Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Happy Christmas



As it is now the vigil of the Nativity, let me take this opportunity to wish all past readers of this now defunct blog a happy and holy twelve days of Christmas.

We live in dark times indeed, so it is good to remember with this great gift of the Incarnation that no matter what men, even those entrusted to the very highest offices in the Church, may attempt to do it, she will yet prevail against the gates of hell.  Pray hard, therefore, this Christmas season, especially for the Franciscans of  Immaculate, and the reform of the hierarchy in Australia.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Fr Ephraem Chifley RIP

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Fr Ephraem (John) Chifley, formerly of the Dominicans, who died unexpectedly on Friday, aged 53.

I remember fondly Fr Chifley from his time as chaplain at ANU (he confirmed me in a Dominican Rite Mass), and I'm sure he helped many others as well, so please do keep him especially in your prayers.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Quaeritur: What dissolves a (Time Lord) marriage?**

Those who haven't yet seen the Doctor Who 50 year special may want to postpone reading this!


***SPOILERS**




****
One of the bizarre plot moments in the Dr Who Fifty Year Special was a scene in which Doctor number ?10 (?11) (David Tennant) marries Elizabeth I (yes, as Damian Thompson has tweeted and posted, the show is a load of campy nonsense, but isn't that how it was back when we loved it?).

Now, as those who still follow the show will know, Doctor ?Eleven (?Twelve) (Matt Smith) married Dr River Song (Alex Kingston).

So is he a bigamist?  Is his marriage with River Song invalid?

Marriage is of course dissolved by the death of either partner.  But if you are a Time Lord equipped with a TARDIS, the death of your human partner means rather less than it usually does, since you can visit them at any point in their lifetime without the need to maintain chronological order in such meetings.

In fact, the Doctor and River Song's encounters, you may recall, mostly seemed to occur backwards from her perspective (the first time they meet from his perspective is the last time from hers).

The solution to the problem presumably is that the two marriages take place between different versions of the Doctor.  But does Time Lord regeneration constitute death for this purpose?

I'm going to suggest that the answer is yes: his old body is destroyed after all, and the new one comes complete with a new personality.  And marriage is about bodies in the end, since no one is married in heaven...


***PS If you watched the show, and resented the fact that they didn't manage to include more of those former incarnations and companions, do go watch the Five(ish) Doctors Reboot put together by Peter Davison, and with numerous hilarious cameos from many associated with the show and outside it.

Dr Who and the close of the year of faith: never give up, never give in!


Dr Who: First Doctor William Hartnell in Day of the Daleks
Those who got up early this morning (or watched it at some hour of the evening in another time zone!) to watch the Dr Who Fifty Year Special worldwide simulcast (for a good recap and review I pretty much agree with , try here) will recognise a mild spoiler in the title of this post, because it seems to me entirely appropriate that the closing date of the Year of Faith is also the 50th anniversary of Dr Who.

Fighting the good fight

The classic Doctor Who, after all, was all about the fight between good and evil, and helping people to see things for what they really are (including the often somewhat ambiguous character of the Doctor himself).

Dr Who, after all, at least in those first few incarnations that I grew up with, often seemed to wander around helping the tattered remnants of humanity fight off evil invaders such as the daleks and cybermen, leaving behind a reinvigorated group of survivors to rebuild.  I remember quite vividly, for example, the first Doctor's (William Hartnell) granddaughter, Susan, falling in love and staying behind to rebuild the earth in the Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964).  And there were many more in this genre, especially in the Tom Baker era.

But Dr Who also helped opened our eyes to the lurking dangers within ordinary life, to the possibility of terrorists operating within, to the idea that things may not be what they seemed to be.

It encouraged the idea too, that we could and should help do something about it.

Everyone who grew up watching the show through the 60s and 70s will, I suspect, have their 'hiding behind the sofa' episode memories.  I certainly remember finding The Celestial Toymaker (1966) as one, where the Doctor's companions are forced to play games with a life or death outcome, with a tense chess game going on in the background between the first doctor and the evil toymaker pretty scary (put all those family playing together horrors in perspective?!).

But the story I remember most vividly from those early years was The Faceless Ones, a Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) episode in which airplanes full of people were kidnapped and miniaturised so their bodies could be appropriated by evil aliens.  Its impact on me I think was because it was shown in Australia in December 1967, and my family and I were just about to get on a plane and move to New Zealand...

The Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, hides at Gatwick Airport in The Faceless Ones
Inspiring followers

The Doctor rarely acted alone though, but rather created a  family around him, and a community behind him.

The process of defeating the evil of the week often served to bind together a previously disparate group of people, and give them a new sense of unity and purpose.

