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Seats at the table: Incorporating diverse identities in a global church



From my earliest years the primary lens through which I developed an appreciation of diverse identities was through my Catholic parish, St Thomas’, Calcutta. Situated in plush Middleton Row and centred upon a property allocated to Archbishop Carew by Governor Vansittart in 1827, the parish premises included a handsome Palladian church and convent school – Loreto House – both of them positioned within this once almost exclusively European enclave and within close proximity to my Jesuit school, St Xavier’s College.

This complex of institutions and buildings was intended to educate Catholic members of the European colonial establishment, who lived in the nearby Georgian villas and mansions of South Calcutta and Fort William. By the time of my birth a steady exodus of such people had begun. To the UK and Canada they went and also to Australasia and Southern Africa, where neo-colonial resistance to modernity had taken on a new lease of life through various race-restrictive immigration policies and, notably, apartheid.

Within Calcutta the nature of the clergy and laity had begun to change. The last European Jesuit archbishop was succeeded by an Anglo-Indian, Trevor Picachy, who later received the red hat. Our own parish clergy, once exclusively Anglo-Irish, followed by Anglophile Belgians, all of them Jesuits and accounting for India having the largest Jesuit province on the globe, began to register the leadership of Anglo-Indians. A measure of how closely this clerical cohort reflected the painfully slow pace of a newly emerging Indian Catholicism is that at one stage our Parish Priest was the brother of the Cardinal and the Mother Superior of the Loreto Order was the sister of the Vicar General.

As with church administration, so also was the congregation. Westernised Anglo-Indians began to take the place of Europeans. While the front pews, with names affixed to them, were technically reserved for the handful of colonials still ‘staying on’, our parish with a nearby club called The Grail, remained the centrepiece of a neo-colonial construction of Catholicism in this vast diocese. The children of Anglo-Indians soon exceeded the European component at both schools and the Latin Mass was sung with gusto by this hybridised cohort, who colonised the Grail Club with cultural and musical tastes drawn from Europe. Just imagine the revolutionary impact upon this stultifying and highly resistant cultural corner of Catholicism by Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity!

In time, the mass of Anglo-Indians, who regarded an indigenised India as a threat to their Western cultural identity, emigrated to the UK and Canada where, unlike Australia and New Zealand at that time, no racial tests applied to sifting applications for emigration primarily based upon appearance and a propensity to portray Western values, whatever these were meant to be. Quaint Aunt Vera had herself photographed in sunlight alongside her shaded White husband to beat this colour-bar. Back at Middleton Row it became at first a novelty and thereafter more commonplace to see women in sari present themselves for Communion at the altar rails.

Meantime, the side aisles, reserved for ‘Native Indians’ and servants and others of subordinate identity in the neo-colonial pecking order, were thrown open to all, and the clergy as well as the faithful began to be drawn in greater numbers from the Indo-Portuguese Goan community to which my parents belonged. Thus displacement and replacement forcibly refurbished a church community that would have died had it not addressed and responded to the inclusive inculturating influences unleashed by Vatican II.


'There are parishes to which Asian Australians flock and in regard to which the Australian Church has managed change extraordinarily well. The question must follow: is that enough?'


The pace of change, melded with tradition, of new Catholic identity formation manifested itself in a novel form of Indian Catholicism in which increasingly diverse and hybridised adherents adopted Indian names and social practices common to the various identities constituting India’s rich, although hitherto suppressed, indigenous spiritual heritage. Thus the Cathedral parish, in the large Chinese quarter of this vast archdiocese and served by Portuguese and, later, Italian Salesians shifted inexorably to a cultural mode that saw Bengali introduced to the Liturgy as the area became settled by refugees from Bangladesh.

Both schools introduced Bengali as a second language, while the teaching of Latin, the traditional language of the Church, was phased out. In time, Goan clergy and parishioners, themselves subject to the influence of modernity and globalisation, became harder to source as vocations from that quarter began to dwindle and the majority of clergy and the episcopate as well as female religious began eventually to emerge from the Southern Indian state of Kerala. In time this too will change.

At school, I became aware that my own gay identity was mirrored in that of several other boys, all of them gifted scholars, as well as an outstanding lay Music Educator, in addition to the diversely-gendered identities evident in several priests and which has always been an occluded aspect of India’s traditionally non-binarial contribution to the world of the aesthetic imagination, ascetic spirituality, and literature.

These exemplary colleagues and mentors brought a much needed alternative presence, hitherto suppressed, that a large Jesuit College traditionally catering to the education of India’s male elite, badly needed. Where does all this lead and what lessons are there in it for Australians living in the twenty-first century with dramatically altering demographic and cultural profiles, while facing many changes among the most prominent of which is the phenomenon of an increasingly laicised post-colonial Church?

And how do we respond to a pontiff who advocates synodality as a solution to addressing the complex challenges of modernity, governance and representation in his diverse constituency, as mirrored in this ethnography of dramatic transitions described here from another corner of Catholicism’s vast global enterprise? Additionally, as an immigrant Church how does Australian Catholicism respond to this?


'Where do they celebrate Mass and occupy an equal place at the Table of the Lord within an overall Australian Catholic project that is often seen as an unwilling part of an inexorably changing globalised Catholic world?'


Critically missing so far from any discussion of Australian synodality is the question of changing Catholic youth identities. And the most essential question here is: where do those influenced by changes that reject them go? How might their diverse Catholic identities be reincorporated?

The answers are partly there. Every Australian diocese and parish already has its particular subcultural identity that inflects its liturgy. Celebration, being the authentic hallmark of a liturgy that reflects identity, must keep pace with a theology that also incorporates the diverse cultural space that the young inhabit. Thus there are parishes to which Asian Australians flock and in regard to which the Australian Church has managed change extraordinarily well. The question must follow: is that enough?

