Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Feast of St Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church

Today (in the EF calendar at least, in the OF the feast was celebrated yesterday) is my name day, the feast of St Catherine of Siena.  Here is Pope Benedict XVI's catechesis on the saint from 2010:

"Today I would like to talk to you about a woman who played an eminent role in the history of the Church: St Catherine of Siena. The century in which she lived — the 14th — was a troubled period in the life of the Church and throughout the social context of Italy and Europe. Yet, even in the most difficult times, the Lord does not cease to bless his People, bringing forth Saints who give a jolt to minds and hearts, provoking conversion and renewal.

Catherine is one of these and still today speaks to us and impels us to walk courageously toward holiness to be ever more fully disciples of the Lord.

Born in Siena in 1347, into a very large family, she died in Rome in 1380. When Catherine was 16 years old, motivated by a vision of St Dominic, she entered the Third Order of the Dominicans, the female branch known as the Mantellate. While living at home, she confirmed her vow of virginity made privately when she was still an adolescent and dedicated herself to prayer, penance and works of charity, especially for the benefit of the sick.

When the fame of her holiness spread, she became the protagonist of an intense activity of spiritual guidance for people from every walk of life: nobles and politicians, artists and ordinary people, consecrated men and women and religious, including Pope Gregory xi who was living at Avignon in that period and whom she energetically and effectively urged to return to Rome.

She travelled widely to press for the internal reform of the Church and to foster peace among the States. It was also for this reason that Venerable Pope John Paul ii chose to declare her Co-Patroness of Europe: may the Old Continent never forget the Christian roots that are at the origin of its progress and continue to draw from the Gospel the fundamental values that assure justice and harmony.

Like many of the Saints, Catherine knew great suffering. Some even thought that they should not trust her, to the point that in 1374, six years before her death, the General Chapter of the Dominicans summoned her to Florence to interrogate her. They appointed Raymund of Capua, a learned and humble Friar and a future Master General of the Order, as her spiritual guide. Having become her confessor and also her “spiritual son”, he wrote a first complete biography of the Saint. She was canonized in 1461.

The teaching of Catherine, who learned to read with difficulty and learned to write in adulthood, is contained in the Dialogue of Divine Providence or Libro della Divina Dottrina, a masterpiece of spiritual literature, in her Epistolario and in the collection of her Prayers.

Her teaching is endowed with such excellence that in 1970 the Servant of God Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church, a title that was added to those of Co-Patroness of the City of Rome — at the wish of Bl. Pius ix — and of Patroness of Italy — in accordance with the decision of Venerable Pius XII.

In a vision that was ever present in Catherine's heart and mind Our Lady presented her to Jesus who gave her a splendid ring, saying to her: “I, your Creator and Saviour, espouse you in the faith, that you will keep ever pure until you celebrate your eternal nuptials with me in Heaven” (Bl. Raimondo da Capua, S. Caterina da Siena, Legenda maior, n. 115, Siena 1998). This ring was visible to her alone. In this extraordinary episode we see the vital centre of Catherine’s religious sense, and of all authentic spirituality: Christocentrism. For her Christ was like the spouse with whom a relationship of intimacy, communion and faithfulness exists; he was the best beloved whom she loved above any other good. This profound union with the Lord is illustrated by another episode in the life of this outstanding mystic: the exchange of hearts. According to Raymond of Capua who passed on the confidences Catherine received, the Lord Jesus appeared to her “holding in his holy hands a human heart, bright red and shining”. He opened her side and put the heart within her saying: “Dearest daughter, as I took your heart away from you the other day, now, you see, I am giving you mine, so that you can go on living with it for ever” (ibid.). Catherine truly lived St. Paul’s words, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

Like the Sienese Saint, every believer feels the need to be conformed with the sentiments of the heart of Christ to love God and his neighbour as Christ himself loves. And we can all let our hearts be transformed and learn to love like Christ in a familiarity with him that is nourished by prayer, by meditation on the Word of God and by the sacraments, above all by receiving Holy Communion frequently and with devotion. Catherine also belongs to the throng of Saints devoted to the Eucharist with which I concluded my Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (cf. n. 94). Dear brothers and sisters, the Eucharist is an extraordinary gift of love that God continually renews to nourish our journey of faith, to strengthen our hope and to inflame our charity, to make us more and more like him.

A true and authentic spiritual family was built up around such a strong and genuine personality; people fascinated by the moral authority of this young woman with a most exalted lifestyle were at times also impressed by the mystical phenomena they witnessed, such as her frequent ecstasies. Many put themselves at Catherine’s service and above all considered it a privilege to receive spiritual guidance from her. They called her “mother” because, as her spiritual children, they drew spiritual nourishment from her. Today too the Church receives great benefit from the exercise of spiritual motherhood by so many women, lay and consecrated, who nourish souls with thoughts of God, who strengthen the people’s faith and direct Christian life towards ever loftier peaks. “Son, I say to you and call you”, Catherine wrote to one of her spiritual sons, Giovanni Sabbatini, a Carthusian, “inasmuch as I give birth to you in continuous prayers and desire in the presence of God, just as a mother gives birth to a son” (Epistolario, Lettera n. 141: To Fr Giovanni de’ Sabbatini). She would usually address the Dominican Fr Bartolomeo de Dominici with these words: “Most beloved and very dear brother and son in Christ sweet Jesus”.

Another trait of Catherine’s spirituality is linked to the gift of tears. They express an exquisite, profound sensitivity, a capacity for being moved and for tenderness. Many Saints have had the gift of tears, renewing the emotion of Jesus himself who did not hold back or hide his tears at the tomb of his friend Lazarus and at the grief of Mary and Martha or at the sight of Jerusalem during his last days on this earth. According to Catherine, the tears of Saints are mingled with the blood of Christ, of which she spoke in vibrant tones and with symbolic images that were very effective: “Remember Christ crucified, God and man….. Make your aim the Crucified Christ, hide in the wounds of the Crucified Christ and drown in the blood of the Crucified Christ” (Epistolario, Lettera n. 21: Ad uno il cui nome si tace [to one who remains anonymous]). Here we can understand why, despite her awareness of the human shortcomings of priests, Catherine always felt very great reverence for them: through the sacraments and the word they dispense the saving power of Christ’s Blood. The Sienese Saint always invited the sacred ministers, including the Pope whom she called “sweet Christ on earth”, to be faithful to their responsibilities, motivated always and only by her profound and constant love of the Church. She said before she died: “in leaving my body, truly I have consumed and given my life in the Church and for the Holy Church, which is for me a most unique grace” (Raimondo da Capua, S. Caterina da Siena, Legenda maior, n. 363). Hence we learn from St Catherine the most sublime science: to know and love Jesus Christ and his Church. In the Dialogue of Divine Providence, she describes Christ, with an unusual image, as a bridge flung between Heaven and earth. This bridge consists of three great stairways constituted by the feet, the side and the mouth of Jesus. Rising by these stairways the soul passes through the three stages of every path to sanctification: detachment from sin, the practice of the virtues and of love, sweet and loving union with God.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us learn from St Catherine to love Christ and the Church with courage, intensely and sincerely. Therefore let us make our own St Catherine’s words that we read in the Dialogue of Divine Providence at the end of the chapter that speaks of Christ as a bridge: “out of mercy you have washed us in his Blood, out of mercy you have wished to converse with creatures. O crazed with love! It did not suffice for you to take flesh, but you also wished to die!... O mercy! My heart drowns in thinking of you: for no matter where I turn to think, I find only mercy” (chapter 30, pp. 79-80)."

Monday, 29 April 2013

A referendum on same sex 'marriage'? Yes please!

Independent MP Tony Windsor has suggested that a referendum be held on same sex marriage at the same time as the next Federal election, on September 14.

Even the Greens initially supported the proposal - though unsurprisingly, they are now quickly backtracking.

