellectual vision of God’s goodness.

Third obstacle is the illusion that the things of this earth is all that is important: to counter this we must remember the transitory nature of this life in which we are just sojourners, and store up our treasure in heaven.

The fourth barrier is our own imperfection: we may have good intentions, but that is not enough to make us act out of love alone, as the perfect do. We should pray then, that we may truly desire and love the law in all its shining glory.

The fifth barrier is pride, which makes us refuse to submit to God’s commandments.

Worse, pride turns us into God’s enemies, and all too often makes those enemies attempt to tear down those who are seeking to do the good.

But, we are counseled, this must not prevent us testifying with our actions and words.


17 Retribue servo tuo, vivifica me, et custodiam sermones tuos.
18 Revela oculos meos, et considerabo mirabilia de lege tua.
19 Incola ego sum in terra : non abscondas a me mandata tua.
20 Concupivit anima mea desiderare justificationes tuas in omni tempore.
21 Increpasti superbos; maledicti qui declinant a mandatis tuis.
22 Aufer a me opprobrium et contemptum, quia testimonia tua exquisivi.
23 Etenim sederunt principes, et adversum me loquebantur; servus autem tuus exercebatur in justificationibus tuis.
24 Nam et testimonia tua meditatio mea est, et consilium meum justificationes tuæ.

17 Give bountifully to your servant, enliven me: and I shall keep your words.
18 Open my eyes: and I will consider the wondrous things of your law.
19 I am a sojourner on the earth: hide not your commandments from me.
20 My soul has coveted to long for your justifications, at all times.
21 You have rebuked the proud: they are cursed who decline from your commandments.
22 Remove from me reproach and contempt: because I have sought after your testimonies.
23 For princes sat, and spoke against me: but your servant was employed in your justifications.
24 For your testimonies are my meditation: and your justifications my counsel.

The Communio below is used on September's Ember Friday in the Extraordinary Form.

As usual, you can find an extended version of this commentary, including some aids to understanding the Latin, over at Psallam Domino.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Ending the Queensland black hole: seminarian numbers..

As I've gone through the diocesan profiles I've been doing, I've highlighted a number of dioceses where seminarian numbers are starting to rise.  One of those was Queensland, and on this I've been very kindly sent some further good news.

Spectacular growth

In 2008 (before the appointment of Monsignor Anthony Randazzo as rector of Holy Spirit Seminary in Brisbane, there were four seminarians.

This year there are 32!

In February 2012, six men commenced their formation at the Seminary (5 for Brisbane, 1 for Rockhampton).  In June 2012, it is hoped that eight more will commence their formation at the Seminary (4 for Brisbane, 2 for Townsville, 2 for Umuahia [Nigeria]).

The current break down for the Seminary is:

Brisbane 19
Rockhampton 2
Toowoomba 1
Townsville 2
Maitland-Newcastle 1
Umuahia 7
The results are a tribute to the hard work and prayers of all concerned, so please do keep the staff and seminarians in your prayers.

Seminarians elsewhere?

I've had a look around for updates on numbers at the other Australian seminaries, but haven't found anything as yet, but if you are aware of any such data (or are involved in the seminary and would like to publicise your successes!), please do email me.

Psalm 118 Beth: Pray for the grace of perseverance

Today’s octave of verses of Psalm 118 starts by talking about the importance of starting out on the right path as a young person, and ends with a rejection of ‘forgetfulness’, or falling away from God. Taken together, they make this stanza, I think, a plea for the grace of perseverance.


9 In quo corrigit adolescentior viam suam? in custodiendo sermones tuos.
10 In toto corde meo exquisivi te; ne repellas me a mandatis tuis.
11 In corde meo abscondi eloquia tua, ut non peccem tibi.
12 Benedictus es, Domine; doce me justificationes tuas.
13 In labiis meis pronuntiavi omnia judicia oris tui.
14 In via testimoniorum tuorum delectatus sum, sicut in omnibus divitiis.
15 In mandatis tuis exercebor, et considerabo vias tuas.
16 In justificationibus tuis meditabor : non obliviscar sermones tuos.

9 Beth. By what does a young man correct his way? By observing your words.
10 With my whole heart have I sought after you: let me not stray from your commandments.
11 Your words have I hidden in my heart, that I may not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord: teach me your justifications.
13 With my lips I have pronounced all the judgments of your mouth.
14 I have been delighted in the way of your testimonies, as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your commandments: and I will consider your ways.
16 I will think of your justifications: I will not forget your words.

The grace of perseverance

The key to this stanza of Psalm 118 is, I think, the second phrase of verse 10: ‘let me not stray from your commandments’.

A number of the Fathers and Theologians suggest that the emphasis on the ‘young man’ here is meant to suggest the importance of starting out right from the very beginning. St Augustine, though, gives the focus on the ‘young man’ a rather more inclusive flavour than a literal reading would suggest:

“Is then an old man to be despaired of? My son, gather instruction from your youth up: so shall you find wisdom till your gray hairs. Sirach 6:18”

Cassiodorus builds on this interpretation, telling us that ‘forgetting’ is a by-product of the human condition:

“Forgetfulness does not come upon us naturally, but is the outcome of the frailty caused by original sin. Meditation is set against it as a remedy, so that sacrilegious forgetfulness may not destroy the emi¬nence of memory. They say that they meditate on the Lord's justifica¬tions so that they cannot forget what they strive to remember. They realised the failing by which the human mind was oppressed, and devised this resource against it, by means of which the power of forgetfulness could be excluded.”

The remedy against this human weakness is the grace that causes us to seek out God, open our hearts and minds to his word, allows his Word to permeate our whole being. As St Robert Bellarmine says “He says he has the law of God in his mouth, his will, his understanding, and his memory, and thus, in every part of his soul.”

We must, as Psalm 1 enjoins us, meditate on the law and day and night, and constantly ask God for the grace to keep us on the right path. As St Robert emphasizes: “God teaches his justifications when he, through his grace, causes one to delight in his law, and fully persuades one to wish to keep it exactly."

As usual you can find an extended set of notes on these verses over at Psallam Domino.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Rudd and Bishop Morris: just another unfair dismissal case!**

There was a great tweet from Alan Kohler this morning on some of the pro-Rudd spin: "So the whole thing is really just an unfair dismissal case."

The tweet and Mr Kohler's underlying analysis are particularly apposite today, since Michael Mullins over at Eureka Street apparently sees a parallel between the current "crisis" in the ALP and the state of the Church.

Kohler on Kevin

Mr Kohler's follow up tweets include that 'Kevin's kamizaki won't kill Labor', and "Cold shower on the Labor "crisis"  - it's just Kevin's self-destruction".

