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Can the Church survive its terminal self harm?



A couple of weeks ago I went to a sung Mass in Wellington, New Zealand, at St Mary of the Angels. Wellington was the city of my childhood, although for much of that childhood, I lived on Wellington's outskirts. To a great extent that also sums up my relationship to Catholicism: I am on the outskirts, yet close enough and invested enough to care very much how the Church evolves.

The VaticanBecause, it seems to me, how it evolves and the speed at which those urgent and essential changes take place will significantly determine whether it will survive — and whether it deserves to survive in any form.

My relationship to Catholicism has always been complex. It was only after my mother died of cancer at just 38, when I was eight, that my father — previously an intellectually convinced atheist — converted to Catholicism. In his wake, my older sister and I received 'instructions' — from a timid, entirely 'appropriate' curate — and then were received into the Church and re-baptised. In the many decades since I've been through every kind of permutation in response to Catholicism from absolute rejection and incredulity about the cruelty, banality and indifference that exist alongside genuine care and social justice action, to far more meaningful re-engagement. There's been intimacy, too. Over the last 25 years or more I have worked in my capacity as a spiritually inclusive minister and retreat leader with Catholic groups of all kinds, including congregations of nuns, school staffs, laypeople, chaplains and pastoral care workers, and priests.

Through those opportunities — and the parish I intermittently attend — I've met so many people whom I could admire and learn from, also experiencing in their company that ineffable, uniting spiritually alive 'something' that does seem to survive as a stillness, a resource, in the heart of all the ancient faiths, despite whatever human behaviour swirls around them. A lack of stillness desolates, plainly.

I also experienced among those committed Catholics shame, sorrow, confusion, rage, abandonment, remorse: remorse for crimes others had committed or allowed or covered up. Worse, horror — and it is horror — that their once-beloved Church has been massively more willing to shield perpetrators rather than victims; that the Church that preaches mercy and God's love had failed in its mission and duty of care to those whom Jesus specifically named as deserving of care, warning: 'Whatever you do to these, the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.'

This teaching — Mathew chapter 25 verses 40-45 — is profoundly significant in this transitioning moment of history. It matters for those who attempt in any way to defend the grotesque abuse of suffering individuals — children, children — by the Catholic church or any groups or individuals trading on entrenched assumptions of 'specialness' in relation to God. It matters also for those enjoying the vast privileges of political power — most especially when they seek to gain credibility through their 'Christian' affiliations. But where there is a promise that an ordained person can mediate between an individual and their God, the responsibilities are awesome. They require not just maturity; they require and deserve profound humility.

Jesus was inescapably specific. He threatens abandonment, even 'fire', for those who, when he was hungry, gave him nothing to eat; when he was thirsty, denied him drink; when he was a stranger, did not invite him in; when he was sick and in prison, did not care for him. Jesus anticipates the incredulity of those who hear this and would rush to say, 'Of course we would do it for you.' His teaching is repeated in a typically effective, typically Jewish way: 'Whatever you did not do for one of [the most vulnerable], you did not do for me.'


"Is any Christian denomination distorted by its rank history of bigotry, racism, sexism, encrusted clericalism and unforgiveable hubris worth saving?"


When a massive global Church has so plainly lost its way on this core teaching on conduct and care, should it survive? And that's not the only core teaching that seems to have been trampled by Christian denominations including and beyond Catholicism — not least in their obsessive rush to impose 'sexual correctness' on others.

There's also John chapter 13 verses 34-35. Here the radical wisdom teacher, Jesus, again speaks plainly: 'A new teaching I bring you: Love one another. In the way I've loved you, you must love one another. If you love one another, all will know [from this] that you are my followers.' How had Jesus loved them? We can guess at this from consistent stories of inclusion of people on the margins, also from the dignity and respect he showed universally — that is, without discrimination; for his reliance upon women as friends and his easy willingness to honour their support in every aspect of his ministry.

In the light of centuries of 'forgetting' or at least failing to take seriously those profound, central calls to meaningful inclusion and love, to consistently protective conduct rather than the preservation of monstrous power, is the institutional Catholic Church worth saving? Indeed, is any Christian denomination distorted by its rank history of bigotry, racism, sexism, encrusted clericalism and unforgiveable hubris worth saving? Many, many, many would say not. But perhaps from the margins, my own response — for what it is worth — would be somewhat different.

The sight of row upon row of pink-capped, male heads, their bodies encased in lavishly embroidered, costly green silk, gathered at the Vatican to reflect upon the horror of sexual abuse of children (and adults) by priests and religious, was almost unbearable to witness. Yes, a few women spoke and spoke powerfully, but the weight of power remains 'rock solidly' patriarchal in the Vatican-run, male-determining institutional church. The anti-modern hierarchical model; the fawning, the pomp, the elevation of servants of God and humanity to princely or mere bishop status; the revelling in power and misuse of it: do I dare say that that Church — that version of church — should not survive? Should not survive in its present form or with its current moribund priorities? Yes, I do dare.

For the truth is, that Church is not surviving. In the West, fewer and fewer men are willing to enter a deeply tainted priesthood. Priests 'borrowed' from developing countries where 'traditional Catholicism' better survives are preaching to shrinking congregations. The simplicity of gatherings based on need and understanding, on soul-led spiritual seeking, on authentically loving conduct, on inner resourcing — with all the self-responsibility and mutuality that brings — is the renewal. For there is another Catholic church also, far from the pomp, posturing and power: quieter, yes, but undoubtedly alive. And not just alive, but growing, refreshing, questioning; unafraid of doubt, tentativeness, good humour; unafraid of difference and diversity, and certainly unafraid of Jesus' call to love.

This is the church that is 'catholic' in the real meaning of the word. This is the church where women take their place alongside men with dignity and without apology. And where all races, all cultures, are respected. This is the church where inclusion and welcome means something — and where people are not invited to turn away from one another on the basis of ... well, anything at all. This is where social justice and social inclusion become synonymous with spirituality; never at odds with it.

There are formidable spokespeople in this evolving church, but it is notable that they consistently speak with and not down to. Some may be in your local parish. Some — and not discounting the power of 'two or three gathering in [Jesus'] name' — just outside it.

Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and widely published writer, whose 'congregation' is as global as it is inclusive, is just one figure who embodies the way forward. Significantly, he consistently teaches alongside women spiritual teachers. Not incidentally, when he visited Sydney some years ago from his home in the US, the then-Archbishop Pell forbade any Catholic organisation to host him. We gathered in our many hundreds elsewhere.

Using gender to privilege half of humanity over the other half — so that the least spiritually mature man would always be welcomed into the priesthood before the most spiritually and life-mature woman — is unjustifiable by any measure, but most particularly within a spiritual framework where a rudimentary awareness of the spiritual truths of interdependence should challenge the dualistic thinking so tragically expressed in, 'Men can ... and women cannot.'

It is not by chance that on this question primarily — the ordination of women, the sharing of power with women, the unshackling of a church from exhausted patriarchal imperatives — the so-called traditionalists part ways from the so-called progressives. Along with this, but secondary to it, goes the issue of men who choose to — and some would not — enrich their ministry through honest personal relationships, both in friendship and marriage.

This cannot be 'too much to hope for'. The existing power structures are unviable as well as repugnant. They do not reflect the teachings or example of Jesus; they create barriers between people; they speak of ego not spirit. Change has to be possible.

