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The Church should learn from democracy’s spirit of equality and participation

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Democracy is a modern ideal, still fighting for acceptance in some parts of the world. It has had to be fought for by brave advocates. The church by contrast is an ancient pre-democratic institution, which shows in its hierarchical organisation and undemocratic internal processes. 

Main image: Stylised speech bubble (Volodymyr Hryshchenko/Unsplash)

Yet now Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of Brisbane and President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, insists that the days of monarchical and autocratic leadership in the church must be consigned to the past.  Co-responsibility and synodality, alternative ideas expressed in distinctive church language, are the suggested way forward. But the democratic ideal of equal participation by all members of a society still has much to offer the church. 

The hierarchical church’s aversion to democracy is shown in the way the term is used in ecclesiastical discussion. A clear example came in the recent announcement of Pope Francis’ declaration of new world-wide diocesan synods in the lead up to the 2023 Synod of Bishops on the theme of synodality. Quick as a flash this announcement was followed by an instinctive insistence by the Secretaries of the Synod of Bishops that these new processes were not to be mistaken for democracy or populism. Even by linking democracy and populism in the same breath the church betrayed its confusion of a virtuous model of community organisation with its dysfunctional abuse. The instinctive reaction against democracy treats it as a virus which the church must strenuously avoid. 

This is to its own cost. Democracy has many virtues. Its principles and processes incorporate equal representation in assemblies and parliaments while guarding against both the abuse of executive power and the danger of the misuse of majority parliamentary power. The latter is done by the incorporation of democratic checks and balances. 

There is already a strictly limited form of democracy within the church, though top-down appointment is the norm. Some leaders, including popes, presidents of bishops’ conferences and congregational leaders, are chosen by a vote. Even a limited number of members of the 2021 Plenary Council, including leaders of religious institutes, were chosen by their peers. 

But at the basic level of democratic principles the church continues to fall short by embracing its traditional hierarchy and by failing to ensure equal representation of the People of God in the life of the church, including in its decision-making processes. The Plenary Council fails to adequately represent lay Catholics, although they make up the vast majority of church members. 

 

'The church should take note of the sophistication of democratic developments rather than shying away from the mere mention of the democratic ideal.'

 

At the level of democratic process Pope Francis himself rejects what he calls parliamentarism. Francis, in his book Let Us Dream: The path to a better future (2020), points to the weaknesses of so-called parliamentarism’s approach to resolving differences. He highlights the way people take sides, like warring political parties, in order to resolve differences by achieving majority support. This leads to inappropriate campaigning, both inside and outside the assembly, and denigration of opposing positions. 

Francis rightly seeks consensus, respect for minorities, and the avoidance of polarization, under the influence of the Holy Spirit. But he should not neglect the ways in which mature democracies have dealt with the limitations of their systems of government. His fear of parliamentarism is based on the worst of modern party politics and probably is influenced by what he has lived through in Argentina. 

In Australia it is widely recognised that ‘winner takes all’ is not a basis on which to resolve the most divisive community issues. Legislation must be passed through two houses of parliament, one elected on a territorial basis (The Senate) and the other elected on a population basis (The House of Representatives).  

Checks and balances are even greater within democracies when undertaking constitutional change.  Constitutional change in Australia requires a parliamentary majority in two chambers, followed by a double majority, of states and of the population, in a national vote of citizens. This requirement makes change more difficult for reformers to achieve, but recognises the seriousness of any change proposed. 

The Plenary Council members comprise bishops, who have a deliberative vote and other members who have only a consultative vote. Different types of majorities are recognised in the Plenary Council Statutes and Norms. A distinction is made between motions which are passed by a Simple Majority of 50% plus one of those present and those which are passed by a Qualified Majority of two-thirds of consultative votes, but the ultimate import of this difference is unclear. The crucial deliberative votes by the bishops are taken after the non-binding consultative votes. 

The church should take note of the sophistication of democratic developments rather than shying away from the mere mention of the democratic ideal. Reliance on decision-making by top-down appointees, like bishops, rather than elected representatives, is at odds with the democratic ideal to which the modern world aspires. 

Moving in this direction means learning from the democratic world by proceeding with an adult rather than a juvenile conception of ways to make decisions within communities and institutions. At heart democracy depends, like synodality and co-responsibility, on the existence of a widespread supportive culture. Whatever its future direction the church would benefit from the greater presence of a democratic spirit.

 

 

 

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: Voting (Element 5 Digital/Unsplash)

Topic tags: John Warhurst, PC, woke, identity politics, culture wars, virtue signalling, language

 

 

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Existing comments

As a way of making important decisions democracy has much to recommend. Even so, A D Hope's "Easter Hymn" and in particular the third stanza sounds a warning: "The City of God is built like other cities:/Judas negotiates the loans you float;/You will meet Caiaphas upon committees;/You will be glad of Pilate's casting vote." I am wondering which one I am! I should be wondering (in the truest sense of the word) at whose I am.


