The challenges of representing Catholic Australia

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The Plenary Council First Assembly is only two months away, but uncertainty still remains about the role that its 282 members will play. Not just about what work they will do but what conception of the role they will bring or will be imposed upon them by the authorities. Their designation has changed from delegate to member, freeing them somewhat from the expectation that they will be tied to the views of their diocese or other ‘sponsoring’ body. But it has not resolved some perceived role confusion both among the members themselves and within the wider Catholic community. This confusion has important consequences. 

Main image: Woman in church wearing a face mask and praying with her hands outstretched. Other pray in the background. (Gabriella Clare Marino/Unsplash)

My member formation session last month was told, in the context of discussion about the part that connection with the wider Catholic community would play in the assembly, that the Plenary Council Assembly should ideally be a community but not a bubble. I was struck by this description because it nicely encapsulates the possibilities. There is a sense in which the membership should bond together to do its “job”, but not to the extent of shutting out the general community. This leaves room for individual members to be a bridge to the broader Catholic community and raises expectations that the Catholic people have a right and duty to communicate with them. 

My impression is that the Plenary Council organisers have always leant towards a narrow vision of the assembly. Members have been advised that they have no responsibilities beyond official PC duties. The PC authorities have also not tried to take obvious steps towards encouraging connections between members and the community. For instance, they have not provided public contact addresses, such as email addresses, which would enable the community to contact PC members directly. They have also allowed several members to continue in their role although they have left their dioceses temporarily for travel or study. This breaks the desirable link to community as they are no longer present among “their people”. 

The representative role may vary according to the different types of members. Many are ex-officio because they hold positions in dioceses, such as bishops and vicar-generals. Some are there because they are leaders of religious institutes. Lay members were mostly chosen from within dioceses. Some others were chosen from agencies and commissions, like the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council. The origins of all members probably bring with them some expectations that, in an unspecified way, they will connect with and ‘speak for’ those who put them there. But the expectation is vague. 

There is also a general expectation that the assembly collectively ‘represents’ the composition and diversity of the church in Australia. Within the existing constraints of Vatican rules for plenary councils this has been done to some extent, but it will not stop legitimate arguments about the representativeness of the assembly. The laity are clearly under-represented, but certainly a wide range of Catholics, by any measure, will come together in early October. 

There are different kinds of practical consequences which flow from this role confusion. Representation is always a fraught concept anyway, as members of parliament know too well. There is endless debate about what the idea means, both ideally and in the real world. Are representatives casting a personal or conscience vote or are they beholden to a higher force, such as the community/electorate/political party? Ideally members should play a mixed role.

 

'Representation is always a fraught concept anyway, as members of parliament know too well. There is endless debate about what the idea means, both ideally and in the real world.'

 

The members themselves, many of whom are in full-time employment or study and desperately busy, are torn between extensive personal preparation through reading, prayer and discernment and listening to the wider Catholic community. Some have invited the community to contact them.

The interested part of the Catholic community, admittedly a minority, is now also reaching out to its PC members. This is being done by some dioceses, parishes, religious institutes, official and unofficial groups and individuals. This is an admirable development. The last months leading up to the assembly may once again generate a flurry of concrete proposals as suggested by the PC when it published the agenda questions. 

The final aspect of community representation to think about is how difficult it will be within the assembly itself as specific ideas circulate quickly in detailed form. There will be a clamour of voices seeking attention so members will have to focus. 

This period is when members will rely more and more on each other and their personal intellectual and spiritual resources or on a few close friends or mentors who can be consulted informally and quickly. The opportunities for previously written formal submissions to make an impact will be overtaken for the time being by free-flowing informality. 

Once the First Assembly has finished the nine months until the Second Assembly will revert to a more measured pace when the Catholic community has a chance to reflect on what has happened and to give its initial verdict on what has emerged. These will not be fallow months, but rather an opportunity for general principles to be revisited and for priorities either to be reiterated or, in some cases, to be rethought. 

 

 

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

Main image: Woman in church wearing a face mask and praying with her hands outstretched. Other pray in the background. (Gabriella Clare Marino/Unsplash)

Topic tags: John Warhurst, PC, Plenary Council, Catholic, Plenary Council First Assembly, Australia, NATSICC

 

 

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Some years ago I would have been engaged, connecting with one of the plenary members, keen to read any documents, listen, discuss, debate. However, I've just realised when reading your article that this light has gone out of me. As a woman in the Australian Catholic Church I no longer feel engaged with the institution. When not locked down, I attend mass, but now choose to pray, read and commune alone. The Catholic Church in Australia (and perhaps internationally) has little relevance as its leaders are remote men, some of whom show actual distain for the central role that women could play in the church and others who would prefer all the laity, including lay men would listen and obey. The Church in Australia is at a low ebb, perhaps you could show them the way, John? I do look forward to hearing your insights after the Assembly!


Carol | 20 July 2021  

Thank you John for your article on the Plenary Council. I wonder how many Catholics are even attuned to when it is happening and the possibilities it may bring. The gospels tell me that the voices Jesus listened to came from the most unlikely places. I hope and pray that the members of the council will be open to hearing such voices in the Spirit.


Barry Soraghan | 20 July 2021  

I applaud John Warhurst's moderation. It takes no hesitating hero to have exercised the patience in establishing a link, (over five articles and the only ones available at this level), between a laity excluded from liaising with the Council and the Council itself. In itself this is a shocking indictment of a body that, in this day and age, has invoked the assistance of the Holy Spirit to ensure the success of its awesome enterprise, viz. the overhaul of a local Church that staggers under the burden of several body blows, including the substantial efflux of its members, the severe criticism of a Royal Commission and its evident decision not to place on the synodal agenda two items that constituted the majority opinion during its pre-synodal consultative process, viz. the question of women celebrants, especially as vocations springing from the faithful fail to meet the need for priests; and secondly, to address the question of married clergy. For my part, and in response to this deathly silence, I petitioned our Parish Pastoral Council to make the marvelous and soul-stirring Chittister video available for all parishioners to view, but as yet without feedback and a decision about what to do next.


