Patchwork quilt church inhibits national action

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There is a good reason why the term Australian Catholic Church is frowned upon in official circles. It does not exist. Instead, it is a patchwork quilt of fiefdoms called dioceses. It lacks an energising central authority which, when it needs to, can generate and shape a national church response.

Quilts (Raul Cacho Oses/Unsplash)

The kindest thing we can say about the Catholic Church in Australia in this regard is that we celebrate diocesan and other differences. The quilt shines forth in different colors and patterns. That has benefits, but it also has limitations. It can reduce the Catholic experience in Australia to a lucky dip.

During the pandemic Australians have learned a lot about federalism, including the strength of state borders and the limitations of central authority. The national cabinet has worked to respect the independence of the eight state and territory jurisdictions while maintaining some semblance of national cohesion.

Similarly, Australian Catholics are learning a lot about the territorial divisions within our church as it attempts to pull together in the lead up to our greatest contemporary challenge, the national Plenary Council (PC). If Scott Morrison finds national leadership difficult then so must Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops conference (ACBC) and Tim Costelloe, chair of the Bishops Commission for the Plenary Council. They wouldn’t even identify with the term national leader.

There are 28 territorial dioceses in Australia, plus five Eastern Rite dioceses. Imagine if the Australian federal system was dismantled and replaced by that many states and territories. How well would we have dealt with the pandemic and how would we have managed borders? That is the situation we are dealing with within the church.

We have national church institutions, such as the ACBC, and in this instance a Bishops Commission and a Facilitation Team for the PC, but they must direct by persuasion and education.

 

'Some bishops say that they are waiting till after the PC to move in this direction, effectively to see how the wind blows. Like the better Sydney to Hobart skippers they should actively seek out the wind by taking the steps at their disposal rather than sitting back.'

 

In the case of the PC observing progress towards the goal is a bit like watching the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. The boats are of different sizes and capabilities. Skippers vary in ability. Some seem to be becalmed while others have the wind in their sails. The diocesan fleet is zig zagging down the coast and spread out over hundreds of kilometres.

Work continues within the central apparatus, including the drafting of the instrumentum laboris by a small team, but much of the action and/or inaction is happening within the dioceses. Since selecting their diocesan delegates last year they have moved at varying speeds. The pandemic has been a big problem but not the only problem.

Sunday 4 October this year, the date on which the PC assembly was meant to have started before it was postponed by 12 months, was suggested as the date for the commissioning of delegates in each diocese. While some commissioning ceremonies have occurred, including in Perth, Darwin, Maitland-Newcastle and Armidale, many did not however, and the chance of some Australia-wide symbolic impetus was lost.

A few dioceses, including Adelaide, have scheduled other events to stimulate interest. Maitland-Newcastle stands out as one diocese which has already called a diocesan synod, 2019-2021, as part of local PC discussions and wider reflection on the state of the church. 

The renewal movement network, led by the Australasian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (ACCCR), continues to call for further transparency and inclusiveness in preparations for the Plenary Council, including a woman co-chair or deputy chair and gender balance and transparency in the preparation of the working document. These are decisions which could be taken collectively by the bishops at their next plenary meeting from 23-27 November.

But there is so much that diocesan bishops can undertake individually. ACCCR has been calling for many months for the urgent establishment by each bishop of diocesan pastoral councils and diocesan synods, or both, as essential components of diocesan discernment about the PC.

These calls are going largely unheeded. Time is running out.

Some bishops say that they are waiting till after the PC to move in this direction, effectively to see how the wind blows. Like the better Sydney to Hobart skippers they should actively seek out the wind by taking the steps at their disposal rather than sitting back. If they do not, the PC fleet risks becoming becalmed.

 

 

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: Quilts (Raul Cacho Oses/Unsplash)

Topic tags: John Warhurst, Catholic, church, ACBC, Plenary Council, ACCCR, Mark Coleridge, Tim Costelloe

 

 

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Existing comments

Thanks for your energy and enthusiasm on this issue, John. I've lost mine and the relevance of my Church to my life has been lost. My faith remains strong, I've had much time for introspection, wide reading and prayer during the Melbourne lockdown and I've come to realise that the institutional Church in Australia has little relevance for me. I wish you well and all those committed laity who are working with you, I hope you can convince the Australian Bishops that they need to significantly change their understanding of the partnership between them and the laity. I'm not confident that this can happen in my lifetime and I personally have decided to give up the fight. After 60 years I am now saying that the Catholic Church in Australia is no longer my church.
Carol | 05 November 2020


Thanks, John, for a good summary of the challenges and opportunities of the forthcoming Plenary Council. As you note, "ACCCR has been calling for many months for the urgent establishment by each bishop of diocesan pastoral councils and diocesan synods, or both, as essential components of diocesan discernment about the PC." Those proposals actually reflect Church teachings. Canon 511 specifically provides: “In each diocese, in so far as pastoral circumstances suggest, a pastoral council is to be established . . . ". Strangely, most diocesan bishops in Australia have not established pastoral councils and have not even suggested any “pastoral circumstances” that could preclude a council. This failure to respect canon law requiring specific inclusion of the faithful does not augur well for the Plenary Council.
Peter Johnstone | 05 November 2020


Thank you, John, for these timely and relevant comments. We are in dire need of leadership, unity of purpose and a sense that it is worthwhile putting energy and effort into the Catholic project.
Kevin Liston | 05 November 2020


John, I love your analogy of comparing the Australian Church with the boats in the Sydney - Hobart Yacht Race, so apt. Most Catholics would not know that the Australian 'Church' is a collection of Churches. The ACBC is toothless and irrelevant to most of us. While I still receive updates from the Plenary Council, I have lost any faith in its future decisions or options for reform in the 'Australian Church'. Carol , I am a decade or so older than you. I sense your pain. Like most of us 'oldies' I still attend Sunday Mass now we can again .But our Parish community is a shadow of its former self with empty pews in the Church. One parishioner, who is a founding member of our Parish, commented to me last week that he wondered how many would return to attend Mass when the Pandemic finally ends.That is a very relevant question. So far I have heard nothing from our Archbishop Christopher about the Plenary Council since the initial burst of enthusiasm 'years ago' ( so it seems.).
Gavin O'Brien | 05 November 2020


