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Media matters for the good of the Church



The Christian faithful have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful. (Canon 212 §3)


Eureka Street columnist John Warhurst suggests Australian bishops prefer to deal with individuals rather than Catholics who organise themselves independently of official church structures. An increasing number of Catholics have low expectations that significant reform will be adopted at the Plenary Council in 2021.

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Issues such as inclusion and the role of women were prominent in the original 17,457 Plenary Council submissions but have been obscured in the discernment papers. The selection of diocesan delegates has been opaque, and most tellingly only bishops have a deliberative vote. Following a dark period of sexual abuse in the Church, coupled with declining Church membership since the 1950s, there is clearly a case for urgent reform. Only 8 per cent to 10 per cent of those who identify as Catholics are regular mass attenders; and almost a third of these are aged between 60 and 74. The Catholic Church in Australia is in crisis.

A number of bishops have already expressed public views critiquing reform agendas in ‘The Catholic Weekly’. Bishop Umbers, for instance, is concerned about ‘the effects (or grumblings) of mere sociological change.’ Archbishop Porteous has noted the creeping clericalisation of the laity, and the blurring of ecclesial borders.

Author Gideon Goosen estimates the percentage of those involved in reform groups in Australia is 5 per cent or less. Given the passivity of the laity, his view is that reform proponents should seek to engage the 40 to 45 per cent who might change their thinking.

What forums or media, with sufficient audience reach and influence, facilitate respectful discussion of change in the Catholic Church?


'Concerned Catholics are establishing networks across Australian dioceses, gathering membership momentum and proposing a vision for the Church of the future in Australia. Their dilemma, in a media or communication sense, is that they are unable to engage with Catholics leaving the Church.'


An examination of The Plenary Council site indicates enormous effort and professionalism by the Facilitation Team in Phase 1 (Listening and Dialogue), Phase 2 (Listening and Discernment) and Towards Assembly 1 which incorporates the development of the six thematic discernment papers as well as the selection of delegates. More than 222,000 participated in the Phase 1 face-to-face discussions.

This consultation phase was remarkable, so perhaps it seems churlish to question its integrity. At least six Eureka Street articles on the Plenary Council chronicle growing concerns in the Plenary Council journey with John Warhurst warning against a disastrous scenario ‘if the Plenary Council became a cloistered, quasi-monastic affair hidden behind closed doors’. 

Increasing pessimism about the likelihood of PC reform outcomes is more evident in papers on the Pearls and Irritations site. Des Cahill and Peter Wilkinson ask whether there is any Australian bishop who possesses ‘the courage and leadership to speak publicly’ about the Holy See’s response to the Royal Commission; David Timbs notes the conviction of some Catholics that ‘bishops, with some exceptions, are playing games with them in the lead up to the national Plenary Council’; Francis Sullivan is weary of the assertion that the ‘Church is not a democracy and participation by the baptised is conditional within a hierarchical and demonstrably dysfunctional structure.’

A media release from the Australian Coalition for Catholic Church Reform reported that participants representing seventeen reform groups in Australia and New Zealand met virtually on 24 May to discuss the way ahead for Church decision making. Websites such as Australian Reforming Catholics, Concerned Catholics of Canberra Goulburn, Sense of the Faithful and Catholics for Renewal illustrate that groups of Catholics are organising themselves independently of official church structures. It is difficult to identify diocesan publications with episcopal or clerical oversight that advocate church reform.

Established as a publication of the Jesuits in 1991, Eureka Street archives chronicle many of the media dilemmas of a publication with Catholic links. While independence of thinking and an intellectual apostolate have long been associated with the Jesuit ministry, commenter Roy Chen Yee argues that Eureka Street is a religious blog with a different character and definitional significance from more secular forums such as Pearls and Irritations. Like many Catholic forums, Eureka Street attracts older conservative voices comfortable with scholarly, theological perspectives and they can pervade discussions.  

Concerned Catholics are establishing networks across Australian dioceses, gathering membership momentum and proposing a vision for the Church of the future in Australia. Their dilemma, in a media or communication sense, is that they are unable to engage with Catholics leaving the Church. Generally disaffected Catholics are not clamouring for more doctrine, Canon Law, the Magisterium or the Catechism as they depart but they do yearn for an authentic Church and spirituality that closely reflects Jesus of the gospels.



Peter DonnanPeter is interested in how Catholic media can support reform agendas in the Church.

Main image: Screenshot of Eureka Street homepage

Topic tags: Peter Donnan, church renewal, catholic church, media, plenary council, PC, Pearls and Irritations



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Existing comments

The Christian's engagement with media is especially fraught. It's a delicate balancing act but an act we need to participate in with enthusiasm and energy. Engaging with forums like Eureka Street is wonderful, even if we are categorised! I would hope for more engagement with secular media. We have our story to tell, how our lives have been enriched and stretched and we should take every opportunity to share. Disaffected Catholics read newspapers and magazines.

Pam | 18 November 2020  

I cannot recall any instance where an official Catholic news outlet has published any media release of any Catholic renewal group, and certainly not the informed and considered media releases of the Australasian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform - now comprising 19 separate renewal groups and growing. This is not surprising given that it is rare for bishops to bother responding to Catholic groups daring to suggest that our Church needs to get back on mission. As the Plenary Council approaches, it would be a sign of a genuine commitment to renewal if official Catholic news outlets encouraged open discussion of the need for renewal; regrettably it is rare for Catholic publications to publish letters to the editor unless of a fawning nature.

Peter Johnstone | 19 November 2020  

We don't mind the "conservative voices with scholarly perspectives", as long as there are plenty of progressive voices to address the issues, rather than brush them away like the former group. What puzzles me is that there are several wonderful reform groups around the country - but not one (except the possibly moribund ARC?) that emanate from Sydney. Where art thou, Sydney reformers? All in the thrall of our arch conservative Archbishop?

Patrick Mahony | 19 November 2020  

“closely reflects Jesus of the gospels” who never appointed a woman as an apostle. Was it because the Saviour had no sense of the iconic? But, Trump (no Saviour he) would have appointed a black woman to the Supreme Court if he could have found one with the suitable judicial philosophy: “I wondered for a moment if Trump, cravenly looking to make history for his own gain, would consider a Black female jurist. The problem is, there are very few Black female Republicans, or conservative judges. “: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/09/25/black-women-another-missed-opportunity-seat-high-court/ : Following the example of Jesus, John Paul II stated that he had no authority to admit women to the priesthood. If you want to follow Jesus' contrarian example of eating with sinners, be consistent and follow also his non-derivative example of not admitting women to the priesthood. Or, if you wish to be featured in the Catholic press, address that point head-on.

roy chen yee | 19 November 2020  

Isn't it true that all attempts at renewal are beholden to the idea that the Church is arbiter? But what if it would not be? If a sincere group of Christ-loving people wanted to express their ideas of living with love, joy and freedom, why do they still allow themselves to be inhibited by what the Fathers of the Church think and decide, as if we were kiddies who can't think for ourselves? As if Jesus would disapprove of a more loving expression of faith than the Church is clearly lacking in. The early Christian movement was not a huge central church but consisted of groups of people who had organised themselves to follow the teachings of Jesus.

