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Critical Race Theory and the question of social sin



Critical Race Theory, which has recently been banned ineffectively by the Australian Senate from the National Curriculum, has everything going for it as a lightning rod. It has an acronym (CRT), opacity and an air of self-importance. It is also associated with a controversial social movement: Black Lives Matter. The theory does not need to be understood before generating heat.

Underlying both CRT and the controversy, however, is a deeper question about the relationship between social structures and personal responsibility. This relationship may be illuminated by an earlier Catholic controversy about social sin.

Critical Race Theory itself developed out of a wider discussion among lawyers about the importance of the social context in the interpretation and administration of law. It asked whether legislation was influenced by such factors as the race, wealth, social standing, gender and religion of the legislators, and whether the administration of the law by lawyers, judges and police was influenced by similar factors.

These questions led them further to ask whether such biases prevented those involved and society at large from seeing the prejudice and partiality of their decisions and actions. In other words, whether the system was rigged, and its kings unclothed. And if so, what was the proper response.

This brief overview suggests that critical race theory is a field of study based in social psychology which has to do with the effects of social relationships on personal attitudes and beliefs, and so on institutions. It is not a set of conclusions but an enquiry in which radical and less radical views on all sides can be stated and questioned. Its focus on race reflects the attention given to racial discrimination in the United States.

The controversy about Critical Race Theory is really about the roots and dynamic of racial discrimination and its influence over the ways in which racial minorities are treated. This is a fraught question.

If you accept that the framing of laws and their administration by police and courts are coloured by discriminatory views, and that these laws and institutional practices in turn both license and conceal discriminatory attitudes and behaviour, the implication is that the gains and privileges enjoyed by the majority as a result of this discrimination are ill gotten. Justice might then demand a reordering of society in which previous winners would be losers.


'The emphasis on social structures and on a conflictual approach to social reform led Catholics naturally to expand their understanding of sin to account for the destructive, unconscious attitudes of groups enshrined and perpetuated institutionally in economic, legal and policing systems.'  


Given the high stakes, if you were in the majority group you might resist the imputation of discriminatory behaviour. You would see the violence and discrimination against people of minority races as the crimes of individual ‘bad eggs’ or as the fault of the victim. You would attack allegations of a systematic culture of racism as fomenting division. You would call for a reconciliation defined as the acceptance by the aggrieved minority of the status quo. And you would deflect the public debate away from action to shape a more just society, and focus it on to barracking for or against slogans and blaming the guilty. And generally, given the imbalance of power and influence, you would be successful.

The debate about social sin in the Catholic Church was similar to that surrounding Critical Race Theory. But it was situated in a context of faith that focused on the personal — on the inalienable dignity of each person, their interdependence and call to solidarity, on their failure to live by that calling through greed or hunger for power, on conversion and on reconciliation. Church tradition spoke in terms of persons and their relationships with God and other human beings.

The Second Vatican Council committed Catholics to associate concretely with movement for justice and change in the world. In so doing, they found themselves in the company of people who had a similar thirst for justice but located the obstacle to change not in personal sin but on social structures that perpetuated injustice. 

The emphasis on social structures and on a conflictual approach to social reform led Catholics naturally to expand their understanding of sin to account for the destructive, unconscious attitudes of groups enshrined and perpetuated institutionally in economic, legal and policing systems. They spoke of social sin and of sinful structures and emphasised reform through political action. They then faced the challenge to show how this was compatible with the Christian emphasis on personal sin, conversion and reconciliation.

As has been the argument about race this conversation was heated. It was centred in Latin America, a predominantly Catholic continent. To talk of sinful structures there touched landownership, work practices, government corruption, brutal policing and military action, and church acquiescence. These formed a social network in which the wealth of the very wealthy was sustained by exploitation of the majority poor. The exploration of social sin threatened to uncover and provoke resistance to privileges hitherto taken for granted.

The lightning rod for the debate was what was loosely called liberation theology — diverse strands of thinking about Christian faith whose starting point was the concrete lives of poor and oppressed local communities. The debates were conducted initially in Latin America in Conferences of the Latin American Bishops, and later between the Vatican under Pope John Paul II and the Local Bishops Conferences. The Vatican feared that the theoretical and pastoral directions of the movement threatened the politicisation of the church with consequent divisiveness and the reduction of faith to social ideology.


'The lightning rod for the debate was what was loosely called liberation theology — diverse strands of thinking about Christian faith whose starting point was the concrete lives of poor and oppressed local communities.'


The Vatican influenced this debate through the appointment of Bishops, the influence exercised over local Bishops’ conferences and through documents on liberation. In the course of the debate, Rome in turn was led to ponder how to incorporate social analysis into the Catholic tradition. This can be seen in its approach to social sin.

At first the response was defensive, dismissing its opponents’ appeal to it as denying or minimising the importance of the morality of individual sins. This was the burden of a polemical Instruction issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

A little later, the Papal Encyclical on penance and reconciliation offered a more nuanced account which offered four possible usages of social sin ranging from acknowledgment that all sins affect society in unseen ways; that many sins directly affect society, including the readiness to do whatever it takes to secure wealth or power;  that the sins of individuals can deform social institutions and so encourage unjust actions; and that individual responsibility is of little importance compared to social structures. The Pope saw only the last of these understandings as incompatible with faith.

In a subsequent Encyclical on Catholic Social Teaching, issued around the time of a much more positive document from the Congregation for the Defence of the Faith, Pope John Paul II wrote in a more relaxed way of structural sin. He continued to insist on the importance of individual sin, conversion and reconciliation, but acknowledged the way in which discriminatory and violent behaviour so shapes society that it is impossible to trace the web of individual sins.

