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Vatican II then and now


Looking back and looking forward over Church and life on the 50th anniversary of Vatican II

Looking back

In 1962, I moved from the Brigidine Convent at Indooroopilly in Brisbane to St Joseph's College, Nudgee Junior, under the care of the Christian Brothers. I was an impressionable eight-year-old and was in grade 3. I well recall one of the brothers taking the class up to the top floor of the school. We gathered outside the chapel in front of the large portrait of our Lady of Perpetual Succour. Brother told us that there were very significant events occurring in Rome. Pope John had convened a Vatican Council. We were instructed to pray for all the bishops because this council would affect the future of the church. I have no real recollection of the prayers we offered, and thus am not in a position to say whether or not they were answered. But like you, I know that things have changed very significantly in the Church and in the world since that group of eight-year-old boys offered prayer and supplication.

50 years on, we gather to celebrate as Catholics, confident that the gifts of the Spirit will assist us in proclaiming the Good News to each other, to our fellow believers, and to our fellow citizens no matter what their religious beliefs or none. Let's recall that it was the week of Christian Unity in 1959 when John XXIII gathered with a small selection of his cardinals in the Benedictine chapterhouse beside the Basilica of Saint Paul-Outside-the-Walls when he said, 'I am prompted to open my mind and heart to you, because of this feast of the Conversion of St Paul. I want to tell you frankly about several points of planned pastoral activity which have emerged in my thoughts because of my brief three months here within these church circles in Rome. In doing so, I am thinking of the care of the souls of the faithful in these modern times.' The pastor and historian who now described himself as 'the shepherd of the Church' no doubt looked back to the reforming practices of Charles Borromeo who came as Bishop to Bergamo in the aftermath of the Council of Trent and of Msgr Giacomo Maria Radini Tadeschi who was Bishop of Bergamo at the turn of the century and to whom Roncalli had given years of dedicated service as his secretary. In his biography of Tadeschi, Roncalli wrote: 'Having a high regard for his clergy and people, he did not concentrate so much on carrying out reforms as on maintaining the glorious traditions of his diocese, and interpreting them in harmony with the new conditions and needs of the time, the ever greater spiritual advantage and glory of the Church of Bergamo.'

The great historian of Vatican II from the 'Bologna School', Giuseppe Alberigo, recalls that Roncalli upon election as Pope and on choosing the name John emphasised his commitment to being a good pastor consistent with Jesus' discourse in John 10 on the Good Shepherd. Roncalli said, 'The other human qualities — knowledge, shrewdness, diplomatic tact, organisational abilities — can help the Pope to carry out his office, but they can in no way substitute for his task as a pastor'.

There at St Pauls Outside the Walls, the new Pope said:

I am saddened when people forget the place of God in their lives and pursue earthly goods, as though they were an end in themselves. I think, in fact, that this blind pursuit of the things of this world emerges from the power of darkness, not from the light of the Gospels, and it is enabled by modern technology. All of this weakens the energy of the spirit and generally leads to divisions, spiritual decline, and moral failure. As a priest, and now as the shepherd of the Church, I am troubled and aroused by this tendency in modern life and this makes me determined to recall certain ancient practices of the church in order to stem the tide of this decline. Throughout the history of the Church, such renewal has always yielded wonderful results. It produces greater clarity of thought, solidarity of religious unity, and abundant spiritual riches in people's lives.

Then 'trembling with a bit of emotion', he announced his intention to hold a diocesan Synod for Rome, and an ecumenical Council of the universal Church, as well as an aggiornamento (bringing up to date) of the code of Canon Law. He thought such initiatives would not only produce 'great enlightenment for all Christian people' but also 'a renewed invitation to our separated sisters and brothers so that all may follow us in their search for unity and grace.'

It took almost three years before he then convoked the council with his apostolic Constitution Humanae Salutis in which he said, 'Today the church is witnessing a crisis underway within society. While humanity is on the edge of a new era, tasks of immense gravity and amplitude await the Church, as in the most tragic periods of its history. It is a question in fact of bringing the modern world into contact with the vivifying and perennial energies of the Gospel, a world which exults itself with its conquests in the technical and scientific fields, but which brings also the consequences of a temporal order which some have wished to reorganise excluding God.' And thus the title for my remarks this evening: John's half century challenge of 'bringing the modern world into contact with the vivifying and perennial energies of the Gospel'.