Carla van Raay | 19 November 2020  

"Concerned Catholics....... Their dilemma, in a media or communication sense, is that they are unable to engage with Catholics leaving the Church." ..... Of the four groups with links to web sites ( Australian Reforming Catholics, Concerned Catholics of Canberra Goulburn, Sense of the Faithful and Catholics for Renewal) only 1 has a FaceBook page and it is hopelessly out of date. ...... There are busy (international) spaces on fb where those who identify as Catholic, whether they grace the pews or not, engage in lively discussion about Church matters, particularly but not exclusively about renewal, dismantling clericalism, and making space for women in the groups to which I belong. ..... Web pages are all well and good but are difficult to find. If you want to reach and engage with people, then it has to be social media. If you write "catholic" in a post on FB you are guaranteed to see, unbidden, hundreds of different organisations' posts, of varying interest, authenticity, respect for different opinions, etc. But at least you can take your chances that you will pick up people who no longer have formal ties to the Church but have definitely not lost their faith, far from it.

MargaretMC | 20 November 2020  

Carla: Very early in their history the Christian communities that had spread throughout the imperial world turned to the See of Rome - where the apostles Peter and Paul led, ministered and were martyred - for advice and direction, a tradition characteristic of the Catholic Church - but not, obviously, of those who chose to separate themselves from it.

John RD | 20 November 2020  

Christ's call to conversion, of its nature, draws individuals into community, and diverse outlooks into common belief. "Reform" as many members of reformist groups intend it, means changing of defining teachings and practices of the Catholic Church and imitation of post-Reformation practices such as an ordained female priesthood and re-definition of marriage. It is not possible, except in postmodern 'logic', for the Church of Rome to be at once herself and a Hydra. The weakness of reformist groups like the ones often referred to and promoted in ES is their lack of a coherent ecclesiology and an over-emphasis on structural change in a way that suggests ecclesial reform is predominantly a political exercise.

John RD | 20 November 2020  

I would like to inform Patrick Mahony that Australian Reforming Catholics (ARC) is far from "moribund". Where is his evidence for this? ARC is very active in seeking Catholic Church reform and publishes a quarterly newsletter that goes out to its hundreds of members and every Catholic bishop. We were banned from Church property twice by the other arch conservative, Cardinal Pell, just because he thought we would express "progressive views". Perhaps you would like to join us Patrick if you are concerned that not enough is being done to deal with the very much needed reform.

John Buggy | 20 November 2020  

Hello Peter: Thank you for the media reflections. But, are you sure you are not missing something? Is it really as media problem? Catholic schools educate about fifteen percent of the population yet most young people have nothing to do with the church within about a year of finishing. Maybe it’s the message? Could it not be that the over ninety precent who have “left the church” are the true “reform” movement? I joined the Exodus back in the early 70’s and apart from weddings and funerals of friends and extended family have not been in a church since. Back then, according to the self- appointed defenders of doctrine, notably B. A. Santamaria, we had lost the faith. I was bluntly told by a priest that the real reason I had “left the Church” was because I was having sex with a woman. Bingo! Actually, I am using more polite language. He did not say “woman” but the misogynist characterisation “bird”. Also, he did not use the term “sex” but rather some crude mechanical analogy. My response to the misogynist was that the real reason he was saying what he was saying was because he was not having sex with a women. Today, I would handle the situation differently. But at the time I was young and had decided not to cop it from a priest. You call us “disaffected catholics”. I do not see myself as such. Catholic, Protestant, Lutheran, Baptist…….to me these are dead words. My life’s journey has taken me somewhere else. As things have turned out we have been vindicated by history. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his prison letters and a few years latter Pope John both called for change. I do not think either appreciated its depth. We do know that the old Church is dead. And we also know that bureaucratic reforms like Vatican II have failed. Yet, we also know that ancient questions of what it means to be human have not gone away. Whether “the church” of Rabbi Jesus, Mary Magdalene and St Paul will have a place in the new meanings is yet to be determined. It all depends on the collective individual life journeys and reflections of at least some people. Do they lead to leaving our “cares forgotten among the lilies”?

Fosco | 21 November 2020  

The current Mass attendance figures are of real concern, given that the Eucharist, as Vatican II says, is "the source and summit of the faith", and that most participants at Sunday Masses are elderly. Banal liturgy (particularly hymns) is, I think, one contributor to this; another is the lack of thorough catechesis that includes both meal and sacrifice elements, as is fitting for the new and transformed Passover enacted by Christ.

John RD | 21 November 2020  

Hello Carla: thank you for your insights. I agree with you, absolutely. The “well” of the new Church should be placed over the feminie space of our inner being which you describe. Sometimes some people, perhaps idealistically, leave out that there is there also a place where sometimes we have to weep. This is not to suggest that you do not know that. While I do not have the scholarly authority of John RD on Scripture, Doctrine and Church documentation, I think the Gospel of Mark agrees with you. That’s what Mary Magdalene and the two other women witnessing the Big events of the Rabbi Jesus story – the crucifixion and empty tomb – is really about. I do not want to sound critical of John RD (he has given me homework to do researching antinomian Gnosticism which I am still doing) but the old Church died during the last century. Discussing marketing strategies to get its message out is only more evidence of its death: if any more is needed.

Fosco | 21 November 2020  

Discussion threads: Secular media, including Facebook, can reach retired Catholics, and address busy (international) spaces and use social media but they remain under-utilised. Is it the case that official Catholic news outlets have never published media releases of Catholic renewal groups? Are reform initiatives inhibited by Church leaders, especially in the Sydney archdiocese? Orientation of Catholics to the See of Rome. Jesus didn’t speak Italian, never visited Rome, so in a universal Church, could the Papacy be relocated so that a View from Rome becomes a view from Avignon, Tokyo, Abuja? Are there Italian cultural elements in our Catholic ecclesiology, church organisation and structures that could be enriched by relocation? Are some topics [eg ordination of women priests] off discussion limits, even though Canon 749.3 reads: “No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless it is clearly established as such.” Is it the message rather than the medium? Nietzsche wrote “They would have to sing better songs for me to learn to have faith in their Redeemer; and his disciples would have to look more redeemed!” Media report decline in mass attendance, ageing Catholics etc but what of our rich sacramental, eucharistic, liturgical life in Christ?

PeterD | 22 November 2020  

Why should one be attracted to support or join groups whose message is routinely one of complaint - and often outright hostility and disrespect - towards the Church and its leadership; and whose thinking, predominantly driven by disappointment at the Church's alleged failure to implement Vatican II, is resistant to the pontificates of Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI; and even, especially since the Amazon Synod, to Francis? Further, the paedophile scandal affects all Catholics, but I think it naive and reductive in the extreme to assume it is the only reason Catholics leave the Church (most in Australia, I'd suggest, simply drift away). Similarly misguided and off-putting, I find, is the idea that "doctrine, Canon Law, Magisterium or the Catechism" are irrelevant to an "authentic Church and spirituality that closely reflects Jesus of the Gospels" - not the first time this notion has appeared in ES items. Without these traditional resources, no amount of vague, self-legitimating appeals to "the Spirit'' (of Vatican II? of the zeitgeist?) or structural change, can, I believe, produce the direction and grounding necessary for genuine renewal and reform.

John RD | 22 November 2020  

One further thing: it should not be overlooked that this allegedly "dysfunctional" hierarchy and structure, the Catholic Church, schools many of those struggling in society, assists the unemployed in seeking work, provides food, clothing, shelter, companionship and hope for the poor, visits the sick and those in prison, assists single mothers, welcomes the stranger . . . not a formula for self-congratulation or complacency, but rather an important perspective in this time of renewal and reform - as they are all practical and institutionally co-ordinated initiatives consistent with yesterday's Gospel reading on the Feast of Christ the King.