What also of those fifty-per cent of Australians who are women: our mothers, sisters, spouses, heads of household, daughters and female leaders? Who caters for them? Where do they celebrate Mass and occupy an equal place at the Table of the Lord within an overall Australian Catholic project that is often seen as an unwilling part of an inexorably changing globalised Catholic world? Where indeed is there a Catholic Church structure that recognises and affirms the thousands of women and gay men hitherto suppressed and closeted away in niches that preclude us from being a visible presence of Church?

These are the crucial structural and cultural realities that participants must confront when addressing issues of structural reform and synodal governance. It is not as if such accommodations haven’t eventuated in the real world; but if they reflect an under-the-radar Catholicism it is high time our leaders, lay and religious, redressed this anomaly. Not to do so would be to ignore Pope Francis’ urgent call for a Synodal Church that reflects, caters for and remains responsive to a Catholic constituency that cannot be represented other than in terms of celebrating its diversity. To do otherwise is to sink the Church into the very mire of stagnation that provided the original impetus to call the Synod!




Michael Furtado

Michael Furtado writes about poststructural representations of Catholic identity and their implications for future church practice, governance and synodality. He is a parishioner at St Ignatius’, Toowong.

Main image: Woman standing in front of church in Goa. (Getty Images)

Topic tags: Michael Furtado, synodality, globalisation, India, Calcutta, diversity



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Existing comments

Incisive and informative, Michael. Thanks for sharing a significant part of your story. Everyone is welcome at the table and it is our task to welcome each other, respecting the vision of our Lord. Our diversity is what makes our journey exciting and joyful. We need each other. It's as simple as that.

Pam | 11 November 2021  

Well said Michael. The more voices asking for recognition the greater future we have, the greater chance we have to fulfill our mission.

Martin Nicol | 11 November 2021  

The liturgy of the Eucharist celebrates our union though, with and in Christ, and our union in faith with one another. It is not, as this article assumes, a celebration of diversity based on cultural, racial, gender and age differences. The Pentecost event highlights the key elements of the Church's unity, transcending such differences; a unity effected by the Holy Spirit, comprising devotion to the teaching of the apostles, fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers (cf. Acts 2:42).

John RD | 11 November 2021  

No substantial change will occur in the teaching and assertions of our pastoral leaders until they start listening to the people of God. That requires changes in culture, leadership and accountability - clerics and laity need to adopt relationships of mutual respect not unthinking subservience to clerics; bishops and priests must establish and empower representative pastoral councils and pay heed to their advice; diocesan assemblies and synods should be a regular occurrence; and women must be treated as truly equal in governance and ministry. Our leaders need to throw off their medieval influences. The fact that the Church officially opposed marriage equality in the face of 60% plus support from Catholics, a truly Christian position, is indicative of the imperative for well-overdue change. In Michael's words, we must heed "Pope Francis’ urgent call for a Synodal Church that reflects, caters for and remains responsive to a Catholic constituency that cannot be represented other than in terms of celebrating its diversity."

Peter Johnstone | 12 November 2021  
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In fact, Peter Johnstone, what the Catholic Church officially did in the marriage debate was uphold its Apostolic tradition's understanding of marriage, resisting the sort of euphemistic and obfuscatory re-definition to which corporate interest and media- magnified coverage is conditioning us on other critical social and moral issues as well.

John RD | 13 November 2021  

'[C]orporate interest and media-magnified coverage' had nothing to do with the people's response to the marriage equality referendum, John.

Ginger Meggs | 13 November 2021  

We already have a ‘church’ as envisaged by Michael. It’s called the Episcopal Church of the United States. As far as I can tell, it’s not absorbing ex-pagans left, right and centre, which is what the Pope would like the Catholic Church to be doing, hence his call for synod.

roy chen yee | 12 November 2021  
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I am not an Episcopalian, Roy, either Scottish or American, but there are aspects of their theologies that I admire. Since theology is an argument or position about who God is and what God is likely to want us to do about God's Creation, I share an appreciation of the theology that their US Primate, Michael Curry, articulates, as evidenced in his homily at the wedding of Megan Markle and Prince Harry. Having targeted that Church with denunciations of Meghan and Harry, and Gene Robinson, who is a gay Episcopalian bishop, you now turn to overlaying my beliefs upon this parodic template of yours by attaching (attacking?) the Pope to it for his advice to us to engage in synodality as a means of operating the vast, diverse, dysfunctional and globalised Church that he overseers. While I cannot speak for the Pope I would credit him with being a tad more aware than you evidently are of the administrative, functional, cultural and operational challenges exerted by contemporary global forces to address new and hitherto unforeseen exigencies on our complex human systems, whether religious or not, to help ensure a safe and future berth for his Barque, as in climatologically-challenged Glasgow.

Michael Furtado | 16 November 2021  

‘parodic template’

The ECUSA has everything you love, women priests, gay bishops, same-sex ‘matri’mony. How’s it doing in numbers? Not well.


Perhaps even pagans like to know what to believe in before they buy and, at least as far as Eucharist is concerned, the Anglican ‘Communion’ doesn’t really know what to think about it.


If LGBTIQ* was a description of theological shades of opinion, perhaps B or I might be how best to describe the Anglican position on Eucharist: simultaneously either and both.

‘Michael Curry’

Depending upon context, a sermon can be political speech. ‘Faithfulness’ is either a higher virtue than Love or a higher degree of it. So, yes, as Bishop Curry says, love is from God because God is Love, but God is also faithfulness, or the application of rules of duty to situations when love is imperfect.

Speaking to the likes of Charles, Andrew, George Clooney and possibly every celebrati male there (and perhaps even the Princess Bride and the Prince Groom) who has officially or unofficially ‘loved’ in many beds, is a sermon on love but not on faithfulness flying on one wing to avoid a sea of stoic faces turning to stony?