Just in my own lifetime, the Catholic Church has moved significantly on what was once thought fundamental. Its relationship to other denominations and other faiths is the most uplifting example of this. Genuine dialogue, worship sharing, social activism, mutuality of learning and respect have replaced the rabid exclusivity of the former 'one, true church' rhetoric. At least, for most. Could the church now also interrogate and undo centuries of a particularly deforming, self-harming, other-harming misuse of power? Perhaps only in part. Yet more than a few Catholics are more than ready. They live this now. 



Stephanie DowrickRev. Dr Stephanie Dowrick was ordained as an Interfaith minister in New York in 2005. She is also a writer, social activist and commentator, and a retreat and worship leader. You can find her on her public Facebook page. Her books include Seeking the Sacred, Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love and In the Company of Rilke.

Topic tags: Stephanie Dowrick, clergy sexual abuse, George Pell



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I too was deeply disturbed by the image of elderly celibate men in dress up garb attempting to come to terms with the institutionalised hypocrisy of the church in its handling of sexual abuse allegations. i asked myself where was the humility and could not find it. I asked myself where was the contrition and could not find it. I asked myself where was the care for victims and could not find it. I asked myself could I hear the voices of the victims talking to the old men and could not hear it. I asked myself where was Mary in the congregation and could not find her. The church in its current governance has put a whole new meaning on the words of Jesus ' suffer the little children.'

Philip Theobald | 06 March 2019  

Entirely Agree. Its time to get rid of the silky dress up garb. It is ridiculous for Rome to be appointing Bishops. St Augustine was not appointed by Rome...but by the people.

Robert Colquhoun | 06 March 2019  

Well said Stephanie - I could not agree more. What seems lost in all this debate is that the 'Church' is not really Christian! Jesus led a loving and forgiving life surrounded by woman who ministered to him - and others. Jesus reached out and forgave all and accepted all. He died naked, humiliated and beaten on a cross, the same cross that the ontologically different clerics celebrate liturgy in front of and sometimes wear around their necks! It seems to me that the basic wholistic teaching of Jesus is so far removed from the increasingly irrelevant dogma, petty rules and doctrines of the Church that it will inevitably decline as all man made institutions are wont to do.

Steve Cunningham | 06 March 2019  

A CLARION CALL Thank you Stephanie for your well expressed views. Many fear that the existing structures within the Catholic Church are unable to make the changes required for its viability as the vehicle of Christ’s loving presence in our world. We have yet to hear of a call for Vatican III yet such would seem warranted by the current global situation. Yes, I believe it would take an ecumenical Council to restructure the Catholic Church in ways that you have suggested. Should Pope Francis attempt to decree such changes without the backing of the vast body of Bishops then I believe sniping and criticism by nay sayers would impede necessary change. Once again Stephanie, thank you for raising the issues.

Ern Azzopardi | 06 March 2019  

Thanks Stephanie for an excellent article! I agree, "The anti-modern hierarchical model; the fawning, the pomp, the elevation of servants of God and humanity to princely or mere bishop status; the revelling in power and misuse of it: do I dare say that that Church — that version of church — should not survive? Should not survive in its present form or with its current moribund priorities?" I don't see 'the barefoot Son of Man who had nowhere to lay his head' when I look at Church hierarchy dressed up like Roman princes. But there many very Christian people in the Catholic Church, people whose genuinely have a preferential option for the poor, people who can well read the signs of the times and act accordingly, e.g. by acting to mitigate climate change and its potential catastrophic events that even threaten civilisation itself.

Grant Allen | 06 March 2019  

I'm glad you mentioned Fr Richard Rohr. Authentic priests like Fr Richard are the only hope for the church I believe. Interestingly, I remember him specifically noting how ridiculous the "pomp" of priestly garb is. Being a Franciscan, he said "St Francis would have been totally against that." I recommend people to read his books all the time. There is also a really great interview with Oprah Winfrey, in her Super Soul Conversations podcast series, about the nature of the soul. If I heard homilies like that each time I went to mass, I'd probably be there more often (and would probably be able to convince my kids to keep coming too.)

Kate | 06 March 2019  

My word, Dr Dowrick, with such a singularly dark, oppressive past, it's remarkable the Church has made it to our enlightened times . . . but maybe not such a surprise when we accept that its founder loves sinners, calls us to repentance, and came to save us; and that his promise, "I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" abides, because it is commissioned by his Father, pledged and sealed in the fidelity of his own life blood and enabled by the power of his Holy Spirit. A Church "semper reformanda" has been and is a blessing and a challenge in every age - in our own, a renewal that will based on both scripture and sacred tradition, and involve all the faithful.

John | 06 March 2019  

Stephanie: "Is any Christian denomination distorted by its rank history of bigotry, racism, sexism, encrusted clericalism and unforgiveable hubris worth saving?" The answer is yes if they take notice of what the members of the church, the laity have to say. Within the hierarchy, the power, the trappings of office, the church has lost sight of its true mission. It's there to serve the people. To wash feet, feed the poor, fight for justice. To protect the infants and the elderly. At Calvary this occurred: "Jesus, therefore, seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing by, said to his mother: Woman, behold thy son.; Then, he said to the disciple (John) Behold thy mother.; And from that hour the disciple took her to his own (home). ... " You dont have to have a degree in theology to be a member of the Church. The endless committees, discussions, reviews, prayers dont get anything done because the recommendations are graded and ranked according to their importance. Their opinions are like judges in the High Court. The loftier, the weightier opinion. The male hierarchy forget Mary Magdalen was a loved disciple. There have to be some massive social changes.

Francis Armstrong | 06 March 2019  

Thank you for your wonderful clarity of thought and expression. Your commentary is ‘spot on’’. May christian denominations everywhere take note. I sometimes muse that if Jesus were to sit beside me in church one Sunday morning, would he be scratching his head and wonder how his simple message had spawned such weird activity by his followers.

Glenys | 06 March 2019  

Perhaps the Vatican needs to ponder on the often misrepresented theory of Darwin. "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, but the most adaptable to change." Change or die!

Wendie Batho | 06 March 2019  

Nice idea John, but what would this new old church of yours look like? What would be the role of women? What would be the teaching around sexuality? Who would make the decisions? I doubt that you and Stephanie are on the same wave length.

Ginger Meggs | 06 March 2019  

Great article Stephanie - I applaud and recognise the courage and bravery of all the victims and survivors who have told their stories - don't lose hope. Indeed it is a horror that the "Church has been massively more willing to shield perpetrators rather than victims; that the Church that preaches mercy and God's love had failed in its mission and duty of care to those whom Jesus specifically named as deserving of care, warning: 'Whatever you do to these, the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.' Shame that the corridors of power are not used for the greater good. So many have been let down so badly.

Susan O'Brien | 06 March 2019  

The Catholic Church, after this worldwide paedophilia scandal, to me looks a bit like Humpty Dumpty after he fell off the wall. To use this analogy further, those currently attempting to put Humpty together again seem to be destined to failure. They are inappropriate 'saviours'. I am reminded of Ezekiel 37: 3 where the question is asked 'Can these bones live?' and the answer is that only God knows. I think that, for many Catholics, Jesus and what Christianity stands for are very much alive as they have never been totally institutionalised, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, one of the most profound Christian thinkers of the 20th Century, said that Jesus came not to found an institution, but to change the world. There was what equates to a Church in Jesus' time, the then highly institutionalized and hierarchical Jewish religion of which he was a life member and always critical of because it was totally formal and had no life within. Women had an inferior position both in the Judaism of Jesus' time and under Rome, yet Jesus' mother and companions completely transcended this in their own lives. This is the sort of Catholicism and Christianity in general which is very much alive today. It has not, nor never will, be destroyed.