As well as those left behind to pick up the pieces at the end of an episode, he attracted 'companions' who learnt and grew through their association with the Doctor.

Some of the Doctor's companions, I have to admit, were less inspirational.   Sarah Jane, for example, always seemed to me to exist mostly in order to be kidnapped and rescued by the Doctor, and Teegan's Australian whine was just annoying.  My personal favourites were Jamie, The Brigadier, Leela, and, in the modern era, Donna all of whom seem to me to show the power of ordinary people to show extraordinary courage and ingenuity when the situation demanded it.

Jamie and Victoria being chased by Yeti in
The Abominable Snowman
Recovery and updating

There are some other resonances with ecclesial life too.

Like the Church, the BBC went through a period of not treasuring its patrimony!

Many of the episodes I remember most vividly, like the Faceless Ones and the absolute classic Web of Fear (Yeti and more in the London Underground), were wiped or destroyed in the 1960s and 70s.

Fortunately there has been a gradual process of rediscovery, recovery, and even restoration.  Indeed the BBC confirmed yesterday that another set of missing episodes from the First Doctor era have only just been discovered and restored by combining a silent film version made from the tv by a fan in 1964 with audio held by the BBC.

Let's hope that the Church follows this lead!

And then of course there is the modern 'updating' of the series.

I have to admit that after some initial interest, I haven't been much of a fan of the show as it has developed under current showrunner Steven Moffat's leadership.  I'd pretty much stopped watching it altogether under Matt Smith as the Doctor, though I did decide to watch The Day of the Doctor today for old times sake.

***spoilers**







****
And I enjoyed it, not least for that Tom Baker cameo near the end.

More importantly, the 50th year special seems to have taken the opportunity to do a bit of a reboot of the timeline (it has become fashionable lately, what with Star Trek and all!), setting up the potential for a rather less dark future under the Doctor's next regeneration.

In the relaunch of the series back in 2005, we gradually learnt that the Doctor had committed genocide, wiping out both his own race of Time Lords and the Daleks in order to save the universe.

In this Special, history is rewritten and Gallifrey is still out there, somewhere (and of course we already knew that the Daleks can never be entirely exterminated!).  If they follow through on the possibilities of that, I might even start watching the show again.

Let's hope that our bishops can take a leaf out of the (three) doctors book, and likewise confront the tough choices they face, and instead of making that same old choice over again, find a new way forward.

Perhaps the take out message for them, as for us, from the Year of Faith might usefully include something of the Doctor's newly proclaimed motto of "never be cruel or cowardly; never give up, never give in", and thus lead us to a better future in faith.

So do indulge in a bit of nostalgia today, and watch the Special (it is being repeated this evening in Australia), as well as shown in numerous cinemas, the associated new releases, or watch some of those old episodes available online.


Friday, 22 November 2013

Breaking up the club: can we really do anything about the Church's response to the abuse crisis?

Francis Sullivan, CEO of the Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council, put out a press release a day or two back calling on all Catholics to take responsibility for how the Church responds to the abuse crisis.

I have to say that ever since I saw his twitter post on this I've been quietly seething, for it seems to me to be oblivious of the realities of how the Church in Australia (and pretty much everywhere else in the West) actually works.

Because the reality, in my view, is that the laity - aside from a middle class club of church bureaucrats and the inner circle friends of the episcopacy - have little or no capacity to influence anything at all about the way the Church is run.

That's one of the reasons why there is so much passive resistance around, in the form of failure to attend Mass and more.

Sullivan on lay co-responsibility

Mr Sullivan argues that though we can't be blamed for the abuse itself:

"We are responsible for how we respond to the victims, how we deal with the perpetrators, how we get reform and cultural change, and how we talk about sexual abuse in the Church with our friends, our families, our colleagues."

Well, at the margin perhaps.

But the reality is that there are absolutely no mechanisms in place for the laity to have much effect on any of these fronts, and every reason for the laity to want to stay well away from any active engagement in this area.

The clericalist club

Consider the evidence.

There have been several apologies to victims, and, as a result of pressure from the Victorian and other inquiries, some constructive engagement at last on changing the Church's approach to handling child sex abuses cases.

But where are the apologies and compensation for whistleblower teachers, priests and others, many of whom lost their jobs or were otherwise marginalised?

Where is the internal action against those bishops (such as Bishop Mulkearns of Ballarat) and other senior clergy who aided and abetted the mishandling and coverup of these cases?

And how can the Church defend itself against attacks on the seal of the confessional and other matters effectively, when every time they speak up, dirty linen on this subject can be brought out to discredit them, as happened with Archbishop Hart on Lateline last week last week with this exchange:

EMMA ALBERICI: And do you believe that you yourself at times acted in a way that was inconsistent with the teachings of the Church?