Thankyou for your insights Carol, peter, Kevin and Gavin. A New Catholic Circa 1987 with a Lay RCIA Team for guidance, all manner of formation including RCIA in Brisbane Diocese and an active parishioner in Hunter-Newcastle, Parramatta notably RENEW and Cairns I first despaired for The Institution Church, then discerned that I walk simply and humbly in sandals following in Jesus footprints by way of The Gospel Parables and Psalms. I am now mostly experience states of Inner Peace, Hope and Joy in the Ordinary Circumstance of a lived Lay Life
Ingrid Clark | 05 November 2020


This is a really good and relevant article for me. I do not believe I have lost my Catholic faith but I have certainly lost my faith in the administration of the Catholic church. It is administered on a "divide and conquer" basis where everyone is responsible for everything but nobody, BUT NOBODY is accountable for anything. Where is the one true church!
Margaret Mayhew | 05 November 2020


Carol and Gavin I share your pain. When i entered the Catholic Church 40 years ago I never thought I would leave it.But I can no longer pretend, even to myself, that it is any meaningful sense my Church. Ironically when my parish was taken over several years ago by an evangelisation group, we were explicitly told we could 'leave if we didn't like it.' And although it had been our parish for 30 years or more, slowly but surely many of us did. Sadly we (at least some of us) discovered that the grass had withered just as much on the other side of the parish fence.
Margaret | 05 November 2020


Sometimes the Church (not specifically the Catholic Church) has been compared to a very large ship sailing towards a catastrophic convergence. I like the analogy of the yacht race - it suggests some semblance of dynamic movement. Although some are quicker off the mark than others. Thomas Hardy's "The Convergence of the Twain" may be helpful reading. More seriously, my faith (such as it is) keeps me on course even when the waves are significant. The Plenary Council is a sign of hope.
Pam | 05 November 2020


My experience this year, Carol, has been so like yours. In my solitude, I studied the New Testament and reflected a great deal. I found I could I no longer identify with the institutionalised church especially in Australia. To read of your experience, helped and consoled me.
Sheelah Egan | 05 November 2020


Church unity in Australia or elsewhere is not advanced by the sort of listing advocacy of a "diversity" (as distinct from the "legitimate plurality" recognised by Vatican II) that has no doctrinal rudder and fits its sail to the bossing political correctness blown by secularising winds. The barque of Peter may be in rough waters, but Christ is still in the boat and at the helm, and no matter how mutinous the waves or crew, will see us through.
John Kelly | 06 November 2020


I give to and receive support from the St Mary’s in Exile South Brisbane - a huge loss to the Catholic Church but authentically Church in every way.
Narelle Mullins | 06 November 2020


We’re (over)talking to ourselves again. Is the PC an AGM? The Great Commission is about talking to non-Christians. Whether or not we can interpret the Commission as talking to non-Catholics is a nuance that the bishops should lead upon, following Peter’s report to Christ that someone was casting out demons in his name and Christ’s response to leave him alone as those who are not against us are for us. But, certainly, the Commission is to talk to those who don’t believe that Jesus was any more than a ‘great man’. Two Mormons on bicycles are doing more for their faith than a hundred navel-gazers in an official forum. One eccentric preacher on a street corner or in a park is doing more for his soul than a hundred indoor navel gazers because he has made himself available outdoors to whatever designs the Holy Spirit intends. Navel-gazing is a light under a bushel. And everything does start with personal holiness, the orthodox use of the body. The body, as representative of Christ’s body, is the fundamental instrument of salvation. It is the visible machine of Christ’s work. Soil it and any outcome of its use may become random.
roy chen yee | 06 November 2020


John Thanks for your article concerning the upcoming PC to be chaired by Mark Coleridge. Please permit me to list some of the Royal Commission recommendations as a reminder of what should happen in this Catholic Church after they conducted over 6000 interviews on institutional abuse here in Australia. "Recommendation 16.6 The bishop of each Catholic Church diocese in Australia should ensure that parish priests are not the employers of principals and teachers in Catholic schools. Recommendation 16.7 The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should conduct a national review of the governance and management structures of dioceses and parishes, including in relation to issues of transparency, accountability, consultation and the participation of lay men and women. This review should draw from the approaches to governance of Catholic health, community services and education agencies. Recommendation 16.8 In the interests of child safety and improved institutional responses to child sexual abuse, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to: a. publish criteria for the selection of bishops, including relating to the promotion of child safety b. establish a transparent process for appointing bishops which includes the direct participation of lay people. Recommendation 16.9 The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to amend the 1983 Code of Canon Law to create a new canon or series of canons specifically relating to child sexual abuse, as follows: a. All delicts relating to child sexual abuse should be articulated as canonical crimes against the child, not as moral failings or as breaches of the ‘special obligation’ of clerics and religious to observe celibacy. b. All delicts relating to child sexual abuse should apply to any person holding a ‘dignity, office or responsibility in the Church’ regardless of whether they are ordained or not ordained. c. In relation to the acquisition, possession, or distribution of pornographic images, the delict (currently contained in Article 6 §2 1° of the revised 2010 norms attached to the motu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela) should be amended to refer to minors under the age of 18, not minors under the age of 14. Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 155 Recommendation 16.10 The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to amend canon law so that the pontifical secret does not apply to any aspect of allegations or canonical disciplinary processes relating to child sexual abuse. Recommendation 16.11 The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to amend canon law to ensure that the ‘pastoral approach’ is not an essential precondition to the commencement of canonical action relating to child sexual abuse. Recommendation 16.12 The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to amend canon law to remove the time limit (prescription) for commencement of canonical actions relating to child sexual abuse. This amendment should apply retrospectively. Recommendation 16.13 The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to amend the ‘imputability’ test in canon law so that a diagnosis of paedophilia is not relevant to the prosecution of or penalty for a canonical offence relating to child sexual abuse. Recommendation 16.14 The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to amend canon law to give effect to Recommendations 16.55 and 16.56. Recommendation 16.15 The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia, in consultation with the Holy See, should consider establishing an Australian tribunal for trying canonical disciplinary cases against clergy, whose decisions could be appealed to the Apostolic Signatura in the usual way. Recommendation 16.16 The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to introduce measures to ensure that Vatican Congregations and canonical appeal courts always publish decisions in disciplinary matters relating to child sexual abuse, and provide written reasons for their decisions. Publication should occur in a timely manner. In some cases it may be appropriate to suppress information that might lead to the identification of a victim. "
Francis Armstrong | 06 November 2020