In his article for the Business Spectator on the subject Kohler comments:

"...But it’s been awfully interesting to watch someone so consumed with frustrated ambition and bitter resentment that they explode before our eyes, like a sort of manic blonde suicide bomber.

At least with most unfair dismissal cases, there’s a chance of a settlement and a nice cheque to go away and shut up. This preposterous escapade – effectively a late unfair dismissal action - by Kevin Rudd, could only ever end in disaster for him, and for the party.

You’ve got to wonder, though, what is going through the mind of Anthony Albanese.

Robert McClelland and Kim Carr you can understand, motivated as they are by petty vengeance over their demotions. But Albanese tearfully supporting Rudd because of the 2010 coup? Please."

One similarly has to wonder it is going through the minds of those who seem to take a similarly destructive view of the Church.  Because there is a big difference between honestly facing up to how things are, and looking at how to address those problems in a constructive way, and the antics of some in the Church today.

Eureka Street on the state of the Church

Over at Eureka Street, forecample, Mr Mullins cites the work of yet another dissident Jesuit writer on dyfunction in the Church with a table setting out the characteristics of 'functional' and 'dysfunctional' groups.  It looks like a rehash to me of some work by W R Bion and others - I once had a job that required me to read, internalise and sell to others the latest management fads (I mean 'insights').

At only a glance once can see the agenda being pushed: dysfunctional groups, for example, are known because they are characterised by 'rigid attitudes' and 'revere past traditions'.

One could note of course that the Church is not a 'group' in the normal sense: rather it is the Body of Christ!  And one could point out that the whole basis of the Church is its cutodianship and passing down of 'the Tradition'! 

And if it's analysis is not valid for the Church, how much longer the bow that Mr Mullins claims he is not drawing (!) in relation to the ALP:

"It's not Eureka Street's purpose to transplant Callaghan's analysis of power structures in the Catholic Church to the Australian Labor Party. But members and observers of the ALP will recognise signs of the party's decline in that of the Church, and hopefully accept that both Gillard and Rudd forces have a particular job to do in order to make the party functional before the next federal election."

Anytime soon....

And for all the messianic and martyr analogies that have been put around in the last few days, Annabel Crabbe has gone one better: Rudd, she suggests is "the people's princess"!  Hmm, and remember her fate...

So is the Party itself truly in trouble, or is the real issue the efforts of a destructive few (or even one)? 
The choose a leader caucus meeting starts soon....

***And Ms Gillard won decisively.

Psalm 118 Aleph: Ignorance is not bliss!

Today I want to start, as I flagged last week, looking at Psalm 118 stanza by stanza, so today a look at the first eight verses of Psalm 118, which are headed by the Hebrew letter Aleph in the original text.

I’ll provide the verses here in English and Latin and a few short comments on them. Over at my Psalm Blog, you can find verse by verse notes to help you with the Latin, as well as more commentary.


Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.
2 Blessed are they that search his testimonies: that seek him with their whole heart.
3 For they that work iniquity, have not walked in his ways.
4 You have commanded your commandments to be kept most diligently.
5 O! That my ways may be directed to keep your justifications.
6 Then shall I not be confounded, when I shall look into all your commandments.
7 I will praise you with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned the judgments of your justice. 8 I will keep your justifications: O! Do not utterly forsake me.
1. Beati immaculati in via, qui ambulant in lege Domini.
2 Beati qui scrutantur testimonia ejus; in toto corde exquirunt eum.
3 Non enim qui operantur iniquitatem in viis ejus ambulaverunt.
4 Tu mandasti mandata tua custodiri nimis.
5 Utinam dirigantur viæ meæ ad custodiendas justificationes tuas.
6 Tunc non confundar, cum perspexero in omnibus mandatis tuis.
7 Confitebor tibi in directione cordis, in eo quod didici judicia justitiæ tuæ.
8 Justificationes tuas custodiam; non me derelinquas usquequaque.

On the sin of ignorance!

Today’s verses of Psalm 118 draw attention, I think, to a very important principle, rather neglected principle these days, namely that everyone has a duty to seek out the truth.

The verses for today stress that the path to happiness lies in following God’s law. But it is not enough, they tell us, to simply think that we are doing the right thing; rather we are charged to actively seek out God's testimonies.

St Bede the Venerable puts it like this:

“One who neglects to keep his known commandments is not capable of being happy; one who neglects to find out the commandments is separated much further away.”

In the context of the upcoming Australian 'Year of Grace', our bishops, I gather, want us to pray for a ‘new Pentecost’. Yet we shouldn’t forget that the preparation of the disciples for that first Pentecost was three years of intensive exposure to Our Lord’s teaching and presence.

In the context of the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly stressed the importance of encouraging the search for truth.   This takes on a particular context for agnostics, believers in some other faith, other varieties of Christians, who we hope to direct to the fullness of revelation contained in the Church.  But it applies equally to Catholics.

The starting point for our Lenten journey, then, I propose, needs to be a commitment to learning with the aid of grace: we need to read and study Scripture, for as St Jerome reminds us, ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ; and we need to study and understand the Church’s teachings.

If we have doubts or struggles with teachings, we cannot simply disregard them at will, but rather have a duty to accept the guidance the Church provides, to seek out and  study good explanations of the reasons for them. In the modern environment, it is hard to see that many can genuinely claim to suffer from ‘invincible ignorance’, and certainly not those who claim to be a catholic and have access to the Catechism and more!

And while you think more on these verses, do listen to this fabulous modern setting of the Latin.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Divine Mercy Procession: April 12-15

Just to alert you to an upcoming event, the annual Divine Mercy Procession from Wagga Wagga Cathedral to the Divine Mercy Shrine at Tarcutta.

It starts on Thursday April 12 with Mass in the Extraordinary Form and blessing of pilgrims, and will include daily Mass and devotions, and all night Adoration on Saturday.  The chaplains for the event are Rev Fr Joseph Michael Mary (Franciscans of the Immaculate, Perth) and Rev Fr Michael Rowe, Latin Mass Chaplain (Archdiocese of Perth).

You can find more information, and register here.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Receptive listening: Introduction to Psalm 118/4

The last section of Pope Benedict XVI’s catechesis on Psalm 118 that I want to share with you by way of introduction to the psalm deals with the idea of the ‘receptive listening’ that leads to obedience.

It’s a very Benedictine sentiment, reflection not just the current Pope’s spirituality, but that of his namesake St Benedict:

“The Law of the Lord, the object of the passionate love of the Psalmist as well as of every believer, is a source of life. The desire to understand it, to observe it and to direct the whole of one’s being by it is the characteristic of every righteous person who is faithful to the Lord, and who “on his law... meditates day and night”, as Psalm 1 recites (v. 2). The law of God is a way to be kept “in the heart”, as the well known text of the Shema in Deuteronomy says: “Hear, O Israel: And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (6:4, 6-7).