Because a referendum would actually put those claims of majority support for change to the test: and guess what, the homosexualist lobby doesn't actually want to do that!  I wonder why...

The case against  referendum, of course, is being dressed up as an occasion for hate campaigns.  Of course, that only works if you define any opposition to the homosexual agenda as 'homophobia'...

And then of course there is the claim that there will be an imbalance in the resources to fight a campaign, since the churches are cashed up and solid on this issue.  If only!

Still, the Rev Nile of the NSW Christian Democratic Party has challenged the Catholic Church (as well as the Anglicans) to come out in opposition to homosexual marriage.  This could indeed be a real chance to teach, and the Church should grab the opportunity, secure in the knowledge that referendums are notoriously hard to pass in Australia, and if push came to shove, most Australians are actually fairly conservative on social issues.

The Benedictine legacy: the right to kneel and receive on the tongue recognised!

The new General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) with application for Australia was released a week or so back.

The GIRM is important, because it sets out not only the rubrics which priests are people are obligated (well in theory at least!) to follow, but also articulates the theology around the various norms and pastoral directions contained in it.

You might recall that an interim version was put out in 2008 - this is the final as approved by the Holy See.

And there do seem to be a few important changes in it, including a recognition of the right to kneel to receive communion.


In the previous version, you might recall, kneeling was strongly discouraged:

"In Australia, standing is the commonest posture for receiving Holy Communion. The customary manner of reception is recommended to be followed by all...".

The new version, however, is much more permissive.  It omits the second sentence above, and instead says:

"In the dioceses of Australia standing is the most common posture for receiving Holy Communion, though individual members of the faithful may choose to receive communion while kneeling."

This is good news indeed for all those who have struggled to assert this right.

It is worth noting that the US version of GIRM has also been revised to the same effect. 

***Receiving on the tongue

Since comments have raised the problems some priests put in front of those who wish to receive on the tongue, and the flu season is coming up again and likely to provoke once again claims about the medical aspects of reception methods, I thought I'd add the relevant provisions on this subject:

161. If Communion is given only under the species of bread, the Priest raises the host slightly and shows it to each, saying, The Body of Christ. The communicant replies, Amen, and receives the Sacrament either on the tongue or, where this is allowed, in the hand, the choice lying with the communicant. As soon as the communicant receives the host, he or she consumes the whole of it.

The provision reflects Redemptionis Sacramentum, which states that:

[92.] Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her. However, special care should be taken to ensure that the host is consumed by the communicant in the presence of the minister, so that no one goes away carrying the Eucharistic species in his hand. If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Latin prayer of the week: Act of Hope

A couple of weeks ago I looked at the act of faith.  Here is the second in this set as given in the Compendium to the Catechism, the Act of Hope:

Dómine Deus, spero per grátiam tuam
remissiónem ómnium peccatórum, 
et post hanc vitam ætérnam felicitátem 
me esse consecutúrum: 
quia tu promisísti, qui es infiníte 
potens, fidélis, benígnus, et miséricors.
In hac spe vívere et mori státuo.

 Or in English:

O Lord God, 
I hope by your grace for the pardon 
of all my sins
and after life here to gain eternal happiness
because you have promised it 
who are infinitely powerful, faithful, kind, 
and merciful. 
In this hope I intend to live and die. 

Between presumption and despair

These days presumption seems to be one of the commonest of errors: the expectation of universal salvation without the requirement of any faith or repentance for sins on our part, means we don't have to make any real effort to practice our faith.  The more conventional teaching of the Church though, is that we need to be in a state of grace to be saved, and that involves the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.  But the other extreme is equally an error, for Christ preaches that it is not through our own merits, but rather his freely offered grace that we can reach heaven.

Both St Peter and Judas denied Christ; both subsequently realised their error.  The difference between them is that St Peter had the theological virtue of hope, whereas Judas sank into despair.

The simple version of the act of hope contained in one of my prayer books reads:

My God, I hope in you, for grace and for glory, because of your promises, your mercy and your power.

It is a version that emphasizes God's action.  But the Catechism's version though, I think better conveys the need for a response on our part to this offer of mercy.

Looking at the Latin

Here is a word by workd literal translation of the prayer:

Dómine (O Lord) Deus (God), spero (I hope) per (though) grátiam (grace) tuam (your) remissiónem (remission/pardon) ómnium (all) peccatórum (of sins), et (and) post(after) hanc (this) vitam (life) ætérnam (eternal) felicitátem (happiness) me (me) esse consecutúrum (to be following/going after/enjoying - future infinitive): quia (because) tu (you) promisísti (you have promised), qui (who) es (you are) infiníte (infinitely) potens (powerful/strong), fidélis (faithful), benígnus (kind), et (and) miséricors (merciful). In (in) hac (this) spe (hope) vívere (to live) et (and) mori (to die) státuo (I stand/am determined/intend). Amen.

Did Christ grow in knowledge of his Father?

I've very much being enjoying the daily sermons of the new parish priest of my geographical parish, which are basically ferverinos on the readings followed by some prayers that take in the message of the text, giving it a strong lectio divina feel.

But yesterday he said something that gave me pause: that in his opinion, Jesus himself grew in knowledge of his relationship to the Father.

It's a view that is fairly common these days, and is a theological opinion that is still open to hold.  All the same, I think it is one that quickly leads down some dangerous paths, and is a good example of the dangers posed by the twentieth century theological rupture embodied in the works of Rahner, Congar et al.

Christ's self-knowledge

Among progressives, for example, this view is used to argue that since Jesus wasn't fully aware of his own nature, he felt bound by cultural constraints when it came to the role of women and so forth.

Personally I think that the cultural context line is pretty hard line to argue given that Our Lord had no compunction about breaking Jewish law in relation to the Sabbath and many other issues, and teaching a stricter law than current Jewish tradition on issues such as marriage and divorce.  Nonetheless, the idea that Jesus grew in knowledge of his mission and nature in its more orthodox formulation seems to have a much broader popularity even with 'conservatives' and charismatics.

So is it a view we can legitimately hold?  And even if it is, is it a view we should propagate?

At Mass on Saturday in the Fourth Week of Easter in Year C (in the Ordinary Form) the Gospel is St John 14: 7-14, and the key section of the text (RSV) is:

"If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him."  Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied."  Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, `Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.  Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me..."

That sounds like a fairly firm assertion of who Jesus is to me, and not one that obviously points to any 'growth' in knowledge on the part of Christ, as opposed to the disciples!   It also stands in strong continuity with the only childhood incident we have recorded in the Gospels, where Jesus is left behind in Jerusalem and when found answers his parents reproaches with the assertion that they should have know he would be 'in his Father's house and about his Father's business'.  So in what sense is a 'growth' in awareness said to occur?

The tradition teaching

The traditional teaching on Jesus' knowledge is actually encapsulated in St Thomas' Summa (III 9).  St Thomas taught that Christ in his human nature had enjoyed the beatific vision from birth; enjoyed 'infused knowledge' (as the angels do); but also had acquired, or experiential knowledge of human things (the conventional explanation for the words of St Luke 2:52: "And Jesus advanced in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men").

The idea that Jesus grew gradually in knowledge of his mission (as well as in the things humans normally learn to do) is sometimes suggested these days as an explanation for texts such as St Mark 13:32, "Of that day or hour no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father." But there are a variety of perfectly convincing conventional explanations for this within the pre-scholastic and scholastic traditions that certainly do not depend on any growth in knowledge on Jesus' part.

