Friday, 31 August 2012

And the scandal continues...

There have been a number of developments on the abuse scandal front this week.

NSW - A Royal Commission?

The case with potentially the most far-reaching consequences is the decision to charge Maitland-Newcastle priest Fr Tom  Brennan for failure to report the case of John Denham to the police, effectively making it a test case for coverups. He has also been charged with physically assaulting two boys who reported being abused, and sexually assaulting one of them.  Fr Brennan was school principal at the time, but was subsequently Vicar-General for the diocese.  You can read Bishop Wright's statement on the case here.

The Newcastle Herald is also running a campaign for a Royal Commission in New South Wales - follow the link above and you can sign the petition if you wish.

Certainly given the unresolved and to date unsatisfactory investigations, particularly when it comes to accusations of failure to act and coverup, that have occurred in too many cases - such as those against Broken Bay Director of Schools Brother Anthony Whelan - the case for a Royal Commission looks stronger every day.


Meanwhile in Victoria, a reader tells me that the Parliamentary Inquiry has extended the date for submissions for another month, to September 21, in order to ensure that everyone gets the chance to have their say.

Meanwhile in the 'they just don't get it' file...

And for further evidence of the nature of the problem, there was a curious interview featured this week on the US National Catholic Register with Fr Benedict Groeschel of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. 

The friars, which he founded, are one of the new conservative orders who have a done a lot of good work. 

But Fr Groeschel, a psychologist by training, made an unfortunate comment about some priests being the victims of teenager seducers, and not necessarily deserving jail for a first offence!

First this seems just naive - as some have pointed out in various places, perpetrators often develop a narrative that they truly believe to justify the unjustifiable. 

More fundamentally, though, even if it were true, who is the adult and who is the child!  That someone makes sexual advances to you can never justify responding to them, particularly where they are minors.

And that a priest who should know better can still come out and say things like this suggests just how far the Church still has to go on the learning curve...

The newspaper, friars and Fr Groeschel have subsequently apologised and pulled the article, but that it could be said and get printed at all is surely telling.

**Update: And now I see assorted blogs providing defences and calling for prayers for Fr Groeschel in his terrible hour of trial!  And being promoted on the very sites that linked to the original interview without comment.

Please, folks, think a little harder about this. He said something at the very least, very silly and hurtful and he said it very publicly; he's rightly being taken to task for it. 

Are some of the comments and speculation unfair?  Perhaps.  Probably.

But in my view, not as unfair as the pain the victims have and continue to experience, particularly when they come across comments of this type. 

Moreover, when comments from a priest appear to reflect a certain mindset, it is only natural to wonder whether this is yet another sad another case where appearances have been deceptive.  Once burnt, twice shy...

Rebuilding trust

On the more positive side, there is a rather more realistic appraisal of the depth of lay anger over this issue and the problems for the bishops of regaining trust in a talk by Bishop Daniel Conlon of Joliet, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on the subject which should be compulsory reading for all Australian bishops.  It doesn't really offer any solutions, but it does point out that the kind of responses offered to date have not been effective and are not likely to be.

In particular, he reports that in a recent US survey, the bishops basically got a fail mark:

"The bottom line, though: thumbs down for the bishops. For example, 59% of the respondents said that the bishops have done the bare minimum, while only 9% think that the bishops have done a good job of being transparent about past cases of abuse. 55% say the bishops are less likely to cover up abuse cases today than in the past. Remarkably—and this will certainly disappoint you—34%--just over one-third—believe that "parishes and schools are now safer for children thanks to safeguards implemented in the last 10 years."

Would the results be any different here?  I very much doubt it...

Thursday, 30 August 2012

The collapse of Catholic marriage in Australia

Cath News yesterday highlighted an interesting story on the latest ABS marriage statistics for Australia (for 2010). 

The Fairfax media angle on the story was the dramatic decline in the proportion of religious weddings. 

The Cath News comments (equally predictably) reflect a mix of complacency (based on a misunderstanding of the statistic on the proportion of catholic weddings) and 'what we need is authenticity and commitment' not church weddings type rhetoric.

But the real story here I think is the continuing collapse of marriage as an institution in this country, including (and indeed especially) amongst those calling themselves catholics.

Collapse of marriage

At first blush the number of marriages looks encouraging, because it has actually increased in real terms.  But that is before you take account of population growth.

The reality is that the marriage rate, the proportion of the population actually getting married, crashed in the 1990s, and shows no signs of recovering.

Source: ABS 3310.0
Moreover, those overall figures disguise a few important trends. 

First, the marriage rate amongst Australian-born people continues to fall, while marriages amongst those born overseas continues to rise. 

Secondly, the absolute number of marriages in 2010 was lower than in 1990 in all but two States and one Territory - WA and Queensland, plus the NT.  Marriage too, it seems, reflects the 'two-speed economy'!

Thirdly, a startling 78.9% of those getting married co-habited beforehand.

The secularization of marriage

The angle on the story highlighted in the media report was the collapse in the proportion of religious marriages, and it is indeed a pretty dramatic trend, as the graph below illustrates:

Source: ABS 3310
Basically, the proportion of civil marriages rose to equal the number of religious marriages in 1998, and now 69.2% of all ceremonies are civil.

That's not really that surprising given the rise of secularism in Australia and increasing proportion of people declaring no religious affiliation: the only real surprise is that anyone bothers to get married at all given that marriage these days provides no extra legal protection compared to being in a de facto relationship.

The Catholic collapse

I noted above some sense of complacency in response to the figure that a third of religious ceremonies were catholic.

Now it is true that Catholic marriages still constitute a third of those religious ceremonies - but that is a third of a declining pool. 

The proportions of catholics getting married at all, in other words, as well as the proportion using a religious ceremony, continues to decline sharply.

And that is particularly problematic from a Catholic perspective since if you were baptised a catholic, your marriage is only valid (so far as the Church is concerned) if it took place in Church (unless you got a dispensation).  It is true of course that the couple marry themselves - but for that to occur they have to go through the proper 'matter and form', including those pesky requirements of pre-checks and instruction on the sacrament.

Our schools are bursting at the seams by all accounts.  But based on these statistics, though those kids might be baptised in order to get into our subsidised schools, they are bursting, one suspects with children from 'families' that have abandoned the sacrament established for the perpetuation of society.

No wonder the 'catholicity' of our schools is so often questioned...

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Secularism, Pat Power and women in the Church:

I'm one of those people who actually do think the Church could use women more effectively. 

Which makes it all the more annoying to see unhelpful Marxist-Feminist rants coming to us on Cath News courtesy of the ACBC's Director for the Office for the Participation of Women and Executive Secretary to the Bishops' Commission for Church Ministry, Donella Johnston.

Ms Johnston's blog post today is part puff piece for liberal bishop Pat Power, the recently retired auxiliary from Canberra, combined with yet another sympathy piece for the US peak religious women's body, the LCWR.

But it's main thrust is that women (and others) should resist the teaching of the Church if it conflicts with their secularist influenced ideas of the role of women.  In short, the sub-text seems to be, fight to be a priestess!

Godless secularists love +PP!

Ms Johnston's piece opens by puzzling over why Canberra, where more people claimed 'no religious affiliation' at the last census than claimed to be catholics (for the first time) should so dote on Bishop Power, even appointing him citizen of the year in 2009.

She sees the answer in the bishop's commitment to Christian love. 

I'd suggest it has rather more to do with the bishop's failure to actually confront secularist ideas that are opposed to Christianity, for the greater love is in speaking the truth, not appeasement.

Oh the horror!

It is not, contrary to Ms Johnston's claims, bullying or intimidation to speak the truth.  Nor is there anything in Scripture which says that the proper exercize of authority is a bad thing.  Quite the contrary.

Ms Johnston appears to take a Marxist analysis, which sees everything as about power: accordingly she 'watched in horror as the LCWR was put under the control of an Archbishop'!  And apparently now, if they persist on their current path, risking even excommunication, they will be 'courageous women' using their “feminine genius”.