We gather as people of faith. We gather as the people of God, true to the church and engaged with the world. Coming from the Ignatian tradition, I have long thought that the greatest challenge to us as people of faith is to tap the interior freedom to which we are called, freed from all the disordered affections, so that we might be better able to serve humanity and the whole of creation, being bridge builders to the frontiers, being at home at the crossroads between church and world, being the credible mind of the Church, the soiled hands of the contemporary Jesus, and the heart of Christ large enough to hold, love and nurture with dignity and respect all our fellow human beings.

The challenges are enormous, but invigorating. John O'Malley SJ, the finest contemporary historian of Vatican II writing in the English language has provided us with 'a simple litany' of the changes in church style indicated by the council's vocabulary: 'from commands to invitations, from laws to ideals, from threats to persuasion, from coercion to conscience, from monologue to conversation, from ruling to serving, from withdrawn to integrated, from vertical and top-down to horizontal, from exclusion to inclusion, from hostility to friendship, from static to changing, from passive acceptance to active engagement, from prescriptive to principled, from defiant to open-ended, from behaviour modification to conversion of heart, from the dictates of law to the dictates of conscience, from external conformity to the joyful pursuit of holiness.'

I am one who welcomes these changes. I am not one of those Catholics so wedded to the continuity of the tradition as to think that nothing happened at Vatican II, and that we should be back to business as usual as we were when those eight year old boys gathered with the Christian Brother around the portrait of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.

Looking around now

On 31 August, the day of Cardinal Martini's death, we received word of a speech delivered by Cardinal Raymond Burke to bishops in Kenya about the issue of sexual abuse in the church. Cardinal Burke is now the Church's most senior canon lawyer. He told his fellow bishops:

The 'hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture,' which has tried to highjack the renewal mandated by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, is marked by a pervasively antinomian culture, epitomized by the Paris student riots of 1968, and has had a particularly devastating effect on the Church's discipline. It is profoundly sad to note, for instance, how the failure of knowledge and application of the canon law, which was indeed still in force, contributed significantly to the scandal of the sexual abuse of minors by the clergy in our some parts of the world.

Indeed, in the United States of America, my homeland, in which the scandal has been great, it is often asserted that it was caused by the absence of a proper discipline in the Church to deal justly with such abhorrent situations. In the typical approach of the hermeneutic of discontinuity, it is assumed that the Church lacked the proper canonical discipline with which to investigate such crimes and sanction them. The truth of the matter is that the Church had dealt with such crimes in the past, which should come as a surprise to no one, and that she had in place a carefully articulated process by which to investigate accusations, with full respect for the rights of all parties involved, including the protection of potential victims during the time of the investigation; to reach a just decision regarding their truth, and to apply the appropriate sanction. The discipline in place was not followed because it was not known and, in fact, was presumed not to exist.

We then received word of Cardinal Martini's final interview in which he described the church as being 200 years out of date. An urbane, educated Jesuit, a long time scripture scholar and Archbishop of Milan, Martini aged 85 said, 'The Church is tired, in prosperous Europe and in America. Our culture is out of date; our Churches are big; our religious houses are empty, and the Church's bureaucratic apparatus is growing, and our rites and our vestments are pompous.' Some of you will have seen Cardinal Burke in his prosperous, pompous and excessive ecclesiastical attire on the internet.

The good news is that these two cardinals represent the book ends of the spectrum which is the modern church. The mistake of some is to think that Cardinal Burke is the embodiment of the true Church and that somehow Cardinal Martini was simply a minister to the disaffected and the marginalised. Since Vatican II, we have all been called to live along the length of this spectrum. Martini gave three antidotes to the contemporary church weariness: conversion in the face of the contemporary abuse crisis, rediscovering the power of Scripture, and reliving the energy of the sacraments. In contradistinction to Burke, Martini said 'The Church has to recognize its own errors and has to travel a radical journey of change'.