This story of Catholic conflict about social sin and of its resolution might illuminate the secular controversies over Critical Race Theory. In the Catholic tradition the person, their human dignity and their inner life and values are central in any reflection on their relationships to one another, to institutions and to the world. In all situations human beings are agents and their decisions to act or not to act are of central importance, whether they perpetrate discrimination or suffer from it. Lasting improvement comes only when there is personal conversion, repentance and reconciliation.

This is a laborious process. It accepts the need to change the social structures of law, policing and economic relations that embody discrimination. But it also asks whether such change will be effective or lasting without a change of heart and a meeting of minds, of a respect that goes deeper than condemning our friends’ enemies, supporting a movement, and using right words.


'We need to do more than treat either the perpetrators or the victims of discrimination as representatives of a class. We must also enter their lives and their experience in order to understand them.'


It suggests that we need to do more than treat either the perpetrators or the victims of discrimination as representatives of a class. We must also enter their lives and their experience in order to understand them. We need to avoid, too, reducing the responsibility of those of us who look on from outside to denouncing those who discriminate and cheering their victims.

Underlying critical race theory and Catholic reflection on social sin is the conviction that we are all complicit in shaping our world and its structures. To reform them commits us to the long process of change of heart, self-reflection, engagement with those from whom we differ, and solidarity. These are building blocks that shape a just society.




Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.

Main image: Cropped studio shot of two women joining their hands against a gray background (Laylabird/Getty images)

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, critical race theory, social sin, Catholic Church, liberation theology



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Existing comments

Andy, this is definitely one of your most challenging columns, ever, requiring further work. Thank-you.

Geraldine Doogue | 05 August 2021  

Another weighty reflection, Andrew. Decades and decades and decades might be needed before the acceptance will be widespread, I fear, but it's happening slowly. Keep us at it.

Joseph Castley | 05 August 2021  

When you speak of 'the majority' they preserve the popular attitudes. These in turn influence Existential Ethics, where something is OK because 'everybody is doing it' irrespective of the principles. Currently there is an absence of commutative justice which is replaced by the gospel of greed. And when treatment of first nation people is considered it is sometimes difficult to put ourselves in their shoes in matters like the primacy of 'the land' in their spirituality. Great article, thanks Andrew. And Oliver Wendell Holme's saying comes again to mind. 'The greatest injustice is the equal treatment of unequal people'.

Michael D. Breen | 06 August 2021  

Thanks for this thoughtful and considered piece. It goes to the heart of problems with Margaret Thatcher's infamous claim that 'there is no such thing as society, only individuals'.
We all contribute to either reproducing or transforming social structures, as Margaret Archer (who was president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences) tells us.
One quibble: Do we really see any "cheering the victims" of discrimination? More like advocacy and challenging of status quo...

Tracy W | 06 August 2021  
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You raise more than a quibble, Tracy. The attacks on BLM protesters indicate a level of ignorance and repression that only the childishly innocent or naive would miss. Christians shouldn't also discount the notion of perverse reprisal, if only from a realistic appreciation of the horrors of racial oppression. (We are, after all, called to be real). That said, those who reject the just claims of victims are undoubtedly also victims of a kind of 'false consciousness' or imagined moral superiority based on our misreading of whiteness, and which rather suggests that its the more comfortable among us - able to insulate ourselves from both black and white poverty - who bear the heavier burden of responsibility to promote awareness and solidarity on this question. Thanks.

Michael Furtado | 20 August 2021  

You're a tonic Andrew, a ray of hope in thegloom.

Jim Jones | 06 August 2021  

Margaret Archer's insight, "We all contribute to either reproducing or transforming social structures", cited by Tracy W, reinforces the first sentence of Fr Andrew's last paragraph. And both realise the importance of ongoing personal metanoia. Structures and systems don't invent themselves, and have no meaning apart from people.

John RD | 06 August 2021  
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In Andy's careful explanation of conversion, John, he points to Pope Francis recommending both personal conversion and social action on this delicate but profound question. It surely isn't up to us on either side of the Left/ Right spectrum, both theologically as well as ideologically, to pick and choose what suits us, surely. Thanks.

Michael Furtado | 20 August 2021  

Of “social structures that perpetuated injustice”, the USA education system stands out. It is dominated by “progressives” (80% in one survey), the same people who push Critical Race Theory.
“Progressive” cities have woeful black/white educational achievement gaps: San Francisco, maths proficiency—70% whites v 12% blacks; Washington DC reading proficiency—83% whites v 23% blacks. Most conservative cities have closed the gap, with black students in Oklahoma City having higher school graduation rates than whites.
The “progressive” Great Society policy to eliminate poverty, instead created a permanent underclass dependent on government hand-outs, and together with no-fault divorce, destroyed the black family.
Defund-the-Police policies leave the poor at the mercy of criminals (114 homicides in Washington DC this year), while BLM activist Cori Bush spend $70,000 on private security. Big business supports the activists.
To disguise “progressive” failures, all disparity among racial groups is said to be proof of systemic racism. Even requiring a correct answer in mathematics is now supposedly racist.
It was Archbishop John Joseph Hughes who turned a poverty-ridden community into the nation’s finest citizens, not by welfare, but by a Christian moral transformation. How Dagger John Saved New York’s Irish | Irish in American Mainstream (city-journal.org)

Ross Howard | 06 August 2021  
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I appreciate where you're coming from, Rosco; but the Irish and Black experiences fail the test of comparison when it comes to understanding the power-differentials that skin colour convey. The Irish weren't torn up from their native culture and maintained an enviable mutually-supportive network of culture, religion, education and friendly societies, primarily through the agency of the Church and the Democratic Party in the US (despite your parodic reading of this) and throughout the Anglo-American world. Indigenous culture was systematically destroyed as was that of the slaves. In the latter instance, not only were they bred like animals, thereby posing a grave threat to their humanity; the fact that this was perpetrated by people still believe there is no apology to make nor compensation to be paid, other than to former slave-owners for their loss of income-generating black people, but who feel entitled to cite misreadings of history to support a hitherto entirely selective point of view illustrates the amount of work still needing to be done on this topic, as Gerry Doogue wryly reflects. Thank you, Andy, for supporting this conversation!