The Law of God, at the centre of life, demands that the heart listen. It is a listening that does not consist of servile but rather of filial, trusting and aware obedience. Listening to the word is a personal encounter with the Lord of life, an encounter that must be expressed in concrete decisions and become a journey and a “sequela”. When Jesus is asked what one should do to inherit eternal life he points to the way of observance of the Law but indicates what should be done to bring it to completion: “but you lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me! (Mk 10: 21ff.). Fulfilment of the Law is the following of Jesus, travelling on the road that Jesus took, in the company of Jesus.

Psalm 119 thus brings us to the encounter with the Lord and orients us to the Gospel.”

Today’s verses

And here are some verses to ponder today that particularly deal with this theme:

9 By what does a young man correct his way? By observing your words.
35. Lead me into the path of your commandments; for this same I have desired.
66 Teach me goodness and discipline and knowledge; for I have believed your commandments.
11 Your words have I hidden in my heart, that I may not sin against you.
104 By your commandments I have had understanding: therefore have I hated every way of iniquity.
103 How sweet are your words to my palate! More than honey to my mouth.
116 Uphold me according to your word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my expectation.
32 I have run the way of your commandments, when you did enlarge my heart.

You can fnd a slightly expanded version of this post, including the Latin of today's verses, over at the Psalm blog.

From Monday I'll start posting the psalm stanza by stanza (lingering over a couple), with some notes on the Latin over at the psalm blog.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Truth and detraction in the Rudd rumpus: the delicate line

David Marr (not someone I often agree with!) has an interesting essay in the Sydney Morning Herald today on the ALP leadership crisis basically arguing that the current descent into deeply personal attacks on former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd are in the public interest.

Marr's argument

Marr argues that a more candid approach at the time of his unceremonious dispatch as Prime Minister would have gone a long way towards improving current Prime Minister Julia Gillard's credibility.

I think he is basically correct.  Still, given the strictures on the sin of detraction, one can certainly understand the hesitation of all those involved at the time.

Marr puts the case as follows:

"No Kevin. This isn't a breakdown in civility. Your colleagues are at last telling us why you were sacked. And here the political is inescapably personal: you couldn't run the place. The result was, as Julia Gillard said yesterday and every newspaper and television station has been repeating since, ''chaos and paralysis''.

"...we weren't told it was Rudd but the Labor government that had lost its way.  Whether this was kindness or funk, the voters were left without a narrative; Gillard was left without legitimacy; and Rudd, with his depthless self-belief, was left to portray himself as a martyr and to campaign for his resurrection.

Think how different the political landscape would be today if on the morning of June 24, 2010, the new Prime Minister and the Treasurer had explained themselves with the candour they have shown in the past 36 hours.

Had Gillard said then, ''I did everything I could to salvage the situation . . . to try to get the government functioning'', we would have liked her more and doubted her less. The narrative would have been about rescue not sabotage..."

He suggests that most of the problems were already in the public domain:

"Had she spoken the truth, she wouldn't have broken any news. For months before his execution the media had been reporting Rudd's dysfunctional dealings with ministers, the relegation of his cabinet, and the ceaseless difficulty of getting the man to sign anything."

And he also points out that it would be a different story if Rudd's agonising delays and micromanagement resulted in good policy outcomes.  But in fact that was very far from being the case.

So should they have spoken out back then?

Marr's view is they should have dumped on Rudd more thoroughly when he was deposed as Prime Minister.  It certainly might have helped distance the current Government from some of the serious administrative failures of the previous Government, such as the pink batts fiasco.

It could easily have backfired on them though - there are obvious problems in attacking a government you were part of!

All the same, the real issue here, it seems to me, at least from a catholic perspective, is about detraction, or the revealing to third parties the faults or crimes of others. 

The right to a good reputation

People have a right to a good reputation, and there have to be very good reasons indeed  to override that right - one of the reasons that certain bishops have been allowed to resign for reasons of "ill-health" for example.

The right to a good reputation is not an absolute however. 

If the issue is already 'notorious' for example, or the subject of a court decision, then detraction is not an issue.  Marr's point notwithstanding, while there were certainly reports about Rudd's behaviour around back then, they were mostly second-hand; mostly rumours and innuendo, often sourced to known enemies (such as his opposite number in the Foreign Affairs portfolio, Alexander Downer), rather than credible witness statements.

The public interest case

The second exception, though, relates to the public interest. 

Here is the 1919 Catholic Encyclopedia's exposition on the topic:

"Finally, even when the sin is in no sense public, it may still be divulged without contravening the virtues of justice or charity whenever such a course is for the common weal or is esteemed to make for the good of the narrator, of his listeners, or even of the culprit. The right which the latter has to an assumed good name is extinguished in the presence of the benefit which may be conferred in this way.

...Journalists are entirely within their rights in inveighing against the official shortcomings of public men. Likewise, they may lawfully present whatever information about the life or character of a candidate for public office is necessary to show his unfitness for the station he seeks. Historians have a still greater latitude in the performance of their task..."

The claims of subversion of the 2010 election campaign and subsequent white anting by Mr Rudd of the Government of which he was, until Wednesday, a member, would, together with his aspiration to reclaim the PM's job, would, on the face of it, justify the kind of frank speaking on the part of Government ministers, journalists and others that we have seen in the last few days.

But could his behaviour have been predicted in advance?  Perhaps. 

We always hope for the best in a person though, and I imagine his colleagues hoped the rather abrupt 'fraternal correction' he received back then might have some positive impact.

And even if his alleged behaviour could have been predicted, I'm not sure that the kind of storyline Marr's suggesting would have been a proportionate response to the situation as it was back then.

And herein lies the dilemma in dealing with such situations...

The journalists dilemma

In reality one could argue that the reaosn we are now witnessing this unedifying battle at all lies in the failure of journalistic ethics and integrity.  As a former editor of the Age, Michael Gawenda, wrote on the ABC's The Drum a few days ago:

"...I fear that some journalists covering the Rudd-Gillard title fight are, in essence, lying to us.

Are there journalists who have been briefed by Rudd and his supporters, for months now and perhaps even going back to 2010, about Rudd's long-term strategy to win back the prime ministership?

Are there journalists - and for that matter newspaper editors and television and radio senior executives - who have been briefed by Rudd and his supporters over the past six months or more, about Rudd's so-called 'campaign of destabilisation'?

Did he viciously disparage Gillard? Did he viciously disparage the Government of which he was a senior member? Did his supporters do all that? Did Rudd tell journalists that he would eventually challenge for the leadership when the time was right - and when that time might be?