When contemplating this spectrum between Martini and Burke, I have been tantalised by Charles Taylor's recent essay 'A Catholic Modernity?' in which he suggests:

In modern, secularist culture there are mingled together both the authentic developments of the Gospel, of an incarnational mode of life, and also a closing off to God that negates the Gospel. The notion is that modern culture, in breaking with the structures and beliefs of Christendom, also carried certain facets of Christian life further than they were ever taken or could have been taken within Christendom. In relation to the earlier forms of Christian culture, we have to face the humbling realisation that the breakout was a necessary condition of the development.

Just today your Victorian bishops, joined by two women religious, issued a statement entitled 'Facing the Truth'. They acknowledged that in the past 16 years about 620 cases of criminal child abuse have been upheld by the Church in Victoria. Most of these claims relate to incidents from 30 and up to 80 years ago. Our church leaders are hopeful that the new procedures which have been put in place over the last 20 years will assist with greater transparency and care for the victims of sexual abuse. They take heart from the fact that very few complaints of abuse relate to incidents after 1990. The bishops tell us that their submission to the parliamentary enquiry is 'an expression of the church's commitment to facing the truth with humility and unflinching honesty.' Their new website 'Facing the Truth' commences with a quote from Cardinal Newman: 'Let us take things as we find them: let us not attempt to distort them into what they are not... We cannot make facts. All our wishing cannot change them. We must use them.' Let's make no mistake. The church processes and canonical procedures for dealing with child sexual abuse have in the past been highly deficient. It was not theological reflection by the likes of Cardinal Burke that led to change. Rather that pressure came from the faithful and other persons affronted by church actions which failed to meet the contemporary secular standards of our culture. We now insist on due process and transparency. We do not concede exclusivity to the hierarchy in dealing with serious complaints of child sexual abuse.

Animated by the best values of our society, praying the Scriptures, and celebrating the sacraments, each of us is able to contribute our part to the Church in this time of crisis. Think only of today's Gospel on the feast of St Matthew. The Pharisees asked Jesus, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?' Jesus points out that it is not the well who need the doctor. We come to the Scriptures and we come to the table so that we might be cured.

Looking forward

Looking forward to tonight I looked back at a reflection I wrote seven years ago at the request of the legendary emeritus Professor Greg Dening who had been a Jesuit but later became an anthropologist and sociologist of culture. In 2006 he published a refreshing ethnographic history of the Jesuit parishes on the North Shore of Sydney Harbour entitled Church Alive. He asked me to write a one-page reflection on priesthood. On re-reading it I decided I would change only the dates. This is what I wrote.

I have been a Jesuit for 30 years. I was ordained 20 years ago. Just before my ordination, a four-year-old niece reminded me that it was her birthday. The conversation went something like this: 'You won't give me a present, will you?' 'No'. (Given that I have 21 nieces and nephews, I thought this this the best policy for a Jesuit with a vow poverty.) 'And that's because you're a priest, isn't it?' 'Yes'. 'When you're a man again, will you give me a present?'

There is a real mystery to priesthood. That mystery can speak of grace but it doesn't always. Sometimes it is just strange and different.

In the most routine parish daily Mass, there is a deep silence as you utter the words, 'This is a cup of my blood... It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.' (That was, you might remember what we used to say.) From the sanctuary, you behold a scattered faithful who are at that moment full of faith. And you know some of the stories behind the reverential postures before you. The abiding faith of these people sustains you in your own struggle for faith in a God who is with us and who cares enough to respond to our prayers, in blood.

Then we pray for peace. The silence before the prayer formula is wide enough to hold all the battles of our world and the struggles, which each worshipper brings to the altar that day. As priest you see this, day in and day out, often having privileged access to those struggles.

Then come the special moments of baptisms, weddings and funerals when the churched ones are like leaven in the loaf, carrying the structure of the liturgy, while the unchurched, through their awkwardness and unfamiliarity with the forms and words, look to you to carry it through. And you look back to them to know what and whom we celebrate on this occasion. It is special to be the vested embodiment of the connection between the citizens of an unchurched world that wonders if there is anything more than ritual to mark the passage of life, love and death, and the parishioners of a church which dares to offer the sacrament of Jesus to all comers, in season and out of season.