John RD | 22 November 2020  

“They would have to sing better songs for me to learn to have faith in their Redeemer; and his disciples would have to look more redeemed!” For a philosopher who is meant to get his faith from his relationship with text (because achieving philosophical clarity involves Socratic technicalities against self-contradiction), Nietzsche betrays his calling if he expects works to produce grace. There are thousands, perhaps millions, of Muslims who will be good Samaritans to a Nietzsche or a Christian wounded on the Jericho Road, but that doesn’t obviate the significance of some irremovable canonical texts that make Islam a philosophically defective religion. The purity needs to be in the text, not in the believer’s appearance of looking more redeemed, and if the text is attributed to revelation, not literary perception, then an examination of it must show that it only contains grace. Unless he was using hyperbole, in which case PeterD’s quoting of it is misplaced triumphalism, Nietzsche failed first year philosophy by not holding the text to the disciples and their songs.

roy chen yee | 22 November 2020  

It is natural that Catholics who love the Church will hold different views about issues that will arise at the Plenary Council. I have argued “There are compelling reasons to listen to the voices of disaffected Catholics and to include these in The Catholic Weekly.”(CW, Aug29, 2020) Most Catholics are strongly grounded in a culture, tradition and indeed apostolic succession. Doctrine, Canon Law, the Magisterium, the Catechism, the infallible teaching of the Church: a immutable coherent ecclesiology provides authority. Those who seek change can then be dismissed as political operatives, routine complainers, disloyal, hostile and disrespectful towards the Church and its leadership. Topics such as admitting women to the priesthood, marriage and sexuality are simply off-limits. If official Catholic news outlets, and indeed bishops, do not encourage - or even actively inhibit - open discussion of the need for renewal, then in terms of media and communication reach, reformers are driven from the temple onto independent or secular forums to plead their case. In this ES forum discussion, and indeed many others, multiple perspectives have been sensitively explored but Peter Johnstone’s comments above state the dilemma facing reformers in a media sense. Christ's Kingdom is still evolving in our midst - its 'not yetness' is still being realised, so sensitive discussion of change is fundamental.

Peter Donnan | 23 November 2020  

"Most Catholics are strongly grounded in a culture, tradition and indeed apostolic succession. Doctrine, Canon Law, Magisterium or the Catechism . . ." Would that were so, Peter Donnan, but if articles and postings in "Eureka Street" and reformist communications such as "Pearls and Irritants" since the Plenary Council was announced - and well before it, going back at least as far as Pope John Paul II's alleged "Caesaro-papacy", "autocratic centralism", "restorationism ", "wind-back of Vatican II", "personality cult", etc. - are any indication, I'm afraid I'd have to differ. In fact, such was the paucity, and, to my mind, distortion, of much commentary on these aspects you identify that I've felt increasingly motivated to contribute as regularly as I do. Happily, now, I recognise other contributors - not infrequently ridiculed and patronised for obstructive "conservatism" - who are well versed in what were once the standard assumptions in the knowledge you assume reformers possess. Further, if contemporary Catholics were as grounded in the areas you now affirm as relevant in your 24/11 comment, their departure from the Church, impending or accomplished, suggests it is these very areas themselves and desire for substantive change in them, that are the very real sticking points of a division among Catholics that cannot be papered over or obfuscated by euphemistic formulae; among them, matters such as the nature of the Eucharist, the relationship between scripture and tradition, the reservation of ordination to males, marriage, sexual morality, and the hierarchical structure of the Church itself are, as re-affirmed by Pope Francis, non-negotiable, because they characterise the Catholic tradition. Ignorance or rejection of these is not, I submit, a propitious or valid basis for renewal and reform: those are, rather, dispositions more consonant with revolution. I suggest, too, not for the first time, that spiritual change - personal and ecclesial, and rooted in scripture and sacramental life - is the sine qua non of necessary and genuine reform.

John RD | 24 November 2020  

If you thought clericalism was dead, look at the glorious titles of the participants in the Statement of Conclusions by the Australian Bishops and Secretaries of the 6 Dicateries of the Roman Curia 1998. Following this momentous event, Benedict, Pell and Coleridge endorsed the sacking of Bishop Bill Morris for having the audacity (inter alia), to propose female ordination, married priests and the inclusion of Christian faiths as valid forms of worship. The short version of the story goes like this. The tension between Bishop Morris and the Vatican had been escalating since the time of John Paul II in the 1990s. Complaints were made about him by conservative elements in his diocese. "One hot issue which raised particular concerns was the alleged breach of Canon Law by frequent use of the Third Rite of Reconciliation (with no private confession and a general absolution given). Another issue was the reference to married priests and the ordination of women in his 2006 Advent pastoral letter (now removed from the diocesan website). Pope John Paul II had said that the ordination of women was "no longer discussable," and Bishop Morris was put on notice by the Vatican. American Archbishop Charles Chaput was subsequently sent to visit the diocese and make a report on what was going on in Toowoomba. The Archbishop's report can't have been too positive, because Bishop Morris was eventually removed." (The Swag) 2006. Besides the lack of due process, Bishop Morris says he is concerned about what he calls "creeping infallibility." In a telephone interview on 5 May, Bishop Morris read to me from the final letter that Pope Benedict XVI had sent to him. Bishop Morris said that the letter indicated he would be removed from office on 2 May, and that there would be no further negotiation. Even more significantly, Bishop Morris said that, in the letter, Pope Benedict asserted "that Pope John Paul II had said irrevocably and infallibly that women cannot be ordained." Seriously, anyone who thinks women and kids have any right to reforms in this hypocritical church, should think again.

Francis Armstrong | 24 November 2020  

Hello John RD: Thank you for returning the discussion to serious matters. I have no interest in marketing. Pearls and Irritations is a vehicle for progressive Catholicism. Contributors are mostly priests or ex-priests, laity who work in professional catholic organisations, and are overwhelmingly old men (like me) with the token female contributor. To varying degrees the changes they seek have already been introduced in mainstream Protestant Churches. The Uniting Church is the obvious example. Yet, they are in much the same crisis as Catholicism. Buddhism in Japan is likewise facing the Question of its relevance. My mother was born in a rural peasant village ninety-nine years ago. She was a devout catholic Italian woman of her time and culture. She had a few years of primary education and lived most of her life within walking distance of the village centre. Her granddaughters (moving on two generations) had twenty years of formal education, and are still going. They travelled the world before settling into family life and their own careers. They too are women typical of their time and place. You introduce the word “revolution”. Yes, a Revolution is what’s happening! I do not mind reading your comments – I am a time rich pensioner. But for me you are telling us where we once were.

Fosco | 25 November 2020  

Hello, Fosco: For one who says he's moved beyond the Catholic Church, you appear from your recent posting to have retained more than a passing interest in the faith of your baptism and upbringing. If, as you say, all I'm doing here is "telling us where we once were", that may, I hope, in muddled and often illusion-accepting times, be something of worth; at very least, it could provide a reference point for discerning rapid change, though I also hope it might do more than that. For me, truth and reality aren't as our postmodernist gurus have it, a misguided and useless pursuit, nor a matter of nostalgia; and, despite its human failings and infidelities - which include my own - it the Catholic Church that remains for me a living home in which Christ is still, good as his word, to be found and active, "making all things new." (Rev 21: 5) And, as you've perceived, I don't subscribe to the notion of a radical dichotomy between Christ and the Catholic Church that requires "revolution."

