Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Anna Silvas, Amoris Laetitia and the call to prayer

Those who are following the internal ructions over Pope Francis' seeming promotion of the abolition of the concept of the need for repentance from sin in the context of marriage and related sexual sins will know that a Conference of laypeople was held in Rome last week on Amoris Laetitia a year on.

The various talks from the Conference are being published over at Vox Cantoris Blog.

Anna Silvas

One of the key speakers at the conference was University of New England academic Dr Anna Silvas, and her talk is now available online.  Here is a taster to encourage you to go read the whole thing:
...Two years ago or so, a young friend of mine who is a teacher and passionately committed in her Catholic faith, took a new job in a new Catholic School. One day some of her Year 8 students did a class exercise in ‘politics’. Her students were in the second year of high-school, so they had been through eight years of Catholic schooling, and through the whole sacramental ‘program’—horrible word that; what does its use signify? She asked that if they were a candidate for an upcoming election, what would would be their policies. To her surprise, every one of them, except for one boy, nominated same-sex marriage and the LGBT agenda. So she began to engage them in remedial conversation. That brought home to me how far the values of a purely secular modernity have more ascendency among ‘Catholics’ today, than the values of the life in Christ and the teachings of the Church...
Now, in the few short years of Pope Francis’ pontificate, the stale and musty spirit of the seventies has resurged, bringing with it seven other demons. And if we were in any doubt about this before, "Amoris Laetitia" and its aftermath in the past year make it perfectly clear that this is our crisis. That this alien spirit appears to have finally swallowed up the See of Peter, dragging ever widening cohorts of compliant higher church leadership into its net, is its most dismaying, and indeed shocking aspect to many of us, the Catholic lay faithful...
Pope Francis has absolutely no intention of playing by anyone’s ‘rules’—least of all yours or mine or anyone else’s ‘rules’ for the papacy. You know well what he thinks of ‘rules’. He tell us so constantly. It is one of the milder disparagements in his familiar stock of insults. When I hear those who lecture us that Pope Francis is the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Church today, I do not know whether to laugh at the naivety of it, or weep at the damage being done to immortal souls.... 
My dear fellow-believers in Christ Jesus our Lord, this false spirit shall not, cannot ultimately prevail... 
The call to prayer

Dr Silvas' talk includes a call to prayer, following the examples of St Benedict, St Bruno and many others down the ages, and reaching back to the examples of Our Lord in the Gospels.

I think she is absolutely right on this: the best thing we can all do is learn especially the prayer of the Divine Office, perhaps adding Prime and Compline to our daily regimes.  I will say more on the value of this form of prayer as an aid to rebuilding the broken down walls of the Church in future posts.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017


Please pray for the repose of the souls of all those killed in our wars, and all those who have served.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Sacra liturgia Conference

Thinking of heading to Europe in the near future?  Then why not consider timing your visit so you can attend the Sacra Liturgia conference in Milan!

The liturgy and the life of the Church

In the conference announcement, Bishop Dominique Rey, Bishop of Fréjus-Toulon, France, noted that:“
Sacra Liturgia’s initiatives serve as a reminder of the primacy of grace in Christian life and mission. Our worship of Almighty God comes first. It forms us and nourishes us and only when we are thus equipped can we carry out our particular mission in the world. That is why the Sacred Liturgy is, as the Second Vatican Council so clearly taught, nothing other than the source and summit of Christian life. That is why I have convened Sacra Liturgia conferences in Rome, New York and London and why, next June, we shall meet again in Milan.  The question of authentic liturgical formation and celebration remains crucial for the Church and for her mission in the twenty-first century.”..
Conference programme