Michael Furtado | 20 July 2021  

Thank you John for sharing your insights. The process has had to be lengthened and it feels that the early conversations have lost some momentum within the wider community. Your points help me to be grounded in the context of the discernment these days.


Joan Smith | 20 July 2021  

Representation is always a fraught concept. The members to the Plenary Council have had as a backdrop a once in a century pandemic. This has presented extraordinary challenges to an already complex agenda. My prayer for the people participating in the Plenary Council is for their individual gifts to be empowered towards wholeness and healing of a fractured church. In the Book of Exodus a people attained their identity and true freedom from a backdrop of plagues.


Pam | 20 July 2021  

Who are these 282 members? How were they selected? What criteria were used to select them? Is a disproportionate number on the Church's payroll. How disappointing it is to have to ask such questions at this late stage of conciliar preparations! This is not the transparency promised in the parish and archdiocesan gatherings I attended as part of the Plenary Councils early discussions. John Warhurst seems to have some knowledge of who has been chosen. I know of no Catholic lay person who can give me any information relative to my queries. Whatever hopes I may have entertained are fast disappearing. My Archbishop assured me that after the Council it will never again be "business as usual." We will see.


Grebo | 20 July 2021  

I echo the thoughts of Carol and Barry - I am not disinterested but I am disconnected. Unless the hierarchy can let go of the reins, and let the community in to help decide what the future church looks like (yes, that means women, laity) then the possible rejuvenation of the church will fail. In current form, in Australia at least, it is doomed - I would prefer otherwise.


Ron | 20 July 2021  

As a 71 year old man who was an altar boy serving 2-3 Masses a week for 13 years in the 1950's and 1960's (and who could recite all the Latin responses in Mass from the age of 5), I totally identify with Carol who reflected on John Warhurst's excellent article, saying "I've just realised when reading your article that this light has gone out of me. As a woman in the Australian Catholic Church I no longer feel engaged with the institution." The Catholic Church hierarchy here in Australia in 2021 and elsewhere in the world, especially at the Vatican, should carefully think about the relevance of that wise old saying which states "You can fool some of the people, some of the time, but not all of the people, all of the time." Mumbo Jumbo and the fear of hell (and God) were great tools for keeping the plebs compliant for the last 2,000 years, but are largely useless today. The 'wider' Catholic Church, largely via the efforts of nuns and brothers, does a lot of good work in the fields of education, health and support for the poor and the marginalised in our society. However a lot of this good work is undermined by the dictatorial stance on matters of 'doctrine' (viz. we know what's best for you) which still permeates the upper echelon of the priesthood i.e. bishops, archbishops and cardinals. Dominus vobiscum.


Chris Begley | 20 July 2021  

Thank you John for expressing your concerns about the upcoming Plenary Council. Your comments reflect my own concerns. At Parish level and as you would know, at Archdiocesan ( Canberra / Goulburn) level, we the laity have heard nothing since the 'get together' years ago or so it seems . I have been receiving the Newsletters but they are vague and almost useless for gaining any idea of process or purpose. Like other respondents, while I am still in the fold, I feel very disconnected from the organizational Church.


Gavin O'Brien | 21 July 2021  

Reprising Exodus, Pam reads our Covid times as a Sign of Hope. Her typically gentle but wry insight suggests that all we now need is a flood or forest fire to clean us up and restore us to the path of righteousness. I hope not; although it hasn't yet been known for the Holy Spirit to visit us in the mode of wrathful forms of pestilence, famine and disease, so there's always a chance. For my part, I'm tired of all that self-flagellating OT hellfire and brimstone, and hope and pray that the Bishops are as well. What we now badly need in these 'last moments' before the Synod are some miracles. My own personal wish-list? Joan Chittister is appointed a Cardinal; a couple of Aussie Bishop out themselves as gay; and Pope Francis issues a motu inapproprio titled 'Nolite ecclesiae; Volo impetro off'. The others, mercifully, are as unprintable as well as, hopefully, untranslatable.


Michael Furtado | 21 July 2021  

Perhaps the greatest challenge in "representing Catholic Australia" is knowing what Catholic Australia really is. Based on the 2016 census Catholics made up 22.6% of the population, the biggest single Christian denomination in Australia. Assuming that figure still applies in a population of 25.36 million, and that less than 10% of nominal Catholics are active participants in the life and practice of Catholicism there are less than 627,000 Catholics who will be influenced in any way by the determinations of the Plenary Council and who will not express their views, hopes and aspirations through 282 participants not chosen by them. Sounds more like un-representativeness. There might be more to be learnt if delegates or members were chosen from among the 5,643,000 ex or non-practising Catholics - they are probably best placed to advise the hierarchy on why they have walked away which is really what needs to be known and addressed.


john frawley | 21 July 2021  

John, as a PC delegate/member, can you please make practical suggestions as to how to contact our diocesan delegates/members?


Anne Lanyon | 21 July 2021  

Excellent article, thanks John. I've also analysed the representation of lay (and "ecclesial") groups at the Plenary. Short answer: only Vinnies is represented. https://plenaryreflections.blogspot.com/2021/07/why-arent-lay-and-other-ecclesial.html?view=magazine And I also compared the situation at the Plenary with the representation of lay groups at Vatican II. Short answer: The Plenary compares very badly. https://plenaryreflections.blogspot.com/2021/07/representation-of-lay-groups-at-vatican.html?view=magazine Sixty years after Vatican II, this is unacceptable.


Stefan Gigacz | 21 July 2021  

Disconnection from a perceived "institutional church" or "organisational church" suggests little or no direct contact or support at the interpersonal level with people of faith. In my experience, the communitarian experience of shared faith doesn't yield a conception of the Church first and foremost as a bureaucratic organisation or political institution: it recognises individual faces and gathers personal stories in a Christ-centred community nourished by prayer, scripture, sacramental life and responsiveness to the needs of others, and reaches beyond itself with the welcoming message of Christ to participation in the life and vision his own life called and calls us to. The institutional aspect of the Church derives from this "koinonia", and is reduced to a mere facade without its shared inner life and participation. Hence, as I see it, the need for spiritual renewal, individual and communal, as a priority in forthcoming Plenary Council deliberations and actions.