There is lot's of talk of turning the other cheek, and going the extra mile.  But none at all of that most important of all virtues that Our Lord sought to teach us, namely obedience.

Transforming the Australian Church?

Ms Johnston, moreover, has an agenda for the Australian Church.  She asks her readers to consider, in the context of the Year of Grace:

"The Year of Grace prayer talks of a Church transformed, relationships healed and a nation that grows in compassion and justice. Here’s how we transform our Australian Church. Ready?"

Identify your fear. Name it. Hold your ground and confront it (him/her) with love – always love. No put-downs. No threats. No intimidation. No bullying.

Ask yourself the hard questions. Do a risk assessment. What’s the worse thing that could happen to me if I confronted my fear? I could lose my job? I could get excommunicated? I could have the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on my back? I could be de-frocked/ laicised? I could be crucified? Really? Try it.

Yes well, some people certainly do need to lose their jobs it would seem, if we are ever to truly recover a genuinely Catholic Church in this country!

Better yet, perhaps Ms Johnston and her supporters might meditate and act on the Pope's comments about the sin of Judas in staying on the inside when he utterly rejected what Christ actually stood for (as opposed to what he wanted him to stand for).

Women have been marginalized...

I think the thing that most annoys me about this kind of claptrap is that there really are things an Office for the Participation of Women could usefully be doing rather than waging an underground war for women's ordination and other related agendas.

My view is that women have effectively been marginalized in the Church since Vatican II. 

It has happened because the thriving women's religious orders that used to run our schools, hospitals and other charitable infrastructure have largely been turned over to the laity, and in the main that means to lay men, not laywomen.

It has happened because women were marginalized by the systematic annihilation of guilds and other organizations that provided a vibrant social infrastructure within our parishes that women could actively participate in, and influence policy through.

It has happened because women are marginalized by poor catechesis that means, for example, that most women don't today play the role they used to in teaching their children the faith, holding their husband's to it, or acting as a leaven in the world more generally.

And above all it has happened because a new clericalism has arisen since Vatican II that makes priests the central focus of the liturgy rather than the leader of his people in worship; and that give a lot of decision-making or approval responsibility, for example, in new bodies such as the Council of Priests (which have no effective lay equivalent) and Bishops Conferences (which  have no effective lay input).

There are things that can and should be done to address these problems. 

Shame Ms Johnston seems to be committed instead to an entirely different path...

Monday, 27 August 2012

Australia's former nuncio not exactly being welcomed in Israel...

You may have read the news recently that Australia's papal nuncio, Archbishop Guiseppi Lazzarotti, has been appointed Ambassador to the Holy Land.

No bad thing from an Australian point of view, given the mixed bag of episcopal appointments that have occurred over the last few years.  And then there is the seeming inability of the Australian Church to reform itself on the handling of abuse cases and thus the seemingly almost inevitably Royal Commission, and the less than adept handling of issues such as assorted episcopal resignations and depositions.

Yet it seems the Archbishop's appointment is not exactly being welcomed in Israel, mainly because of his association with the mishandling of the Irish abuse crisis.  The UK Catholic Herald today provides a link to an Israeli newspaper piece describing the appointment as 'an embarassment and humiliation' to Israel.

Oh dear.

PS Readers might also find the Catholic Herald's take on how the abuse scandal is playing out here of interest.

Cath News: lewd and nude, just what we need on a Monday morning...

Today's 'blogwatcher' column from Michael Mullins over at Cath News really hits a new low in my view.

It includes, inter alia, 'that photo' of Prince Harry, on the excuse of illustrating a piece in praise of Rupert Murdoch's Sun (!) from The Tablet.

I can't personally see any public interest in publishing these photos: surely a general description would have been enough?  And I certainly can't see any need to republish them on a site like Cath News.

And frankly the faux outrage over Prince Harry's (continuing bad) behaviour is just gross hypocrisy.

Cath News: Open Post

A place for your comments on Cath News of late...

The sin of falsehood : the Pope on Judas

The Pope's Angelus message yesterday was on the Bread of Life discourse, and touches on that all too prevalent modern sin, of those who reject Christ's 'hard teachings' and seek to betray him, yet remain in the Church.

Here is the text, courtesy of Vatican Radio:

"In the past few Sundays we have meditated on the “Bread of Life” discourse that Jesus pronounced in the synagogue of Capernaum after feeding thousands of people with five loaves and two fishes. Today, the Gospel presents the disciples’ reaction to that speech, a reaction that Christ Himself knowingly provoked. First of all, John the Evangelist - who was present along with the other Apostles - reports that “from that time many of His disciples drew back and no longer went about with Him” (Jn 6:66). Why? Because they did not believe the words of Jesus when He said: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will live forever” (cf. Jn 6,51.54). This revelation, as I have said, remained incomprehensible to them, because they understood it in a material sense, while in these words was foretold the Paschal Mystery of Jesus, in which He would give Himself for the salvation of the world: the new presence in the Holy Eucharist.

Seeing that many of His disciples were leaving, Jesus addressed the Apostles, saying: “Will you also go away?” (Jn 6:67). As in other cases, it is Peter who replied on behalf of the Twelve: “Lord, to whom shall we go? - and we too can reflect: to whom shall we go? - You have the words of eternal life and we have believed and know that You are the Holy One of God" (Jn 6:68-69). On this passage we have a beautiful commentary of St. Augustine, who says in one of his homilies on John 6: “Do you see how Peter, by the grace of God, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has understood? Why did he understand? Because he believed. You have the words of eternal life. You give us eternal life by offering your risen body and your blood, your very self. And we have believed and understood. He does not say we have understood and then we believed, but we believed and then we understood. We have believed in order to be able to understand; if, in fact, we wanted to understand before believing, we would not be able either to understand or to believe. What have we believed and what have we understood? That You are the Christ, the Son of God, that is, that You are that very eternal life, and that You give in Your flesh and blood only that which You are” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 27, 9). So Saint Augustine said in a homily to his faithful people.

Finally, Jesus knew that even among the twelve apostles there was one that did not believe: Judas. Judas could have left, as many of the disciples did; indeed, he would have left if he were honest. Instead he remained with Jesus. He did not remain because of faith, or because of love, but with the secret intention of taking vengeance on the Master. Why? Because Judas felt betrayed by Jesus, and decided that he in turn would betray Him. Judas was a Zealot, and wanted a triumphant Messiah, who would lead a revolt against the Romans. Jesus had disappointed those expectations. The problem is that Judas did not go away, and his most serious fault was falsehood, which is the mark of the devil. This is why Jesus said to the Twelve: “One of you is a devil” (John 6.70). We pray to the Virgin Mary, help us to believe in Jesus, as St. Peter did, and to always be sincere with Him and with all people.

There are all too many Judas' amongst us: would they that would just leave before they wreak any further vengeance.  But if they will not, we must cast them out, as Scripture instructs (1 Cor 5:5 etc).

Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Life and Wisdom of St Benedict/14 - To relieve the poor

The fourteenth of the Tools of Good Works in Chapter 4 of St Benedict's Rule is to 'relieve the poor'.

The corporal works of mercy

It is closely connected to the previous tool, to love fasting, as Isaiah makes clear in Chapter 58.  The people ask, in that chapter, why God doesn't take note of their fasting. 

God replies that it is because they fast for the wrong reasons. The point of fasting should be, the prophet instructs, "to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house, when you see the naked to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh".

The corporal works of mercy also, of course, get a work out in St Matthew 25:35-6, when Jesus tells the disciples that at our judgment, God will say that they gave Our Lord food, drink and clothes when they gave it to the least of the brethren.

Accordingly, today's tool should cause us to examine our own consciences: the true proof of our love of God is our commitment to works of mercy.

Committed communities?