All the same, St Thomas' view is only given the status 'common teaching', rather than anything magisterially taught, in that excellent pre-Vatican II summary Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Ludwig Ott.  And as far as I know there has been no subsequent Magisterial teaching on this subject other than in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which, while cast in terms of modern theology rather than St Thomas, and leaving some room for theological debate on questions such as Christ's infused knowledge, insists that Christ (always) had full knowledge of his mission:

"Apollinarius of Laodicaea asserted that in Christ the divine Word had replaced the soul or spirit. Against this error the Church confessed that the eternal Son also assumed a rational, human soul.  This human soul that the Son of God assumed is endowed with a true human knowledge. As such, this knowledge could not in itself be unlimited: it was exercised in the historical conditions of his existence in space and time. This is why the Son of God could, when he became man, "increase in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man", and would even have to inquire for himself about what one in the human condition can learn only from experience. This corresponded to the reality of his voluntary emptying of himself, taking "the form of a slave".   But at the same time, this truly human knowledge of God's Son expressed the divine life of his person. "The human nature of God's Son, not by itself but by its union with the Word, knew and showed forth in itself everything that pertains to God." Such is first of all the case with the intimate and immediate knowledge that the Son of God made man has of his Father. The Son in his human knowledge also showed the divine penetration he had into the secret thoughts of human hearts.  By its union to the divine wisdom in the person of the Word incarnate, Christ enjoyed in his human knowledge the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans he had come to reveal. What he admitted to not knowing in this area, he elsewhere declared himself not sent to reveal." (CCC 471-4)

The twentieth century rupture

What then, is the origin of this modern shift away from the pre-Vatican II theological consensus?  Certainly nothing in the documents of Vatican II itself.

In fact it seems to originate in the work of the twentieth century theologian Karl Rahner who argued that rather than experiencing the beatific vision, Christ's knowledge of his mission is a result of his self-awareness: as the eternal Son, he experienced his relationship to the Father in a human way, and this knowledge could grow through reflection.

As the theologian Roch Kereszty presents it in his Jesus Christ Fundamentals of Christology (Second ed, 2002, pp 390-3), the case for this approach is that it presents a more 'human' view of Christ, allowing us to construct a psychology of him.  It arguably enables us to better identify with, and imitate him, in that instead of some aspects of his knowledge being entirely 'other', his teaching becomes a product of the interaction between his awareness of God as his Father; his knowledge of God and God's plan through the Father's inspiring and guiding action; and his experiential knowledge of the world.

To become great saints

Certainly I think that was the context in which the priest was using it, since his comment was the lead up to the challenge posed to us by the last section of yesterday's Gospel:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father." (John 14: 12)

What greater works can we do than God, you might well ask?! St Augustine suggests that one possible explanation of the verse suggests that he was talking about the number of converts that would be made by the Apostles:

"...by works here our Lord refers to His words. For when He says, My Father that dwells in Me, He does the works, what are these works but the words which He spoke? And the fruit of those words was their faith. But these were but few converts in comparison with what those disciples made afterwards by their preaching: they converted the Gentiles to the faith. Did not the rich man go away sorrowful from His words? And yet that which one did not do at His own exhortation, many did afterwards when He preached through the disciples. He did greater works when preached by the believing, than when speaking to men's ears. Still these greater works He did by His Apostles, whereas He includes others besides them, when He says, He that believes in Me." (from the Catena Aurea).

I don't think myself though, that linking this challenge for us to become great saints to Christ's growth in knowledge is actually helpful; quite the contrary.  Christ, after all, was always perfect and free from sin; we are not.

Our growth in the spiritual life, the process of deification whereby he works in and through us, it seems to me, requires more than self-reflection: it requires grace and the cultivation of the virtues, for our relationship to the divine is inherently different to Christ's, since he had two natures, human and divine, while we do not.  Moreover, the other danger of this line of reasoning is that while it (legitimately) emphasizes his humanity, it can lead to an underplaying of Christ's divinity and the infallible status of his teaching.

Christology has been the source of many errors in recent times, and although the Vatican has made some judgments on authors such as Schillebeeckx who have taken these ideas to their logical conclusion, a lot more needs to be done to point out just why the authors such as Rahner too, are in error on some of these key points.  Perhaps Pope Francis' upcoming encyclical on faith, completing the work started by Pope Benedict XVI, will provide an opportunity to advance this cause.

Meanwhile we should ponder that great challenge of John 14:12 in terms of what Christ is asking of us, for it is a call to do extraordinary things, not just the ordinary.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Kill your baby for $11.80

Currently the abortifacient pill RU 486 is available in Australia, but is not subsidised by Government.

It seems that is about to change, as the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee is recommending its listing on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

If it is listed, those with a health care card will be able to have an abortion for a mere $11.80.

Taxpayer funded abortion...

No surprise on the Committee's recommendation really, since one of the key criteria for listing is 'cost effectiveness' - and popping a pill is, on the face of it, a lot more 'cost effective' way to kill your baby than going to an abortion mill.

But the unsubsidised price (around $350), or the cost of an surgical abortion surely at least makes people stop and think just a little about what they are doing.  Not hard, admittedly, given the shamefully large number of abortions in this country, but at least it is something.

More importantly, perhaps, the fact that people have to pay it themselves means taxpayers like me who oppose abortion are not cross-subsidising it (at least not through the PBS; Medicare and State Government funded abortion clinics are another story).

Indeed, if we do end up subsidising it, will that render the PBS an unjust law?  It is not a question that has ever been much debated in this country as far as I know, but in the light of the US Obamacare debate, perhaps it needs to be.

One might hope that the bishops and the pro-life movement will rally and fight the good fight once more on RU 486.  But I wouldn't get up your hopes.

All the same, surely if the heat got too hot, the Government might decide not to push this issue before the election.

Don't count on Tony though!

Don't however hope that Opposition leader Mr Abbott would reverse such a decision, or take a different view if the matter is deferred: he was quoted on ABC TV   as saying he would act on the advice of the Committee on this issue.

Well, at least he is being consistent at the moment - in jettisoning any claim to the title Catholic.

Now we can hold out the hope that after the election he might take a different view of these issues; it wouldn't be the first time he has done a back-flip or two.  Unfortunately, after all the 'Juliar' rhetoric, it is very hard to see how he can do that this time around.

Still,  conservatives now have someone else they can consider voting for in the form of eccentric mining magnate Clive Palmer. Should go kind of like a new Titanic in fact...

Friday, 26 April 2013

More casuistry from 'Facing the Truth' in Melbourne

You might recall that the Victorian dioceses have established a website called Facing the Truth to get out the Churches side of the story in relation to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry.

Casuistry is alive and well and living in Melbourne...

I've commented previously that some of the responses to alleged 'misconceptions' the site attempts to address seemed to be a bit of a stretch.

The latest one surely takes the biscuit.

The issue it discusses is the potential for conflict between canon law (which legislates for the seal of confession) and a potential civil law that attempted to require a priest to break the seal of confession.

It is entirely hypothetical of course, since no such law has yet been either recommended or included in a draft bill.

But get this.  The answer the Facing the Truth website suggests is that such a law would not actually be in conflict with canon law - because the real conflict would be with freedom of religion.

Well maybe it would indeed be in conflict with freedom of religion.

But it would also be in conflict with canon law, since Canon 983 stipulates that:

"The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason."

Indeed, the nature of the direct conflict was canvassed fairly thoroughly in a rather alarmist piece by US canonist Cathy Caridi a few weeks back (I say alarmist because the prospect of any legislation arising out of the Royal Commission, which she was focusing on, is several years away; the possibility of a recommendation arising from the current Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry however is rather more immediate, as it is due to report in September).

There are lots of good arguments that can be deployed against any proposal to force priests to breach the seal.

The assault on freedom of religion is one of them.

But oh dear, oh dear, why not frame the question so that you can give the answer you are trying to argue!

A fails at spin doctoring!

Here is the Question and Answer from the website provided with my comments:

Is there a conflict between canon and civil law?

