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Australian Catholics take stock as Pell falls



Trigger warning: sexual abuse, sexual assault, child abuse.

Catholic reaction to the conviction of George Pell for child sexual abuse was as diverse as the Catholic community itself. Some of the reaction has a public voice, including the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the Catholic commentariat, individual bishops, leaders of Catholic agencies and education authorities, and prominent Catholic survivors.

George Pell arrives at Melbourne County Court on 27 February 27 2019. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)This aspect of Catholic reaction can be identified. Some explored the trial, conviction and forthcoming appeal, while the remainder discussed the likely impact on the Catholic community, sometimes a gut reaction of a personal kind. Some emphasised the value of the Church's works in the community while others gave reassurance that the Church is now a safe environment. Some questioned the verdict or urged against a rush to judgement before the completion of the appeal process.

Survivors, including John Ellis, Chrissie Foster and Peter Gogarty, expressed satisfaction that justice had been done in this case and that despite such a high-profile suspect, the jury believed the victim and therefore the justice system had triumphed.

The reaction of regular church-going Catholics and the broader Catholic community is harder to capture. Anger and outrage at betrayal, even grief and trauma, was frequent. What they seemed to have in common was devastation for the church and guilt by association by being branded a Catholic in a hurtful way.

This association may be extended to the tens of thousands of non-Catholic parents and students in Catholic schools and the many thousands of non-Catholic staff of Catholic agencies, including hospitals, welfare services, aged care and international aid and development.

The enormous scale of the uproar and impact flowing from Pell's conviction was something new for Catholics even after a decade of revelations of widespread clerical criminality, including those revealed by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Pell has been such a towering figure, representing the face of Catholicism not just within the church but to the wider community.

A conservative within a conservative church he was a divisive internal figure, not just because of his strictly orthodox views but because of the unbending and assertive style with which he promulgated them. This appealed to some Catholics but mightily offended others. In dealing with survivors of child sexual abuse he projected a lack of empathy and, while Archbishop in Sydney, oversaw the case that led to the establishment of the Ellis defence, which made it easier for the Catholic Church to avoid liability from victims of abuse who sought compensation for their suffering.


"It is harder for regular Catholics to exercise their voice because the hierarchical church is not set up for open discussion. Open discussion is always better than allowing the Pell conviction to become the elephant in the room."


He represented Australian Catholics in Rome, was close to popes and prime ministers, was identified with World Youth Day in Sydney and the canonisation of St Mary MacKillop as well as with the Melbourne Response to sexual abuse. Something died in Australian Catholicism with Pell's guilty verdict and Australian Catholics will have to live with that whatever the future turns out to be.

Recognising the gravity of the situation the Catholic world reacted quickly. Fresh from successfully representing Australia at the Vatican Summit Archbishop Mark Coleridge issued a crisp and effective statement as president of the ACBC. Many individual bishops and leaders of Catholic agencies followed in a cascading wave of statements, some directed to priests and staff and others to the wider community. Some were distributed in workplaces and in parishes.

Some parish priests adapted these messages in their own way at Sunday Masses. In one church in rural NSW the parish priest came down from the pulpit to the floor to be on the same level as his parishioners in a gesture of solidarity to share his hurt and painful concerns. Some church authorities and principals distributed letters reassuring parents and students that their schools were a safe environment. St Patrick's College, Ballarat, Pell's school, announced that his name was being removed from a school wing.

In all these reactions for those seeking to explain or defend the church or to reassure worried Catholics, hitting the right note was extremely difficult, in part because the audiences are so varied, from an orthodox, aged Catholic base to the wider unchurched Catholic community and outwards to people at large. The statements varied in terms of their priorities and their language. Quotations then appeared in the mainstream media where unduly prayerful sentiments were probably greeted with rolled eyes. There presumably was vigorous internal debate among professional communications advisers as to how best to react or even whether to react at all given the possibility of making things worse.

Many prominent Catholics have an outlet for their views on such occasions even though there was widespread trepidation about getting embroiled at such a difficult time for the church. Interviewers often sensed this and were particularly sensitive to the very personal nature of the responses demanded and elicited. Once again it was noticeable how most of the Catholic leaders and commentators were male, at a time when female voices would have added a valuable perspective.

It is harder for regular Catholics to exercise their voice because the hierarchical church is not set up for open discussion and for allowing the laity to have a voice. Sunday Mass is a case in point because it is structured around a homily to a silent congregation and interchange is not invited. Parishes should consider calling meetings, led by parish pastoral councils where they exist, at which there can be open discussion of the church's situation.

Schools are better off and opportunities can be given to staff, students and parents to ventilate their views. Open discussion is always better than allowing the Pell conviction to become the elephant in the room.

No matter the outcome of Pell's appeal, the Church must do its best to create spaces for discussion between its members, clergy and lay, on an equal footing. This should not just be temporary but permanent. The preparations for the 2020 Plenary Council may be one outlet, though the listening sessions have just finished. Cultural change should be on the agenda when the first meeting of the Plenary Council takes place in October next year, but heartfelt discussions certainly can't wait till then. The Catholic reaction, now in its early stages, may evolve in unpredictable ways.


For confidential counselling and support call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800respect.org.au



John WarhurstJohn Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University.

Main image: George Pell arrives at Melbourne County Court on 27 February 27 2019. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)


Topic tags: John Warhurst, George Pell, clergy sexual abuse, royal commission



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Existing comments

Thank you yet again Eureka Street -my main forum for expressing my views as a woman in the Church- and to John Warhurst for your latest article. Clericalism and empowerment of the laity have been the subjects of my submissions to the Plenary Council. My hope resides in the many impressive laity who are now making their voices heard- you give me more courage to make my voice heard in my own parish- one that has probably had more than its fair share of trauma. Margaret A

margaret A | 08 March 2019  

Speaking about dialogue with the hierarchy makes no sense unless there is something to talk about. In our noisy worlds, Mass and churches in general should be places for quiet prayer - you can get plenty of conversation at the shopping mall. It is the 'spiritual Communio' from which grows other forms of community within the church. Cardinal Pell has been a great example of loyalty to the Gospel - are we surprised that he was put into the Colisseum to face a legal system, depending on a jury that was fed by the hostile media and police.