John RD | 23 July 2021  

Given that every one of the posts here has so far endorsed John Warhurst's mild last minute plea for a more open Synod, one has to wonder if John RD's dissenting fervorino is but a last minute effort by yet another PR person employed by our Bishops to staunch the efflux of Catholics from active practice, while Their Lordships and Graces justify their pristine 'touch-me-nottery' by collectively barricading themselves behind closed doors, perchance like the original disciples, bettered into silence by Christ's death, rendered impotent by fears too scary to deal with and, accordingly, desperately invoking the intervention of the Spirit who, despite the insertion of my own carefully attuned hearing aid, has yet to show signs of penetrating the gloom of the episcopal bunker. Of course, I pray night and day that I am wrong and that it is the devil that mocks me, for I have yet to see a vision of so many blokes sitting helplessly on their hands at a juncture when time is fast running out, while the leadership invested in them through the selfsame Holy Spirit by virtue of their unique anointment demonstrably remains yet to be exercised. Please God that I am wrong!


Michael Furtado | 23 July 2021  

Given that every one of the posts here has so far endorsed John Warhurst's mild last minute plea for a more open Synod, one has to wonder if John RD's dissenting fervorino is but a last minute effort by yet another PR person employed by our Bishops to staunch the efflux of Catholics from active practice, while Their Lordships and Graces justify their virginal helplessness by collectively barricading themselves behind closed doors, perchance like the original disciples, battered into silence by Christ's death, rendered impotent by fears too scary to deal with and, accordingly, desperately invoking the intervention of the Spirit who (despite the insertion of my own carefully attuned hearing aid) has yet to show signs of penetrating the gloom of the episcopal bunker. Of course, I pray night and day that I am wrong and that it is the devil that mocks me, for I have yet to see a vision of so many blokes sitting helplessly on their hands at a juncture when time is fast running out, while the leadership invested in them through the selfsame Holy Spirit by virtue of their unique anointment demonstrably remains yet to be exercised. Please God that I am wrong!


Michael Furtado | 23 July 2021  

Chris Begley, tell us, were you one of the many altar boys who used to say, in the Confiteor, "Me a cowboy, me a cowboy, me a Mexican cowboy", instead of "Mea Culpa" etc. You can safely share with us here!


Bruce Stafford | 23 July 2021  

I think the great majority (over 90%) of Australian Catholics are over it. I don't think anyone really expects a church top-heavy with conservative bishops to do anything but make some cosmetic changes which won't really have any substantial effect. It will be more like the Chinese Communist Party's plenaries where the outcome is planned well in advance and is very predictable. Consider: we still have bishops and archbishops behaving like feudal lords issuing edits "dispensing" Catholics from the sunday Mass obligation during lockdowns (and rescinding those "dispensations" later on). And they still use titles like "your Lordship" and "your Eminence", just like European royalty. Just a joke.


Bruce Stafford | 23 July 2021  

MF, re your post of 21` July: I agree that Joan Chittister would make a fine Cardinal. I like her no-nonsense and fiery (sort of) disposition. Joan's vision for change is inspiring. The Catholic church's great calling is to be truly catholic and I do see glimpses which hearten me.


Pam | 23 July 2021  

Wonder about it no more, MF: I am not, nor have ever been, "a PR person employed by our Bishops."


John RD | 24 July 2021  

The PC needs to address the massive failure of Catholic education in both adults and children following the enlightenments of Vatican II. The lost generations (those Catholics baptised from 1964 onwards) have no idea what it is they have abandoned. For most of them the study of religion in erstwhile Catholic schools was merely an easy subject in which to achieve marks for university entrance.


john frawley | 24 July 2021  

Interesting to read yet again of Dr Frawley exercising his prerogative as a 'consumer' in today's education 'market' to express judgment about that complex formative experience in the Catholic school and which is called 'Religious Education'. Obviously, with RE being both a formal and informal aspect of the educational experience of the Catholic school student, it cannot be tested or assessed in ways that enable every student to employ it as a stepping stone to university entrance. As a scientist, John would instinctively know, that the subjectivities involved in processes such as 'religious formation' are of such a nature as to preclude their inclusion in the rest of the curriculum: hence the notion that Religious Education is the sum total experience of everything that happens in the Catholic school, which is why in my home state (Queensland) the Head of Religion in a Catholic school is called the Assistant Principal (Religious Education). Of course, Study of Religion(s) is a Queensland Curriculum & Assessment Authority subject, which can be studied like any other in Yrs 11 & 12 and contributes towards achieving an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank. It may accordingly be that the faith that students reject, John, is their parents'.


Michael Furtado | 25 July 2021  

Thanks for your article John. It helps to understand the current context of the Plenary Council process. Like many others who've written, I too am not confident that the PC will result in substantial positive changes in our Australian Church. One thing I was struck by in reading the responses, was that somehow the outcome of the PC still matters to so many of us. Why is that, when we are worn out with scepticism and failed expectations? Maybe it's because at some time we have been inspired by the possibilities in our Church, our faith community? We have been part of something that promised so much more than we have come to experience? There have been people of faith in our lives who challenged us and encouraged us to be the best we could be? I want to regrasp that hope! That is why I am hanging in there, despite everything.