Pam | 22 June 2021  

It was the opening mini-graph juxtaposition of democracy and the church that got me...that somehow the 600 BCE Democracy ideal of the Greeks (or SPQR Republicanism of Rome) is modern or that the (Catholic) church is more widely accepted than a political system globally. Surely the church presence is more just tolerated than "accepted" in many places? I tried to get my head around why various competitive aspects of democracy would suit any institution; would it be helpful to have the partisan wranglings of a senate and decidedly lower house ...but I tend to like that occasional puff of white smoke from the Vatican that assures it's under new management.


ray | 22 June 2021  

‘In Australia it is widely recognised that ‘winner takes all’ is not a basis on which to resolve the most divisive community issues. Legislation must be passed through two houses of parliament, one elected on a territorial basis (The Senate) and the other elected on a population basis (The House of Representatives). Checks and balances are even greater within democracies when undertaking constitutional change. Constitutional change in Australia requires a parliamentary majority in two chambers, followed by a double majority, of states and of the population, in a national vote of citizens. This requirement makes change more difficult for reformers to achieve, but recognises the seriousness of any change proposed.” All true because the underlying presumption is that the decision-maker is allowed to make mistakes. But, no mistake can be allowed to infect the canon. Australia can acknowledge a mistake and overturn same-sex civil marriage without harm to its coherency because it is not required to be infallible at defining truths. The US can repudiate the Dred Scott case. The Church cannot normalise and then renounce same-sex sacramental marriage and still insist that it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. The presumption underlying democracy does not exist for the Church.


roy chen yee | 22 June 2021  

While loyalty to the Church no matter what can be seen as virtuous, Jesus saying "I have come that you may have life and have it to the full" sadly seems in opposition to the reality of the Church today.


Narelle Mullins | 22 June 2021  

John There’s a sad irony as I type this response. At the bottom of your article is an advertisement from Eureka Street reminding us about the division in the last election. We all know the church faces division but please God it won’t get as divisive as modern politics.


Rob McCahill | 22 June 2021  

Amazingly, it's a simple statement of fact when John refers to the Church's "juvenile conception of ways to make decisions within communities and institutions". No thoughtful leader distinguishes simply between democracy and autocracy - that's simplistic binary thinking. Good and smart leaders listen to the people they lead and want to know their informed perceptions of the issues. How is it that at the Plenary Council: "A distinction is made between motions which are passed by a Simple Majority of 50% plus one of those present and those which are passed by a Qualified Majority of two-thirds of consultative votes, but the ultimate import of this difference is unclear." It's not really unclear; there is simply no requirement in the Plenary Council Statutes for bishops, in exercising their deliberative vote, to even have regard to the consultative vote, whether a simple or qualified majority, in taking their decisions. If bishops choose to reject a consultative vote, they surely should explain their reasons. Nup!


Peter Johnstone | 22 June 2021  

Thank you, John, for another clear exposition of a fundamental principle of community organisation. The dignity of every person demands that their voices are effective in matters that concern them. ‘Nothing about us without us’.


Kevin Liston | 23 June 2021  

John, By fluke, after I read your article I noticed a Church publication on the table. It had an item about the current celebrations of 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines. The logo appears to show a missionary priest standing triumphally and authoritatively imparting a blessing to a kneeling Filipino/a. Ideas of equality and democracy are not “natural” to many in the Church, even to many in the Church in Australia. The size of the Church and the variety of its civil societies and cultures work against “democratisation” in an egalitarian Australian way on a world-wide basis. The tension between centralised authority and the “popular voice” in the Church may to go back as far as New Testament times. In the Acts of the Apostles (Ch 15) the “Council of Jerusalem” sees the assembled “apostles and elders” engaged in a lot of discussion on a very important matter but the text doesn’t make it clear if any kind of vote led to James, the one with authority, announcing the decision. I wonder if anyone there uttered, (in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek) the words many of us have heard over the years, “Now remember, this Council’s role is advisory only.”


Gerard Hore | 23 June 2021  

Democracy in its nascent form preceded the Church by five hundred years. Not only is the Church more "modern" in a chronological sense, but her formal decisions on faith and morals are based on a higher authority than a principle in reality so liable to exploitation as "the will of the people", particularly in an age of advanced media manipulation of public opinion. The evidence of governments this 'sacred' secular principle has produced should be sufficient as a sobering reminder of its limitations. As for "the sophistication of democratic developments", the standard of current parliamentary debate is hardly a recommendation.


John RD | 23 June 2021  

We are told that the church is not a democracy, yet its founder instructed his followers, who were simple folk, to meet in two's or three's and make decisions in the name of love, so that his dearest wish for a universal beloved community could be realised. He put that power into our hands.


Rose Marie Crowe | 23 June 2021  

Isn't it extraordinary what a mess the Holy Spirit made of everything when he was presumably guiding his human element, Jesus of Nazareth, to establish his church on Earth. No doubt he has learnt from our sophisticated enlightenment and the new protestant church will be a cracker, exactly what the people want - but what if not even the Holy Spirit can give all the people what they want all of the time.


john frawley | 23 June 2021  

That was before the boys took over and corporatised it all, Rose Marie.


Ginger Meggs | 23 June 2021  

John Warhurst's latest reformist article pursues the cause of republicanising the structure of the Catholic Church, as though the Church's existence, durability and structure derive from a democratic will of the people. The argument presented is based on the assumption of an intrinsic opposition between equality and hierarchy. Christ's relationship with his disciples, the archetype of the community of faith he initiated, displays no such necessary incompatibility, though it does recognise how hierarchy can be abused and exemplifies servant leadership as a corrective. Nor does Christ anywhere in the Gospel accounts display a loss of faith in God's sovereign and harmonious intent and dispensation for all creation - the archetypal hierarchical relationship revealed in scripture. That's why, I imagine, we're enjoined by Christ to "seek first the kingdom of God"(Matthew 6: 33), rather than to invent our own order.