It’s possible to say of stoic faces outside the church that nobody has remembered the sermon. It’s impossible to say of stony faces outside the church that nobody has remembered the sermon.

roy chen yee | 17 November 2021  

The term “synod,” Pope Francis regularly points out, means “walking together.” And this can only be accomplished by walking in humility before the Inviolate Word (Will) of God as given within the Gospels.So, in our brokenness, these words it could be said are applicable today

“Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not, for they are a rebellious house”

At this moment in time what the church needs is renewal rather than reform so
“In the desert prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” As in make an honest road (Way) and serve the Truth in humility and in doing so
give hope to all of mankind. Then “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level and the rough places a plain”

This can only come about through knowing the Holy Spirit for then we shall manifest humble hearts before our Father in heaven and each other as
“Then the glory of the Lord shall be
revealed, and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
And recently said…..Please consider continuing via the link
kevin your brother
In Christ

Kevin Walters | 12 November 2021  

Peter Johnstone. "The fact that the Church opposed marriage equality in the face of 60% plus support from Catholics, a truly Christian position, [please explain as Pauline would say] is indicative of the imperative for well overdue change." 

john frawley | 13 November 2021  
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John Frawley within the church the problem might be solved (since Pope Francis supports same sex civil unions) if all the priests married each other and/or the so called "brothers", and left the children alone for a change.

Francis Armstrong | 17 November 2021  

My purpose is to share my story, which is a drop in the sea of change affecting the Catholic world. JohnRD will note: it is not a theological piece but one based on religious ethnography and social anthropology. Because I esteem his emphasis on the work of the Spirit, my sense is that to place a full-stop on Revelation is not the Catholic way. Thus do the contributions and inclusion of all enrich the Church, especially when discernment is the topic du jour at this Australian Synodal juncture. As for Kevin's fervorino, sweet and mellow as it is, his suggestions gleaned from 'Catholic World News', plainly reveal their conservative, North American Jesuit provenance, somewhat more divided than our own. I note too and thank Pam, Martin and Peter for their encouragement and especially value Martin's theological and ethical insight about missiology regenerating our somewhat fixed ecclesiology. I'm reminded here that clinging to a patrician lineage for self-preservation never works. The ability to adapt to change, otherwise stymied by self-preservation and a fixed set of 'mores' and social practices, is the way to avoid decline. Extinction was the tragic fate of the dodos, whose habitat ceased to be of adaptive value.

Michael Furtado | 13 November 2021  
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‘Extinction was the tragic fate of the dodos, whose habitat ceased to be of adaptive value.’

Habitats are never of adaptive value. Habitats just are. It is a coincidental resilience in a creature which enables it to overcome the adversity of a changed habitat and to pass the resilience in the form of genetic mutation to its offspring. However, the dodo is an apt illustration for Catholicism, being pushed out of existence by pigs, biblically known for being possessed by demons, and humans, of whom Sartre was to write, ‘Hell is other people.’ The active influence of ‘Hell’, despite only being a residual force since the Crucifixion, is still the intruding force that is a threat to any life within the habitat of Catholicism or any benign form of spirituality.

‘Extinction…tragic fate’

The two are different. The church of ‘Laodicea’ isn’t necessarily going to become extinct (possibly the opposite), but it is fated to be vomited out.

roy chen yee | 14 November 2021  

Thank you Michael for your comment “suggestions gleaned from 'Catholic World News”…. my suggestions were not gleaned from 'Catholic World News' as the almost identical post was made with links on other sites (Not Conservative ones) four months prior.
kevin your brother
In Christ

Kevin Walters | 14 November 2021  

Thank you, Kevin, for the language of sweetness and light in which you regularly cloak what is sure to be recognised by all who read as a conservative theological message, perennially advising prudence and care in stepping forward - always a necessary caution! - but not one that invites endorsement by Isaiah, whose 'Every Valley' invocation, as cited by you, hardly applies to the 'otherworldly', 'transcendental' context in which you, like some others here in regard to John's Gospel and the Pauline Epistles, seem perpetually to be mired in and paralysed by. By way of elucidation, dear Kevin: in the passage that you quote above, Isaiah is boldly advising that the Way of the Lord, and implicitly those of us who follow in the Lord's footsteps, is to exalt the lowly and topple the mighty, a form of scriptural imagery that an undoubtedly prayerful man like you would instantly recognise as reprised in the Magnificat as well as in the Beatitudes. My humble view is that your contributions in this e-journal, while a welcome invitation to reflect, constitute a misreading, a misappropriation and a misapplication of Scripture to ram home a conservative, no-change agenda instead. Your Brother in Christ, Michael

Michael Furtado | 16 November 2021  

Thank you, Michael, for your comment “Isaiah is boldly advising that the Way of the Lord, and implicitly those of us who follow in the Lord's footsteps, is to exalt the lowly and topple the mighty”

The core of the ongoing challenge in understanding the Word (Will) of God is to approach Him incomplete ‘honesty’ for if we do so we will follow His Way one of spiritual enlightenment, as in “repent” (Change direction) leading to a transformation of the human heart into a compassionate humble one, the known dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah is a voice of one calling in the wilderness. Yes, one that is calling to both Conservatives and Liberals to walk in humility before Him. As an aside I often feel like a voice in the wilderness as on Conservative sites I am often portrayed as a Protestant or Liberal while on Liberal sites I am accused of being a traditionalist.
Isaiah 40;3-6 “Prepare the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill made low; the uneven ground will become smooth, and the rugged land a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all humanity together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

My personal understanding of Isaiah 40;3-6 “Prepare the way for the Lord in the wilderness” (Brokenness/Lawlessness of our hearts) “make a straight highway (Of Truth wide and open) for our God (The Holy Spirit to enter) “in the desert”
(dryness of it). Then “Every valley (Heart) shall be lifted up, (From baseness) and every mountain and hill (Of pride) made low; the uneven (Distorted) ground will become smooth, and the rugged (Coarse) land (heart) a plain (of humility)
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all humanity together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. And said to us

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”.