Michael Furtado | 20 August 2021  

"To reform them commits us to the long process of change of heart ...."

If we haven't seen that over the last 50 years, we aren't ever going to see it. The reform of laws, institutions and attitudes has been amazing - we have further to go, but we also have grounds for hope - just that the process will continue as it has been going. Change at any faster rate could fracture society in ways that will benefit nobody.

Russell | 06 August 2021  

A very prophetic piece, Andrew -prophetic because it makes us very uncomfortable with our presuppositions and forces us to confront our prejudices. I’m willing to admit that I have very strong feelings about Critical Theory in general. Of course I agree with the acknowledgement of the relationship between our social contexts and the way we write our laws. To that extent, I’m OK with the theory. It’s the practice that worries me. The aim of challenging and changing racist social structures is not well served by deliberate misuse, neglect and obfuscation of facts. (I don’t use the word ‘truth’ here, because I’m aware that Critical Theorists, like Pilate, deny the existence of any one ‘truth’.). In practice, the lack of basic honesty is what polarises us around CT. Citing science where no research exists, ignoring or suppressing science that contradicts the Theory, ascribing base motivations, without any historical support, to people long dead -all acceptable and widely practised ‘in a good cause’. And we fall for it, without weighing or analysing the arguments, because we mean well and we believe that only racists and rednecks would question. Andrew is right - CRT has a lot in common with Catholic Social Justice Theory. But the Catholic version takes for granted an attempt to be truthful. CR takes for granted that the end justifies the means.

Joan Seymour | 06 August 2021  
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An interesting post, Joan; but what basis have you for stating that CRT is anti or non-scientific? Are you aware that the tests of empiricism that apply are by now widely expanded to include data that speaks of human experience>? And, that being the case, please tell us what your experience is or has been of being spat upon, ignored at a servery or asked to leave because of the colour of your skin. When have you applied for rental accommodation and when you turned up suddenly informed that the tenancy has been filled? White people who work at this difficult, hands-on work would tell you of agents and landlords who commonly engage in this practice when it comes to letting accommodation to the Sudanese and/or Muslims. And the most fundamental pedagogy employed in advancing Catholic Social Teaching, far from the comfort of the armchair and the church's assertion of its universal truths, is to be found in praxis or experience of what it is to be rejected. While I'm sure you would know and disapprove of this, my sense is that the distinctions you draw look agreeable on paper but would not easily stand the test of experience. Thanks.

Michael Furtado | 20 August 2021  

You don't need Critical Race Theory to know an injustice has been done.

Edward Fido | 06 August 2021  
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Yes and no, Edward. Critical to an understanding of this would be to illustrate it in regard to the schools that you regularly cite in these columns as bastions of excellence as well as humanity. While you always have the good grace to admit that the private ones are elitist, your Melbourne & Sydney Highs are selective schools and therefore raise the awkward question of access that the older and successful (and generally more privileged among us) don't easily see or admit. That's why Catholic Social Teaching refers to structural sin: its not that we are deliberately or consciously unjust. Its that we are also caught up in unjust structures and cultures, hidden to us, which accord us privileges that the majority of black people don't have. Thanks.

Michael Furtado | 20 August 2021  

Good article, but one would not read too much into CRT when it has emerged (been launched?) as a 'transnational' issue which came from the US GOP (infrastructure of influence) and has been used elsewhere to 'question' higher education, research , science and the role of education generally, in nominally secular nations with regimes aligned to their own form of 'conservatism' and 'Christianity' (or Islam etc.).

Like 'gender studies' which has been banned in Hungary, CRT is quite old and niche, involving small numbers of students and researchers, but has been over inflated as an existential threat by niche thinks, influencers and politicians.

Just another item on the list of issues that too many need to complain about or state what they are against, as opposed to what they are for.

Andrew J. Smith | 07 August 2021  
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Andrew, while I appreciate that, like all who post in these columns, you would treat everybody you encounter with abject fairness, dignity and colour-blindness, you are wrong to suggest that institutions of higher education look askance at CRT. Here's an example from Columbia University, which, as you'd know, is an Ivy League institution: 'This is a 5-week interactive curriculum for white-identified students to engage in exploration of their white identities and build community and accountability around deconstructing whiteness and white privilege to facilitate the development of an antiracist lens. This virtual group aims to begin to equip students with the time, space, and skills for the self-reflection and processing of privilege that is necessary to meaningfully dismantle systems of racial oppression from a position that has privilege. Through increasing self-awareness and centering justice, as well as the recognition of history and its impact on the present, students will build skills around empathy, responsibility in action, and interrogation of the knowledges we use and value while privileging compassion, healing, and vulnerable, open dialogue.' (https://universitylife.columbia.edu/events/working-group-examining-and-deconstructing-whiteness-mitigate-racial-trauma-3) Thanks.