DENIS HART: I've always tried to act in accordance with the teachings of the Church and I believe that my record as Archbishop stands by that.

EMMA ALBERICI: Even when you told a woman who'd been sexually abused by a priest, when you told that woman back in 2004 to - and I'm quoting the court record here - "Go to hell, bitch"?

DENIS HART: That was an unfortunate comment, one which I've regretted long since. I think it was in a moment of frustration when my house had been intruded and I've regretted it ever since and I do apologise.

So what needs to happen?

1.  Clean out the hierarchy

If the Church really wants to regain credibility on the abuse scandal, the first step has to be a clearing out of those in positions of power who have propped the system up.  Those bishops who supported a system that meant that cases were not reported to the police; those clergy who worked to tidy things up under the carpet, and more have to go.

2.  Action, not just words

And for those who remain, more than words are needed.  I agree with those who suggest that some public penance might be appropriate, though whether this particular suggestion is the right one (or enough!) I'm not sure:

I wonder if it's practicable for church leaders to prostrate themselves for half an hour before Mass as public penance for their failures.

3.  Recover the Church's moral teachings!

But the more fundamental problem is that the child sex abuse scandal cannot just be treated as one isolated problem.  Rather it needs to be seen just as one manifestation of that peculiarly post-V2 version of clericalism that says priests can do anything they want, regardless of Church law or teaching.

The Church needs to recover, first of all, the idea that celibacy for the sake of the kingdom is an objectively higher state of life, and insist that priestly celibacy is a much needed witness in the face of the pornification of our culture.

Flowing from that, it needs to insist that priests live up to their promise of celibacy.  The reality is that pretty much any sexual relationship involving a priest, homosexual or heterosexual is not just a serious sin, not just something that undermines his ministry, but almost invariably involves imbalances of power and pressures for further sins to cover up what is going on.

And they need to preach on these subjects, to insist that those who don't follow the Church's teaching cannot receive communion.

4.  Stop acting like a club and find ways of genuinely engaging people

The biggest problem of all though, are the governance processes of the Church, such as they are.

There have been a number of posts in various places recently about how to engage Catholics more effectively, and turn them into 'disciples'.  A classic of the genre is Daniel Ang's piece arguing that 'consumerism' has infected us all so that people look at the Church for what they can get out of it, rather than what they can give to it.

Maybe there is something in the argument (though I'm not sure why an attractive church is such a big ask!), but I think the far bigger problem is that most parishes act like clubs that far from welcoming newcomers, actively repel them.

There was a rather sad piece from a US Catholic blogger a while back, telling about how after a brief period of being actively engaged in a parish she is back to being a 'roaming catholic' wandering from parish to parish in search of one she can actually engage in as a single person.  It is a common problem.

5.  Transparency and accountability

The best way of opening parishes and dioceses up it seems to me, is by engaging in some genuine transparency and accountability.

But the hard reality is that these are not concepts that have penetrated very far into the Church as yet.

Most parishes barely have a website, let alone one that actually provides useful accountability information.

Indeed, few if any dioceses make much of the information they give to the Vatican publicly available in advance of it appearing in the Yearbook.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Pope and traditionalists: rapprochement?

Whatever you might think of Pope Francis, one big positive is that he does seem to be listening.

Many traditionally oriented (and neo-conservative) Catholics have been pretty unhappy with the new regime to date, due to things like some extremely odd comments (and gestures) on the record and off, his liturgical 'minimalism', and the disturbing restrictions placed on the Franciscans of the Immaculate saying the Traditional Latin Mass.

But over the last week or so there have been reports suggesting a concerted attempt to repair relationships, and rebalance the books somewhat.  Let's hope it continues!

Positive gestures

Some of the positive notes sounded in the last week or so towards the more traditionally oriented within the Church include:
  •  'that interview' was thankfully removed from the Vatican website (an event that got almost as much coverage as the original story in some quarters!);
  • the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter (FSSP) are currently celebrating twenty-five years since a small group of priests split from the SSPX and reconciled with Rome.  And the Pope apparently sent the French District a congratulatory message for the occasion through the French Nuncio (did he send one to the Fraternity as a whole?), lauding their loyalty to Peter;
  • reports that the Pope made one of those 'Hi it's Francis calling' phone calls (!) to a traditionalist critic who is gravely ill.  The man had actually been fired by an Italian Catholic broadcaster after he wrote a critical piece on Pope Francis.  The Pope, however, acknowledged the importance of constructive criticism; and
  • an endorsement for the work of an advocate of the 'hermeneutic of continuity' approach to interpreting Vatican II, with an implicit slam of the progressive 'Bologna' school.
Yes, (a)catholics he was talking about you!