Humility is the key for it takes an honest heart to truly see the ‘full’ fallen reality of oneself as in “One Iota” before Him. For then we find self-knowledge (The reality of ourselves) as we reflect in faith on the living inviolate Word/Will of God found within the Gospels while The Holy Spirit prompts/enlightens our understanding of our own brokenness which leads us into humility as a humble heart is a restful heart which is the Holy Spirits known dwelling place.
kevin your brother
In Christ

Kevin Walters | 17 November 2021  

Kevin, Thanks for your lengthy explanation. My concern is that humility and atonement, always important and necessary aspects of a personal Christian spirituality and practice, as expressed by the greatest of the prophets, should not be used to get in the way of justice, for fear that our Church should be mired in paralysis, when long awaited action and renewal is needed. Interventions such as your's can, in the absence of such just action, be read as inflections and exhortations to disengage from the world and, instead, allow ourselves to be sidetracked into navel-gazing. A healthy spirituality doesn't applaud disengagement from this world but instead promotes involvement with and in it. Equally, political and practical action without the opportunity for prayer and reflection, will not achieve the profound metanoia that, whether seen or not, plays a hidden but profound role in healing the Earth.

Michael Furtado | 17 November 2021  

Peter Johnstone. Further to my comment published above, it should be added that the sacraments of the Catholic Church are not subject to change in the light of public opinion. The 60% support of the meaningless "marriage equality" you describe [ie, same sex marriage] doesn't indicate need for change but rather that 60% of Catholics do not understand what marriage and its sacrament really mean. That is a serious failure, particularly when even the great protestant reformers, Henry VIII, Cranmer and Wolsey retained sacramental marriage along with Baptism and Confirmation while abandoning the the hallmarks of Christianity instituted by Christ, viz, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Dying. Reform of the dimension sought by some of today's reformers of the Catholic Church has already been achieved in Protestantism. It rather beggars belief that some of today's Catholic reformers spend so much wasted time when what they seek already exists in Christian Churches which in the face of even greater numbers of non-practising members would welcome them with open arms into their empty churches where their anxieties for the future of "Church" would be immediately relieved by the more understanding and sympathetic gender and marriage equality ministry.

john frawley | 14 November 2021  
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John Frawley, 14 Nov 2021. John, it is with respect that I correct you regarding your statement about Anglican sacraments. Time does not permit a full exposition here, however, I suggest you might want to do some reading on the developments regarding Anglican sacraments, including the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion. Suffice to say, there are only two sacraments in Anglicanism: Baptism and the Eucharist. Note that marriage and confirmation are not among them as you say. These, along with holy orders, anointing of the sick, absolution (confession) are considered rites not sacraments.

Thomas Amory | 15 November 2021  

MF: It would be more accurate to say that in matters of Catholic teaching and practice my emphasis is on the Holy Spirit as manifest in the Church's Apostolic tradition, where the successors of Peter and the apostles occupy a special magisterial place in the discernment of and responsibility for what is "de fide" and what is not. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (I, iii, 66-67), consistent with Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, "Dei Verbum", notes that while "no new public revelation is to be expected . . . it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance." In other words, the Church recognizes a development of doctrine, as Newman puts it, that, as history unfolds, is organic, as distinct from disjunctive. The CCC, also in continuity with Vatican II's ecclesiology, specifies the relationship between the magisterium and the sensus fidelium (the latter often appealed to by some commentators in opposition to and even privileged over the former): "Guided by the magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church." This, it seems to me, has critical import for the Church's mission and reform proposals in any era, and for the discernment process that accompanies them.

John RD | 14 November 2021  
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Warmly appreciative of your introduction of Newman to the discussion. Indeed he left an Anglican church that had become atrophied, particularly in its liturgy, which unerringly reflects a theology whose defining characteristics are identified by some to be marked in the main by the Reformation and, for many, by the disastrous collaboration of that Church with the erastian British state of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The notion of the unfolding of history then inevitably begs the question of how our faith has kept pace with history - of the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revoltion, Modernism, the Scientific and Technological Revolutions, Postmodernity and the rest of it, maintaining a critical engagement with a rapidly developing and vibrant global culture rather than pulling up the drawbridge and stagnating, which appears to mark the record, Leo XIII excepting, until Vatican II. This rather makes of the enlightening concept of an organic whole a bit of a Pagliacci's Laugh: the lips smile but the eyes and face shed bitter tears. The only disjuncture I see, apart from the brave contributions of many theologians, lay and religious, are the brakes applied and gears thrown into reverse by those with an iron grip over the magisterium.

Michael Furtado | 15 November 2021  

‘rather than pulling up the drawbridge and stagnating’ Bumpf.

Shooting an arrow into the same-sex dyslogic by asking what about the trophy child missing a connection to a genetic parent is one of the reasons why a magisterium exists: to ensure that the unruly desires within congregations don’t wedge the Institution into a logical cul-de-sac. To quote something a boss (and not even a Christian) told a much younger me many years ago: ‘When the little head gets hard, the big head gets soft.’

Women’s ordination is only one-umpteenth of the pushback against the magisterium. Pretty much all of it, including lay democracy, has to do with sex and the inclination of little heads to be given preference over big heads.

The Magisterium is about preserving the Church’s philosophical consistency over time because that is the only criterion for the reliable transmission of Truth. Anyone can transmit truth in occasional fits and starts. What is needed is agency to transmit truth all the time.

Ensuring that truth is transmitted all the time is why there is a Magisterium.

roy chen yee | 16 November 2021  

The magisterium is about locking the Church into a fourth-century Mediterranean concept of the universe.