Here is some of the background from the Conference website:
The conference is open to all.
 From June 6-9, 2017, conference sessions in both Italian and English, with simultaneous translation of all presentations, will be held at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore) which is centrally located in Milan next to the Basilica of Saint Ambrose, where many of the conference's liturgical celebrations will take place.  
The full programme to be released at Easter will include Vespers and Mass according to the Ambrosian Rite (in both its ancient and modern uses) in the Basilica of Saint Ambrose, the Metropolitan Cathedral (Duomo) and in other locations to be announced. One afternoon will be kept free for cultural visits including a special visit to the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana and the Duomo. 
Full time registrations are open now. Part time registration will be possible after Easter when the full conference programme is published. 
Delegates are responsible for their own accommodation arrangements. The Sacra Liturgia Secretrariat is happy to give recommendations for local accommodation upon request.
Speakers lined up include Cardinals Burke and Sarah, and many prominent priests, religious and laity.

You can find more information on the conference website.

**PS Latest advice is that tickets are likely to sell out early, certainly by the end of April.  So if this impulse is on you, you might need to  move fast!

Monday, 10 April 2017

RIP John Clarke **

On the weekend one of Australia and New Zealand's greatest satirists, John Clarke, died aged 68, while walking in the Grampians with his wife, Helen.  He had two daughters.

Satire is a difficult genre, but one vital, in my view, for the health of any community.

And Clarke's incisive, searing, bone-dry pieces of social and political commentary have long played an important role in exposing things for what they are.

He first gained fame in New Zealand in his persona of Mr Fred Dagg Esq.   His absolute best work, in my view, was the TV show The Games, made in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics.

But it is his weekly political pieces, of which I was privileged to long ago hear some the very first efforts, as a teenager growing up in New Zealand, that have surely had the most impact over the years.

I have to admit that I'm one of that loyal band of fans who waited eagerly each week for his Thursday spot on the ABC, and have done so for many years now, and will miss his work immensely.

Please pray for the repose of his soul.


I'm adding some links to, and short extracts from, the best obituaries as I find them.

Tony Wright (Fairfax):John Clarke: words and ideas were his delight; nature his sustenance
John Clarke seemed to operate at a higher plane than the rest of us.
His eyes twinkled with secret mischief, as if life never stopped showering him with a stream of lunacy that only he could interpret satisfactorily.
He neither drank nor smoked: his vice - better to call it his delight, for there was an attentive elegance about him - was observing.
Watching him surrounded by friends at his dinner table at the terrace house he and his wife Helen shared in Fitzroy was to study an artist at work.
As the guests - a barrister here, a landscape painter there, characters of note and not, friends from the inner city and from the country - stoked themselves on wine and launched themselves with a little of their host's dexterous prodding into increasingly unrestrained conversation, John Clarke, utterly sober, grew intoxicated, the eyes dancing.
He was drinking in voices, words and ideas....
Robyn Williams (ABC): John Clarke was a genius, a friend and a man of science

...The first thing to understand about John Clarke is that he was a genius. He cherished words and used them in such wonderful ways: as a big beery singer; as a sensitive poet; as a sheep shearer in wellies singing to the stock; as a playwright; as a slightly amused politician sitting with Bryan Dawe never missing a beat, never recording a bummer; and as a conversationalist...
 The second thing is that John's comedy and satire was as cutting as a laser beam, but it was never snide or bilious. He was there for the fun and the gentle send up — far more effective than the steel-capped boot.
The third thing to understand is his scholarship. Read his classical works rewritten. They capture the essence of every artist he emulated...
Max Gillies (Guardian): a sardonic dramatist who punctured pomposity
When their going gets particularly sticky, politicians invoke our Values. John Clarke had no need to invoke them – he exemplified them. Those Anzac values of the sardonic viewpoint and the absurdist consciousness, together with a delight in their fanciful expression...
 His art erupted from a molten core of outrage, fed through an intricate analytical array and finally seduced by the delight in its expression.

Pray the Office...

Buy the book then go to my Saints Will Arise website to learn how to use it (link also in the book itself).

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Canberra-Goulburn update: positive steps

Apologies for the quietness, I've been ill and preoccupied with other things.