Beth Gibson | 25 July 2021  

Hello Beth: Thank you for your observations and ponderings. Firstly, the reason why I post some comments from time to time on Eureka Street (which is racist and misogynist - only ten percent of articles are written by people of non- Anglo-Irish ancestry and only five percent are women) is because I have yet to fully free myself from 1950’s and 60’s catholic school brainwashing. Having stated my unworthiness, may I be allowed to say something from the three score and eleven years of human existence. What began with great hope in the late 50’s as the Church “opening to the world” has ended up Siege City behind the St Pope John Paul II, the Great – Cardinal Ratzinger siege walls. Vatican II failed because the death of Christianity is more profound than can be redeemed by bishop gatherings. In the Melbourne archdiocese (report by Catholics for Renewal) the number of parishes have dropped to 209 from 233 in 1999, only 45% of priest are locally-born, 20% of parishes do not have a resident priest, the number of seminarians has gone from 215 in 1964 to 146 in 1971 to 81 in 1986 to 39 last year, only half of which are locally-born. Last year there were two new priests which do not even replace those retiring. As one who like many young people joined the exodus back in the 1970’s these death stats are a vindication. Progressive church reformers like John have failed because they do not capture the revolution which is happening. Have you been following the adventures of Peter Kennedy and St Mary’s in Exile in Brisbane? Supposedly, Peter no longer sees himself as a “catholic” or even “Christian”. He identifies with mysticism and the individual, inner journey. While I think Peter is onto something people need to be careful about the "way of the mystic": it too can be a brainwashing.


Fosco | 26 July 2021  

Hullo Anne, You inquired: how do we contact PC members? The link below identifies member names but as John Warhurst implies, obtaining contact details may require more persistence through diocesan offices. https://plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au/members/ This article raises here-and-now questions about how a PC member might prepare sincerely and prayerfully for the upcoming Council. John indicates notions of being a delegate, a representative, are problematic. Politicians, for instance, such as Eric Abetz, George Christenson, Zed Seselja or Tony Abbott have voted in ways that were unaligned with their electorate, whereas Independent Kathy McGowan made a concerted effort to represent the views of her electorate. But does this analogy apply to the PC and is broad consensus possible anyway? PC members who attend meetings in parishes, or with small groups of parishioners, or parents in Catholic schools, are more likely to be attuned to grass-roots views. Those who have left the Church are certainly worth listening to. Many years ago I was in a parish that conducted a Mission for Retired Catholics but the process of identifying names and extending invitations took a good deal of time and most PC members already have many calls upon their time.


Peter Donnan | 26 July 2021  

If the light has gone out in the Catholic Church, especially in Australia, where we are, we also need to do something. The Catholic Church is not a democracy, but its real chuzpah comes from democracies. We need to get rid of outmoded forms of dress and behaviour, like hand kissing. The Pope does not like the custom.


Edward Fido | 27 July 2021  

Edward Fido - 27 July. Alas Edward, the kissing of rings, removal of episcopal and clerical attire and so forth will not fix the Church. The research is in: The western world is abandoning religion including Christianity. Migrants to the West practise for a time because it is a cultural/familial tradition, but after a generation or so, they also tend to abandon faith. The trend today is for people to say they are ‘spiritual but not religious’. They confirm that they are not interested in organised religion. One good piece of research in this regard is by Australian author and researcher Hugh Mackay in Beyond Belief. There is also an ABC article by him here: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-22/hugh-mackay-beyond-belief/7432866.


Thomas Amory | 27 July 2021  

Fosco, Another good post! As a former member of the SMX community over several years I share the accompanying observation. I left to take up an appointment in another city. This coincided with the breakdown of my marriage and my former partner stayed on at SMX. Our children reported dissent in the community and several left when the diocese asked Peter Kennedy and Terry Fitzpatrick to vacate the premises. I love and admire both dearly, but the ABC article to which you refer exposes a contradiction. A commitment to 'individualism' AND 'social justice' simply do not cohere within such an obviously abridged piece. In retirement I have reattached to Brisbane's former Jesuit parish where, as in this journal, at least the complex swirl and eddies of opinion, beliefs and practices appear somehow to contribute to a unifying whole. This is owing in no small part to the leadership of our parish priest - not a Jesuit but an excellent scripture scholar and pastor. While our pews don't fill except at Christmas and, to a lesser extent, Easter, we have quite a wide range, age-wise and socio-culturally, of parishioners, while, as Peter ages, SMX is tragically but unmistakably on the decline.


Michael Furtado | 27 July 2021  

John you show admirable restraint. MF I must say in this particular instance, I have to agree with some of your observations. Women should be absolutely equal as the Church claims to support the UDHR - calling it a light in the darkness. Women celebrants ? You mean priests of course! And yes the tongue lashing meted out by the RC has gone ignored by the Bishops (who would have a lot to lose if those commonsense proposals were implemented). Of course there would be a far greater shortage of priests and religious if the Bishops took their role of shepherds seriously and weeded the offenders against defenseless innocent children from their midst. But will they? Probably not. There is no desire or mileage to place democratic principles and child safety above preservation of power and self interest. Which could explain why the chosen few to attend the PC have been carefully selected for their historical feudal allegiances and their ability to sit quietly in the boat. Just imagine how much further these reforms would advance if Georgie came home where he belongs and paid some scant attention to the corrosive problems that beset the Body of Christ? But no, he's probably having a succession of itty- bitty doona days. And as for making the Joan Chittister video available for public consumption, surely that would occasion the Bishops a severe self inflicted wound?


Francis Armstrong | 27 July 2021  

Thank you John Warhurst & Eureka Street for enlightening us. Those chosen to represent the broad Church at this Assembly are indeed loaded with a major problem: Where are those disenchanted Catholics, those lapsed and unwilling to return unless there are major changes? Those chosen Assembly members in my 'Melbourne' grouping comprise 12 males from the clergy, four females, and one other male. In my view, deliberations and consequent findings will be judged as skewed towards the status quo.


Frank Whillans | 27 July 2021  

I often resort to the Plenary Council's website for current information. After my last comment to Eureka Street it occurred to me that the members' names might be available on the official website. . They were. My criticism relevant to that question was unfounded. My apologies to all concerned. I am, now, loth to be troubled by my other unanswered queries as the answers to these may be available and require only diligence and perseverance to find them. I am surprised that no one drew attention to my careless research. Anyway thanks for letting me off. Those who responded to John's article and, of course, the piece itself gave me much to think and pray about.