There's a problem, as comments here indicate, that the idea of a visible Church ("institutional") is odious and/or irrelevant to those who have been damaged by their experience of some its representatives, or those disaffected with its teachings, particularly on marriage and sexuality, or those who have retired into a private world of 'spirituality'. Their views have long been expressed in "Eureka Street" columns and postings, and their voices have been heard in PC 2020 consultative meetings. This situation is far deeper than more meetings and more structures - even legitimate ones - can remedy: the hungry, angry, disappointed and lonely spirit needs the healing touch of Christ through companionship, personal and shared prayer, meditation on the scriptures, a renewed sense of personal responsibility and call to mission, and reconnection with sacramental life. Investment in dioceses and parishes by retreats adapted from the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius and delivered by Jesuit-trained teams could make a significant contribution: they have a record of liberating those who enter into them from inhibitions and blockages to participating in Christ's mission in and through his Church.
John RD | 06 November 2020


Hello Carol. Thank you for the beautiful words. After what we have been through in the last few months I think many thoughtful people in Melbourne will be moved to take a new life’s journey. But, on you leaving “the Church” I must disagree - with respect! From about the mid 50’s through to the late 60’s I was brainwashed into believing that the Vatican was the centre of “the Church”. It’s NOT!! To believe that lost place of lost old men playing their endless power games, is what Rabbi Jesus and St Paul talked about is delusion. Where an internally wounded person struggles to find a place of peace – that’s the centre of “the Church”. Or, where a compassionate friend stands with them. Or, where a parent strives to be more loving when they see the troubles of their child really began with their own unresolved issues. Or, where a nurse or teacher or policeperson or coffee maker is doing their honest best. I know this is not the spiritual majesty of St Francis. But, good teachers and nurses and coffee makers and friends are needed by the billions. One St Francis every few centuries is enough. Whether there is a God is a very overrated question – I think. We really don’t know. But, to be searching for an answer to this profound question as a living experience is also to be at the centre of the Church –again, that’s what I think ( I could be wrong). Your decision to walk out on that Vatican farce is (I think) also to be at the centre of “the Church”. The reform of the institutional church – this century or the next or one after that or if ever – will not come with the next great theologian (probably male) with his great theology, but by the collective living experience of ordinary people genuinely trying to live decent lives. Fosco
Fosco | 07 November 2020


'A theory of group dynamics holds that all groups are formed for a stated and agreed primary purpose, to achieve a certain goal; but that it is not too long before the unstated purpose becomes the protection of the group itself, and the accepted behaviours within the group become those that ensure its survival.' Paul Coghlan, ‘Kicking corruption in church and police “closed systems”’, Eureks Streetˆ, 4 May 2016 < https://www.eurekastreet.com.au/search.aspx?s=47277 >
Ginger Meggs | 08 November 2020


John RD, I couldn't disagree more strongly that disaffected Catholics who've developed a deeper spiritual are doing this privately and should be considered "retired". I'm sure many of these so-called "Retired Catholics" are actively involved in ministries and in building up their communities. As someone who has been through a similar experience and come out the other side, I can attest to the very lonely and "private" feel of merely being a bum on a seat at an anonymous Mass and receiving communion before returning home and wondering whether I'm missing something. This feeling speaks to our current very disconnected society that makes parish life and spirituality very challenging - we are all busy and struggling to find time - and I hope the church can find a way to revitalise rather than simply emphasising physical Communion (although I acknowledge the significance of this)
AURELIUS | 08 November 2020


Aurelius, I don't doubt that what you call "Retired Catholics" can contribute to community, but how does one develop a "deeper spiritual life" without participation in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, the nourishment of Christ himself? "Spirituality" is a rather loose term these days - one only has to listen to football teams' captains being described as the club's "spiritual" leaders; by contrast, Catholic spirituality is grounded in sacramental life and the practices it inspires. And even if one is the only person besides the priest participating physically in the celebration of the Eucharist, in Christ the whole community of the faithful, living and deceased, are present. - Not bad company, that.
John RD | 09 November 2020


I commend "Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn" for its ongoing call for the hierarchy to show responsibility. However as we hear from leaders that they have been "grappling" with the crime of child sexual abuse for decades, I cannot see any change in the future direction of the church. I relate to Carol's decision, the same one that I made after almost 70 years. The move away actually strengthened my faith in Christianity. I no longer felt challenged to continually try to reveal the Christian foundation which I had believed cemented my church faith. As part of the group "Concerned Queensland Catholics", which resulted in 7 submissions to the Royal Commission, I fought the fight, alongside others, looking for a path for redemption for the church. That was the intention but clearly with the protection of church/reputation/power/wealth still paramount, despite the crimes against children, for my Christianity to survive I had to walk away. Currently, with no worldwide church policy of "zero tolerance" towards child sexual abuse, the church continues to "grapple" hoping that in time it will all be forgotten. I have found my tribe with those who will never forget! Patricia Hamilton
Patricia Hamilton | 09 November 2020


Thanks again John for keeping us up to date about the Plenary Council. I live in Maitland-Newcastle but do not see anything special in its PC preparations. It seems like more of the same dreary old orchestrated process. I do not know our selected delegates and I suspect most of the 8-9000 nominal (700 active) parishioners don't either. For the first time in my life (I'm even older than Gavin) I do not know my parish priest and have not done for about 18 months. It has little to do with the pandemic. And yet, I probably feel closer to God than ever.
John Casey | 09 November 2020