It seems to me that on the evidence publicly available and the evidence of gossip amongst journalists, the answer to all these questions is: yes.

Rudd and his supporters deny that they have run any campaign of destabilisation. Rudd and his supporters deny that they have regularly briefed journalists, editors and senior media executives. At his two bizarre press announcements in Washington, Kevin Rudd spoke as if he was a total innocent, as pure as the driven snow, morally virginal, having never ever been involved in the grubby politics of undermining, white-anting, wounding and ultimately destroying an opponent.

...And reporters, some of whom knew that none of this was true, reported it all without comment, without letting us know that they knew, personally, that it was untrue.

This is 'he said, she said, they said' journalism. It is meant to be 'straight' but what it is in reality is timid and ultimately dishonest."

The numbers...

Meanwhile, back to watching the number crunching live on the social media sites. 

And in this fascinating social media first, the numbers for Ms Gillard appear to be firming up this afternoon.  A few hours ago the Australian has the numbers almost evenly split with a lot of undecideds; now they give it as 66 for Gillard, 31 Rudd, 6 undecided.  The SMH gives Ms Gillard 68 votes and rising...

Neo-clericalism and Lent

There is a great article over at First Things by George Weigel (yes I do like some of his stuff!) on the problem of clerical narcissism. 

The effects of priestly narcissism, as others have pointed out can take many forms.  It is one of the roots of the abuse problems that have infiltrated the Church, but also manifests its effects in many other destructive ways.

And the solutions, as an article just out by the excellent Dawn Eden suggests, need to go beyond addressing the immediate short term solutions if we are truly to bring healing first the Church, and then to society more broadly.  Ms Eden advocates the adoption of a 'theology of suffering' that leads to the embrace of the Cross that we can see reflected in the lives of the saints, and drawn out for us in a series of catecheses by the Holy Father. 

That sentiment fits neatly with today's Matin's readings, which remind us that it is not enough to not hate our enemies, but rather we are required to do the perfect, and actually love them.

Do the red, say the black (and no ad libs please!)

Weigel puts his piece in the context of Lent by suggesting that Lent is a time when we struggle with ourselves, when we should be trying to put bad habits to rest.  And so he particularly invites priests to make a resolution to 'do the red and say the black' - and quit with the ad libs and random variations on the texts set for Mass.

It is a call that I for one would strongly endorse!

I actually ended up going to my local parish Mass on Ash Wednesday, and it was actually quite well attended (9am not being a problem for a predominantly elderly congregation I guess).  Not only did we get a series of casual ad libs disrupting the flow of the Mass, but for a moment I thought we were in danger of getting an invalid sacramental (at least I assume it's one reserved to priests, but these days who knows...!), as the priest sought potential laypersons to distribute the ashes (fortunately he perhaps realised in time why no one would admit to having done it before and decided to do it himself)!

But the problem I think goes beyond the words and rubrics of the Mass and associated rituals, and to a broader question of attitude.  It goes to this question: do parish priests and community chaplains actually see their main task as helping the laity in their charge get to heaven?  Because it has to be said, many of them don't seem to act as if that were their preoccupation! 

The origins of priestly narcissism

Weigel's article suggests that the roots of modern priestly narcissism lie in the priest facing the people rather than saying the Mass facing the same way as the people, towards the altar.  There is certainly something to that!

When you deliberately move the tabernacle out of the central place in a Church, and install mini-thrones for the priest to sit on where it used to be instead; when you make the priest the centre of attention rather than the ritual itself; when you provide multiple options for how a mass can be said so that each celebration of it has chances for invention, you have an obvious recipe for disaster. 

When you lose the idea of the sacrifice as the central element of the Mass and substitute instead some pseudo-psychology about community building, it should be no surprise that things fall apart.

To many traditionalists of course this problem has long been obvious, one of the key reasons for EF communities existing.   But there can be a problem in overreaction in the opposite direction as well: the problem with errors is that they do not just affect those caught up in them, but their infection spreads in subtle ways.

Genuine outreach

Dawn Eden's article focuses on solutions in the 'theology of suffering' being promoted by Pope Benedict XVI.  She points out that for all of the discussion on the victims of sexual abuse, and all the aid to victims, very little has been done by way of outreach aimed at helping those victims - whether of priests or parents or others - to return to full life in the Church.

Yet Pope Benedict XVI, she argues, has put before us the examples of saints like St St. Josephine Bakhita (1869-1947), "...who was kidnapped as a child, sold into slavery, and forced to undergo brutal “tattoos” that left her with 144 scars, resonates deeply with victims of childhood sexual abuse."

Eden argues that 'the greatest sufferings of abuse victims are not physical, nor even psychological. They are spiritual..".  She suggests that:

"There is a slavery of external chains, and there is a slavery of the heart. Many victims of childhood sexual abuse, long after the threat is gone, remain shackled by the weight of resentment. Benedict, speaking in his current series of Wednesday catechesis on prayer, observes that man needs to be saved from the sorrow and bitterness that cause him to forsake God. For this liberation to take effect, “transformation from within is necessary, some foothold of goodness, a beginning from which to start out in order to change evil into good, hatred into love, revenge into forgiveness.”

The theology of saints helps those who have suffered childhood sexual abuse find that “foothold of goodness” through the witness of those who, after experiencing the deepest sorrows, were yet able to turn their eyes toward heaven and be saved."

Similar principles apply, I think to other, less well recognised forms of abuse.  Do go and read the whole piece, and perhaps add your prayers to this cause this first Friday in Lent!

Priorities, priorities...

From the website of an EF community:

Wednesday 22 February: ASH WEDNESDAY, 1st class; N.B. DAY of FAST and ABSTINENCE: N.B. NO EVENING MASS

Thursday 23 February: The CHAIR of ST PETER the APOSTLE, 1st class (transferred from 22 February); Comm. of St Paul, Apostle, and of the feria: MASS 6 PM

Pierce my flesh with your fear O Lord!: Intro to Psalm 118/3

folio 67v,
Belles Heures of Jean de France,
duc de Berry, 1405–1408/9.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The sections of Pope Benedict XVI’s catechesis on Psalm 118 that I’ve posted so far focus have focused on the law as a path to happiness, and on the importance of meditation on God’s law. The next part of his talk, however, touches on the darker emotions of grief, lament and supplication.

Pierce my flesh with your fear!

These days compliance with God’s law is often interpreted very broadly indeed, to mean anything I personally want to do; not so for the psalmist, who repeatedly asks to be instructed, and to be enlightened.   It also alludes to the currently highly unpopular idea that God sometimes allows bad things to happen to us so that we can be called to repentance, learn and grow.  And above all, it accepts ‘fear of the Lord’ as an appropriate motivator.