First, it’s important to point out that this is a hypothetical question, as we do not at present face any conflicts between civil law and canon law. [So far so good]

The one area where there is potential for conflict is if a new law were to require priests to break the seal of confession. [Indeed!] But that would not be a conflict between civil law and canon law. [Oh really?  Why even try and go down this path!]

Civil law currently recognises the seal of confession in the Evidence Act.  It does not do that because of respect for canon law, but because both it and canon law have acted independently of one another to recognise that what happens in confession is in fact an act of worship, and should be protected because of the fundamental right to freedom of religion. [True and a good reason to argue against any change  to the law.  All the same, the reason why a civil is enacted is irrelevant to the factual question of whether or not it would be in conflict with canon law.]

What a person says in confession is part of a liturgical ritual and is directed to God.  [So what - there are lots of other acts of worship directed to God that are not secret!] The priest hears it only as a witness. So while to an observer it might resemble counselling, it is actually a very different situation. This is reflected in the fact that, once a confession is concluded, a priest cannot discuss or act on what a person has said even with the person themselves.

So if there were to be a civil law requiring a priest to break the seal of confession, the conflict would not be with canon law, [Well yes it would] but with the  fundamental human right to freedom of religion [but that too], which is currently respected by both canon law and civil law.  That would be a very serious matter.

Someone with good judgment needs to exercize a little more supervision over this website, lest whatever shreds of credibility the Victorian Church still retains be lost.

Do we really need a Royal Commission? Yes, we do!

There are reports in the Fairfax media today that the CEO of the Office for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, Mr Ian Elliot, who has been hired by the Australian Church to provide advice, doesn't think statutory inquiries into child abuse are worth the money they cost.

I'm sure that's music to the ears of many of the bishops, as no doubt also the argument in right-wing rag the Quadrant from two psychiatrists to the effect that the Royal Commission is just a 'bread and circuses' diversion from the Gillard Government's travails.

Do these arguments hold up though?

The Irish Diocesan audits

Mr Elliot is quoted, in the context of proposals for a UK Inquiry, as saying that such inquiries tell us nothing new:

"Announcing his new job this week, Mr Elliott told an Irish newspaper that state-based inquiries into institutional abuse were long, costly and often failed to establish anything new.

During six years leading the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland - a church-run group - Mr Elliott and his staff completed audits of procedures and safeguards in 16 Irish dioceses and four religious orders, with reports due on another 10 dioceses and 100 orders by 2015.

Mr Elliott's comments on statutory inquiries came in response to the possibility of a new statutory commission on child sex abuse in the British-governed province of Ulster.

''I'm not a fan because they tend to be very costly, take a long period of time and often tell you what you already know,'' he said.

He added that much of the evidence in his most recent audit, which brought adverse findings against the diocese of Clogher, had been voluntarily supplied by church authorities.

''Why do you need a statutory inquiry for it if you can get it another way?'' Mr Elliott asked.

But can you get it another way? Well not in Australia at the moment!

Transparency won't come without external pressure

It is certainly the case that the Irish Church is now being very open indeed, allowing the organisation Mr Elliot has headed to publish a series of audits of dioceses and religious orders that have been very critical indeed of individual bishops.  The audits look at the things like the appropriateness of procedures, how particular cases have been handled, the adequacy of penalties imposed on priests and compliance with decisions.  And the reports are public.

But a number of obvious questions arise.  Would those audits have been able to occur if it hadn't been for the Irish Inquiry?  Would they be so frank about past failures in the absence of the Inquiry's findings?  Would they be as positive on the progress being made if they were being undertaken by a truly independent auditor as opposed to an organisation funded by the Church itself?  And given that Mr Elliot (a protestant) is due to finish up his term on the Irish Board this year, will they continue to be so frank under whoever takes over from him?

Certainly in Australia it is hard to find out even basic information about abuse complaints available publicly except through sources like Broken Rites - except of course in Victoria where much information has been released courtesy of the Parliamentary Inquiry there.

Indeed it is only now, with the Royal Commission and Maitland-Newcastle Inquiries actually underway that the idea of doing anything similar - an idea which should be applauded by the way -  seems to be being contemplated for Australia.

Seeking truth

There have been a number of cases of accusations of cover up by senior Church officials in Australia.

In the light of the complicity of police, magistrates, judges and others in cases like the Fr F affair, one can have no confidence that anyone will do the necessary digging to find the answer one way or another without external pressure being applied.

Indeed, one can only await with interest the proceedings of the Maitland-Newcastle Inquiry due to get underway next week, on May 6, for which Archbishop Wilson of Adelaide (a former Vicar General of the Diocese), ACBC Secretary Fr Brian Lucas, and the diocese itself have all been granted leave to retain counsel.  We may have to wait a while for the outcomes, however, as some of the hearings seem likely to be taken in camera, lest they prejudice any subsequent criminal proceedings...

Reform and conversion

One can understand why Church officials are less than enthusiastic about statutory inquiries.

In Ireland, there has been a high cost for certain individuals and religious orders, in terms of their reputation and more, and something of a bloodbath in terms of the collapse of lay support.

Psychiatrists, I would suggest, also have a similar vested interest in wishing the Royal Commission would just go away, hence the Quadrant article.

The reality is that the psychiatry profession deserve a serious share of the blame for the handling of the abuse crisis.

It was their profession that decided that child abuse was an illness not a crime.

It was the psychiatry profession that decided, in the absence of any evidence whatsoever, that paedophiles and other abusers could be 'cured' through their efforts.

And many bishops - though it might be argued they should have known better than to accept a deeply flawed, secularist paradigm and to reject common sense - relied on the advice of psychiatrists in good faith.

One of the key objectives of the Royal Commission is to ensure such a thing can never happen again.

No wonder psychiatrists don't like it.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

ANZAC Day: Praying for the fallen

Australian troops charging Ottoman trenches just before the evacuation
 at ANZAC Cove 1915
War Department. (1789 - 09/18/1947)
Today is ANZAC Day, surely by far Australia's most important national holiday, when we recall all those who have fought in wars for Australia.

I wonder though if the ever-growing popularity of ANZAC Day is an equal growth in prayer for the fallen?

Alas, in this age when funeral services have become occasions to preach universal salvation combined with a ceremony for canonization of the dead, I fear not.

ANZAC Day rituals

On April 25, 1915 some 75,000 British Empire and French troops invaded Turkey at Gallipoli, and  secured and held two bridgeheads against ferocious Turkish resistance.  Over the next eight months they suffered from appalling heat and cold, disease, and above all from the incompetence of the British military leadership.  The failed campaign and the death of some 8,700 Australians and 2,721 New Zealanders there was to prove nation-shaping for both countries.

It is a day of well-established rituals: the dawn service, commemorative services and the march, and two-up games.

By far the most important though, at least for Catholics, should be the Requiem Mass permitted to be held today (the feast of St Mark is moved to Friday in Australia, at least in the modern calendar, a ruling that arguably applies to the 1962 one as well, though doesn't seem to be reflected in the traditional ordo most commonly used here), at which we pray for the repose of the fallen.

Until 1965, Catholics were not permitted to attend the 'ecumenical' (ie secular) Dawn services around the country - although in practice many did - instead attending Requiem Masses for the fallen.

These days, things have changed, and for the better in this case I think.

All the same, that doesn't lessen our obligation to pray for the fallen in war on this day, and the best way to do this is surely to attend a Requiem Mass.

The numbers attending  Dawn services around the country continue to grow strongly, with tens of thousands turning up, including some 30,000 braving the sub-zero temperatures at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra this morning.

Are the numbers attending Mass on this day rising proportionately?  I very much doubt it.

Cheating the dead of their due

How many Catholic parishes are actually offering requiems today?

One would hope all, but at my local parish we were told that today's Mass would be 'focused' on ANZAC Day, but it wasn't quite clear if that meant an actual Requiem (fortunately the TLM community had a sung Requiem with catafalque on offer)!