But I thought I should provide an update on the situation in the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese that I have previously reported on, particularly as they represent a welcome step forward.

In short, the Archbishop has commissioned an outside review of what occurred, and committed to making it (and the response) public.  Bravo!
Re. Independent Review following decisions about residential arrangements at Lanigan House
Mistakes have been made and I accept full responsibility for my poor judgement in deciding to place Fr Brian Hassett, a retired priest removed from ministry due to allegations of abuse, at Lanigan House in Garran.
I sincerely apologise for the hurt and pain that my decision has caused across the Canberra community over the past fortnight.
Last night, 16 March, I attended a meeting of parents, families and staff at Saints Peter and Paul primary school, Garran. Questions were asked, concerns raised and mistakes highlighted.
As a result of the failings in how this matter was dealt with, I have decided to launch an independent review of the decision to relocate Fr Brian Hassett to Lanigan House.
Barrister, Ms Jane Seymour, will carry out this independent review.
The review will investigate the basis for the original decision, the evidence used including the findings of the risk assessment, the key people involved in the decision and the legislation that was relied upon at the time of the decision.
The review will also examine my response to the matter once the location of Fr Brian Hassett became public and community concerns were raised.
The findings and recommendations of the review will be published in May 2017 and my response to the review report will also be published in June 2017.
I reiterate that as a Church we cannot be careful enough in the area of child protection. The lessons learnt from this experience must change our processes to ensure that such failings do not occur again.
The statement is slightly strange in that there is no signature on it, so we have to presume that the 'I' in question is the Archbishop, and not the media advisor contact or some other diocesan official, but still.

The terms of reference for the review can be found here.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Mea minima culpa

Just by way of a footnote to my earlier post today on the latest Canberra developments, can I recommend a couple f other opinion pieces.

First Jack Waterford's deadly piece from the Canberra Times and John Menadue's blog.  Here are a couple of extracts:
The major intersection between the child abuse royal commission and the Catholic Church went into act four over the past week. The drama, plot and moral of the miracle play would be much enhanced if scene one, rather than scene four, of act five began with the resignations of each of Australia’s archbishops, along with that of the nuncio, the archbishop representing the Pope in Australia.  
Each is, no doubt, a splendid person whose services would be much missed. But each represents in a real way the organisational and leadership failures that have brought the Church in Australia to its lowest ebb. Mass resignation would be a tiny, inadequate but still entirely appropriate act of atonement – a compound Yom Kippur – for both the personal failings of most of the archbishops, representing Australia’s capital cities, and for the institutional failings of the offices they hold and their predecessors....
No doubt, the creation of some episcopal vacancies would be a bitter blow to the hundreds of thousands – once millions – of Catholic parishioners who would be suddenly deprived of their archbishops’ spiritual guidance, zest for the good life and penchant for travel at the front end of jet aircraft... 
 I come from within the bosom of the Catholic Church and, from 56 years ago, was a regular altar boy, proficient in my Latin responses (which I understood) to the priest’s words. The early part of the Mass included the confiteor, or confession, and, within it, the server would say “peccavi nimis cogitatione, verbo et opere: mea culpa” (here, one theatrically struck one’s tum), “mea culpa” (strike breast again), “mea maxima culpa” (strike breast again): I have sinned exceedingly, in thought, word and deed: through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.
A reading of royal commission transcripts made me wonder whether the modern form is “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea minima culpa“. Penance has not yet been performed.
 And also on John Menadue's blog, a response from Garry Eastman, who points out that there are now no abuse survivors on any of the institutions supposedly dealing with abuse in the Church:
There are now no survivors or parents of survivors on the Commission nor are there any on the Australian Towards Healing or Melbourne Response agencies for handling complaints by victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The same criticism applies to the Truth, the Justice and Healing Council and the newly created company, Catholic Professional Standards Ltd.  
He is also damning about the bishops' refusal to take responsibility in front of the Royal Commission:
For all the heartfelt gestures by bishops appearing at the Royal Commission, nothing of substance has changed. The greatest failure of responsibility was to leave it to Francis Sullivan, the Director of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, to respond in tears to counsel Gail Furness’ listing of the extent of abuse in the Catholic Church. Where was Archbishop Hart, President of the Bishops Conference, offering a response and shedding a tear?
Please do let me know if you have come across any other responses (or written them) to this continuing disaster.