Yet in presenting these ideas to us, Psalm 118 constructs them in a very positive way, as Pope Benedict XVI indicates in the next section of his catechesis from last year on the psalm:

“The entire alphabet unfolds through the 22 stanzas of this Psalm and also the whole of the vocabulary of the believer’s trusting relationship with God; we find in it praise, thanksgiving and trust, but also supplication and lamentation. However they are always imbued with the certainty of divine grace and of the power of the word of God. Even the verses more heavily marked by grief and by a sense of darkness remain open to hope and are permeated by faith.

“My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to your word” (v. 25), the Psalmist trustingly prays. “I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes” (v. 83), is his cry as a believer. His fidelity, even when it is put to the test, finds strength in the Lord’s word: “then shall I have an answer for those who taunt me, for I trust in your word” (v. 42), he says firmly; and even when he faces the anguishing prospect of death, the Lord’s commandments are his reference point and his hope of victory: “they have almost made an end of me on earth; but I have not forsaken your precepts” (v. 87).”

Today’s verses

Here are some key verses to think on today that touch on these more penitential themes, so appropriate for a Friday in Lent!

25 My soul has cleaved to the pavement: quicken me according to your word.
41 Let your mercy also come upon me, O Lord: your salvation according to your word.
71 It is good for me that you have humbled me, that I may learn your justifications.
83 For I have become like a bottle in the frost: I have not forgotten your justifications
107. I have been humbled, O Lord, exceedingly: quicken me according to your word.
120 Pierce my flesh with your fear: for I am afraid of your judgments.
125 I am your servant: give me understanding that I may know your testimonies.
154 Judge my judgment and redeem me: quicken me for your word's sake.

And for appropriate meditation material, here is the Offertory set for today’s Mass, which verses 107 and 125 from the psalm:

You can find the Latin text and a little more, over at my Psalm blog.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Maitland-Newcastle: Bishop Wrong?

Maitland-Newcastle Diocesan magazine cover,
July 2011
Today I want to look at the diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, Australia’s tenth largest geographical diocese.

This is another diocese where another recent bishop appointee has taken on a very tough task indeed.

Bishop William (Bill) Wright is a very recent appointment indeed: his episcopal consecration took place on 15 June last year, following the early retirement of Bishop Michael Malone (bishop of the diocese from 1995) in the wake of continuing publicity about the handling of abuse scandals in the diocese.

And I’d like to be able to give him a break because he is so new.

Unfortunately, unlike a number of other dioceses where the incoming bishops have quickly said and done things that suggest that they are working to restore orthodoxy and orthopraxis, that is not the case in Maitland-Newcastle.

Quite the contrary.

The strong and growing traditional Mass community there has effectively closed down, no longer, I gather having even a weekday mass, in deference to the bishops views on this subject. He has also launched attacks on traditional devotions, and has indicated a disdain for the (genuine) traditions of the church generally.

His appointment, on the face of it, means that the liberal wing of the Australian Church will not die out as a result of demographic factors alone!

A troubled diocese…paedophilia

The biggest problem facing the new bishop is of course the abuse scandal.  Maitland-Newcastle has been pretty much ground zero for the Church in Australia due to the number of paedophilia cases that have resulted in jail sentences and the handling of them. Several cases are still in progress. 

And completed cases include the covering up of offences on the part of Bishop Malone’s Vicar General between 2005 and 2008. Similar allegations, and claims that he failed to take appropriate action, have also been leveled on an ABC Lateline program at another former diocesan Vicar-General, now AB of Adelaide and ACBC President, AB Philip Wilson (helped along by some potshots from now Bishop Emeritus Michael Malone).

I’m not in a good position to comment on Bishop Wright's handling of the abuse cases in the diocese so far.  He seems generally to be saying and doing the right things, and he certainly has some experience to draw on here, given his last parish placement, where his predecessor was jailed in 2010.

A troubled diocese....orthodoxy and orthopraxis

But abuse cases are very far from being the only problems in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese: once dubbed ‘the diocese of the Big Drain’, or ‘Malone’s Miasma by the Cooees from the Cloister blog (a subject of some preoccupation also of the associated ‘Warden’s Window’ blog until its closure some months back in 2011).  In short, this is a diocese famous for its  heterodox and heteropraxis character.

You can get a flavour of just what The Cooees are concerned about by looking at the Diocesan Vision Statement on the web, or this ‘About Our Faith’ statement:

"Catholicism is a rich and diverse reality. It is a Christian tradition, a way of life, and a community. That is to say, it is comprised of faith, theologies, and doctrines and is characterised by specific liturgical, ethical, and spiritual orientations and behaviours; at the same time, it is a people, or cluster of peoples, with a particular history." (Richard McBrien, Catholicism, 1994)."

Bishop Malone was appointed as co-adjutor to Bishop Leo Morris Clarke, 1976-95 (who resigned aged 72 due to ill-health).  He in turn asked for the appointment of a co-adjutor with a view to early retirement. When this proposal was rejected he resigned aged 71 on 4 April 2011.

Bishop Wright, has, I'm told set about addressing some of the administrative issues facing the diocese (not the least of which is the lack of a canon lawyer!).  Whether all of these decisions are soundly based remains to be seen.

About the diocese

Source: ACBC website
Greater Newcastle (including Lake Macquarie) is NSW’s second largest city, with around 523, 552 people in 2007. The town of Maitland (the central town is quite a small strip, effectively along the highway, but it includes a much wider area), is NSW’s fourth largest, at 61, 431. The territory in the diocese extends from Lake Macquarie to Taree and as far inland as Merriwa and Murrurundi, and takes in the beautiful and historic Hunter Valley wine growing region. It is 33, 753 sq kms in size, well down the list in size compared to other Australian dioceses.

The diocese was erected from Sydney in 1847. The parish of Newcastle was added to the diocese in 1873, and the name of the diocese was changed to reflect the major population centre (population 288,732), in 1995. At that time, the parish Church of the Sacred Heart was converted into the Cathedral after the Maitland pro-Cathedral was damaged in the 1989 earthquake.

Interestingly, Bishop Wright, like many city dwellers who migrate to the Hunter region, has decided to ‘renew tradition’ and live in the old bishops residence in historic tourist centre Maitland rather than coal-export centre Newcastle itself, next to the now much reduced ‘St John’s Chapel’ apparently in the hope of generating interest in its repair.

Diocesan website banner
Clergy (including a clergy woman!)