But let's assume there is a Requiem offered, and people do turn up.  How much focus will be placed on actually praying for repose of the souls in purgatory?

I went to a funeral earlier this week, of the mother of a friend.

Unfortunately, it proved to be one of those novus ordo instant canonization ceremonies, where the word purgatory and the need for prayers for the dead never cracks a mention, and instead the congregation was assured that salvation is pretty much universal, and the deceased was undoubtedly a saint.

Now perhaps she was.  But prudence, and indeed the entire tradition of the Church suggests that we should pray hard just in case, for the pains of purgatory are extreme, and the dead are unable to help themselves.

In this particular case the priest was a retired member of the Gaudium et Spes generation, who seemed to derive his theology of heaven largely from the obituary column of the Canberra Times, so that, rather than having anything to do with God, heaven is apparently a place where we will meet up once again with everyone (none of that narrow gate stuff!) we have ever known and loved.

There must surely be a special circle of hell reserved for priests who lead their flocks astray and deprive the dead of the aid of the living they so desperately need; and if they do make it past the gate, they must surely have the equivalent of at least a thousand years in purgatory in front of them!

No wonder Catholic Mass attendance and belief tends to fall; how stark the contrast with the rapidly growing religions such as Islam, where ANZAC Day is apparently being Islamized in Turkey, and some local Muslims are accordingly being told not to celebrate the day.

The theology of praying for the dead

Part of the problem with the service I attended was that the traditional propers of the Requiem Mass were pretty much entirely absent.

Instead of opening by pleading for the soul of the departed to be given eternal rest in the traditional Introit, we were treated to one of those dreadful 1970s hymns.

Instead of a gradual and tract that pray for the repose of the soul and the absolution of their sins, we jumped straight to promises of eternal life; instead of traditional psalms like the De Profundis which pray for God's mercy, we had comfort and vision of heaven in the Lord is my Shepherd.

And any reminders to the living of their own mortality and the need to repent, such as the Dies Irae, were entirely omitted.

Yet the idea of purgatory, or at least for some process of necessary purification before we enter heaven is not some late medieval invention, but rather something witnessed to in Scripture, and well attested to in the earliest traditions of the Church.

For this reason, a Requiem is not meant to be primarily a celebration of the life of the departed, or comfort to the bereaved, rather it is meant to induce a work of charity in us, encourage us to pray hard so that the person who has died might reach heaven more quickly.

And this duty applies equally to our war dead.  It is right and proper that we thank, on this day, all who have served in the defense of their country.  But is even more important that we pray for the release of the souls of the fallen still in purgatory.

So if you haven't been able to get to a Requiem today, please do consider saying one of the indulgenced prayers for the dead, such as the De Profundis or even the Office of the Dead for those who have fallen in battle.  Or you could gain a partial indulgence for the dead by praying the Requiem Aeternum along with this setting of it.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

France becomes country 14....

The fight against homosexual 'marriage' in France has been much more intense than many countries, with literally millions taking to the streets to oppose it.

That hasn't of course, stopped the one-eyed coverage in the Fairfax media here, which has highlighted alleged cases of 'gay bashing', while utterly ignoring claimed police brutality directed against pro-traditional marriage supporters, including video of SSPX priests being bashed by police which you can watch here.  There is a useful article on just how ugly things became, including police using tear gas on crowds and more, here.

Despite the strong opposition, genuine democracy has not prevailed, with the vocal minority last night claiming victory as the French Parliament passed the legislation into law.

The homosexual lobby has done what Germany could not, finally destroyed France.

But perhaps the resistance will once again prevail in the end...

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Michael Voris in Australia: Sydney's homosexual 'celebration' Masses

The irrepressible Michael Voris of Church MilitantTV is just finishing up an Australian tour.

Last time around, he had a go at the Sydney Archdiocese's pro-homosexuality 'Acceptance' Masses at Newtown, long a sore point between many orthodox Catholics and Cardinal Pell.

Voris' assessment this time around is that things have only gotten worse, with the Newtown website becoming far more flagrant in its rejection of Catholic teaching.

He has a point.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Latin Prayer of the week: The Memorare

This week's Latin prayer to learn is that beautiful appeal to Our Lady, the Memorare.


The Memorare has traditionally been attributed to St Bernard of Clairvaux (1190-1153), and certainly echoes of its theology can be found in his sermons.

However, because no early manuscripts of it have survived (the earliest dates to 1489), many now think it is of later composition, and suggest that the misattribution results from an association with its seventeenth century popularizer, Fr Claude Bernard (1588-1641).

There are many miracles attributed to its use, including the cure of Fr Bernard from an illness, and his near contemporary St Francis de Sales' delivery from the torment of a demon who claimed he was numbered amongst the damned.

The earliest manuscripts include it as part of a much longer prayer, Ad sanctitatis tuae pedes, dulcissima Virgo Maria, and  like many such prayers, there are a number of versions of it around (including a longer verse version by St Louis de Montfort).  The most common form, though, dates back to the official 1849 list of indulgenced prayers.  It still comes with a partial indulgence.

The text

Here is the version that appears in the Compendium of the Catechism:

Memoráre, o piíssima Virgo María,
non esse audítum a sæculo,
quemquam ad tua curréntem præsídia,
tua implorántem auxília,
tua peténtem suffrágia, esse derelíctum.
Ego tali animátus confidéntia,
ad te, Virgo Vírginum, Mater,
curro, ad te vénio,
coram te gemens peccátor assísto.
Noli, Mater Verbi, verba mea despícere;
sed áudi propítia et exáudi. Amen.

You can hear it read out slowly in Latin here.

And here is the English translation given in the Compendium:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known
that anyone who fled to thy protection,
implored thy help,
or sought thy intercession,
was left unaided.

Inspired by this confidence
I fly unto thee,
O Virgin of virgins, my Mother.
To thee do I come,
before thee I stand,
sinful and sorrowful.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions,
but in thy mercy hear and answer me.

Looking at the Latin

And here is a literal, word by word translation of the Latin:

Memoráre (Remember), o piíssima (O most loving) Virgo (Virgin) María (Mary),

non (not) esse (to be) audítum (heard) a sæculo (from ever),
quemquam (that) ad (to) tua (you) curréntem (running/hastening) præsídia (for help/protection/support),
tua (you) implorántem (imploring) auxília (help),
tua (you) peténtem (begging/asking for) suffrágia (support), esse (to be) derelíctum (abandoned/forsaken).

Ego (I) tali (such/such a kind) animátus (having courage/inspired/disposed/inspired) confidéntia (with confidence),
ad (to) te (you), Virgo (Virgin) Vírginum (of virgins), Mater (mother),
curro (I run), ad (to) te (you) vénio (I come),
coram (before/in the presence) te (you) gemens (sighing/groaning) peccátor (sinner) assísto (I stand).
Noli (do not), Mater (Mother) Verbi (of the Word), verba (words) mea (my) despícere (look away from/negelct/overlook); sed (but) áudi (hear) propítia (favourable/gracious) et (and) exáudi (hear/give heed to). Amen.

And here is a lovely version of this prayer sung using Cistercian chant.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Abbott cave in on same sex 'marriage'

When the Australian Parliament voted against same sex 'marriage' last year, the bill went down because the Liberal-National Coalition, unlike Labor, did not allow its MPs a conscience vote.

But it seems that all bets are now off, with (nominally Catholic) Liberal leader Tony Abbott saying that it will be a matter for the party room to decide after the election, according to the ABC.

No election commitment to hold the line

According to the ABC Report, the Liberals will not to be taking a commitment to traditional marriage into the election as a firm commitment:

"Speaking to ABC Radio in Melbourne, Mr Abbott said he did not want the marriage laws to change.