John RD | 24 June 2021  

Just because lay members of a parliament vote on abstruse and technocratic issues doesn’t mean that lay pew-sitters should vote on the equally abstruse and technocratic issues of doctrinal or dogmatic truth. If the issues of doctrinal and dogmatic truth weren’t abstruse and technocratic, we wouldn’t need the academic disciplines of philosophy and theology because we would simply subscribe to the superstitious Quaker belief that everyone has an inner light based on private readings of a Protestant bible that is a few books short of a canon. At best, the democratic role of the lay in an expert enterprise is to vote on the questions to be asked of the authorised experts, and to abide by their answers, in the knowledge that because the experts of one jurisdiction have to be in communion with the experts of all other jurisdictions, the lay of one jurisdiction cannot expect to be allowed to have outcomes inconsistent with the outcomes of other jurisdictions. This required collegiality shows why the parliamentary model is irrelevant. A parliament of an Australian state or territory doesn’t have to legislate consistently with a legislature of another national or international jurisdiction.


roy chen yee | 24 June 2021  

Yes, john frawley, and the (Hegelian) Spirit as it immersed itself in the historical process in order to achieve absolute self-identity had to come to the realisation that democratic society could only be stabilised by expanding bureaucracy and interminable conferences and committees.


John RD | 24 June 2021  

Despite the usual baying of 'nay=sayers', John, I'm delighted you've taken the battle up to the Bishops. Democracy and debate have a strong hold on the Church, especially in historical context. The scholastic method has always encouraged debate and, in congregational and conciliar settings, the holding of a vote, in many instances relating to which (e.g. in election of female and male leaders) the result is binding. So its not as if all aspects of democracy are entirely alien to an experience of Church. Add to that the influence of culture and political experience and there are several strong Catholic examples of open discussion and democratic voting. One exemplary version of this is the recent German Synod, where all debates and contributions were broadcast and the voting choices of those participating recorded for posterity. When asked about this recently on Deutsche Television, the President of the German Bishops Conference stated: 'We Germans live in memory of a terrible time when dictatorship ruled every aspect of public and private life, including the ecclesiastical. It shouldn't surprise that the overwhelming majority of clergy and laity have the strongest possible faith in open discussion and decision-making.' That is the synodality that Francis advocates!


Michael Furtado | 24 June 2021  

John writes: "the church would benefit from the greater presence of a democratic spirit". A latent challenge to this statement is associated with the majority of US Bishops; thinking about Joe Biden's reception of Communion. Some of these US conservative bishops could frankly be described as one-trick abortion ponies without much evidence of support for broader issues such as climate change, social justice, immigrants, the poor and the marginalised, or indeed any appetite for genuine church reform. If the Church is a democracy, however, they could be within their rights to dissent but Pope Francis and the Vatican generally do no support a public ban on the President. In a top-down, autocratic model, the Vatican could simply over-rule any such national decision, As an added layer, there will be no refusal within the Washington diocese to exclude the President from receiving Communion. Always, within democracies, is how you deal with conflict: persuasion, punishment, exclusion etc. And the Church is not great in dealing with these matters at times and in the past it has been horrible indeed. The tension between democracy and theological/doctrinal purity is ever present.


Peter Donnan | 24 June 2021  

Without rancour but laden with withered optimism, John Warhurst has distilled his message into an amicus brief and placed it before the Australian Bishops' bench: in respectful tones, highlighted by his use of the subjunctive, John encourages reforms which are neither revolutionary in intent nor without precedent in the two millenial course of his Church. In the immediate present, there is room to applaud John's diligence and commitment, but then join with him in awaiting the outcome of his submission. Of course, this does not exclude responding to critical views of John's paper which either distort by exaggeration or fail by misrepresenting elements of his submission.


Bill Burke | 25 June 2021  

On a very different issue: "Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof." John Galbraith In this forum. JohnF, JohnRD and Roy present in a very committed manner their theology and why the Church needs to remain steadfast. My question: what would need to occur for these gentlemen to come out and support the reform agenda presented by Catholics for reform and so compellingly by John Warhurst. So many contributors to this forum have been touched by the Jesuit/ St Ignatius spirit but to live is to change and to be perfectos too have changed often!


Peter Donnan | 25 June 2021  

In Victoria, as long ago as 1851, the Parliament legislated for synodical government in the Church of England, empowering synods to make Church laws on temporal matters, with the separate majority votes of clergy and laity, and the assent of the Bishop. It has worked well.


Michael | 25 June 2021  

Thanks John I have to agree with what you have written however there is a but. The but is the starting point for the approach to a form of democracy in the church. I was taught and still believe that everyone is equal in the eyes of God. If that is so then there is no point in trying to bring in some form of democracy until that basic truth is accepted.