Ginger Meggs | 23 November 2021  

I see Newman's conversion as more a response to the "kindly light" that drew him than as mainly attributable to a dissatisfaction with Anglicanism. His courageous pursuit of truth brought him through painstaking intellectual inquiry into full communion with the Church founded historically on Christ and the the Apostles; on earth, a visible faith community guided by the "Spirit of truth" (Jn 14: 16-17; 15: 26; 16; 13-14) Christ bequeathed to sustain it, "even to the ending of the world" (Mtt 28: 20). The fact the Church remains today a recognizable intercultural and international presence, identifiable in teachings and practices that have survived numerous infidelities and defections on the part of its members and varied attempts - from without and within - to cancel or render it other than what it is commissioned to be as "a light to the nations" and a "leaven" in society is evidence not only of extraordinarily impressive durability in the face of human failings, direct persecution and subversion, and the contingencies of historical change, but more so of a substantive unity in considered, publicly articulated faith and morals, and a structural coherence that continues to engage critically with the worlds of art, thought and science, affirming their beneficial contributions to society and culture while confronting when necessary whatever diminishes or subverts the dignity of the individual and the full potential and growth of humanity and creation revealed in Christ's unique incarnation - the event and message accepted as historically decisive, illuminating and salvific by Christ's followers; and one in no way analogous, it seems to me, to the maudlin theatricality of Leoncavallo's operatic clown, but rather more aptly associated with the heralding joy of heavenly singing and the daily Eucharistic celebration of the faithful throughout the world.

John RD | 16 November 2021  

Oh Calcutta, or is it, Oh, Calcutta? It might be an interesting walk for you down Memory Lane, Michael Furtardo, but how relevant is it? Caste and class have been part of Indian society for aeons, long, long before the Raj. Goa and Kerala are the most Christianised states of India and caste still bedevils Catholicism there. There are specific doors to Goan churches for upper castes and lower castes. The Kerala St Thomas Christians are endogamous, scarcely helpful to spreading the Gospel. Christianity is a small event in the history of India. Abraham Eraly, himself a Malayali Christian from Kerala, was probably the greatest historian of India in the 20th Century. He concentrated on the Early History of India in the Hindu-Buddhist period and the Mogul Empire. What did the British do? Build the infrastructure to exploit the nation's wealth. The Christianity which was there for the British is gone. I look at videos of St Paul's School, Darjeeling and Bishop Cotton School, Shimla, both Anglican and weep. There are no Christians at either. Perhaps Christianity's greatest gift to India was in interacting with progressive Hindus, like the Brahmo Samaj. Indian Christianity's greatest gift to Australian Catholicism is devout young people who are a real part of the future. Forget the hyperconservative priests imported to fill the gap in local vocations. It's the young laity that matter.

Edward Fido | 15 November 2021  
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'O quel cul t'as!', M. Edouard (but with M. le Roy safeguarding us I promise not to touch;) I share your grief about some aspects of indigenous church practice. Indian Catholicism is a 'work in progress' as synodality recognises. Alas, I never thought much of St Paul's and the Bishop Cottons': they lacked a Jesuit presence to shepherd and guide them and fell victim to moneyed interests. (The last Headmaster of St Paul's, Kabir Mukerjee-Mustafi, is a dear friend of mine). Where there is one, as in the Papal Seminary Poona, my late cousin, Noel D'Souza SJ, invited us as Rector to Mass celebrated, Hindu-style, on the floor, surrounding a mandala. For our daughter, Nuala's Baptism, Noel sent us a video of a section of the Kathakali Dance Story performed by two magnificent Malayali Jesuit performers. These cultural incorporations are more than merely cosmetic or symbolic. An Indologist like you would recognise that their influence is more than merely aesthetic and, instead, liturgical, reflecting and bringing to life a theology that seeps into the soul and sets faith ablaze! As one who, like me, has a foot in many camps, you would know that Harvest Sundays have pagan origins. Cheers!

Michael Furtado | 16 November 2021  

And the celebrant? Was he levitating above the mandala? Any kneeling? How did you receive Communion?

roy chen yee | 17 November 2021  

Good try, Michael, but it seems that the Spirit which once moved upon the face of the waters has now had Its wings clipped by the magisterium. John Robinson's reminder to the Mayflower emigrants the 'the Lord hath yet more truth and light to break forth from His Word' is surely pertinent here.

Ginger Meggs | 15 November 2021  
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Well posted, Ginger! But never fear: there came along another John Robinson with his 'Honest to God' almost exactly 500 years later who revivified British Christianity by showing how it inflects and influences the secular world. There is hope yet, even though the pusillanimously faint-hearted among us, in preference to seeing it, choose to ring down on us their death-knell of doom and gloom, poor miserable dispirited false prophets that they are.

Michael Furtado | 16 November 2021  

No, Ginger (15/11): rather, "the Spirit that once moved on the face of the waters" spread Its divinely ample wings to the historical process in Christ's bequest to His Church.

John RD | 16 November 2021  

Not to disagree, JRD, but in the Se Cathedral, Old Goa (the oldest Catholic ecclesiastical building in Asia) the highly filigreed C15th rose gold Portuguese Monstrance takes the shape of a pelican. What's noteworthy in its design is that it makes no reference whatsoever to your 'outstretched' wings but to a Pelican piercing its bosom, promising, as it were, to make its 'precious blood' available to all who drink it. Given that the imagery is likely to appeal to a certain category of salivating straight male when viewing the stupendous decolletage of the American songstress, Ms Dolly Parton, who has generously donated half her fortune to vaccinating the poor against Covid, might I suggest that you give due consideration to employing her image as a cypher for Christ's love for us. I can assure you, as a cultural theorist, that the use of such an image would bring errant men back to the Church in droves. After all, evangelisation commands that we engage in what it takes to bring our lost sheep back to the fold. Ms Parton's glad eye, in that regard, could do a great deal more to fill the pews than Fr Peyton's Rosary Crusade, n'est pas?

Michael Furtado | 23 November 2021  

Oops! Ne c'est pas!

Michael Furtado | 25 November 2021  

Until the fourth century, perhaps, John, but after that ossification. I was watching Brian Cox's new series the other night and reflecting on how our understanding of the universe has developed over millennia, not just incrementally but in revolutionary steps as well, and comparing that to absence of any comparable development in our understanding of its creator.

Ginger Meggs | 26 November 2021  

Well, if that's the case, perhaps the observation is an argument for the Christian doctrine of original sin, Ginger. As a car sticker I saw recently read: "If God seems far, guess who moved away."(I readily admit to serious reservations with accepting the new 'grand narrative' of science-techno as dogma).