Our bishops as Jobs?!

There is a quite extraordinary article in today's Canberra Times in which Archbishop Prowse of Canberra compares himself to the Biblical figure of Job, and tells us how 'he had needed emotional support' to deal with the criticisms made of him in relation to the handling of an abuse case.



As it happens, I'm reading St Gregory the Great's Commentary on Job as my book this Lent, and I have to say that I struggle to see the relevance of Job in this situation.

Job, you will recall, is described by the Bible as a 'simple and upright man, who feared God and avoided evil', but who loses his family, property and health due to a series of trials God allows the devil to make of him in order to test him.

The Book of Job, the introduction to the edition of the commentary I'm reading, describes the book of Job as:
 a searing theological reflection on divine justice and the suffering of the innocent. The book begins with God, impressed with Job’s innocence and uprightness, allowing Satan— here conceived as a kind of prosecutor of the heavenly court, not the devil—to test if Job’s piety is genuine and not simply the result of his being the beneficiary of divine favor. Satan orchestrates a series of disasters to induce Job to curse God. In short order Job suffers the devastating loss of his flocks and children. He is then afflicted with physical pain. Even his wife rails against him. After these calamities, he is visited by three friends who attempt to comfort him: Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Na’amathite. Job winds up debating with them because they insist that he has somehow sinned. They accept the idea that divine justice is retributive: God gives you what you deserve. But Job is certain of his innocence and claims that he has done nothing wrong to warrant such suffering. (Mark DelCogliano)
So is the Archbishop really comparing any opprobrium he may have incurred due to the actions of paedophile priests to the sufferings of Job?  Personally I would have said the victims of abuse might more properly be cast as the Job's in this situation.

And is the Archbishop really saying he has done absolutely nothing wrong at all in the handling of the current and other scandals?  Is he truly comparing those who like myself are criticising him to Job's so-called friends?  That is a bit disappointing given that he had, I thought, more or less admitted that perhaps he had stuffed up last week.

The role of the bishops

It is true of course that most priests are not paedophiles, and the Archbishop rightly calls those who are Judases.

But the issue the Royal Commission, loyal Catholics - and everyone else - keeps stumbling over is the cover-up, mismanagement and apparent lack of empathy and self-awareness of the hierarchy in responding to the 'Judases'.

So far we've learnt that, as far as I can gather, when the priest was removed from ministry, no one actually admitted this to his parishioners immediately; instead they were told he was sick.  So others who might also have come forward with complaints were not encouraged to do so, and others were encouraged to continue in the delusion that this was a holy priest, resulting in new pain for the victims as some of their fellow parishioners turned on them in the media last week.

There should have been a proper process to clear the air, allow everyone involved to come to terms with what had happened, and deal with the fallout both when he was initially removed from ministry, and when the claims against the priest were substantiated.  And again now.

Secondly, there seems to have been no consultation or even information on his placement in Canberra provided to those who needed to know, viz at the very least, the principals of the two primary schools located where he was housed.  The Archdiocese has admitted that the special needs school was not informed, but claimed that the Principal of the Catholic school was - but the Principal disputes this and so far no documentation has been produced to counter his claims.

At the very least it seems that the Canberra Archdiocese's record-keeping practices were poor, and oversight and review processes were inadequate or non-existent.

We've also been told that that the priest placed near two schools was or is 'virtually immobile' and so couldn't have posed a risk to anyone.  Without knowing more details of his medical status it is impossible for us to assess the validity of that claim, but if he really is paralysed, with no possibility of temporary or permanent remission, it seems odd to me that he isn't in a nursing home or some other full-time care facility.  And what about the other two priests removed from previously resident there, and now suddenly moved in response to potential 'community concern'?