John Casey: Perhaps it's not the PC2020 consultation process that's the problem so much as apathy on the part of those who have been invited to contribute.
John RD | 11 November 2020


Hullo John RD On retired Catholics etc: "Their views have long been expressed in "Eureka Street" columns and postings, and their voices have been heard in PC 2020 consultative meetings." There is some truth in your statement, if you revisit ES forum discussions. My view, though, is that the full spectrum and intensity of disaffected Catholics do not surface in Catholic media and Catholics seeking reform are increasingly moving to more independent media outlets. In the first phase of the Plenary Council consultation process many of the voices were muffled and relegated in the distillation writing process for the six major themes. I submitted an article to ES on this topic and it is being considered in the ES review process but I understand how important it is for Catholic media with some formal/semi-formal links to the Church in Australia to be supportive of Australian episcopalian agendas.
PeterD | 12 November 2020


Thanks to you all for the sensitive, thoughtful and caring comments in this thread. It seems that many of us are feeling disenfranchised from the Catholic Church in Australia. Thanks to Francis for listing the many recommendations of the Royal Commission. Being one of the case studies and someone to whom the Church has acknowledged was abused and has apologised, that truly does sadden me. I was able in time to make a distinction between my abuser and the Church. That was not why I left the Church. And yes RD, the Jesuits kept me going for a long time but even they are now weakened and appear to be more self-serving when we need strong voices to stand up and be heard. And yes, I have felt the loss of the sacraments but Melbourne lockdown taught me that God is present with or without sacraments. The deafness of the Bishops, Peter Johnstone, believing that they can set their own path rather than listen to their congregations shows that they have formed their own echo chambers. Perhaps I too have formed mine, I must fight against that and I'm sure, in time, I will find my people.
Carol | 12 November 2020


Peter D: "Disaffected Catholics" and "disenfranchised Catholics" - terms now becoming more frequent in ES postings - bear, I think, some scrutiny. Why, for instance, do individuals and groups choose to describe themselves as such? The scandal of pedophilia? Yet many Catholics, while deeply hurt and outraged by this phenomenon, continue in their practice of the faith and work towards relevant renewal and reform - they do not regard it as reason to leave the Church. What does "disenfranchised" mean? - do some regard themselves as such because the Church does not regard the priesthood as a right, for either men or women? Or do they regard it as a frustration or abrogation of entitlement when the Church maintains its teaching on marriage and sexuality? And if the voices of such Catholics "do not surface in Catholic media" why should it be assumed that this is due to editorial policy? How many "disaffected" and "disenfranchised" Catholics actually wish or endeavour to make their views known in Catholic newspapers, magazines or other media? And why should they feel entitled - the word suggested by "disenfranchised" - to have their views published any more than any other contributor with opposite views? I read a passage this morning by a literary critic discussing Henrik Ibsen's influence. She writes: "We ourselves are products of the social revolution kicked off by Ibsen in the last years of the nineteenth century (and continue, most notably, by Freud), one that in certain ways has not yet played itself out. His characters' bids for personal fulfillment at the expense of social and religious institutions are unsurprising to us because the twentieth century has listened to him and valorised such bids." Could individualism and self-assertion be close to the root of "disaffected" and "disenfranchised" protestation, by-passing a deeper issue of a crisis of faith?
John RD | 12 November 2020


John Warhurst's half-term weather report rings true to one who left the Perth for Brisbane after Archbishop Goody publicly stated that he did not know what social justice meant. In Brisbane, felicitously, Archbishop Rush turned down a secular knighthood to place that ministry at the forefront of his response to the Bjelke-Peterson Babylonian Captivity. So, yes; a church of fiefdoms and shockingly perverse inequalities. John has also magnanimously missed the crucial role played in this dismemberment by Cardinal Pell who, as Fleet Commodore, steered his way towards exercising influence in Rome through anti-Vatican II episcopal appointments, many of which are still around and plainly regard their role as to complete unfinished business opposed to the Pope's. What this means is that we have at least two Catholic Churches, visible to my knowledge in every Catholic diocese, favouring distancing clergy from laity and accounting for the current hiatus, e.g. in Brisbane, Springfield, with its Asian-inflected populist pietism - and I speak as an Asian critical of this - at the opposite end of the scale to Toowong; Asian clergy who know nothing of contextual theology; and avid ES correspondents, like JohnRD, wielding prolific pen-power while decrying the outlet that publishes them!
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 12 November 2020


PeterD: “…. the full spectrum and intensity of disaffected Catholics do not surface in Catholic media….but I understand how important it is for Catholic media …to be supportive of Australian episcopalian agendas.” The British principle of a parliamentary loyal opposition for advocacy took a few hundred years to come about, culminating in a speech in the Commons which introduced the phrase into common understanding (pp.6,7 of http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/66314/1/__lse.ac.uk_storage_LIBRARY_Secondary_libfile_shared_repository_Content_Webber%2C%20G_Loyal%20Opposition%20and%20the%20political%20constitution_Webber_Loyal_Opposition_and_the_political_constitution.pdf). Church governance arrangements aren’t canonical. Perhaps we can start with the old idea that a grievance petition to the monarch isn’t a grievance against the monarch and allow Catholic media to feature contrarian columns and debating threads. Of course, there is no sacrosanct principle in British political thought these days except freedom to advocate whereas, for logical reasons, freedom of advocacy in the Church cannot undermine the Magisterium as Scripture is unable to interpret itself. You cannot logically abolish the Magisterium for the same reason that the Commons, which can abolish the Monarchy and the Lords, cannot abolish itself. At the end of the day, you need something that is definitively held to be absolutely true or you can’t function in the same kind of understanding.
roy chen yee | 13 November 2020


MLF: Perhaps I should be counting my blessings the ES editors do not appear to share your discombobulation (well, not too often, at least!) about my postings?
John RD | 13 November 2020