Alice Larkin | 08 March 2019  

John the leaders of this church are akin to the Pharisees in the time of Christ. Matthew chapter 23. They taught about God but did not love God. They preached God but converted people to dead religion. They taught that an oath sworn by the temple or altar was not binding, but that if sworn by the gold ornamentation of the temple, or by a sacrificial gift on the altar, was binding. They taught the law but did not practice some of the most important parts of the law – justice, mercy, faithfulness to God. They presented an appearance of being 'clean' (self-restrained, not involved in carnal matters), yet they were dirty inside: Wicked in their lust. They exhibited themselves as righteous on account of being scrupulous keepers of the law, but were in fact not righteous: their mask hid a secret inner world of ungodly thoughts and feelings. They professed a high regard for the dead prophets of old, and claimed that they would never have persecuted and murdered prophets, when in fact they were cut from the same cloth If the church turns to the so called "leaders " Cardinals and Bishops to clean up here, its doomed.

Francis Armstrong | 08 March 2019  

Thank you, John, for that incisive article. I am a practising Catholic and my response to this event is as complex as most, I suspect, but mainly sadness and a great deal of anxiety. At Mass this weekend I wonder how many Catholics will remember that the responses they give to the liturgy were the work of the Vox Clara group of bishops, chaired by none other than George Pell, who handled the English translation? Not that it matters, I suppose, but it gives a slightly chilling instance of how deep Pell's influence has been on the Church, not just the Australian church. It was curious to me at how some of the conservative commentators such as Andrew Bolt were so swift to question the verdict, too. I cannot help wondering whether having such a strident Climate Change denier in the position that Pell occupied had something to do with it.

Bill Venables | 08 March 2019  

A neat analysis and summation, John, with a logical and necessary long-term suggestion. A very close Anglican friend texted me after reading Frank Brennan's article and its 200 odd responses: "What a mess! Over-reach and hysteria!" I cannot but agree. Meanwhile, we Catholics could do worse than to tuck our heads in and allow the law to take its course for fear of heaping further disgrace upon ourselves for cocking a snoop at the polity that we are part and parcel of and by whose widely agreed rules we claim to abide.

Michael Furtado | 08 March 2019  

Currently the boss of Nissan is in disgrace. Currently several Australian footballers are also in disgrace, as have been celebrity cricketers. Last year the Tibetan Buddhists had to fire their leader and admit the evidence about him. In 1509 Erasmus' 'In Praise of Folly' describes a church which makes the current breaches look like minor venial sins. The question for me is why does Pell and his behaviour occupy such space? This is a question of psychology and sociology, of formed and uninformed opinions. Pell has not been a humane figure as an administrator nor theologian. A major explanatory factor is individual and group expectations. Another is how much power have Catholics given to their clergy. People give away power in the hope of getting something. In the above article there is the suggestion that the laity had to wait for a permission from the hierarchy to have their say. That is not the way to gain regain power, dignity or exercise personal conscience. In a simple example;how many have silently fumed throughout a sermon when they could have simply walked out? And then outside bagged the preacher. Nothing I have seen so far would prevent any Catholic from saying their prayers or reading and living by The New Testament. It seems that Pell is a convenient whipping boy for years of stored hatred towards a triumphal Church some, of which Pell deserves.

Michael D. Breen | 08 March 2019  

Thank you.This is what we have need from ES for days now. I was moved that one of my daughters (committed but non practising) was lamenting, amidst a very difficult week on the family front, that in none of the three Catholic schools her children attends had anything at all been said about the Pell case.This in spite of the fact that in two of them there have been cases of serious abuse of students in the past two years. Flocks without shepherds...

Margaret | 08 March 2019  

Michael Furtado, questioning the law is an inevitable part of the law's development and a free polity. To regard it as cocking a snook is misrepresentative of those in ES contributions since the Trial 2 verdict who have affirmed and welcomed Frank Brennan's thoughts on this critical matter.

John | 08 March 2019  

One of the problems people in general, not just Catholics, had with Cardinal Pell is that he seemed to behave like a Medici Cardinal or Pope from the Renaissance. His defence, relying in part on a reference from John Howard, the former Prime Minister, seemed to many ordinary Australians like the elite springing to the aid of one of their own. Robert Richter QC's terming the offence Pell was convicted of 'at the vanilla end of the scale' would also put people off on very much the same grounds. There is no doubt the Cardinal is phenomenally talented and has made a substantial mark on the Church. Sadly, men of great talent and ability have committed these crimes. It was not his talent which was on trial. Whether Pell wins his appeal or not, he and the Church are like Humpty Dumpty after his fall. Pell is an old, sick man and his career is basically over. What of the Church? From my angle it doesn't look too good. I noticed, during the recent Summit on Child Sex Abuse at the Vatican, the matter of nuns being assaulted and raped by clergy was raised by women protesting during this Summit. More filth in the Augean Stables? You bet. This filth has to be admitted and cleansed. What of 'ordinary' lay Catholics? Well, I think they have rediscovered their own inherent personal dignity as Children of God and no clericalist elite is ever going to take that away ever again.

Edward Fido | 08 March 2019  

The Mass is not (or is not meant to be "structured around the homily", which is in fact OPTIONAL. The Mass is structured around making Christ truly present as on Calvary. Margaret: God forbid that schoolchildren should have this inflicted on them. It's bad enough having it saturated over every form of media. And "committed but non practising" is an oxymoron.

Peter K | 08 March 2019  

yes - " "prominent" Catholics will have their say but what about us, the "none-prominent" . The parents and grandparents with children and grand children at Catholic schools who do have strong, relevant and informed opinion. Unfortunately I still feel that the old "pray, pay and obey" attitude will continue as far as the clergy is concerned and for the "informed" media - it is only interested in the sentational!