Bill Armstrong AO | 25 June 2021  

There are too few people like prof warhurst who are highlighting the inadequacies in the proposed plenary council. If it were not for him and a few like him, the whole process would be a waste of time. I’m still apprehensive that it will give birth to a mouse. I can only hope that the pot stirring by him and those like him will cause the council to rise up in protest when the council deliberations begin and demand honest reevaluation of a church with its head in the sand. The most recent scandalous revelation of hundreds of unmarked graves in Canadian boarding schools for indigenous children is yet another illustration of the incompetence of clerical church leadership


JL Trew | 25 June 2021  

Peter Donnan: ‘one-trick abortion ponies without much evidence of support for broader issues….’ The Church has answered this by distinguishing between intrinsic and prudential evil. Basically, an intrinsic evil is a situation where because you can pin-point the person who has all the agency that is needed to remove the evil, the evil is quite easy to abolish. With abortion and homosexual practice, only one person is responsible and it’s only obstinacy of will which maintains the evil. ‘Social justice’ evils are prudential, being situations where the reasons for the dysfunction may be debatable and, in any case, so many wills would have to be shifted that no one person holds the complete agency to remove the evil. Given the difference between a clarity in which one person has the complete agency, or a confusion where the agency is dispersed and unclear, it’s not difficult to see where the priority lies if the priority lies in actually abolishing an evil.


roy chen yee | 25 June 2021  

Roy - you may disagree with Peter Donnan but you are unable to rely on your all too neat definition of intrinsic evil. The now sainted Pope John Paul II, quoting Vatican II disagrees with you when he sources intrinsic evil in the following "..."Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator". Veritatis Splendor Paragraph 80.


Bill Burke | 26 June 2021  

Peter Donnan. You ask what would be required for persons such as myself, John RD and Roy to support a reform agenda in today's Church. I will try to answer that simply but apologise in advance for the length! First, there is I believe no doubt that the Church is in dire need of some reform. That need exists in the man made executive structures of the Church NOT in those aspects that are God made and truly inspired by the Holy Spirit through the person of Jesus of Nazareth as part of a divine trinity. Christ in the scriptures clearly and unequivocally set out the prescription for His Church which was in His intent to exist with His support until the end of human time. [ 'You are Peter , the rock on which I will build my Church" - "I will be with you all days..." and "Whatever you bind on Earth will be bound also in Heaven"]. Sacramentality, the living experience of God working and living amongst his people on Earth is in my view the essence of Christianity and it is the insistence of the reformers to change that sacramentality to their own preferred wishes and options that I find to be outrageously self- indulgent, backed up by their own insistence that the Holy Spirit is speaking to them and supporting them contrary to His [the Spirit's] embodiment in trinity with the earthly founder of Christianity. The hubris is mind numbing. Second, I would be quite happy to support the reformers if they were prepared to recognise what Christ has founded, accept His prescription though the scripture and tradition entrusted by Him to Peter's Church on Earth and if they stopped aiming at what Cranmer and Wolsey implemented for the deranged murderer Henry VIII, namely, the abolition of the sacramental presence of God in his trinity with His people on Earth. Extreme, you say? Perhaps. However, their reforms demand changes in sacramentality and that will destroy Christianity as instituted by Christ [ through interference with Ordination, liberalisation of Eucharist, abomination of Marriage and of course the abolition of the need for Reconciliation - all things they will deny just as Henry did while continuing to be a member of the Church] Leave to God that things that are God's and to Caesar the things that are Caesar's. I also place little credence on vastly minority representation groups invented by men with invented executive titles who claim to be inspired by the Holy Spirit while He ignores the rest of us. If they left the sacraments and teaching authority of the Magisterium alone I might well support their insistence on reform of the secular management of the Church which needs serious repair.


john frawley | 26 June 2021  

While important (and accepted!) that Roy reminds of the distinguishing implications of intrinsic and prudential evil, its hard to see how this impacts on this conversation. Does Roy 'read the minds' of Their Graces on this matter? If so, and given the graciousness of his own behaviour, as Bill observes, why might John Warhurst not expect a response? If not, what do Their Graces think? Could it be that questions of sin and evil are far removed from their collective mindset as lay Catholics continue to bleed our Church dry? Given that the Jesuits promote this dialogue, and that their Editorial Consultant, Fr Hamilton, while never wasting space on fripperies, always, always employs the language of endearment and engagement when he writes, where is the love and affection that lay Catholics - nomatter how 'strayed', in Roy's stern and conversation-strangling analysis - even as lost sheep might expect from our Bishops? Are we to assume that Roy speaks for them? If so, what place does love and forgiveness play in all of this? Put t'otherwise: if reconciliation is intended as a Synodal outcome, why would the Bishops avoid an open discussion, even at the risk of schism? Isn't honesty important?


Michael Furtado | 26 June 2021  

Pope Francis states the Eucharist is “not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners. ”Joe Biden does not support abortion but he refuses to impose Church teaching on millions of Americans who separate church from state. The importation of lovely medieval Thomistic moral theology, with its neat intrinsic and prudential categories, jars in this context. The term ‘evil’ applied to contraception or homosexuality, for instance, is not based on contemporary understandings. For millions of Catholic women, whose contraceptive practices mirror wider social norms, the use of the term ‘evil’ is callous; and linking ‘homosexuality’ in a similar way is malicious, unchristian and homophobic; furthermore, the expression ‘the evil is quite easy to abolish’ illustrates glibness and a profound misunderstanding. You did not respond to the question I posed in my posting 25June. I would like to encourage and persuade you guys to support a reform agenda at the Plenary Council. JL Trew argues for an ‘honest reevaluation of a church with its head in the sand.’ It would be wonderful if you provide support; the alternative is 'please get out of our way now if you can't lend a hand for the times they are a-changin'


Peter Donnan | 26 June 2021  

Peter Donnan: In reply to your question (25/6), I might perhaps be more docilely disposed towards the reformist views represented by John Warhurst were I to see a more rigorous, identifiably Catholic theological justification for the proposals of those he represents - and by this I mean, in part, more than generalised references to the "spirit of Vatican II" and assumptions that the Council supports their more radical proposals for reform - more properly, I believe, called revolution - that I have addressed previous postings. I reiterate, too, my belief that structural change without personal metanoia is merely cosmetic.