It is worth, too, considering the relief of the poor not just as an individual obligation, but more especially a communal one. 

For most of history, Christian communities made a point of looking after their own first. 

Somewhere along the way, we seem to have lost sight of that. 

Over the last week or so, an abuse victim and others who have witnessed aspects of the malaise have shared with me some truly horrific stories. 

They are horrific not just because of the abuse and other sins themselves, but more especially because of the lack of love of neighbour shown by pretty much everyone involved.

They are stories of people pretending to offer help to another - but in fact taking advantage of their other problems to abuse them.  Of people being brutalised by those who should be protecting them.  Of people being bullied by those who should be providing peer support.  Of those who should be leaders instead attempting to lead others astray.  Of those who should be taking responsibility instead doing everything possible to avoid it.  And of others standing by while it happens.

It all serves it make a mockery of that dreadful novus ordo hymn 'they'll know we are Christians by our love, by  our love'.

Nor do many traditionalist communities seem to have much focus in this area: most seem more preoccupied with the logistics of the liturgy and theological formation than with collective charitable activity and mutual support. 

Perhaps we all need to examine our consciences and seek to regain a proper balance?

St Benedict aids a poor man

Chapter 27 of the Life of St Benedict by St Gregory the Great records this story on the saints approach to aiding the poor:

"...on a certain day, an honest man, who was in debt, found no other means to help himself, but thought it his best way to acquaint the man of God with his necessity.  He came to the Abbey, and finding the servant of almighty God, gave him to understand, how he was troubled by his creditor for twelve shillings which he owed him.

To whom the venerable man said that himself had not so much money, yet giving him comfortable words, he said: "Go your ways, and after two days come to me again, for I can not presently help you".

Over the next two days he prayed intently, and when on the third day the poor man came back there were found suddenly on the chest of the Abbey, which was full of corn, thirteen shillings: which the man of God caused to be given to him that required but twelve, both to discharge his debt, and also to defray his own charges."

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Liturgy help and the bread of life - still absent in Brisbane?

Surely the most crucial difference between protestant and Catholic beliefs goes to the Eucharist: Catholics believe it really and truly is the flesh and blood of Jesus that is consumed; protestants see the bread and wine simply as a memorial of the last supper.

Unfortunately, all too many Catholics, led astray by false teaching from their pastors and others in official positions, as well as a liturgy that serves to undermine rather than reinforce belief, have lost any sense of the Real Presence.

A reader sent me a classic example of the kind of subversion that is still occurring in many dioceses; this particular one comes from Brisbane

The bread of life discourse

There are certain Sunday readings that almost invariably generate a spate of erroneous sermons, last Sunday's Bread of Life discourse (St John 6: 51-58) in the Ordinary Form being one of them.

One thing though to give a sermon - we might, after all, have misheard or misunderstood!

Quite another, though, to include an entirely erroneous reflection on the Gospel in one's parish bulletin, as the parish of Holy Family in Indooroopilly (Brisbane Archdiocese) did last week.

And the reflection comes courtesy of serial offender, Archdiocesan Education Commission employee, Greg Sunter.

A literal interpretation is 'impossible'?!

Let's take a look at what Mr Sunter had to say (my comments are in red):

"This Gospel passage continues the 'Bread of Life' discourse that we have been following through the Gospel of St John for a few weeks now.  It overlaps with the reading from last week with Jesus announcing that his flesh is 'the bread of life'.  Not surprisingly, the Jewish audience is horrified by the idea of eating human flesh. [So far, ok] Jesus drives his point home further with his audience by also referring to the drinking of blood.  In Jewish tradition, even to touch blood made a person ritually unclean.  Any meat that was to be eaten had to be drained of blood according to kosher rules. [Is this little digression on Jewish food laws really necessary?  Surely the talk of cannibalism is enough to shock the audience!]  The words used by Jesus in this passage are so confronting that they cannot possibly be taken literally.  It is a complete overstatement of the image to try to make sure that a literal interpretation is impossible. [Oh really?  That would be why the crowd, including most of the disciples deserted Our Lord then, as this week's Gospel relates?!  In fact of course, the Church does take this passage extremely literally indeed, quoting it half a dozen times or more in the Catechism in relation to the Eucharist.  It is the basis for the teaching that 'The Eucharist is the very sacrifice of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus...' (CCCC 271), and that in the Eucharist, Jesus Christ is present sacramentally 'in a true, real and substantial way, with his Body and his Blood, with his Soul and his Divinity' (CCCC 282).  And it is this teaching that can rise to rumours amongst the Romans that the early Christians practised cannibalism!]

The modernist view though...

Mr Sunter, however, rather than wanting us to take it literally goes on to try and explain away our Lord's famous 'hard saying':

"When the Gospel writer has Jesus speaking [is he suggesting that the 'Gospel writer' is not in fact recording what was really said, or that he was not writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?!] he is drawing on a very old image of eating and drinking as representing 'absorbing'; or 'comprehending'; or 'understanding' the message of the speakerIn this ancient understanding [not ancient at all, rather very modern indeed, not to say a modernist understanding!], to 'eat the flesh of Jesus' is to take into oneself and accept everything that Jesus stands for;  everything that Jesus teaches [by magic!]; everything that Jesus believes [Jesus believes?!  Jesus is God; he doesn't believe, he knows!  Yep another error].  It is an act of fait.  When we received Christ in the Eucharist, is this the depth of significance and purpose with which we take communion? [yep it is all about us in Mr Sunter's view.  Totally Pelagian, no grace involved.]

Mr Sunter then continues with some entirely speculative material on when the Gospel was written and its links to early Christian practice.

Sad stuff.

'Liturgy help'!

Mr Sunter's erroneous reflections (and there seem to be a quite a number of them around, all similarly erroneous on content), appear to be distributed by an organisation called Liturgy Help, which clams to be 'fully authorised by the Catholic Church to publish official liturgical texts online'.  Nominally operating out of Hobart (when is a new Archbishop going to be appointed!) it accordingly distributes texts, ordo and other material for inclusion in parish bulletins around Australia and overseas for a price.

The ACBC and Mr Sunter's bishop, surely need to take some action on this one!

Please pray for Archbishop Coleridge, charged with cleaning up the black hole of a diocese that is Brisbane, as well as all those charged with the prevention of the spread of error.

May they take the necessary action to clean this kind of stuff out and ensure that the actual faith is taught, not this subversion and error.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Them bones: relics and the rejection of the body

Cath News highlighted a story yesterday, from the Canberra Times, on the upcoming tour of a relic of St Frances Xavier in the form of his severed arm.

Most of the comments express horror at the prospect of seeing such a relic, viewing it as grotesque, superstitious, and urging that children be shielded from seeing such a thing.

This is not, I think, a totally outrageous first reaction at least: after all, those relics really are gory! 

Yet they serve the same function, I think, as other rather gory aspects of our practice, such as use of the Cross in our worship.  So it has to be asked, how has it come about that Catholics can find such an important part of their tradition so alien?

Body and soul

The traditional teaching, of course is that man is body and soul: and a holy person transforms their body into a true temple of the Lord, with (visible, such as stigmatas and the like and/or invisible) physical effects on their body which persist after their death.

This is one of the reasons the Church strongly prefers burial over cremation.

The most obvious examples of this physical manifestation of holiness are of course recorded in the Gospels: the women who simply touched the hem of Christ's clothing and was instantly healed for example.

For this reason the cult of saints based around their relics was no medieval invention: rather the veneration of the bones of the martyrs can be traced to those early catacombs in Rome and elsewhere.

But it is a cult that certainly grew over time, as the evidence of miracles attributable to relics made the tombs of the saints into pilgrimage sites and more.

Rejecting the role of the body

Somehow or other though, modern catholicism seems to have lost sight of this proper anthropology, of the idea that training the body can aid in the growth of virtue; and that in reverse, our holiness (or lack thereof) can affect our bodies.