In the Sunday homily, you are the community's chosen minister to reflect on the week that we have all lived searching for faith and truth. In every third or fifth pew, there is someone who is connecting and providing you with the bridge to the next thought. You hope not to disturb those, in other pews, who are waiting on God while not being helped much by you this week. There is always next week, or another priest, or some other channel of grace at the most unexpected moment.

As priest, you are the human face of the Church for many people, in church, on the street and through the airwaves. All types of people meet you. At wedding receptions you invariably get to talk at length to the happiest and saddest people in the room. You get home and face the aloneness of knowing that there is not a lifelong companion to lovingly pull you into line or urge you to do better. But you have your Lord and memories of the day where your presence provided the briefest opportunity for the delighted or the sorrowful to open themselves beyond their own controlled world. You know grace as a daily reality, because you are with graced people every day.

Sometimes people have no use for you. They think you should just get back to your presbytery and say your prayers. But before you do, you look for something practical you could do or say. As priest, you are invited to become fully a human being while on public display as the possession of the faith community. You can't respond to the invitation without intimacy of prayer, friends and family who believe in you as priest, even though you have the same foibles as they.

I did travel interstate to that nieces 21st birthday. I still haven't given her a present, but she understands that's because I am a priest.

I should add that I was delighted to perform her marriage. And we are presently looking forward to the birth of her second child.

Vatican II teaches that we are all the people of God and that indeed we are a priestly people. So I would invite you tonight to adopt these reflections of my priesthood as part of the story of your priesthood, the priesthood of all believers.

Father Timothy Radcliffe OP recently visited Australia and addressed the National Council of Priests' conference. He put three challenges to the priests which I think are challenges for all of us as contemporary members of the church. We must refuse self-marginalisation. We must engage profoundly with those who are different, with whom we disagree. We must free ourselves from fear and the impulse to control everything.

Radcliffe also quoted Cardinal Newman who taught that there were three offices in the church: the authority of government, the authority of truth, and the authority of the experience of God in worship. Each of these authorities can go wrong. And each of these authorities can be mutually correcting of the others.

Looking to the future, I want to focus on the role of you, the laity, in the growing absence of priests like me and the other Fathers here in your midst this evening. And I want to insist on the need for due process, transparency and respectful dealing within the Church.

Institutional support for a resourced laity who are the majority of Christ's faithful

Given the shortage of priests and religious in the contemporary Australian Church as compared with the situation 50 years ago, we need to provide more resources and opportunities to the laity wanting to perform the mission in Christ's name — lay organisations, public juridic persons, volunteering, better structured opportunities for part time commitment to the apostolate, and provision by religious orders for young people wanting to make a commitment for a few years before marriage and life and work in civic service. The greatest challenge is providing a place in the Church for young women wanting to contribute to the mission. When I stood at that portrait of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour 50 years ago, there were almost 15,000 women religious in the Australian Church. Today there are less than 6,000 and their median age is 74. Only 6 per cent of them are under 50. When I joined the Jesuits in 1975, almost half the women religious were aged under 50.

I caused alarm with some of my fellow Jesuits last year when I gave an interview to The Good Weekend saying: 'I wouldn't be a priest if I was 21 today. I am one of the last generations of Irish Catholics whose families made it professionally and were comfortable with the Church. I love being a Jesuit but I can't honestly say I would join now. My religious faith has remained rock solid, but there are times when I feel really cheesed off with the institutional church, which sometimes treats its lay members and non-members in a too-patronising fashion.'

When I joined the Jesuits, approximately 25 per cent of clerical religious were 60 or over, with very few aged 75 or over. More than one-third (36.6 per cent) were under the age of 40, with 9.8 per cent under 25 years. By 2009, only 10 per cent of clerical religious were under 40, with just 0.7 per cent aged under 25. That's an enormous challenge for a 21 year old.

As I have said to my superiors, we need to see how a young man might discern that action of the Spirit in calling him to a group which is aged and diminished, though armed with a fine founding charism and recent documents which make for splendid reading in terms of mission and life. For example, if I were contemplating priesthood or religious life aged 21 today and was attracted to the Australian Jesuits, I would need to consider some additional factors which were not relevant in 1975: I will be responsible in fraternal charity for a disproportionate number of my brothers who are retired and moving towards death; I will not be accompanied by a significant number of like-minded contemporaries; I will be expected to oversee corporate enterprises boasting the Ignatian charism with a reduced expectation that I will have a long working life largely dedicated just to learning, teaching or direct pastoral involvement; and I will be part of an apostolic group dedicated to the universal mission of the Church but with few inspiring demands or expressions of trust from the local hierarchy. The Spirit may still be calling me but not in the same exciting and challenging way that the Spirit would have been calling the same young man had he turned 21 in 1975 rather than 2012.