John RD | 26 June 2021  

Readers interested in the kind of synodality Pope Francis actually advocates might gain valuable insight from the Passauer Bistumblatt's interview (5/6/2021) with Cardinal Walter Kasper and his candid appraisal of the German "Synodal Way" currently in progress. The interview is readily accessible online.


John RD | 27 June 2021  

It would be nice if JohnRD's 'tick-all-the-appropriate-theological-boxes' approach were to matter in the impossible opinion-shifting standards that he now raises. I grant him that, given the hierarchy of truths teaching of Vatican II, it is now obvious that the problem of my fretting about going to bed alone every night, like every priest, nun and widowed person of our acquaintance, pales into insignificance in the context of life-and-death situations, e.g. Frank Brennan's championing of the rights of the Syrian refugee, who has been returned in a manner of speaking to the hangman's noose. John's position, while raising questions of importance, fails the test of relative importance, given that neither he nor even his champion-at-arms, Roy Chen Yee, have not as yet posted a message of support for Fr Brennan over the shocking life-sentence that now hangs like the sword of Damocles over the life-chances of asylum-seeker AJL20, resident in Australia since childhood and incarcerated without trial in an Australian Detention Centre since 2014. John, Roy and I therefore have a chance here to bury our petty differences in the interests of the greater good, which calls all parties to the Synodal discussion to put away our more petty differences. No?


Michael Furtado | 27 June 2021  

What emerges in these forum discussions is that all contributors have deeply held visions of the Church they love. JohnRD’s bottom line is ‘a more rigorous, identifiably theological justification’ for reform agendas; JohnF concedes that secular church management requires some repair but ‘the sacraments and the teaching authority of the Magisterium [need to be left] alone.’ An important component of roy’s thinking is that “The Church cannot normalise and then renounce same-sex sacramental marriage” and with abortion/homosexuality ‘only one person is responsible and it’s only obstinacy of will which maintains the evil.’ This view would be contested by many Catholics. What strikes me particularly about these discussions is that generally the contributors are retired older males[not exclusively] - as indeed I am - and it seems to me that unless you have young people and their parents involved, rather than grandparents, you are not really focussed on the future church. I have enough experience of life to know our visions of church we hold so dear are simply irrelevant to so many. Leaving one’s boats behind, unfamiliar shores, are challenging: the final link at the bottom of this article offers a vision: https://johnmenadue.com/catholicism-must-grow-up/


Peter Donnan | 27 June 2021  

Peter Donnan. 'The term "evil" applied to contraception or homosexuality, for instance, is not based on contemporary understandings". I would suggest that Christ, is highly unlikely to alter his Church's teachings and particularly its sacramentality to conform with contemporary standards or understandings even when the clamour allegedly inspired by His trinitarian partner in one being, The Spirit, continues to rise to fever pitch through the ramblings of the reformers. As it happens I am in complete agreement with you when you raise the issues of homosexuality and contraception, but suspect that I view them through a different lens which conforms with current Catholic teaching, not some outdated Thomistic fantasy as you imply. Catholic Church teaching (as opposed to the rantings of various fundamentalist man made bible sects) does not see "evil" [ I would prefer "wrong-doing" or even , God forbid, "sin" as a better descriptor] in sexual orientation whatever its natural identifying variant might be across the range of LGBTIQ+ . Rather, it sees sexual orientation as an essential to the ongoing creation of mankind, a covenant that exists between God the Creator and individual human beings and sanctified by the Creator through the sacramentality of marriage. The misuse of this God-given gift of procreativity is what the Church teaches as wrong or sinful regardless of whether that misuse comes from homosexual, heterosexual or any other of the human variants of sexual orientation (hormonal or psychological or cultivated) outside God's creative covenant ie marriage. Tough, isn't it?!! Even within sacramental marriage, to frustrate the purpose of the covenant through the contraceptive means you mention is considered wrong or sinful. And there I part ways in some regard with contemporary teaching. Why? Because the electron microscope and a better scientific understanding coming from the 1960s /70s have clearly defined conception and brought the various contraceptive measures available into clear relief. It is now clear that the various stages leading up to implantation of a fertilised ovum in the womb (fertilisation, formation of the blastocyst and the 6-7 day journey of the fertilised ovum to the womb) do not posses the inevitability of human life. Once implantation has occurred, however, then inevitably the embryo will grow progressively to a fully developed human being assuming no disaster befalls it on the journey. To prevent fertilisation is thus different from preventing implantation and both are different from preventing the future development of the implanted embryo. I believe therefore that there are different degrees of culpability or wrong doing associated with these different potential outcomes of the various contraceptive measures and teaching should change to reflect that. Further, the marriage covenant also carries the obligation on the procreators to take responsibility for the moral and temporal wellbeing of any child they produce through their sexual union - if they are unable to do that , is contraception which removes that potentially failed obligation a "good " thing? Big questions to be answered. Yes, Peter. Let's have some reforms but leave the sacramentality of the Church in God's hands. Also interesting to note that the reform movements are highly selective in their chosen quotes from the Vatican II documents to support their "spirit inspired" demands and pay no heed to the fact that the Council made no changes to the sacraments (which some reformers want) and involved itself in nothing other than some spring cleaning, destoyed the sacred liturgy in an attempt to involve the laity, left the parents to be "the prime educators of Catholic children" (when they really meant "examples") and opened the doors to the new light which provided the exit route for priests, religious and laity together with the greater part of the devotional and prayer life of the Church.


