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Questions of courage and risk



Before travelling to Iraq Pope Francis was criticised. Some criticism was ideological: by meeting Muslim leaders he was supposedly compromising Catholic faith. Other more measured critics found fault with the risk that he, the large team that accompanied him, and the crowds that would gather to meet him, would bring to the people of Iraq, already seriously threatened by COVID-19. Finally, others criticised the rashness involved when a man of his age and frailty and with such a central position in the Church, decided to make a journey to a land racked by religious conflict and epidemic.

Main image: Pope Francis waves to the crowd as he arrives to conduct mass at the Franso Hariri Stadium on March 07, 2021 in Erbil, Iraq (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

None of these risks appear to have been realised. His meetings with Islamic religious leaders were low key and reflected their mutual personal esteem. He seems to have returned to Rome with new energy, and so far there has been no evidence of increased infection due to his visit. The criticism, however, bears reflection. It leads us to ask what weight we place on courage, a quality much discussed in antiquity.

Such conversation is important in a society like ours which places great weight on risk avoidance. This emphasis, and the regulations that flow from it, have undoubtedly been effective in reducing incidents of food poisoning, deaths from guns, faulty cars, electrical appliances and in mining and construction accidents. Most recently and spectacularly it has been essential to curb the spread and death toll from COVID-19.

Although critics have dismissed many regulations imposed in the name of safety as manifestations of the nanny state, they have won general acceptance. The priority that a society places on the avoidance of risk, however, raises many questions of the value that it does and should place on courage — of choosing to enter risk and to persevere in it. Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq was certainly countercultural in this respect.

In warrior cultures courage was both easily identified and highly prized. It was exhibited in entering battle and fighting till victory or death, a duty that fell to all men of fighting age. Only when societies achieved some level of security did people reflect further on it. In Laches, one of Plato’s minor dialogues, the protagonists begin by defining courage in terms of the quality good soldiers show in war, but wonder what it involves for youths in a world where warriors belong to the past. In the dialogue Socrates pushes them to set it in relationship to other virtues and to what is more broadly reasonable. This kind of analysis might lead us to contrast courage with rashness, white line fever or savagery.

The questions raised by Pope Francis’s journey to Iraq have to do with the relationship between courage and reason, and more deeply whether it is ever reasonable to risk one’s life. Undoubtedly in deciding to visit Iraq Pope Francis had to take account of risks, certainly to his own life and health, and possibly to the health and life of Iraqi people. He later argued that the risk to his own life was worth accepting because of the great good that the visit could do locally and internationally to the relationships between Christians and Muslims, to the morale and the standing of Iraqi Catholics in remote areas, and to the making of peace in the region.

The wider response to his visit showed that this risk to his life and health both ensured that his words and actions in Iraq would be widely reported and deepened the impact of his visit on the people whom he met in Iraq. The self-sacrifice involved in the journey also commended the faith of which he was the representative. This was the kind of venture that Jesus would have undertaken, and was built on the same hope that life would triumph over death. It also challenged any vision of life that gives instinctive priority to the avoidance of risk to one’s life.


'The deeper challenge of Pope Francis’ decision to visit Iraq with all the risks that it posed is whether there is any higher value than avoiding risk to our own health and life.'


That calculus, however, does not deal fully with the risk that the visit posed to the health and lives of the Iraqi people whom he visited. If the Pope was irresponsible in this respect, we would need to talk of his recklessness rather than of his courage.

It should be said first that the warning given by some scientists from the region and abroad about the risk involved was respectfully given and required to be taken seriously into account. As was clear from the varying judgments made by scientists about appropriate responses in Australia, however, scientists do not always agree. Leaders need to weigh but not automatically accept their opinions in making their decisions.

It must also be said that the Iraqi authorities were ultimately responsible for making the call whether the Papal visit constituted an undue risk, whether its potential benefits outweighed the level of risk involved, and what conditions should govern it. They were not colonial administrations dictated to by a colonial power, still less by critics from nations slow to share vaccines with them.

In reflecting on whether or not the Papal visit was reasonable, it is also important to give full weight to the judgment of the people whom he was visiting. If they valued the visit highly enough to risk their own health and life to meet the Pope, that would be salient in his own decision. The images and reports of the people in remote and war-torn parts of Iraq suggest that they had made that decision. In a country and in communities that had been devastated in a war set in train by Western arms, he came from the West with empty hands and with hope for peace.

The deeper challenge of Pope Francis’ decision to visit Iraq with all the risks that it posed is whether there is any higher value than avoiding risk to our own health and life. Pope Francis evidently was convinced that to follow where faith led, to build peaceful relationships between people of different religions and nations, and to encourage poor and isolated communities in lands not his own, are such values.

The challenge behind this question is posed even more sharply by the sight of young people in Myanmar returning each day to the streets in the face of a regime that sees their murder as a legitimate form of deterrence. In their action they put at risk their own future, the tangible contribution that they might make to their nation, and the happiness of friends and family. They are the hope of a better future in Myanmar. Yet they set justice and freedom above their own health, life and future possibilities. Who would encourage them to do this? Yet which of us in our comfort would have the right to criticise them?