After my Good Weekend interview, one very fine Jesuit wrote to me saying, 'A vocation to the priesthood is basically a particular relationship with Jesus, to which we are called. Are you saying, 'If I were 21 today, Jesus would not be calling me to the priesthood'? I really don't think we can speak for Jesus like that! Or are you saying, 'If I were 21 today, I wouldn't say 'Yes' to Jesus calling me to the priesthood (i.e. I would only relate with Jesus on my terms)'? It is very risky, even hypothetically, to think like that. It gives the Bad Spirit a way into the present moment, where he can appear as an angel of light.'

This is how I replied:

The matter of the call presumably is always to be seen in the context from which we can incarnate the presence of Jesus and discern the call of the Spirit. Presumably, we are ad idem in stating: If I were born into a Muslim family, I don't think I would be a priest today. If I were born a girl, I don't think I would be called to priesthood. Where we seem to part is in considering: If I were born into a social context where there were not the supports and encouragements to consider priesthood, and where the likely consequences of priesthood would be membership of an ageing and diminishing group serving a Church that was seen to be more dysfunctional and with a hierarchy more removed from the realities of ordinary people's lives, I don't think I would be so likely to discern a call to priesthood in 2012 as I would have in 1975.

If your approach is right then of course, there are just as many young men in 2012 being called by the Spirit but they are ignoring the call. You would judge them as dealing with Jesus on their terms. If my approach is right, the Spirit is not calling as many young men to priesthood precisely because it is a very different call from what it was 40 or 60 years ago. But you don't think we can speak for Jesus like that! I appreciate your caution about playing around with Jesus and making room for the Bad Spirit. But I am wary about any approach which passes adverse judgment on all those who have not answered 'the unchanging call' in the same numbers as they did in the past. Existentially, it is now a very different call, in my view. And it is no surprise that so few are taking it up in our part of the world.

Either we have to judge adversely those who have not joined in the same numbers in the past or we have to re-assess the work of the Spirit in calling a reduced number to our ranks.

I think this is what Bishop Morris was driving at in the pastoral letter which ultimately seems to have brought him undone.

Due process in the Church

We need to reform our church structures to be more aligned with contemporary notions of justice and due process. Tonight I would like to take further my reflections on the Morris affair, acknowledging that some Catholics think it is just a storm in a teacup about a recalcitrant country bishop and that it is time we all moved on. I think such an approach is a serious misreading of the signs of the times.

In the face of the clouded mystery over the sacking of Bishop Morris, the key resident church leaders of Toowoomba, including laity who were members of various diocesan bodies, commissioned retired Supreme Court judge and esteemed Catholic layman, William Carter QC to review the Vatican's curial process demanding resignation and culminating in papal dismissal. They also sought a canonical reflection on Carter's report from the respected canon lawyer Fr Ian Waters who stated, 'I presume I have been invited because I am not a Queenslander. I have never met Mr Carter, although I know he is an eminent and highly respected jurist.' Waters concluded:

In accordance with Canon 19, the Holy See, departing from the earlier precedents for the removal of Australian bishops, could have designed a process similar to the process for removal of a parish priest, thereby according procedural fairness and natural justice consistent with the Code of Canon Law. This was not done. I respectfully concur with Mr Carter's conclusion that 'Bishop Morris was denied procedural fairness and natural justice.'

In his report of last October, Mr Carter, having access to all Morris's files and having heard directly from Morris, scrutinised the Vatican processes including the Apostolic Visitation to the Toowoomba Diocese by Archbishop Chaput from the USA. He wrote: 'Not only was Bishop Morris, at all material times, totally ignorant of the material in Chaput's possession when he arrived in Toowoomba, nor was he told anything to identify his accusers of the real reason for the visit, nor was he given a copy of the Visitor's report or any information concerning its contents. As of now he still has never seen it.'