John RD | 25 November 2020  

Francis Armstrong: “alleged breach of Canon Law by frequent use of the Third Rite of Reconciliation (with no private confession and a general absolution given)” Even if there is no breach of canon law in using the Third Rite as a routine, why do people want the Third Rite anyway? Is it because they feel entitled to absolution without auricular confession?. Do they feel it’s beneath their dignity to kneel in a confessional (or sit in a chair and eyeball the priest)? The fact that some people are making a big issue of a non-issue says something about those people. If you want the Third Rite, sign up with the armed forces and post to a hot zone.

roy chen yee | 25 November 2020  

This forum discussion has a narrow focus and its ES classification under Media rather than Religion is appropriate. What are the dominant narratives? What voices are privileged, excluded or delegitimised? From a reformist perspective, which media/forums/venues provide optimum audience reach and influence? Certainly, Fosco, JohnRD is ‘telling us where we once were’ but is more tenuous about the future, ‘not-yetness’ of Christ’s kingdom. Our rich past in Christ animates us but there have been bleak periods such as the Crusades, papal & clerical preoccupation with secular power leading to the Reformation, the Spanish Inquisition, Galileo and science, and more recently a dark period of sexual abuse. Plenary Council proposals envisage reform: “a culture where women are truly part of the consultative process,” “a “female diaconate”, “ecclesial reform,” “renewed governance structures and procedures” “sustainable ecological strategies” listening to “the needs of people who are: divorced and remarried, survivors of sexual abuse, LGBTI people, and individuals or groups who feel disenfranchised” Interesting, too, Francis, that Michael Kelly(ES, 25 October 2011) on Bishop Morris, wrote: “the bishops and the Vatican live in a parallel universe, answering questions no one is asking and ignoring what is uppermost in the minds of most observers.” Pertinent then, and pertinent now, in some cases.

Peter Donnan | 25 November 2020  

John RD - I would agree with you that personal renewal is a precondition to husbanding a wider program of Church renewal in doctrinal understandings and adaptations of practices and protocols of governance. However, you seem to equate adherence to the church with simple repetition of past doctrinal understandings and canonical provisions. Perhaps, one example will help you to reconsider your position? It is worth noting the most revolutionary decision in terms of setting aside the traditional approaches to the relationship between scripture and tradition and permitting a broad scope of new and revised opinion was made by Pius XII, in "Divino Afflante Spiritu." - almost 20 years before Vatican II. Careful reading of that document reveals Pius XII affirming and praising decisions of Trent and Leo X - then effectively cancelling their prescriptions and inaugurating and encouraging new and, until that moment, proscribed methodologies of inquiry. Even John Paul II and Benedict XVI have done their bit to muddle the waters of doctrinal clarity - but that's for another time

Bill Burke | 26 November 2020  

Bill Burke: Among contemporary New Testament scholars I admire, as I've indicated in previous ES postings, are Brendan Byrne SJ and Gerhardt Lohfink, neither of whose work exhibits the sort of dichotomising of scripture and tradition which your reading of "Divino Afflante Spiritu" suggests. I'd also say that you can't have read much of what I've said in ES posting over some years if you imagine, as some relatively recent contributors in this forum do, that I think the historical Church of pre-Vatican II should and can be re-constructed in the present. "New wine in new skins", (Mt. 9: 17), yes - but let's make sure it's still wine of Christ and the Apostles; and that we're not simply regurgitating ideas and practises, as Fosco recognises, (25/11), that led to disunity in the 1500s, calling it aggiornamento and progress.

John RD | 26 November 2020  

The catalogue of items for reform presented by Peter D, to my mind, scarcely touch the deeper issues of societal secularisation and the waning of faith, not only in Australia, but also other counties that have been cradles of the Catholic faith and its missionary exporters. The allegedly "parallel universe" inhabited by the Vatican in 2011 was highly conversant with the realities of the contemporary world, evident in the encyclicals of Pope John Paul II addressing intellectual currents of the new millennium and their relationship to truth and faith, Christian unity, and Catholic Social Teaching. These may have by dismissed as "irrelevant" by some who feared his "restorationist pontificate" (despite the fact that he actively promoted the New Evangelisation that is still engaging the hearts and minds of many youth, world-wide); or by those who were/are the victims of a declining literacy. I would perhaps be inclined to listen more attentively to those advocating reform in PC 2020 sessions and in reformist communications were they to demonstrate at least a modicum of conversance with documents such as Centesimus Annus, Veritatis Splendor, Ut Unum Sint, Fides et Ratio - all of which exist in accessible translation. Issues raised in subsequent papal documents by John Pau II's successors presuppose the ground work laid, despite the persistent efforts of some to establish a "hermeneutic of discontinuity." There appears among ES reading reformers of my direct acquaintance to be an obsession with re-iterating the sins of the past, despite the fact that numerous papal apologies and changes in policy have been extended and implemented - which makes me question who it is that is living in yesterday; and what the real reform agenda is, short and long-term.

John RD | 26 November 2020  

The last reformation fragmented the Church established by Christ and, in his absence, administered by his apostles to whom he delegated the care of that Church with a guarantee that he would be with them all days until the end of time and would support them in whatever they "loosed or bound". The fragmentation of Christ's Church gave us national churchs (often at loggerheads with each other) - the Churches , of England, Ireland, Scotland , for example, and many others serving the egos and incomes of various self- styled, non-Christ appointed pastors. Christ's Church is meant to be for all men, universal, not to serve the desires of particular self-appointed individuals. There is no place for an "Australian" Church but a great need for the Catholic, universal, sacramental Church in Australia. By what authority do the reformers act in the pursuit of destroying the universal Catholic Church in Australia? Have yet to hear anyone of them provide an answer to that fundamental question. Perhaps that's because they don't have an answer?

john frawley | 26 November 2020  

Roy, it seems to me from my experience of Catholic contemporaries who have abandoned auricular confession and urge the Third Rite that an underlying reason is an aversion to the very idea of personal sin and personal accounting for it - the confessing aspect of "Confession". Those I know of this disposition were absenting themselves from the Second Rite well before the clerical paedophilia scandal erupted. The same people speak the language of "being out best selves", which involves rejecting "negativity" and pursuing "positivity" at all costs - one obstacle to which they identify as being the sacrament of reconciliation in its Second Rite form. This phenomenon smacks to me more of Hollywood and group therapy than theological and pastoral formation in the Church's understanding of this sacramental encounter with God's forgiveness in Christ.

John RD | 27 November 2020  

Roy, if it follows that women can't be priests because Jesus didn't appoint any women as apostles, should it also follow that the Catholic Church should only allow Jews to be priests because Jesus didn't appoint any Gentiles as apostles? I believe the context of the place of women in society in Jesus' time was very different to today. Jesus chose 12 men to represent the 12 tribes of Israel - they had to be Jewish, and they couldn't be slaves either. And given the status of women in Jesus' era, it's unlikely men, especially law-abiding Jews, would accept ministry and healing from a woman. Heaven forbid 2000 or so years later men would still resist sacramental grace and healing from a woman.