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

Main image: Pope Francis waves to the crowd as he arrives to conduct mass at the Franso Hariri Stadium on March 07, 2021 in Erbil, Iraq (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Pope Francis, Iraq, COVID-19, courage, Myanmar



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Existing comments

A great reflection Andrew....thank you. And it inevitably leads me to reflect on the question.. "And what about me... what will I do next time?"

Doug Brownlow | 18 March 2021  

"Risk" is a peculiar notion but is usually split up into either commercial value or human casualties for the purpose of assessing a particular task, the liklihood of an undesirable event comes into the calculation can be similarly tabulated; it's not avoidance as much as management. Lots of day to day tasks have potential fatal outcomes (e.g. driving, flying, etc) but we consider the liklihood and apply mitigation to deem it acceptable risk; the option is find an alternative method or "do nothing". In the case of the Pope traveling to Iraq you can be assured a risk mitigation team combed the itinerary to determine controls to achieve what he perceived a necessary, extraordinary envoy... I anticipate that there was some "courage" on behalf of the pontiff to choose to travel but according to the title "building bridges" is what goes with the territory of the job; perhaps the greater consideration was responding to others who may have counseled otherwise not on the basis of personal harm. The protesters in Myanmar are frequently facing tear gas and live "jacketted" projectiles with umbrellas and plastic construction worker helmets...I wish them well but think their risk assessment is a confusion of safety in numbers and that prevailing (false) sense of "it won't happen to me".

ray | 18 March 2021  

Such a fine article - thank you Andrew. I was at the launch of Dr Vacy Vlazna's book "Reveille for Courage" yesterday. The reveille, if course, is the wake-up call. I was reminded of the adage "courage begets courage" as Vacy spoke of her time in Timor-Leste as an election monitor in the independence vote in 1999. She spoke so movingly of the courage of the Timorese people, not only at that most dangerous time, but throughout the occupation. Their courage was not the gung-ho type, or recklessness, but the determination to suffer whatever it took to claim their identity and their right to be free. Thank you for referring to Myanmar, and I think of the courage of the Papuan people and their decades of soul-grinding oppression. They inspire courage, as does Pope Francis, and the reveille keeps sounding.

Susan Connelly | 19 March 2021  

For some people, just getting out of bed is an act of courage. Parents of children with disabilities act courageously every day. Pope Francis, in his capacity as a religious and global leader, displayed courage in travelling to a land decimated by war. There were risks to his journey, however assessments would have been undertaken by many people to mitigate against the risks. In returning to the subject of parents of children with disabilities: who will care for and love their child with the same intensity if those parents risked their health, life and future possibilities? This scenario could be replicated with many situations in life. It is a dilemma.

Pam | 19 March 2021  

nice to have a positive story. so many of Eureka articles are negative

BERNIE TRESTON | 19 March 2021  

In his exquisite essay Andy modestly omits to mention the proximity of association of the Society with all levels of settlement and culture in the Near and Middle East. Amidst the many profound reasons for +Francis' peregrinations, Andy's remarkable writerly outreach reminds that both he and his brother, Francis, are nothing if not Jesuits! https://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/jesuit-historiography-online/the-jesuits-and-the-middle-east-from-the-nineteenth-century-to-the-present-day-a-historiographical-essay-COM_205617

Michael Furtado | 19 March 2021  

Jesus of Nazareth paid dearly for journeying to Jerusalem, the centre of opposition to his belief and philosophy. Thank goodness the Pope didn't suffer a similar fate. It was written that Jesus would lose his life for the greater good. Perhaps that eventuality was meant to be the exclusive domain of The Saviour and the same did not apply to Francis???

john frawley | 19 March 2021  

Pope Francis' visit, to both the country of Iraq and its beleaguered and rapidly dwindling Christian community, was breathtaking. During the visit he also met the 90 year old and very frail Grand Ayatollah Ali-al-Sistani, who has done everything to prevent the majority Shi'ites from massacring the minority Sunnis in revenge for the sins of Isis. Ayatollah al-Sistani rose twice to shake the Pope's hand, something he rarely does. They both recognised each other as World Religious Leaders and Men of Peace. I cannot tell you how much, in this festering cauldron of ethnic and religious hatred, the Middle East, which could explode at any minute, what this meeting meant. The Pope, by nature of his position, is meant to be a living icon of Christ, as all Christians are. He was. However old, frail and ill he may be, he showed a stunning example of real bravery. The Papacy has a prestige amongst Muslims in the Middle East that other Christian leaders, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, lack.