john frawley | 27 June 2021  

Thanks, Bill Burke: ‘”Whatever is hostile to life itself….are a negation of the honour due to the Creator". Veritatis Splendor Paragraph 80.’ With the exception of ‘arbitrary imprisonment and deportation’, there is a 1:1 correspondence between the clear evil and a person with agency over it. Whether an imprisonment is arbitrary or a deportation is moral are hurdles that need to be cleared before it can be said that evil is involved. Once identified, of course the evil is intrinsic. There is no mention of ‘climate change’ because the hurdle of identifying if there is an evil needs to be cleared. There is also no mention of trading in derivatives because an instance of trading in derivatives is evil only when it is.


roy chen yee | 27 June 2021  

Peter Donnan: ‘You did not respond to the question I posed in my posting 25June.’ Sorry, let’s look at it. ‘My question: what would need to occur for these gentlemen to come out and support the reform agenda presented by Catholics for reform and so compellingly by John Warhurst.’ To begin with, ‘Pope Francis states the Eucharist is “not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners’: https://www.tfp.org/for-pope-francis-the-holy-eucharist-is-the-bread-of-sinners-for-saint-thomas-aquinas-it-is-panis-angelorum/?PKG=TFP210625&utm_source=ActiveCampaign&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Pope+Francis+Changes+Meaning+of+Eucharist&utm_campaign=TFP210625+-+Pope+Francis+Changes+Meaning+of+Eucharist&vgo_ee=mhYnK4ynVBRMcX7NkKH%2BG3wFoqDlMHNmyq65fGLdufk%3D What’s going on here, I ask as a simple layman. Isn’t this issue above a synod’s paygrade even if you seem to have closed the question? There’s more in your post but this will do for the moment.


roy chen yee | 27 June 2021  

Peter Donnan: ‘jars in this context. The term ‘evil’ applied to contraception or homosexuality, for instance, is not based on contemporary understandings. For millions of Catholic women, whose contraceptive practices mirror wider social norms, the use of the term ‘evil’ is callous; and linking ‘homosexuality’ in a similar way is malicious, unchristian and homophobic; furthermore, the expression ‘the evil is quite easy to abolish’ illustrates glibness and a profound misunderstanding.’ Where is that magic word ‘because’ which attaches a plethora of opinion to a plethora of reason? ‘Homophobic’? You mean ‘homosceptic’, or are all philosophers ex officio registered psychologists or psychiatrists?


roy chen yee | 28 June 2021  

What an amazing concept – to treat all voices as equal, regardless of fervor or knowledge of the faith.


Marita | 28 June 2021  

Wouldn't it be easier to change denomination, as there's sure to be one that suits each person's tastes and beliefs ?


Mike | 28 June 2021  

Mike. You have shone the spotlight on the rational course that should be taken by the reformers!!!! As you point out the hard yards have already been accomplished and all they have to do is find a denomination that suits them - provided of course that the "spirit " guides them on the way.


john frawley | 29 June 2021  

Two very astute posts from Marita and Mike! And the answer to Marita is surely that, as inveterate Jesuitical respecters of the right to dissent, ES does an exemplary job to publish and be damned. As for Mike's wry question: the battle being fought-over here is surely for the heart and soul of the Catholicism each and everyone of us loves, regardless of our many competing doubts and misgivings. Isn't it an idea, therefore (I ask again) for each and every one of us to put away our arms and unite in defense of those matters that harm the least of us most, as Frank Brennan and his brother Jesuits always, always never seem to lose sight of? Or do the shattering silence and my fond illusions mock me?