Edward Fido | 06 March 2019  

Ginger, your ecclesiological question recognizes that there is a visible element to the Church. I hope you'd agree that the reality of the Church is not exhausted by what it looks like or what we can see of it: it originates in God; God's revelation in the person of Christ and his mission; and is sustained and renewed by our responsiveness to the influence of the Holy Spirit - whom one theologian describes as "Jesus's presence in his absence." I understand it not as "my" Church in the sense that I invent it, but rather in the sense of my received faith home with others who affirm Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9) and accept the Church he initiated as the decisive sacrament of his presence in history and source of his continuing mission in the world. How would his Church look today? Vatican II's documents, "Lumen Gentium" and "Gaudium et Spes" provide authoritative and helpful guidance for my appreciation of both the constituitive elements of the Church and change relevant to its mission in the contemporary world. So does Paul VI's "Evangelii Nuntiandi". How this works out in specifics is still in progress, the most recent instance of which is the opportunity to participate in the Plenary Council, a widespread consultation which I hope and pray will bear fruit in relevant and effective renewal, personally and communally. Since this is in process - and space here is limited - suffice it to say for now that I would envisage modifications of ecclesial structures rather than radical change of them, continuity in essential teaching on faith and morals, and excoriation especially of the of the attitudes and practices that have inflicted abominations on the young.

John | 06 March 2019  

Understandably, all eyes are currently fixed on Judas. We need to return our gaze to Jesus. We do not judge Jesus by Judas. Therein lies the way forward.

Raymond Watchman | 06 March 2019  

"Shame that the corridors of power are not used for the greater good." Well we heard last week what the corridors of power have actually been used for. Says it all really... When it comes to priests who, even now, do actually 'get it', I can never decide which of the two RRs I find the more helpful: Richard Rohr or Ron Rolheiser. The latter wrote beautifully some years ago of the deep truth of original sin. It is the taking by force of what should have been gratefully accepted as unearned gift. And as he rightly said, we call that rape. In that sense far too many of the clergy, in demanding our respect as their right, have raped us all.

Margaret | 06 March 2019  

1 of 2: Yes John we are all sinners, nevertheless His promise holds true and the challenge to-day for renewal, as you say will be based on both scripture and sacred tradition, and will involve all the ‘faithful’...From the article above “A lack of stillness desolates, plainly”... Jesus was very specific in regards to the Commandments, as in not “One iota” as with His teaching 'Whatever you do to these, the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.' Self- justification has no part to play within a Christian heart, as we all fall short in regards to “One iota” and love of neighbour, and this comes about when we fail to… “Love the Lord your God with all our Heart, mind and soul”… this is the precursor to “A lack of stillness”. It could be said that the “Good-Enough Life” is that of love of neighbour without the Love of God/’Truth’, but it "is not good enough". But a humble life/heart is, as “Only God is Good”. Truth is the essence of love. The Truth, as in not one iota, is the yoke that binds us to Jesus Christ, in ‘humility’. St. Bernard- Humility a virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases himself…Continue

Kevin Walters | 07 March 2019  

2 of 2: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart and you shall find rest (Stillness) for you souls” ...The True Divine Mercy Image/message, one of Broken Man given by Our Lord Himself, is a missionary call that offers the Church the means to embrace all her children no matter what their state of being, who are willing to embrace the wedding (Bonding) garment of humility. The only state from where the ongoing transforming action of The holy Spirit can take place. While we evangelize through the action of Humility, a disarming action in its honesty, that embrace all in its simplicity, as we encounter our brothers and sisters who stand and seek direction at the crossroads (Difficulties) of life. So in our present shameful situation, is God preparing the birth of a Church that will be truthful with herself. A Church that proceeds and leads in humility, openly acknowledging her failings before God and all of her children and in doing so, permit her children to do the same, and walk dressed in the Wedding Garment of humility also. Please consider continuing via the link kevin your brother In Christ https://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2017/10/15-october-28th-sunday-in-ot/#comment-91945

Kevin Walters | 07 March 2019  

Interesting perspective from yet another outsider. It appears from writings across many sources that the prescription for the Catholic Church's ills is to throw the baby out with bathwater. Though beautifully written Rev Dowrick offers to blow the Church up with a bomb wrapped in relativistic spiritual and cultural cotton wool. The utopia of utterly equal non-heirarchical non-paternalistic Church imperfectly exists in manifestations such as The Society of Friends, or Anglicanism, or Peter Kennedy's South Brisbane group. Each contains an element of the Utopian Vision. It is an imperfect world and human perfection is an ideal only once realised all those years ago and he had to put up with the imperfection all around him. There is a massive force of quite disparate forces circling a wounded Catholicism and they range from utterly well intentioned to patently aggressive. Not one among them sees the big picture. It is that despite the crimes of unrelated individual priests across State Borders if the naysayers remove the perfect idealism of the Catholic Doctrine from the world then anarchy relativism, not utopia, will win out.

HarryWho | 07 March 2019  

HarryWho the problem is the number of us who are coming to see ourselves as outsiders. And it is not the unrelated individual priests across state borders but the still pervasive institutional culture of protection. Last night my daughter was lamenting the culture of silence in the 3 Catholic schools her children attend (two of which have had serious incidents of sexual abuse in the last couple of years). Nothing at all about the Pell case. Not even the pastoral letter from our Archbishop. This cannot end well.

Margaret | 07 March 2019  

Thank you Stephanie for your incisive writing. I sat beside my husband last Monday night watching Q & A while he quietly wept and wept ... He was a teacher and education consultant and worked with some of the paedophile priests now named. It was harrowing, humbling and encouraging to hear the voices open up a much needed conversation about this horrendous betrayal of trust. Part of the challenge is to find language that gives expression to another way of being in the world. I have studied theology and have found that anything I have published or written always gets "taken up", interpreted, enacted and absorbed into the existing patriarchical structures and systems of today. For example, the word 'dignity' comes out of an hierarchical understanding of relationship ... I, and some others, propose another approach which is yet to find its voice and place in our lives. I wish to undertake further study to elaborate on my work but feel stonewalled into silence at present. The patriarchical structures etc are so hard to break open. The sight of those elite Bishops in their refinery at the Vatican was sickening. No contrition on display anywhere. No Mary Magdalene with oils and healing anywhere. No mothers and fathers who weep anywhere. No voices of abused children anywhere. The only brokenness was when the bread was broken at Mass. Not even the symbolism of this Act was grasped let alone the pouring out of the body and blood of Christ into this wound of betrayal. Let's find ways to continue this outpouring of betrayal and lament in ways that also heal. The question is how and where to undertake this task that also reaches outsiders like me?

Mary Tehan | 07 March 2019  

HarryWho, it’s not just your ‘crimes of (so-called) unrelated priests across borders’ that are the problem, it’s the capital C Crime of the ‘(so called) perfect idealism of the Catholic Doctrine’ as it is expressed in the sexist, elitist, wealthy beyond all need, clericalist, secretive and self-serving and self-protecting Institution. Your ‘baby in the bathwater’, like John’s ‘decisive sacrament of [H]is presence in history’ is an illusion insofar as it has anything to do with the Institution.