But he said the issue would be a "matter for the post-election party room" if the Coalition won September's federal poll.

"I'm not trying to say that the party is committed forever and a day to the current position," he said.

"I'm saying that this will be a matter for the post-election party room."

Liberal election strategy

The comments seem to be yet another example of Mr Abbott's commitment to the Kennedy principle of not letting his religion get in the way of politics.  I've written here and here about his campaign, launched earlier this year, to paint himself as a reconstructed supporter of feminist empowerment, including support for those undergoing IVF and even abortion (on the basis of that old hoary, 'safe, legal and rare'.  Hmm, that would be safe from people like the Melbourne abortionist who infected over fifty women with Hep C and now appealing his jail sentence, or the horrors too terrible to be reported in the mainstream media in the US Grosnell murder trial I guess?).

Is Abbott's repositioning getting any traction?

Personally I doubt it - no one believes anything either side of politics says these days, and the Liberal's credibility on this front is no better than Labor's despite all the rhetoric (remember Mr Howard's promises to slash the size of Government, only to leave Office after presiding over the biggest growth period in Government in Australian history?!).

But of course, Mr Abbott doesn't really need to sell himself, for Labor seems already to have well and truly lost the election, only digging its grave even deeper with pretty much every policy announcement.

It is still some months until September 14, of course, and I realise Mr Abbott doesn't want to seem to be taking anything for granted, and the media pressure in the wake of the New Zealand legislation is relentless.

But is his cause really being advanced by what looks like a rather cynically flagrant pandering for votes?

Conservatives leading the charge for gay 'rights'

Mind you, Mr Abbott's cave in comes in the face of a number of 'conservative' Premiers coming out in support of changing the definition of marriage in the wake of the New Zealand vote.

The New South Wales Liberal Premier Barry O'Farrell apparently supports gay marriage, and wants a conscience vote on the subject.

And now Liberal WA Premier Colin Barnett is saying that while he is 'personally opposed' to the idea, he does support a conscience vote.

Maybe it really just is that even 'conservatives' are no longer 'conservative' when it comes to morality: gay marriage was, after all, introduced in the UK by a so-called conservative Government, and New Zealand is currently governed by the 'conservative' National Party...

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Visit of abbot of Clear Creek

Clear Creek Monastery, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Source: Monastery website
Some readers may be aware that the Abbot of Clear Creek Monastery, the Right Rev. Phillip Anderson, OSB, is currently visiting Australia, accompanied by the only Australian member of the Abbey, Brother James Middledorp, of Adelaide.

I've been alerted to the fact that he will be saying a Solemn High Mass in Brisbane this Sunday, so if you have a chance to get there, do go!

A rapidly expanding Congregation...

Clear Creek is a foundation of Fontgombault Abbey in France, a member of the Solesmes Congregation of Benedictines, and by most measures by far the most successful of the traditionalist monasteries.

Refounded in 1948 with 22 monks, it is easily the largest of any of the Solesmes Congregation monasteries, with over a hundred monks.  And it has also made four foundations in recent years: Randol (1971), Triors (1984), Gaussan (1994), and Clear Creek, US, (1999).

Clear Creek itself is largely the inspiration of Dr John Senior - a large group of his students joined Fontgombault Abbey, and members of this group subsequently formed the core of the new foundation.  Clear Creek itself is now up to 41 monks.  There is also an associated group of Benedictine sisters.

Australian visit

Brisbane: Abbot Phillip  will be the celebrant at a Solemn (EF) Mass the 10am (EF) on Sunday April

21, at St Joseph's, Kangaroo Pt.

Melbourne: ANZAC Day, Solemn Requiem, 10.30am St Aloysius.

If there are any other events planned, do let me know and I'll add them to the list...

And please do pray for more Australian vocations to them, and consider supporting their fundraising campaign in aid of the completion of their monastery buildings!

Are you a complaining, gossiping resister to the Spirit of Vatican II?

Over the last few days the little summaries of Pope Francis' daily sermons have included admonitions against calumny (and of course false witness is a serious sin), gossip (criticising others behind their backs) and those who want to turn back the clock on Vatican II.

It is hard to judge just who Pope Francis' targets are with some of these remarks, since the full text of his homilies are not available.

Still, not unsurprisingly, some, including Archbishop Nichols of Westminster have turned these three strands into an attack on Catholic bloggers and traditionalists, arguing that we 'destroy unity' by sharing news (it's gossip if it travels outside the magic inner circle and I'm someone who feels they shouldn't have to follow the social media?), and complaining about episcopal failures, amongst other crimes.

Sad to see clericalism rear its ugly head so strongly!

Co-responsibility of the laity

Now as regular readers will be well aware, I'm no great fan of Vatican II..  The fruits of the Council that we see in the devastation of the Church in the West suggest to me, as to many traditionalists, that the continuing triumphalist interpretation of it is generally unmerited.

 But I do see some positives in it, and one of them was the recognition of the important role the laity should play in the Church.

We've seen the devastating effects clerical secrecy has had on the Church.

Pope Francis commented in his homily on complaints that the correct behavior for a Christian, according to the Vatican Radio report, is:

"First, "do not judge anyone" because "the only Judge is the Lord." Then "keep quiet" and if you have something to say, say it to the interested parties, to those "who can remedy the situation," but "not to the entire neighborhood." "If, by the grace of the Holy Spirit – concluded Pope Francis - we succeed in never gossiping, it will be a great step forward" and "will do us all good".

But, as I've pointed out previously, we are not 'judging' when we call someone out for what is objectively a sin, or dispute a prudential judgment.  We shouldn't of course, claim to know the state of their soul of course.  But should we stay silent when someone publicly does something that is objectively wrong, like vote for gay 'marriage'?  Of course not!

And should we stay silent when those in authority refuse to act?

Where we become aware of a sin privately, the first step is of course to rebuke the person privately.  But Scripture tells us it doesn't end there.  If our first attempt at correction fails, we should bring in someone more authoritative.  And if that too fails it is time to go public.

The situation is different though when the sin is public already, for Our Lord's example teaches that tolerance is not a virtue!

Nor is the situation different when it comes to issues open to debate, such as pastoral strategy.  There does, of course, come a point where we must simply obey, and so so without grumbling or complaining.

But where Church law is not followed, where the action - or inaction of our leaders seems to us to be leading the flock astray should we stay silent?  Is speaking up on these issues mere gossip?

I think not.

We need to act with charity of course, and consider our own motivations carefully and prayerfully.

Yet those in authority also need to recognise the reality that Canon Law gives Catholics, lay and clerical, a positive right to make their views known.

Turning back the clock?

Finally, do we really have to believe that Vatican II was a 'beautiful work of the Spirit', a 'great grace', and that resistance to some of its approaches is about stubbornness and wanting to tame the Holy Spirit?

The then Cardinal Ratzinger took a rather more sardonic view of the status of Councils of the Church in his Principles of Catholic Theology, even quoting St Gregory Nazanzus on the Council of Constantinople in 381:

"To tell the truth, I am convinced that every assembly of bishops is to be avoided, for I have never experienced a happy ending to any council; not even the abolition of abuses...but only ambition or wrangling about what was taking place."

Back then the now Pope Emeritus suggested that Councils have to be judged on their fruits: some proved important for their doctrinal and other formulations; others have, in the long run, proved to have been utterly irrelevant to the life of the Church.

Where does Vatican II fit in this spectrum?  Personally I think much of its pastoral approach has failed because it grappled with the wrong problem:  focused on coming to terms with modernity, the Council Fathers and their advisors failed to realise that in fact the era of modernity was about to end, symbolically in 1968.  And in a post-modern world, the secularization of liturgy and practice was to prove a disaster.