In his 'Statement of Position' to the three Cardinals gathered in Rome in January 2008, Morris said, 'At the end of the Apostolic Visitation, when Archbishop Chaput was being driven back to Brisbane, he remarked to Fr Brian Sparksman, our diocesan Chancellor, that he would be astounded if our diocese were to lose its bishop. He also asked John Bathersby (Archbishop of Brisbane) why he thought he was asked to investigate me because as far as he could see from the material provided to him things that I had reportedly said and done were happening in other places as well.' Fr Sparksman has told me: 'I cannot say with certainty that Chaput used the word 'astounded' but it was a word like that. I definitely took heart and was relieved by what he said because as you can imagine it was a tense time for us all and that was a difficult drive to Brisbane. I was very anxious at first but then very relieved by what Archbishop Chaput had to say.'

Archbishop Denis Hart wrote to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on 4 February 2012 telling us that Archbishop Chaput 'said he discussed the contents of his report with Bishop Morris in Toowoomba'. Archbishop Hart's claim contradicted the statement made by Bishop Morris in his letter to the Holy Father dated 24 December 2008 in which he said: 'I have not seen the report prepared by the Apostolic Visitor; the Apostolic Visitor did not discuss his findings with me; I have not been shown any of the 'evidence' that was gathered or even the list of the 'accusers'.' Archbishop Hart's claim was strenuously denied by Bishop Morris when he then wrote to the same newspapers in response to Archbishop Hart on 8 February 2012 stating: 'I categorically deny that Archbishop Chaput ever discussed with me what he was going to put in the report.'

At World Youth Day in Madrid last year, Archbishop Chaput realising that Gerard Holohan, Bishop of Bunbury, was from Australia, drew him aside in the cathedral before mass 'to indicate vigorously that he had indeed discussed the contents of his report with Bishop Morris — except for the names of who he met — at the end of his Apostolic visit to Toowoomba.' If the processes were working correctly, there would have been no need for an Apostolic Visitor to draw aside a bishop he had never met to assure him of due process in relation to another bishop when the stranger bishop had not even made an inquiry. When Archbishop Hart first published his report about Archbishop Chaput's claim that he had followed due process, I wrote to Archbishop Chaput seeking clarification. He replied promptly though briefly within a day, 'I have no comments for you, Father Brennan. God bless you.' On 12 March 2012, Bishop Morris wrote seeking clarification of Chaput's repeated claim to Australian bishops that he had shared the contents of his report. Chaput replied, 'Bishop Morris, your imagination is in overdrive....I did share everything with you.......You are involved in an exercise of self-justification that is obscuring the truth and good reason.'

More information has now come to light courtesy of the butler and Vatilinks. In his note of 11 December 2009 following upon his meeting with Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba on 4 June 2009, Pope Benedict wrote 'that in fact there was no process, but a fraternal dialogue and an appeal to his conscience to freely renounce his office as diocesan bishop'.

Prior to the fraternal dialogue, there was a process of sorts. In April 2007, the Holy See sent Archbishop Chaput to conduct a visitation of Bishop Morris's diocese. Morris never saw the report, and claims never to have been appraised its contents. There then followed four Vatican requests or demands for Morris's resignation prior to the Holy Father's 'fraternal dialogue'. The process was neither fair, transparent nor consistent. It was premised on Morris's resignation and ran for one year and nine months before the Pope met Morris.

On or after 4 June 2009, the Pope decided that the 2006 Advent Pastoral Letter was the hanging offence. Benedict identified two theological errors: 'The letter says one could even start ordaining women to overcome the priest shortage.' 'He says furthermore that even ministers of other communities (Anglicans, etc.) could help out in the Catholic Church.'

With all respect, Benedict's summary of Morris's position is far too simplistic. This is what Morris wrote:

Given our deeply held belief in the primacy of Eucharist for the identity, continuity and life of each parish community, we may well need to be much more open towards other options of ensuring that Eucharist may be celebrated. Several responses have been discussed internationally, nationally and locally:

  • ordaining married, single or widowed men who are chosen and endorsed by their local parish community
  • welcoming former priests, married or single back to active ministry?
  • ordaining women, married or single
  • recognising Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church Orders

While we continue to reflect carefully on these options we remain committed to actively promoting vocations to the current celibate male priesthood and open to inviting priests from overseas.