Instead of a process of gradual growth in sanctity by dint of the interaction between grace and our acceptance and co-operation with it, a process of 'deification' to use the Eastern terminology, many Catholics seem to have swallowed the fundamentalist born-again notion of instant sainthood by virtue of 'accepting Christ as their saviour'. 

The born again notion is an attractive one, of course, particularly in the watered down form many Catholics appear to have imbibed - because all that seems to be required is a statement of belief without the need for any of that pesky follow up like actually attending Mass for example, or undertaking penance for our past sins.

Indeed, as I've pointed out in a few posts earlier this week, even as a flood of 'how I survived Ramadan' stories as a conversion tool hit the mainstream newspapers around the world, Catholics continue to baulk at even baby steps down this track such as even a three hour Eucharistic fast!


The loss of this sense of the sanctity of our bodies, of the body as the Temple of Christ, and of the need for physical as well as mental training for sanctity, has had major consequences.

It has facilitated the infiltration of those 1960s notions of sexual liberation in the Church, including the priesthood for example.

It has encouraged sacrilegious reception of the Eucharist on a regular basis by many.

What relics should mean for us

Now I have to admit, I do personally find some of these kinds of relics rather gory, and I think that is a perfectly reasonable first reaction. 

For just as the Cross is a scandal, just as those wounds on Christ's hands and feet that St Thomas had to see to believe, so too the relics of the saints remind us that our faith is not entirely a warm fuzzy, fluffy, happy thing, but one grounded in the hard realities of the real world, bound up in the struggles of life and death.

The very goriness of relics such as this remind us that this life is not the end: those dry bones, after all, will once again be revived on the last day, when the bodies and souls of the faithful are reunited.

Accordingly, we need to reflect on just why the Church promotes the cult of the saints and what that should mean for our own efforts to make our bodies a worth and true Temple for Christ.

There is a developing website for the tour which will provide dates and more shortly. 

Listening to the laity? Maitland-Newcastle developments

I mentioned, a couple of weeks back, what appeared to be a classic case of liberal clericalism - a Tablet article on the use of overseas priests in Maitland-Newcastle diocese that appeared to be setting the scene for closing down the program by painting their use as a failure, despite high levels of lay support for overseas priests.

But it seems the diocese has taken due note, for Cath News today highlights a rather more positive spin on the report, with an article headlined 'overseas priests welcomed' presented in The Catholic Weekly.  And the story includes supportive quotes from diocesan officials.

I don't imagine this will get the international coverage the previous spin received, but good to see a more balanced presentation of the issues nonetheless.

Now if Bishop Wright would just allow the Extraordinary Form Mass (and other approved liturgical rites and uses aside from the novus ordo in English) to be said in his diocese...

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Australian Church finances: in a mess like the US?

A reader drew my attention yesterday to an Economist article and a response to it on the (seriously messed up) state of US Church finances, in large part due to huge payouts for abuse claims and a long history (it is claimed) of mismanagement and misappropriation.

The Economist story

The main point of the story was that in some dioceses, it is claimed, bishops raided parish accounts, priest's pension funds, misused donations and attempted to asset strip their dioceses in order to avoid the bad publicity of ending up in court or to otherwise meet the costs of abuse claims.

In other places, The Economist suggested, dioceses have pushed money out of central funds and into other diocesan entities in order to avoid having to give the money up when declaring bankruptcy (as eight US dioceses have to date).

All this could happen, the Economist argues, because of often poor financial management processes, and because while parishes and other diocesan entities may be technically separate from the diocese, in reality the diocesan authorities have a great deal of control over them through trustee and other such arrangements.

Did the Economist get it wrong?

Using a combination of guestimates and what hard evidence is publicly available, such as bankruptcy filings, the Economist did one of its excellent 'paint the big picture' stories trying to give an idea of the size of net worth of the Church's financial operations in the US, and then teas out some of the issues in its operations.

Overnight, the issue has exploded in the US, with conservatives denying that there are any problems, and claiming the Economist has misunderstood the nature of the Church as an entity. 


Personally I'm with Rod Dreher on this.  The Economist wasn't, as far as I can see, suggesting that the US Church was one legal entity or operated as such, or that it should operate like Walmart as one respondent has claimed. 

Moreover, it does act in a co-ordinated fashion at times - like say in resisting Obamacare's contraception coverage requirements!

Indeed, in Australia we have just celebrated the fiftieth anniversary for the 'Goulburn strike', where Catholic schools obtained state funding by threatening to flood the state system with students (and actually doing it in the town of Goulburn for a few weeks to make the point).

It seems to me to be naive indeed to suggest that the overall size of the Church's operations isn't something it uses for lobbying and other purposes, or that the Church should only focus on data like the number of ordinations rather than also keeping track of how much it costs to actually ordain  a priest! 


Moreover, there are many more examples the Economist could have cited of what looks awfully like outright malfeasance.

Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee's (still listed as Emeritus Archbishop of his diocese) payout of $450,000 from diocesan funds to his former male 'lover' immediately springs to mind for example.

And indeed this case illustrates the tensions around the financial pressures of the abuse crisis.  On the one hand, at least some of the victims seem entitled to some financial reparation for what happened to them.

On the other, neither the priests who were abusers, the bishops and other officials who covered it up, or the seminary instructors who failed to teach morality/weed out unsuitable candidates are likely to have much by way of personal assets.

Instead the funds being used to compensate victims are those built up from the contributions of the laity, who are thereby twice victimised in this whole sorry saga.

Sound management practices

But in any case, the real point of the story, it seemed to me, was that sound financial management practices wouldn't go amiss given the size of the assets Church entities are dealing with and the pressures it faces from abuse claims amongst other things.

The Archdiocese of Boston has  denied the specific allegations, which go to the term in office of the now disgraced Cardinal Law.  Well, everyone seems to agree at any rate, that in wake of what happened there, the diocese has cleaned up its act.

But is that true across the board?  And is it true in Australia?

Canon and civil law structures: Australia

There are differences between the Australian and US civil law structures of course.  And indeed, in Australia, the situation differs slightly between each State, due to State and Territory Acts which set out church property and related matters.

But the systemic issues - a lack of transparency and accountability, and the dependence of the system on having an able (and honest) administrator in the form of the bishop - are the same.

Indeed, there are a couple of factors that probably make them worse here.

First, there is the system under civil law of vesting all church property in trustees, who in the ACT for example, are the bishop and his priest consultors. 

Secondly,  there is the predilection here for appointing parish 'administrators' rather than parish priests, or using time limited appointments for parish priests, thus reducing the canonical protections available to priests that might assist them in resisting an improper raid on parish assets by the diocesan administration.

Thirdly there are the diocesan 'Catholic Development Fund' arrangements which provide centralized banking/treasury services in many dioceses, which operate outside the controls and protections that would be imposed on them if they were secular entities.  Indeed, the Melbourne CDF website specifically says:

"CDF is not subject to the provision of the Corporation Act 2001 nor has it been examined or approved by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. Neither CDF nor the Trustees of the Roman Catholic Trusts Corporation for the Archdiocese of Melbourne is prudentially supervised by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. Contributions to CDF do not obtain the benefit of the Depositor Protection Provision of the Banking Act 1959."

Instead, you deposits are guaranteed by the diocese:

"The Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne has indemnified the CDF against any liability arising out of a claim by investors in the CDF through CDPF Limited, which is a company established by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. In essence, this means that your deposit, investment and any interest payable is guaranteed by the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne."

Yep, very reassuring!

There are of course some protections, in the form of the canonical requirement to have diocesan and parish finance councils, and take advice from them.  But these are as effective as the people involved - who are of course, appointed by the bishop.  The scope for cronyism is there, regardless of whether or not it is exercised in practice in each case.  And in the past at least, one suspects many of those on such councils operated on a principle of deference to the bishop's wishes and gave him the benefit of the doubt in dubious cases. 