Michael Furtado | 20 August 2021  

Some remarkable support here, Andy, for a carefully worded essay that tries yet again to hold together and proclaim as one indivisible whole both sides of Christ's worn but 'seamless shroud'. As an example of this, I saw last night on the telly a titillating and inevitably tawdry program on US sexologists who view their 'profession' as a mission to exculpate the vulnerable from a sense of guilt about shedding our inhibitions. The denouement came when, towards the end of the program, a beautiful young girl from Ohio, new to New York and palpably without the means to support herself, admitted that her lapsation into a form of internet-based prostitution was triggered by the extreme poverty of her circumstances and her need to 'make money'. In that sense I think your valiant and carefully reasoned attempt to establish and hold together the fundamental connection between personal and social sin - crafted so powerfully on this most difficult and highly contested of policy sites - makes great and commendable sense. Thereafter, the structural connections between the indignities and inequalities this woman and people of colour have to suffer are not THAT hard to establish and confront. God Love Your Writerly Arm!

Michael Furtado | 07 August 2021  

Interesting. I have always understood we are all members of the human race and that differences were to do with climate and culture!

Jennifer Raper | 08 August 2021  

Andrew J. Smith is correct in observing that Critical Race Theory is not new: it has antecedents in the cultural Marxism that emerged in Europe in the 1920s with Carl Grunberg's establishment of the Institute for Social research in Frankfurt. However, Mr Smith seriously underestimates the influence of CRT in western academia and the law, and in Australian school curriculum revision for some decades. Attempts to portray CRT and its associated neo-Marxian categories (Gender, Class) as a conspiracy theory of political and social reactionaries are a mere ruse for disarming criticism. In its applications, Critical Theory also encourages conflict rather than the advancement of societal reconciliation and collaboration, and the gradualism Andrew J. Smith advises.

John RD | 09 August 2021  
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As a qualified teacher, JohnRD ought to know that Critical Theory has produced one of the greatest educationalists in Pierre Bourdieu's poststructuralist theory of practice, which provides a view of society and culture that regards human agency as more than just 'other-directed authority'. Bourdieu explains how postmodernity transcends modernity's tendency towards individualistic and atomised ideology. It unearths the historical and social genesis of so-called 'facts', extracting them from the fug of phenomenology and locating particular practices within a bigger picture and grand narrative as ongoing accomplishments that are never finished but have to be constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed in ever-changing contexts. Habermas does this, as JohnRD well knows, by combining the research dimension of social science with the critically reflective dimension of philosophy. To this theologians add a theological dimension, which insists that the ultimate goal of a Christian's critical view of society and culture is to demonstrate that a theocentric and/or Christocentric moral telos (or purpose or objective) is needed to anchor the ongoing construction, deconstruction and reconstruction of moral meaning. Conversely, without a theocentric or Christocentric moral telos, society and culture can degenerate into anarchy, violence and the destruction of the common good (Calhoun, 'Habermas', MIT Press, 1993)

Michael Furtado | 30 September 2021  

Fr Andrew the age of enlightenment has moved slowly in Australia.
In December 2019 the rate was 2,536 prisoners per 100,000 adult Aboriginal population, compared to 218 prisoners per 100,000 non-Aboriginal population. ... As an Aboriginal adult you are 16 times more likely to be incarcerated. Juveniles in Western Australia are 52 times more likely to be imprisoned than their white peers. (wikipedia). Now our chances of electing an Aboriginal female pope are Buckley's and none.

This is a translation of the Popes cellar by Peter Dale, admittedly though a product of St Kevin's Toorak, a renowned atheist.

1784 The Pope’s cellar (La cantina der Papa)
Translated by Peter Nicholas Dale.

"While I was there checken the kitchen out
An thinken uv how the chap up top eats, this feller
Mr. Prosper Sinecure, chanced ta pass thereabouts
Danglen a ring a keys ta the Pope’s cellar."

"We stick close tw’im. Wotcha reckun we saw, ay Kate?
Christ, ya wudn’t see its likes at the Spanish Square.
Wines frum Cyprus, Orviedo, champagne, an there
Was Maliga’n Genzano too an fruit syrups, by the crate." . .

“Hell’sbells,” I sez, “Wodda great library!
Wodda bewt archive uv bulls, edicts an papers!
Wodd’an orat’ry! Wodda t’riffic sacristy!"

"An without Germans an Rushens helpen with the chore,
C’n the Pope clean up all these cruet-jars?”
He sez: “Wot with lunch an mass? Nah, if only there were more!”

Now I'm not criticising El Papa for a fine larder or for the Vatican treasures. Its as fresh and symptomatic of the thou and us syndrome of which you write 237 years later than when written.

Francis Armstrong | 09 August 2021  

I would love to have late, great theologians such as Emil Brunner and Archbishop Michael Ramsey look at Critical Race Theory. It seems, to me, to be one of these well-intentioned but off-target attempts to explain part of the inherent evil in our basic human nature. ++ Brunner and Ramsey would talk about Sin and Responsibility. CRT doesn't really explain that.

Edward Fido | 10 August 2021  
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Thanks for raising the awkward point, Edward (10/8). Unfortunately CRT does precisely that by laying the blame fairly and squarely at your 'Dead White Male' door.

Michael Furtado | 30 September 2021  

Edward, it seems to me the closest "Critical Theory" in any of its applications will come to an admission of "sin" is "systemic" or "structural" evil - an oversight that disregards the need for one's acceptance of the Gospel's call to personal metanoia and the existential relevance of this grace-enabled process to structures of injustice - those "systemic" outcomes of personal indifference or resistance to the radical implication of Christ's life, death and resurrection: that we love one another as he has loved us.