As soon as the local media started asking Morris in January 2007 if he would take these courses of action, he consistently replied that he would only do what Rome approved. Ultimately in early January 2008, he even published a clarification of his pastoral letter on the diocesan website saying: 'Unfortunately some people seem to have interpreted (my pastoral letter) as suggesting that I was personally initiating options that are contrary to the doctrine and discipline of the Church. As a bishop I cannot and would not do that and I indicated this in the local media at the time.'

In his own minutes from a curial meeting of three cardinals with Morris on 19 January 2008, Cardinal Re wrote: 'To sum it up briefly: to present these questions as topics for public discussion is to separate yourself from the teaching of the Catholic Church.' It seems the present Pope agrees. Those of us imbued with the spirit of the Age, with all that is finest in our own culture, responding to the signs of the times, are not separated from the Church simply because we ask questions and wonder aloud whether things might change in future.

During this sad Morris saga, some of the more conservative Catholics have claimed that it is an open and shut case requiring submissive respect for the primacy of Peter. I am one of those Catholics who has no problem with the primacy of Peter. But if the primacy of Peter is to be in any way credible and transmissible to future generations, each and every person in the hierarchy under Peter must conduct himself or herself with transparency, with a commitment to due process, and with respect for the dignity of every human person, especially the accused. All of us in the Church should face the truth. If not, Peter in the exercise of his primacy may well be guilty of arbitrary or capricious behaviour. Once again the lesson is clear. Our church practices and treatment of each other must at least match the contemporary demands of our culture — due process, and a fair go for all.


If we as the People of God rejoicing in the name 'Catholic' are to bring the modern world into contact with the vivifying and perennial energies of the gospel, we need to ensure that our Church is an exemplar of the noblest values espoused by people of all faiths and none. We need to recommit ourselves to charity, justice and truth both within our own structures when dealing with each other, and in all our dealings with those outside the membership of our Church, especially those who differ with us conscientiously about the moral challenges of the Age. We need to examine afresh our belief in 'a love or compassion which is unconditional — that is, not based on what you the recipient have made of yourself — or as one based on what you are most profoundly, a being in the image of God'. Charles Taylor sums up the challenge as 'a difficult discernment, trying to see what in modern culture reflects its furthering of the Gospel, and what (in modern culture reflects) its refusal of the transcendent'[7]. Thus exercised, we might bring even the young into engagement 'with the vivifying and perennial energies of the gospel'.

As we attempt to share our faith with your children and grandchildren, we will find life in the church only if we live and move along a spectrum between truth and freedom, between authority and conscience, between idealised tradition and historical consciousness, between hierarchy and community, between papal primacy and due process. To quote the fine title of Pope Benedict's encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, we are committed to charity in truth. As church members we should compromise charity only in the name of truth, and we should compromise truth only in the name of charity. If we are all charitable and truthful with your children and grandchildren, there is every possibility that the Spirit will continue to act — inviting them to be the people of God, members of the Church which we are blessed to know to be the finest institution and community reflecting the life of the Scriptures and enacting the Sacraments, so that Jesus might continue to live amongst us, urging us on in faith, hope and love.

Frank Brennan headshotThe above text is from Fr Frank Brennan SJ's presentation 'Looking Back and Looking Forward Over Church and Life on the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II', at the Spirituality in the Pub Goulburn Valley Annual Dinner, The Vault, Shepparton, 21 September 2012.



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Vincent Buckley in writing about V2's changes to the liturgy of the sacraments: 'The attempt is a gallant one and must be praised unreservedly. But there is a sense in which it comes a hundrd years too late; it comes into a de-sacralised world and to de-sacralised imaginations. The effect of it may well be to encourage indifferentism and to weaken the sense of the sacramental power, unless a great effort is made to widen the scope of the sacramental action, and to REjoin what we call 'the sacraments' to the qualities of the word, of nature, and of loving relationships, from which...they have been too nearly divorced'. (Cutting Green Hay, 1983, p282). These prescient words are typical of Buckley's concern for the Church - and yet we are nowhere in theological thinking in Australia approaching their implications, in any dimension, but especially regarding 'nature'