Edward Fido | 19 March 2021  

While I'm sure Edward did not intend it, it would lessen the ecumenical standing of Catholics at this time to regard +Justin as in any way inferior to +Francis. They are good personal friends and have met on several occasions to explore and pursue issues of common and global interest. Justin's antecedent, +Rowan, a great scriptural and theological scholar, is a highly esteemed member of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences. While their numbers are smaller than ours (for historical and cultural reasons) the Anglicans wield great influence on behalf of the Palestinians in an aspect of immense importance bearing on peace and justice in the Middle East and which is the impact of Zionism over several decades on that cauldron of discontent and dispossession. It should be noted, without criticism, that +Francis made no mention of this in Iraq. Apart from +Justin and +Vincent (Nichols of Westminster) regularly sharing pulpits and platforms to advance the mission of Christians in the UK, Australia's foremost peace-maker in the Middle East is +George Browning, retired Anglican Bishop of Canberra, who works tirelessly to expose the injustices suffered by the people of Palestine. Thank God courage and risk aren't the prerogative of Catholics!

Michael Furtado | 20 March 2021  

Michael Furtado. Ecumenism is not about equating Catholicism with every other Christian religion as the first sentence of your 20 March comment implies. Friendship between the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Ayatollah does not equate with the ecumenism espoused by Vatican II which did not advocate the replacement of the divine (God's relationship with Man) with the human (Man's relationships with Man). While Unitatis Redintegratio (Decree on Ecumenism, Vat II, 21 Nov, 1964) recognised that the Catholic Church was not the sole preserve of Christianity, it states quite clearly (Ch 1, 2) that the Catholic Church's stance is that all Christianity becomes one in Christ, in one Apostolic Church under the authority of St Peter's successor, the Pope , as commissioned by Christ (Matt. 18: 19-20 and John. 17: 20-21). This is the true spirit of Vat II. the personal opinion that has dogged the Church in the wake of Vat II serves very little good for anyone. In a Christian sense of unity, Unitatis Redintegratio (Ch 1, 3) also stated, "It remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ's body and have a right to be called Christian and so, are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church". Finally, perhaps the most telling of the Church's and Vat II's position on ecumenism comes in Ch 11, 11, "Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism [peace accord] in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded".

john frawley | 21 March 2021  

Anglicans in the Middle East are somewhat of an enigma to the locals, Michael. The Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem has a very interesting history. Current membership comes mostly from amongst descendants of converts from the Greek Orthodox Church there. Many eminent Anglicans, particularly in the Church of England, where the C of E has real political clout because of the 26 Lords Spiritual who sit in the House of Lords, have spoken there and in public about the dire condition of the Palestinians under Israeli rule. 'Ecumenism' is one of those words we need to exercise grave care with. Of course, most Christians are, or should be, united by common Christian beliefs. Sadly, Modernism, rebranded as 'Liberal Christianity' has had a devastating effect on many Provinces of the Anglican Communion. Consequently, there is some very bizarre 'theology' coming out of the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge and other Anglican theological institutions. Much of it seems somewhat passé and very 1960s to 1980s to me. Much of it is heretical. There are very good Anglicans who deserve our respect and fellowship. The Elizabethan Religious Settlement was an attempt at compromise between Catholicism and Protestantism. The Anglican Communion is basically in schism between its 'progressive' and more traditional Provinces. This is tragic. How they will genuinely reunite is a difficult question.

Edward Fido | 22 March 2021  

By visiting Iraq, Francis was merely doing the right - which he's shown over time to be part of his nature as a man. The real courage Francis is showing is by standing up and doing the right thing. He's already shown courage by defending LGBTI rights in his statement supporting same sex unions, particularly in the way he showed compassion by asserting that non-hetersexuals shouldn't have to lively lonely lives of misery without a family. He didn't have to visit Iraq, and he didn't have to upset the Sadducees by making his affirming statement about same sex marriage that was screaming to be made. He did it because he is brave enough to do the right thing - and in both cases doing the right thing simply means abandoning political/religious rhetoric and focussing on humanity and those who are suffering. But compassionate visits and words don't always lead to immediate change. The Pope was forced to admit to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith that the church has no authority to bless same sex unions. The CDF didn't have to slap such a divisive and hurtful document onto the Pope's desk, but I'm guessing it had to put gay people back in their place and weigh them down with a heavy yoke just a bit longer.

AURELIUS | 22 March 2021  

The estimable Dr Frawley will note that I made no mention of ecumenism and that I have no quarrel at all with 'Unitatis Redintegratio'. My concern, subsequently assuaged, was to play down any unconscious or unintended impulse to compare His Holiness with His Grace.

Michael Furtado | 22 March 2021  

I think the situation with Pope Francis and Same Sex Marriage is not as you put it, Aurelius. The Pope is of Italian descent and Italians commonly see things less in terms of stark black and white than shades of the two. In a pastoral capacity it is quite possible for him to realise that a faithful same sex partnership is much better than open promiscuity. He is unable to change Church Doctrine and would, I think, not want to do so. The German Church, by indicating it was about to discuss and possibly approve the blessing of same sex unions in its upcoming synod - this is already done in parts of Austria - has really forced him and the CDF to clearly restate the traditional teaching on marriage and human sexuality. This is part of the Magisterium and as such inarguable. There is some vicious nonsense being spread by Ultratraditional Catholics that the Pope has heretical views. This is nonsense. The Pope is a pastor. He wishes to reach out to those who may feel marginalised. He wants them inside the tent.