And the fifth strand to this rebalancing effort are some comments clearly targeting the 'progressives'.

According to Vatican Radio, one of his 'Domus Martha sermons' lauds adherence to our traditions in the interest of resisting secularism, and attacked that 'adolescent progressivism' that sees doctrine and practice as negotiable:

"Often he said, the people of God prefer to distance themselves from the Lord in favour of worldly proposals. He said worldliness is the root of evil and it can lead us to abandon our traditions and negotiate our loyalty to God who is always faithful. This – the Pope admonished – is called apostasy, which he said is a form of “adultery” which takes place when we negotiate the essence of our being: loyalty to the Lord...

And Pope Francis warned that this happens today. Moved by the spirit of worldliness, people negotiate their fidelity to the Lord, they negotiate their identity, and they negotiate their belonging to a people that God loves. 

And with a reference to the 20th century novel “Lord of the World” that focuses on the spirit of worldliness that leads to apostasy, Pope Francis warned against the desire to “be like everyone else” and what he called an “adolescent progressivism”. “What do you think?” – he said bitterly – “that today human sacrifices are not made? Many, many people make human sacrifices and there are laws that protect them”...

Good to hear.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Pray for Tasmania and Canberra

I wanted to alert readers briefly of two events, one (hopefully!) positive, one not happening tomorrow that need your fervent prayers.

First the positive - tomorrow is the installment of Canberra-Goulburn's new Archbishop, so please do keep Archbishop-elect Christopher Prowse in your prayers.  And if you can't get to the ceremony, it will be livestreamed (from 10.45am).  **You can read an interview with him in The Canberra Times (nothing startling, all very Francis-PC!).

Secondly, I've received an alert from a reader that the debate on Tasmania's proposed extremist abortion bill, aka the Tasmanian Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) bill, is going to be debated in the Tasmanian Legislative Council tomorrow (Tuesday).  The bill proposes, amongst many other things, hefty fines and even jail for protesters at abortion clinics, and attempts to force medical professionals to refer patients to pro-abortion doctors and counsellors.  You can read more in The Examiner.



Thursday, 14 November 2013

When will they have a bishop?

The Pope has accepted the resignation of perhaps Australia's most liberal bishop (though the competition for that title is tough) Bishop Walker of Broken Bay, yesterday on the dot of his 75th birthday.

That will be regarded as good news by many.

But it does add to the queue of vacancies and potential vacancies which the Pope does not seem to be rapidly moving to fill.

Consider the list.

The current actual vacancies are:
  • Wilcannia-Forbes, subject of a sorry saga that has left it vacant and demoralised since June 2009;
  • Sale, made vacant by the promotion of Bishop Prowse to Canberra-Goulburn (he will be installed next week);
  • Rockhampton, where Bishop Heenan's resignation was accepted on 1 October.
And there are two more bishops over the age limit (Bishop Jarrett of Lismore and Brisbane Auxiliary +Finnigan).

Let's hope for some action soon, and pray for good bishops!


Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Betrayal of Trust: Victorian Inquiry Report

The Report of the first of several inquiries into Child Sex Abuse in Australia, by a Victorian Parliamentary Committee, is now out and it's damning.

The full report is two volumes long, and I haven't read it yet (assuming I can bear to do so), but the Executive Summary gives a taste of it.

Why was the seriousness of the crime not appreciated by the Church?

It devotes several paragraphs to putting child sex abuse into context.  Here is the opening one:

"Conduct of this kind has been condemned by society for centuries. It has attracted severe penalties under our criminal law for a long time. Up until 1949 buggery of a child under the age of 14 and rape were offences that carried the death penalty. Expert knowledge of the effects of child abuse has been in the public domain since the 1960s..."

 And the judgment on the Church flows from that:

"In regard to the Catholic Church specifically, the Committee found that rather than being instrumental in exposing the criminal abuse of children and the extent of the problem, senior leaders of the Church:

trivialised the problem
contributed to abuse not being disclosed or not being responded to at all prior to the 1990s
ensured that the Victorian community remained uninformed of the abuse
ensured that perpetrators were not held accountable, with the tragic result being that children continued to be abused by some religious personnel when it could  have been avoided.

Analysis of the Catholic Church’s past handling of this problem shows that as an organisation it had many of the internal features of an organisation at high risk of its personnel perpetrating criminal child abuse. These features include its:

trusted role in caring for children
culture and power
complex hierarchy and structure
teachings and beliefs
processes for responding to allegations—including the failure to report abuse to the police
response to alleged offenders—including the relocation and movement of offenders and failure to suspend them from their duties."

The inadequacy of the Melbourne Response and Towards Healing

The Report is also highly critical of the way the Church and other organisations have handled complaints since the 1990s, listing out several features of the process that have contributed to victims sense of dissatisfaction.