Hello John and John RD. How confident are you that you really appreciate “our times”? I am almost certain that the death of Christianity is a spiritual death which cannot be remedied by restructuring old structures or practising old rituals guided by trained Jesuits (or trained anybody). These are early days in the revolution of the spirit called by Pope John some six decades ago. We are not even at the religious stage. It is still too early for the priests with their dogmas, doctrines and dress ups pantomimes. Remember the old saying: “religious people fear hell, spiritual people have already been there” . I think we are only at the stage where individual people find themselves having to journey their inner reality. In that harsh terrain it is not questions of theology and holy picture visualisations that occupy the mind. It’s more immediate stuff like hurt and pain and fear and brokenness and powerlessness. It’s the hurt child pondering whether they will again be whole. If there is to be a church, it’s the people who have “been there” who will be our new teachers rather than males who have just been to priest school. But, of course I could be wrong. Maybe it’s just us in Melbourne suffering from post-lockdown syndrome.
Fosco | 13 November 2020


Hullo John RD We come from very different perspectives: Following a dark period of sexual abuse in the Church, coupled with declining Church membership since the 1950s, it is my view 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. Rather than explore niceties of distinction around ‘disaffected’ and ‘disenfranchised’ let’s focus on the basics. Pedophilia and sexual abuse of minors: as you argue, some remain and seek reform; but the majority have been appalled and stampeded. On the priesthood: half of the priests in Australia come from overseas. Last week we heard of sad experiences in the Broome dioceses. The National Council of Priests in Australia support voluntary celibacy. Is there scope for the Church to change some of its teaching on marriage and sexuality? Given the stats around artificial contraception in Australia - yes there is. If you’re not aware of the realities of editorial policy in Catholic diocesan media, John, I can’t help you. I know the Church is not a democracy but titles of Catholic publications such as ‘Catholic Voice’ and ‘Together’ suggest forums for a range of views. I agree with you that rampant individualism, a sense of entitlement, me-too ism, unbridled hedonism etc can be enemies of the people/community etc. But my core view is that as Catholics leave the Church Church they are not clamouring for more doctrine, Canon Law, the Magisterium or the Catechism. Essentially they seek an authentic Church and spirituality that closely reflects Jesus of the gospels. And this means having a heart for people rather than being too preoccupied with too much intellectual apologia and doctrinal mumbo jumbo.
PeterD | 13 November 2020


People leaving the Church today may not be "clamouring for doctrine" and "Magisterium", Peter D, but I should think they hunger and cry out in their depths of heart, mind and soul for encounter with reality and truth, in the pursuit and experience of which the articulation of truth (doctrine) and Magisterium (authority) are indispensable. In the Gospel reading for today's feast of the Jesuit saint, Stanislaus Kostka, who died when only seventeen, we read that Jesus taught with authority. We also read later on in his ministry that Jesus passed on his ministry of teaching and his own authority to Peter and the Apostles: a tradition that is a defining characteristic of the Catholic Church and her faith. And when the newly formed Society of Jesus began its ministry of conducting the first Spiritual Exercises to lay exercitants, the spiritual dimension was accompanied by catechesis; error was met with truth, and renewal effected with extraordinary results. Knowledge and faith are complementary, and authority undergirds the two. For Catholics, faith is not a Kierkegaardian total "leap into the dark." Knowledge of and existential responsiveness to the person of Jesus encountered through the community of faith and its authentic traditions inevitably involves doctrine that is authoritatively derivative and developed; and communicable and shared.
John RD | 13 November 2020


Hello, Fosco: Surely you don't want to recycle old aberrations and failures of ecclesial reform like antinomian gnosticism? (I think the self-diagnosis in your final sentence could be well on track).
John RD | 13 November 2020


In support of John RD's entitlement to his perennially one-sided views, I offer this reservation about Narelle Mullins' post. Narelle is right to identify the expulsion of St Mary’s, South Brisbane, from the Catholic fold as a tragedy. However, to describe St Mary's-in-Exile as 'authentically Church in every way', is to forget that a large component of its congregation left when it became clear that the parish would offer no platform to that large section of the patchwork quilt that John Warhurst must address if Catholic unity is to matter, that struggles to hold the Church together. This includes the West End Catholic Worker Community, which, in addition to upholding Catholic Social Teaching, also steadfastly supported the Catholic Pro-Life position on abortion by choice. Tragically, its members, activists all and committed Catholics, as well as young, with children, and constituting the life-blood of St Mary's, left when it became clear that one of its members, Anne Rampa, would not be allowed to address the congregation against legislation then being prepared to make abortion a matter of a woman's choice. As Cardinal Bernardin endearingly pleaded, foretelling the split in the American Church: 'Remember we are two sides of Christ's Seamless Shroud!"
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 14 November 2020


PeterD: “there is clearly a case for urgent reform”. In the individual, not the institution. Why? “Only 8 per cent to 10 per cent of those who identify as Catholics are regular mass attenders” If you can’t spend forty minutes to an hour a week at a liturgy in which the verbal bashing of a sermon (which is usually anodyne and far from the double-edged sword anyway) is only about five minutes, and most of which is a mutual contemplation between your interior and God’s in which the messy human-historical details of the institution, sociology and history of the Church has no place, the problem is with you. It’s like saying you can’t spend a minute at 11am on Remembrance Day thinking about the war dead because there’s systemic racism or economic inequality in Australia or some such thing. The 92 to 90 percent who don’t attend Mass are either slack or ego-panderers. If the Church has to move out to them, it’s in the same mode as Christ incarnating. The outreach is out of mercy, not out of need.
roy chen yee | 15 November 2020


If one starts with the view that the great majority who don’t attend Mass are either 'slack or ego-panderers', then the 'outreach' you propose, Roy, might be seen to be out of arrogance rather than mercy. Let's face it Roy, the institutional Church in Australia is surviving only because of its vast capital resources, not because of its dwindling active membership.
Ginger Meggs | 16 November 2020


MLF: Does Cardinal Bernardin's formula really address the radical differences that divide Catholics today, and the Church's identification of respect for life as the foundational expression and sine qua non of human dignity in Catholic social teaching?
John RD | 16 November 2020