John RD | 10 August 2021  
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You make an important point, John. Personal sin can and is sometimes easily overlooked, e.g. as through abortion, in the distraction and escape route that social sin offers to those who lack the ability or courage to look inwards. I have personally noted in my own life as well as the tendencies of others who work in social justice an over-willingness to overlook instances of wrongdoing to do with safeguarding personal virtue, such as through chastity, fidelity and honesty. By the same token, there are those who until quite recently in the evolution of our species have been blind to the existence of unjust structures which, as a loyal son of the Church, you must have noted, even though I can see and empathise with the fact that you reject it because you regard it as Marxist-inspired. Recognising this in us all, Joseph Cardinal Bernadin, the former Archbishop of Chicago and deeply spiritual pastoral theologian, referred to both aspects - the social and the personal - as the two sides of Christ's Seamless Shroud. While I very much doubt that you do not know this, I can well understand why you attach the greater importance to sins against personal virtue.

Michael Furtado | 20 August 2021  

Michael, while I recognise the reality of "unjust structures", I see no remedy for them in any ideology or proposed ameliorating measure that denies the basis of human dignity in our relationship with God and our need for God's assistance in overcoming sin in any of its manifestations. Metanoia as the Gospel presents it is not a theory; it is deeply personal, with practical social consequences - Mother Teresa, Mary MacKillop, Vincent de Paul, Frederic Ozanam and Charles de Foucauld are some whose lives embody it.

John RD | 23 August 2021  

Your citations, like your consistency, John, are always measured and challenging, which is why they make me think and encourage, rather than place a ceiling on, our conversation. I wonder, therefore, if what you term 'ideology' isn't in fact a development in our theology and, overall, the Magisterium? Because of the congregational or horizontal tilt to our missiological axis during and after Vatican II, the People of God developed a new awareness and additional focus on the phenomenon called 'social responsibility'. Because of that, additional rituals were developed, underpinned by a sound - N.B. NOT 'alternative' developments interposing a false 'either/or' dichotomy that is thought to have distracted us and succumbed to misuse - expansion of the sacramental ritual of reconciliation. Thus, we have the Third Rite, which reflects a relatively new-found awareness of the existence of things called 'social sin' in regard to which we are bound to confess our new-found joint structural and cultural awareness and complicity, and which ought never to have been misread as offering a soft-option alternative to the traditional aural rite that still obtains. I participate in both as do many co-parishioners in my Jesuit parish. Mightn't 'metanoia' then be both personal AND social?

Michael Furtado | 26 August 2021  

Michael, as the Church's magisterium derives its authority from Christ, I don't think it can be be confused with "ideology", a social or political construct which enjoys no such status in faith and moral matters. Regarding the Third Rite of Reconciliation, a 1998 Roman Synod in which seven Australian Bishops participated delivered its "Statement of Conclusions" that restricted the celebration of the sacrament - except in cases of emergency - to the First and Second Rites. To my knowledge, Rome's ruling on the Third Rite has not been rescinded, and refusal to observe it has, as a prominent Jesuit supporter of it admits, proved divisive. ("Pray Tell", 25/3/2019). As the matter is primarily one of discipline, the current ruling on the Third Rite is revisable; until this occurs, however, respect for Church unity - which is both personal and social - and the legitimate exercise of episcopal authority, should, I think, obtain. Moreover, the Second Rite, especially in metropolitan areas, is commonly available and supported in the seasons of Lent and Advent, and adequately meets, I suggest, the "personal AND social" dimensions for which you seek expression.

John RD | 27 August 2021  

You are quite right, John, to correct me for my misuse of the term 'Third Rite', which I have always had my misgivings about. I misused it in haste to respond to you, which duty I observe as much through courtesy as moral obligation. It must be clear from the context of my original usage that I intended to mean the 'Second Rite': not as an alternative to the First but an appropriate addition within the context of the social sin that large numbers of people collectively share, and which was explained to me through an accompanying explanatory catechesis when first on offer to the faithful in England & Wales.

Michael Furtado | 02 September 2021  

Re. 'personal metanoia', JRD, and your attack on critical theology (10/X), there are surely those 'personal salvation enthusiasts' who pray to God and upon their neighbour.

Michael Furtado | 21 October 2021  

There definitely are structures of sin in our society. They're called abortion clinics. CRT has never commented on that massive holocaust, which in China has overwhelmingly obliterated females. Except to support it, actively or passively. ("Responsible population control!") Abortion is my red line. CRT fails miserably. As did the anti-black Margaret Sanger, and Planned Parenthood, which she founded.

HH | 10 August 2021  

Dear Editor, I don't know who you are but probably should and have every confidence that the ES Board of Management chose wisely and accord you the same professional autonomy as it always has until now to its editors, particularly in terms of enabling you to exercise your prerogative to decide what to publish. Whilst acknowledging that I participate avidly as well as nearly always predictably, I am thrust upon the horns of dilemma that I wish to share. On this most critical of topics, i.e. Critical Race Theory, which is my area of specialisation, I note that the contributing author is undoubtedly courageous as well as mellow and learned in his approach, wielding a sword sheathed with characteristic grace and flair. The majority of the responses that he has evoked, however, are resolutely opposed to his view, so that in his (also) characteristic self-discipline that denies him from exercising his authorial privilege to reply, ES is seen, perhaps for the first time, as a publication that simply evokes the negative responses published so far. True, that reflects the pain that Christ bore but for a person of colour, like me, it reflects a discussion dominated by elderly White Males.