In 2004, the diocese included some 147, 602 catholics, 24.5% of the total population of the diocese. The diocesan website suggests that there are currently 39 priests and three permanent deacons who minister in 45 parishes as well as 19 priests who may be retired, on leave or engaged in special duties (though this information seems to be out of date, however, as it doesn't line up with the separate clergy listing), 6 permanent deacons…and, in keeping with the diocese’s reputation, one clergywoman (listed as: Sr Margaret Valentine rsc, Pastoral Coordinator, Clergy)!  The diocese has apparently had six ordinations in last decade, although two of these priests have subsequently left the active priesthood.

The number of priests has declined, as far as i can see, in line with the general Australian trend, from 99 priests in 1990, 79 of them diocesan. In 2004 the diocese has a notional priest to people ratio of 1: 2203, putting it in the category of high priest to people ratio dioceses.

The diocese has one contemplative monastery, of Redemptoristines.

How do you go about turning around a diocese?

At the beginning of this series of diocese by diocese reviews, I suggested an number of areas that could be important, such as strong leadership, particularly in focusing on vocations; good liturgy, a commitment to transparency and accountability; a mission outlook; and strong catechesis.

‘Bishop Bill’, as the diocesan website repeatedly styles him, has some curious things to say on some of these topics.

On leadership, for example, he is apparently committed to “the principles of collaborative decision making and co-responsibility”.


On the liturgy, the bishop was already infamous for his rejection of Church law in the form of Summorum Pontificum even before his appointment to this position, and for his disdain for Latin even in the Novus Ordo Mass. 

The Newcastle Traditional Latin Mass Society used to have around a hundred and fifty names on its books as interested potential participants, and after only twelve months was attracting around 40 to 50 people to its weekly masses.

Now those masses have been discontinued,  in line with the bishop's direction that there should be no 'special masses' for particular groups (a ruling that has also impacted on charismatic groups amongst others, though not apparently languages other than English except Latin!).

Even more alarming though, are some comments in the diocesan newspaper back in July.  

In the run up to his Episcopal consecration he expressed his dislike of big ceremonies, indicating that he has “always dodged the big church events when I reasonably could.”

Bishop Wright says:

“But my preference is for simpler gatherings, where the power that is in God’s word, and in our joining with Christ in self-offering, can work its way into our hearts without the need of adornment.”

His bio page on the website includes the comment that:

“I would like to see much more evidence of a church of ideas, so that at the heart of things, there are some very strong Christian religious ideas, instead of rote practices or ‘emotional devotionals’. [Does that mean the rosary and Adoration??!]…

No doubt on all of this he will continue to be aided by Sr Carmel Pilcher's interesting views on the liturgy.

Bishop Wright's favourite pejorative word seems to be ‘churchy’: an offer to have his cassock ironed for him in preparation for the Ad Limina meeting with the Holy Father was dismissed as “that sort of obsession with ecclesiastical ‘form and trivia’".

Concern about what is happening within the Church is dismissed by saying that we need a ‘willingness to look beyond “narrowly church” concerns to the wider questions of how people in our time and place find strength in their faith for living in the real world.’

On one topic, however, there has of late been rather less noise, at least since his episcopal consecration, and that is ecumenism.

Bishop Malone’s final piece in the diocesan newspaper is a paean in praise of his own achievement in pulling together an ecumenical agreement with the Anglicans – an agreement that at one stage resulted in the Vatican having to step in to stop a proposed joint confirmation ceremony!

Bishop Wright appears to share the Coooes from the cloister disdain for the traditional Latin Mass and small 't' Church traditions.

Let’s hope he also shares some of the more positive elements of their critique of the contemporary church, such as the dangers of false ecumenism.

Our Lady, model for believers: Introduction to Psalm 118/2

Yesterday I provided some extracts from Pope Benedict XVI’s General Audience on Psalm 118 by way of introduction to the psalm, and I’d like to continue with that approach today, again picking out a few verses from the psalm that go one of its key themes, namely the path to happiness, and the way to get there, viz meditation.

The importance of meditation

Most people are used to reading this psalm sequentially in the Office, though they may also have heard verses extracted out from it in Mass propers.

But in reality its sapiential statements are only loosely connected together in the text, and aren’t really developed sequentially so pulling a few verses out of order in order to flag in advance some of the key ideas it keeps coming back to is a worthwhile exercize I think.

You can find an extended version of this post, putting the psalm in the context of Psalm 1, over at Psallam Domino blog.

Our Lady, model for believers

Pope Benedict’s comments on the psalm today focus first on the idea of meditation on God’s word, pondering it in our hearts, following the model of Our Lady:

“The Psalmist’s faithfulness stems from listening to the word, from pondering on it in his inmost self, meditating on it and cherishing it, just as did Mary, who “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart”, the words that had been addressed to her and the marvellous events in which God revealed himself, asking her for the assent of her faith (cf. Lk 2:19, 51).

And if the first verses of our Psalm begin by proclaiming “blessed” those “who walk in the law of the Lord” (v. 1b), and “who keep his testimonies” (v. 2a). It is once again the Virgin Mary who brings to completion the perfect figure of the believer, described by the Psalmist. It is she, in fact, who is the true “blessed”, proclaimed such by Elizabeth because “she... believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:45). Moreover it was to her and to her faith that Jesus himself bore witness when he answered the woman who had cried: “Blessed is the womb that bore you”, with “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Lk 11:27-28). Of course, Mary is blessed because she carried the Saviour in her womb, but especially because she accepted God’s announcement and because she was an attentive and loving custodian of his Word.

Psalm 119 is thus woven around this Word of life and blessedness. If its central theme is the “word” and “Law” of the Lord, next to these terms in almost all the verses such synonyms recur as “precepts”, “statutes”, “commandments”, “ordinances”, “promises”, “judgement”; and then so many verbs relating to them such as observe, keep, understand, learn, love, meditate and live.”

Verses for the day

2 Blessed are they that search his testimonies: that seek him with their whole heart.
15 I will meditate on your commandments: and I will consider your ways.
16 I will think of your justifications: I will not forget your words.
34 Give me understanding, and I will search your law; and I will keep it with my whole heart.
35 Lead me into the path of your commandments; for this same I have desired.
66 Teachme goodness and discipline and knowledge; for I have believed your commandments
105 Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths.
130 The declaration of your words gives light: and gives understanding to little ones.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

How Rudd forced out a pro-life candidate

Today's Canberra Times highlights an up until now untold story on the pre-selection process for Labor Party candidates in the Australian Capital Territory. 

Over the weekend a Labor MP described Mr Rudd as a psychopath.  I'm not sure whether or not he truly is (others have suggested for example a case of Aspergers), but it has to be said that his reported behaviour (and my views are coloured, I have to admit, my own experience with him some years ago) is certainly not inconsistent with that! 

Regardless, the story highlights for me a problem dealt with in today's Patristic Readings for Matins, of the destructive power of the wolf in sheep's clothing.