Nicholas Agocs | 08 March 2019  

Thank you John - you and Francis Sullivan seem to be the only leading Catholics that grasp the needs of the “flock” !! Once again the Catholic Heiracy has failed to provide leadership to its confused parishioners . I lapsed a long time ago following inappropriate sexual advances from a senior church leader. The order and the Catholic Church heiracy we’re unable to deal with it leaving me more isolated and confused. Keep up your great work John (and Francis). You provide the moral authority and leadership that will provide some vision moving forward.

Helen | 08 March 2019  

Peter K I'm not sure where the 'structured round the homily' fits in (just can't find the reference). Nor did it seem of relevance or interest to describe in detail my daughter's religious practice! What was it Francis Sullivan said: around 10% of Catholics attend Mass regularly? And good grief of course I was not suggesting schools discuss the case with their students (though for senior high school students this might be appropriate).I'm talking about eg the school newsletter (which students assuredly don't read, even if many if not all parents do).All that was needed was a link to the Archbishop's pastoral letter. The school that has a fortnightly newsletter managed that in the end and deserves praise for doing so. It was not one of the two in which sexual abuse is a recent occurrence.

Margaret | 09 March 2019  

John, please write to Judge Kidd with the full text of Frank's article as well as all comments included, especially your's. Then see what the Judge has to say and, more importantly, does, in respect of the many breaches I believe they represent in relation to the law of contempt. From perusing the ES publication record, I am safely assured that your interventions in this matter relate almost entirely to the identity of theological and political opinion that you share with George Pell. As a man whose deep and dark reactionary shadow towered over the Australian, English-speaking and global Church, Cardinal Pell, like his supporters, can be expected to be humbled by his incarceration. What the judiciary has achieved for Catholics at long last is inestimable and was never addressed by the institutional Church which promoted him, his ideas and politics to the detriment of its reputation, as many knew and some have at long last discovered. Additionally, I can safely say, from poring over the published ES record, that there is hardly an identity of opinion between yourself and Fr Brennan, whose interesting quarrel with the verdict is yet to be appeal tested. Outrage cannot masquerade as free speech!

Michael Furtado | 09 March 2019  

I'm happy to be regarded as in accord with Cardinal Pell in matters of defined Catholic teaching on faith and morals, which I regard as distinct from "theological opinion". I'd also think myself as in substantial agreement on most matters doctrinal with Fr Brennan, whose legal expertise I admire. Your line of response here deflects from the point I make about the relationship between questioning the law and its development. I'd also add that it strikes me as odd that you, as one who routinely and vigorously advocates questioning of Catholic teaching in ES , do not manifest the same curiosity and liberality when it comes to man-made law.

John | 09 March 2019  

A message to the men in robes from one of the laity: You are fond of telling us that you are leaders of the church. Well, LEAD.

Anna Summerfield | 11 March 2019  

In my opinion this is an extremely intelligent, sane, and balanced article which well summarises the range of Catholic and outside reaction to the Pell conviction. Cardinal Pell is not the Catholic Church, nor would his rather contentious public persona necessarily be the best contemporary representation of what an intelligent, educated Catholic true to the sensus fidelium is. I would suggest someone such as Celia Hammond, former Vice-Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University and recently selected Liberal candidate for the federal seat of Curtin, is. Many years ago the late Michel Quoist suggested what was necessary for the Church was to develop a spirituality suitable for ordinary people living in the real world. I think an important part of your article was about the Church coming down from its remote Olympian heights to witness to and actively involve ordinary Catholics. I would suggest that, as seen in the life of Jesus, his family and close associates, the template for the modern Catholic Church is one of sanity and normalcy. The Church has a healing mission to the world. The paedophilia scandal is the reverse of this.

Edward Fido | 11 March 2019  

The succession of cases of paedifilia coming to light within the Catholic Church is a tragedy that affects us all. The Church will have to make major changes to its culture and attitudes. The requirement of priestly celibacy is a man-made "law" enacted centuries after Christ and one he did not propose. It is neither natural nor productive. The prominent role of women during Christ's time, and until Constantine's conversion, was central to Christian teaching. It is not natural for women to be excluded from ordination and leadership. It had its origin in human politics. Did Christ envision a church led by a man in Rome controlling the many Christian fellowships growing up all over the world? A strange and unworkable concept. We pray for radical change at the heart of the Church. There will be no solution until these contradictions in the Church are resolved.

Christopher Mayor | 11 March 2019  

Anna would't it be wonderful if this Holy Thursday our clergy explicitly renewed their commitment to serve rather than be served...?

Margaret | 11 March 2019  

I don't doubt your identity of opinion with Cardinal Pell. I object to the manner in which he imposed it, thereby crushing the rights of others to advocate an alternative view. In matters of legal opinion, my view is that you are wrong. Contextually, the Catechism teaches that conscience is "the right to act in freedom so as to make personal decisions" (1992), as well as “we must not be forced to act contrary to our conscience. Nor must we be prevented from acting according to our conscience, especially in religious matters” (Dignitatis Humanae). Also, “Conscience is our most secret core and sanctuary. There we are alone with God whose voice echoes in our depths” (Gaudium et Spes). In sum, it is possible for Catholics in good faith to act contrary to the teachings of the church. Cardinal Pell, following Newman, and like you, forgets that flexibility, not dogma, was Newman's advice: “I shall drink to the Pope, if you please; still, to conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.” (McGrath, 'Newman's Journals', 2010). I have no problem with your questioning the law except that you bring the law and ES into disrepute by risking acting in contempt of it.

Michael Furtado | 12 March 2019  

Christopher Mayor: Most of the "radical changes" you call for were introduced in the Reformation. Is there evidence that they have reduced instances of child abuse in the ecclesial communities that parted ways with the Catholic Church?