Michael Furtado | 11 August 2021  

Any benevolent purpose of a CRT is pre-dated, encompassed and, in fact, more than covered over by the analytical potential in at least the two economic sin-categories of the traditional Catholic Four Sins which cry out to Heaven for vengeance. All Four Sins are personal sins - because only persons can sin – but personal sins only look ‘systemic’ in their effects because the collective effect of individual sins hammers everybody as the wave keeps rebounding and recirculating through the population. But, is there a Catholic university somewhere which studies social justice through the lens of the Four Sins?

roy chen yee | 12 August 2021  

Spoken like a gold-plated CRT exponent, M.F.: "If they're anti-CRT, don't engage with them rationally ... just insist they be cancelled!" Hideous.

HH | 12 August 2021  
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Not so, HH! Andy and I are not the ones employing cheap 'cancel culture' terminologies and hurling accusations of 'wokeness' in this sometimes embarrassingly ill-informed discussion for a Jesuit-sponsored journal.

Michael Furtado | 16 August 2021  

Perhaps you'd prefer words like "obliterating" or "obliviating" as descriptors for the activities of those who have earned "cancel culture" reputation by internationally organised vandalism, Michael? And how is it that your own stated distaste for "cheap" linguistic usage doesn't apply when it comes to employing Joe Hill inspired conceits like "pie in the sky" in reference to Christian eschatology?

John RD | 25 August 2021  

You make a valid point, John. I was using the term, more devastatingly, to unfrock those whose conceits run to proclaiming a Gospel that is 'other-worldly', esoteric, dualistic, pietistic, constructing the Christian Gospels as a lure to make door-mats of ourselves, and rejecting Christ's message to stand up for the Wretched of The Earth.

Michael Furtado | 28 August 2021  

I think the comments on this excellent, thought provoking piece reflect a variety of opinions, Michael, certainly not all negative. Someone such as Geraldine Doogue - one among many - is someone whose work is highly respected and widely known outside the very narrow field of academia. In France she would be a public intellectual par excellence and probably a member of the Academy. She was extremely positive. ES is not a narrow specialist place. It encourages everyone to speak. Some of the comments, such as those by Roy Chen Yee, are bizarre and somewhat worrying to me, but they let him speak. They disturb me but free speech is much more important than Roy's bizarre raves. Your slant on things is not the only one.

Edward Fido | 13 August 2021  
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Much as I appreciate your friendship and good intention, Uncle Ted, I'd prefer it if you put a stop to your third-person references to Roy (other than by addressing your comments to him directly) and also to your use of the word 'wokeness', which Andy has asked us not to in a recent article of his. That said, 'Good Cheer to You', Edward!

Michael Furtado | 16 August 2021  

Gerry's response to Andy about the need for further work triggers this information offering. CRT is a stratum of the field of Education Policy, Leadership and Organization and linked with Global Studies in Education. The trend towards globalisation has driven a major interest in postcolonialism, mass communications theory and cultural studies as modernist canons prove inadequate for making sense of the contemporary world of schools. New canon formation comprises a major aspect of postcolonial studies especially as these apply to school ritual and global adolescent identities. Research scholarship in such fields is published in the most illustrious and demanding of international research journals. A leading Australian CRT scholar is Professor Cameron McCarthy of Monash University, who is the author or co-author of several books and currently one of the lead-investigators of the 'Elite Schools in Globalizing Circumstances' Project which is a global ethnographic study of youth and education in nine countries and across 5 continents: Australia, Africa, India, Europe, and Latin America and the Caribbean. My consultancy work, informed by McCarthy's work and others, is with an international American school with a multi-ethnic student body: the children of diplomats and others committed to a ethical global literacy across the curriculum.

Michael Furtado | 14 August 2021  

PS. The 'personal sin and responsibility' advocates in this forum, assuredly have at least half the picture in sight (and sometimes out of sight, so they are unquestionably right to remind us of it). There is no doubt, for instance, that any educator, keen to distract from their own inadequacies, might easily turn to the escape route that CRT and other so-called 'Frankfurt School' unmaskers might expose as a form of excuse and subterfuge. The only problem with such an analysis is that, pursued ad extremis, as some do in these columns, the neck sometimes turns a little bit too red with sunburn. I imagine that CRT steps in at those overheated junctures and sweetly recommends a bit of artificial melanin in the form of that gentle and almost Christian emolient, anti-sunburn cream; no? Is it that, given a chance to reflect on one's extravagant rhetorical flourishes of any kind and direction, as Habermas (a Frankfurter, though not of the eating variety ;), kindness too can set in and balance break through - mixed metaphors permitting - the encircling gloom?

Michael Furtado | 15 August 2021  

Thanks for your's, Edward. However, I note that Gerry has encouraged 'further work', to which my contribution is that CRT cannot be 'further worked' until those who comment on it acknowledge the position, empowered or otherwise, from which they speak. Note, in this context, that while Gerry speaks as a woman and accomplished media presenter, your elevating her to the Academie Francaise, a French language institution, is somewhat beside the point in several respects, viz. it shuts down the conversation she seeks to advance, it positions you as a surrogate moderator, and it typecasts both Roy and me in ways that exceed your authority. More worryingly, it seeks to influence the opinions and judgments of those who publish this journal about the psychological frame of mind of one of those who publish here, viz. Roy, whom you have described elsewhere in this journal in terms of a diagnosed psychological condition which, as far as I am aware, you have neither the competence nor the prerogative to comment upon. Taking the slanderous potential of this into account, and in respect of which you render ES vulnerable to the risk of legal action, your extravagance should at least be tempered with prudence.