Grebo | 27 July 2021  

You're a wee bit of a pessimist, aren't you Thomas? Look, I gave up unqualified belief in most 'experts' and their research aeons ago. OK, in my fields of particular interest I can name the late Professors A J Arberry and Sir Christopher Bayly, both of Cambridge, whose work I have the deepest respect for. Chris turned the 'Trinity School' of Indian History, led by the redoubtable Anil Seal, on its head by discovering and using an archive of material in Allahbad, including the papers of Motilal Nehru. Many surveys, I think, are weighted, consciously or unconsciously, to confirm what the researchers want to confirm. Look, I think most sane people steer away from the crappy conformist 'Christianity' of many Churches and churches because it treats them like idiots. Someone like Richard Holloway was white anted and stabbed in the back by his own clergy in Edinburgh because he associated with the same sorts of people Jesus did.


Edward Fido | 29 July 2021  

Hello Thomas: you are being optimistic! Those of us who joined the exodus half a century ago thought the death of religion would give us the Age of empirical-based Science. Not just the all-powerful physical sciences but also the social sciences including sociology and of course psychology. Even though a friend who had gone to a psychologist for some healing of inner turbulence said all she had learnt was how little “they” knew of the workings of the mind. And, that “at least Confession was free”. Some of us also thought the well-meaning search by our friends into Eastern Spirituality would not endure. But you are talking about people being “spiritual but not religious”. Maybe we were wrong. But I very much doubt the teachings of Jesus will resurrect in the new spirituality: the Christians have done far better job of killing Jesus than the Romans ever did.


Fosco | 29 July 2021  

I am not sure Jesus is dead, Fosco. He is certainly not in some places. There is a wonderful, apocryphal story set in the 1950s about a coloured gentleman who attempted to attend The Marble Collegiate Church in New York. He was indignantly barred from entry by an usher. Whilst walking down the steps he came across Jesus, who was weeping. When asked why, Jesus said 'They wouldn't let me in either.' Jesus was, I believe, very much alive in the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany; in the secret, underground Catacomb Church under the Soviets and in those such as Alan Paton, Trevor Huddleston and the magnificently brave Beyers Naude in Apartheid South Africa. There are, perhaps surprising to you and Doubting Thomas Mark 2, really good and effective Christian ministries which draw people in rather than alienate them. One is Our Lady of Mt Carmel parish in Brisbane run by the Carmelites. When I attend church I tend to go there because I am attracted by their charism. They are good people. The parish is welcoming. Places like this are islands in the darkness. As John's Gospel says, the darkness can never overcome the Light. Don't give up Hope.


Edward Fido | 30 July 2021  

St Augustine had a pessimistic view of the human condition so Thomas and I must be connected to the deepest rivers of Catholicism, Edward.


Fosco | 30 July 2021  

We need a church structure that believes Mass is an "essential service"


marita | 03 August 2021  

It is because we already have a church structure that regards the Mass as an essential service that we are in trouble. Essential services, especially in times of lockdown or other emergency, are often mandated and troops brought in to man the barricades and ensure that followers abide by 'them rules'. In ecclesiastical terms 'frontline' workers are invariably overseas NESB imports, isolated in terms of their cultures of origin, far from the environments that nurtured their calling and (what is carefully swept under the carpet) greatly missed within their own native churches, where vocations are also in steady decline and people-to-pastor ratios much worse than ours. Their secondment to the developed world is often the product of equally hidden, though understandable, pressures in their home dioceses for resources in the form of hard cash to ensure the survival of their native churches. Contrast this with the substantial body of Australian women and men, some of them married, who feel called to serve within the ordained ministry of our own Church, and we have an immense problem of misconstruction and maladministration, owed mainly to the obstinacy of the Australian bishops. I write as a migrant with no hidden axe to grind.


Michael Furtado | 04 August 2021  
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‘Contrast this with the substantial body of Australian women and men, some of them married, who feel called to serve within the ordained ministry of our own Church, and we have an immense problem of misconstruction and maladministration….’ The ends don’t justify the means. Otherwise, those hallucinations in the desert in which you must believe would have gone the other way. Lacunae in the ranks of the priesthood cannot be filled except by those who may authentically become priests.


roy chen yee | 05 August 2021  

‘essential service’ God causes rain to fall on both just and unjust, and allows hail to do the same. The unavailability of masses is a consequence of sin. Viruses may have existed in the Garden, but not malignant ones. To defy the consequences of sin by going about our lives as if they did not exist would be to disrespect the reality of sin. Wouldn’t that be sinful too? Christians can respect the reality of the virus as an abomination to God which hurts his beloved images and likenesses by recollecting and repenting for the sins that lead to it, and explicitly calling on God to end this temporary satanic victory by cleansing the air and unconditionally re-opening the churches. Yes, Virginia, sin is why this virus is here, but I don’t think that’s a perspective we hear from the ‘respectable’ mainline Churches, and that could be a pity. More to be regretted is that in their ardour for church services to be exempted from lockdown, conservative Christians are falling into the trap of overlooking this reality of sin: every Sunday that is closed is caused by the sins that culminate, for the moment, in the virus.


roy chen yee | 05 August 2021  

Please help me to understand what you are saying Roy. Do you mean by your words 'Christians can respect the reality of the virus... by recollecting and repenting for the sins that lead to it ' that the COVID19 virus is a result of the sin(s) of Christians'? Or have I misunderstood you?