John RD | 27 November 2021  

You've lost me John. How does the ossification of the Church's understanding of the creator relate to the doctrine of original sin? Surely the persistent attachment to the literal truth of the garden/serpent/Eve/Adam story is an example of that ossification? But maybe I'm not understanding your point. As to your bracketed addendum, if what you mean by 'the new 'grand narrative"' is the view that Cox was putting, then I wouldn't see it as 'dogma' (i.e. incontrovertibly true principles) either, nor I suspect would Cox.

Ginger Meggs | 28 November 2021  

There are plenty of gay clergy. About 80% of sexual abuse victims were male, and the average age of victims about 2010(?) was about 15 years.

marita | 16 November 2021  

Some of the comments submitted on Michael Furtado's article rely on an unquestioning commitment to tradition in Church teachings, regardless of new knowledge and experience - a position promoted by many conservative bishops. All of us are responsible for acting on our informed consciences, but many bishops have failed to learn from the sense of faith of the faithful, or even to be interested in invaluable knowledge and experience from which many of them seem isolated.

Church teaching must learn and adapt in applying the teachings of Jesus and revelation to the signs of the times. To take just one example that seems to disturb those resistant to any such adaptation or learning, science has taught us that humans (and other animals) can be born with other than binary sexual preferences. Jesus has taught us to love one another, a fundamental teaching that demands respect for all others. Condemning the God-given sexual preferences of others is simply not Christian.

The foolishness, and the injustice, of such ill-informed condemnation is reminiscent of the Church's condemnation of Galileo for declaring that the Earth revolves around the sun.

Peter Johnstone | 17 November 2021  
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Peter Johnstone:

‘science has taught us that humans (and other animals) can be born with other than binary sexual preferences.’

Science also tells us that non-binary ‘sex’ (well, masturbation) doesn’t produce offspring. Social science tells us that children want to know who their natural parents are. Natural science tells us it is significant to know natural lineages because genes transmit characteristics. Were the non-binaries content to staff their households with cats and chihuahas as emotional companions, perhaps some social accommodations can be made. But, they want to simulate real households by staffing their households with made-to-order children who will be denied nurture by one line of their provenance.

‘Jesus has taught us to love one another, a fundamental teaching that demands respect for all others.’

Indeed, so why aren’t non-binaries respecting the rights of children?

‘Condemning the God-given sexual preferences of others is simply not Christian.’

Not only is it Christian but it is universally loving to seek to disabuse a human being of irrationality given that the foundation of a human being is the responsibility to seek the rationality that comes from being in the image and likeness of God.

roy chen yee | 17 November 2021  

Catholic Church teaching on human sexuality does, in fact, demand "respect for all others": it maintains the principle of equality in the expectation of chaste conduct on the part of all.

John RD | 18 November 2021  

There have always been same sex attracted clergy, Marita. Whether St Paul was a celibate gay has been argued about for ages. There is a great difference in being same sex attracted and sexually assaulting children. Most gays do not, as far as I am aware, assault children. It is the same with most heterosexuals. I have known genuinely gay and celibate clergy.

Edward Fido | 18 November 2021  

Peter Johnstone. If you wish to support your position by referring to the findings of science, as a non-scientist you clearly fail to realise that controversial or unproved statements such as the one you make here, viz, that ["... humans (and other animals) can be born with other than binary sexual preferences ..."] you must provide the appropriate references to support the statement. Otherwise what is claimed is a waste of space.

john frawley | 18 November 2021  
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Thanks for your critical question, John. Medical Professor Charles Roselli of Oregon Health & Science University, Portland is globally renowned for investigating this research question, his scientific answer to which was enough to 'swing the vote' of Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Portland, who threw open his Cathedral and archdiocese to the equal treatment of homosexual persons once he had read Roselli's research. Roselli's empirical research, independent of the cultural terms in which homosexuality was hitherto justified and explained, shows that all sexuality relates to five (not two) sexes so binarial categorisation is both anti-scientific as well as bogus, relying upon precisely the same cultural theorising that binarialists scorn in others and which is purely a product of a dishonest prejudice drawn from those who appeal to science to prove their case but who, in this instance, are embarrassingly 'scientifically unread'. Hence, until recently, and as you ought to know, hospitals reassigned a child's sex to correspond with either one or the other of those two majority, so-called 'normative', sex categorisations, which, of course, they do not automatically do anymore in developed and educated parts of the world. Thus the foundations of the theory upon which heteronormativity's claim to scientific proof lie are egregiously flawed. When I taught at The University of Newcastle, my chaplain, Dominic Carrigan CSsR, a dear friend of mine, stated that the Vatican would have to eat its hat if science proved homosexuality to be normative. Well; we're still waiting, and while we wait, we can excuse those who disagree as fools, though hardly now that you've had the courage to ask your question! This includes the entire panoply of Catholic bioethicists who, if they had an ethical bone in their body, should resign en messe but who place their discredited loyalty to a flawed Thomist construction of what is called Natural Law above their personal and professional integrity!


Michael Furtado | 18 November 2021  

Deep within every life, John, no matter how assailed or under threat it may seem from the outside, there is something eternal happening. This is the secret way that change and possibility conspire with growth. Newman summed this up beautifully when he said, 'To grow is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often.' Change, therefore, need not be threatening; it can in fact bring our lives to perfection. Perfection is not shutting the door. Neither is it avoidance of risk and danger in order to keep the soul pure or the conscience unclouded. Fidelity doesn't mean to batten down the hatches, but to risk the ambivalence of growth and to be vulnerable. Consider 'renewal': it can never be static, no matter how much we crave after surety and certainty. That kind of religiosity becomes a prison and a trap. That's why there's a Synod. I hope you can begin to see areas of stagnation or stick-at-it-ness as opportunities for growth and the expression of your full potential. Our faith becomes atrophied unless we risk certainty for ambivalence and growth. It is in these areas of our lives that we can fully express a faith made alive.