The Rudd intervention in Canberra

But first the Canberra pre-selection story.

Canberrans will remember that for a brief moment it looked like a solid, traditionalist Catholic might get selected for one of the Canberra seats, in the form of Michael Cooney.

In fact at one stage, it looked like the election in the seat of Canberra would be a contest between two traditionalist Catholics, one for each major party, which would I think have been an unprecedented situation in Australia!

Alas the ALP factional deal behind it all fell apart, and the two candidates who eventually got up (and were elected) are very far from being pro-life (or pro-marriage) indeed!

Now it is claimed that the deal collapsed because then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd vetoed the candidacy of Mr Cooney.  You can read more in a fascinating piece on the pre-selection process on Australian Policy online.

The destructive power...

The story has some interesting ramifications for the pro-life push within the ALP.

If true, it is yet another reason why Catholic organisations like Caritas should stay well away from Mr Rudd!

But it also highlights what I think is a very real problem of just how hard it is to expose and stop those who present well publicly, particularly to those who they think 'matter', but whose underlying agenda is not in fact about the promotion of the common good.

The problem of the wolf in sheep's clothing

I continue to be fascinated (and horrified) by the way that what have been dubbed 'workplace psychopaths' continue to survive, thrive and wreak havoc in politics, the church and the workplace.

Rudd aside, I've encountered this phenomenon personally three times. 

The first was in the form of a power hungry egomaniac who I had the misfortune to work for for a while. 

The second was someone who worked for me, and whose subversion of my efforts and psychological exploitation of those who worked for her I didn't realize until far too late. 

And the third was in the form of a priest, who I subsequently discovered is notorious amongst those 'in the know' (and indeed, I keep stumbling across other victims of his destructive force).

We aren't (necessarily) talking here about the Fr Marciel-esq concealment of abuse and such like sins, though certainly it can include that.  We've become all too familiar in the Church with the person who on the surface seems a good and holy priest - but isn't!

No, I'm also talking here about the person who is highly intelligent, says and does all the right things and more, and who seems utterly convincing in the role they have taken on.  But who in reality is motivated by power and ego, and enjoys the psychological destruction they wreak on others; enjoys using their power to stop good things from happening.

One might expect, perhaps, such people to go into politics: it is often unfortunately an ego driven process.  But why do they become priests?  And I'm not just talking about novus ordo land here!

And why are we so helpless to do anything about the problem of the wolf in sheep's clothing?

This Ash Wednesday, perhaps you could join me in praying for the conversion of such people in all walks of life, and for their actions to be put an end to.

Ash Wednesday: The reviving power of God's law (Psalm 118/1)

Remember man, that thou art dust...

I mentioned yesterday that saying (praying) and meditating on some verses from Psalm 118 each day might make a good Lenten penance.

A post a day...

What I plan to do here then, is post each day (other than Sundays and Solemnities) at least a few verses of the psalm (generally one of the eight verse stanzas), and some brief commentary on them.  I'll try and arrange it so that the notes will continue up until Holy Week. 

For those who want more detailed notes, I'll generally put up a slightly extended version of the day's post over at my psalm blog. 

For this week, I'll start by providing an overview and introduction to the psalm, but also provide a couple of verses each day that you could use for prayer purposes that relate to the more general comments.

And by way of introduction, here is the first section of  a General Audience given on the psalm late last year by Pope Benedict XVI as part of his series on praying with the psalms.

Pope Benedict XVI on Psalm 118

"In today’s Catechesis I would like to reflect on Psalm 119, according to the Hebrew tradition, Psalm 118 according to the Greco-Latin one.

It is a very special Psalm, unique of its kind. This is first of all because of its length. Indeed, it is composed of 176 verses divided into 22 stanzas of eight verses each. Moreover, its special feature is that it is an “acrostic in alphabetical order”, in other words it is structured in accordance with the Hebrew alphabet that consists of 22 letters. Each stanza begins with a letter of this alphabet and the first letter of the first word of each of the eight verses in the stanza begins with this letter. This is both original and indeed a demanding literary genre in which the author of the Psalm must have had to summon up all his skill.

However, what is most important for us is this Psalm’s central theme. In fact, it is an impressive, solemn canticle on the Torah of the Lord, that is, on his Law, a term which in its broadest and most comprehensive meaning should be understood as a teaching, an instruction, a rule of life. The Torah is a revelation, it is a word of God that challenges the human being and elicits his response of trusting obedience and generous love.

This Psalm is steeped in love for the word of God whose beauty, saving power and capacity for giving joy and life it celebrates; because the divine Law is not the heavy yoke of slavery but a liberating gift of grace that brings happiness. “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word”, the Psalmist declares (v. 16), and then: “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it” (v. 35). And further: “Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (v. 97).

The Law of the Lord, his word, is the centre of the praying person’s life; he finds comfort in it, he makes it the subject of meditation, he treasures it in his heart: “I have laid up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (v. 11), and this is the secret of the Psalmist’s happiness; and then, again, “the godless besmear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts” (v. 69).

Verses for the day

And for today, I thought it might be useful just to pull out a few verses for you to read through, particularly appropriate to the themes of Ash Wednesday:

1. Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.
2. Blessed are they that search his testimonies: that seek him with their whole heart.
25. My soul clung to the dust: revive me according to your word.
28. Put away from me the ways of iniquity: and from your law have mercy on me.
174. I have longed for your salvation, O Lord; and your law is my meditation
176. I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost: seek your servant, because I have not forgotten your commandments.

And some music named for the last verse to meditate by:

For those who want to dig  a little deeper, this post, together with some additional material, can be found over at Psallam Domino blog.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Still looking for a lenten penance? Say Psalm 118 (119)!

Tomorrow is the start of Lent, and I've previously posted on getting ready by way of thinking about doing some spiritual reading (the tradition of reading a book right through) and fasting.  I'll leave you to sort out your own almsgiving proposals.

But the other traditional practice is to also do something extra by way of prayer.

Extra prayer during Lent - say a psalm (verse) or two!

Last year I suggested saying the penitential psalms, a very traditional practice.  If you want to go down that track, you might want to take a look at the series on them that I posted here past year.

To provide some variety, however, I thought this year I'd suggest saying some of Psalm 118 (119) each day.  Psalm 118 (119) is an extended meditation on the importance of God's law.  It is a psalm above all about the path to happiness, as its first line makes clear:

"Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!"

Psalm 118 as a traditional Lenten penance

Psalm 118 (119 in the neo-Vulgate and protestant Bibles) has a venerable history as an appropriate prayer during Lent. 

