Monday, 20 February 2012

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?


Martin S. said...

Cathnews page view stats, & equanimity . Will take your word for it :)

We should drag you into a chancellary and put you in charge of Comms.


Kate said...

Thanks for the thought Martin but I've done my time in that kind of work in the secular sphere and have no desire to go back to justifying the unjustifiable or attempting to persuade those in charge to do the right and/or sensible thing! Besides, I'd be gagged from speaking critically on my blog if I were a "church worker"!

Victoria said...

I'd be gagged from speaking critically on my blog if I were a "church worker"!

If you were the spouse of a Church worker would you also be gagged?

If the answer is "yes", would that be officially "gagged" or unofficially?

Kate said...

Victoria: You can find the guidelines here:

I don't think they can possibly extend to spouses though in practice one might want to be a little careful lest jobs be put at risk!

And I'm exagerating somewhat to say that church workers are gagged - they are required to 'represent the Church in a postive light'. Quite what that means in practice I'm not sure.

Certainly some such as Eureka Street take a very broad view indeed of what constitutes 'positive', for example egging on the critique of the Vatican over Toowoomba!

I do however think that one could argue though that constructive debate on many issues (though not all) does actually help the Church's image rather than harms it, provided it stays within certain limits.