AURELIUS | 28 November 2020  

john frawley: Your question, "By what authority do the reformers act . . .?" deserves an answer. From my experience of the PC2020 preliminary sessions, one response advanced by reformist groups when I posed the same question was an appeal to the priestly character of the baptism of all the faithful. However, this understanding of "priest" does not accept the Catholic Church's hierarchical structure, nor the distinction, reaffirmed in Vatican II, between the Church's ordained priesthood and that of all the faithful. By the most vocal, these realities are dismissed as "self-serving patriarchal constructs", "legalistic" and "authoritarian"- suppositions that do not get beyond the expectations of radical feminist ideology and sociology.

John RD | 28 November 2020  

Authority for the PC comes from “Pope Francis [who] invited the local church to dialogue” and in accepting this invitation Archbishop Mark Coleridge, on behalf of the Australian bishops, noted “The culture in which we have to proclaim the Gospel is very different to what it was even 20 or 30 years ago.” Authority is transparent but it eludes JohnRD . Paul Collins equates hierarchy with a ‘stranded asset’ in the Catholic Church - it often promotes timidity of decision-making in the army, in academia, universities; decisions are ‘above/below my pay grade’. Baptism confers on us the roles of priest, prophet, king: the sacrament invites responsibility, not evasion. It’s extraordinary to associate the PC reform proposals with ‘destroying.’ JohnRD seeks a ‘modicum of conversance with documents such as Centesimus Annus etc’ On 26Nov20, Drs Trish Hindmarsh & Paul Collins, under the auspices of Concerned CatholicsC-G, spoke to a virtual audience of 140 on Laudato Si in which Pope Francis notes “The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and we still have not solved the problem of poverty.” Francis’ message is critical but generally such encyclicals are difficult reading for most Catholics, compared with the New Testament.

Peter Donnan | 28 November 2020  

Peter Donnan, I think the reformist groups you encourage and represent need to make up their mind. Here you are, invoking Pope and Archbishop, while repeatedly "hierarchy " has been denigrated, with even demands for its abolition. If that is not destruction, I don't know what is. Is the deference you express now representative of the groups under the reformist umbrella? If, as you say, "authority" eludes me, it is only in the shifting sense in which it is manifest here; not as it is structured from Christ's calling and appointment of the Twelve, and his commissioning of them. Further, as I've argued in an earlier ES posting on hierarchy in the context of John Warhurst's PC2020 articles, I do not accept Paul Collins' reading - expressed in ES - of Vatican II on this issue.

John RD | 29 November 2020  

Aurelius: “if it follows that women can't be priests because Jesus didn't appoint any women as apostles, should it also follow that the Catholic Church should only allow Jews to be priests because Jesus didn't appoint any Gentiles as apostles? “ God can do whatever he wants. Whatever he does is, by definition, holy, and is to be accepted as such by his disciples. Concerning your example, he personally chose a thirteenth apostle on the road to Damascus. But, of the twelve, they, too, went out to the Gentiles and founded churches among them. The Jew-Gentile distinction then was, culturally, as strong as the man-woman distinction in popular culture today. Do you feel second-class because God appointed an ultra-Jew as the Apostle to the Gentiles?

roy chen yee | 29 November 2020  

John RD I'm pleased you see value in work of Brendan Byrne SJ and Gerhardt Lohfink. I suggest you contact them for their take on the significance of Divino Afflante Spiritu. As an old friend of mine, who was in Rome in the 1940's said - I spent the first year of my doctorate having to provide another proof that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, then post encyclical , free to explore a more diverse authorship: can't get much more of an immediate reversal than that. I've read enough of your posts at ES to appreciate you are more comfortable dispensing opinions than considering alternate views - after all, not even Pius XII warrants close order reading for what he actually said.

Bill Burke | 30 November 2020  

John Frawley asks by what authority do reformers act in "the pursuit of destroying" the Church. The simple answer is that the many Catholics seeking reform of the Church are working for the Church's survival, concerned that a failure to reform will lead to its destruction. Concern for the state of the Church is a responsibility of every Catholic just as every member of the hierarchy, in exercising their authority, has a responsibility to listen to the 'sensus fidei fidelium' - cf International Theological Commission, 'Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church' (2014) http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_cti_20140610_sensus-fidei_en.html

Peter Johnstone | 30 November 2020  

The issue highlighted here is a concern for all Australian taxpayer who annually fund billions to religions with no transparent or accountable governance in place. Three years ago taxpayers funded a 5 year long Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse with findings showing not only does the Catholic Church in Australia have a ‘toxic governance culture’ but that after a national inquiry it continues as an organisation that refuses to change. The Australian Catholic Church fails to establish diocesan councils and continues to allow sole elderly males to be autocratic manager of billions of tax payer funds for education, aged care, social services, migration services, health etc. USA’s ‘Voice of the Faithful’ states that a lack of financial accountability and transparent governance allows clerical abuse to fester undetected for decades. The ACNC Act must urgently remove lower regulatory governance and financial standards for religions because the Catholic Church leadership has shown it won’t listen to anyone in Australia.

PBoylan | 30 November 2020  

Bill Burke: There was nothing on faith and morals substantially "revolutionary" about "Divino Afflante Spiritu" in Pius XII's decision to recognise new methods of inquiry in biblical scholarship. The whole encyclical demands to be read in the context of due respect and reverence for the unique sacredness of the Word of God contained in the canonical Scriptures and their intent for the purposes of deepening the received faith of the Church - not altering it substantively as some reformists would have us do, appealing to scripture alone - and the Church's mission in spreading it. Encouraging scripture scholars to explore beyond former methodologies did not - nor does not - exempt them from weighing their findings against the traditional teachings of the Church on faith and morals, and recognising the authority of the Magisterium, apostolically qualified to be the "servant " of the Word of God contained in Scripture ( "Dei Verbum" II, 10) to adjudicate in disputed matters of interpretation - of which today - and I imagine you would agree - there are many.

John RD | 30 November 2020  

It’s all very good, and sounds reasonable on the surface, to privilege unfettered modes of enquiry, as this article seems to be saying: https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/100/biblical-scholarship-50-years-after-divino-afflante-spiritu, but (to save it from ruin) is the future of the Australian Catholic Church the present day US Episcopal Church? Unfettered modes of enquiry are fine if you’re willing to accept anything that is a consequence of it. Politically, everybody knows that democracy is the worst political system there is, except for every other, and nowhere does there exist pure democracy because of the chaos, through fallen humans, it can bring. Vatican 2 did not know of the Swinging Sixties, let alone that it would produce, in time, anomalies, if theology became liberal, of an (now retired) US Episcopal bishop who is gay, was in a same-sex ‘marriage’, and is now ‘divorced’ from a same-sex ‘marriage’. Talk about a trifecta of theological inanity, ‘trifecta’ being the operative word because one supposedly admissible liberty will always, in time, produce a multiplicity of inanities, which can only be post-hoc explained by diluting the core. If Bill Burke is alluding to paragraph 47, he should hasten slowly with it. Claims for freedom are dependent upon the licence they enable.

roy chen yee | 30 November 2020  

Surely then Roy the Apostle to the Gentles had the authority to appoint women as church leaders too? Following the spirit revealed by Paul... Gentile of Jew. Woman or Man. Servant or free jo more. Paul was clearly indicating the old Jewish traditios and laws that were no longer relavant.