It makes a large number of recommendations, including changes to the law around mandatory reporting, the liability of those in charge of organisations, compensation and more.

You can read more on the Report and early responses to it here:

KRudd Quits!

Just in, ex-PM Kevin Rudd has announced that he is leaving the Parliament.

The Canberra Times quotes him as saying:

"On this final occasion in the parliament and as is now officially recorded in the classics, it really is time for me to zip".

Indeed!


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Politics resumes...and this time Mr Abbott made it to Church!

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen, Canberra Times blog.

Our notoriously religious shy PM (his family ditched going to Mass long ago and he himself apparently struggles to get to Mass himself on any kind of regular basis), and the Leader of the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten (also the product of a Jesuit education) both managed to make the Parliamentary Commencement Service at St Christopher's Cathedral today.

Well it's a good start at any rate.

Personally I'm looking forward to some actual reporting of what is going on in our country (and preferably some critical appraisal) from our media.  Mr Abbott can stop his MPs from talking to the media or sharing actual information, but he can't easily stop Question Time.  And as Michelle Grattan has pointed out, secrecy becomes foolish when we then get the news via the Jakarta Times!

The challenge of a post-modern world

One of the preoccupations of the Church at the moment in the US, Australia and elsewhere - not least in the light of the Pope's fresh approach to this challenge - is how to pitch its message to, how to evangelise, our rapidly changing world.

So it should be.

What is to be done?

The reality is that we live in a society where the decline in the number of practising Catholics shows no signs of bottoming out, and where even those who do go to Church regularly can't be counted on to accept or follow what the Church actually teaches.

And instead of converting the West, the proportion of Christians in our society continues to fall.

This is a situation the Church cannot just keep ignoring.

Unfortunately, most people talking about this issue seem stuck in some tired old grooves, and persist in refusing to learn the lessons of recent decades.

Accordingly, I plan to devote a few posts to this subject over the next little while, looking at the merits or otherwise of some of the ideas being put forward.  Because in my view, some of them are positively dangerous.  But you may have a different take on the subject...

Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?!

Consider for example the current preoccupation with the apparent lack of a genuine inner spiritual life on the part of many Catholics, most often described these days as a lack of a 'personal relationship with Jesus'.

Shelley Waddell's book on this subject Creating Intentional Disciples is getting a lot of kudos on this subject at the moment, with its claims that only around 5% of practising Catholics are genuinely committed Catholics ('disciples') and that to fix this we essentially need to protestantise the Church, and focus less on liturgy and more on things like actually talking about our personal spiritual lives ('testimony') and the support structures in parishes.

Now I don't dispute that there are some useful insights in this book, and I might say more about this in a subsequent post.   In particular, she is effectively advocating rebuilding some of the Catholic culture and infrastructure that was deliberately destroyed in the 1960s and 1970s, and I do think we need to recover this.

But I think Ms Waddell has missed the crucial point, for I would argue that the reason many Catholics today lack any real sense of a personal God is not because we don't talk about it, but because the liturgy at the average parish Church does not create any sense of transcendence, does not convey a sense of the sacred.

In fact Ms Waddell puts a lot of emphasis on Eucharistic Adoration, perhaps because that is one remaining context in the Church where the sense of awe in the presence of God is still actively cultivated.

The solution though isn't just more Adoration - it is the resacralisation of the liturgy!

Here's the thing: if you are not ever exposed to a sense of the sacred, and if you are immersed in a culture that actively seeks to suppress the truth, how can you be expected to develop an understanding that there is someone out there you are supposed to be connecting to?

And how can you be expected to unconsciously absorb the proper Catholic means of making that connection if instead of being exposed to silence and prayer in the liturgy you are instead constantly bombarded with demands to 'actively participate' in distracting words and action?

There are major dangers too, I think, in some of the other ideas Ms Waddell proposes to address the problem.

I for one don't actually think, as a general principle, that we should go around talking about our inner spiritual lives (except to a trusted priest or spiritual director) for example.  There may be the odd occasion when it is appropriate, but it seems to me that there are huge dangers in this sort of thing (consider the case of the Medjugorje 'seers' and innumerable other charlatans we've seen in recent times).  We would be a lot better of, in my view, pointing Catholics to the lives of the saints for guidance.

Aggiornamento revisited

Even more troubling, in my view, are the advocates of another round of 'updating' of the Church to our times.

The first version of this paradigm is stuck in the 'great grace of Vatican II' paradigm.  The challenge, according to this school of thought, is adapting the Church to modernity, and the problem is that the Spirit's directions to the Church through Vatican II just haven't been heeded properly.