len puglisi | 24 September 2012  

Fr. Brennan, Thank you for this well presented discussion. As a US Catholic, I have wondered what had happened in this situation with Bishop Morris. You have clarified this for me. It is with sadness that I see how difficult the time has become for the Church. I struggle with dealing with the questions my children raise regarding this. I teach a catechism class full of inquiring minds. I dread the time when they will ask deeper questions as they mature. As I am following this group through Confirmation, that time will come. At present my resources for that depth are not readily available. I wish you lived next door & I could knock and ask.Perhaps God will send someone. Kathleen Anderson

kathleen anderson | 24 September 2012  

Inspiring. When I once wondered aloud as to why it was that that Catholic Bishops seemed to spend a great deal of their time making life hard for their Catholic flock I was reminded that "The mark of Catholic orthodoxy is persecution by the Church". From cyber space I can hear Mary McKillop and her young friend Joan of Arc giggling together and saying: "Yeh. Right. You 've got it"

jim macken | 24 September 2012  

A fantastic marathon of clarity, Father Brennan, if only we had more clarity and justice in our church not just a lot of august talk about justice from our Vatican and world wide leaders. Thank God for the electronic media that does enable us lay Catholics to find out what really goes on. God bless you.

Margaret.Coffey | 24 September 2012  

Cardinal Burke makes a lot of sense and has a realistic grasp of a world mired in cruelty, evil and goodness. Fr Brennan always seems to strain after a semi-marxist critique of the church and a quasi-utopian view of how he'd like the world to be. Trouble is that utopian visions (as opposed to realistically grounded approaches to implementing Christ's vision a la Fr Chris Riley) do not seem to lead anywhere and can sow needless confusion. Give me the humility and clarity of Burke (and Chris Riley) any day.

Skye | 24 September 2012  

".......Our church practices and treatment of each other must at least match the contemporary demands of our culture — due process, and a fair go for all..........” This sentence above from the paper from Frank Brennan shows up the problem with the dismissal of Bishop Morris as a reflection of the European culture of obedience and conformity in all things no matter how small. It sounds like the Daleks “Obey Obey Obey” are in command.. I found Frank’s paper very challenging and in line with the OZwellian approach to life. . I wonder what Rome will do with him? Will Bishop Morris be returned in Glory? Will Frank be sent to the Outer Islands of the Pacific? I liked also the quotes of guidance given to priests at one stage , viz; · "We must refuse self-marginalisation.· We must engage profoundly with those who are different, with whom we disagree. We must free ourselves from fear and the impulse to control everything." Sounds like good management advice. Ken Fuller

Ken FULLER | 25 September 2012  

I think Fr Brennan is stretching the truth a little. "Most of these claims from 30 up to 80 years ago". These crimes against children were never dealt with, if they were we wouldn't be having this albeit one sided conversation. As far as God and justice is concerned, there is no time element and I'm sure there are many crying out in thirst for what was never reconciled betwixt.

L Newington | 25 September 2012  

Thank you Fr Frank for your clarity, honesty & inspiration. Archbishop Chaput's brief response to you requires some interpretation. When he says to you "I have no comments for you" He really means he is too embarrassed to admit the truth. His benediction "God bless you" really means "I wish you would go to Hades" (or some other like place). Contrast this definitive action against a good and faithful bishop like Bill Morris with the non-action of the recently convicted criminal Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City. Pope Benedict we await your response to the criminal conviction of Robert Finn.

Elias Nasser | 25 September 2012  

In the interest of jurisprudential perspective re "criminally convicted" Bishop Finn! He was, in fact, convicted of a misdemeanour. Misdemeanours are offenses of the law that are less serious than felony offenses. They are punishable eg by a fine, probation etc, as opposed to a state prison sentence on a felony charge.

Father John Michael George | 25 September 2012  

Fr. Frank, you have given us a clear "trail " to follow the sad saga of Bishop Morris. I thank you for this . Thank God you were born all those years ago and made that commitment to the call. I also rejoice in people like Fr Pat Power, retired bishop, who give us hope that there are voices which will express concern and question lack of accuracy, transparency and need for more dialogue in matters mentioned in your article.

Peter Collins | 27 September 2012  

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