Aurelius | 01 December 2020  

Why did God make men and women different? Why did God want the Ark to be 2½ cubits long, not longer or shorter? Why did Jesus make men priests, not women? Why did Jesus choose bread, not dates, to become His flesh? // Our ways are not God's ways. Accepting God's way is a test of faith and obedience/humility. // Instead of seeing Jesus as being limited by the culture of his time (which he wasn't), perhaps we could recognise that he could see the future and all the ideologies that would test the Church. // "Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine" (1 Cor 11:19)

marguerita | 03 December 2020  

I wrote above: “It is natural that Catholics who love the Church will hold different views about issues” but as Peter Johnstone and many others indicate, Catholics seeking reform are concerned about the state of the Church. Reformers are not the enemy and is it not the case that we are all yearn for a better Church? In many Catholic media forums, however, reformers encounter theological disputation that is designed to sideline, even delegitimise their perspective. The effect is to drive reformers from Catholic media when there has always been vigorous debate under the Catholic umbrella, starting with the issue of circumcision at the first Council. Charles Lamb [The Tablet, Nov20] stresses that Pope Francis is “not afraid of contradictory positions inside the Church and recognises that “contrapositions” can produce “fruitful, creative tension”. But none of this is possible, he says, without discernment and a synodal approach to governance able to safely navigate different points of view. Francis calls on us to be comfortable with uncertainty. There is a valid case for substantial and respective debate and reform agendas are integral to those discussions.

Peter Donnan | 03 December 2020  

Interesting, and I dare say instructive, Peter Donnan, that the Pope did not convoke another synod to discern proposals he deemed unacceptable from last year's highly confusing Amazon Synod. As much as Pope Francis encourages full participation of all the baptised, he has given no indication that the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church is open to radical change nor that her teachings are determinable by democratic process.

John RD | 04 December 2020  

John RD: Could I revisit what I said about the revolutionary nature of Pius XII's “Divino...” My earlier comment stated “...the most revolutionary decision in terms of setting aside the traditional approaches to the relationship between scripture and tradition and permitting a broad scope of new and revised opinion was made by Pius XII...” Should you take time to read Pius X's “Pascendi...”you will find him condemning “The Modernists have no hesitation in affirming commonly that these books, and especially the Pentateuch and the first three Gospels, have been gradually formed by additions to a primitive brief narration - by interpolations of theological or allegorical interpretation, by transitions, by joining different passages together. “ (Para 34) Here Pius X is highlighting a departure from traditional Catholic belief concerning the Bible. Pius XII's encyclical authorised the use of the very methodologies Pius X rejected and subsequently demonstrates Pius X's adjudication, itself, to be erroneous. This example would appear to satisfy the usage of the term revolution – a relatively sudden and substantially different way of thinking about a subject.

Bill Burke | 04 December 2020  

Peter Donnan: “a synodal approach to governance able to safely navigate different points of view.” The necessary implication is that the ‘different’ point of view can logically be accommodated within the Church’s permanent understanding of itself. That is how we have change that is organic or conjunctive, rather than disjunctive. That the Church ought to have administrative structures that prevent internal criminality is a point of change that can organically be accommodated within that permanent understanding. That women can become priests is not such a change. And because, while Revelation does not change but our access to it can due to greater secular knowledge, the proposition that a man who thinks he is, and now has the technical means almost effectively to become, a woman cannot be admitted to the priesthood is now one that can be accommodated organically as a belief within the Church’s permanent understanding of itself. So, too, is the proposition that a priest who comes to believe he is a woman must be retired from his calling at least for as long as he is unable to withstand that belief. Change is possible if it is conjunctive.

roy chen yee | 04 December 2020  

Bill Burke: How does Pius XII's approval of new methods of biblical study in "Divino Afflante Spiritu" affect the substance of what the Catholic Church teaches "de fide" and the relationship between scholarship, tradition and the magisterium as stated in Vatican II's "Dei Verbum"? Catholic teaching on faith and morals, as Newman demonstrates, develops organically - not disjunctively, as is the case in revolution.

John RD | 04 December 2020  

"In many Catholic media forums . . . reformers encounter theological disputation that is designed to sideline, even delegitimise their perspective." Regrettably, Peter Donnan (4/12), this repeated observation rings with a combination of creeping paranoia and special pleading. Recently in ES, the word "cabal" has been used with increasing frequency by one of your reformist groups' most enthusiastic supporters to describe several regular contributors, none of whom, to my knowledge, are known to one other outside this forum. The imputation of cause and motive for this "cabal's" postings does their critics no credit: why does it seem inconceivable that a genuine personal concern for the Church, a desire for what is real and true, and a recognition of moral support might be the basis of their evolved affinities and main reason for the expression of their views? Given the preponderance of views consistent with your own in this forum "Eureka Street" now provides you, I see neither grounds nor relevance for your observation as expressed. (Incidentally, in the Council of Jerusalem, the debate was led by those with Apostolic qualification and standing, and its resolution issued in an Apostolic Decree).

John RD | 05 December 2020  

John RD, what was confusing about the Amazon synod? The celibate clergy are dying off, they said. We need a new model of clergy for our catholic (read central/ south American, Philipine, third world, as well as first world) church. We need people to preside over our worship who live ordinary lives like us, who ARE "us". We need to break down the divisions that make gods/devils out of our "servants of the servants" of Christ. They, the S. American synod - and we - want the church to survive beyond the lives of the aging and troubled clergy and religious, stranded in unreal and often unrealisable monastic celibacy, like Hasidim pretending the 18th century is still here.

Patrick Mahony | 06 December 2020  

My perception, JohnRD, is that indifference, sadness and disgust are dominant responses of departing Catholics; for remainders, paranoia and special pleading seem almost commendable. Garry Nolan (May, 2020) writes: “progressives seek renewal in the Church, to bring Jesus back into central focus. They see themselves as preserving the early teachings of the Church by going back to a pre-Emperor Constantine era, a pre-soldier/male model of church, a pre-monarchist style institution….to establish proper governance, leadership, accountability and transparency standards in our Church.” Progressives may represent up to 95% of Australian Catholics. Conservatives favour male-constructs. The following statements that appear in the PC Diocesan Final Report of Phase 1 illustrate examples of conservative thinking: “no women priests, the bible forbids it….women seeking more prominence, should be encouraged to say the Rosary; the Church's traditional position on marriage, contraceptives, abortion, euthanasia, IVF and divorce should remain clear and uncompromising; encourage communion on the tongue and reinstall altar rails; restore the Holy Latin Mass, according to the Roman Rite of the Council of Trent; preach the truth on hell and purgatory.” Risking special pleading, I believe Plenary Council proposals should be discussed in Catholic forums.

Peter Donnan | 06 December 2020  

Patrick Mahony: For a supposedly locally generated convocation, the agenda of the Amazon synod was orchestrated largely by German theologians, a number of whose propositions were subsequently rejected by Pope Francis, who has also expressed concerns about elements of the German Church who seek total autonomy of Rome.

John RD | 06 December 2020  

John RD. Your question needs much refinement; just gathering a series of heavily laden terms into a question format neither cuts the mustard in terms of precise inquiry, nor respects the word limit response of our current context. Newman's contribution concerning the development of dogma is deserving of respect, but doesn't grapple with every instance of “de fide” hiccups: you may wish to examine profound alterations to the “No salvation outside the Church” teachings of the Magisterium – or – the position on slavery, for some disruptive examples of developments in Faith and Morals.