Edward Fido | 24 March 2021  

John Frawley, I think there is only one Christian religion, of which I would say the Catholic Church is the trunk. The roots are in Christ. Michael Furtado is quite right in correcting my downplaying of the superb efforts of many Anglican prelates in the search for a just peace in the Holy Land and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to a homeland, which the current leadership in Israel denies them. Neither Pope Francis nor Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani entered into any religious controversy or one upmanship when they met. It was an attempt to show the brotherhood and sisterhood of all humanity beyond racial and religious strife. The Middle East has been a cauldron of hatred and violence for 4000 years. The two religious leaders were trying to calm things down. The last thing we want is more bloodshed there. The Pope did not stop being Christian, nor the Grand Ayatollah Muslim. There was no attempt to water down any beliefs. The meeting wasn't about that at all.

Edward Fido | 24 March 2021  

Edward Fido. I agree completely with you, Edward. I was addressing MF's statement, "...it would lessen the ecumenical standing of Catholics at this time to regard + Justine in any way inferior to +Francis." I took this to be a comment on ecumenism of the type that equates Protestantism with Catholicism and since re-reading it am still of that view despite Michael's reply.

john frawley | 25 March 2021  

Dear John Frawley, As you know, the discussion on ES can get into quite contentious areas at times. Sometimes we misunderstand each other and go off half-cocked (and I have not mentioned Roy Chen Yee here ROFL). Michael Furtado spent quite some time studying in the UK and knows the Anglican Church and its leaders well. He, like yourself, John RD and several others is well cognizant of Theology. So anything he says is well worth listening to. The separation of England from Rome under the Tudors, culminating in the Elizabethan Church Settlement, was, I think a major religious calamity. Anglicans still worship there in what were once Catholic cathedrals and churches. The older colleges at Oxbridge were founded by Catholics. At St John's College, Cambridge, where St John Fisher was once Master, they still pray daily for the founder, the saintly Lady Margaret Beaufort. Many Church of England clerics have a fellow feeling for Rome. They may not want to join but they love her. Perhaps the greatest Anglican cleric and theologian of the 20th Century was the wonderful, wildly eccentric Archbishop Michael Ramsey. He was held in extremely high regard by Catholic theologians and the papacy. ++ Michael would not have wanted a watered down pseudo-'ecumenism' - just like you. He wanted to reach out.

Edward Fido | 26 March 2021  

John Frawley, here and on other threads, clearly recognises the importance of official Catholic Church teaching and its connection with practice, be that in matters of ecumenical dialogue, Church structure and governance, sacramental marriage, ordination to the priesthood, or the inviolable dignity of human life. Would that all commentators displayed the same respect for and attention to Catholic teaching in the articulation of their thinking and proposals for Church reform and praxis.

John RD | 27 March 2021  

Thank you for your exceedingly generous remarks, Edward. My compatriot, John Francis Friend-Pereira, poet and scholar at St John's College, Cambridge, returned to Calcutta as Principal of Presidency College. There he was sadly taken prematurely from a young wife and family. He was a Jesuit for many years, having obtained permission to leave the Society in order to marry the love of his life, the redoubtable Hazel Gill, who was the proud mother of their five children.

Michael Furtado | 27 March 2021  

I question the terms in which some colleagues here define ecumenism. When I taught at Newcastle University I belonged to the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese, one of whose illustrious sons was Cardinal Edward Cassidy. Although +Cassidy resided in Rome as Prefect of the Congregation for Promoting Christian Unity, he returned often to Newcastle. Indeed, the people of the Hunter claimed him as their own and he was invited to address at least one public meeting, relating to ARCIC, at which I was present. There he was asked to explain if ecumenism was well served by the very good relations enjoyed between the High Church Anglican Diocese and ourselves (Newcastle Anglicans being at odds with their fellow Evangelical Anglicans in Sydney). +Cassidy reflected that among those of his Roman colleagues who had most influenced him in the discharge of his duties was +Avery Dulles, whose specialisation was ecclesiology. Among the ecclesiological comments taken from the floor was one from an Anglican priest who speculated that the arc that separated Catholicism from Protestantism could be attributed to distance from Rome as much as any other reason. +Cassidy agreed unreservedly, indicating that historical and cultural differences, not just doctrinal, were key determinants of the split.

Michael Furtado | 29 March 2021  

Michael Furtado: Relevant as cultural and geographical differences may have been, it was not these that incurred (or incur) the ultimate ecclesial measure of excommunication. Doctrinal difference made all the difference.