Ginger Meggs | 07 March 2019  

All religions are community interpretations of God's call. Both Peter and Paul wrote that God does not have 'favourites'. All religions need to renounce their claims to exclusive access to God's favours, and learn to cooperate as children of the one God. Usually each religion is shaped by the culture, degree of development of its members, and the circumstances they find themselves in. Success within one's community tends to over estimation it's value and leads to excessive claims and disregard for others. Only when all religious leaders come together as called for by Pope Francis, and learn to work in inclusive harmony will each of them adapt and survive.

Robert Liddy | 07 March 2019  

Philip Theobald and Mary Tehan, I have to totally agree with your comments about the recent meeting in the Vatican concerning the scandals affecting the Church. They looked so out of touch with reality. That scene we witnessed on our Televisions is deeply concerning to me as a Catholic lay person. There can be no answer to this issue while it remains 'inhouse'. The hierarchy , all male, celibate , with no knowledge, experience of the love ,companionship or friendship of married life or normal sexuality, are trying to understand and suggest solutions to a problem that needs input from those of us who know that experience and just maybe have some answers -lay people. Stephanie, You write a hard hitting response in analysing this crisis . Maybe your solution is one of the answers. Hopefully there will be others who can write in Eureka Street of what they believe the Hierarchy should be discussing .After all we the Lay people, ARE THE CHURCH!

Gavin O'Brien | 07 March 2019  

Outrage at clerical dereliction of duty and deep compassion for survivors are natural but they are a poor guide. A cool head, a Christ-centred life, and mature obedience to the Catechism of the Catholic Church are the best qualifications for any of us who would propose changes in the Church. A powerful example is given by Blessed John Henry Newman, as reported at: www.newoxfordreview.org/documents/newmans-prophetic-challenge-to-clericalism Please do read this. Let's also remember that the Church has faced many apparently insurmountable (reputedly 'terminal') situations. Reading what Pope Gregory the Great faced in the sixth century (we still have most of the correspondence) makes our current problems seem less terminal. Let's keep our cool and begin to implement the cleric/lay cooperation that Newman argued for.

Dr Marty Rice | 07 March 2019  

Like Stephanie Dowrick and so many others, I too am on the outskirts of the Catholic Church (you see I still use a Capital C, my goodness!) so am still very much within it. Watching The Church is like looking at Real Life, I suppose, the Ideal is there but the actuality is weak and, so many times, deeply flawed. I have met so many fine prophets over the years, and it is from them and teachings from Dr. Dowrick, Richards Rohr and Rolheiser and others, that I sustain any Hope, with a little brush of a feather from the Holy Spirit.

Christine Hopper | 07 March 2019  

"we the Lay people, ARE THE CHURCH! " And we need servant leaders.

Margaret | 07 March 2019  

Thank you for sharing this powerful critique Stephanie Dowrick

Sue Wittenoom | 07 March 2019  

Stephanie, so much truth lies in your words, as always. Yes there is hope for the church that Jesus planned, a truly catholic group of believers who value inclusivity and who live with a spirituality that espouses peace and social justice. Perhaps humankind is on the cusp of a new order where righteous posturing and clerical power are abandoned and replaced with generosity of spirit, humility and the simple tenets of the gospel.

Anne Doyle | 07 March 2019  

Human beings are but mortals containing the genetics of sin. Combine this with large organisational structures whether it be a church or government in whom the people place their trust and beliefs, then someone or many in the organisations empowered to do their duty will abuse it for sure. Unfortunately for Christianity's survival, its another mortal blow placing many with doubt which is where the devil wants human beings to be.

Phil Blogger | 08 March 2019  

". . . we the Lay people ARE THE CHURCH!" . . . I'd say lay people part are part ofthe Church, along with priests in the tradition of Christ and the apostles. It's clear that the clerical abuse crisis has produced a crisis of ecclesiology and Church governance, but I think we should recognize the fidelity and generous service of the many good Catholic priests - even saintly ones - in the Church, now, and in the past, before we become indistinguishable from other Christian congregations.

John | 08 March 2019  

"indistinguishable from other Christian congregations."?John I have no idea what Christian congregations you have in mind. But as someone who has worked ecumenically for at least 20 years and is blessed to have ordained ministers in other denominations as close friends (and an ordained minister as my great grandfather) I am very puzzled by your comment. What I do notice in other denominations is the espousing of a model of servant leadership from which we could learn (or could have learned so much). Is it too later now? I rather think so.

Margaret | 08 March 2019  

Do you see no significant differences in origin and structure between the Catholic Church and, say, the Uniting Church in which Dr Dorwick is now a minister, Margaret? Do you believe there were no real differences at the time of the Reformation, and the divisions in belief and practice it gave rise to? You seem to be of a mind that a male ordained priesthood and hierarchy - characteristic of the Catholic church from the beginning - and servant leadership are intrinsically incompatible. If so, it seems to me your argument is with the one who selected Peter and the Twelve, the basis of the Catholic tradition as it affects Church structure and practice, which is not a matter of indifference.

John | 08 March 2019  

I must confess sorrow and perplexity when I read highly decent and thoroughly honourable people saying that they feel 'outside' the Church because I believe that they are emphatically not. They are its very lifeblood. If it were not for the likes of them the Church would be like a vast morgue. I say this as someone who, although born Catholic, have never been overtly dynamically involved in a formal sense. Although I consider myself biblically and theologically literate, thanks to a superb education at Catholic and Anglican schools, well before I graduated from university, I have no theological qualification, nor, apart from being a Church Warden, have I ever held marginal, non-ordained Church office. This doesn't matter. You don't have to be a modern day Ranter, but, in a minor way, you can be a bit like St Catherine of Siena, who helped persuade the then Pope to return from 'the Babylonian captivity' in Avignon to Rome. Metaphorically, this is exactly what the Church needs to do. It needs to come back home. This tremendous ferment amongst intelligent ES readers is just part of a tremendous groundswell. Please don't think you are unimportant.

Edward Fido | 08 March 2019  

i find myself deeply in agreement with stephanie dowrick in this matter. When Francis was elected tot the papacy, I thought that he would stir up the institution and make a significant difference, but i find that his efforts are neutralised and we remain just where we were, which is not a very satisfactory place. When will the church allow the laity to speak and be heard?

mark stokes | 08 March 2019  

Rev. Dr Stephanie wrote in the final para: "Genuine dialogue, worship sharing, social activism, mutuality of learning and respect have replaced the rabid exclusivity of the former 'one, true church' rhetoric". Unfortunately those imported priests she mentions, "Priests 'borrowed' from developing countries where 'traditional Catholicism' better survives", are winding that back too. That is especially the case of priests imported from countries where Catholics are 90% or more of the population. The idea that there are other Christian denominations also trying to follow Christ (and in a path not too divergent from ours if you are honest), is alien to them. So out go the joint ecunemical worship sessions and ministers of other faiths being asked to preach at Mass. And they wonder why the exodus from the pews continues.

Bruce Stafford | 08 March 2019  

John in answer to your possibly rhetorical questions I am a church historian by profession, specialising in the late medieval and early modern Church.So yes I do know the history fairly well. Stephanie Dowrick has no connection at all with the Uniting Church, and has never had. She is an interfaith minister. I am constantly bemused by the lack of even basic knowledge of other Christian denominations exhibited by so many Catholics, and this certainly has some bearing on their perception of different facets of ministry. Of course if you want to cling to the strict letter of Apostolicae Curae that is your prerogative, but I'm pretty sure it does not colour most interclergy breakfasts in my part of the world. Similarly though I do believe restricting the priesthood to men is primarily historically rather than theologically based (and of course some of the smaller Christian denominations take an even more restrictive view based on 1 Corinthians 14:34) I don't see that as a matter of urgency for the Church to revisit. Certainly Jesus appointed the 12 for servant leadership.It's drawing a very long bow indeed to link that without question to the "men in dresses' derided by evangelical Christians who no doubt had a field day deriding the recent meeting in Rome.