Bill Burke | 06 December 2020  

Peter Donnan: The desire to return to a pre-Constantinian Church is an anachronism that shows no appreciation of the Church's continuing sustenance in Christ and development in a range of historical eras and cultural contexts. To my mind, it is akin to the wishful thinking of the sci-fi time traveller. The thrust of Christian eschatology is forward, informed and conditioned by the Church's essential teachings and practices of the past; and the abiding presence, despite human sinfulness, of Christ.

John RD | 06 December 2020  

I don't see how "indifference, sadness, and disgust", (6/12) advanced as reasons for Catholic departures from the Church, are fruits of the Holy Spirit or the knowledge and love of Christ, who has given himself for us. Nor that such dispositions are peculiar to our own stage of the Church's history: they are discernible in Christ's parable of the sower and the seed. In renewal and reform, to which all are called, the departing believer is not exempt - human failings, sins and crimes of those who sow in the Sower's name notwithstanding. In matters of inflicted injustice and degradation- especially the gravest - Christ himself remains the benchmark, exemplar and inspiration for the innocent suffering incurred and redemptive responsiveness to it. With faith and the grace of God, Christ's responsiveness can be ours, together with the inner freedom it brings. Not for nothing did Christ in his time ask: "Will you also go away?" Happily, there are many Catholics the world over who still respond with Peter: "Lord, to whom shall we go. You have the words of eternal life." (John 6:68) - a profession of faith, not incidentally, made in the context of Jesus's Eucharist prefigurement, pointing to the Eucharist as the source and summit of the faith and unique nourishment of Christ's own life with in us. He must increase, we must decrease.

John RD | 07 December 2020  

Bill Burke: On the "Extra ecclesiam nulla salus" issue you raise, the Catholic Church understands eternal participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity and the communion of saints to be the ultimate goal and possibility of all human existence, accepting the affirmation of scripture, "No one comes to the Father, but by me." (John 14:6). Christ is held to be the unique source of all salvation. The mission of Christ and his Church, of which he is the Head, is one and the same. Salvation is due to the merit of Christ; the Church, its recipient, and, by Christ's dispensation and commissioning, its instrument - but not its author (cf CCC, 169). Vatican II holds that those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ explicitly but who live conscientiously just and good lives can be saved; this, enabled by Christ (cf Lumen Gentium, 14; 16; CDF, 2000, "Dominus Iesus"). On the further issue of slavery and Church teaching, I refer you to Avery Dulles SJ's "Development as Reversal" (First Things, July 2010). Dulles' measured conclusion is :"No pope or council ever made a sweeping condemnation of slavery as such. But they commonly sought to alleviate the evils of slavery and repeatedly denounced the mass enslavement of conquered populations and the infamous slave trade, thereby undermining slavery at its sources." Moreover, Catholic teaching on baptism has always recognised the equality of all as brothers and sisters in Christ, and how Paul required that Philemon's slave, Onesimus, be treated with due dignity as "a beloved brother". (Philemon: 16) - a teaching at times shamefully dishonoured in practice but never, to my knowledge, in Church teaching, and one which still obtains today. (cf "Catechism of the Catholic Church", 2414).

John RD | 08 December 2020  

John RD - Thank you for your clear statement of the Church's present position on "No salvation outside the Church." I provided this topic and slavery as examples of "...disruptive examples of developments in Faith and Morals." and they remain such examples. I would encourage you to consult Pope Boniface VIII's Bull "Unam sanctam", 1302, and the Decree for the Jacobites issued by the Council of Florence, 1442, as two examples of clearly different teachings of the Magisterium to the current view you correctly quote. As for Dulles and slavery. Dulles, perhaps trying to emulate his father's diplomatic acumen provides the best spin he can offer; but on this topic he is on a hiding to nothing. Just taking the USA as an example- Catholic Church religious institutions and organisations owned and traded slaves prior to the Civil War: and as a sign of very slow repentance, continued the practice of white only and black only churches through to the 1950s.

Bill Burke | 08 December 2020  

Bill Burke: My response(8/12) to your position on the Church and salvation issue attempts to do more than simply present the Church's current position - evidently you do not recognise that, so I reiterate the necessity of Christ's mediation for access to his heavenly Father and attaining the full fruits of salvation in eternal life, and the commission of his Church to continue the saving mission initiated and accomplished by him. Before I revisit the documents you now refer me to - without, I note, argumentation on your part for your assertion of a hermeneutic of disruption in official Catholic teaching on faith and morals - I invite you to at least attempt an answer to my question (5/12) which you simply deflect or dismiss as requiring "much refinement"(7/12)? I point out, too, that the context of this discussion is the authority, right and duty of the Magisterium which is an integral part of the Catholic Church's hierarchical structure, reaffirmed in Vatican II's "Lumen Gentium " - disputed and outrightly rejected by a number of reformists who appear in ES and reform group communications. As for your speculation about the conclusions of Avery Dulles SJ, all I'd say at this point is what a pity it is that he is not with us still to respond; and that he and I acknowledge wrongs done by Church members - but do not confuse these wrongs with the actual teaching of the Church.

John RD | 09 December 2020  

The popes have issued statements against slavery since the 1500s: https://www.papalencyclicals.net/Greg16/g16sup.htm. Ironically, some of their people best known for dissecting encyclicals mustn’t have read them: “religious orders like the Jesuits ignored church law on slavery, and held slaves themselves, who worked as servants and on the community's farms”: https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/09/22/442509427/pope-francis-inspires-black-catholics-despite-complicated-church-history-on-race

roy chen yee | 10 December 2020  

The 1302 Bull of Boniface VIII, "Unam Sanctam", to which Bill Burke refers in order to establish the idea of disruption as distinct from organic development in Catholic teaching on faith and morals, derives in part from 3rd Century Bishop and martyr Cyprian of Carthage's formulaic teaching "Without the Church there is no salvation", which was substantially supported by Gregory Nazianzus in the 4th C. Leading commentators such as Augustine of Hippo, Jerome, and Bede also upheld the teaching in its Christological and ecclesiological contexts, in contrast to the much later Bull of Boniface, which, at least in relation to its traditional doctrinal provenance, questionably applied it to the contemporary "two swords" issue and the jurisdictional powers of the papacy, extravagantly claiming both temporal and spiritual "plenitudo potestas" - an alternate usage to its theological origin and intent consistent with Cyprian's teaching and the declarations of popes since Gregory VII and Doctors of the Church, Bernard of Clairvaux and Thomas Aquinas (cf Eamon Duffy, "Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes, Newhaven, CT: Yale University Press, 2nd ed., 2006). At most, then, Boniface's employing of the term would appear to be an unrepresentative doctrinal diversion rather than a radical, unresolved disruption to the developed tradition of Catholic dogma able to be advanced as precedent for the implementation of teachings and practices unsupported by scripture and tradition.