John RD | 29 March 2021  

The awkward thing about essentialism is that it reduces complexity to binarialism. Not all the consequences of the Reformation can be regarded in that light. For example, a prominent member of the militant wing of the Counter-Reformation was the Jesuit Robert Persons/Parsons. At Stonyhurst and later at Oriel I was privileged to research his writings, which were consistently out of kilter with those of his Superior-General and the Pope, whose attitudes towards the Reformation in England were more nuanced, mellow and conciliatory. Persons'/Parsons' indictments of the reformers are nothing short of bigoted tirades penned by a militant zealot and have served for many centuries in setting the clock back on any rapprochement between English & Welsh Catholicism and the more revanchist, obstinate and anti-Catholic elements in Anglicanism. While it may not please John RD to know that considerable progress has been made on various theological, ecclesiological and liturgical fronts to advance the cause of Anglican-Roman Catholic unity, the sticking point of excommunication is virtually all that debars Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury from embracing and endorsing intercommunion. Decisions made in the turmoil of half a millennium ago are as nothing compared with the Renewalism that the Reformation brought.

Michael Furtado | 30 March 2021  

Even were it so, as Michael Furtado says, that "excommunication" is the only "sticking point" that "debars intercommunion" in contemporary Catholic-Anglican ecumenical dialogue, there are rather "awkward" lines in the New Testament that preclude any irenicist and syncretist pseudo-unity, and rule out compromise on the knowability and necessity of essential truths and practices that constitute the Gospel message and Christian faith. For instance, "Let your and answer be simply Yes or No" has "binary" implication and effect, as does "Shake the dust off your feet" - words attributed to Jesus himself as he personally sends his disciples on mission. Moreover, I'd have thought historical continuity and identifiability of any group itself require distinguishing marks of witness, the Church being no exception since its mandate is to be, as The Exultet proclaims in tonight's vigil Mass, the light of Christ that shines in and on the darkness.

John RD | 03 April 2021  

Michael Furtado: ‘The awkward thing about essentialism is that it reduces complexity to binarialism.’ Depending upon the subject matter, binarialism (true or false) may be the correct approach to an issue. The Great Commission is binarialism. It is true that every human being should be baptised into the Christian (preferably Catholic) Faith. However, binarialism is untrue when it comes to critical race theory because not every disparity is caused by race.

roy chen yee | 03 April 2021  

While I agree that divisions of race do not exactly or approximately correlate with what is good and bad in human nature and behaviour, it is history that also teaches about human appearance and diversity as being used for many centuries as a trigger for discrimination and abuse, as have gender and class. My point is that the Causus Belli of the Great Reform may also be read as a Causus Renovatio and not simply for the one-sided, winner-takes-all connotation that Roy and John place on it. Considerable initiatives of the Counter-Reformation, many of them owing their origins to the works of Luther and some others, served to rid the Church of dramatically awful abuses, in which regard Pope Francis has remarked to both the Protestants of Latin America as well as the Lutherans of Northern Europe on the debt of gratitude owed by Catholics to other Christians for the role they have played and continue to exert on cleaning up the act of the overall Body of Christ. To regard ecumenism as a completed project, stymied only by disagreements about the nature of the Real Presence and the abominable behaviour of Henry VIII is surely both crude and reductive.

Michael Furtado | 04 April 2021  

I wonder, Michael Furtado, just who is being "reductive"? Is it not you who routinely supports a Barthian position in your chronic attack on the Catholic understanding of metaphysics and the philosophy of being it helps articulate in fields such as theology and morality; while, as well, you favour practical protestant initiatives in Plenary Council proposals: e.g., women clergy, democratising of dogma and Church governance by a pseudo-"sensus fidei fidelium" structure which diminishes the authority of the episcopacy (if, indeed it does not effectively eliminate it)? The outcome of your expressed ecclesiological affinities and desiderata, it seems to me, would display predominantly the marks of an essentialist protestantism - a reductive syncretism that obfuscates the Catholic origin, ecclesial distinctiveness and authenticity of the Catholic faith.

John RD | 05 April 2021  

Edward Fido, I would question whether the Magisterium is "inarguable". On the topics of slavery, religious liberty (salvation outside the Catholic church) and usury the teaching of the Catholic Church has definitively changed. It seems to me you are confusing Magisterium (teachings/doctrines) with Dogma - which theoretically is infallible/inarguable.

AURELIUS | 07 April 2021  

'Tu quoque' to you, JohnRD; without wasting precious space on accusations unsupported by your evidence, instead of getting to the heart of the matter, which is that I have the Pope on side! His gradualism - a hallmark in such a complex organisation, despite its divine origins, of his predecessors - are covertly but implicitly read by you as offences similar to mine. The problem is that, even if they were (and which anyone reading my posts would be hard put to confirm) they present a humble and workable alternative in the manner of the Argentine tango that they undoubtedly are - one step forward and two in reverse - to the atrophied stalemate, castigating of history, culture and context, all three of these irreversible aspects of our post-Conciliar ecclesiology, which you find so egregiously abhorrent. For me it is a great sadness that you enter the dance-floor of faith with the apparent intention of stopping the music and celebration and replacing it instead with a dirge. Those Bishops looking for reasons to explain the tragic exit of so many Catholics from ecclesial life need look no further for explanation than those who favour the ingrowing toenail alternative you propose.