One version of this paradigm is the reform of the reform/neo-conservative one advocated by Pope Benedict XVI.   But the more liberal take on the Council has also been re-energized, courtesy of  by Pope Francis' creative comments and actions.

Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of Vatican II, though, the reality that I think all in this school need to grasp is that the world has moved on.  We are now living in an increasingly post-modern world, and prescriptions based on a culture of modernity just won't do the job.

Some have recognised this, and are now advocating a fresh round of updating to tailor the Church to this new culture.

Indeed, some argue that this is just what Pope Francis is seeking to do.

The argument goes like this I think.  Modernity exulted the mind, so the neo-conservative emphasis on dogma made sense in that context.  Post-modern culture, however, exults the body, so Pope Francis' emphasis on visible witness is better adapted to the emerging mindset around us.

Dialogue vs dialectics

Personally, I think we do indeed need to try and understand the cultural mindset that surrounds us.

The Church does, after all, always adjust its pitch to the world and the way it operates to the circumstances it finds itself in.

It is not obvious to me though, that those thinking about these issues have really grasped the reality that no amount of 'rebranding' will stop the world from hating the Church, and that we need to be careful to treasure, preserve and hand down the tradition within the Church, regardless of how we pitch to the outside world.

Above all, the thing we surely need to learn from the last fifty years is surely that the Church needs to engage dialectically with the world, not 'dialogue' with it to find common ground, because frankly, there is none.

The fundamental challenge is that post-modernity is not just a reaction to modernity, it is an over-reaction to it.  Where modernity exulted the mind and prized rationality and reason to the exclusion of any sense of the sacred and acceptance of the miraculous, post-modernity exults the body, reflected in its pornification of sexuality and emphasis on the priority of emotion.

What the Church has to offer is not some way of treasuring any of its facets, but rather a way of finding a proper place between two false extremes.

I want to say more about the implications of the culture of post-modernity, but I'll save that for another post!

Monday, 11 November 2013

Paul Keating's Remembrance Day speech

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating gave the official commemoration speech at the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Australian War Memorial today.

Those present included the Governor-General, Chief Justice, Head of the Defence Force, Leader of the Opposition and many more.  Indeed the only notable absentee was the current Prime Minister, who apparently he chose to attend the ceremonies in Melbourne instead...

In any case, as ever, Mr Keating's was a great speech, though I'm not sure I share some his optimism that Australia has learnt the lessons of the twentieth century!

You can watch it here.  Here is the text:

Nine months from now, 100 years ago, the horror of all ages came together to open the curtain on mankind's greatest century of violence – the 20th century.

What distinguished the First World War from all wars before it was the massive power of the antagonists.

Modern weaponry, mass conscription and indefatigable valour produced a cauldron of destruction the likes of which the world had never seen.

The statesmen who had set these forces in motion had never assumed that their conflict might be limited only by the scale of their young populations. They failed to understand how developing industrial organisation, railways, science and rising productive capacity rendered almost inexhaustible the ability of each to deliver the death blow and keep on delivering it.

The generals, especially the Allied ones, knew through military training that not since the Napoleonic Wars had frontal attacks been effective – certainly not against the foil of barbed wire fortified by the modern machine gun. Yet, a line of trenches was dug, from the English Channel to the Swiss Alps – a front which denied commanders the opportunity of that classic military manoeuvre – the turning flank and encirclement. This denied, the line was fortified by major cannon and howitzers, while the generals fell back on the only policy left to them – the policy of exhaustion.

And into this deadly crevice they fed their heroic, young obedient populations.

The First World War was a war devoid of any virtue. It arose from the quagmire of European tribalism. A complex interplay of nation state destinies overlaid by notions of cultural superiority peppered with racism.

The First World War not only destroyed European civilisation and the empires at its heart; its aftermath led to a second conflagration, the Second World War, which divided the continent until the end of the century.

But at the end of the century, from the shadows, a new light emerged. Europe turned its back on the nation state to favour a greater European construct. Individual loyalties are now directed from nationalist obsessions toward an amorphous whole and to institutions unlikely to garner a popular base. It is difficult to imagine these days, young Europeans going into combat for the European Commission, or at a stretch, the European Parliament.

This advent means that European leaders are no longer in a position to ask or demand the sacrifices which once attended their errant foreign policies. A century beyond Armageddon, young men and women are now freed from that kind of tyranny.

The virulent European disease of cultural nationalism and ethnic atavism not only destroyed Europe, it destroyed the equilibrium of the world.

While a century ago Australia was an outreach of European civilisation, here we had set about constructing an image of ourselves, free of the racial hatreds and contempts which characterised European society. Though White Australia institutionalised a policy of bias to Caucasians, within Australia we were moving through the processes of our federation to new ideas of ourselves. Notions of equality and fairness – suffrage for women, a universal living wage, support in old age, a sense of inclusive patriotism.