Over at Vultus Christi blog, for example, Fr Mark recently republished a letter found in a late medieval copy, purporting to be from St Scholastica, sister of St Benedict, to a fellow abbess and discussing Lenten practices in her monastery.  One of the examples of Lenten penance she provides is the recitation of Psalm 118:

"My venerable brother says that during this sacred season we are “to increase in some way the normal standard of our service, as for example, by special prayers, or by a diminution in food or drink” (RB 49:5-6)... Nonna Marcellina asked me if she might pray the Beati immaculati (Psalm 118) daily through Lent. She knows it by heart, of course."

Psalm 118 as preparation to enter the Temple

Psalm 118 is particularly appropriate for Lent in that it is a wisdom-meditation psalm that can help us get into the right frame of mind to celebrate the joy of Easter.

In Scripture, Psalm 118 comes immediately before the 'Psalms of Ascent' or Gradual Psalms, which are associated literally with the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for major Jewish feasts and the climb up the steps of the Temple, and spiritually with the Ascent to heaven.  This placement is not random!

It is meant to signal to us that reflection on the Law of God as a necessary preparation for the celebration of the Resurrection.

And in that light, it struck me as particularly appropriate, too, this year, at least for Australian readers, by way of preparation for the coming Year of Grace.

A stanza a day?

The letter I quoted above suggested saying the entire psalm daily.  That's a big ask: the longest psalm in the psalter, it has 176 verses in total!

But it is neatly divided into twenty-two stanzas of eight verses. 

In fact, this is an alphabetical psalms, so each set of eight verses starts with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Accordingly, one option would be to pray and meditate on one stanza a day, lingering over a few important verses. 

And to help anyone who is interested in saying Psalm 118, I'll provide some notes here each day on the psalm, as well as some supplementary notes for those interested in digging further over at my Psalm Blog.

Shrove Tuesday

Monday, 20 February 2012

A new Archbishop for Perth: Archbishop-elect Timothy Costelloe

Melbourne Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Costelloe SDB DD, aged 58, has been appointed the new Archbishop of Perth.  He inherits a diocese in relatively good shape from Archbishop Hickey.

A Salesian, the Archbishop-elect holds a Bachelor of Theology from the Melbourne College of Divinity, a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Salesian University (Rome), and a Doctorate of Theology from the Melbourne College of Divinity, examining the theology of ordained ministry of John Paul II.

The new Archbishop spent four years in Perth during the mid to late nineties, as parish priest at St Joachim’s in Victoria Park and as religious superior of the Salesian community based in Victoria Park and Kelmscott.   He also lectured in systematic theology at the University of Notre Dame in Fremantle, and accompanied Archbishop Hickey to the Synod of Oceania in 1998 as one of Archbishop Hickey’s two theological experts.

He was appointed Auxiliary of Melbourne in 2007.  As Auxiliary, he has continued to teach at Mariology and supervise research students in Systematic Theology at the Catholic Theological College in Melbourne.

He will officially take possession of the Archdiocese on 21 March 2012 during a Solemn Mass and Liturgical Reception in St Mary’s Cathedral, Perth.

Bishop appointment alert! Perth tonight, 10pm AESummer Time...

Just to let those interested now, news on the next bishop appointment, viz Perth will be out of embargo at 10pm tonight, so come back then for details...

Australian Story: Watch tonight!

For those who enjoy miracle stories, Australian Story (ABC, 8pm) might be worth a watch tonight, as it is on Kathleen Evans, the beneficiary of the second St Mary McKillop miracle.

And it's a great story, of someone who had turned away from the Church after the failure of her marriage, but was brought back through the efforts of a son from her subsequent relationship and experienced real grace in turning her life around.  She was then diagnosed with final stage lung cancer - and that's when the saint intervened...

Conscience and the Church....

There are three stories about the Australian Church worth drawing your attention to that illustrate some of the curious places the Church today finds itself in, namely the decision to standown a Newcastle priest for protesting over the sale of an aged care facility, yet more complaints about the "Melbourne process" for handling abuse cases, and the theological debate over the concept of conscience.

Let's start with the last.

'Primacy of conscience'

What is often described as the primary of conscience is one of those 70s era distortions of catholic doctrine that has been repeatedly condemned by modern popes.

But that doesn't, of course, stop the liberal mafia over at the ABC from attacking Bishop Anthony Fisher for reasserting the Church's teaching on this subject, as he apparently does in his new book, Catholic Bioethics for  New Millenium. 

Nor has it stopped Cath News from giving a plug, over the weekend, to dissenting theologians over at the US National Catholic Reporter in the context of the current debate on President Obama's attempt to make all health insurance schemes cover contraception, abortion, sterilization and so forth.

So here is the quick version, for those confused on this subject.  Catholics do believe in the primacy of conscience in one sense -  providing it is a correct conscience, a conscience informed by the teaching of the Church, aided by grace, and helped by wise advice. 

It doesn't, as many liberal theologians would have us believe, mean paying attention to how we 'feel' about something, nor does it mean that good intentions can ever be used to justify objectively evil acts such as contraception or abortion (CCCC 372-376).

The Melbourne Process

The second story was yet another set of allegations in The Age to the effect that the so-called Melbourne Process for handling abuse cases is gravely flawed. 

This time its over claims of mistreatment and breaches of patient confidentiality. 

We will have to await the outcome of the independent investigation going on into these latest claims, but it really does raise the question once again of why the archdiocese insists on going it alone, and sticking to a process that has been heavily criticized as inferior to the 'Towards Healing' one. 

Is there any evidence that Melbourne is handling these cases more successfully than anyone else?  Quite the contrary I'd suggest!


The final case to keep a close eye on is that of a priest who seems to have found himself out of a parish under the new 'Wright' regime for protesting over the proposed sale of Church property in the form of an aged care facility, in order one gathers, for the diocese to make payments  to victims of abuse.

The priest's concerns seem to be partly legal (does the diocese have the right to sell it), partly prudential - I'm not sure whether he is entirely in the right here (the sale is to the Little Company of Mary in this case after all) but the man does apparently have some expertise in this area, being a former financial adviser. 

But the real underlying debate here seems to be about a decision by the former Bishop Michael Malone, to allow things to go down the US route of selling off assets acquired for the benefit of all parishioners  to pay off the victims of priests.

Personally, while I have every sympathy for the victims I don't think money is the answer.  Aid for counselling and so forth as envisaged by the Towards Healing process is one thing.  And the perpetrators and those who covered up for them or failed to act should be sued for every penny they have, as well as jailed.

But I don't see why the rest of us should bear the costs of individual actions beyond that. Bishop Malone, and now it seems also Bishop Wright, have, as far as I can gather, chosen not to use the protections open to the Church in New South Wales in relation to most older compensation claims, but to allow court cases to proceed and large payouts to be made. 

The consequence is the destruction of catholic infrastructure.

Is that really the way we want to go?