Michael Furtado | 08 April 2021  

Just to put a spanner in the works about ecumenism, Sydney Anglicans don't even regard Catholics as "Christians". Go figure....

JUDE | 08 April 2021  

Michael Furtado: While I do note a qualified concession to natural law morality in one of your very recent postings on another thread, and, over years, numerous appeals to your Jesuit schooling and Catholic clerical and academic connections - usually deflecting from answering relevant questions or criticisms of your views - they do not, to my mind, suffice to establish that your philosophical and theological outlook is Catholic rather than Protestant. Further, your repeatedly asserted espousal of a hermeneutic of discontinuity between the pre-and-post-Vatican II Church - a view supported by no post-Council Pope - provides no foundation for your postulation of what you assume here to be "our post-Conciliar ecclesiology." That claim, surely, is a key one at stake in Plenary Council deliberations. If the recent Amazonian and German experience of synodalism and Pope Francis' emphatic response to attempts at local church autonomy from Rome in doctrine and ecclesial structure are any indication, continuity and reform rather than revolution will be pursued, as well as a genuine ecumenical dialogue rather than one would substitute an irenecist and merely syncretist praxis for attention to revealed truth contained in Catholic teaching on faith and morality.

John RD | 09 April 2021  

PS : Your alleged cause of the "tragic exit" from the Church is remarkably reductive.

John RD | 09 April 2021  

Oh, and one other thing, MF: I read what you call the Pope's "gradualism" on the issues where differ not as some sort of strategic ploy in a 'long game', and certainly not as congruence with your opinions (e.g., on blessings and same-sex marriage) but rather as firm reiterations of traditional Catholic understandings on programmatically challenged Church teachings . . . Now I'm going fishing.

John RD | 10 April 2021  

JohnRD, I've never resiled from my commitment to Catholic Social Teaching and the Natural Law Theology underpinning it, which those knowing my work, especially on the Catholic school, would unreservedly agree provides the cornerstone for everything I stand for. While I have sometimes been mistaken as well as disappointed at the slow pace of renewal that such a specialisation has taken, that commitment remains unalloyed. As to your accusation of my 'irenicism', it has become a commonly used adjective to design an idealist and pacific conception such as the democratic peace theory that helps resolve ecumenical differences through papering over them. By the same token it has also been used by revanchist zealots to immobilise the Church and prevent it from moving from a fortress-type maintenance mode and into mission. 'False irenicism' is an expression used in certain 20th-century documents of the Catholic Church to criticize attempts at ecumenism that would allow Catholic doctrine to be distorted or clouded. Documents using that term include 'Humani Generis', 'Unitatis Redintegratio' and 'Reconciliatio et Paenitentia'. However, +Francis' 'Document on Human Fraternity' and +Benedict's request for us to participate in celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 do the precise opposite.

Michael Furtado | 11 April 2021  

Michael Furtado: I think you'll find a far less irenic attitude to natural law expressed by you should you re-visit our earlier ES exchanges during the same-sex marriage debate - however, I'm glad to hear your current disposition towards the subject. The reported encouragement of Benedict XVI for participation in the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in no wise supersedes or negates his words as Prefect for the CDF where he identifies shared truth, "the interior master", as the ultimate object and fruit of ecumenical dialogue. He also cautions, consistent with the documents you refer to, that "Consensus . . . must not try to pass itself off as a substitute for truth." (The Nature and Mission of Theology, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995, p.34).

John RD | 12 April 2021  

I note, having revisited my correspondence with John RD about the Natural Law (a topic I studied deeply under Dominican tutelage at Oxford) that I endorsed it with the usual qualifications about the naturalistic fallacy that eminent Dominicans like Herbert McCabe cautioned against in matters of biologistic excess, and as emphasised by some canon lawyers more attuned to applying the law's letter than its spirit. I note too that those who have done this are rather more familiar with Aquinas' peroration at the end of the Summa about the precise number of angels to be accommodated on a pin-head than his primitive comprehension of human biology and the laws of biochemistry. In recapping I also encountered an exchange we had on the work of Ilia Delio (whom I had hitherto not encountered and in respect of which I am obliged to JohnRD for this knowledge update). In that work, which John evidently applauds, Delio departs dramatically from a moral theory based on the natural sciences and espouses a cosmology, derived from Teilhard, Merton and some others, that for me constitutes a rather more updated model for an assessment of human behaviour than the one that he now appeals to. https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/grace-margins/evolution-ilia-delio