Margaret | 09 March 2019  

Sadly, while I agree with Stephanie I doubt that the institutional Catholic church can reform itself on lines that she, and many others including myself, would like. This is because it has locked itself into a Canon code initially instituted by pope Pius X and promulgated in c.1918. The co-authors of this code were the Jesuit Fr. Suarez and the future pope, Eugenie Pacelli. This code only allows tampering at the edges which, of course, rigidly institutionalises the anti-Modernist philosophy of Pius X. The only way, it seems to me, is for the laity to take matters into their own hands and abolish itself. That is to say, it should go beyond the confines of canon law, organise into small, pastorally-workable groups, and run themselves. In a system that abolishes the laity, everyone including women and children, are priests. An ordained clergy, and the dreadful clericalism that goes with it, is a thing of the past. Going down this path would reform the 'church' and make it truly catholic in the true meaning of that word.

Gerard Guiton | 09 March 2019  

Dear Stephanie I am delighted to see you writing for Eureka St. You are a such powerful prophet amidst us. Thank you for your fluent articulation of our concerns.

Rhonda Boyle | 09 March 2019  

For those who think Clibacy is an issue, a brief history... 1045-Benedict IX dispensed himself from celibacy and resigned in order to marry. 1074-Pope Gregory VII said anyone to be ordained must first pledge celibacy: priests [must] first escape from the clutches of their wives. 1095-Pope Urban II had priests wives sold into slavery, children were abandoned. 1123-Pope Calistus II: First Lateran Council decreed that clerical marriages were invalid. 1139-Pope Innocent II: Second Lateran Council confirmed the previous councils decree. Fourteenth Century Bishop Pelagio complains that women are still ordained and hearing confessions. Fifteenth Century Transition; 50% of priests are married and accepted by the people. Sixteenth Century 1545-63-Council of Trent states that celibacy and virginity are superior to marriage.?

Jim | 09 March 2019  

" . . . no connection at all with the Uniting Church", Margaret? According to the biography on her website, Dr Dowrick's "diverse spiritual" community has had its home in Sydney's Pitt St Uniting Church since 2006. More's the pity that carefully researched, considered and worded documents of the Catholic Church like Apostolicae Curae and more recent statements aren't read more widely, especially by those who seek radical change in the Catholic teaching and practice.

John | 09 March 2019  

John I am happy to stand corrected.Pitt Street Uniting Church certainly provides hospitality to a wide range of groups ( as i am sure is the case for many Catholic facilities) but I think we can both agree after a careful reading of Stephanie Dowrick's biography that she is most definitely not a minister of the Uniting Church which was the point at issue. That being the case could we instead perhaps thoughtfully (and perhaps silently?) reflect on the common ground amongst mainstream Christian denominations as regards ministry? Indeed the common ground on so many I would argue more central matters of teaching? Or do you suggest that we revert to Unam Sanctam as the most authentic expression of the wish of Jesus that all should be one? Right now in the minds of many the Catholic Church is far too easily distinguishable from other Christian denominations.And not just because of the 'men in dresses' but because of everything they have come to represent.

Margaret | 10 March 2019  

There seems to be some confusion about my religious affiliations and "John" assumes - incorrectly - that I am a Uniting Church Minister. To clarify: I led monthly interfaith, inter-spiritual services at Pitt Street Uniting in Sydney for almost a dozen years. I am deeply grateful for their beautiful, welcoming support to a large, diverse congregation. However, I am NOT a Uniting Church minister. I have been teaching from a spiritually inclusive perspective for more than 25 years. My call to Interfaith ministry formalized my response to a need many feel to meet spiritually as members of a single human family, without divisive labels, without some people "belonging" and not others. The founder of my interfaith seminary in New York was a Jewish Rabbi - much admired - who knew 1st-hand the tragedies of religious discrimination within and between faiths. Unfortunately those tragedies continue. My own opportunities to live, study, pray, with many from our world's faiths has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. I know that I walk in the footsteps of many Catholics in this openness. Interestingly, that openness flourishes in a Church that is simultaneously, in some of its expressions, rigidly traditional. (This prompted my article.) Some of you won't be at all surprised that it's been Catholic more than any other Christian groups who have most explicitly welcomed spiritual teachings that focus on inner humility, outer conduct, and what Dom Bede Griffiths, Thomas Merton, William Johnston and others saw as the richly inclusive Perennial Philosophy. (I cover this and much more - including the centrality of peace activism in spiritual life - in my book, Seeking the Sacred.) Thank you to all who have engaged with these questions of how we may best live the gospel of love. I hope that I have your prayers.

Stephanie Dowrick | 10 March 2019  

Margaret and Dr Dowrick, thank you for the clarification.

John | 10 March 2019  

Margaret: Slighting references to "men in dresses" display little understanding and respect for an ecclesial office and ministry that the Catholic Church identifies as originating in the relationship between Christ and the Apostles. I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "everything they have come to represent", though its tone in the context is obviously derogatory and its generality unfair when I think the popes in my lifetime and bishops like Camara, Romero, Hurley and Long - to name a few.

John | 11 March 2019  

John please be assured that 'men in dresses' is not my own chosen description of ordained clergy but one used repeatedly in a recent social media conversation. This is part of my earlier comments. I apologise if the expression offends you, as it certainly offended me. I did argue, unsuccessfully I suspect, that very similar clerical vestments are used in all mainstream Christian denominations, not to mention the uniforms worn by my Salvation Army friends (both male and female) to distinguish clergy from laity. But although I was not personally offended by recent pictures from Rome I can well understand why others were, and labelled it eg "dress up garb". Was it strictly necessary for this particular gathering? I'm really not convinced that it was. I'm fairly sure (but stand to be corrected) that it would not be worn by participants in a meeting of the ACBC. We still do not seem to be engaging in discussion of the real nature of clerical ministry, and its historical development, nor in the questions raised by Unam Sanctam. Perhaps this is not the time or place?

Margaret | 11 March 2019  

Its amazing how many correspondents and writers see themselves as mouthpieces for the Creator. Presumably they have authority from somewhere or other - or are they the authority?

jeem | 11 March 2019  

Well said Edward Fido. Returning to 'who we really are' will heal the Church's rash of diseases and disasters. Let's draw pure water from the depths of her long and loving Christ-obedient heritage. 'The New Testament' is mandatory; Pope Saint John Paul II's 'Catechism of the Catholic Church' next; works such 'The Binding of the Strong Man' by Pope Saint Gregory the Great, Thomas a' Kempis' 'Of The Imitation of Christ', and many others have proved reliable over the centuries; not forgetting superb works by our separated brothers and sisters in Christ, such as 'The Pilgrim's Progress' by John Bunyan. The works of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman are salutary, e.g. as seen in a pertinent article: www.newoxfordreview.org/documents/newmans-prophetic-challenge-to-clericalism Once we dip deep into the Church's profound spiritual well, we'll escape the superficial turbulence and pollution of the current in-flow. Let's avoid universalist deceptions, pop-psychologist 'theologies', & self-advertised 'new-age' spiritualities that are often old heresies re-hashed. Together in Holy Mass we pray: "God's Realm come" and "God's Will be done" i.e., that people everywhere would love and obey Jesus Christ. Preeminently, we covenant together in His Flesh of obedience and His Blood of constant love. True to this we cannot fail.