David, the Ninevites and penance

The right response to all of this is surely to admit that the Archdiocese - and Archbishop - stuffed this one up.  The Archbishop said as much last week.  Or was that just his spokesperson?  According to the Canberra Times:
When Fairfax Media called the archdiocese on Monday night after speaking to Father Brian at Lanigan House, a spokesman said he was "not even going to pretend it's a good look".
The sensible approach, I think, would have been to follow this up not with protestations of innocence, but with a commitment to bring in some outside expertise to review what happened, make a report on it that would be publicly available and includes recommendations to ensure there are no future repeats.

And with a commitment to do penance for this and many other similar and related cases.  This is, after all, the Archbishop who 'declined' to attend healing service for victims late last year.

The Biblical text it seems to me that the Archbishop and all concerned might care to contemplate is Matthew 18:
At that hour the disciples came to Jesus, saying: Who thinkest thou is the greater in the kingdom of heaven?  And Jesus calling unto him a little child, set him in the midst of them, And said: Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven. And he that shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me. But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh.
Who are the real Judases here?

To me this latest salvo on the part of the bishop raises afresh the question of just when the bishops will realise that it is them, and the systems and structures they have adopted to uphold their crumbling empires that are the scandal, not just the odd Judas?

The continuing scandals are the product of lax morality and a corrupted theology; of a failure to uphold and teach what the Church has always held and believed about what constitutes sin and its consequences.

The product of a liturgy that reflects a twisted clericalism that places the priest and not the sacred presence of Our Lord at the centre of the Mass; that views the Mass as a celebration of a community centred on the priest, not a sacrifice offered by him in persona Christi.

It is a product of a mentality where the Church's charitable efforts have become commercialised and conformed to societal norms rather than the Gospel, in the interests of obtaining Government funding.

Of a world where dealing with hurt feelings are apparently of more importance than taking appropriate action.

Lent and repentance

There are plenty of Biblical types for those for whom the scales eventually drop from their eyes, and do penance.when they are finally confronted with reality: David when confronted by the prophet Nathan; and the Ninevites, warned (eventually) by Jonah, who told them that they had forty days before God destroyed them.

The forty days warning given to the Ninevites  is a number that calls to mind this sacred time of Lent.

I'm no Jonah, but I do rather think that the clock is ticking.

Penances for Lent: say the Gradual Psalms

I  should perhaps have drawn attention earlier here to the series I'm posting on one of my other blogs on saying the Gradual Psalms.

It is not too late to start this, particularly if you haven't yet settled into saying some extra prayers for Lent.

The Gradual Psalms and the spiritual ascent through humility

The fifteen Gradual psalms, Psalms 119 to 133, were originally used both as pilgrim songs and liturgically: they were probably originally sung on the journey to Jerusalem, as well as liturgically when priests and people ascended each of the fifteen steps of the outer Temple to the inner at Jerusalem, on the three major feasts of the Jewish calendar.

As the temple itself was viewed as a microcosm of heaven, they seem always to have been interpreted as a mystical ascent to heaven as well.

The Gradual Psalms are traditionally used both devotionally, as a group, and as part of the Divine Office.

St Benedict Rule and Office, drawing on Patristic and monastic tradition, actually makes a link between these psalms and Jacob's Ladder, which he argues we climb through humility, and fall from through pride.

The Gradual Psalms arranged for devotional use

You can find the whole set of the Gradual Psalms arranged for devotional use here.  Traditionally the first five psalms are said for the souls in purgatory; the second five for the forgiveness of our own sins; and the third and final set for our specific intentions.

Alternatively, you could take one of these psalms each day and meditate on it.

Either way, to help you in this endeavour, I'm posting notes on each of these psalms over at my Psalm Domino blog.  You can find the first couple over there already: