Factions and ginger groups within the church

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Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in the middle of his troubles within the Liberal Party, told the NSW State conference of his party that there were no factions among the Liberals.

Main image: St Patrick's Catholic Cathedral, Parramatta (Credit: Leelakajonkij / Getty)

Knowing full well of the conservative-moderate split within the party and of the fractious relationship within the party between Turnbull and Tony Abbott, the Liberal Party delegates fell about laughing. The laughter was derisory. Facts can’t be papered over by sweet talk.  

The same is true of the church in Australia today. This fact of life must be spoken about openly in the lead up to the Plenary Council assemblies. What is happening at the moment is that certain bishops are condemning members of the church renewal movement as pressure groups pushing an agenda, while ignoring the well-known fact that groups with other agendas are widespread within the church. Condemnation of the renewal movement is a clear attempt to shut down legitimate engagement and debate from some quarters while allowing jockeying, factional politics and agenda-pushing by other conservative groups, including certain bishops, certain Catholic media and other groups embedded in the hierarchical structure of the church.  

My impression is that bishops prefer to deal with individuals. Catholics who organise themselves independently of official church structures to advance church renewal are frequently treated with suspicion by the hierarchy.  

Trying to shut down the renewal movement is not the work of the Holy Spirit. If it continues it will make for a very lop-sided Plenary Council. No amount of prayer and discernment will overcome a stacked assembly.  

The renewal movement is large and growing numerically and in regional diversity. It has engaged with the Plenary Council through submissions and public discussions from the very beginning. It has also tried, collectively and individually, to engage with bishops and other church leaders.

 

'Catholics at an individual level must strive to voice disagreement while treating each other respectfully and with an equal right to be heard, whatever their official status.'

 

Sometimes that engagement has been reciprocated. For instance, in September 2018, after the Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (ACCCR) sought a meeting with the Permanent Committee of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) it was granted one by the President of the ACBC, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, accompanied by Lana Turvey-Collins of the PC2020 Facilitation Team. Of the four member ACCCR delegation the three interstate members flew to Melbourne at their own expense for what turned out to be a prayerful and serious interchange. ACCCR did not get what it wanted, including a woman co-chair of the Plenary Council, but it did get a lengthy hearing.  

Presently elements of the renewal movement are attempting, without much success, to engage with the President of the Bishops Commission for the Plenary Council, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe. This difficulty reflects the experience that renewal groups often have in attempting to engage with diocesan bishops, including several of the metropolitan archbishops. The correspondence is often fobbed off, sometimes courteously and professionally but sometimes brusquely, as if the groups had no right to exist, much less see their archbishop.  

Such rejection is not universal and my own group, Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn, in the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn has always been granted regular access to its archbishop, vicar-general and other senior church officials. But the record in many other dioceses is different. The implicit or even explicit message is to conform or be frozen out.  

The church in Australia is fragmented in various ways, often reflecting international fragmentation. The same is true of its leadership. Networking and pressure group tactics are rife.  The range of views within the church is as broad as that within the political system and Australian society at large.  

This means that views range from the church equivalent of News Corporation to the church equivalent of The Guardian, but with more of the former than the latter.  

Whenever a randomly selected group of Catholics gathers there will be diversity of experience and belief so great that the gulf between individuals is massive.  

When the selection is not random but selective, as in the case of the PC2020, then, while the gulf will remain, the imbalance towards conservatism will be embedded and the sensus fidelium as revealed in the submissions to the PC will not be adequately represented.  

What is to be done? For a start we must be honest about the problem. Factions, ginger groups, networking and lobbying are commonplace in the church among bishops, clergy and religious leaders and are certainly not restricted to the laity, including the renewal movement. There is a battle for control of the agenda under way and no amount of papering over can conceal it.  

Catholics at an individual level must strive to voice disagreement while treating each other respectfully and with an equal right to be heard, whatever their official status. Collectively events like the Plenary Council assemblies must be structured to make this more likely by eliminating hierarchy and encouraging diversity.

 

 

John WarhurstJohn Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University, the Chair of Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn and a delegate to the Plenary Council.

Main image: St Patrick's Catholic Cathedral, Parramatta (Credit: Leelakajonkij / Getty)

Topic tags: John Warhurst, Catholic, church, renewal movement, Plenary Council, PC

 

 

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Existing comments

These discussions need more airing. Why not a female co-chair for instance? It’s difficult for the laity to know what is being discussed, particularly in locked down Melbourne. From the outside looking in, it seems that many Bishops do not understand the concept of renewal; listening and responding to all parishioners not just those compliant ones. A church that can’t evolve, dies and the Catholic Church is showing clear signs of decay.
Carol | 10 September 2020


Facilitating a Plenary Council that eliminates hierarchy and encourages diversity, brings to mind the strategies I heard used by another Church meeting elsewhere (I can’t remember what it was). All clergy and bishops agreed to wear ‘ordinary’ clothes; and each participant was seated in alphabetical order. Two very simple but symbolic ways to facilitate equality and conversation across participants.
Margaret | 10 September 2020


From my experience people who profess to be Catholic and wish to have a voice in the church are, if not a dying breed, then certainly an endangered one. I can't believe the PC isn't stridently reaching out and endeavouring to accommodate each and every one irrespective of their view
cara Elizabeth minns | 10 September 2020


John, I agree with your message. I do not belong to any group; I am singular, however, the last meeting held at our church did not allow any discussion- it was a top-down style of 'meeting', with a leader from the Archdiocese holding the floor. And I do know from previous experience at another parish that the conservatives in the Church hold great sway with the religious. It is very similar to the effect of conservatives in political parties and the community at large. The remedy, of course, is to provide alternatives or by a gradualist method, to change the attitudes, or win by attrition through a voting in the res public of the church.
john willis | 10 September 2020


Thanks, John. My hypothesis is that the Church needs to take the same journey as that outlined in L Frank Baum's, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Bishops among us are like the Scarecrow, who wishes he had brains; the Tin Woodman, who longs for a heart; and the Cowardly Lion, who seeks courage. The difficulty for them is that even if they did have a Dorothy and a Toto self-righteousness blinds them to the obvious.
Kim Chen | 10 September 2020


Naming reality is always step number one to working towards desired outcomes. So thanks John for this article. Guess then we have to keep hoping for an honest and open dialogue. There are many people of goodwill who want this. We have to persist and set up as many opportunities as we can and engage as much as possible. We hope.
Brigid Arthur | 10 September 2020


John, the problem is, at least in Brisbane, your chances of getting anything heard are equivalent to Buckleys and none. Commensoli and Coleridge are a law unto themselves and have a condescending contempt for any opinions of the "laity". No one man, one vote in this church. What we have are finger pointing decrees based on some quaint notion of hierarchical status that is not even backed up by common sense. When you have Archbishops unilaterally appointed by Rome based on toadying up and cosy relationships inside the Vatican, the relevance of the flock the Bishops vowed to serve, is bulldozed aside by an addiction to secrecy, tradition, ancient doctrine, impenetrable garments, incense and wait for it, "the reputation of the church". So the buggers in their cassocks can hide behind their lofty condescending hierarchy and the recommendations to criminalize abuse knowledge gained in the Confessional is politely declined by a Church which threatens to excommunicate same buggers if they whisper a word. So sorry, the PC 2020 as far as the "laity" is concerned, will be a meaningless talk fest.
Francis Armstrong | 10 September 2020


One of the difficulties renewal-minded Catholics have to face is the sheer variety of firmly held beliefs in what purports to be a monolithic church. In days when we all went to mass we recited the creed and stumbled over "consubstantial with", wondering momentarily what that meant as we dutifully recited the ensuing formulas. And then we crossed our fingers behind our backs when we got to the bit in the coda about "the resurrection of the body". Or some of us did, but it needs to be conceded that others in the pews thought they were describing factual situations that could be empirically tested. These formulations, we are told, were hammered out at 4th century councils, and decided by majority vote. Presumably the minority were heretics. Centuries later they still constitute a checklist to determine orthodoxy. The probable result of the Plenary Council will be that nothing can be changed: it's all been around too long. But there will be a lot of respectful listening.
OldG | 10 September 2020


Thank you.Jesus is weeping over the Jerusalem to which i once belonged.And I am weeping with him.
margaret | 10 September 2020


Sister Brigid- hoping, yes, and praying! The signs are not good at all thus far, and I endorse John's article. I also hope that the ACBC after the Plenary Council does not, in the name of "listening to the diversity of opinion", opt for the lowest common denominator and recommend merely peripheral changes, let alone grasp the nettle and opt for what is really needed.
Dennis | 10 September 2020


Thanks John, I support your stance. I embraced the concept of the Plenary Council with great joy, took an active role in discussion and applied to join a Group. Now disillusioned, I have given up on it achieving anything!
Gavin O'Brien | 10 September 2020


As is customary in his ES contributions on PC 2020, John Warhurst produces predominantly political analysis and metaphor of a process which is of its nature ecclesial. What doctrinal justification do he and his reformist colleagues offer for their advocacy of " . . . eliminating hierarchy and encouraging diversity?" Are not unity of faith and practice constituitive elements of the Catholic Church's identity and mission?
John RD | 10 September 2020


John RD as someone coming from a professional background in church history I suggest that " unity of faith and practice" are most definitely not "constituitive elements of the Catholic Church's identity and mission" from an historical perspective. Whatever happened to "semper reformanda"?
margaret | 10 September 2020


Development applications, in the interests of transparency as to consequences, have to be accompanied by an environmental impact statement. For the PC, propose whatever you like. Just append a statement of impact on Scripture and Tradition to your position papers in the interests of transparency as to consequences.
roy chen yee | 10 September 2020


I sense your increasing exasperation in trying to engage the hierarchy on reform John. Why would they willingly choose to share power and control? The PC already seems like a token exercise that will result in an increasingly conservative church far from being “catholic”.
Frank S | 11 September 2020


It would be useful and productive if the reformers could prepare a list of those things that they believe should be reformed together with a comprehensive plan of how to achieve those reforms within Catholicism as constituted by Christ [as opposed to Man]. Some reference to the scriptural and traditional authority on which such reforms are based would also be helpful. I doubt that Christ established his Church in response to popular or majority vote derived as an expression of what people wanted in THEIR CHURCH. His Church was what He wanted and shared with the people He created.
john frawley | 11 September 2020


It seems to me that, with some obvious exceptions, the Catholic hierarchy in this country have usually been administrators with theological qualifications. Administrators like order and no shaking the boat. Many older Catholics and I suspect many posters on this topic are mature age, have become sick of being taken for granted over the years so I think they are looking to PC2020 to change things. As far as anything connected with the Magisterium goes they can whistle into the wind, because the local hierarchy simply do not possess the authority to effect this. This includes the very contentious topic of women priests to which the Vatican has already given a decided 'No'. Real change in the way the Church is administered will come from Rome. Pope Francis has already done and said things not to do with the Magisterium which have made many hyper conservative Catholics sit up. Jesus did not set up 'rule by committee': he had inherent authority because of who he was. I am astonished one poster seemed to have doubts on the Resurrection. I think what most 'silent Catholics' want is to be treated with dignity and respect. Many obviously feel they are not. If I were a current Catholic hierarch this would worry me deeply.
Edward Fido | 11 September 2020


"Semper reformanda" in Catholic understanding affirms the Church in history is "at once holy and always in need of purification", and "follows constantly the path of penance and renewal." (Lumen Gentium, I, 8). Ecclesial reform presupposes the unity in faith and practice conferred in baptism, when the baptised person is initiated into the life of the Triune God and God's sacramental expression in the doctrinally coherent and recognisable community of the faithful, defined and professed in Patristic writing in the Nicene Creed as: "one, holy, catholic and apostolic." Unity in faith and the need for reform are complementary rather than mutually exclusive: unity is the ontological and teleological ground and goal of ecclesial reform - reform whose authenticity, as Roy Chen Yee notes, is underwritten in the Catholic Church by scripture and tradition.
John RD | 11 September 2020


John RD asks “What doctrinal justification do he and his reformist colleagues offer for their advocacy of " . . . eliminating hierarchy and encouraging diversity?" Try any of the four Gospels, John: all full of diversity and acceptance by Jesus Himself. From his recruitment of apostles, to the spread of His love, forgiveness and embracement of human life with all its diversity what do we see? Christ’s own acceptance of diversity. And His prescription for effective hierarchy? ‘Go wash the feet of the people you serve’
Francis Donovan | 12 September 2020


Thanks John for this insightful article that will hopefully be considered carefully by all Australian bishops. As you know, the Australasian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (ACCCR) continues to seek the appointment of a woman committed to Church renewal as a co-Chair for the Plenary Council. It's worth noting that the views expressed by Catholics seeking renewal are in fact consistent with the prevailing views, the sense of faith of the faithful, expressed in the official diocesan reports of submissions to the Plenary Council. Will the bishops listen?
Peter Johnstone | 12 September 2020


John Frawley you are a doctor and you must know the effect of sexual abuse on children later in life. Christ was quite adamant on what should happen to the perpetrators and he would not have sanctioned the status quo. Catholics want real change to eradicate these sick practices and expect the Bishops to do their job. They should not leave the responsibility to the civil authorities. Three states have passed laws abolishing the right of priests to invoke the inviolability of the confessional seal. That is in response to the recommendations of the RC. As for the right of women to be priests, that debate needs to be re opened and if Pope Francis is too lily livered to address the issue, then he needs to be replaced. You don't question the right of a woman to be a doctor, run a state, run a country, yet a woman in this church has to take a back seat, keep her opinions to herself and be content to be a second class citizen. What you cant seem to grasp is that the hierarchy in this church want pomp, power, prestige, control, comfortable lifestyles and nice properties to retire to. Eg AB Hart in Melbourne. The hierarchy pay lip service to religion, and unfortunately it's really about status and that's why the "church" needs a shakeup.
Francis Armstrong | 12 September 2020


Australia's Bishops are males who don't have children. The 30+ Bishops seem to be out of touch with the urgent need to safeguard and protect the future church clientelle - children. It is time Bishops listened to people who raise and care about children - laity. Worldwide Bishops seem to show more concern for 'unborn' children than 'born' children abused by clergy. 'Unborn' children seem to be an easier message to talk about from the pews. VOTF requires church finances to be transparent. VOTF states that a lack of financial transparency allows clerical sexual abuse to fester for decades. Its time for urgent change. Bishops must start with implementing diocesean pastoral councils that are 'elected' not 'selected' or 'advisory' and not made up of employees.
PBoylan | 12 September 2020


There is now question that Christ ministered to people with diverse needs from varied backgrounds, but "diversity" is not the primary charism, value or principle that underpins and motivates Jesus' mission and call to repentance and communion in a content-contoured faith effected by the Holy Spirit as evident in the Acts of the Apostles and emphasised by Paul when he carried the Gospel to the gentiles, forming local faith communities along the way. The growing Church respected and upheld as her touchstone the essential teachings and practices of Christ received from the Apostles: identifiable teachings and practices - a "deposit of faith" (CCC, 84, 97) that distinguished "the followers of the Way" (Acts 9: 22; 22:4; 24:14) from existing mystery cults and caused potential converts, pagans and orthodox Jews to recognise their difference. This "deposit of faith" informed the "sensus fidei fidelium", and included acceptance of authoritative teaching, as it does still. Further, since Christ clearly bestowed leadership roles among his followers, there is no intrinsic incompatibility between hierarchy and service as groups urging radical reform in PC2020 submissions assert there is.
John RD | 13 September 2020


P Boylan. You plead that it is time for Bishops "to listen to people who raise and care about children". Might not be a very good idea when the figures indicate that over 80% of child abuse, sexual and otherwise, occurs in the child's own home at the hands of those who are integral to raising and caring about them - most commonly at the hands of men in an environment where women seem incapable of doing anything about it including reporting it to the police or other authority. Maybe also need a little caution in attributing all manner of benefit to having women in positions of power. History does not accord great confidence in the benefits attending women in power eg Indira Gandhi, Mrs Bandaranayke, Margaret Thatcher and the numerous sisterhood disasters in this country from state premiers, government ministers, MPs and corporate CEOs. When it comes to poor or corrupt practice the women match the men on equal or better terms.
john frawley | 18 September 2020


John RD, where in the scriptures do you find a mandate for uniformity? Paul's churches were each unique and severally diverse. And each of us as individuals has his or her own interpretation of the so-called magisterium, despite whatever the becassocked Church says.
Patrick Mahony | 20 September 2020


Patrick Mahony: For unity in faith, a relevant Pauline starting point might be: " There is one body and one Spirit one Lord, one faith, one baptism . . . one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all . . . " (Ephesians 4: 1- 6) - a passage in which Paul also urges unity in virtue. Jesus' Last Supper discourse is also relevant: after Jesus has prayed to his Father for his followers, " Sanctify them in the truth, thy word is truth", he prays: " . . . that they may be one, even as we are one" (Jn 17: 17, 22). Moreover, if the individual's interpretation is the ultimate point of reference, why bother with the "so-called magisterium" - or, for that matter, the Church - at all?
John RD | 21 September 2020


With great respect, Dr John Frawley, I am sure by now you have read the findings of numerous State inquiries, Royal Commissions and recommendations of the UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child (2014). The evidence shows clergy unlike lay people have enjoyed an immunity that places them above the law. You would have read words such as, ‘The sexual abuse of children is an outrage - bad enough in ordinary cases of ‘stranger danger‘ paedophilia, and worse when a teachers or scout masters or baby sitters or parents abuses the trust placed in them and molest their charges. But worst of all are priest offenders, who groom their victims in confessionals or on retreats or otherwise through the spiritual power vested in them (often absolving the child after they have satisfied their lust). Victims describe their assault as, quite literally soul destroying - damaging their capacity for faith as well as the equilibrium of their future lives. The evidence suggests that victims of clerical abuse take longer to heal, and are more likely to not heal at all.’ Added to this, clergy abusers are often shielded from criminal trials, provided limitless legal funding to overturn a victims statement or relocated to unsuspecting parishes or overseas education institutions and given ample opportunity to reoffend or provided sanctuary in the Holy See (with no extradition treaty). All this opportunity allows crimes to go unpunished, abuse to fester for decades and the enormous power of an international church to discredit the victim, his/her family or witness(s). While Australia has significant numbers of child abusers, their opportunity to reoffend are thwarted by secular laws. Clergy instead are dealt with in secrecy by ecclesiastical law that provides no real punishment and gives them ample opportunity to reoffend and remain protected by a global religion and a state with powerful diplomatic connections to governments and a pope to whom political leaders make pilgrimages in order to be blessed. Perhaps, urgent action is required to remove the ACNC Act 2012 that allows religious charities to have lower regulatory standards. Religious Charities lack accountable governance and transparent finances.
PBoylan | 21 September 2020


P Boylan. I am in complete agreement with you on the horror of the scandalous child abuse that went unchecked in the Church for nearly four decades and also with the need to reform aspects of hierarchical practice that seeks to "protect the Church from scandal" by enforcing its compliance with the civil law as the first priority. Such compliance does not of necessity demand changes in ecclesiastical law. I also agree that the abuse of a child's trust by a teacher, priest or religious caretaker is terribly damaging but is it really more damaging than the far more common abuse of trust by a parent or relative?
john frawley | 22 September 2020


John Frawley, of course it demands change to Ecclesiastical law. And is it more damaging than abuse by a parent or relative? Of course it is because the parents placed trust in the priest or religious relying on their pious platitudes, status in the community, educational qualifications and their "celibacy" to get physical possession of the child or teenager. As for the sanctimonious reference to Ecclesiastical law, should we all grovel just because some jumped up cleric in Rome endowed an article with a latin or Italian title to give it more mystery? This is Australia. Ecclesiastical law should be tossed out with the entire coterie of Bishops appointed by Rome. There is no place for 2 systems. Its ironic, the very Bishops who demand priests risk goal than break the confessional seal are the very ones who demand the civil authorities do the job they should be doing. We should not accept the doctrine of the pontifical secret, nor should we accept the concept of a rival canon law being more important than our own civil law.
Francis Armstrong | 23 September 2020


Patrick Mahony: “Paul's churches were each unique and severally diverse.” Frankly, St. Paul seems to combine such a combination of dogmatism and emotionality that it would have been very hard to share a house with him. Not to mention the fact that he made a virtue of paying his own way by working night and day, even when, as he said, he could legitimately expect to be supported by his followers. I can’t see diversity flourishing under such intensity. When we get to heaven, we’ll find out how he was at haggling with the people who paid him for his sailmaking. Probably a force of nature, given his personality.
roy chen yee | 23 September 2020


Francis Armstrong. I thought I stated clearly that compliance with the civil law was "the first priority". Regarding your distaste for ecclesiastical law and the Catholic Church as constituted in favour of a new model which suits Australia, this bastion of Christianity, progress and all that is morally right and good, it might be helpful to consider that such similar concerns have been tried and tested many times before, exist without any of the Catholic trappings you describe and yet still fall victim to self-protectionism, scandal and illegal damaging behaviours such as child sexual abuse, some of them in far greater relative numbers that the Catholic Church.
john frawley | 24 September 2020


In criticising John Warhurst for notions drawn from political analysis, JohnRD forgets that the Church is among the foremost contributors to the discourse of political participation, consultation and decision-making, in which respect it stands accused of being in breach of its own advice as Australian Catholicism sinks into terminal decline. As for John Frawley's touching desire to quarantine universal teaching from those wishing to challenge the universal authority of the Pope, it happens that Pope Francis has regularly alluded to his own hands being tied and in respect of which he has abjured his right to pronounce universal rules that are contextually and therefore selectively relevant and best addressed by particular provinces of Bishops, but not necessarily applicable to the universal Church, some sections of which face other contexts, challenges and solutions. That being the case, I sympathise with Pope Francis and don't regard him as 'lily-livered' but a frustrated devolutionist, with the prerogative to intervene in situations requiring universal expression. What's wrong with diversity? After all, Uniate clergy have always married! Thus, when JohnRD asks: 'Are not unity of faith and practice constitutive elements of the Catholic Church's identity and mission?', he invokes an ecclesiology of maintenance, not mission!
Michael FURTADO | 25 September 2020


As Michael Furtado recognises (25/9), the Catholic Church contributes to political discourse. She does so, and is commissioned to, insofar as the Gospel she bears affects the temporal and spiritual good of society, and the basic rights and dignity of its members as God's creatures. When the Church reflects on her own nature, identity and role in society - as instanced locally in PC2020 - the exercise necessarily involves reference to her distinctively theological creation "from above" in the Holy Trinity and her historical inauguration by Christ. A secular 'ecclesiology' which, in the name of atrophied notions of "aggiornamento" and "inculturation", merely mimics the sociological and ideological diktats and cliches of the day, simply serves to reduce the Church to another organ of State - not the "lumen gentium" promoted by Vatican II in its constitutional document of that name. What's more, any community's or institution's historical identity requires "maintenance" - a dynamic of tradition that conveys its defining characteristics, that, in the case of the Catholic Church, are both divine and human in virtue of Christ, union with whom in baptism issues in mission - a ""missio" scripture scholar Fr Gerhard Lohfink in his acclaimed Christological and ecclesiological work "Jesus of Nazareth" most aptly calls: "gathering the eschatological community of faith."
John RD | 26 September 2020


Michael Furtado: "Pope Francis has regularly alluded to his own hands being tied and in respect of which he has abjured his right to pronounce universal rules that are contextually and therefore selectively relevant and best addressed by particular provinces of Bishops, but not necessarily applicable to the universal Church, some sections of which face other contexts, challenges and solutions. That being the case, I sympathise with Pope Francis and don't regard him as 'lily-livered' but a frustrated devolutionist, with the prerogative to intervene in situations requiring universal expression. What's wrong with diversity?" The Church orbits God, the heart of truth. Consequently, the assertion that something is, because of subsidiarity, centrifugally valid, remains unestablished until it can be discerned that the assertion is also centripetally valid. Subsidiarity, and its scope, does not exist until it is centripetally established to exist. Diversity is not the dogma. Diversity is what is left over when the dogma that truth is a unity has been applied to a situation. God is not diversity because he is three persons. God is unity because each of the three persons independently will to be of the same mind.
roy chen yee | 27 September 2020