Dr Marty Rice | 11 March 2019  

Agreed, Margaret: Unam Sanctam , though of doctrinal and historical import, would not be my preferred starting point in ecumenical discussion, either in ES or elsewhere. With you, I think, too, that the real nature of clerical ministry and its distortion - various forms of clericalism - need thorough investigation and practical response consistent with scripture and sacred tradition, as I've said in Plenary Council forums and on other threads ES threads

John | 11 March 2019  

Agreed John! Let us pray for some way forward to a place where, to borrow a wonderful phrase from Peter Abelard, 'beyond these voices there is peace'.

Margaret | 12 March 2019  

Dear Stephanie, there're many faithful, loving, learned & listening Catholics who disagree with your perceptions of "their once-beloved Church" and similarly skewed 'observations' on our mind sets. Think of our beloved Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop; all her sufferings & outright persecutions. Saint Mary's deep love of the Church never wavered. Anyone who does not understand that about us, does not understand Catholics at all! With all respects, can a person comprehend Christianity without deep love of Jesus Christ and awe of the 27 largely historical Christ-Story gospel texts by 9 eyewitnesses, that subsidiarise all other holy books. You're right that there're plenty of non-Catholics and non-Christians who do good things, for various reasons. We love them and know that Jesus Christ approves of the good they do. Yet - and here is the sticking point - they, like us are all sinners. We have (by Grace) found God's answer to sin - that is the self-giving sacrifice of the one-and-only sinless Christ. Without wholehearted allegiance to Christ, a person's sins cling and separate them from the perfectly right-ethicality of God; and, sadly, also from we who have joyfully received Jesus Christ and the commands so clearly given us.

Dr Marty Rice | 12 March 2019  

Thank you, Dr Marty Rice, for your reminder that beneath the necessary legal realities of crime and punishment we are dealing with the deeper realities of sin and grace.

John | 12 March 2019  

"Ut unum sunt" - that they may all be one. Unitatis Redintegratio, 21 November 1964.

Vatican II | 12 March 2019  

Thanks 'vatican ii', for exposing the misunderstanding that God wants all sorts of people to be unified. Reading the Gospels will soon correct this error, with God shown as dividing sincere followers of Jesus from all others. The 'unum' and 'unitatis' referred to specifies unity among true believers. This can be readily checked by reading John 17:20-25. Of course: God desires that every human be saved by the same process we have been saved, that is by dying to ourselves and being reborn by water and The Holy Spirit. As Pope Saint Gregory the Great tells it: "Our Saviour, then, is born not only as an event long ago, but here and now for us who believe in Jesus Christ, who was born of Mary by the power of The Holy Spirit and by the same Holy Spirit power is born in us." It's obvious: there should be unity among all of us who are re-born of God; as desired by Jesus & reaffirmed by Vatican II. Why to some isn't it obvious that we'd be blaspheming to suggest the Church calls all those committed to other spirits into unity with those born of God's Holy Spirit? Chalk and cheese.

Dr Marty Rice | 13 March 2019  

Dr Marty Rice. What you have written seems to fly in the face of the ecumenism espoused by Vatican II. What if either Mohammedanism or Judaism, both monotheistic belief systems, were indeed the "one"? Why is it not given to all mankind created by God to be able to read his mind and thus deduce his true intentions? How do we know that the recorded musings of those who knew Jesus of Nazareth are indeed accurate and true windows into the mind of God? Why would God create ALL human beings in his image and then choose to exclude the vast majority of them from membership of his church? Maybe the CEO, the Holy Spirit, got it wrong! Wikipedia records 41,000 Christian religions/denominations all purporting to be the "one" who has interpreted the mind of God correctly. There seems to be no limit to the hubris of the human being. Beware Hubris, Nemesis is lurking around the corner!

Vatican II | 14 March 2019  

Thank you 'vatican ii' for raising vital question rarely addressed by our homilists. Many denominations were prophesied by Jesus (Matthew 24:4-5). The Holy Spirit, being God, is never mistaken. Yes! Every person is an image of God (an EChO = ethically-choosing organism). But as Saint Irenaeus says, not all choose God's right-ethically seeking likeness. The New Testament records infinitely more than 'musings'. It overflows with cogent & coherent eyewitness accounts of the Life-giving works & commands of incarnate Deity; fulfilling many ancient prophesies. The first Christians were all Jewish and more Jews have accepted the deity of Jesus Christ than have rejected it. Millions of Muslims have joyfully received Christ. Numerous atheists, agnostics, animists, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, occultists, witches, sorcerers, freemasons, & profligates, have accepted the Resurrected Christ as their one-and-only God and Saviour. This does not surprise me. As a well-qualified scientist and widely-experienced God-seeker, I've found no other faith-system providing such verifiable evidence & empirical accessibility as Christianity. It would be a wonderful privilege to dialogue further with you about this (martyjrice@msn.com). Sadly, 'vatican ii', you're right about human hubris/nemesis. So, we'd agree that to be safe one needs must forsake grandiose pseudonyms?

Dr Marty Rice | 15 March 2019  

Thank you 'vatican ii' for raising vital questions. Here are some brief responses. The many denominations were prophesied by Jesus (Matthew 24:4-5). The Holy Spirit, being God, is never mistaken. Yes! Every person is an image of God (an EChO = ethically-choosing organism). But as Saint Irenaeus says, not all choose God's (right-ethically seeking) likeness. The New Testament records infinitely more than 'musings'. It overflows with cogent & coherent eyewitness accounts of the Life-giving works & commands of incarnate Deity; fulfilling many ancient prophesies. The first Christians were all Jewish and more Jews have accepted the deity of Jesus Christ than have rejected it. Millions of Muslims have joyfully turned to Christ. Numerous atheists, agnostics, animists, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, occultists, witches, sorcerers, freemasons, and profligates, have turned to the Resurrected One as their one-and-only God and Saviour. This does not surprise me. As a well-qualified scientist and widely-experienced God-seeker, I've found no other faith-system provides such verifiable evidence & empirical accessibility as Christianity. It would be a privilege to dialogue further about those advantages (martyjrice@msn.com). Sadly, dear 'vatican ii', you are right about human hubris/nemesis. So, then, we'd agree that to avoid nemesis one needs must forsake grandiose pseudonyms ?

Dr Marty Rice | 15 March 2019  

'Vatican II': Those "musings" you dismissively refer to of the first witnesses to Jesus's life, death and resurrection were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and maintained at severe personal cost, including martyrdom, by those who set down the truth about the Christian faith's founder for the edification of their contemporaries and later generations. Their writings are based on what they received, not what they invented. Charges of dissembling and hubris are cheap shots without historical foundation. I might add that the second Vatican Council encouraged ecumenism, not indifferentism.

John RD | 16 March 2019  

John RD. How do you know that the New Testament was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when it officially became the 'Word of God" by manmade decree in the late 3rd century after the death of Christ? I might add that I consider the current ecumenical movement as perhaps the most successful result of Vatican II but also that the "spirit" of that ecumenism is that "they all become one" as affirmed by Pope John Paul II in "Ut Unum Sint". Were I an exponent of indifferentism I doubt that I would be reading ES!