John | 12 March 2019  

Michael Furtado: Newman's thinking on conscience, which contributed to Vatican II's brief treatment of it, is far more developed and traditional than the gobbet from his 1875 "Letter to the Duke of Norfolk" you produce and your reading of it suggest. His analysis as a whole on the status of individual conscience in relation to Church teaching does not permit the use of conscience as a justification for dissent; Newman repudiates both a self-will that masquerades as conscience and an exaggerated view of the papacy which fails to recognize the successor of Peter as himself the servant of divine truth. Newman's "via media" approach can be seen in Lumen Gentium's specification of the conditions of authoritative teaching and the Council's insistence on a " . . . loyal submission of the will and intellect" (III, 25) in response on the part of the believer. His emphasis is on the primacy of truth, knowable as God's voice in the depths of the human mind and heart by reason and faith. In his 2014 book, Newman and Vatican II, (Oxford University Press) Newman biographer, Fr Ian Ker, comments: " . . . this famous toast was never intended by Newman to mean that a Catholic may be led by his conscience to dissent from Church teachings . . . he would have agreed with St Thomas Aquinas that a Catholic may, indeed should, follow an erroneous conscience, even if it means leaving the Church. But a believing member of the Church has a conscientious duty to believe the teachings of the Church, not to pick and choose what to believe . . ." Ker also provides an instructive analysis of the context for Newman's comment, which helps dispel the myth of Newman prioritizing "flexibility" as well as the notion that Catholics, as Gladstone charged, have "no mental freedom."

John | 12 March 2019  

We need to exercise great caution when dealing with those who seem to be using the Pell Affair as a stalking horse to attack the magisterium of the Catholic Church. Whilst the crimes the Cardinal have been convicted of are indeed heinous, it is completely illogical to claim they are the result of strict adherence to Orthodox Christian beliefs. Jesus' own life, work, words and ministry, on which the magisterium is ultimately based, give the lie to this. My own understanding is that the whole ghastly parade of clerical sex abuse of both children and adults is partly the result of a deformed vision of what the Church is and how it should operate, which is an institutional, authoritarian, sterile, clericalist, largely aged male vision. What was embryonic Church life in Jesus' time was much more family and community based and very much included the women as an integral part. It would be hard to think of a genuinely stronger and more feisty woman than Mary, who spoke back to Jesus on at least one occasion but also supported him to the end. I think we need to develop a much more egalitarian and horizontal method of communication with each other rather than the authoritarian and vertical one which now exists. The Church is not dead but it does need to be allowed to breathe.

Edward Fido | 13 March 2019  

Both John's stern riposte and Edward Fido's fireside conversation cautioning against criticism of the Church regarding the Pell affair miss the point. In handing down his sentence today, Judge Kidd explicitly links Cardinal Pell's status as Archbishop of Melbourne - at the time of the events that draw us to comment here have been found by an Australian court to have happened - with the spectacular abuse of power that led to the sexual assault of two choirboys. While Judge Kidd made no judgment about Cardinal Pell's other public and professional behaviour, excluding it from influencing his sentence, there is little doubt among those who approve or disagreed with Cardinal Pell's decisions that he was a highly authoritarian man, prepared to brook no disagreement and ready to use his personal office to intervene in all manner of ecclesiastical and political decisions to influence the side he favoured. While Cardinal Pell is not the whole Church he is/was certainly one of its most senior and influential global leaders. To insulate the structure and culture of the Catholic Church from criticism on Cardinal Pell's account is to carry wishful thinking to the extreme. He was the icing on the Church's clerical cake.

Dr Michael FURTADO | 13 March 2019  

As for John's view of conscience, Karl Rahner dismissed this, showing that the niceties advanced by some Thomist moral theologians and philosophers, drawing distinctions between objective and subjective judgments on moral matters, could not withstand the test of everyday ontological realities faced by us and the complexity of moral dilemmas we face in situ. In short, John, like some natural lawyers, robs Gaudium et Spes as well as Dignitatis Humanae (and, in my view, Newman's work) of the radical changes ushered in by Vatican II to moderate the distensions of Vatican I. The flaw in his thinking can be attributed to his extreme attachment to natural law as providing the only lens for an authoritative Catholic construction of morality and which is devoid of any consideration of free will in deference to obeying the magisterium. The Dominican, Jerome Toner OP, called this approach to an exaggerated application of natural law an example of the naturalistic fallacy. Not all morality can be discerned in terms of the ubiquitous claims that some natural lawyers make. This means that John can argue all he likes about the irregularities of the Pell judgment but he cannot extricate himself from supporting Pell's politics and theology.

Dr Michael FURTADO | 13 March 2019  

Nothing odd about my position, John. Cardinal Pell's political affiliations have sullied the Church's reputation, as indeed that of those who side with him. Drawn originally from the DLP, they are as socially illiberal as they are unapologetically economically deregulatory. While the latter position is excoriated within Catholic Social Teaching, the Church's crucial support for the rights of conscience, as espoused by Vatican II, are dismissed by Cardinal Pell and those who would inaccurately distinguish between a supposed objective and informed conscience and a disparaged subjective and biased one. Lonergan, Rahner, Kung and Schillebeeckx between them demolished the flimsy basis on which such a view was based and which effectively robs every adult Catholic from exercising their conscience, while reimposing on them a childish crutch-mentality which would trade their moral choice-making machinery for an insistence on making the magisterium the arbiter of all Catholic behaviour, even in non-doctrinal matters of such personal complexity and context as to reduce us to toadies . This is precisely the attitude that so many who write in these columns about the forthcoming Synod are alleging on an everyday basis. John Warhurst writes about this persuasively in ES. To tender another example of this: https://johnmenadue.com/marilyn-hatton-why-im-not-leaving-the-catholic-church-despite-everything/

Michael Furtado | 13 March 2019  

The Concilium theologians to whom you refer (who incidentally, parted ways on significant theological issues after Vatican II) do not constitute the Church's magisterium, Michael Furtado. One of the alternative Communio group, who provided strong critique of his peers' work - Joseph Ratzinger - later became Pope, from which office he maintained, in the tradition of his predecessors, Church teaching on conscience. Your attempted enlistment of Newman to the liberal cause and its relativising influence has also been roundly critiqued, and no doubt will continue to be with the advent of his canonisation.