John Frawley this is an excerpt from the RC as to the current model you find so laudable but a model that demands change. " The American priest and theologian Donald R Cozzens has argued that the Catholic Church adopted imperial, monarchical and feudal aspects from the secular world which it still retains in its governance practices. 20 In particular, he has said, the flow of power and authority within the leadership of the Catholic Church is characterised by aspects of feudalism, including the granting of benefices, loyalty, obedience, and upward but not downward accountability. 21 The pope, as sovereign or king: grants benefices (i.e., dioceses) to his bishops. The bishops in turn promise obedience,homage, and loyalty to their sovereign, the Bishop of Rome … The bishops, in turn, grant benefices (i.e., parishes) to their priests, who promise obedience, homage, and loyalty to the chief shepherd of their diocese." I'm sure you would agree that that is an accurate description of the current hierarchical model. The RC also said that Bishops should NOT be appointed by Rome but should be appointed by the laity in Australia. Wake up and smell the roses John.
Francis Armstrong | 29 September 2020


A very clever use of the laws of physical science as a metaphor, dear Roy. How brilliant are your arguments, I keep telling myself, yet how drawn from a mindset that is unbudging in its conservatism, rather than in its flexibility to solutions that are beyond ideology and politicism. I have sometimes encountered this mindset, both in myself as well as in my father, a brilliant man who had all the attributes of a sea-lawyer, but whose rapier-like eloquence somehow always managed to detract from the truth in support of which it spoke. 'In my weakness I am strong', writes St Paul when he sought to persuade those who doubted the witness of Christ. There's a lesson in this for all of us at a time when Catholicism is in dire straits, with the Church in free-fall, assailed by scandals on all sides, with congregations that have diminished catastrophically in number. Surely this is where the compassion of Christ must kick in. In an arena in which protagonists on the conservative side are resorting to arguments equivalent to St Thomas Aquinas's in determining how many angels fit on the head of a pin, can we not do better than that?
Michael FURTADO | 29 September 2020


Though, as Francis Armstrong notes (29/9), Catholic Church governance has accrued aspects of secular office and practice in the course of history, such accretions do not alter the fact, evidenced in scripture and tradition, that Christ himself called people into a community of faith and initiated a leadership structure, namely Peter and the other apostles, which he endowed with his own authority. That this structure - for all the vicissitudes of the Catholic Church's history - has endured is itself a fact indicative of the realisation of Christ's promise that he, through his abiding Spirit, would be with his community of disciples " . . . all days, even to the consummation of the world" (Matthew 28: 20) - an assurance that is both a reminder of the Church's origin and the authenticity of her earthly mission, even under assault from the "gates of hell" (Mtt.16:18) that can include the sins of her leaders. Pope Francis' recent reminders, following St Paul and St Ignatius Loyola, that followers of Christ are engaged in "spiritual warfare" situates Church reform in a deeper context than structural terms only.
John RD | 30 September 2020


I believe it would be more appropriate and helpful when commenting on PC2020 were Michael Furtado to adhere to his own expectation of logic expressed in response to Roy's posting ("The Catholic Church and modern science", ES, 21/9). In his comment above (29/9), MF, on the one hand, appears to accept the appropriateness and necessity - given the ecclesial nature of the Plenary Council - of reform proposals being expressed in a manner "beyond ideology and politicism"; yet, on the other, he categorises ideas which which he disagrees by the word "conservative" in a pejoratively political sense, accompanied by a 17th century anti-metaphysical caricature undeservedly applied to the thinking of St Thomas Aquinas. I'd add that personally I find Roy's penetrating fusion of faith, imagination and reason in frequent ES contributions welcome, relevant and valuable on a range of topics.
John RD | 30 September 2020


Au contraire, John RD, I have no such disdain for conservatism but applaud its links with intuition, as these have been discovered to influence opinion much more honestly than the specious use of rationality and logic, which, I have been trying to say, inflect both liberal and reactionary discourse much more commonly than we think. I have appealed elsewhere to the research of the evolutionary biologist. Jonathan Haidt, a Yale scholar who shows, through brain-wave research, that all of our so-called logical rationalism is no more than an extraneous afterthought summoned up to bolster a pre-conceived position that generally favours no change. Indeed Haidt shows that this is no bad thing because it encourages retrospection and reflection rather than the swords-drawn attitudes that Roy, you and I are sometimes prone to take on matters of disagreement. Brilliant though he was, St Thomas Aquinas, despite the attributed assistance of the Revelation accorded to a Doctor of the Church, would not have had the advantage of what we know about neurology and the ways in which our brains work. The (conservative) implications here of Haidt's findings are for stepping back and compromise, rather than the rigidity of either radical change or entrenchment.
Michael FURTADO | 01 October 2020


Roy I have to take issue with your defense Of Pope Francis as to his hands being tied (presumably in reference to the ordination of women and some arcane nonsense decreed by Pius the 12th). Is it not written: "I will give to thee the keys to the kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose upon earth will be loosed in heaven". Now he's had no problem abolishing Limbo and Purgatory. Also: An alleged papal heresy was disseminated in his alleged atheist interlocutor’s Italian publication, as The Guardian explains: During the meeting Scalfari (an athiest) asked the pope where “bad souls” go, to which he was quoted as responding: “They are not punished. Those who repent obtain God’s forgiveness and take their place among the ranks of those who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot be forgiven disappear. A hell doesn’t exist, the disappearance of sinning souls exists.” The purists in the Vatican secretly wring their hands and denounce him as a heretic. Of course Pell and Coleridge and Benedict said the same thing of Bishop Morris before they removed him. Now that Pell is back in Rome I'm sure he will set Pope Francis straight.
Francis Armstrong | 02 October 2020


No doubt, Michael Furtado, logic and rationality may be put to "specious" use, but that is not to say that such misuse defines their proper purpose and employment in the pursuit of what is real and true, as your underestimation of their value suggests it does. While intuition and reason are related in the cognitive process ("Nothing in the intellect unless initially in sense experience" is an axiom of Aristotelian-Thomistic rational psychology and epistemology), the two are distinguishable in virtue of reason's capacity for self-reflexive discernment (such as one finds in the exercise of conscience) and abstraction (evidenced in the formation of concepts, and mathematics). Nor does Jonathan Haidt's empiricism negate the principle of non-contradiction, rejection of which renders instructive discourse frivolous and ultimately pointless. In common-sense terms, the saying, "We can't have our cake and eat it," is applicable to PC2020 proposals: in matters on which the Church is dogmatically committed, how can compromise be an option? And insofar as we settle for political terminology (e.g. Left-Right, Liberal-Conservative) to evaluate issues, do we not seriously compromise the ecclesial nature of the Council's process?
John RD | 02 October 2020


Michael Furtado: “Jonathan Haidt…. generally favours no change.” So what do poets do now, write for the gutters instead of to the stars?
roy chen yee | 02 October 2020


Introducing Haidt to this exchange shows just how far some factions in the Church have strayed from any semblance of an ethical approach to dealing with the human person and their problems. It is clear that most priests and bishops, highly educated and especially so in pastoral theology and practice since Vatican II, are 'formed' enough to understand this. After all, despite dwindling numbers, they sit as humans and lovers and sinners and, like Christ - the most vulnerable of the vulnerable! - on the forgiving end of the confessional, when those who turn up on the other side sometimes expect to be berated and damned for their sins and can turn nasty when this doesn't eventuate. For my own part (in the estimation of some of you, being gay and of at least one of you, for the racist I have exposed him to be) I was for some years the occasional driver and confidante of an archbishop, to whom I went for confession and who once showed me a file of correspondence that he had received, similar to that published here, most of it threatening to blackmail him unless he returned to promoting orthodoxy. Let our readership judge!
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 04 October 2020


Michael Furtado: they may exist, but I'm yet to meet a bishop for whom reason, truth, compassion and forgiveness are exclusive of one another. If such bishops exist, I 'd imagine their education and pastoral theology to be, at very least, curious - and, most likely, unintelligible.
John RD | 04 October 2020


"Introducing Haidt to this exchange shows just how far some factions have strayed from any semblance of an ethical approach in dealing with the human person and their problems." How so? Haidt's social psychology has an ethical basis in the intuitionist school which makes emotive impressions the arbiter of what is true and good, displacing rationality as a distinctively human faculty and diminishing human stewardship - a principle of Catholic Social Teaching - for creation. In disvaluing the role of reason in the pursuit of the real and the true, it also discredits the liberating power of truth.
John RD | 05 October 2020


Haidt is irrelevant to this contextually Christian thread because he is talking about humans after their thinking was deranged by The Fall. Any study of how humans think is, by definition, a study of how a spiritually fallen intelligence thinks. All the psychology you study at university is of a spiritually fallen intelligence. Studying what principles a Christian should apply in an earthly situation is to go beyond the fallen intelligence and examine what we can of the principles that have been existing before The Garden of Eden and of what they would declare as correct for that situation. Access to those principles is through the Magisterium, the subsisting fragment of those eternal principles, just as access to the form of a tyrannosaurus rex is through its present day archaeological fragments. Unlike the museum fragments, the Magisterium does grow, the Holy Spirit controlling what parts can be added without compromising the coherency of its whole, or compromising the consistency of this fragment with the much greater system of principles that has been existing since before the garden, principles which declared before creation that a concept appealing to the mind (of which the eye and tongue are vectors) can be evil.
roy chen yee | 05 October 2020


Having addressed the epistemology Haidt offers to progress this exchange within my correspondence on Fr Uren's essay (and which Roy has done me the honour of reading) I confine my remarks to John RD's posts overhere. The sensum fidei or fidelium, to which John alludes, unmistakably accords John Warhurst the right to observe that the Church, like all other organisations, and despite its sacred status that accords it the authority of a magisterium unavailable to any other body on Earth, is replete with ginger groups seeking to influence and persuade other groups, whether in authority or not, of their arguments in matters of joint decision-making. Indeed, were it not for this right that Warhurst reaches out occasionally and, in my view, very circumspectly, to exercise here, it would be as plain as the large nose on my face that those accustomed to calling the shots, viz. the Bishops, would automatically assume responsibility for exercising their age-old power and authority, expressed by John RD as a limited and highly circumspect privilege accorded by God and therefore not to be tampered with, as beyond reproach. I conclude that the Church's authority on teaching appropriate political behaviour is enhanced by its own practice!
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 06 October 2020


Michael Furtado: My point is not about the right of "ginger groups" to exist in the Church, though I regard this descriptor as inappropriate and don't see how such groups represent or entitled to invoke the sensus fidei fidelium when their proposals distort or reject official Church teaching. My concern here is for the proper locus, scope, structure and exercise of Apostolic authority which Vatican II, consistent with scripture and the Church's tradition, affirms as residing in the pope and bishops in communion with him, not "ginger groups" or "factions". Your misconstrued identification of my understanding of authority with legalism (see your posting under Fr Bill Uren's ES article, 5/10) does scant, if any, justice to the source of authority in Christ and its investment by him in Peter and the other Apostles; and fails to acknowledge how authority, truth, service and love are symphonic rather than dissonant, evidenced pre-eminently in the person and ministry of Christ.
John RD | 06 October 2020


Aversion to the reality of human fallenness as an affront to inflated estimations of human autonomy and utopian wishful thinking is neither a new phenomenon nor a precondition of humanity's coming of age. Sophoclean tragedy warns repeatedly and sternly against the delusion of human self-sufficiency and dismissiveness towards divine favour; or, as Christianity calls it, grace and blessing. The Catholic faith tells us Christ, the eternal Logos, came into history because we humans were incapable by our own resources of restoring the lost Eden of our relationship with God, and our harmony with one another and our environment; in other words, with God's loving purposes in creation. Jesus's own preaching and call to repentance and belief emphasise of the human dependence God: he is the vine, we the branches, and without him we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). The crucifying of Christ is the ultimate act of rejection of the human need for God - a fatal blindness in the interest of self-assertiveness - yet not, thanks be to Christ, an irrecoverable one: new and full life, with and in God, is available. This is the the central message of the Good News announced by Peter on the morning of Pentecost (Acts: 2), and spread by the Church ever since. Thanks, Roy Chen Yee, for your attention to it and your reminder (5/10) that truth is both eternal and accessible.
John RD | 07 October 2020


I have come today to this discussion but JohnRD's question: "What doctrinal justification do he and his reformist colleagues offer for their advocacy of " . . . eliminating hierarchy and encouraging diversity?" illustrates JW's perspective about factions. Bishop Umbers is concerned about ‘the effects (or grumblings) of mere sociological change.’ Archbishop Porteous has noted the creeping ‘clericalisation of the laity’ as well as attitudes that some lay people seek to assume more roles of ministry and governance within the Church. Archbishop Fisher has highlighted the dangers of inward thinking, that “It’s all about us, about our structures, in a language that almost no one else understands.” If JohnRD's question commenced: "What New Testament justification...." the answer is indisputable.
PeterD | 07 October 2020


John Warhurst's view about Church/episcopal preferences for dealing with individuals rather than Catholics who organise themselves independently of official church structures has many implications. Hard-edged, ideological divisions in the US/Australia are clearly evident and the same is true of the Catholic Church. Some prioritise doctrine, others a NT spirituality, some for Peter, some for Paul etc. These divisions can become impossible to manage, if communication becomes too rancorous. The faithful drift away. It comes to the point where reform groups organise meetings outside Church premises or their views appear on sites such as 'Pearls and Irritations' rather than within diocesan Catholic media or even 'Eureka Street'. Recently I had an article published in 'The Catholic Weekly' and my basic view is that critical issues, reform agenda etc should occur in Catholic forums rather than Facebook etc. For that to occur, however, editors need to seek and promote diversity of views; hold the lens to the deep-down issues and provide an atmosphere where all views can be critiqued.
PeterD | 07 October 2020


Peter D, I think in my ES posts for some time I've been over the ground of New Testament evidence for the hierarchical structure of the Church and the point of whether hierarchy is compatible with communio, the equality of all the faithful in their claim on the love of God in Christ, and servant ministry as understood in the gospels. My thinking on their compatibility hasn't been persuaded to change, and, grateful though I am for your contribution here, I don't see your suggested revision of my initial question as providing the self-evident answer you seem to assume it does or should. Moreover, when I use the word "doctrine", I assume its promulgation on matters of faith and morals has its inspiration and basis in scripture. Regarding your second posting, I think your identification of differences and disputes within the Church underlines the need for collegiate papal and episcopal leadership and authority in their discernment and adjudication, though I doubt the viability in this day and age of confining "reform agenda" discussion to intramural forums.
John RD | 08 October 2020


‘doctrinally coherent’, ‘unity is the ontological and teleological ground and goal of ecclesial reform’, ‘This "deposit of faith" informed the "sensus fidei fidelium", and included acceptance of authoritative teaching’, ‘A secular 'ecclesiology' which, in the name of atrophied notions of "aggiornamento" and "inculturation", merely mimics the sociological and ideological diktats and cliches of the day’, ‘Nor does Jonathan Haidt's empiricism negate the principle of non-contradiction’, ‘My concern here is for the proper locus, scope, structure and exercise of Apostolic authority which Vatican II’, 'intramural forums'. It's my impression that ES is losing some of its mojo for hosting learned, rarefied, scholarly but very much closed in-house theological discussions. If you look at alternative forums such as 'Pearls and Irritations' the articles and subsequent discussions are comparatively clear. JohnW writes in both, and also in the local 'Canberra Times' and he is able to communicate very clearly with diverse readers. In this day and age, that is of the essence.
PeterD | 12 October 2020


Peter D: Thank you for your response. My assumption, based of long familiarity with "Eureka Street" and its aims, is that the vast majority of its contributors and readers are quite highly schooled. Certainly, the contributors to whom I find myself mostly responding - but I hope not exclusively, are: several to university and even the doctoral level. And it is they whose voices appear most regularly, in postings on these matters directly affecting the Church, both here and in Plenary Council discussions I've been part of. Besides, unless I'm mistaken, the intellectual apostolate remains a priority of Jesuit ministry; albeit with a stronger emphasis today, perhaps, on praxis.
John RD | 13 October 2020


Not only that, PeterD. The current political polarisation within the Catholic Church, to which JW has properly drawn attention, are thought by those who use the above language to have infected its internal moral and theological debates in ways that have placed subjects like the Synod out of bounds. While the total politicisation of our conversations can kill freedom, silence people, prevent moral encounter and serious discussion, and disable our capacity for self-critical refection, JW is spot on in drawing attention to it, in the absence of which nothing would change. Thus, there are some discussions that are necessary, no matter the political expediencies of a particular moment; for without them, we would all be transported to a religious order in which the status quo would continue to do what they have always done, regardless of the investigative journalism and royal commission findings exposing the structural and cultural reasons for what went wrong. JW, and a great many without his writing skills, have drawn attention to this huge 'implementational' agenda, which the Bishops and Major Superiors appear so far to be quite content with sweeping under the carpet. The first thing to do is to release the post-consultational report correspondence!
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 13 October 2020


PeterD: ‘mojo’: Even when P&I is talking about a Catholic issue, it is a secular blog because John Menadue, as a layman, has no representative status within the Catholic Faith. He is only a member, at best, of it. Even if it is talking about a secular issue, ES is a religious blog because Jesuits intrinsically represent the Catholic Faith. If a Magisterium exists, it is always relevant to a discussion here. If Menadue became a priest or a deacon, the character of P&I would change to that of ES. However, segments of P&I can be representational. Anything that Dr. Paul Collins writes should be viewed through the lense of the Magisterium because Dr. Collins is always a priest. As ‘mojo’ is a synonym for some kind of charism, it is definitional that ES should have ‘mojo’ (and a good one), while there is no definitional significance as to whether P&I, the Guardian or the Australian has one (at least, over and above the general flow of the Holy Spirit in and about this world).
roy chen yee | 14 October 2020


JohnRD: the intellectual apostolate is associated with the Jesuit ministry; Michael: the politicisation of our conversations and how the status quo responds is critical; Roy: ES is a religious blog and has a different character and definitional significance from more secular forums is a concept worth exploring. I am intending to write about these themes and will submit it as a ES article in the coming weeks and hope it will be published. I have an interest in Catholic forums, especially in reform agendas in our Church.
PeterD | 14 October 2020