Michael Furtado | 19 August 2021  
Show Responses

‘More worryingly, it seeks to influence the opinions and judgments of those who publish this journal about the psychological frame of mind of one of those who publish here….’ Thanks for the fraternal concern, Michael, but I don’t think that’s an issue. Edward and I have different modi operandi. I like to locate the underlying Christian principle which might answer a question while he likes to smother the question with another barrow load of cultural Christianity in the forms of ++ This and Sir That. What he somehow but unerringly fails to tell us is exactly what principles ++ This and Sir That are applying. Those would be good to know. The answer to a question is not a person but a principle that the person is espousing. Not even Christ is exempt. We say we believe in Christ but what we really believe in are some principles that he is espousing. The tussle over the Magisterium is a conflict over what those principles are.

roy chen yee | 23 August 2021  

No, Roy! Your magisterial talk cannot obliterate human thinking, which defies ethical-ontological ranking and political relations of dominance and subordination: them and us, sheep from goats, the saved and lost, the holy from the unclean, master from slave, parent from child, woman from man. Like Edward, your magisterial mindset is sexist and racist in its own way. We are all natural right-wingers, as every parent who has read bedtime stories can attest. It doesn't surprise that critical consciousness of the discriminatory and repressive, which is the centrepiece of our discussion here, should be a term particularly detested by John RD, glanced over by many here and perceived as socially subversive. Just consider, for instance, our everyday use of the word 'critical'. Its negative connotation is primary: most of us 'safely' but rashly assume that criticism will turn out hostile, as indeed we tend to usually assume that criticism is 'discrimination against'. So far, dominant forms of language and religion have tended to determine our psychology and our morality, our thinking underpinned by separatist and super-ethnic typologies which. unless you employ a nom-de-plume, the fundamentalist displays in its clearest form, viz. archaic sociological categories. Our struggle is to undo binarial devalorisation.

Michael Furtado | 20 September 2021  

‘Our struggle is to undo binarial devalorisation.’ This is a weird conclusion to all the stuff beforehand. That typo thing again, perhaps? As for the stuff beforehand, there’s speeches and there’s wot dem speeches lead up to. And wot all of Michael Furtado’s speeches lead up to is: 1. Exposing the sacred priesthood to the abomination of divorce; 2. Extending the Eucharist to anybody on their own terms.

roy chen yee | 21 September 2021  

Not so, Roy (re. your's of 21/9). The Church absolutely and categorically insists upon divorce as a preliminary to considering applications for annulment. And, where do I say, as you persistently accuse, that I argue for extending the Eucharist 'to anybody on their own terms'? My view is that all who receive are, in one way or another, repentant sinners seeking 'food for the journey'. THAT is, surely, orthodox Catholic teaching!

Michael Furtado | 23 September 2021  

More dissembling. ‘absolutely and categorically insists…as a preliminary….’ And why are you considering an annulment? Broken marriages are beyond God’s power to restore? Fuelling every ‘why’ (one way or the other) is agency. The ritual and reality of divorce was granted by Moses for the sake of the stiffnecked. Therefore, the ritual and reality of annulment is to the benefit of the stiffnecked. The mere fact that a privilege has been poured into a glass and set in front of you doesn’t mean you have to skoll it. The privilege, after all, comes at the price of acknowledging that you are stiffnecked. Well, if you have agency, why do you have to be stiffnecked? Because the world is ‘complex’? Because people are ‘complex’? ‘And, where do I say….’ You don’t. That’s called deniability. It’s an old trick of dissembling. ‘My view is that all who receive are, in one way or another, repentant sinners seeking 'food for the journey'. THAT is, surely, orthodox Catholic teaching!’ A regular Woolworths of dissemblement! If you turn up repenting for X and Y but reserving Z as OK, you’re not a repentant sinner. A little yeast leavens the batch.

roy chen yee | 24 September 2021  

Ah Michael, what did you expect from some of those hard right mostly male respondents who, I suspect, made up their minds a long time ago and, like Margaret Thatcher, are 'not for turning'. On this article, I'm with Geraldine, Joan and you. And like you I wish Andrew would 'come among us' and re-enter the forum and respond to some of our comments. Then we might get some true discussion and debate rather than so much noisy but ineffectual flak.

Ginger Meggs | 20 August 2021  

Splendid Andy, A wonderful starter to a conversation that I sense won't develop on CRT so long as ES's apparently new publication policy is to contain 'outpourings', especially when Chris Middleton's and Ross Jones's responses ran into the hundreds. I reckon an analogy might be to a Music Department comprising of performers and also musicologists. The latter have great presence in setting out a framework of understanding, while the former fill equally important gaps in terms of responding to the invitation to comment. Neither side is more important than the other and, where a clamp is suddenly imposed, the end result is counter-productive to the desired overall effect. I realise this takes time and patience to get right, but when you publish one of your searingly beautiful and arresting pieces, and very tight control is then exercised over the accompanying commentary, something is lost simply because it takes nothing to 'publish and be damned'. In general I don't think the risks of monitoring are so great here; although, not being in that position, the absence of an explanation frees me up to speculate that over-moderation can backfire. What else might Gerry Doogue have intended when she recommended 'further work'? Cheers!

Michael Furtado | 22 August 2021  

Actually, I must say I found your comment of 19 August 2021 not quite on the bullseye, Michael. Geraldine Doogue, who I've never, ever heard referred to as 'Gerry' by anyone other than yourself, has been a very widely respected commentator and writer on a multitude of subjects in this country long before you hit these shores. Her work on Islam, chiefly dealing with intelligent, professional moderate Muslims during the height of the Islamophobia crisis post 9/11 was seminal. It is exactly the sort of thing a French public intellectual would write. People like her are members of the Academy. You don't have to be an academic to be one. I did not need to elevate her status and it certainly wasn't done to place me in an imaginary umpire's chair far above everyone else. An unbiased observer, reading your comments on this and several other threads, particularly your frequent triple posts, might feel you more guilty of what you accuse me of than I am. As for HH and his comments on right wing male commentators, does he regard normal, sane, mainstream Catholics, such as John RD and John Frawley as right wing? That would definitely be Orwellian Newspeak.

