Letters to Eureka Street

This special gift

Like Andrew Hamilton (Summa theologiae, September–October 2005) I am reluctant to be the fool who rushes in, especially as his column is the first thing I read in each issue, and I am conscious also of Henry Beard’s warning, Et casu Latine loqui cum sodale societatis Jesu ne umquam conaris (May you never try out your Latin [or anything else] on a Jesuit).

Like Hamilton, I have some questions to ask of Jan Anderson’s report of her research in her book Priests in Love. They are centred on the theme of justice. I am deeply sympathetic to the plight of those men who, in good faith, answered a call to ministry and find themselves unable to meet the celibacy conditions. Sometimes this is the result of some very unenlightened training processes in days gone by and lost opportunities to begin the development of a mature personality, or of heavy demands made and not supported. I am conscious, too, of how easy it is to practise self-deception in these circumstances. In particular, I am conscious that the partners of the priests in this study are vulnerable because of the inequality of their positions and the impossibility of public recognition.

While Anderson and her interviewees address these issues and she accepts that the committed relationships are responsible, I believe the issues must remain relevant. The thrust of her argument, it seems to me, is that these priests and their partners do not simply see themselves as victims in a sad tale, as Hamilton puts it. They have taken responsibility to maintain their commitment to ministry and also to follow a path to becoming authentically human; in other words, to find a solution to the problem. (It is difficult to consider these untested ideas without resorting to cliché.)

Hamilton makes it clear from the beginning that he is responding to an argument about compulsory celibacy for Catholic priests. Anderson and her interviewees also make it clear that the gift of celibacy can and has been a source of grace for the Church over its history, although they also make the point, I believe, that the two calls, to ministry and to celibacy, are not necessarily tied together. They also draw on the human history of the Church to suggest that compulsory celibacy has a non-graced story as well.
Hamilton is correct to point to the deep earthing of clerical celibacy in Catholic history. I believe that Anderson and her interviewees do see this as well, but that her argument points to an equally important issue, which is simply the social reality that for a very large proportion of the Church earthing is largely not providing nourishment, and that it is nourishment that is the central issue.

It is in his final sentence that I believe Hamilton shifts the terms of his contract with his reader. His ‘splendid foolishness’ is reminiscent of some of the writing of G. K. Chesterton, especially his biography of St Francis. While we need reminding that it can be gloriously human to have such heroic generosity, we must also remember that this was a special, and not compulsory, gift. In these times it is difficult for any organisation to justify a request for heroism. People are too suspicious and mindful of past betrayals to hand over what is now seen as their own responsibility.

Times, and the signs of the times, have changed and so has the Church, particularly in its recognition of the vocation of the baptised and the call to be faithful in marriage or in partnership. These might be the splendid foolishness that fertilises these challenging new times. To read the signs of the times does mean reading with the analytic tools available in these times, and I hope Anderson is widely read.
Martin N. White
Prospect, SA

A parting word

When I first became editor of Eureka Street, my  predecessor, Morag Fraser, left me a book as prescribed reading. It was James Thurber’s The Years with Ross. It described the early years of The New Yorker under its founding editor, Harold Ross, and the peculiar brand of managerial madness he pioneered there. His system of paying writers was notable. He created a schedule that only he understood, and made payments only when he remembered to. His example has been infectious in publishing houses since.

In her ode to grammar, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Lynne Truss describes an argument between Ross and Thurber about the proper use of the Oxford comma. It ended in fisticuffs. Thurber insisted that the only acceptable usage was ‘red, white and blue’, Ross that it was ‘red, white, and blue’.

I tell these stories of quirky passion because I shall treasure similar stories of the passion for truthful writing and of human vagary as I leave Eureka Street to take up a new role with the Australian Nursing Federation. No doubt the movement from Church to Trade Union sponsorship will generate more stories!

I would like to thank you who form the Eureka Street community. You have encouraged me most deeply when you have told me that Eureka Street publishes views and arguments that others do not. It is precious because it hosts a forum for public conversation in Australia, one in which new writers can join. It has been my privilege to enable this conversation between writers and readers.

I would like to thank particularly Morag Fraser, Andy Hamilton sj, Jack Waterford, Michael McGirr, Anthony Ham and Robert Hefner. I am grateful to them as mentors and friends.Robert Hefner has kindly agreed to act as editor of Eureka Street for the coming issues. His sensitivity and experience will ensure that you will continue to enjoy Eureka Street and to be drawn into the conversation it represents.        

Marcelle Mogg


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