The case for change

The Economist article suggests that in the US, there is a case for parishes and other diocesan entities to ask some hard questions about just what bank accounts their money is held in (ie make sure it is separate from the dioceses), make sure their asset registers are up to date, and ensure that standard internal controls are in place.

It also implies the need for a serious overhaul of the legal and canonical structures.

Hear hear.

A good start, in Australia, would surely be to put those CDF's under the prudential supervision of those bodies with the appropriate expertise set up for the purpose.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Child abuse responses: too little, too late?

Two of Australia's largest dioceses, Sydney and Melbourne, have put out responses on child abuse this week designed, I suppose to try and neutralize the issue.

But neither, I think, is likely to have the slightest bit of impact in the face of continuing stream of stories that seem to contradict their claims.

There is a basic principle of media management they appear not to have taken on board: if you want to get in front of bad publicity, acting with too little too, too late will not work.

Sydney vs Melbourne

The Melbourne Response is yet another apology, and warning to Church goers that they aren't going to like what they hear coming out of the State parliament Inquiry going on down there!  The only new (and welcome) feature is that Catholic Religious Australia have joined in signing the letter to the Parliamentary Inquiry.

The Sydney response takes the form of a quite well argued and written pamphlet that sets out what the diocese's procedures for handling cases actually are and attempts to do some 'myth-busting'. 

The problem of course, is that it stands in immediate contrast with the allegations about how such cases have actually been dealt with in the past highlighted by the recent Four Corners show.

Now it is true of course that those events don't relate to the Sydney Archdiocese, happened a couple of decades ago, and that as the Cardinal has pointed out, he doesn't control what other dioceses do. 

But the problem is that the priests concerned still hold senior positions (including in the Sydney Archdiocese and ACBC) and have not been stood aside from those positions in response to the latest allegations.

Indeed, the immediate former President of the ACBC, Archbishop Wilson of Adelaide seems to be standing in danger of being charged with cover up in the near future!

And the bottom line is that if the Cardinal doesn't want to take responsibility for what other dioceses do, perhaps he shouldn't answer questions on behalf of them on shows like Four Corners!

How to really tackle the issue?

I've argued before that if the Church really wants to get in front of this issue in the media (and I think it should, in the interests of ordinary Catholics apart from anyone else) it needs to put out a really comprehensive response that goes beyond words of apology and assurances that it is all fixed now no none believes.

Now ideally that should happen on an Australian wide basis.  But if the bishops can't get their act together collectively, action on the part of individual dioceses would be better than nothing.

What do they need to do?  Well the stages of the sacrament of reconciliation provide, I think, a good guide.

The Church needs, I think, to be upfront about the real size of the problem it has had in the past and put out some hard statistics on the subject (confess in number and kind). 

It needs to undertake a new outreach to victims and see what more can be done to prevent the suicides and loss of faith amongst them (reparation). 

It needs to take action to address the root causes of immorality in the Church, in the abandonment of traditional doctrine and perpetuation of bad, self-indulgent narcissistic liturgy on the part of some priests to minimse the chances of it happening again. 

And our bishops, priests, religious need to do some public penance. 

For only then can the Church hope to obtain absolution...

Bishop O'Kelly attacks Vatican intervention on US nuns

Catholic Religious Australia, the peak body for our mostly extremely liberal religious orders, held its national conference a few weeks back. 

One of the speeches that mysteriously didn't get any publicity (indeed it is not even on the Bishop's website; I was alerted to it by the 'V2 Catholics' site) was that of Bishop Gregory O'Kelly SJ of Port Pirie.

Yet the speech was surely newsworthy, for the bishop used his address to the Conference to attack the Vatican action on the US Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

 Poor wronged LCWR sisters!

In his speech, Bishop O'Kelly compares the action of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in relation to the LCWR to the Northern Territory Intervention, something repeatedly condemned by our bishops.  The Bishop says:

"The intervention by which an Archbishop has been placed as a referral point for the LCWR is a very disappointing gesture, one scarcely showing trust. "

He then proceeds to attack the approach taken by Cardinal Rode, the former Prefect of the Congregation for Religious.

It really is deeply dissapointing to see one of our bishops egging on the dissenters.

On charism and correction 

Bishop O'Kelly also goes on to claim for the LCWR something I would have thought appropriate for individual religious orders, but hardly for an umbrella organisation, namely its own 'charism':
We also know, not only from the Northern Territory, but from the story of various Religious Orders that intervention has rarely been the appropriate response to a situation, when someone outside the charism is placed in charge of a group with a different charism."

What a load of rubbish!

It is easy to provide, as the bishop goes on to do, a list of cases where interventions from the outside have been unfair, badly motivated, or simply failed.

But have there never been justified interventions?  I can think of a few!  Not to mention a few reversals of such decisions that the Church has surely lived to regret...

The duty to intervene

Indeed, the supervisory role of bishops and the Vatican is as old as Western religious life.  Consider for example the instructions on the subject of the election of an abbot contained in the Rule of St Benedict:

"But if (which God forbid) the whole community should agree to choose a person who acquiesces in its vices, and if these somehow come to the knowledge of the local bishop and neighbouring abbots or christians, let them foil this conspiracy of the wicked and set a worthy steward over God's house.  Let them be sure that they will receive a good reward, if they do this with a pure intention and out of zeal for God, just as, on the contrary, they will incur sin, if they neglect to intervene." (RB 64)

False Prophets?

Perhaps the most disturbing part of Bishop O'Kelly's talk though is the long paean to the 'prophetic' ministry of religious, "particularly directed towards those who have not heard the Gospel; those who are at the margins of the Church or society; those who have been denied their dignity; those who are voiceless and powerless; those weak in faith or alienated from it; those whose values are undermined by contemporary culture; those whose needs are greater than they can bear”.

You know, if that was what modern religious life was actually about, the Vatican wouldn't have needed to intervene.

But what this actually seems to mean in practice is not preaching the Gospel to those who have not heard it, but political agitation on their behalf.  Indeed, not preaching the Gospel even to themselves but rather exploring new Age eco-spirituality syncretism.  Not practical charity directed at the spiritual and other needs of the needy, because they have virtually abandoned all those traditional apostolates, but political action for 'social justice'.

There are some curious contradictions in Bishop O'Kelly's arguments.  He attacks, for example, the wearing of distinctive clerical dress.  But then later notes that for some strange reason, religious women living in cities have become virtually invisible (the lack of a habit to identify them perhaps?).

I'm a prophet; you're a right-wing restorationist ratbag?!

Sad, too, to read the snide attacks on 'restorationism' and the alleged 'new found glee' in the 'publications of the right' at the 'revival of former externals'.

The bishop also tosses in the standard lines about how clericalism used to be rife, concentrating all of the power in the hands of the clergy, and making the laity 'passive and subservient'.

Yet his own diocese's website is hardly a model of transparency and accountability...

Sunday, 19 August 2012

On treating the laity like mushrooms: Bishop Wrong strikes again?

One of the things that I find particularly puzzling about liberals is the seemingly irreconcilable gulf between rhetoric and reality on subjects like the role of the laity.

And there was a classic example of it last week, strangely comment-free on Cath News (censorship at work?!), in the story about payouts for sex abuse cases by the Maitland-Newcastle diocese.

Bishop Wright, you will recall, is one of Australia's youngest bishops.  He is a bishop who does not want the Extraordinary Form in his diocese.  He seems set to close down the use of overseas priests in his diocese, despite strong lay support for them.  And now he is refusing to tell the laity of his diocese just how much money has been paid out in the abuse scandal, and how many cases of it there have been in the diocese.

Australia's sex abuse epicentre: how about some transparency and accountability for a change?

Bishop Wright of Maitland-Newcastle, in his bio on the diocesan website, claims a commitment to 'collaborative decision-making' and 'co-responsibility'. 