And our sense of nation brought new resonances; Australian stories, poetry and ideas of our Australian-ness. We even developed a celebratory decorative style in our architecture and named that Federation. We had crystallised a good idea of ourselves and had begun to break free of the dismal legacy of Europe's ethnic stigmatisation and social stratification.

By 1915 we had no need to reaffirm our European heritage at the price of being dragged to a European holocaust. We had escaped that mire, both sociologically and geographically. But out of loyalty to imperial Britain, we returned to Europe's killing fields to decide the status of Germany, a question which should earlier have been settled by foresight and statecraft.

Those bloody battles in Flanders, on the Western Front and at Gallipoli nevertheless distinguished us, demonstrating what we were made of. Our embrace of a new sense of human values and relationships through these events gave substance to what is now the Anzac tradition. For whatever claims Britain and its empire had on those who served and died on the Western Front and at Gallipoli, the primary claim remained Australia's.

Those Australians fought and died not in defence of some old world notion of competing empires and territorial conquests but for the new world – the one they belonged to and hoped to return to.
This is why Australia was never in need of any redemption at Gallipoli, any more than it was in need of one at Kokoda 30 years later. There was nothing missing in our young nation or our idea of it that required the martial baptism of a European cataclysm to legitimise us.

What the Anzac legend did do, by the bravery and sacrifice of our troops, was reinforce our own cultural notions of independence, mateship and ingenuity. Of resilience and courage in adversity.
We liked the lesson about supposedly ordinary people; we liked finding that they were not ordinary at all. Despite the fact that the military campaigns were shockingly flawed and incompetently executed, those "ordinary people" distinguished themselves by their latent nobility.

The unknown Australian soldier interred in this memorial reminds us of these lessons as much as he reminds us of the more than 100,000 Australians lost to us by war.

I regard as a singular honour the decision by the Council of the War Memorial to permanently display an engraving of the oration I gave as prime minister at the funeral service of the unknown Australian soldier on November 11, 1993. And to have some words from that oration inscribed on that hallowed tomb.

My time as prime minister spanned the period of the Pacific War, 1941 to 1945, 50 years on. It caused me to visit the sites of our military action from Papua New Guinea through to Thailand. It made me think much and write about the various episodes of conflict, of the bravery and suffering of Australian service men and women during the Second World War.

This context sharpened the memory and essence of the Anzac legend, within which it was decided to inter an unnamed, unknown Australian soldier in the Memorial's Hall of Memory.
Indeed, the War Memorial's then director, Brendon Kelson and his deputy, Michael McKernan, were instrumental in the process that led to the interment of the soldier.

The words the Memorial enshrines today were written for that occasion.

When Don Watson and I first discussed the writing of it, we both felt the poignancy of the occasion. My uncle, William Keating, had died in 1945 on the death march from Sandakan to Ranau, while Don Watson's grandfather was twice wounded in Flanders after being infected with Spanish flu. He returned to Australia, never recovering from it.

The history of those two theatres of war had haunted each of our lives in differing yet similar ways.
I thought it important that the speech express with clarity, simple notions of understanding and appreciation that went in personal terms, such that we might have been speaking of a relative who had died in some contemporary calamity. Hence the notion that "he" was all of them yet one of us.

By his interment, I thought it important to say that this unknown Australian soldier would serve his country yet again. That his presence would give us a deeper understanding of what it means to be Australian as well as serving to remind us of the sacrifice of the more than 100,000 men and women who never came home.

As prime minister, I was particularly pleased to bring these episodes of our history, especially the First and Second World Wars, into sharper relief. To remind us that the deeds of our men and women at war give us an opportunity to renew our belief in the country, while renewing our appreciation of their faith, loyalty and sacrifice.

The soul of a nation is the richer for it having been warmed by its stories and traditions. Yet its stories and traditions should not stifle or constrain its growth as it needs to adapt.

I am greatly heartened that so many young Australians find a sense of identity and purpose from the Anzac legend and from those Australian men and women who have fought in wars over the last hundred years. But the true commemoration of their lives, service and sacrifice is to understand that the essence of their motivation was their belief in all we had created here and our responsibility in continuing to improve it.

Homage to these people has to be homage to them and about them and not to some idealised or jingoistic reduction of what their lives really meant.

One thing is certain: young Australians, like the young Europeans I mentioned earlier, can no longer be dragooned en masse into military enterprises of the former imperial variety on the whim of so-called statesmen. They are fortunately too wise to the world to be cannon fodder of the kind their young forebears became: young innocents who had little or no choice.