No problem with that from my perspective, PeterD. Your issue is with JohnRD, who typecasts all mention of groupings and factions as ideologically-misconceived and 'objectively erroneous' divisiveness, owing its origins to the Fall, aka secular and inevitably atheistic departures from a clerical norm that forever must remain sacrosanct. The saddest problem with JohnRD's historiography is that, as rich and well-informed as his reading is, the word 'politics' for him, on all available evidence from his profuse posts in ES, anathematic beyond anything diabolically mischievous and contrivable by Satan himself. If only he were to understand that those who say 'I'm not political' are, both by definition and logic (as well as merely!) inescapably and incorrigibly 'conservative' - itself a widely-recognised defense, in John's case evidently to the death - of the status quo, whether clerical or otherwise. It is this blind spot, rejecting of any progressive view of both history and human development, frequently alluded to in the Documents of Vatican II (e.g. Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium), and committed instead to consolidating and entrenching a static view of both Christianity and human entelechy, that is at the very basis of JohnRD's position and, in my view, unashamedly political.
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 16 October 2020


MLF (16/10), Well, I don't know whether to say: "That was a rather periphrastic way of putting it!"; or simply, with Manuel: "Que?" But perhaps I should be more serious - for a moment, at least. In short, in this latest miscellany you charge me with being political. A 'zoon politikon' I am, though I would hope not as self-blindly so as you suggest. However, acknowledging this is not the same as saying that I regard the Church and its processes simply as a secular political institution and its teachings as simply a political platform determined by popular demand, "factions and ginger groups." Understand that, Michael, and you might save yourself and me time lost on so many words in ES exchanges.
John RD | 17 October 2020


Peter D: I trust that your proposed article for ES will be more representative of my Eureka Street contributions than Michael Leonard Furtado's presentation of them.
John RD | 17 October 2020


'Periphrastic' is the apt word, John RD. However, your command of the vocabulary would also mean you perfectly well understand the expression, 'degustibus non disputandum est' ('On matters of style there can be no argument'). This further means that no amount of badinage on your part will dislocate the substantial purpose of this discussion, which is to persuade the Bishops to think again. So here are my questions about this. Acknowledging and setting aside your criticisms of my writing style, then, what do you have to say to John Warhurst about his case for the Bishops to appoint a female lay co-chairperson to the forthcoming pastoral synod as well as to publish and privilege the results of their lay consultation so that it features on synod agenda? What solutions, permanent and systemic, do you offer to ensure that we never have occasion as a Catholic community to account again for so many Bishops and Congregational Leaders to look askance at proven instances of child abuse brought to their knowledge over many years, as per the findings of the Royal Commission? Or are you too caught up in evasion to understand the urgency of the expression, 'Nero fiddles while Rome burns'?
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 19 October 2020


MLF: (1) I have reservations as to the motives of the "case" you ascribe to John Warhurst in the context of PC2020 consultation sessions I've participated in where such recommendations have been couched exclusively in terms of "equal rights" and "power sharing", and advanced as a step in the " inevitable march" towards the ordination of women in the Catholic Church - a proposal I've addressed and on which, over some time, I've directly made my thoughts known in ES contributions. (2) The demand for "privileging" the results of PC2020's consultative process suggests that the results must determine episcopal response, which does not, again as I've also said before, accord with my understanding of the bishops' magisterial role and Christ-bestowed prerogative. And (3) I have confidence in the capability of the episcopacy for necessary reform, recognising that already much has been done to collaborate with agencies of state and to implement the findings of the Royal Commission. Ultimately, however, as I'd hope you recognise from my repeated ES postings on the issue, that I believe it is the Church's spiritual resources that the whole community of the faithful must draw on for effective renewal and reform. (PS : "de gustibus")
John RD | 20 October 2020


So, John RD, answer me these questions: a) Where is your evidence that the Bishops, having consulted widely, now propose to open up the themes overwhelmingly identified over various stages of consultation, for discussion in the forthcoming Synod or are you proposing an escape clause for them, forgetting that the purpose of the consultation was to assist in Synodal agenda setting? b) Where is your evidence that the Bishops have addressed all the systemic/structural/cultural issues identified by the Royal Commission attendant upon its highly detailed and widespread inquiry in all Australian quarters on the matter of clerically-related child abuse so as to ensure that they are not repeated? c) More precisely, what measures have the bishops taken in order to obviate the agenda item relating to a discussion of compulsory celibacy and women's ordination as a means of positioning human sexuality as as gift rather than a temptation leading so many clergy to re-offend? d) Why haven't there been more resignations from Bishops and Congregational Heads who looked askance at sexual offenders and protected them to the point that many of them re-offended? Incidentally, more pith than postscript, 'degustibus' (relating to matters of taste/degustation) is widely accepted in educated circles.
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 21 October 2020


MLF: (a) The evidence of Australia-wide episcopal consultation, as I see it, is in the PC2020 bishops' initiative of inviting and encouraging the participation of all Catholics in the process itself (an initiative that opened them to the possibility of the sort of criticisms, fair and unfair, that the process has since produced, as demonstrated often here in ES and in other media sources). I'm not aware the bishops themselves have as yet proceeded to "open up the themes overwhelmingly identified over various stages of the consultation"(if they haven't done so thus far, it's not surprising, given the gravity of some these "themes"); though regular reports have kept parishioners in our local Jesuit parish abreast of consultation stages and reporting of session discussions and submissions. (b) No bishop I know of has resiled from co-operation with the RC, though they have not co-operated with pressure that would usurp their episcopal rights and duties, and interfere with characteristic practices of the Catholic faith. I do, however, know that stringent measures have been set in place in Catholic parishes and schools throughout Australia - a number in advance of the RC - in order to prevent child abuse and to make offenders - clerical, religious and lay - accountable before the law. (c) I've no evidence of "measures" bishops, as you say, have "taken in order to obviate the agenda items relating to a discussion of compulsory celibacy and women's ordination", both of which were discussed and recorded in the preliminary sessions I attended. If such measures were taken, I imagine it could have been to discourage false hopes and expectations, such as those expressed in, "Now that the genie's out of the bottle, anything's possible," which became something of a mantra among some wishing to conform the Church to their own agenda. Now, I ask kindly, you might desist from the 'Cork manner' of your (21/10) response and address the points I've raised in my previous posting.
John RD | 22 October 2020


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