Vatican II | 16 March 2019  

'Vatican II': I hope several references to the inspired status of the sacred canonical books of the Old and New Testaments will suffice to answer your question: Vatican II's "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation", particularly Chapters II & III, and The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part I, 3, II, 105 ff). By "indifferentism", I'm not at all suggesting you do not care about the issues raised; rather, I'm referring to this term's usage to represent the belief that all religions are of equal instructiveness for our knowledge of God, who Christians believe is revealed uniquely and authoritatively in Christ, "the image of the unseen God" (Colossians I, 15), the Son of the Father and second person of the Blessed Trinity (cf, The Apostles Creed, The Nicene Creed).

John RD | 17 March 2019  

Dear Marty, I for one don’t see Vatican II’s pseudonym as any more ‘grandiose’ than your use in these columns of the Dr. title. I can only assume that it is there to impress. But I do take exception to the exceptionalism that you claim for the Catholic Church. Your claims to know ‘the Truth’ based on revelation are no different from similar claims made by other religions and faith groups and no better justified. They remind me even of the ‘manifest destiny’ of the US, the ‘God is an Englishman’, and the other manifestations of national and group hubris. When one looks at the variations of notions of ‘God’ across space and over time, one can only conclude that gods are made in the image of man rather than the other way around.

Ginger Meggs | 17 March 2019  

Ginger, your response to Dr Rice exemplifies the indifferentism to which I was referring in my reply to 'Vatican II'. The decisiveness and uniqueness of the God revealed in Jesus' incarnation hinges on faith in him as revealed in history, sacred scripture and tradition, and the identification of him and his authority with the original faith community he gathered around him - known as the Catholic Church.

John RD | 18 March 2019  

Marty Rice and John RD. From Fr Ron Holheiser OMI, theologian. "Anyone who claims to understand God is deceived because the very first dogma we have about God affirms that God is ineffable. That means that we can know God, but never adequately capture God in a concept. God is unimaginable. God cannot be circumscribed and put into a mental picture of any kind. If such were possible then God would be as limited as we are." If this theology is to be accepted and believed (and I do ), the God which divides human beings into their multiple religious denominations exists only in the musings of men.

Vatican II | 18 March 2019  

Dear 'vatican ii', I agree with John R D that your posts cohere with indifferentism. Calling on Pope John Paul II does not assist your syncretistic statements, as the Sainted Pope has instructed quite otherwise in the magisterial Catechism of the Catholic Church. Section 124 on page 35 may help illuminate: "The Word of God, which is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, is set forth and displays its power in a most wonderful way in the writings of the New Testament, which hand on the ultimate truth of God's Revelation." Obviously, this requires faith in Christ, without which no one can please God. It is a mystery to us who believe as to why anyone would not recognise the necessity of divine forgiveness and then gratefully receive the riches that only Jesus Christ (among many competitors) so mercifully offers us. As before, I'm happy to dialogue with you about this eternally-important truth (martyjrice@msn.com).

Dr Marty Rice | 18 March 2019  

Dear Ginger, thank you for your question. The reason I use that form of my name is there are so many other Marty Rices on the web. The historical and textual foundations of Christianity, as well as its very productive interactions with the contemporary sciences, make it entirely unique among religions. I recommend a great Pope's work, brilliantly edited for today's readers by Anne Field OSB: 'The Binding of the Strong Man: The Teachings of St Leo the Great' (ISBN 978-0892830282. Amazon have copies). E.g. page 11: "'I am the light of the world,' Jesus told the disciples. 'Whoever follows me will not be walking in the dark.' For 2,000 years those who have followed Jesus have borne witness to the unquenchable faith of the Christian community in the victory Christ won over sin and death, and in the reality of the new life he offers to all who are willing to receive it. It is a faith that the powers of darkness have constantly attacked by means of open hostility, subtle persuasion, ridicule or indifference, yet there has never been a time since Pentecost when the good news of our salvation was not preached to humankind." Blessings from Marty.

Dr Marty Rice | 18 March 2019  

'Vatican II': The incarnation of Christ enables us to speak of God with authority and conviction because he is, as Paul says"the image of the unseen God." Christ did not leave us in total agnosticism: he revealed God as just, merciful, forgiving, providential . . . and he commissioned his followers to make him known.

John RD | 18 March 2019  

Dear 'vatican ii' - re: your post of 18th March 2019, citing Fr Ron Holheiser OMI. There are, and probably always will be until Judgement Day populist scholars who fly in the face of The New Testament & oppose authoritative teachings such as those of Pope Saint John Paul II and his Catechism of the Catholic Church. Yet, let's all remember what Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman warned: "God has left us free to chose what we believe. God will also judge us for what we have chosen to believe." Ron claims that no one knows what God is like. Many philosophers have tried to make much of this 'truism', which is heterodox in subverting the truth that God's own Revelations tell us everything we need to know of Divinity. Of more substance: there're hundreds of millions of us ordinary, New Testament-believing Catholics whose minds overflow with Jesus' wonderful revelations of who God is. Many of these millions have also matured spiritually to enjoy the presence of Christ in their hearts. II Corinthians 13:5 instructs that a basic test of a true Christian is their experience of Jesus Christ within. You can't know God better than that! Blessings from Marty

Dr Marty Rice | 18 March 2019  

It is not just the 'Church' that must adapt if it is to survive, but Christianity itself; as well as Islam, Judaism, and every other 'established' religion. Tradition, though very important is an obstacle to evolution unless itself is allowed to evolve to comply with changing situations such as emerging science and increasing understanding made possible by expanding relevant data that wasn't available to the formulators of out-dated traditions. 'Adapt or die', OR 'Adapt and thrive'.

Robert Liddy | 18 March 2019  

At last the issue comes down to the root cause of so much: the epistemology of religious ‘faith’. Ginger points to the circularity of any religious assertion to complete truth and/or exclusive divine authority and John RD, (Dr) Marty and others assert these things. There is no reconciliation possible here. To bridge the gap from the subjectively perceived worth and benefit of a belief in the Church to an objective self-evident imperative seems to me to be a kind of deep category error. I’m with Ginger (and Vatican II) here.

Stephen K | 18 March 2019  

John RD, if by ‘indifferentism’ you mean the view that no religion is superior to any other’, then you misunderstand my argument. I accept that some religions may be more socially useful or effective than others. Some may even be more ‘true’ than others, but that invites a whole new discussion on what is ‘true’ and what is ‘truth’. What I was trying to say is that whatever the intrinsic value/worth/truth of a religious system, its most enthusiastic proponents will believe that their system is ‘the best/truest/only valid system. It’s a truism or why else would they be the way they are? Furthermore, the spread of any religion has as much to do with the economic and military power of the host state or nation than it does with the intrinsic truthfulness of that religion. Why else is Latin America mostly Catholic, North Africa Muslim, sub-Saharan Africa a mixture of Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim? Marty’s take on Catholicism is one of triumphalism, and that, I would assert, leads to hubris and the sort of strife in which the Church now finds itself mired from east to west, from top to bottom. And, getting back to Dowrick’s article, that’s what, I think, she says is the challenge for the Church.

Ginger Meggs | 18 March 2019  

Yes, Stephen K, religious faith is decisive for what one apprehends and owns as real and I, for one, maintain that the Catholic faith tradition offers the strongest grounds for the claim of a divine revelation in history and its knowability. (Confessing this shouldn't necessarily make one a triumphalist.) I don't deny that God reveals himself in other ways and in different times and places to different peoples, and I believe claims for these various manifestations - in the world's major religions, especially - are worthy of investigation and respect. Ultimately, a considered choice to believe, will be on the basis of which manifestation rings most true in making sense of life. I'm with St Thomas Aquinas: "Truth himself speaks truly, or there's nothing true." I also hold that the knowledge, acceptance and commitment inherently involved in faith's response to God's self-disclosure and self-giving in the person of Christ open possibilities in our understanding of God beyond what is accessible to reason alone ( e.g., the Blessed Trinity).