Yet there are some positives that I think will yet emerge from a correct reading of the Council: the recognition of the role of the laity; more positive relationships between Catholics and other Christians; and that genuine ecumenism that seeks the reconciliation of the groups closest to the Church for example.

The challenge for us now is not to indulge in nostalgia, for, as the Pope was perhaps trying to suggest, the the clock can never really be turned back.  Few traditionalists, for example, really want to see a return of the super-fast low masses that were the main experience of my mother's generation.

Rather, we have to discern what truly is a grace arising from the Council, and what should be discarded as pastoral prescriptions that have not stood the test of time, or are unsuited to the present age.

The task, as Pope Francis points out, is not to make Vatican II a monument, for as Pope Benedict pointed out, a Council is not an end in itself, but rather 'an instrument in the service of the Church'.

The task now is to assimilate what is useful from Vatican II, discard what is not, and move on.

But then again, maybe I really am a negative, Holy Spirit resisting purveyer of gossip and should stop blogging forthwith...

**Things I for one wouldn't resist!

That said, there a few things from Vatican II that are yet to be implemented, that I for one certainly wouldn't resist.

Just to start at the beginning, with Sacrosanctum Concilium, how about:
  • Popular devotions of the Christian people, provided they conform to the laws and norms of the Church, are to be highly commended (SC 13);
  • No person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority (SC22);
  • The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites (SC 35)
  • Concelebration is restricted to a limited list of cases such as the Chrism Mass, Synods, etc (SC 57)
  • Pastors of souls should see to it that the principal hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in Church on Sundays and on more solemn feasts (SC100);
  • The treasury of sacred music is to be preserved and cultivated with great care (SC 114);
  • The Church recognises Gregorian chant as being especially suited to the Roman liturgy.Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services (SC116); and
  • The pipe organ is to be held in high esteem (SC 120).
***Other blog responses

And for some other responses to the Archbishop's claims, take a look here:
  • William Oddie at the UK Catholic Herald argues Archbishop Nichols is stretching the Pope's comments well out of context;
  • Pat Archibold at the National Catholic Register; and
  • Fr Ray Blake.

New Zealand falls! Same sex 'marriage' law passes...

New Zealand became the thirteen country to legalise 'marriage' for gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and intersex couples.

And there is no residency requirement, so Australians need only take a quick trip across the Tasman.

The Bill passed its third reading last night, with the vote 77 to 44.

The only positive note is that the bill does provide a conscience exemption to prevent marriage celebrants from being forced to marry couples if it is against their religion.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

New Maronite bishop for Australia

The bishop appointment mill is up and running again, and the first appointment for Australia is of  Fr. Antoine Tarabay O.L.M. (Lebanese Maronite Order) as Bishop of the Eparchy of St. Maroun (Maronites) in Australia.

Fr. Tarabay was born in Northern Lebanon in 1967, making him Australia's second youngest bishop (Bishop Kennedy of Armidale is still the youngest).  He was ordained a priest in 1993, and replaces Bishop Ad Abi Karam, who is 76.

Fr Tarabay is currently rector of St. Charbel’s monastery, church and college in Punchbowl, New South Wales.  He completed a Doctorate in Moral Theology at the Alfonsiana Faculty of the Lateran University in a comparative study of Bioethical teachings in the Catholic and Muslim traditions.

Australia has over 30,000 Maronite Catholics according to the 2011 census.

Please keep the bishop-elect in your prayers.

Next up?

Australia has a growing list of dioceses waiting for bishops to be appointed, so watch this space!

Here is the list:
  • Wilcannia-Forbes, vacant now since June 2009;
  • Canberra-Goulburn, vacant for just over a year;
  • Hobart, where Archbishop Doyle is now 76.4;
  • Rockhampton, where Bishop Heenan is 75.7; and 
  • Townsville, where Bishop Putney is gravely ill.
Lismore is also on the list, but let's hope Bishop Jarrett stays in place for some time to come yet!

There are also a couple of others coming up, or likely to come up, for which one might hope for very quick appointments, in particular, Broken Bay...

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Curia Review Group: what should they do? ***Updated

As I mentioned a few days ago, the Pope has appointed a group of eight Cardinals (being variously dubbed the G8 or Gang of 8 by some), including Cardinal Pell, to advise him on "the governing of the universal church and to study a revision of the apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus on the Roman Curia".

Catholic Voices Melbourne

In Australia of course the initial reactions have largely been around Cardinal Pell's appointment to the group.

One of the key criteria for selection seems to have been ensuring every geographical area of the Church has representation - and Cardinal Pell is the only active Cardinal in Oceania these days (there are three others, but all long retired), so an almost automatic choice on the face of it.

All the same, he does have good credentials for the role - he has done some tough reforms in his own dioceses (remember the Melbourne seminary affair!), has plenty of experience in dealing with the Curia, and has views on the issue which he has not been backward in sharing!

Accordingly, it has been nice to see a fairly positive coverage of his appointment (the views on offer over at aCatholica and Cath News notwithstanding!).

Instead of the normal whingeing from dissenters like ex-priest Paul Collins, there have been a number of front foot reports out there, first from Cardinal Pell's spokesperson, as well as from Tim Fisher (as former Ambassador to the Holy See) and from Catholic Voices Australia (in reality it is purely a Melbourne show, so the name seems a bit of a claim too high, but the aim is noble!).

So what will the Committee actually be doing?

What is the Group's task?

Despite the fact that the Pope has apparently already spoken to the various members of the group by phone, details of what they are actually supposed to do still seem fairly vague, as the initial ABC Report suggests:

"A spokeswoman for Cardinal Pell, Katrina Lee, says he is looking forward to the opportunity to assist the Pope in the important task.

"Cardinal Pell will be in Rome over the next couple of weeks and he will probably be meeting with the Pope during that time to discuss what hopefully will be the intentions of the committee in October, and what they hope to achieve after that," she said.

"Cardinal Pell is looking very much to see how he can contribute to the committee."

Ms Lee says the international composition of the committee shows that the Pope is a fresh thinker.

"When the Pope appointed the group of cardinals he was very keen to hear and listen to what a number of people think, and what they've said in the past about the Curia and how they can make it work in the future, and how they can improve it for the Pontificate in general," she said.

"(He is) making sure that he's speaking to a wide range of people, not just people who might be in Rome, or might be associated with the previous Pontificate, but also trying to reach out to people and getting an idea and a feeling of what's happening in various parts of the world and how various people are thinking."

The Catholic Voices Spokeswoman, while upbeat, was similarly short on detail:

Dr Rodrigues said it is unclear what is on the agenda and what changes are likely to come out of the committee.

"I think that if we are to judge what is already happened and look forward, we can expect great things to happen," she said.

"I think that things will evolve slowly at a pace that ensures that things are done in a constructive way, in a very considered way and certainly one that aims to take the church in a positive direction.

"This ensures that really the decision-making is informed and it is informed by people who are coming from different parts of the world."

This hasn't, of course, prevented assorted interpretations of it, as well as lots of suggestions being offered to it, so here is my own list.

What should the Committee recommend?

1.  Clean out the Italians

The Sydney Archdiocese website's story on the role of the group quotes the Cardinal as pointing to the need for greater discipline within the Curia.  In the face of the leaks, continuing claims of homosexual infiltration, and allegations of corruption, a good housecleaning would seem an obvious starting point!

Of course, the underlying problem is the system of appointments on the basis of cronyism and worse.  As Cardinal Pell has pointed out, one obvious solution would be to ensure greater English-speaking input to the Church's core decision-making.

Certainly breaking the Italian stranglehold on the Curia seems like a no brainer -  currently 115 of the 285 Curial bishops are Italians.  And Europe is represented by some 170 curial bishops in total, while the Americas have but 44, Asia 38, Africa 29 and Oceania a mere 4!