A couple of weeks back he even supported a Royal Commission to inquire into sex abuse.

Yet in the media last week he declined to confirm reports that the diocese had paid out more than $15m to settle around 100 sex abuse claims perpetrated by ten priests (in 1970, back when the abuses were being perpetrated, there were a toal of 114 diocesan priests there, and another 20 religious priests, so this is a startlingly high proportion of the clergy).

Instead he is quoted as saying 'it is not in anyone's best interest to make known the total number of settlements or the amount involved'.

And therein lies the case for a Royal Commission!

How bad is it really?

Presumably the reason the bishop doesn't want to confirm the number is that it is an underestimate - indeed, I've seen a figure of 400 cases for Melbourne, though how credible that is given the Church's continuing reluctance to come clean is hard to judge.

Regardless, it is not in the least evident to me at least that making some information public at this point will have any impact on the number and size of claims. 

First, the existence of many cases is well-known - it is pretty well inevitable that some unscrupulous minority will attempt to take advantage of the situation, but hard to see that information on the number of claims in itself will help them do this.

And in terms of the size of claims, well The Australian is reporting, on the basis of information provided to them by lawyers acting for victims, a settlement of a $2m for a single case, all conducted entirely in secrecy!  If that isn't true, then making that clear should help the Church not hinder it.

The reality is that the inner circle of lawyers and victims groups do talk to each other, and inevitably have a good sense of what is possible.

In fact the only ones being kept in the dark here and treated like...  - are the laity.

Why we should be told what the cost is

Yet as a result of the financial pressures resulting from these cases, assets build up by our contributions that provide services for Catholics are being sold off.  These payouts are impacting very directly on the laity indeed.

In Newcastle for example, the Australian reports that Bishop Bill Wright admitted that 'the costs "were a factor" in a 2010 decision to sell a number of aged-care facilities operated by the diocese across the Hunter region.'

Are abuse claims also the cause of Canberra-Goulburn's financial problems for example?  Or was it is rather fraud and other malfeasance?  Or just a case of past profligacy and mismanagement?

Personally, I think we have a right to know, and to be consulted over the choices that are being made.

Clericalism reigneth!

The Life and Wisdom of St Benedict /13 - To love fasting!

Continuing my series on the Tools of Good Work from Chapter 4 of St Benedict's Rule, we come today, providentially, to a tool very much feared indeed, it would seem by many modern Catholics based on some of the responses to my post suggesting the extension of the Eucharistic fast to three hours!

For today's tool enjoins us not just to fast, but to love fasting!

The law and the loss of a Catholic culture

One of the arguments against any extension of the Eucharistic fast seems to be the sense that 'laws' or rules imposed by the Church are inherently bad.  Some seem to view them as parasitical or 'imperialistic' expressions of undesirable hierarchical action.

Others, such as the excellent Fr Ray Blake, question whether laws in themselves can be useful when we have lost all sense of catholic culture and piety.

St Benedict, I think, takes a rather different view on this in his Rule, and so today I want to set out what I think is his take on the subject, which is, in short that we need a framework of concrete disciplines that at first we follow out of servile fear, but can gradually come to truly embrace.  Law comes first, in other words; culture and piety, grace and fervour grow from the seed of the law.

Means and ends

The first point to note is that fasting, or any other ascetic practice is not an end in itself, but rather a 'tool of good work', a means to an end or ends.

In his Rule, St Benedict portrays all of the practices he stipulates (including fasting) as tools or weapons in the spiritual warfare. 

The objective, he says in his Prologue, is to get to heaven. 

The saint doesn't want to impose anything 'that is harsh or burdensome'.

"But," he goes on, "if, for good reason, for the amendment of evil habit or the preservation of charity, there be some strictness of discipline, do not be at once dismayed and run away from the way of salvation, of which the entrance must needs be narrow."

Fasting, in others words, has a purpose.

An ancient tradition

Fasting is one of the most traditional of all tools for growth in the spiritual life, employed in virtually all religions for this reason. 

Dom Delatte's classic commentary on the Rule of St Benedict notes that this tool, and the ones immediately following it in the Rule (up to number 28), seem to pretty much follow the virtues followed as originating with the Essenes, at least according to Josephus' Antiquities, which was certainly available in Latin at St Benedict's time.   The Essenes, you will recall, are the group Pope Benedict XVI has suggested that Our Lord had close connections to, in the second book of his Jesus of Nazareth series.

But in any case, Scripture points to many Old Testament examples of people fasting as a sign of penitence, as a means of imploring divine favours, and in solidarity with the poor. In the New Testament too, there are numerous instructions to fast. 

In Matthew 6:16-18 we are told not to make a big fuss about fasting, but just to do it, in order to lay up treasure in heaven.  In Matthew 9:14-15 (echoed in Luke 5:34 by the Scribes and Pharisees), John the Baptist's disciples chide Jesus for the lack of fasting on the part of his disciples.  Our Lord replies that as long as the bridegroom is with them, mourning is inappropriate - but when he is taken away, then they will fast.

The early Church, of course, observed quite strict fasts, including every Wednesday (to remember Judas' betrayal) and Friday (for the Crucifixion); through Lent and other penitential periods; as well as before the reception of the Eucharist (to enable us to make a good preparation for it).

Indeed, on account of the Eucharistic fast, St Benedict's Rule normally allows those who did the reading aloud during community meals a doctored glass of wine to sustain them because they had been fasting for communion, and might find it difficult to wait to eat until the second sitting of the meal with those who acted as servers at the first sitting (RB 38).

But do we actually have to love fasting?

It is one thing, though, to fast; quite another to actually love it, to embrace it fully.

Part of the problem is, I think, that many today seem to think that we should all be treated as if sanctity was something achieved instantly, rather than through a long and often laborious training in virtue and growth in grace.

St Benedict makes no such assumption. Rather, he assumes that even monks will need to be compelled to obedience at times, and that we may need to be induced to follow rules out of fear of God, rather than love of him.

St Benedict traces a progress in humility, for example, such that:

"the monk will presently come to that perfect love of God which casts out all fear; whereby he will begin to observe without labour, as though naturally and by habit, all those precepts which formerly he did not observe without fear; no longer for the fear of hell, but for the love of Christ and through good habit and delight in virtue." (RB7)

Similarly, in the structure of his Office, he set before his monks on Sundays and Mondays the long meditation on the law of God contained in Psalm 118; only then are they prepared, during the rest of the week at the little hours, to say the Gradual Psalms that trace our ascent to heaven.

We need to start, in other words, from laws that we are compelled, if necessary, to follow.  We can't be expected to love the law of fasting at first: but only gradually to come to appreciate its value and embrace it.

And in order for that to occur, we need good catechesis: signals from the hierarchy that these things are important in terms of tougher rules to follow; strong sermons and other forms of instruction; and good examples to follow (perhaps the bishops could announce, for example, that they were all fasting each Friday in reparation for the sins of sex abuse and its cover up?!).

The example of Islam and Ramadan fasting

Now I'm not one to think we should accord any particular respect to Islam, or emulate it, quite the contrary.  St John Damascene, however, viewed Islam as essentially a Christian heresy, and as such could point to practices and ideas derived from Christianity in it (albeit often in a highly distorted form).

I do think one of the reasons it is attracting a growing number of converts is precisely because it still demands something serious by way of commitment from its adherents. And they are not afraid to publicize the fact, using Iftar dinners provided by anyone willing, and every other availability opportunity to promote their strictness.  There is a take out lesson for Catholicism in that.

Indeed, there is an interesting opinion piece in today's Sydney Morning Herald from a Muslim on the experience of fasting during Ramadan that in some ways perhaps illustrates the way our experience of disciplinary practices such as fasting can change over time. 

Randa Abdel-Fattah explains that as a student, he obeyed the letter of the Islamic fasting laws - but not its spirit - getting up as late as possible on fasting days and then sitting through a move marathon in order to avoid thinking about it, and eating junk food the moment the nominal time it was permitted arrived.