Hello John RD: Thank you for responding. Yes, I am uncertain, and also very confused. But that’s what makes me relevant! That the Holy Faith is in “our times” uncertain is (I think) a call of the obvious. May I even add – in an uncertain way of course – that those who are not confused are stagnating in the certainty of yesterday. I do not know what “antinomian Gnosticism” means but am checking it out. During the 70’s, when I was in my twenties (and studying physics rather than reading the Great Dialogue of Humanity), like so many I joined the Exodus from at least Vatican-ism. I had judged Pope Paul as a timid failure. But, as a true son of Italian peasantry, I felt obliged to watch his funeral. They had placed an open book (I do not know if it was the Bible) on the coffin at the steps of St Peter’s. Watching the pages blowing in the wind I had this thought – maybe a sign from the spirit of childhood brainwashing – that holy Mother the Church was in turbulent times. Yes, uncertain times. There was a second “sign”. As they moved, what was a simple coffin, away from public display back into St Peter’s, sections of the crowd broke out into respectful applause. This timid man must have meant something to some, I thought. Maybe my assessment of him was wrong. Maybe the times were more complicated. Did you read the report recently in the media of a priest who had pleaded guilty to child abuse. He said that for thirty years he went to confession and communion every week yet nothing changed. Do you think John that if he had somehow journeyed internally to a place of deeper self-knowledge his inner reality would have calmed to be less violent?
Fosco | 16 November 2020


Hi Roy and John RD, I referred to "an authentic Church and spirituality that closely reflects Jesus of the gospels." You reply with terms such as 'knowledge', 'authority', 'doctrine' and people who are 'slack' or 'ego-panderers'. Why not conduct some exit-interviews with people who have left the Church, assessing the relevance of your concepts?
PeterD | 16 November 2020


Faith is a mystery, Fosco, but it is a mystery the depths of which have been revealed historically in the person of Christ, who came among us as "God-made-man". Faith convinces us of the unique identity of Jesus and permits us certainties about himself and ourselves that relationship with him through his Mystical Body - the Church he created and continues to create by the power of his Holy Spirit, human incomprehension and infidelity notwithstanding. Regarding the case you raise, I've not heard of the priest to whom you refer, but from your account it's surprising (since in Catholic understanding grace builds on nature) that his confessor(s) did not, apparently, direct him to seek appropriate medical counselling in conjunction with regular participation in the sacraments. Whether he had a regular confessor, or availed himself of many confessors might be, I think, be a question relevant to the remedial effectiveness, or lack thereof, of his weekly confessing and recidivist conduct. I assume what you mean by "a place of deeper self-knowledge" is psychological and psychiatric treatment - which, of itself, I can't say I believe necessarily merits the confidence you place in (a) its ability to deliver deeper self-knowledge; and (b) that if it does, this knowledge is necessarily efficacious (the Socratic fallacy: knowledge is sufficient to ensure virtuous conduct). Today in such a case an appropriate form of penance could be both to seek medical assistance and/or admission by the penitent of his crime to the police, which would test the resolution of amendment and lessen the chances of repeat offending and victim-making. On this measure, though, I should say I'm not certain.
John RD | 17 November 2020


Ah there Peter D, please don't confuse us with facts when we've already made up our minds !
Ginger Meggs | 17 November 2020


JohnRD, my answer is 'Yes'. Both sides, those opposing abortion on demand, as well as others committed to the Social Justice Teaching of Catholics, matter, one indivisible from the other as indeed is abortion by choice as a contraceptive mode no less or more wicked than the termination of viable life in the elderly/disabled as well as sealing our ears to the pitiful pleas of drowning asylum-seekers. And no less a leader than Pope Francis has drawn attention to this unified moral cosmos on many occasions. One way of operationalising this unity of purpose at a time when it is under threat from radical dissenters on both sides, including, I am sorry to say, yourself, is to reach out with me to ensure that, whatever our differences, we still have a Shroud or Patchwork Quilt that isn't torn apart, as US Catholics are experiencing, by virtue claimants on both sides with a greater investment in winning by crushing the other side than in exploring common ground. John Warhurst himself should know that once this is done the Bishops will cast off their fear of greater lay participation and hand over responsibilities beyond their professional capabilities to laity of similar mindset.
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 17 November 2020


Roy, you criticize Peter D and the fact that only 8-10 % attend mass. Don't you realize that people haven't been allowed to go to mass? Only last week at Holy Family (which can comfortably hold 500), the limit has just been increased from 63 to 90. Not only do you have to book, sign in, record your name address phone no, sanitize and sit 2 metres apart, there is no music, no choir, no screen lyrics and maybe a good thing, no AOV 1 and 2 and no US CDs to sing along to. The priest even left out a chunk of the gospel that dealt with the person with 3 talents and the one with one. So the consequent sermon on using ones talents doesn't really make sense. Further its not enjoyable when the priest monopolizes all aspects of the service- even the somewhat nasal sing song soliloquy. Bring back the cantors and the choirs and let the local musicians perform their own songs rather than be trammeled by an Archbishop whose one and only written hymn is a condescending travesty.
Francis Armstrong | 17 November 2020


MLF: Thank you for your reply. Perhaps my question was not sufficiently clear: I was referring to the divide between Catholics who support the life of the unborn, opposing abortion, and those who in the name of social justice preference a woman's right to choose over the life of the unborn, supporting abortion.
John RD | 18 November 2020


Ginger Meggs: “out of arrogance rather than mercy. Or it may be calling into question some hypocrisy, or at least some irrational thinking. 1. On any given Sunday in most settlements in this country, there are several Catholic churches operating. Are you trying to say that attending Mass at all of them will be odious to a freelancing self-exiler? If you can’t stand the authorities and folks at your parish, go somewhere else. 2. The Mass is sui generis. Nothing else like it exists in the universe and all masses in time and place are, in fact, the one Mass where every Mass attender is on Calvary looking at a cross and a man on it. If we understood what a Mass is, we’d know that difficulties with some of the temporal authorities hosting a mass in our locality are irrelevant. 3. And, as a Mass is Jesus offering himself as sustenance in return for the public witness of assembling at the foot of his cross in view of the world, I’m not sure private Zoom-viewing of a mass makes self-exile any less so when public attendance is possible. Until the catacombs return, show your face.
roy chen yee | 18 November 2020