As others have pointed out, part of the problem is that the Curia's working language is Italian, so outsiders have to invest a lot of effort in learning the language before they can be useful.  Some don't like the idea of recognising English as the universal language of the world.  So the solution is simple - revert to Latin, the Vatican's official language...

2.  Set up a Cabinet system

Part of the challenge in any reform of the Curia is not to undermine the hierarchical structure of the Church.  In the end, it is the Pope who has the power of universal governance, and he does actually need to be able to the final decision-maker on some things.

Nonetheless, good processes lead to better outcomes.  And listening to a variety of different perspectives before you make a decision is crucial.  So is making sure there are appropriate internal co-ordination processes.

Having a Cabinet like body - a meeting of the heads of the various Congregations and the Pope once a week or so to discuss the major decisions that need to be, or have been made - would be a simple way of getting everyone talk to each other and ensuring all the possible angles are properly tested.

Some, like Austen Ivereigh and John Allen, are suggesting that the G8 is the de facto Cabinet.  I don't see how it can be.  These men are diocesan bishops, they do not have actual 'Ministerial' responsibilities for particular parts of the bureaucracy.  And only one of them is resident in Rome - multilingual tele or videoconferences are just not that easy to run!   It could be a useful sounding board and means of consulting the world's bishops, but that's not the same thing as a Cabinet.

3.  Geographical structures?

Some have suggested that the shape of this Committee, which has a member from every Continent (except Antarctica!) is the shape of things to come.  There certainly does seem to be a need to better ensure that Rome hears the diversity of voices in the Church.  Some have suggested an expanded role for bishops' conferences.  Based on their performance to date in most countries, this seems like a recipe for more useless talkfests rather than actual action.

But perhaps Joshua's proposal for a series of Latin Rite Patriarchates is worth exploring further?  Instead of focusing on endless consultation, it could help to speed up decision-making, one of the main complaints about the Curia at the moment; and it could allow a greater degree of responsiveness to the problems particular to the different regions of the world.

4. Revive the use of clerks?

Some have suggested that one way of preventing careerism would be to have time limited appointments to the Curia - say five years.

I don't actually think that is a good idea.  It takes time to learn how to be a good bureaucrat, and maintaining institutional memory and culture (assuming you have a healthy one!)  is crucial to good decision-making and implementation.

But a system of exchanges, whereby Vatican bureaucrats went to work in diocesan systems for a period and vice versa could be helpful.

It might also be worth considering reviving 'minor orders', so that rather than increasing the number of laypeople in the Vatican, the Church reverted to the traditional use of clerks (and religious) to run the system, rather than unnecessarily diverting the increasingly scarce supply of priests to this purpose.

5. Enforcement

I do think the elephant in the room on Curia reform is surely the Church's approach, over the last few decades, of not actually enforcing its decisions.

In the Counter-Reformations clean out of corruption and immorality, public deposition of a few Cardinals and bishops played a key role.  Cardinal Mahony currently tops my list of candidates for this, though a number of others do spring to mind as well!

More generally, Curial inertia surely reflects in part the fact that so much of their work has little immediate impact, and relies on persuasion rather than just making a decision and enforcing it (how after all, can it be healthy for a Bishop Morris-like situation to have taken more than ten years to resolve).  The reality is that the current balance between the local church and the necessity of maintaining union with Rome is not ideal, and results in passive-aggressive responses on both sides.

What is the point after all, of getting those respones to dubia out quickly if diocesan bishops then ignore the Congregation for Divine Worship, and allow liturgical abuses to continue to flourish?  What is the point of issuing instructions such as Summorum Pontificum if some bishops are able to white ant its implementation in practice?  What is the point of issuing those doctrinal guidelines on the Churches response to homosexuality, for example, if numerous bishops and even Cardinals then publicly take a different view on issues such as civil unions?

I'm not advocating a wholesale return of the Holy Office, but I am advocating more support from Rome for bishops to take fast and decisive action when needed in relation to priestly immorality, liturgical abuses and heresy.  And it should be backed up by a preparedness for Rome to act as well, and be a fast court of appeal, to ensure the power is not abused.

What do you think?  And what else should be on the list Cardinal Pell takes to the Committee!

**Postscript: Cardinal Pell has described the group as not a Cabinet in the Western parliamentary sense, but a kitchen cabinet which the Pope will use as a sounding board.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Latin Prayer of the week: Act of Faith

Continuing my series of Latin prayers to learn in this Year of Faith, today the Act of Faith.

Faith is, of course one of the three 'theological' virtues, originating from 1 Corinthians 13:13.  It is worth noting that reciting 'any legitimate formula' of the act of faith carries a partial indulgence in combination with an act of contrition.

Actus Fidei

There are actually several different versions of the act of faith around.

All the same, it is rather curious that the Latin version given in the Compendium to the Catechism does not line up with the English given there.

Here is the Latin version as given in the Compendium:

Dómine Deus,
firma fide credo et confíteor 
ómnia et síngula quæ 
sancta Ecclésia Cathólica propónit, 
quia tu, Deus, ea ómnia revelásti, 
qui es ætérna véritas et sapiéntia 
quæ nec fállere nec falli potest.
In hac fide vívere et mori státuo. 

And here is the English translation it provides:

O my God, I firmly believe 
[that you are one God in three divine Persons,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 
I believe that your divine Son became man 
and died for our sins and that he will come 
to judge the living and the dead.] 
I believe these and all the truths 
which the Holy Catholic Church teaches
because you have revealed them 
who are eternal truth and wisdom, 
who can neither deceive nor be deceived. 
In this faith I intend to live and die. 

How do they differ?

The main difference between the two versions is that the English adds a section, which I have put in brackets above.  In fact the text omitted from the Compendium's Latin is the section many may be more familiar with, since it is closer to the version contained in the Baltimore Catechism (No 3):

O my God! I firmly believe that Thou art one God in three Divine persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; I believe that Thy Divine Son became man, and died for our sins, and that he will come to, judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because Thou hast revealed them, who canst neither deceive nor be deceived.

Looking at the Latin

Let's take a look at the Latin of the Catechism's version though, word by word:

Dómine (O Lord) Deus (God), firma (firm) fide (with faith) credo (I believe) et (and) confíteor (I confess)  ómnia (all/everything) et (and) síngula (each separately/one at a time) quæ (that) sancta (Holy) Ecclésia (Church) Cathólica (Catholic) propónit (proposes/teaches), quia (because) tu (you), Deus (God), ea (them) ómnia (all) revelásti (you have revealed), qui (who) es (you are) ætérna (eternal) véritas (truth) et (and) sapiéntia (wisdom) quæ (who) nec (neither) fállere (to deceive) nec (nor) falli (to be deceived) potest (he is able). In (in) hac (this) fide (faith) vívere (to live) et (and) mori (to die) státuo (I am resolved/determined). Amen.

Here is a complete translation based on the Latin:

Oh Lord God, with a firm faith I believe and confess each and every thing that the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because You, God, have revealed all these things, who is eternal truth and wisdom, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. In this faith, I resolve to live and to die. Amen. 

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Cardinal Pell to help plan the new Curia...

Just in from the Vatican Information Service:

“The Holy Father Francis, taking up a suggestion that emerged during the General Congregations preceding the Conclave, has established a group of cardinals to advise him in the government of the universal Church and to study a plan for revising the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, 'Pastor Bonus'.

The group consists of:

Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State;

Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, archbishop emeritus of Santiago de Chile, Chile;

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, India;

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany;

Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo;

Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley O.F.M., archbishop of Boston, USA;

Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney, Australia;

Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, S.D.B., archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in the role of coordinator; and

Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano, Italy, in the role of secretary.

The group's first meeting has been scheduled for 1-3 October 2013. His Holiness is, however, currently in contact with the aforementioned cardinals.”

Interesting group of Cardinals, seemingly selected with an eye to a wide geographical representation.