Ginger Meggs | 06 August 2021  

“that the COVID19 virus is a result of the sin(s) of Christians'?” The virus does what other natural and civil catastrophes don’t, bans the Eucharist. Even after a nuclear strike, a Mass can be held in an informal location. Unless you happen to be a Catholic who doesn’t believe in the Devil, such as, apparently, the most senior Jesuit in the world (one is tempted to have a thought bubble which contains ‘???’), a COVID to Lucifer is a gift like a neutron bomb. A neutron bomb kills people but keeps equipment and other infrastructure intact. The value of the bomb to its makers is that people can always be replaced cheaply but it takes a lot of money to repair assets. COVID starves the soul by erasing masses but keeps its human housing (for the most part) intact for Lucifer to re-tempt and re-use. Is it a result of the sins of Christians? Given that mosques, synagogues and temples also shut, the similar gift to Satan is that it has the effect of censoring public reminders that evil is a person. Unlike Fr. Sosa, most people who elect to believe in a God reasonably believe a counterpart exists.


roy chen yee | 14 August 2021  

There's something similar and more vertiginous here, Roy. As a species we're inclined to theological solipsism. 'The past is what has led to us; the future is what's created by us' or so you seem to say. Therefore, we need to claim ownership of the best and worst of times, rather than blame God for them. We tend, as you infer, to confuse our scientific and technological progress with social and moral progress. And we forget a little too easily, as evolutionary determinists remind us, that evolution is not just a process which has brought us to our current supposedly admirable material and 'civilised' condition, but also one which logically implies an evolution away from us. In this sense, there are those, like you implicitly, who regard Covid as a kind of Malthusian God-of-Wrath's punishment (or evolution away from us). You certainly mingle in some excellent company. Like Chekov, you specialise in defeating idealists, becalmed in Covid and fearful of the future. As a Chekov play nears its end, a character expresses the hope that posterity ends in a less painful future. Knowing chuckles and sighs can be heard from the audience: forgiveness cut with your brand of ironic recognition?


Michael Furtado | 07 August 2021  

“As a species we're inclined to theological solipsism.” Theology is moral philosophy only because we can’t see into the spiritual realm. If we could, we would call it moral science because we would be able to see and measure the causes and effects of various types of moral action. When you subscribe to a moral science (or philosophy, even) which posits a sinless and loving deity at one pole of a relationship and you at the other, to whom else would you attribute calamity in the world that you live in but yourself, given that there is a precursor world in which there is no calamity because the moral science there is only measuring the effects of moral actions which are good? But, I forget. You don’t believe in that precursor world in Genesis. In that case, it’s like explaining ‘Namaste’ to someone who refuses to believe that India exists.


roy chen yee | 08 August 2021  

“Covid as a kind of Malthusian God-of-Wrath's punishment….” Why is it Malthusian? As far as an infection goes, COVID, so far, isn’t as bad as other diseases. It’s not Malthusian but Malthusian is only a material veneer. COVID belies its relatively mild material veneer by ‘cancelling’ the Eucharist. Given that there is a war in the heavenlies which is inextricably connected to what occurs seen and unseen on earth, we can reasonably assume that any event which ruptures the communion between the faithful has a meaning which goes beyond its apparently mild material veneer. The Crucifixion was only, to the material eye, just a routine public punishment. But, I forget. To have a war in the heavenlies, one must posit the Devil in which you do not believe. In that case, it’s like explaining ‘Namaste’ to someone who refuses to believe that India exists.


roy chen yee | 08 August 2021  

“As a species we're inclined to theological solipsism.” Theology is moral philosophy only because we can’t see into the spiritual realm. If we could, we would call it moral science because we would be able to see and measure the causes and effects of various types of moral action. When you subscribe to a moral science (or philosophy, even) which posits a sinless and loving deity at one pole of a relationship and you at the other, to whom else would you attribute calamity in the world that you live in but yourself, given that there is a precursor world in which there is no calamity because the moral science there is only measuring the effects of moral actions which are good? But, I forget. You don’t believe in that precursor world in Genesis. In that case, it’s like explaining ‘Namaste’ to someone who refuses to believe that India exists.


roy chen yee | 10 August 2021  

“Covid as a kind of Malthusian God-of-Wrath's punishment….” Why is it Malthusian? As far as an infection goes, COVID, so far, isn’t as bad as other diseases. It’s not Malthusian but Malthusian is only a material veneer. COVID belies its relatively mild material veneer by ‘cancelling’ the Eucharist. Given that there is a war in the heavenlies which is inextricably connected to what occurs seen and unseen on earth, we can reasonably assume that any event which ruptures the communion between the faithful has a meaning which goes beyond its apparently mild material veneer. The Crucifixion was only, to the material eye, just a routine public punishment. But, I forget. To have a war in the heavenlies, one must posit the Devil in which you do not believe. In that case, it’s like explaining ‘Namaste’ to someone who refuses to believe that India exists.


roy chen yee | 10 August 2021  

I wonder, Roy, if your habit of duplicating your ripostes ought to be read as a measure of your persistence rather than a running out of coherent responses. Meantime Ginger's important question remains unanswered.


Michael Furtado | 16 August 2021  

NB. For the record Sosa did not say he did not believe in the devil nor even that the devil does not exist. What he did say was that evil does exist in all of us, Roy included, and that within us there exists a constant battle between the choice to do good and another to do evil. Personifying evil means that which is 'of evil', i.e. the d'evil. However, making a person of the devil externalises him, as people did in more primitive evolutionary religions and cultures, all of which bear the risk of exonerating those who do evil through resort to childish excuse-making, such as 'The devil made me do it', instead of our taking responsibility for our own wrong-doing. Devil-making and devil-mythologising feed on ignorance and superstition. They encourage scapegoating and modes of social, psychological and cultural demonisation. Thus people suffering from mental illness, physical deformities or highly contagious and incurable diseases have until recently, and still are in many parts of the world, unjustly said to carry the mark of the devil for sins supposedly committed by them with little evidence to prove it. Roy needs to do some reading on Mimetic Theory (ref. Andre Girard).


Michael Furtado | 23 August 2021  

‘For the record Sosa did not say he did not believe in the devil nor even that the devil does not exist.’ I guess you’d better email the archbishop about mimetic theory.
http://catholicphilly.com/2019/08/archbishop-chaput-column/some-thoughts-for-late-summer/


roy chen yee | 24 August 2021  

Thanks for your response Roy, but as I read it, you were talking about the effects, not the cause, of the virus when you talk about access to the Eucharist being denied. I’m still trying to understand what you meant, in your post on 5 August. by the words ‘every Sunday that is closed is CAUSED (not shouting, but can't do italics) by the sins that culminate, for the moment, in the virus’. Can you help me please?