Michael Furtado | 14 April 2021  

Michael Furtado: ‘naturalistic fallacy’ The naturalistic fallacy is that something must be good or, at least, morally neutral, if it appears in nature. Homosexuals often fallaciously argue that human homosexuality must be acceptable because the behavioural variant is found in nature, ignoring that the issue isn’t solely about the sexual attraction but also the third-party effect of whether a child has the right to be exclusively raised in emotional intimacy by its biological parents. Delio also seems to fall into this fallacy by (from the link provided) ‘[believing] that God speaks God's love in all of creation, even in small and fearsome creatures like jellyfish or snakes.’ She says, ‘In their natural habitat they have a beauty and a goodness. I call them “little words of God.”' She also says, ‘The Franciscan way is the way of the concrete….seeing the love of God in the leper’. There’s nothing beautiful and good about carnivorism if you take Scripture literally (and why wouldn’t you) that lions won’t eat lambs in the New Eden. As for the leper, or the child with spinal bifida, or someone with the homosexual burden, you could more meaningfully say, ‘see the thwarted love of God….’

roy chen yee | 15 April 2021  

In his October 2010 article on the late Fr Herbert McCabe entitled "Radical, OP", Professor Eugene McCarraher of Villanova University describes the Dominicans' Blackfriars Hall of 1960s Oxford and Spode House in Staffordshire as "salons for Catholic Marxists" wherein "The New Catholic Left arranged a concordat between Marx and Jesus, socialism and the gospel, revolution and ressourcement", and "the Order of Preachers" as "the perfect choice for intellectual and political mavericks" whose voices found expression in "The New Blackfriars" and "Slant" publications. Though in the '60s closely associated with prominent members of the New Catholic Left, Fr McCabe rejected the exclusively intra-mundane goal and definition of humanity characteristic of Marxism. He criticised the insufficiency of its revolutionary ideology, affirming: "The Christian revolution" goes deeper, " . . . to the ultimate alienation that is sin and to the ultimate transformation which is death and resurrection." He also rejected Marxist-dominated praxis theology's reducing of the Gospel to "a program for political action", holding the Gospel to be instead "a critique of action itself, a reminder that we must think on the end." In place of class warfare and its attendant violence, he proposed "philia" - understood as a political friendship inseparable from our vocation towards the heavenly polis and grounded in the limitless generosity of God's love. As for cautions against "biologistic excess" in contemporary natural law thinking, I imagine that were he among us today Fr McCabe would disengage himself, as he did with Oxford's Catholic neo-Marxist "mavericks", from the excessive accusation of "physicalism" in natural law morality advanced by those who discount the relevance of biology in the understanding of human nature and the person.

John RD | 16 April 2021  

Michael Furtado: Regarding my alleged applauding of Ilia Delio's views and theological status, I seem to recall responding to your recommendation of her ideas, but not with the same enthusiasm you attribute to me. It's possible that the favourable remarks were made by another "John" with whose intermittent posts in ES I disagreed, and whose confusion with my then signature of "John" was instrumental in my changing my moniker to "John RD", as I explained at the time. (It would be helpful, of course, if I could locate the specific thread in question - but so far, no success).

John RD | 16 April 2021  

Roy is perfectly correct in his assertion that I used to reduce the naturalistic fallacy to just one component of its many parts. This was inevitably the mind-set of an 18-year old, fresh out of Stony and wet behind the ears with the anticipation and excitement of winning an Exhibition. I have indicated this many times and most recently in my first post against Ross Jones' recent ES piece (published from The Gonzagan). Roy, being no fool, ought to have known this, as an assiduous monitor of my wayward opinions, which, I suspect, assist with his palpitations and keep him so merrily on his corrective and contrarian toes. Darling JohnRD, alas, has also fallen through the somewhat obvious and poorly camouflaged trap-door that, more out of boredom than amusement, I also created for him. Anticipating his Coughlinesque-cum-Santamarian anti-communism that has all but disappeared off the face of enlightened Australian Catholicism, Johnno reaches for a second rate lecturer from a third rate Catholic university to vilify Blackfriars, later exonerating Herbert McCabe OP through copious reference to the kind of reservations about doctrinaire marxism that any fool would need to have in order to focus on the beauty of Catholic Social Teaching.

Michael Furtado | 16 April 2021  

Is Michael Furtado, aware that Ilia Delio - whose theology he employs to justify his new-found deference to natural law morality as a buttress for his view of Catholic Social Teaching - holds the Josephine C. Connelly Chair in Christian Theology at Villanova University and has also achieved two doctorates, one from Rutgers and the other from Fordham? Olympian hauteur ill-becomes a Stonyhurst College graduate, Dr Furtado.

John RD | 17 April 2021  

Michael Furtado: ‘In recapping I also encountered an exchange we had on the work of Ilia Delio (whom I had hitherto not encountered and in respect of which I am obliged to JohnRD for this knowledge update). In that work, which John evidently applauds….’ John RD; ‘Michael Furtado: Regarding my alleged applauding of Ilia Delio's views and theological status, I seem to recall responding to your recommendation of her ideas, but not with the same enthusiasm you attribute to me. It's possible that the favourable remarks were made by another "John" with whose intermittent posts in ES I disagreed, and whose confusion with my then signature of "John" was instrumental in my changing my moniker to "John RD", as I explained at the time.’ Dr Furtado, as usual, is an unreliable narrator which makes having a sensible discussion with him verging on nuisance. It’s all in John Warhurst’s ‘Australian Catholics take stock as Pell falls’ (March 6, 2019). The change of moniker also happened there on March 15 in response to BPLF’s comment that there were too many Johns. If Donald Trump were here, he would tweet, ‘Michael Furtado must SHAPE UP!’ (or perhaps ‘MUST SHAPE UP!’).