Hello John RD: Thank you for your reflections. You say that “Faith is a mystery”. I first heard this biblical super-idealism back at catholic brainwashing school six decades ago. Unfortunately the teachers preached it but did not practice it. They used fear, psychological manipulation and straight out physical thuggery. Children were to be managed by abuse. Their real teaching was that violence is power and we were to live in fear of it. Decades later a friend, who had explored Eastern philosophy at depth, told me that I had rejected religion because it had been taught to me by fear. Our generational consensus was that the sisters, brothers and priests working in parishes claimed to know the mind of God but did not know themselves. A former nun who joined a convent at sixteen and left at early thirties said that on leaving she was a thirty two year old woman going on sixteen. Whatever the religious claims, it was an internally stunting experience. The Gospel of Thomas says that we are to bring forth that which is within. I can believe that the “Church” of Rabbi Jesus, St Paul and Mary Magdalene did have a living experience of the mystery of Faith but that’s not the so called Catholic Church. I see the crisis of Catholicism as an intervention by God – it there is a God about which I don’t know. I am still researching antinomian Gnosticism.
Fosco | 18 November 2020


Michael Leonard Furtado: “exploring common ground” ‘Common ground’, ie., negotiated settlement, ie., give-and-take, is fine for non-canonicals. Otherwise, it is being accomplice to admixing Truth with Lie. “as well as” is the minute yeast cell which leavens your argument by growing a cancerous false binary. “one indivisible from the other as indeed is abortion by choice as a contraceptive mode no less or more wicked than the termination of viable life in the elderly/disabled”: true, or possibly true, the caveat being that the elderly may have more agency than foetuses. “one indivisible from the other as indeed is abortion by choice as a contraceptive mode no less or more wicked than… sealing our ears to the pitiful pleas of drowning asylum-seekers”: false. The Magisterium cleaves a difference between the intrinsic and the prudential. The Magisterium doesn’t address false hyperboles such as “drowning” (because no claimant is drowning as the pleas are coming from those on dry land) but a reasonably careful reading of a sales pitch will spot the Genesis serpent’s language creep or the fly in the ointment, and, in all cases in which the Magisterium is sought to be contaminated, a Beelzebubian fly at that.
roy chen yee | 19 November 2020


Fosco, your experience of school is most unfortunate, but it doesn't change the reality of the mystery of the Christian faith, which began with a miracle: the virginal conception by the Holy Spirit of Mary and the coming of God among us in Christ, the Eternal Word made flesh - the mystery of God made man. This is the mystery in which, St Paul affirms, "we live and move and have our being." (Acts: 17:28). It's also the claim that scandalised the rationalistic Aereopagite Greeks to whom Paul preached. It's good to see you're still exploring - but I think you can do far better than the gnostic Gospel of Thomas. And I think you'll find Catholic schools today - and a number even back in the era you mention - far different from the Dickensian ones you describe.
John RD | 19 November 2020


Isn't this an oxymoron, Ginger? : please don't confuse us with facts when we've already made up our minds !
AO | 19 November 2020


By all means then, Roy, let's ditch the common ground argument as fraught with problematic ethical exigencies and shady patched-up patchwork compromises. What of the accompanying opinion? https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/10/09/explainer-ethical-medical-treatments-abortions-catholic-moral-theology-trump-c
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 19 November 2020


Call it whatever you like AO. I was simply suggesting that there was little point in him asking Roy to actually talk with (rather than to) those had left the Church because he, like Maggie Thatcher, was 'not for turning'.
Ginger Meggs | 20 November 2020


Ginger Meggs: “talk with (rather than to)” Thanks for the distinction, which is quite relevant. You can’t talk with a camel that’s pushing its nose under the hem of your tent. You know exactly what it’s trying to do. It’s definitely not for turning. You can, I am afraid, only talk firmly to it.
roy chen yee | 21 November 2020


Michael Leonard Furtado: “What of the accompanying opinion?” Which ends in a whimper, “the secret is not to flee from the vexing moral questions of life, but to approach them in a spirit of discernment.” Really? You arise hungry in the morning with eggs in the fridge and cereal on the shelf. The answer to your situation is not to discern between them. While you’re discerning, your stomach is empty. A hippie answer is no answer.
roy chen yee | 21 November 2020


Your link was truncated Michael. I think this is the one you meant. < https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/10/09/explainer-ethical-medical-treatments-abortions-catholic-moral-theology-trump-covid-vaccine >
Ginger Meggs | 21 November 2020


Thank you, Ginger. And, yes; its amazing just how much of our theology, as demonstrated by some who post on this page, is guided by Maggie Thatcher's obstinacy parading as righteousness. I'm out.
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 23 November 2020


Despite being accused of tub thumping for women's rights (go Roy), John's call for a woman co chair of the PC and gender balance and transparency should not go unheeded. On April 6, 2020, Assembly 1 was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic preventing the desired process of discernment and formation for the delegates. As of June 2020, Assembly 1 will be held in Adelaide on October 2-10, 2021 and Assembly 2 will be held in Sydney on July 4-9, 2022. (PC website). So there's plenty of time for something to get through to the finger pointing, thick headed, obstinate, misogynistic, condescending, laity hating Bishops, even if John Warhurst is the only one who writes in this forum who has been invited to attend. And probably only because he is a Professor Emeritus and even he will not be allowed to vote, only comment. I notice the Bishops never write here because they'd get carved up. Have you asked yourself whether the abuse problem could have occurred at all if women had equal rights and power within the church to bring their male counterparts to book? Its time at least a few of the recommendations of the RC came into being and were taken seriously, namely Bishops should be elected by the laity of the country of their appointment, that priests and brothers cannot hide behind canon law when it comes to pedophilia, that celibacy should be optional- especially since 50% of priests and religious fall off the wagon when it comes to their vows of celibacy. That secrecy of the confessional be abolished when it comes to serious crimes like child abuse. It seems to me that preservation of wealth, power, pomp, prestige, lifestyle, church reputation, titles (princes of the church) scarlet hats, are the only things the Bishops give a toss about. They invariably cast the onus for the search for retributive justice back on the victim. Ask yourself this- where is the justice for the 14 boys raped at St Alipius who committed suicide?
Francis Armstrong | 25 November 2020