John RD | 11 December 2020  

Let me also, further, take up Bill Burke's encouragement to consult the Council of Florence's 15th Century "Decree on behalf of the Jacobites". Aquinas's earlier distinction (Summa Theologica 1, ad 2; 68,2) between union with Christ and the Church by desire ("in voto") and in reality("in re") is relevant to the paragraph to which, I assume, Bill directs particular attention, 714, since the implicit desire for truth in the non-baptised is intrinsically ordained to Christ, the truth incarnate - "Truth himself", as Aquinas calls him elsewhere. Moreover, prior and foundational to the dogmatic status of the Christological and ecclesiological substance of "Extra ecclesiam . . ." as distinct from its political application in "Unam Sanctam" and the "Decree on behalf of the Jacobites" are the traditional and cohering affirmations of sacred scripture - e.g., 1 Timothy 2:4; John 14:6; and Acts 4:12. Also, mid-last century, in response to an exclusivist misinterpretation and misuse of "Without the Church there is no salvation", the Catholic Church's then "Holy Office" upheld the dogma as "an infallible statement", with the direction: "It must be understood in the sense which the Church itself understands it." That is to say, in its primarily Christological, and ecclesiological dimensions, how Christ himself, as the scriptures testify, through the Church makes salvation accessible to all people of goodwill - as maintained by the Church to this day (cf, CCC 846-848, 851). In the light of Newman's and the Church's understanding of the development of doctrine, the "Decree on behalf of the Jacobites", like "Unam Sanctam" would, then, seem to be a largely circumstantial and marginal instance of atypicality in the Magisterium's doctrinal process.

John RD | 11 December 2020  

John RD. You propose the following as a conclusion “....the "Decree on behalf of the Jacobites", like "Unam Sanctam" would, then, seem to be a largely circumstantial and marginal instance of atypicality in the Magisterium's doctrinal process." But there is a problem. These two examples are but two of many: Pope Innocent III's Profession of Faith for the Waldensians, 1208, affirms “...that there is one church, not that of the heretics, but the holy Roman Catholic and apostolic church, outside of which we believe that no one is saved.” Similar claims are found in The Fourth Lateran Council's response to the Albigensian heresy, 1215 and Pope Pius IV's Iniunctum nobis, 1564. Maintaining a hermeneutic of continuity with the following from John Paul II is problematic “In Christ, God calls all people to himself and wishes to share with them the fullness of his revelation and love. He does not fail to make himself present in many ways, not only to individuals but also to entire peoples through their spiritual riches, of which their religions are the main and essential expression, even when they contain gaps, insufficiencies and errors.” [Redemptoris missio, n. 55, 1990] At which point, I thank you for your several responses and wish you well in your continuing theological reflections

Bill Burke | 13 December 2020  

Both documents remain true. Jacobites: Those who believe that baptism as the sacrament admitting the infant into the Body of Christ is incomplete unless it is assisted by the Old Testament doorway of circumcision are dishonouring baptism. (One could add that this is hedging bets like the dead in the desert who were found to have idols on their persons. Syncretism is Laodicean). Sanctam can be interpreted to show how the progression of reasoning, material to spiritual, leads to the conclusion that if salvation is the acceptance of the one truth, which it will be at personal and universal judgement, the pope as its earthly representative has Christ’s authority to counsel everybody, governors and subjects, not just Catholics. The bull is the spiritual claim against Philip the Fair’s taking Stalin’s comment about the pope’s legions to its logical conclusion, from taxing clergy to incarcerating a pope. For modesty and prudence, the title of vicar of Christ is usually interpreted as applying only to the Church, but the hierarchy of reasoning allows for the title, in unfolding revelation, to claim the world. The mustard seed of the Vatican in world affairs is Christ in submission, “Let it be so now.”

roy chen yee | 13 December 2020  

Unam Sanctam is an atypical diversion because the dispute with a medieval temporal sovereignty is resting a claim upon future temporal sovereignties. Otherwise, why should Roman Catholicism be a nation-state?

roy chen yee | 13 December 2020  

Bill Burke: The hermeneutic of continuity for which I argue above - one which John Paul II and his successors have affirmed - lies in the unbroken relationship between Christ, the Church and salvation expressed in "the Kingdom". The same encyclical from which you quote, for example, states: "It is true that the inchoate reality of the Kingdom can also be found beyond the confines of the Church among peoples everywhere, to the extent that they live 'Gospel values' and are open to the working of the Spirit who breathes when and where he wills. (cf. John 3:8). But it must be immediately added that this temporal dimension of the Kingdom remains incomplete unless it is related to the Kingdom of Christ present in the Church and straining towards eschatological fulness." (RM II: n. 20). Or again, in response to a faux ecumenism, a splitting between Christ and the Church, and religious indifferentism evident in reform PC 2020 discussions, the primacy and uniqueness of God's salvific self-revelation and self-giving in Christ is affirmed decisively: "Although participated forms of mediation of different kinds and degrees are not excluded, they acquire meaning and value only from Christ's own mediation, and they cannot be understood as parallel or complementary to his."( RM I, n. 5). Disputing and/or rejecting these dogmatic principles, it seems to me, in the context of reformist proposals such as the abolition of Apostolic hierarchy founded in and on Christ, the ordination of women, and recognition of other than heterosexual marriage, is a strategy of wedge-driving in order to legitimise radical change in the very structure, teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. (I'd add, too, that the translation of Cyprian's formula "Extra ecclesiam" would serve better it intent as "Without the Church", emphasising as it does the indissoluble bond between Christ and his Church).

John RD | 13 December 2020  

A few discussion take-aways: In communication terms, the ideals are rich vibrant Catholic media that accommodates diverse perspectives under the one umbrella. Eureka Street, especially through the contributions of John Warhurst, Andrew Hamiliton et. al., facilitates such discussions. Spectrums of thinking, from Catholic ultra-right, conservative, to progressives have become so fraught, especially with forum discussions and letters to the editor, that the National Catholic Reporter’s US editor will now 'collect them, curate them and publish a sampling.’ E-moderation, focussing the discussion on the core issues, is time-consuming and beyond the budget of most Catholic media. Many Cathollcs dismiss progressive voices “routinely [as] one of complaint - and often outright hostility and disrespect.” Peter Johnstone has argued that reformers “are working for the Church's survival.” It’s challenging for those who love the Church to accept that so many departing Catholics have experienced indifference, sadness and disgust but empirical research verifies this. It needs to be acknowledged that a number of contributors possess an extensive and scholarly acquaintance with Church history and teaching but certainly debatable is the starting point, “a modicum of conversance with documents such as Centesimus Annus, Veritatis Splendor, Ut Unum Sint, Fides et Ratio.”

Peter Donnan | 14 December 2020  

Peter Donnan: If reformers under your umbrella are so conversant with Church teaching as expressed in documents such as those mentioned, how is it that in comments in "Eureka Street", Bill Burke is the only one to mention the existence of such documents - one of them - and selectively, at that? The almost exclusively negative focus of comments has been on the pontificates of Pope Francis' immediate predecessors, and the promotion of an alleged doctrinal discontinuity between them.

John RD | 15 December 2020  


EDITORS | 21 December 2020  

Some thoughts on the current "crisis" facing the Church from Pope Francis's annual address to the curia are very pertinent to "reform", which he describes as " . . . never a newness opposed to the old (which elsewhere in his address he refers to as "Tradition"), but one that springs from the old and makes it continually fruitful." He reminds his audience that the source of grace "does not come from ourselves, but from God", and further, warns against " . . . a 'synodal' Church that, rather than being inspired by communion, ends up being seen as just another democratic assembly made up of majorities and minorities." Sobering thoughts for the continuing reform process in 2021.

John RD | 22 December 2020