John | 14 March 2019  

My last comment was neither intended nor written in the manner of a 'fireside conversation', Michael Furtado. I found your attempt to parody it as such vastly amusing but also sophistic. Justice Kidd made very clear in his sentencing statement that it was Cardinal Pell who was on trial for his actions and not the Catholic Church nor its beliefs. Cardinal Pell is now an old, sick, tired and discredited man. Even if his appeal succeeds, there will always be those who doubt his innocence. I always found his combative approach off putting and counterproductive, but saw this as a personal, rather than a theological problem. Confuting the two, which some of his critics do, is a mistake. I am hoping that, in future, the Church will choose leaders who have a different approach. These will still need to abide by the sensus fidelium. It is part and parcel of their job. They are not allowed the intellectual liberty of their Anglican counterparts, such as John Spong or Richard Holloway, some of whose public utterances were obviously heretical. Some theologians, such as Karl Rahner, who you mention, take a rather convoluted approach in discussing matters such as conscience and their conclusions are open to debate. Sometimes I think they are merely indulging in an intellectual chess game and have lost the plot about what religion is really about.

Edward Fido | 14 March 2019  

Mr Fido, I intended no disrespect but I generally find myself disagreeing with the 'pouring oil on troubled waters' approach that you frequently adopt in your comments on ES, and which generally serve to obscure the 'take-off' moments facing the Church, one of which happens to be now and which has drawn substantial recognition in Catholic and other circles. That you are joined in this by John and, sometimes by Marty Rice, is not an irritant to me but in many senses a delight that entertains me to reply but which at this time represents a very serious and profound misreading of the import of a colossus being brought down. We can quibble about Judge Kidd's careful words but he specifically alluded to the authority and power abuse employed by Cardinal Pell in his treatment of the two boys seemingly in his care. I am stating, without fear or favour, that this is the experience of thousands of Catholics and others, both those who had personal contact with him as well as others who knew him as a political figure. The same observation has been made by Lee Sales and Geraldine Doogue. The Church is responsible for privileging Cardinal Pell!

Michael Furtado | 14 March 2019  

Well said, Edward. Apropos your observation on the convoluted style of Rahner, his brother, Hugo, also a Jesuit and theologian of distinction, though less feted than his eminent sibling, has remarked: "One day, perhaps, Karl will learn to speak German." That said, I acknowledge Rahner's contribution to Christology and the effects of the Incarnation - though I cannot support his 'Transcendental Thomism"' agreeing as I do with Etienne Gilson's analysis, summarized metaphorically in his description of it as a futile attempt to mix oil and water.

John | 14 March 2019  

In another post, someone mentioned the use of pseudonyms in ES posts. I personally, clearly, have no problem with people maintaining their privacy here, but a more distinctive moniker than simply a first name would be helpful to other readers of the comments dialogue. There were so many 'Johns' in the latter thread of over 230 opinions that it was difficult to trace an individual John's opinion. Dialogue then becomes confused :( . May I suggest to all the 'Johns' and other first-namers who frequent ES that you add on something distinctive to your name, so that others can reply to you sensibly.

BPLF | 15 March 2019  

Fair point, BPLF. Henceforth I'll sign myself John RD

John | 15 March 2019  

John Warhurst, while I agree that Catholics need to talk about the trial, sentencing, verdict and appeal of Cardinal Pell and the avalanche of media coverage it has attracted - and within this discussion the attitudes towards, position and role of Catholics in an aggressively secular society - given that the the Plenary Council has provided a formal mechanism for the sharing and hearing the concerns "regular Catholics", is it not up to the initiatives lay people themselves to determine how they will further respond if necessary? One caveat, though: I don't consider the celebration of the Eucharist an appropriate forum for such discussion.

John RD | 17 March 2019  

Not to usurp or otherwise presume on John Warhurst's right of reply, John RD, I cite a review of a critical essay on Rahner's Theology of the Eucharist in the journal, 'Homiletic & Pastoral Review'. https://www.hprweb.com/2016/02/the-eucharistic-theology-of-karl-rahner-a-critical-survey/ Both Rahner and the reviewer are generally praised for this immense contribution to Catholic theologies of the Eucharist, especially for Rahner's attempt to link it with the immense contribution of Heidegger to existentialist thought. This means that, in the responses Warhurst has elicited to his article, there can be no limits placed on the impact of the current and multiply-linked crises facing the Church about everything that defines Catholics and especially Catholic doctrine, since it is that which defines us. That being the case, everything, and especially our Eucharistic theology must be up for discussion, since the Eucharist (and not just, say, the papacy) is at the very epicentre of the Sensum Fidei. This has immense consequences for the celebration of the Eucharist, including the ordination of women priests, recognition and welcoming of homosexual persons, and not just the closeted, to the Table of the Lord, marriage of those ordained priests, who have opted for sacramental marriage, and including the marriage of homosexual persons.

Michael Furtado | 17 March 2019  

Yes, Michael Furtado, the Eucharist is, indeed, as Vatican II's "Lumen Gentium" and The Catechism of the Catholic Church attest, "the source and summit of the Christian life." It is also the Church's pre-eminent sacrament of unity ("communio") in faith; hence, the need to ensure that its celebratory rites convey this unity, rather than weaken or undermine it by a possible babel of contesting opinions on the part those participating. It's a very long bow drawn to claim Rahner's theology of the Eucharist encourages the kind of discourse you wish to see implemented in the context of Eucharistic worship. However, your recommendation does serve to underline the questions the issue of clerical child abuse raises for ecclesiology.

John RD | 18 March 2019  

I would add that any discussion of the ramifications for Australian Church leadership and culture in the aftermath of the Pell conviction (and whether his appeal succeeds or not) would have to investigate and deliver several internal administrative and structural reforms, as recommended by the Royal Commission and to which Professor Warhurst, with his expertise in political systems, would have considerable knowledge of. It would indeed be better if the Church immediately set up a panel of lay persons, both Catholic and, preferably, otherwise in order to prevent suspicion from the outside of toadyism and deference to alleged clerical influence, whether real or imagined. Thus, far from interfering with the formal canonical celebration of the Eucharist, lay Catholics would at last be standing up and exercising our rightful responsibility to clean-up the immense mess that faces us, and which, with due respect to the many clergy and religious whose hands are innocent of spilt blood, can only be achieved by the laity standing up and being counted. In doing this, we need also to investigate a culture that, on all available evidence, has enabled a person with the rank of cardinal to do what he has been convicted of doing.