Francis Armstrong: ”Bishops should be elected by the laity of the country of their appointment” An apostolic church where the sheep pick and unpick an apostle? Sheep can lay hands on somebody's head and make him an apostle? Would it still be an apostolic church? Now, the sheep (or 5% of them) want to rewrite the Nicene Creed.
roy chen yee | 26 November 2020


Roy, the fact is we have a population of 835 in the Vatican of which 95% are men with 26 Cardinals among them. Hardly seems fair when there are approx 8.66m Catholics here. I Cardinal who isn't interested in Australia at all. These men are political appointments and your categorization of them as apostles is based on rose colored glasses. If you think back to the time of Christ It appears that all of the Apostles, except for St. John, were married when Christ called them to Himself. We know that Peter was married because Jesus healed his mother-in-law (Mt 8:14). St Paul referred to Peter's and the other apostles Christian wives. Since celibacy was rare in Judaism, and the apostles were fishermen with wives and families why should not Christ have called mar­ried men? At that time Jesus would have been hard pressed to find unmarried adult working men. So if that was the case, then the concept of creeping infallibility is so much nonsense when Benedict sacks a Bishop for raising the question of the ordination of, among other things, married men. They already ordain married Anglicans and Greek Orthodox. As for ordaining women, the pope has ordered it to be studied.The Women’s Ordination Conference, which advocates for a female priesthood in Catholicism, said it was encouraged by the fact that the group was gender-balanced and included lay people.' What we want Roy is meaningful change, not clericalism. The group called the pope’s decision “an important step for the Vatican in recognizing its own history of honoring women’s leadership”, because Biblical and historical evidence cited several women leaders working alongside men in the early Church. “Only when women are equally included in all ordination rites - as deacons, priests, and bishops - and at all Church decision-making tables, can we begin to restore our Gospel values of equality and justice,” the campaign group said.
Francis Armstrong | 30 November 2020


Frank Armstrong: Christianity is unusual in that God self-reveals as a binary who has always been binary. While observation tells us that women are capable of performing brain surgery, it can only ever be an assumption that they can consecrate the elements and absolve sin. Those ‘skills’ cannot be observed. Add to that the observation that the binary incarnation never went outside his binary to bestow authority on women, when there was clear evidence from the Law he observed that authority in Sheba was vested in a queen and that the desired wife was a trading entrepreneur, and from his own eyes that a woman had the wits to own a jar of nard to anoint him, that authority is bestowed as a grace, not as a concession to skill. We don’t know why Peter was chosen, instead of Nathaniel in whom there was no guile. We don’t know why John the Baptist is the greatest of any born of woman, greater than Isaiah, even though the biblical record shows that the duration of his career was negligible. We have no If (quality X), THEN (apostle). We can only imitate, as Jesus does what he sees the Father doing.
roy chen yee | 01 December 2020


Amen Francis ! And Roy, even if - and I stress if - someone or some group wanted to rewrite the Nicene Creed - or any other statement of belief or values - in the light of current scholarship and understanding, what would be wrong with that ? After all, that's how the original version of that creed came to be written.
Ginger Meggs | 02 December 2020


Ginger: The Nicene Creed is both a statement of belief and a text used in liturgical worship. Its formulation reflects the seriousness and depth of belief and theological thought that informs its expression on what were - at the time, and even now - critical matters of faith, such as the humanity and divinity of Christ, and the Trinitarian being of God. The Creed, in one sense, may be regarded as a classic instance of the Catholic impetus towards a faith that seeks understanding ("fides quaerens intellectum"). Believers challenged by the Hellenic language of some of the Nicene Creed's formulations usually find it an opportunity for historical, philosophical and theological learning rather than demanding the Creed be changed to accommodate their uninformedness. Obviously, because it is a statement of faith that affects the whole Church community, "someone or some group that wanted to re-write" it "... in the light of current scholarship and understanding" would need to advance compelling reason and demonstrate bona fide participation in the Church, as well as being competent in the scholarship required - which, because of the nature of the task, extends beyond "current". (There is also, of course, a significant issue as to what, in contemporary academia, may be taken as "current understanding".)
John RD | 04 December 2020


Thanks John RD. I understand the importance and central significance of the Creed to Catholicism - and indeed many strands of Christianity - and the need for a compelling and persuasive arguments to change such an ancient statement of belief. I don't challenge any of that. But whatever one might believe or not believe about divine inspiration or influence on its formulation, it was a man-made (in both senses of the word 'man') document and inevitably reflects the priorities, understandings, and limitations of the period and place in which it was first put together. It should then be seen as a product of that time and place and therefore subject to revision should the need arise for a better or more complete understanding. I don't like argument by analogy, but the model of a Earth-centred cosmos was useful in its time, but required revision when it clearly failed to explain later observations. To have stuck with the early model despite its inadequacy would have been neither useful, or 'truthful'.
Ginger Meggs | 04 December 2020


Ginger Meggs: “But whatever one might believe or not believe about divine inspiration or influence on its formulation, it was a man-made (in both senses of the word 'man') document and inevitably reflects the priorities, understandings, and limitations of the period and place in which it was first put together. It should then be seen as a product of that time and place and therefore subject to revision should the need arise for a better or more complete understanding.” Atheists just don’t get it. Modernists know very well but choose to ignore it. The belief is that the document was intended by an inspiring omniscience to be permanent. That puts the belief within the inspiration. That makes the belief permanent because omniscience is permanent. Omniscience is permanent because, by definition, there are no temporal limitations in omniscience.
roy chen yee | 05 December 2020


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