Edward Fido | 03 September 2021  
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Edward, I apologise for reading your lavish remarks about Gerry as somehow undeserved on her account. My precise beef is about the binaries you employ in classifying people: a minor quibble because I expect one with a pedigree such as your's not to classify people in ways that canonise some and damn others. In theological terms 'right-wing' is a perfectly acceptable classification by which to describe conservatives, while 'left-wing' is generally employed to classify progressives. Such terminologies, while originally borrowed from the French and used only in political parlance, convey a descriptive construct rather than bear the exclusively prescriptive nuance that you employ, some of it of pejorative connotation. In a way I find your choice of words charming and reminiscent of the 'What rot, old chap!' declaratory mode of expression of the people I grew up with in India and Britain. I also think that you assume a lot, which is why you exercise a kind of epistemic privilege in your remarks about Gerry. You have no means of knowing how long I've worked in Australia, whether I know Ms Doogue and, more importantly, her work or not, nor even of my work with ABC RN Religious Affairs reporters.

Michael Furtado | 04 September 2021  

Roy, in your post here of 24/9, you jump to yet another non-sequitur, viz. 'And why are you considering an annulment? Broken marriages are beyond God’s power to restore'. As it happens, I was not the party to the marriage that applied for an annulment and vigorously contested it, despite it eventually being granted, which decision I obediently accepted. My only quibble was that it freed me to engage in yet another heterosexual marriage which would, from experience, have constituted yet another disaster in the event of an eventual second heterosexual marriage on my part. In this matter, therefore, I accept the canonical authority of the Church, while you, evidently, do not! So much for your absolute unblemished and unqualified submission to the Church's Magisterium.

Michael Furtado | 01 October 2021  
Show Responses

The post wasn't about you but your reply prefigures what will happen when modernists bring the Church Militant into apostasy. Then, anything you say about truth will be taken by somebody to be about him- or herself because everybody will be compromised, in shame and defiant all at the same time. An annulment doesn't happen until somebody asks for it. The Church doesn't make consideration of one an automatic matter after a civil dissolution. Somebody has to take the initiative to ask for one. In doing so, the person is doing one of two weird things: either telling God that he hasn't the ability to fix the marriage because it's a hopeless situation or that he can butt out even if he wants to. Either way, those are weird ways to view an omnicapable Being.

roy chen yee | 02 October 2021  

You miss the point, Roy! I simply didn't apply for one and was opposed to doing so. In fact, I contested it.  

Michael Furtado | 05 October 2021  

Why does everything have to be about you? John Paul II wasn’t talking about you when he worried about the misuse of the annulment process.

roy chen yee | 10 October 2021  

Don't distract and split canonical hairs, Roy. Its about the pragmatism in this case of the annulment process as it applies to determining the validity of a marriage between a woman (who knew about it at the time of her consent to the marriage) and a gay man, (and which, being that gay man, I contested at the time of canonical proceedings and lost). John-Paul was alive at the time of the application to the canonical court and endorsed, through his two diocesan episcopal representatives, the annulment application which succeeded. And don't give me that crap about homosexuality being an action and not an inclination, which sucked me into marriage in the first place. Thus, I now concede the point that, regardless of my admission to the priest celebrant of our marriage of my homosexual inclination at the time of our marriage, my ex-partner and I were never validly married, a position that you have continued to contest over many issues of ES, alleging human weakness (after twenty years of trying) as the cause of its breakdown. Perhaps it was this, and not your well known double-reverse somersaults to justify the fundamentalist theology you champion, that accounts for John-Paul's misgivings.

Michael Furtado | 18 October 2021  

You remind me of that fellow of whom it was said, ‘Anxious to justify himself….’ It has probably occurred that people have turned up at the Pearly Gate having made an invalid confession and hoping that, nevertheless, God can see a way to make it stick because with God, or so everybody says with the breathless acclaim of groupies until something like this happens, all things are possible.

If people want to stay married, they can, even if the marriage was celebrated by an escaped lunatic who murdered the priest, stuffed him in a closet, and took his place at the altar. This is all I’m saying; feel free to refute: ‘Somebody has to take the initiative to ask for one. In doing so, the person is doing one of two weird things: either telling God that he hasn't the ability to fix the marriage because it's a hopeless situation or that he can butt out even if he wants to. Either way, those are weird ways to view an omnicapable Being.’

It’s not compulsory for a party not to take advantage of a loophole but it is compulsory for the party to acknowledge that s/he is only taking advantage of one because s/he wants to (in between breathless groupie songs of praise that with God aaaallllll things are possible).

roy chen yee | 20 October 2021  

Roy, I accept and bear responsibility for asking for a marriage which, at the time, I was told by those I consulted, would be a perfectly valid and preferable alternative to leading life on my own as a gay man. In doing so I committed the most atrocious hood-wink on my wife, who, despite knowing of my dilemma, was also sucked into the nightmare of a 20-year long 'marriage' by those who share your bizarre theology and who had the nerve to later rescind it. Now stuff that up your fundamentalist apologist's jumper and smoke it!

Michael Furtado | 21 October 2021  

Reacting to a post is not the same as responding to the points it makes.

roy chen yee | 22 October 2021  

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