Ginger Meggs | 23 August 2021  

A fascinating and very pointed rejoinder to Fr Sosa, the Jesuit Superior General, from Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, about the devil and all his works and pomps. And a great pity that this is the same Archbishop Chaput, appointed by Pope Benedict to investigate charges brought against Toowoomba's Bishop Bill Morris by plaintiffs unknown about unspecified allegations, made about him in his episcopal leadership of the Diocese and in relation to which neither the Vatican nor Archbishop Chaput ever interviewed Bishop Morris, presented him with a dossier of the charges made against him, nor afforded him the time and opportunity to defend himself. In the evolution of our planet, it would be widely recognised and applauded as best practice that any charges brought against anyone, whether lowly or a Prince of the Church, would afford them the opportunity in open or closed court to defend themselves. Indeed to do anything less than that is widely recognised in the religious and ethical sphere as improper and in conservative ecclesiastical circles like Roy's be regarded as diabolical, i.e. the work of the devil. Roy should also note that the Archbishop of Philadelphia, who always earns a red hat, has been denied that.


Michael Furtado | 26 August 2021  


1. ‘The poor will always be with us’, ‘I come to bring life and life to the full’: The question is whether ‘life’ refers to the next world or this. If Christ intended ‘life’ to refer to the next world, the poor become mere means of sanctification (through acts of charity) for the lucky others who are not poor, contrary to the idea that a person is an end not a means. If Christ intended ‘life’ to refer to this world, that the poor exist is our fault.
2. The peccata clamantia or the four sins which cry to heaven suggest that the poor are not meant to exist, any more than the defrauding of workers, murder or the misuse of sex. The Babylonian captivity could not have happened without the sin of the Babylonians in kidnapping the Israelites, but scripture is clear that that was only a proximate cause. That the Babylonian sinful intent was effective in purpose was because the Israelites themselves were sinful, for which they deserved for a time to be exiled from their locus of worship at the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem.
3. Covid has had the unique effect in a long time of exiling Catholics from their holy of holies, the real presence, the locus of which is the communal celebration of the mass. Within the Catholic community, there’s never been a time when none of the peccata clamantia were operating. Generally speaking, ‘conservatives’ (for want of a better term) tend to be strong on the first two categories and weak on the latter, and ‘liberals’ (for want of a better term) the reverse. So, if somebody wants to say that the exile of the faithful from the real presence is somewhat akin to the exile of an earlier group of faithful from their real presence, I’m not inclined to disagree. If the body of people that is the Church Militant were pure in thought and deed, there would be life to the full in the here and now. Minorities influence majorities; a billion non-nominal Christians or a non-nominal 20% of the Australian population would change the picture.
4. The Babylonian exile wasn’t just a territorial but also a felt emotional condition resulting from loss of the nutrition of being in and on land holy because it had been chosen for Abraham by God. If a Catholic doesn’t experience separation from the Eucharist in mass or in adoration as a loss, albeit with more attenuated emotion given the hardened sinful nature that comes with greater sophistication, then the Catholic doesn’t understand what relationship to the real presence should mean.
5. The essential question is: can you blame others for the fact that your God has allowed the doors to his house to be closed to you? God knows that a believer’s relationship with the real presence is not the same as that with a club, restaurant or movie theatre. Because it’s not a service but a nutrition that is withdrawn, the withdrawal is better seen as a chastisement, not a happenstance.


roy chen yee | 28 August 2021  

The essential question is: can you blame others for the fact that your God has allowed the doors to his house to be closed to you? God knows that a believer’s relationship with the Real Presence is not the same as that with a club, restaurant or movie theatre. Because it’s not a service but a nutrition that is withdrawn, the withdrawal is better seen as a chastisement, not a happenstance.


roy chen yee | 30 August 2021  

Belief in the personal existence of the Devil is a moral matter. How you resolve administrative issues is a prudential matter. The first pope remains the first pope even if he was upbraided by St. Paul. As for the red hat, a cardinal per se is not a successor of the Apostles, which is why the Vatican-based ones are given titular seats to preserve the episcopal link. To be the cardinal in Philadelphia is a worldly honour, to be the bishop of Philadelphia is a spiritual vocation. In militancy against the devil, it is the archbishop’s mitre that is the green beret, not the red head covering, because when the archbishop is presiding over the re-presentation of Calvary, the zucchetto is hidden under the biretta, and the galero is probably hanging on a rack in the study.


roy chen yee | 30 August 2021  

Gees, this is still going on! It should, it's excellent. I think Catholics need to see the hierarchy as a necessary evil. It has become a bureaucracy with its self-seekers. Pope Francis, wonderful man, hated and wished ill by many is really trying to sort the Augean Stables out. So was our own, thoroughly vindicated Cardinal Pell.


Edward Fido | 07 August 2021  

Edward he has not been vindicated. Should you be able to find it read the Southwell report. The Southwell inquiry was an investigation by AJ Southwell, a former Australian judge, into sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, specifically allegations that in 1961 George Pell, then a seminarian and later Archbishop of Sydney, had abused a 12-year-old boy, now a 53-year-old man who could not be named, at a Roman Catholic youth camp. The retired judge (as one boy who set fire to the camp in anger was dead) did not conclude the victims lied, but because of the lapse of time could not definitively establish corroboration.
Sound familiar?


Francis Armstrong | 11 August 2021  
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Francis, legally this would be taken as an unproven allegation. Whether it is true or not is really up in the air. Pell is entitled to the benefit of doubt, which exists. His conviction was thrown out because the judges found the allegations tenuous in the extreme. This sounds familiar to me.