These days he still finds that twelve hour fast hard (!), but has embraced it:

"You see, Ramadan, when experienced properly, is like a spiritual boot camp. If you've ever taken part in boot camp, you'll have met the kind of people who begrudgingly endure the push-ups and moan about every skipping session. You'll also have met the type whose enthusiasm is positively overwhelming. They're pumped at the crack of dawn and grin from ear to ear. They give every last inch of themselves. They're running warm-up laps around the oval before the session even starts (I could never understand why you would bother extending the torture). To them, it's all about seizing the opportunity to transform themselves physically and mentally. They embrace the challenge. Ramadan is pretty much the same."

Benedictine moderation!

Now I'm certainly not advocating that we should adopt Islamic style twelve hour fasts!

In fact, the fasts St Benedict prescribed for his monks were quite moderate indeed by the standards of his time: on Wednesdays and Fridays for most of the year, just having one delayed meal only, rather than two, at mid-afternoon (after None), without any reduction in the quantity of food allowed to be consumed.  Moreover, he allows the abbot to put in place a more moderate regime still if work or other reasons suggest the need for it.

Still, there is a big difference between the kind of moderate fasts that the Church used to impose (such as either a midnight or three hour fast before receiving communion), and the practically non-existent ones required at the moment.

If we wish to recover and promote fervour, to reclaim those lapsed Catholics under the embrace of the 'New Evangelization', our bishops need, I would suggest, to take steps to recover a little Benedictine moderation in the interests of our spiritual amendment, and actually introduce some stricter laws!

For only by actually doing it will we grow in virtue and come to love fasting.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Cath News:open post

This is a place to make your views known on Cath News this week - feel free to draw attention to the worst stories or comments over there, but also any good particularly good ones.

Are they getting any better?  Do tell me what you think.

Rejected comments

And if you couldn't get your comment published over there, try here!

Just a warning though - if you do want to continue to comment over at Cath News, you might want to consider using a different moniker here for your criticisms, and perhaps summarise your rejected comment rather than put it up in full so as not to make it too easy for them over there to ban you.

Because Christine Hogan, the 'publisher' over there, has said previously that she will automatically reject anything/anyone coming from here.  Because yes, she really is that childish.

The Cath News subscriber survey

And if you are a subscriber to Cath News, do make sure you have your say in their latest survey.

Strange that they aren't surveying those who access their site via the twitter feed, the webpage or facebook, but presume they aren't doing it via the web this time because last time they got the wrong answers?

Three hours fasting too hard? What Mass is really about...

I continue to be amazed (and bemused) at the response to my post on the suggestion that the Eucharistic Fast be extended from one to three hours.

As at Saturday morning, it has received around 7,600 hits, well and truly a record for this blog, and still rising, courtesy of referrals from the Big Pulpit and Spirit Daily (for which a big thank you to Tito and Linda, and prayers for their ongoing work!).  Do hope those coming here for the first time got something out of it, and will find some other posts of interest, and keep coming back... 

In any case, it has certainly stimulated a lively discussion - nothing engages modern Catholics it seems, quite so much as the suggestion that our disciplines should be toughened up a little!

A small change with big consequences?

Some of the most interesting comments for me at least, go to whether it would discourage attendance at daily Mass in particular.

One or two commenters suggested that a three hour fast would mean they couldn't have breakfast, go to Mass and then on to work, so wouldn't go at all if they couldn't receive.

Someone else asked if making a spiritual communion is as beneficial as actually receiving.

So I thought I'd make a few comments on those points.

The benefit of going to Mass

I wonder if the encouragement of frequent communion hasn't led to a skewing of our understanding of the Mass?

The Mass, you will recall is sacrament, sacrifice and liturgy.  Seems to me we have become unduly focused on the sacrament at the expense of the other dimensions of it.  Let me take those in reverse order.

1.  Worship

It seem to me that the first reason for attending Mass should be to worship God. 

Forget about the benefits for us - our primary duty is to acknowledge and give thanks for all he has done for us and the world.  More, through the liturgy, heaven and earth are joined together, where we join with the whole universe in praising God. 

The Church gives participation in the liturgy (including not only Mass but also Liturgy of the Hours/Divine Office) a much higher priority than private prayer or devotions because it is the public work, the positive duty, of the Church to undertake.

Worship benefits us as well of course: the liturgy can help lift us up, help point us towards our eternal destination so that we can then go out and convert the world to that same end. 

That's why we have an obligation to go to Mass on Sunday - but not necessarily to receive the Eucharist when we do.

2.  Sacrifice

The second point is that by our presence at Mass, we are (assuming we are in a state of grace) doing a service to others present, to those throughout the world, and for the souls in purgatory. 

How?  Because the priest, though his priestly office takes up all of our sacrifices and offerings, and joins them to his own, and above all to Christ's, as he offers the sacrifice of the altar for our good and for the good of all the world.  That's why the Eucharistic prayers/canon of the Mass includes all those prayers on behalf of others.  That is why it is good to have masses said for the dead, or for our particular needs or intentions.

And the priest offers the sacrifice on behalf of those present at Mass too, and the benefit we get from that offering does not depend, I think, on actually receiving the Eucharist.

3.  Sacrament

Finally of course, there is what has become the main focus of the Mass, the reception of Holy Communion. 

The key thing to remember here, I think, is that how much benefit we get from receiving the Eucharist essentially depends on us: the grace available is infinite, but how much in practice we receive depends on our own dispositions.

So you could, in principle, receive Holy Communion every day of the week and get less grace out of it than the person who makes only a spiritual communion, in order to prepare themselves for that less frequent, but more fervent reception.

Now obviously the ideal is to receive frequently and fervently as possible, and thereby receive as much grace as possible.  But realistically, most of won't have the right dispositions to receive all the time, so a little spiritual fasting might occasionally do us some good.

A state of grace?

The other great advantage of a three hour fast it seems to me, is that it would actually take the pressure off those not in a state of grace to receive by giving them a legitimate out.

Currently, pretty much everyone goes up;  currently very few go to confession regularly. 

Now I'd like to think that we are all a lot holier than those of old, but somehow I doubt it.

And sacrilegious reception of the sacrament is a mortal sin: it leads to spiritual death not life.

More than fasting?

I should note I've just come across a good piece advocating a wider program of toughening up for Catholics, as an aid to fighting secularism, originally from the Catholic Herald, but highlighted by Fr Z.
May the debate continue...

Friday, 17 August 2012

Mammon vs the primacy of worship? The case of St Patrick's Braddon

Source: Canberra Times
The Canberra Times reports today on the latest in the saga of the curious fight going on in Canberra between the diocesan bureaucracy and the laity over the future of St Patrick's Church in Braddon, essentially the city centre.

The latest is apparently that the diocese intends to appeal the granting of Heritage protection to the building.

Predictable, alas (the archdiocesan administrator is, I think, effectively bound to follow the policies of the last incumbent, Archbishop Coleridge now of Brisbane), but nonetheless disappointing.

A sorry saga

The backstory to this is that the allegedly cash-strapped diocese (though they actually made a profit last financial year) wants to try and solve its financial problems by selling the Church, and the associated building currently used for various diocesan offices and a catholic bookshop, in order to fund the building of an apartment complex in Manuka which would overshadow the Cathedral(!). 

The problem is that this isn't a case of a surplus, unused Church - in fact Mass is said there every day except Monday, and there are two masses on Sundays (one by the German community and one for the parish).

Moreover, the population of the civic area is growing quite rapidly due to urban infill, with a number of new apartment complexes planned, so in principle at least this is a church that could attract a growing congregation, not a shrinking one.

And from a heritage point of view, though certainly no architectual gem, this is one of Canberra very few older churches (most are seventies monstrosities), and this one has some key connections to Canberra's Catholic history.