Michael Furtado | 18 November 2021  
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This is a just a long-winded way of insisting that the trophy child must bear the loss (no, confiscation) of nurture within a biological line of provenance, or that children should put up with a strange dad or mum in their ‘blended’ families accompanying them to church and communion on Sundays, isn’t it? It’s been said so often that it’s now a trope but its truth still stands: the more high flown (or is it full-blown) the argument, the more important it is to skip ahead to see what mundane or profane (in both their colloquial and technical senses) self-interest is being served.

roy chen yee | 19 November 2021  

Michael Furtado: the "change" endorsed by Newman refers to a deepening and continuous understanding of and ongoing conversion to "the mystery of faith" entrusted specifically by Christ to his Church, whose four marks (unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity) derive from what Christ himself has accomplished, and which his followers through baptism share in and are called to appropriate, personally and as a community, throughout history. I find it necessary to place this emphasis because the sort of change you call for often in "Eureka Street" strikes me as deriving more from secular culture and ideology than from the Church's deposit of faith and the development of its understanding through the apostolic tradition initiated by Christ in his calling and commissioning of Peter and the Twelve. I might add that I do not regard Newman's profound intellectual and spiritual endeavour as an apologia for the "ambivalence" which you make to be a virtue; and also that I wonder just where the evangelical risk is in conforming to a secularist revisioning of the Gospel and the Catholic tradition.

John RD | 19 November 2021  

I attach the Homily given by Frank Brennan SJ at the Mass at Newman College Melbourne, celebrating the First Assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council. Granted that, in the end, none of us can lay claim to reading Newman's mind on what he meant, I think that any neutral observer, reading Fr Brennan's words, would take the view that Newman meant what I have understood from his writing on p. 2 of Frank's sermon, and not what you have:


Michael Furtado | 19 November 2021  

Thank you, Michael, for alerting me to Fr Frank Brennan's homily in which, in concluding, he quotes St Paul's Letter to the Philippians (1: 27): "Be united in your conviction and united in your love, with a common purpose and a common mind." In the context of the Church's renewal, (about the need for which, like Fr Brennan, I'm in no need of persuading), Paul's exhortation begs the question of how united conviction is to be achieved. I understand myself as one who in matters of faith and morals freely accepts being guided and bound by the official teachings of the Apostolic tradition's magisterium, in this sense, living "under" this same tradition. I do not see how the critical and very practical issue of unity to which all followers of Christ are called can be resolved by appeal to "the People of God" as "masters of the Apostolic tradition" when there are serious divisions - even affecting our understanding of what love is - requiring not only discernment but also adjudication among this very People. Further, the following lines from Newman's Sermon XXII, "The Gospel, a Trust committed to us," do not impress me as the theological disposition or style of one given to "ambivalence":
"This, then, is the meaning of St Paul's injunction in the text, [1 Tim. 6: 21-22] given at the time when the Truth was first published: "Keep that which is committed to thy trust," or rather, "keep the deposit [of faith]"; turn away from those "profane emptinesses" which pretenders to philosophy and science bring forward against it. Do not be moved by them; do not alter your Creed for them; for the end of such men is error. They go on disputing and refining, give new meanings, modifying received ones, still with the idea of the True Faith in their minds as the scope of their inquiries; but at length they "miss" it. They shoot on one side of it, and embrace a deceit of their own instead of it."

John RD | 20 November 2021  

‘none of us can lay claim to reading Newman's mind on what he meant’

What we can lay claim to, as an act of charity towards him as a gifted scholar if nothing else, is that Newman was aware of James 1:17 and that his statement was a deliberate use of paradox towards and not a contradiction of the scripture, the truth of which is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. Repeating the mantra without explaining it doesn’t support the truth of it. It’s only an appeal to authority, in this case Newman’s stature. But if the authority is speaking in riddles, without explaining the riddle the appeal to authority cannot even start to be made.

Perfection has no shadow of change because, with it, there is only a binary. Something is either perfect or imperfect. There are no two states of perfection. God, being perfect, is always in one state. Humans are imperfect and are always trying to change for the better. Being fallible, each they make change is likely to be itself insufficient and in need of further change. The closest representation to perfection we can see in a form which we can understand, internalise and repeat for ourselves and in recommendation to others is words from Scripture. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, the scripture which Israel Folau was intending to repeat, either means that (male) homosexual practice is wrong or that (male) homosexual practice in the context of some kind of servant or prostitution role is wrong.
Until that interpretation is settled, it’s putting the cart before the horse to validate any sacramental or pseudo-sacramental affirmation of consensual male homosexual practice. The Anglican Communion has been through this, with some choosing to go into effective schism by innovation. And, with women, as usual often being an afterthought (possibly a penalty of Eve’s expropriation of authority to deal with the fruit), the question of female homosexual practice can’t even be addressed until the issue of male homosexuality is settled.

The Pope has said that this synodal process is about conversation. He could mean that, at the very least, conversation is needed before the Church Militant can assess what to do about doctrine. That’s fair enough. So, the ball is in the court of reformers to provide arguments for change in the language appropriate to technical expertise in what the words of Scripture mean. Mundane arguments pointing to ‘social’ or ‘cultural’ change (ie., what nice pagans are now doing) isn’t enough to cut that mustard, the mustard being that Scripture, being in the world but not of it, cannot be changed simply because of changes in the world.

roy chen yee | 21 November 2021  

Thanks for your's and Roy's of 20/11 and 21/11 respectively. Acknowledging your habitual recourse to exegesis to prove your point, I might leave it to Fr Brennan to specify the context in which he wrote, which appears to support Newman's 'change' view. Roy may not be mollified by this, seeing that he has criticised the Pope and Jesuit Superior General on various occasions in this forum. I doubt if Pope Francis would concur with any of his views. That said, and hard fought as this exchange can often be, I am committed to the conversation that the Holy Father encourages and have little endorsement for the views of those who shrug their shoulders and maintain their silence, other than to bless all those who read and who, hopefully, endorse the flexibility and responsibility to have an open mind that presumably all synodalists, including the Bishops, are asked to during this period of discernment. That additionally said, I would respond that Paul's Letter to Timothy is replete with tensions and contradictions that make it not the most reliable of epistles, e.g. his endorsement of slavery. Bishop Michael Nasir-Ali, a conservative convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism, also endorses 'openness to New Knowledge'.