roy chen yee | 17 April 2021  

The relevant extracts: Might I invite you to read the theological analysis of Ilia Delio to progress this vitally important discussion: https://www.mothercabrini.org/news-and-publications/is-new-life-ahead-in-the-church-an-article-by-sr-ilia-delio/ Michael Furtado 02 April 2019 Sr Illia Delio's enchantment with evolutionary science overlooks the metaphysical presuppositions on which all science proceeds, and mistakenly subordinates faith and theology to science. In her Teilhardian futurology, Sr Delio also underestimates the importance of history, the locus of the Incarnation and God's self-revelation in Christ. John RD 02 April 2019

roy chen yee | 17 April 2021  

Thank you, Roy - your thoroughness and generosity have saved me more than further fossicking.

John RD | 18 April 2021  

Roy does indeed fossick well and assiduously, but occasionally mistakenly in the manner of a ferret disappearing up the shocked pantaloonery of the sedate dukes and dowagers who read these august columns, as his recent citation of Paul Johnson in support of family values shows (cf. his post against mine in John Warhurst's latest ES essay). As for Sr Delio, Villanova University and the anti-communist 'professor', ES readers will note that the esteemed Double-Doctored Delio has no university tenure nor even religious community of her own, by virtue of her own choice; and Villanova, while the only Augustinian university in the United States, is ranked 53rd in the comparative index of a multivariate table that locates Boston College, Fordham, Notre Dame and the Catholic University of America well ahead of it. As for the 'professsor' in question, all university lecturers in the US tertiary education system are termed 'professors', unlike the award of that title elsewhere in the world and which applies only to academics and researchers of the highest rank. As to JohnRD's clarification about his nomenclatural changes, in respect of which I accept his plaintive explanations, I'm baffled about him and Roy correcting me while disdaining Delio's theology.

Michael Furtado | 19 April 2021  

‘As for the 'professor' in question, all university lecturers in the US tertiary education system are termed 'professors'….’ And, presumably, all US university lecturers, all hundreds of thousands of them, hold endowed chairs like the Josephine C. Connelly? But, let’s take Michael Furtado’s word that Delio is a mere lecturer in a third-rate university, and, given that professors in other countries are ‘academics and researchers of the highest rank’, implying that Delio is neither. Why, then, is he baffling everybody by not disdaining her theology?

roy chen yee | 21 April 2021  

Are you now suggesting, Michael Furtado, that Sr Ilya Delio, that because she chooses "no university tenure", regards, as do you, Villanova, where she hold her Chair, as "a third rate Catholic university"?

John RD | 21 April 2021  

JohnRD and Roy entertainingly distort the truth of my words. In doing this they yet again demonstrate the sleight of hand that regularly draws them into crossing swords with those who publish in ES or who post in support of it. Eugene McCarraher, whose work was not hitherto known to me, was drawn to my attention by them as a paragon of anti-modernist, anti-marxist virtue. When I eventually checked, I discovered that he is an eminent critic of capitalism (See my post: https://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article/a-skeleton-for-the-plenary-council-agenda 21/4/21). I'm a great admirer of Delio's work on the new cosmology, which they regularly attack in ES by trawling the internet to co-opt the chance remarks of those they can misquote to defend their worldview. Having never heard of McCarraher, I injudicously dismissed him as a minor academic from a insignificant university, which they challenged. So I checked him out and discovered that he, like Delio, couldn't be co-opted as an ally of theirs and the Westboro Baptist Church fundamentalism that both of them consistently peddle on this website and which reduces to the threat that hell awaits all homosexual persons, especially those like me who bother to stand up to their fear-inducing, pain-wracked consequentialist theology.

Michael Furtado | 22 April 2021  

Michael Furtado: ‘consequentialist theology’ Tautology. All -ologies are ‘consequentialist’. Humans employ empirical and logical reasoning to predict whether a train of thought will lead, as a consequence, to sense or absurdity. The purpose of prediction is to manage consequences.

roy chen yee | 23 April 2021  

From his comment above (22/5), I take it Michael Furtado hasn't read my post published on the same day under John Warhurst's article "A skeleton for the Plenary Council agenda", (ES, 25/3/2021)?

John RD | 24 April 2021  

I wouldn’t have bothered with this post but there is a fellow called Brett in another thread who might want to know, as do I, how you can dismiss someone because you had never heard of him when to dismiss him, you have to type words into a screen that is virtually adjacent to a screen with a Google search box which simply makes it impossible not to never have heard of someone. In order to attain a PhD, one must have practised some basic enquiry behaviours online, no? Or do PhDs, in the effluxion of time, get lazy with what they say?

roy chen yee | 24 April 2021  

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