Michael Furtado | 29 June 2021  

Indeed John, Democracy is an ideal which should take root in the church. But whether any one would believe the platitudes of Mark Coleridge who has recently abolished the OPW in Australia, may have to have his or her head read. Dare I say it,Joan Chittister would make a far better Cardinal that Pell or the aspiring Mark Coleridge. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is generally agreed to be the foundation of international human rights law. Adopted in 1948, the UDHR has inspired a rich body of legally binding international human rights treaties. Source UDHR. The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, better known as the European Convention on Human Rights, was signed in Rome (Italy) on 4 November 1950 by 12 member states of the Council of Europe and entered into force on 3 September 1953. It was the first instrument to give effect and binding force to certain of the rights stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was also the first treaty to establish a supranational organ to ensure that the States Parties fulfilled their undertakings. The Convention was a milestone in the development of international law. Once states had accepted that a supranational court could challenge decisions taken by their own courts, human rights de facto gained precedence over national legislation and practice. Any individual, group of individuals, company or non-governmental organization can apply to the Strasbourg Court, provided that they have exhausted all domestic remedies. In order to join the Council of Europe, a State must first sign and ratify the European Convention on Human Rights, thus confirming its commitments to the aims of the Organization, namely the achievement of greater unity between its members based on human rights and fundamental freedoms, peace and respect for democracy and the Rule of Law. Source Council of Europe 1950. The Holy See is not a member of the United Nations (not having applied for membership) but was granted permanent observer state (i.e., non-member state) status on 6 April 1964. The Vatican City State, also known as the Vatican, became independent from Italy with the Lateran Treaty (1929), and it is a distinct territory under "full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction" of the Holy See, itself a sovereign entity of international law, which maintains the city. Quite a small population of 825 (2019) yet incredibly top heavy in heady pronouncements on moral and political issues. The Vatican has a head full of ideas but skinny little legs. The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, better known as the European Convention on Human Rights, was signed in Rome (Italy) on 4 November 1950 by 12 member states of the Council of Europe and entered into force on 3 September 1953. Yet the Vatican openly espouse and support the Declaration. Inter Alia: Article 2 Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty. Article 7 All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination. An excerpt from the 70 year Anniversary speech by By H. E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See Side Event on “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Foundations, Achievements and Violations” United Nations Headquarters, New York, 4 December 2018 “The point Pope Francis was making is that the human rights in general, and the Universal Declaration in particular, were not meant to be used as weapons to advance political, economic, military or cultural agendas contrary to the fundamental human rights. Human rights cannot be treated as open terms whose meanings different actors can change to suit their purposes. Otherwise, this practice will gradually eviscerate universal respect for the Declaration and human rights, leaving the world worse off and people far more vulnerable. This 70th anniversary is an occasion for us, with the words of the U.N. Charter, to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights (and) in the dignity of the human person” and to commit ourselves to the promotion and defense of the rights contained in the Universal Declaration and to the urgent labor of ensuring human rights for all. During his second visit to the United Nations, John Paul II said that the States that founded the United Nations in 1945 and adopted the Universal Declaration three years later “truly lit a lamp whose light can scatter the darkness caused by tyranny — a light that can show the way to freedom, peace, and solidarity.” Source United Nations Headquarters, New York, 4 December 2018 So again we see the Vatican say one thing eg they wholly support the Declaration, yet they openly flout it in practice. They do not give the Laity any rights, they let these Bishops decide who has a voice and who does not. The rights of children are ignored. The rights of women are ignored and indeed despised. The truth is that Democracy is dead within the Catholic Church and like Mary McKillop, anyone who advocates meaningful change and common sense (qualities which are definitely not standard equipment on the Australian Bishopric model) will inevitably be excommunicated to silence them.


Francis Armstrong | 29 June 2021  

John Frawley for that to happen the Holy Spirit would have to rain fire on the heads of the Bishops and Cardinals to get them to listen. They would need hearts of flesh in lieu of hearts of stone.


Francis Armstrong | 29 June 2021  

JohnF: you accurately outline Church teaching on contraception and homosexuality. 70% of Catholic women use sterilization, the birth control pill or an IUD, according to the Guttmacher Institute research. So in terms of the rich sacramental life of the Church, the sacrament of reconciliation has fallen into disuse. Catholic women do not wish to change their contraceptive practices and will not participate in the sacrament when they have no intention of accepting Church teaching. Similar arguments exist for homosexuality. My previous point: “Contributors[to these discussions] are retired older males[not exclusively] - as indeed I am - and it seems to me that unless you have young people and their parents involved, rather than grandparents, you are not really focussed on the future church.” You present a doctrinally pure but chilling vision of the Church: you are the wind rather than the sun in Aesop’s fable. And given your doctrinal, hierarchical focus, a logical position would be that you support the view of Pope Francis who states “We focus on sex and then we do not give weight to social injustice, slander, gossip and lies. The Church today needs a profound conversion in this area,” the pope said.


Peter Donnan | 29 June 2021  

Peter Donnan: ‘So in terms of the rich sacramental life of the Church, the sacrament of reconciliation has fallen into disuse. Catholic women do not wish to change their contraceptive practices and will not participate in the sacrament when they have no intention of accepting Church teaching. Similar arguments exist for homosexuality.’ The logical claim here is Do Not Wish=True, which makes it an illogical claim because people are always contradicting each other in what they do not wish. As for not participating in the sacrament, it’s not only contracepting women: https://www.irishnews.com/news/northernirelandnews/2020/10/20/news/sinn-fe-in-leadership-s-changing-attitudes-to-catholic-faith-2103625/


roy chen yee | 30 June 2021  

In a era of Epstein, Weinstein and Cosby, this posting by JohnF [29June] indicates much more alignment with Pauline Hanson than Brittany Higgins, Grace Tame or Rosmary Battye: it is more focused on ‘men’s freedom’ than the enormous pain perpetrated on women by male sexual and domestic abuse. A small number of women may indeed be responsible for false charges but the overall statistics around deaths/hospitalisation of women could hardly be more obvious; as well as the lack of justice they encounter in reporting such abuse. JohnF has been a distinguised surgeon, I believe, and draws solace from his connection with the Jesuit community but in my view this posting should have an editorial rejoinder disassociating Jesuit values from the ideas presented in this posting. I am not a believer in censorship but, as with the case of Donald Trump, there is an editorial value in drawing attention to falsehood and ideological aberrations. Imagine if this posting was posted to Grace Tame’s site. It’s a loathsome and chilling posting without supporting evidence and at its core it lacks the compassion that Jesus extended to the woman at the well and the way he treated women generally.