Michael Furtado | 18 March 2019  

Thank you John RD. I look forward to dialoguing with you!

BPLF | 18 March 2019  

Since the shocking events in Christchurch seem to have driven the Pell saga off ES's radar, where it still lies festering, it might help to report on the aftermath of John Warhurst's suggestions over here. I am liaising with our Parish Council for an opportunity to hear the views and responses of parishioners to the Pell tragedy. My view is that this may turn out to be a damp squib because, despite our proximity to UQ and illustrious reputation as an 'ex-Jesuit' parish, unless we tap into the prevailing mood of atonement, the event will become cliched and inane. This resonates with a piece on The Conversation website by David Tombs, a theology professor from The University of Otago, who, citing Archbishop Coleridge (our Archbishop & ACBC Chair), has compared the sexual degradation and debasement of abuse-victims to the sexual-stripping and abuse of Jesus. Some focus on this would do much to shift the unhealthy and atheological view that Jesus HAD TO die for our sins to another, showing that He Himself experienced the humiliation and degradation that those of us who are abuse-victims suffer. Such a focus might well trigger the 'Copernican' Church revolution envisaged by Archbishop Coleridge. https://theconversation.com/how-recognising-jesus-as-a-victim-of-sexual-abuse-might-help-shift-catholic-culture-112754

Michael Furtado | 21 March 2019  

So, I approached our PP, who said he was loathe to speak on the subject of the sexual debasement of Jesus(cf. my post above) especially on Good Friday. I deduce that +Coleridge's association of child abuse (when interviewed by La Croix) with the 'sexual stripping' of Jesus distracts from the message he was expected to voice in Rome from those who write on these pages. Canberra and its Concerned Catholics are a million miles, I also reflect, from the mindset of those Catholics who attend Mass, and for whom our magnificent liturgy and, perhaps, the magisterium only, matter. John Warhurst's background in Politics equips him with the rare ability to see and engage with a structural analysis of a Church which has resulted in the fall of its second highest office-bearer. To change this might well require a rejection and abandonment of the entire structure and culture of Catholicism and replace it with the principle of election, as in the Uniting Church. From his other brilliant publications (cf. 'Why I remain a Catholic' in 'Pearls & Irritations') John Warhurst isn't prepared to do this. It follows that, like the rest of us structural analysts, John Warhurst has a long wait.

Michael Furtado | 24 March 2019  

It seems to me that John Warhurst's article, "Why I am not leaving the Catholic Church", which Michael Furtado endorses, adopts two stances that contrast with the ecclesial structure of the Catholic Church as expressed in Vatican II. Firstly, Firstly, Professor Warhurst regards in his reformist agenda a "non-hierarchical" church as a "non-negotiable", an understanding not compatible with the Council's affirmation of the Church as an "hierarchically constituted society" (Lumen Gentium, III, 20). Secondly, Professor Warhurst maintains that while he will remain a member of the "local" church, he is prepared, if necessary, to move away from "the larger institutional church" - a dichotomy also unsupported by the Council's ecclesiology, which maintains a co-constituitive relationship between the local and universal manifestations of the Church: "This multiplicity of local Churches . . . shows . . . the catholicity of the undivided Church (loc.cit.). I have high regard for John Warhurst's academic and organisational competence, but regrettably cannot agree with his ecclesiology on these points.

John RD | 25 March 2019  

Good of you to chase up my reference to John Warhurst's piece in 'Pearls & Irritations', JohnRD, but it might be more useful to post your objections to it there. Since I am responsible for 'endorsing' John Warhurst's views by citing his article in that e-journal, let me defend my support of him here. Citing Vatican II more than half a century after its closure, when, palpably, many of its devolutionary reforms were not carried out in the manner and spirit of their intention (and as a result of which we Catholics face a structural and cultural problem of catastrophic proportions) means that an appeal to a moribund ecclesiology is about as remote and unrealistic to most Catholics, in the devastating aftermath of the current senior clergy abuse scandal, as any earlier one that has rocked the Church. By way of evidence for this, I circulated our correspondence to a group of fellow practicing Catholics, all highly-educated as well as rusted-on, and one wag remarked that you were probably referring to the character of Eccles in the Goon Show. I don't mean to be disrespectful but the time for appeals to hierarchically-ordained Church reform has well and truly run out.

Michael Furtado | 27 March 2019  

Michael Furtado, I can't say I share your regard for Vatican II's ecclesiology as an anachronism. It will be interesting to see - authoritatively Catholic ecclesial criteria so dispensed with - the sort of church the architects of the reforms you envisage will produce - though I suspect a number of Protestant congregations have already established the blueprint.

John RD | 27 March 2019  

PS: Michael Furtado, you might suggest to your "wag" acquaintance who offers Goon Show puns as a substitute for ecclesiology that, following his form, we could all be "falling in the water."

John RD | 28 March 2019  

JohnRD, I bow to your knowledge of ecclesiology and wonder if Avery Dulles doesn't adjure us to avoid employing his Models of Church to have a stand-off on the testimony (in the Menadue forum, referenced above) of John Warhurst. Warhurst's inferences, drawn from political science and democratic theory as well as contemporary inclusive cultural impulse, are critical of Church structure which you regard as sacrosanct. Being as there are several observable models of Church in operation around the globe within the one unified Catholic Church and sometimes operating in healthy, graced and admirable tension and conjunction with one another, I wonder if we should attach more serious regard to +Dulles's injunction about the 'Church as Institution'. This model emphasizes the structure and order of the Church ("Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church") in the hierarchy of the Church. In Sacred Scripture we also hear of it in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts). The strengths of this model are that it provides clear roles and guidelines for living but, per +Dulles, this should never be the most important model! Whilst I have the utmost respect for Hobbesians, Catholic order theorists have surely lost the plot.

Michael Furtado | 28 March 2019  

Michael, the real issue, as I see it, concerns the origin and growth of the Catholic Church: if it were born simply of "the will of man" (Jn 1: 13) there would be little problem with the determining of the Church's structure and processes simply by "political science and democratic theory." However, the evidence of faith and knowledge of Church history do not permit a positing of either the Church or its source - the Triune God revealed and given in Jesus - as merely intramundane or secular realities. Such a view diminishes God, and, I believe, also short-changes us, both the churched and the unchurched. The ecclesiology of Vatican II is basically one of "communion", an understanding rich in possibilities for the renewal and new evangelization the Church and our times require, and which issues from the Church's foundation in the life of the Trinity. Post-Vatican II ecclesiology has achieved significant development of the Council's teaching on the nature and mission of the Church, especially in moving away from the juridical emphasis and expression of post-Reformation times to more scriptural and patristic understanding and articulation. Nor does the Council's achievement end there, as Joseph Ratzinger identified in 1982: " . . .the Council inserted into the Church as a whole the doctrine of primacy that was dangerously isolated; it integrated into the mysterium of the Body of Christ a too-isolated conception pf hierarchy; it restored to the ordered unity of the faith an isolated Mariology; it gave the biblical word its full due; it made the liturgy more accessible; and, in addition, it made a courageous step forward towards the unity of all Christians ("Review of the Preconciliar Era: Failures. Tasks, Hopes," in Principles of Catholic Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), p. 370). - I venture to suggest that these advancements have yet to permeate Catholic culture, let alone contemporary secular society.

John RD | 28 March 2019  

Mille Fois Bravo John RD for your post of 28 March 2019. It shows that you do not just read Theology, but you read it with understanding.

Edward Fido | 29 March 2019  

Thank you. Edward.

John RD | 29 March 2019  

JohnRD, I loved this post of your's. For the first time I felt we were making some headway in arriving at an agreed position on the current crisis involving such a colossal fall from grace on sexual matters of so many priests and even bishops entrusted with offering servant leadership to a beleaguered Church. Nor do I posit the changes needed merely in terms of the sacred versus secular dualisms that you misread me as positing. Indeed, the origins of the current crisis are unquestionably theological and manifestly untried, but where we part ways is in the means necessary to progress the insight and vision that +Benedict expresses. In an earlier era it was up to 'religious' historians, such as Acton and von Hugel, to explore and define the extent and limits of the encroachment of the modern state on the mission of the Church. By the same token, from the early modern period, we had the genius of remarkable scripture scholars, such as Leo XIII, to articulate a Catholic Social Teaching to enable the Church to respond to contemporary social and political problems from which we had isolated ourselves for the prior 300 years. Now is such a time!

Michael Furtado | 30 March 2019  

Michael, glad to see we share common ground in recognizing ecclesiological implications for the clerical abuse crisis currently engaging all Catholics. However, it still appears our differences are more than methodological: for instance, while I affirm with you the integral role of Catholic Social Teaching in addressing contemporary social and political problems, I don't see how the Church's social teachings can be divorced from natural law morality, connected as it is with the Decalogue - which provides the religious context and foundation for the practical respecting of human dignity, the starting point for Catholic Social Teaching. Regarding methodology for ecclesial renewal, I consider highly relevant exploration and promotion of Vatican II's "communio" ecclesiology along the lines recommended by Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick: participation and co-responsibility on all levels (but not in a way that discounts hierarchy); developing a culture of synodality; and fostering a "spirituality of communion", about which Pope John Paul II has said: "Let us have no illusion; unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion will serve very little purpose. They would become mechanisms without a soul, "masks" of communion rather than a means of expression and growth" (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 43).

John RD | 30 March 2019  

JohnRD, Glad to see were inching our way towards agreement, although your approach to 'Communio' is one that has landed a great many priests and bishops, and certainly Popes Benedict and John Paul II in a great deal of strife in terms of the exaggerated ontological claims they attach to the Church's special position in society and culture. It is precisely these claims that were singled out by the Royal Commission to explain how so many clergy sexually abused so very many children. Moreover, its not as if these abuses occurred in Australian isolation. Membership of Christ's Mystical Body is one thing; defining it in such terms as to confer absolute power on ordained persons is quite another. The mistake that SOME bishops and SOME priests make, particularly in their appeal to 'Communio', is to lay the foundations for a Church that is a law unto itself. No institution can wield such power without succumbing to the kind of theological distortions that have made Pope Francis look as if he has been driven into a blind alley of his predecessors' making. Might I invite you to read the theological analysis of Ilia Delio to progress this vitally important discussion: https://www.mothercabrini.org/news-and-publications/is-new-life-ahead-in-the-church-an-article-by-sr-ilia-delio/

Michael Furtado | 02 April 2019  

Michael, Vatican II's espousal of "communio" eccesiology has nothing to do with the conferring of absolute power on priests and still less with encouraging clerical abuse. To suggest so is a gross misundersatnding/misrepresentation of the contributions of de Lubac, Congar, Ratzinger et al. Rather, "communio" encourages co-responsibility, accountability and transparency in church participation and governance. Sr Illia Delio's enchantment with evolutionary science overlooks the metaphysical presuppositions on which all science proceeds, and mistakenly subordinates faith and theology to science. In her Teilhardian futurology, Sr Delio also underestimates the importance of history, the locus of the Incarnation and God's self-revelation in Christ.

John RD | 02 April 2019  

JohnRD, If ' "Communio" encourages co-responsibility, accountability and transparency in church participation and governance', as you assert, I don't detect any of it in the official response of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to the Royal Commission Report and its shocking aftermath resulting in the conviction of Cardinal George Pell. On the other hand, I can reliably say that 75 percent of those participating in the Australian Bishops Survey of issues to be addressed by the forthcoming Synod have discerned that clericalism and an exclusive male priesthood, both positions central to "Communio's esoteric theology, are in direct opposition to the large groups of Catholic theologians emerging from Vatican II, who founded the enormously well-regarded theological journal, "Concilium". In the article I referred to in the post preceding this one, Ilia Delio addresses the question of the ontological overreach of "Communio" in lucid theological detail, exposing the exaggerated and misguided pitfalls that have been caused by it and advancing instead a profound and detailed theological corrective to the "Communio" discourse that is supported by the great majority of theologians who publish in "Concilium". Our readers should know that "Communio" broke away from "Concilium" and represents theological interests anathematic to Vatican II.

Michael Furtado | 02 April 2019  

I wonder on what basis Michael Furtado asserts that the response of the ACBC to the Royal Commission Report and conviction of Cardinal George Pell fails to exhibit "co-responsibility, accountability and transparency"? A more accurate and fairer construction, I'd suggest, is that the bishops are withholding further comment until the legal process has run its full course, displaying a fitting prudence that merits respect rather than accusation of failure to exercise key values of "communio" ecclesiology. Moreover, it's clear that Dr Furtado and I have very different expectations of what makes for "profound theological discourse" and lucidity, as well as of the "Communio" group's post-conciliar attitude towards Vatican II - including Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI's deeming it necessary to distinguish interpretative aberrations - advanced in the name of the Council's elusive 'spirit' from what the decrees actually intended and instructed.

John RD | 04 April 2019  

In none of the doctrinal or canonical affirmations of "ontological change" undergone in the Sacrament of Holy Orders is there evidence of this terminology being employed to relegate the lay baptised to the status of inferior beings in relation to ordained priests - the ordained of my acquaintance would find the proposition that it does risible. The point of the term - also used in relation to the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation (which are not, obviously, exclusive to priests) - is to stress the character and transformative efficacy of the laying on of hands as an objective reality. This is not to say that the sacrament, of itself, secures constant fidelity - ongoing subjective commitment on the part of the recipient is also needed.

John RD | 04 April 2019  

"4000 survivors told us they were sexually abused as children in religious institutions. This occurred in schools, orphanages, churches, presbyteries, confessionals. Sexual abuse occurred in 1,691 religious institutions, (taking) many forms, including rape and often accompanied by physical and emotional abuse. Most victims were between 10-14 years when the abuse first started. Perpetrators included priests, religious brothers and sisters, teachers and others... Many inquiries focussed on child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. These indicted that sexual abuse in the church has been widespread. They also revealed commonalities in Catholic responses to sexual abuse, including failures to report perpetrators to civil authorities and to use canon law to discipline perpetrators, their transfer from parish to parish and sending them for treatment but failing to remove them from ministry." John RD states: "A more accurate and fairer construction, I'd suggest, is that the bishops are withholding further comment until the legal process has run its full course, displaying a fitting prudence that merits respect." 'Prudence' in regard to what? Conserving Church finances in the face of destroyed lives? What Gospel values might John RD assist the Bishops with identifying that dislodges justice as the quintessential response to the Royal Commission's findings?

Michael Furtado | 06 April 2019  

Michael Furtado: (1) "Prudence" in response to Cardinal's legal appeal. (2) Today's gospel at Mass (Jn 8: 1-11) shows Christ's response as both just and merciful. We have inherited a legal system that enshrines both values. And, as our homilist commented: "The person against whom wrong is committed, wants justice; does not the same person, having committed wrong, desire mercy?"

John RD | 07 April 2019  

John RD, my unwavering interest and focus, like John Warhurst's, should you re-read his article and my responses, is about the forthcoming post-Royal-Commission-findings Synod. That event will certainly not be a time for prudence but radical action to take sober and truthful stock, restructure and implement processes of administrative justice to ensure that nothing similarly scandalous and egregiously unjust is driven by the practices of a currently dysfunctional and moribund Catholic Church leadership, both at the Australian and global levels. In the real world the entire leadership of organisations has collectively fallen on its own sword and, indeed, the entire Chilean episcopate offered to resign last year when it became clear that they were protecting an egregious abuser within their ranks. Meantime, spare me the appeal to mercy and compassion, which in Gospel terms count for nothing until real action for real change is initiated. In any case, compassion for convicted perpetrators always takes second place to supporting victims of injustice. Any moral philosophy or theology that argues otherwise reflects a warped sense of priorities and, accordingly, richly deserves to be buried for posterity, rather than held up for justification and special consideration, as you insistently argue in these columns.

Michael Furtado | 08 April 2019  

Michael, it's saddening to see you find only darkness in the the current crisis and the bishops' response to it. Your dismissal here of prudence and urging of "radical action" poses the question of the role, if any, you would have discernment play in the forthcoming Synod; after all, both prudence and discernment require the exercise of wisdom in the assessment of any praxis. And, personally, I'm glad and grateful that the God expressed in Christ possesses and exercises both justice and mercy.

John RD | 08 April 2019  

Au contraire, John RD. I see in the current crisis no case for despondency or darkness and certainly not on my part. I rather think that, should Peter's Barque sustain a canonical/cannonical (pun intended)broadside and sink, while it would be a cause of no elation to me, it would also hardly constitute an end to Christ's cosmic promise of enduring and unconditional love for the Universe. In that hope, it is my view that it will take the crisis of the Royal Commission findings to precipitate changes that have been resolutely resisted for half a millennium.

Michael Furtado | 10 April 2019  

Michael , the Christ who desired and gave his life for all demonstrates in his teaching and actions a particularity and immediacy about ""love that make cosmic generalities pale and even void by comparison. I'm reminded of Kierkegaard's reply to Hegel's evolutionary schema that underlies the process and emergent theology you commend elsewhere in our exchanges: "In you globe-girdling system, is there room for me." Christ demonstrates a similar concern for the individual and personal conversion as the source of wider societal reform.

John RD | 11 April 2019  

Aye, Johnno, it's easy for me to hold forth on these interpretations of Life, but as an earnest Indian friend once angrily held forth, "Religion: it's no laughing stock!" Thanks for acknowledging and contesting my stuff. I'm off to Rome to see how +Francis responds to +Benedict's re-run of Cardinal Brown's creepy line about homosexuality being the root cause of the Church's sex-abuse problems. Meantime, have a marvellous Easter!

Michael Furtado | 12 April 2019  

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