On clericalism and tactics

One of the (many) problems with the diocesan project is that appears to have proceeded with a typical lack of consultation and pastoral sympathy to those actually affected by the plans, not to mention some questionable tactics along the way.  The parish, for example, was effectively consulted, as far as I can gather, only when its signoff was needed to hand over the property!

Should the proposal ever actually go forward, an appeal could presumably be made on canon law grounds, since the Church does not normally allow the demolition of churches, and certainly not of ones that are not actually surplus to requirements.

In the short term, however, parishioners and friends of the Church have successfully sought and gained heritage listing for the property, thus effectively stymieing the diocese's plans for the Braddon site at least (though apparently the Cathedral precinct project looks still set to proceed).

Signs and symbols

To me the most disappointing aspect of this saga is the symbolism: instead of having a Cathedral standing above the surrounding buildings, instead of having a Church visible at the centre of the city, our former bishop wanted to hide and obscure the visible signs of the faith, to outright retreat from them. 

In the case of St Patrick's, for example, the proposal was to have a (much smaller) chapel hidden inside the new complex on the site.

How is this consistent with the New Evangelization?

A better alternative....

The far better approach would surely be to work to make St Patrick's a vibrant centre for the Catholic faith at the centre of our city, with things like daily Adoration and Liturgy of the Hours.  It could also become a centre for ministry to the homeless and others who tend to congregate around the city centre during the day.

One could rip out the ugly green carpet that currently adorns its interior; (if this doesn't breach the heritage protection) move the altar back to a more traditional position; and add a space for candles to be lit for example.

Above all, one could reclaim the carpark, currently, I gather leased out to Anglicare (!) so as to make it easier for people to actually use the Church.

Because surely the proper solution to the diocese's money problems surely lies in persuading catholics to actually attend mass, and persuading them that the diocese is actually a worthwhile cause to contribute to - in short making converts - rather than diverting its effort and risking the corruption that almost inevitably comes when the Church engages in purely money-making enterprises.

Mind you if the diocese really is that financially stressed, I do have a few other suggestions: sell some of those crappy houses located in prime locations such as Yarralumla, and house priests together instead, so they can gain strength in community; and clean out the heterodox members of the diocesan bureaucracy!

Pray for a holy bishop for Canberra

Canberra currently does not have an Archbishop, so I would ask you to pray for the appointment of a good one, who will rethink and reject this project, in favour of reinvigorating our churches, not pulling them down or hiding them in the midst of the monuments of secularism.

Cath News, oh Cath News...

I've closed the poll on Cath News, but I reader suggested I maintain a central place for complaints about it, and I think that is a good idea given that more than a few readers continue to send me copies of their comments complaining about its acatholicness!

Accordingly, in future I'll put up an open post, and push forward the date on it each week so that you can readily find it to post your comments.

Poll results

I've suggested in the past that there are a number of different issues with Cath News:
  • story selection, which often seems to promote the efforts of dissenters (how many National Catholic Register stories do we ever see, compared to the number of National Catholic Reporter and The Tablet?) and ignore the efforts of those genuinely trying to promote the faith;
  • sub-editing - headlines, pictures and text cuts which provide an undesirable slant on stories from a catholic perspective;
  • lack of appropriate contextual material to counter criticism of the Church;
  • Cath blog content, which often seems at odds with Church teaching; and
  • above all, the comments policy, which often seems to involve rejecting perfectly orthodox and appropriate comments.
In total, some 280 people voted, with 143 thinking it could be reformed, while 124 thought it was beyond redemption and should be destroyed.  Around a third of those who voted were prepared to pray for the cause!

Cath News comments policy

Many readers, I think, are most aggrieved about the rejection of comments over there.

It would be one thing if liberally slanted stories or erroneous comments could be readily rebutted; quite another when such comments seem regularly to be rejected!

Some 63 people indicated in the poll that they had had comments rejected, and here is there self-assessment on the reasons for that (multiple answers were allowed):

I stated the Church's (actual) teachings  - 36 (57%)

I contradicted Cath News' favoured commentators, viz the Jesuits, Timbs, etc  - 26 (41%)
I criticised women religious 18 (28%)
I disagreed with the actions of an Australian bishop  - 13 (20%)
I criticised Cath News  - 24 (38%)
Ms Hogan refuses to publish anything I say  - 16 (25%)
The smoke of the devil...  - 9 (14%)
Who knows!  - 19 (30%)

Fairly typical of the complaints I receive is the following, provided by a reader for inclusion here:

"Cath News will not include some of my comments which are in accordance with Scripture and Catholic church teaching

When they do, they sometimes delete part of the text which dilutes the substance of the point being made.

I do not malign anyone and provide the details requested

I hope readers of CN are aware that CN do not include some comments that are based on Scripture and Church teaching, and therefore the published comments are not really reflective of readers views.  

Recently CN did not include my objection to them publishing the film review of the salacious crass movie Magic Mike which I lodged twice

The problem with CN is that it may be running on a performance basis, and focussed on success in the information media.  It seems to be controlled by worldly values and modern societal opinions, and not be in the Holy Spirit. 

For a Catholic website under the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, it should be supporting the Church and have a goal of bringing readers into a strong personal relationship with Jesus Christ, rather than promoting earth-bound worldly opinions."

Let's pray the bishops take note and act.

Are you a muggle non-person?

Peter Singer's ideas on who/what has a right to life have been confronting me and others in several different forums this week, so it is timely to draw your attention to some interesting discussions of his views from a Catholic perspective.

The Dumbledore vs Voldemort view of human nature

Singer appeared on Q&A on Monday I gather, and that has prompted what sounds to me like a very good - and certainly an entertaining - analysis of his position by Bishop Peter Comensoli of Sydney in a great podcast on Xt3.

The bishop's analyis suggests that Singer's differentiation of humans on the basis not just of their nature (human) but also their capabilities (such as whether they have rationality, volition and consciousness, making them 'persons') is pretty much the Voldemort view of muggles.

This is Harry Potter speak - muggles are humans, and they look just like those with magic (wizards), but because they are lacking something vital in their nature, they are non-persons without the same rights as real people (wizards).

I don't know enough about Singer's ideas to know if that works as well as it sounds, and there is more to his analysis than that, do go and listen.

Whose suffering counts?

The Q&A appearance also sparked a rather good piece on The Drum from a woman who rather takes issue with the notion advocated by Singer that her parents ought to have been given a month or so after she was born to decide whether or not to kill because of the suffering she and her family would experience asa result of her being born with a disability (a condition affects growth and bone strength).

The problem, as Hilary White points out over at the Life Site, is that Singer is not an isolated neo-Nazi nutter.  He is an internationally respected philsopher whose ideas have profoundly influenced the culture, sucking in people who ought to know better. 

Ms White argues that if the pro-life movement wants to be effective, it is not enough to depend on the shock factor associated with individual cases; rather the philosophical underpinnings of our culture have to be reclaimed.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Restore the three hour Eucharistic fast?

The International traditionalist organization Una Voce has put out another of its interesting 'position papers' on the liturgy, this time on the Eucharistic fast.

You can download it in full here or read the short version on Rorate Caeli.

Pius XII's provisions

The bottom line is that the paper recommends a restoration of the three hour Eucharistic fast that came into force in 1957 (but was abolished in 1964 in favour of one hour).

The argument for a longer fast before reception of the sacrament goes firstly to the long tradition on this, and secondly to the desire to promote a greater reverence for the sacrament, and a sense that it should be prepared for.

The argument for a three hour fast - rather than the stricter older fasts that previously applied - is purely pragmatic, given the prevalence of afternoon and evening masses these days.

I totally agree. 

We need (to emulate the Eastern Churches in adopting!) these symbolic practices to help us recover a Catholic culture.

Let's hope the FIUV campaign gets some traction.

And in the meantime, maybe our bishops could consider at least going as far as the English bishops have done, and restore Friday abstinence?