Edward Fido | 31 August 2021  

Roy, I think the more probable explanation (for your second 'ormulued' post of August 30) of Chaput's banishment to Coventry is that his tarted up repeat of Lady Godiva's original flagrant display of equestrian immodesty, while gaining him translation to one of North America's plushest (and second oldest) sees (with the added slight of eventually being denied the princely coloration of the five cardinals preceding him) by a grateful but vindictive Pope, was rescinded, in a manner of speaking, by another who noted the flaw in this vain man. It would have been hard for Pope Francis to re-install Bishop Morris and displace the perfectly blameless Bishop McGuckin in Toowoomba, still less to have sent Chaput back all the way to jump headlong into the Grand Rapids of Rapid City, Ohio, so he retired him instead. Thanks all the same for your flamboyant display of your knowledge of rubrical finesse, overlaid with a somewhat overworked patina of canonical justification. Not that this prevented Benedict from bestowing a personal prerogative on Chaput to give the catechetical address at the World Youth Day Masses in Madrid & Sydney which, on evidence, did nothing to animate or arrest the efflux of Australian youth.


Michael Furtado | 02 September 2021  

The Court ultimately found the case for Pell's conviction untenable, Francis. It threw it out, as it should have. I would contest the unproven and unsubstantiated allegations you refer to are in a similar boat and it would sink if it came to court. Without the courts we are reduced to a dubious vigilantism, which I think we are in danger of falling into here.


Edward Fido | 03 September 2021  

‘did nothing to animate or arrest the efflux of Australian youth.’ I’m not sure why Chaput should be intended to animate an efflux. As for being unable to arrest it, Christ did not arrest the exodus of former disciples who thought the teaching of real presence as too hard because, like the youth, they did not answer Peter’s question as Peter did: ‘To whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ Perhaps, like the youth, they answered it by saying, ‘I am a good person and so I must have the words of eternal life.’


roy chen yee | 04 September 2021  
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I adore your quibbles, Roy; but that, tragically is what they invariably amount to. Meantime, from enforced retirement, Chaput continues his shameless attacks on Pope Francis.


Michael Furtado | 04 September 2021  

Now, as before, I presume it was the haste to respond, previously omitting commas and now omitting a signifier for ‘they’, which leads to the tautology that quibbles invariably amount to quibbles. However, what is not a quibble is whether any Catholic can be justified every Sunday to abandon the Real Presence in the Church for whatever political irritation she or he has with it. The Catholics who are in efflux obviously don’t understand what an exclusive Real Presence, which exists nowhere but inside a Catholic, Uniate or Orthodox church, means. Or, to put it another way, they’ve got their ‘sophos’ wrong, seeing themselves in their ‘conscientious arbitration’, etymologically, as philosophers or lovers of wisdom while being, etymologically, only sophisticates whose thinking has been made impure by admixture.


roy chen yee | 05 September 2021  

It's not the virus per se or even Satan that prevents regular attendance at Mass Roy, it's the health regulations. Surely, if the Church thought it as serious a matter as, say, disclosing what was said in confession, it would just disregard the regulations, as it has said it will do/does in the case of confession, and schedule Mass and you and the faithful would turn up ? I'm not trying to rubbish your belief here Roy, just questioning your logic.


Ginger Meggs | 07 September 2021  

Ginger Meggs: ‘It's not the virus per se or even Satan that prevents regular attendance at Mass Roy, it's the health regulations.’ Michael is talking about the Catholics who didn’t attend Mass before COVID and won’t be attending Mass after COVID.


roy chen yee | 08 September 2021  

Fast footwork Roy but you’ve avoided the substantive issue. Elsewhere you have lamented the way that the virus and/or have/has prevented the faithful from attending Mass. You also sidestepped my earlier question about whether sin was the cause of the virus. Aren’t they more important issues to deal with than Michael’s grammar or punctuation?


Ginger Meggs | 08 September 2021  

‘but you’ve avoided the substantive issue.’ How? ‘sidestepped my earlier question.’ Ditto, but, this time, ditto 28 August, a little way up this thread. Happy to explain, happy to re-explain, happy to re-re-explain, but I can’t read minds.


roy chen yee | 12 September 2021  

Roy: re. your's of 8/9, I believe that we still have an obligation to our youth, not because of what you assume to be their exercise of free-will but because, quite apart from Covid 19, it signifies an important though unaddressed factor in synodal discussion so far. For the sake of a new society and culture that the Church must engage with critically and openly, we need to understand that we are facing a losing battle in terms of church membership. To alter our path it may be necessary to sabotage the machinery or glue that has held Australian Catholicism together, though with palpably diminishing returns, if we are to 'save' the message of Christ. Those, like you, who count themselves the most orthodox are precisely the most ardent exponents of the social logic that we must leave behind. The bishops can't throw you out because to do so would be to endorse the methods we must repudiate. Besides, you have the letter of the law on side. Nor can we realistically expect you to change your minds, for there are no persons so resistant to conversion as yourselves. Our challenge: the struggle is hardest where prospective gains are greatest!


Michael Furtado | 20 September 2021  

‘For the sake of a new society and culture that the Church must engage with critically and openly’ There are two logical flaws which permeate all your guff: 1. You assume that if we are to be cuddly-wuddly and touchy-feely towards others, we must also move towards their way of thinking. By all means, try and see the world through their eyes but Christian Truth isn’t Kuhnian because Christian Truth isn’t derived from testing the material world. Where the plain meaning of text derived from Divine Omniscience says don’t do X, we can’t do X. There’s no rocket science in that. 2. You assume that the natural tone of expression of Catholic ‘Talibanistas’ is peremptory and declaratory. In a pastoral setting, the language will accommodate the need to be pastoral. No big issue there. ‘Resistant to conversion’: well, we don’t have to read through your book when we can skip to the end and see that conversion is: 1. Exposing the sacred priesthood to the abomination of divorce; 2. Extending the Eucharist to anybody on their own terms.


roy chen yee | 21 September 2021  

Roy, re. your post of 21/9, you will have to prove this atrocious reduction and consistent misrepresentation of my views. Where is the evidence? All I wish to do is to invite the Bishops to explore what representation means. I am not the Holy Spirit but, whatever Her mindset, I'm pretty sure that She looks askance at those who read Her Mind as advocating shutting the stable door, especially now that the stable lies empty.


Michael Furtado | 23 September 2021  

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