Michael Furtado | 22 November 2021  

MF: Where, in the actual passage (I Tim 1: 3-7) that heads Paul's concerns and instruction for the faith community at Ephesus, are there relevant "tensions and contradictions" of the kind you claim compromise the reliability of the letter? The concern that takes priority of place in this passage (1: 3-7) is doctrinal integrity and the gospel's authentic transmission, which has direct import for the identity, unity, peace and growth of the young Ephesian community of Christians, including respect and harmony between masters and slaves. Elsewhere, Paul instructs baptized slaves, if opportunity presents, to be free of chattel enslavement, while encouraging them to be mindful of the freedom and equality in Christ they have already received in baptism (1 Cor 7: 21-22; Gal 3: 25-28; Col 3: 11). Further, my "habitual recourse to exegesis" is usually occasioned by doctrinaire assertions filtered through prescriptive epistemic lenses of critical race and gender theory.

John RD | 23 November 2021  

Rev Dr Michael Nazir-Ali is quoted recently as follows by Chinaza Jules on his decision to leave the Anglican Church for full communion with the Catholic Church: "The Church Councils and synods are permeated by activists who each have a single-issue, often faddish agenda, whether it is about cultural correctness, 'climate change', identity politics, multiculturalism (which actually encourages communities to live separately), or critical theory on race, religion and gender - a neo-Marxist theory developed to create conflict by dividing people into victims and villains." No evidence here of the sort of 'openness to New Knowledge' you wish to promote, MF (22/11).

Link: https://igettalk.com/2021/rev-michael-nazir-anglican.html

John RD | 26 November 2021  

Ginger, a programmatically optimistic doctrine of its philosophes drove the Enlightenment idea of natural and inevitable progress, which, by and large, wrongly deemed the Christian teaching on original sin and the need for God's grace obstructive and unnecessary (summed up in Napoleon's pragmatic: "God? I have no need of that hypothesis"); in philosophical and theological terms, a mixture of 5th century BC classical Greek humanism (Protagoras' "Man is the measure of all things" and 4th-5th century AD Pelagianism. I mention this intoxicating intellectual stance (sobered but not eliminated by the Lisbon earthquake that disturbed, as Voltaire satirically exposes in "Candide", the Leibnizian illusion that everything is for the best in this best of possible worlds) in response to your comment (26/11) as a possible reason for theological insight and growth not being as immediately evident - I wouldn't say "ossified" - as scientific advancement, the latter being a method of inquiry capable of empirical verification and, rapid, spectacular results, and the former being based on a vison of life informed by divine revelation, requiring an openness to faith and the grace bestowed by the merits of Christ through it - neither as directly tangible or immediately manifest, indeed, spectacular, as many scientific achievements in recent times. This is not to say, however, that there has been no constructive, contemporary contribution by theology to dialogue between science and the Christian religion, and a developing appreciation of the complementary roles of the two in the pursuit of truth and its practical implications, as evidenced, for instance, in the growing field of bioethics, and in the 2012 address of Pope Benedict XVI to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (which had its official origins in the 17th century). Benedict said: "Dialogue and co-operation between faith and science are urgently needed for building a culture that respects people and the planet. . .Without faith and science informing each other, the great questions of humanity leave the domain of reason and truth and are abandoned to the irrational, to myth, or to indifference, with great damage to humanity itself, to world peace and to our ultimate destiny." A message actively pursued in the pontificate of Francis, his successor. My reference to a science-techno 'grand narrative' is to the truncated and totalizing usurpation and its proselytizing of the vision of human reality and potential by high media-profile scientists like Richard Dawkins and their sensationalist appeal. Dawkins, who dismisses God as unreal and belief in God as "delusion", and who makes his case on the mistaken supposition that the Christianity portrays the book of Genesis as read by all Christians to be a scientific account of the origins of the universe and all it contains.

John RD | 28 November 2021  
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Thanks for the full and prompt response John. At the moment, I can only acknowledge it because I'm occupied with other matters, but I'll be back before long with more comment. :)

Ginger Meggs | 30 November 2021  

JohnRD (26/XI/2021), while commiserating with Anglicans in their great loss of +Michael Nazir-Ali, I welcome him into our Fold and completely agree with his multidimensional comments about the disparate forces that our Sister English-speaking Church has to perennially contend with. In my view it is precisely the absence of a unifying papal culture that exacerbates the tensions and contradictions in our Sister Church that also hallmark her courageous attitude to open discussion and tolerance of alternative approaches that sometimes also scare us Catholics into placing compliance above integrity. For our part, while we privilege hierarchical authority over what may seem like anarchy, the culture and structure of an overwhelmingly male and highly centralised curial administration, much of it relying upon deference to Papal authority over efficiency, pathologically affects, by Pope Francis' own admission, the Church to which you and I belong and which we both fiercely love. Since my essay was ethnographic, drawing attention to culture-specific questions that until now have not surfaced in synodal discussion, and which, it may reasonably be argued, your absolute and unbudging theological obeisance to the magisterium will not entertain, it is reasonable to ask if you ever don non-theological lenses through which to discuss.

Michael Furtado | 30 November 2021  
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To me, Michael, it's not a matter of "privileging" hierarchical authority; it's rather a matter of accepting the Christ-initiated Apostolic structure of the faith-community of which he is the head. (And, at the risk of superfluity, in answer to your question, in matters of Catholic Church teaching and its bearing on practice, no - especially when claims are advanced for non-theologically contexted and justified ideas supplanting magisterial teaching on faith and morals).

John RD | 01 December 2021  

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