John RD | 19 March 2019  

Robert Liddy, I think your observation points up the importance of Newman's understanding of the development of doctrine.

John RD | 19 March 2019  

Ginger, articulations of conviction based on religious belief - even truisms - have their place in civil discourse and are not necessarily expressions of "triumphalism", since comparisons and contrasts based on faith-informed conviction are inevitable and can assist understanding, especially when conducted in a spirit of respectful and honest dialogue. A reminder, too, that for several centuries the good news of Christ spread and transformed the Mediterranean world without the aid of economic and military power.

John RD | 19 March 2019  

John RD, I'm unable to agree with the substance of your position, but I respect the way in which you put it.. I don't consider it 'triumphalist' at all; rather it seem to me to be based in true humility. But Marty's position is, in my opinion, quite the opposite.

Ginger Meggs | 19 March 2019  

Thanks, Ginger - we may have to agree to differ for now.

John RD | 19 March 2019  

The dinosaur-in-the-room, that is unacknowledged by Stephanie's worldview here, and Robert Liddy, Stephen K, Ginger Meggs, 'vatican ii', et al., is that the church they want to create resembles syncretistic freemasonry and unitarianism. The Church freely acknowledge that, like many other human organisations, those have their virtues and their uses. Catholics lead the world in our willingness to cooperate with others on humanitarian and socially-beneficial projects. This was all made clear in The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council document: 'Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions'. The key point missed by Stephanie and others is that we do so as born-again, Christ-saved new creations. See for example, Section 2, second paragraph of the above Vatican II document: "But she (the Catholic Church) proclaims and is bound to proclaim unceasingly, Christ, who is 'the way, the truth, and the life' (John 14:6). In Jesus Christ humans find the fulness of their religious life and in Jesus Christ God has reconciled all things to God's own self." This is what more than a billion faithful Roman Catholics rejoice in and are always ready to help others to discover. This reflects love of God and love of people, not triumphalism.

Dr Marty Rice | 19 March 2019  

John RD, I would be prepared to accept that the good news of Jesus spread and transformed the people who embraced it (as it may continue to do in divers places and circumstances) without the aid of economic and military power so long as your statement doesn’t imply - or require me to accept - that the merit of such good news was validated by or should have ever co-existed with - any kind of coercive power, including the pain of ecclesiastical censures.

Stephen K | 19 March 2019  

Well thanks but no thanks Marty for presuming that I want to create or recreate a church that resembles 'syncretistic freemasonry and unitarianism'. I have no desire to create or recreate any sort of church and an objective reading of my posts here would make that clear.

Ginger Meggs | 19 March 2019  

Stephen K, to my mind, the "epistemology of faith" begins with a personal invitation: "Come and see . . ." (John 1: 38ff), extended by the one who constantly affirmed faith's necessity for connecting with the truth of his very being and purpose. The one who said this was either mad, or a liar, or actually who he claimed to be as recognized by the witnesses who accepted his invitation. Coercion and violence, as you recognize, are unfaithful to his person and way, as we in his Church are re-learning today at a terrible cost.

John RD | 20 March 2019  

Well said John R D! One might add though that it's not only today. Magdalene College Professor, Eamon Duffy has given us 'Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes', published by Yale University Press. This shows there has really never been a day when the Church was free of major subversions within and determined attacks from without. She has survived it all and continues to tell the world the uniquely Good News of Jesus Christ; and, covenant her children daily with Christ's Flesh of obedience under God, and Christ's Blood of God's unflinching love. To me, this is a very great and extended miracle; and, like all divine miracles, it sounds a trumpet blast to the world to abjure trivial speculations and to soberly pursue aletheia, i.e. what is truly real. Thanks again to everyone for such a rich dialogue; blessings from Marty

Dr Marty Rice | 20 March 2019  

I don’t find the way you talk about “the Church”, Dr Marty, surprising (because it’s the long-established dialect used by Catholic apologists over centuries) but I no longer have any time for it. Between the idea of loving one’s neighbour is the essence of loving God on the one hand – which I suspect many of us fail to do - and the idea of an hieratic organisation that has perpetuated itself and continues to do so through the circular resort to a claim of divine authority that insists no other way of salvation is possible, on the other – which, despite modern translations of this remains at the bedrock of the operation of the priestly and hierarchical classes – I find an unbridgeable chasm. To me, the question each “Catholic” might well ask is ‘do I believe in the way of Jesus? Or do I believe in the Roman Church?’ There seems to me to be a huge difference. However, consistent with my first principle that religious faith is idiosyncratic, subjective, mysterious, culturally and environmentally influenced, and my second principle that infallibility does not objectively exist, I am not surprised that some people want to perpetuate the current religious model.

Stephen K | 20 March 2019  

Many thanks Stephen K. I'm sympathetic to the tenor of your genuine and well-thought-out problems. It would be great to converse more. But please could you first explain the logic in your last two sentences that seem to maintain a non sequitur: "However, consistent with my first principle that religious faith is idiosyncratic, subjective, mysterious, culturally and environmentally influenced, and my second principle that infallibility does not objectively exist, I am not surprised that some people want to perpetuate the current religious model." My own model begins from the various advances that science has provided which enrich our appreciation of reality (see 'Humanitarian Cosmology' free on the web). However, in fairness, we have also to consider the impasses that science has run into regarding our universe, materiality, biogenesis, human consciousness, and teleology. These lacunae are ignored by scientistic propagandists (like Hawking, Dawkins, et al.), causing their many followers to unconsciously subscribe to a highly air-brushed scientistic religion. In truth, many hierarchs and gurus in science have vested interests and are as little to be relied upon as unbelieving clergy! As in Christianity, one needs to be well-informed and constantly discerning so as to breathe a logical, cogent, and coherent atmosphere.

Dr Marty Rice | 21 March 2019  

Dr Marty, I think my final thought was affected by my trying to keep under 200 words. I think I wanted to close by indicating that even though I didn’t agree with your view about the Church, I was not going to argue about it. I don’t expect our various fallible religious views to be, because of the limitations of subjective religious experience and thinking, persuasive, or do not think they are things to make too confident claims about. We could each be wrong.

Stephen K | 22 March 2019  

Many thanks Stephen K. Am surprised you are comfortable with a position that: ". . do not think they are things to make too confident claims about. We could each be wrong." That is also the prevailing position of science - that our interpretations and theories are necessarily always provisional; yet, it has not - thank goodness - stopped us energetically swopping data, comparing notes, & engaging our full cognitive faculties in the search for what is real. In science, those who do this most actively, expecting (joyfully) to sometimes be shown to be wrong, ever ready to rejoice over a better paradigm, are those who most substantially advance human understanding. As you'll guess, that's how I feel every thinking person should engage. Open dialogue will guide us to the most tenable of insights about God, the universe, humanity, meaning, and reality. Luke, an early investigative journalist, reports some divine advice: "Ask & you will receive, seek & you will find, knock & the door will be opened for you." Good scientists do that and have been abundantly rewarded. Couldn't we all benefit by following suit? Blessings from Marty

Dr Marty Rice | 22 March 2019  

In spite of the appalling mess the institutional church will survive because of its wealth. It's a self-sufficient corporation with little need for membership support.

Ginger Meggs | 29 March 2019  

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