Peter Donnan | 01 July 2021  

Peter Donnan. I note that my post to which you refer has been removed in accord with your stated disapproval of censorship. I offer my apologies for upsetting you so terribly and unintentionally. I was simply pointing out that nothing is new on this planet in that a far more radical #MeToo movement existed in 1700s England and Europe and took a hundred odd years to be submerged by the Christian public prudery that typified the approach to sexual morality until the cycle took its course and concluded with the sexual revolution of the 1960s. It took 200 years to change attitudes and all I was saying is that despite Popes or Synods or Plenary Councils it is likely to take a similar time for the circle to go round again before this world again embraces, at least in the public domain, a morality that protects womanhood in some measure by putting women back on the pedestal they deserve to occupy [like the BVM]. It is also probably worth noting that it was women, protected by the pill who chose to step down from the pedestal which kept them relatively sexually safe from the predatory male, urged on by the radical feminist movement. Thank goodness there are some women who don't cop the effects for which radical feminism shares perhaps the greatest responsibility. I don't think I will be able to sleep well tonight haunted by the prospect that some might equate me with Pauline Hanson and see me as a supporter of the dregs of male humanity epitomised by the convicted woman abusers of modern America. Repulsive! Hopefully my wife, daughter and eight grand daughters will never realise how much I despise their gender.


john frawley | 02 July 2021  

Hullo JohnF: Under the Catholic umbrella, there has been many a stoush but he ties that bind us are often greater than those that divide. In terms of your 29June posting, my preference was to see it remain online with an editorial rejoinder. I have had three postings moderated out and Eureka Street has its own steel and editorial independence which I respect. Moving on: Recently Bishop Vincent Long of Parramatta Diocese gave the Helder Camara lecture, My Hope For The Plenary Council. He proposed: “The Church cannot have a better future if it persists in the old paradigm of triumphalism, self-reference and male dominance. So long as we continue to exclude women from the Church’s governance structures, decision-making processes and institutional functions, we deprive ourselves of the richness of our full humanity. So long as we continue to make women invisible and inferior in the Church’s language, liturgy, theology and law, we impoverish ourselves. Until we have truly incorporated the gift of women and the feminine dimension of our Christian faith, we will not be able to fully energise the life of the Church.” The new Jesuit Provincial Quyen Vu SJ. was among the attendees.


Peter Donnan | 03 July 2021  

Peter Donnan, only 3 posts moderated out? Luxury! I feel like Babe Ruth. He had the most home runs but also the most strike outs.


Francis Armstrong | 05 July 2021  

To say that to be humble and obedient is purile and somewhat immature is to discount the model we seek to follow. The ancients, by their drawing of straws and shows of hands were not, I think being maturer, or, "democratic". Democracy, I think has a place in politics (I believe its another experiment in organising society). It's not perfect but it is the preferred system. To the disciples delegation was a show of respect. Which country, today can truly call itself a democracy? The best among us only offer limited choices, and expect us to believe we are all equal. There are some among us who have an early start, based on class, inherited wealth and other "non-equitable" factors. The people who so zealously defend democracy invariably have more than the good of society at heart. Their zeal, at times, resembles those fortune hunters into the "new World", offering salvation at the point of a gun. No matter how much they drum up the wonders of democracy, it will be succeeded by a more "sophisticated" and advanced form of political rule. Just as one society cannot consider itself "superior"; no political system is a one size fits all.


Roy | 09 July 2021  

Roy (a new Roy? If so, welcome!) might wryly note that, for all its warps and twists, we live in a democracy and would assuredly object were our governors to interfere with our civil liberties. At an even more 'local' level Eureka Street encourages its readers to engage in conversations, some of which are dissenting enough to make one sometimes long for the haven of the mutual admiration societies that anti-democrats would have us join. That, surely, is the point to which John Warhurst appeals, in calling for an 'open' Synod.


Michael Furtado | 13 July 2021  

There used to be a rude name, still in use, for girls who, on a date, had seemed to initially promise the world, but delivered nothing. I regard Archbishop Coleredge and his colleagues very much in this light. I do not believe the Catholic Church is a democracy as we understand it, nor do I think it should be. From experience I know the Anglicans can be as hidebound by tradition and as devious. What most 'silent Catholics', like myself want, is not to hobnob with the episcopate and their entourages; nor to change Major Doctrinal Issues; nor to be 'involved' in endless palavering on committees, but respect and the feeling our voices are listened to. This is not happening. What is happening is one big con.


Edward Fido | 13 July 2021  

Hear, Hear, Edward Fido (13 July)


john frawley | 17 July 2021  

Thank heavens the ES record shows that Tedworth - assuredly and commendably - doesn't restrain himself in his comments about Roy in particular and various bishops in general, while Johnny Fraws - although agreeably restrained - is highly adept at cheering from the sidelines. Gentlemen, if nothing else, you certainly prove my point about mutual admiration societies.


Michael Furtado | 18 July 2021  

MF. Have you ever considered that occasionally you could be wrong. Sometimes the school teacher never gets over the fact that he/she is not always in the class room where the audience is children with no life experience etc. Some don't seem to be able to re-enter the adult world when school is over. Be careful you don't fall into that mould - it may be difficult to find the way out!!


john frawley | 21 July 2021  

Point well made, John Frawley! But surely that also applies to the medical practitioner? Not all landscapes of discussion concern the arena of health practice. Granted that our respective backgrounds shouldn't limit our entitlement to venture forth with opinions from outside our immediate professional domains, aren't we called to discuss, converse and exchange (which, by the way, I generally notice you do with commendable flair and aplomb). Alas, for so passionate a writer to simply endorse another's opinion isn't good enough for me, especially at a juncture at which episcopal hesitancy on the eve of the Synod is likened to the debutante who keeps insisting all the while they stay resisting.


Michael Furtado | 22 July 2021  

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