Commemorating these events should make us even more wary of grand ambitions and grand alliances of the kind that fractured Europe and darkened the 20th century.

In the long shadow of these upheavals, we gather to ponder their meaning and to commemorate the values that shone in their wake: courage under pressure, ingenuity in adversity, bonds of mateship and above all, loyalty to Australia.

The Philippines need our help - so why isn't the Government giving it?

Around 10,000 people are feared dead in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

As the Pope has pointed out, they need both our prayers and concrete help.

Not much joy on that front from our current Government - so far Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has pledged "an initial" $390,500 in emergency aid.  Wow, how generous.

You can however donate yourself via Caritas or other public appeals.

The Guardian has a useful live update post on events there.

***Update: Julie Bishop has announced a $10 million aid package.  That matches distant Britain's commitment.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Remembrance Day: Lest God be expunged

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,
Australian War Memorial


Monday is Remembrance Day, the commemoration of the end of World War I, and as in so many areas, the subject of intensifying culture wars in Australia.

Traditions and traditions

One of the (very few) positive aspects of the post-modern outlook is its appreciation, in contrast to the culture of modernity, of traditions that link us to our past.  It the reason why the crowds at ANZAC Day and other such events are growing each year, not shrinking.

But it is not a change that comes without contest.

The Sunday night local ABC news in Canberra, for example, couldn't resist including a female academic spouting about how we had too many such events, and this one just wasn't significant.

The War Memorial and unknown soldier

Far more insidious though is the post-modern twisting of traditions so as to exclude God.

A classic example of this is the Australian War Memorial's recent attempt to remove the inscription 'Known Unto God' from the tomb of Australia's Unknown Soldier (brought back from Villers-Bretonneux by the Keating Government in 1993), with the inscription "We do not know this Australian's name, we never will".

Nothing wrong with the words themselves - in fact they come from a rather stirring eulogy given by the then Prime Minister (who is scheduled to give a Commemorative Address to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the re-internment tomorrow).

But why change things so as to exclude God?

According to (former Liberal Minister) Memorial Director Brendan Nelson, because the (now long dead) historian who originally conceived of the Australian War Memorial wanted it to be free of religious symbols.  Right.

Fortunately, the move was squashed in one of the few positive moves by the new Abbott Government to date, and compromise has found.

Lest we forget

This is a fight that we need to keep on fighting though.

So if you can, please do go Mass and pray for our war dead.

Remember them especially in your prayers at the 11th hour of the eleventh day, and pray for an end to all unjust wars in particular.

And do what you can to resist the efforts of those who want to strip away our Christian heritage.

News updates

Apologies for the break in blogging, I've been suffering from some semi-self-inflicted wounds (well, a case of contributory negligence at any rate) that have resulted in pain and an inability to concentrate!

Accordingly, a few news to catch up.

**Kevin Lee dies in Philippines

Just in - apparently former Parramatta priest Kevin Lee has died in the Philippines in Typhoon Haiyan.  Mr Lee, you will recall, married in a civil ceremony secretly, then when caught out, wrote a fairly scurrilous book that appeared on the face of it to break the seal of the confessional and defamed many of his peers.  We can of course hope that he repented at the end.

TLM in Tas

On a more positive note, Joshua of Psallite Sapienter reports that Hobart's new Archbishop has given the green light to the development of the traditionalist community there, a nice change after years of repression!  Please do keep them in your prayers.

Maybe that will counterbalance the ever-shrinking Canberra congregation, now reduced to one Sunday Mass nominally because of Church availability problems.

Traditional retreats

You may still be able to get a place (if you are lucky and quick!) on one of the Ignatian retreats offered by the monks of Flavigny - December 1 in Sydney, and Bowral on December 18-19 for women; 5-10& 12-17 December (men), 18-19 Dec.  Contact here to book.

The strange affair of the Vatican's 'survey'?!

You may have seen reports that the Vatican has put out a survey of the world's Catholics on various family related matters, seeking views in the leadup to the Synod on the subject.

You may even have been asked to respond directly to it (Melbourne Archdiocese for example has put it online, as have the UK's bishops).

Strangely though, the world's worst designed survey ever apparently wasn't actually intended to be a survey as such - just the normal data collection exercise the Vatican often does in advance of Synods.

You have to ask when, if ever, the Vatican is going to get its act together on appropriate messaging to bishops and media management...

Latin prayer of the week: Laudate Dominum

I suggested a few weeks back in this series, that it was a good idea to have a few psalms memorized as part of your personal arsenal of prayers.  So today I thought I would suggest the easiest route to achieving this, viz learning the shortest psalm in the psalter, Psalm 116!

Psalm 116 (117) is very short - but it also packs a punch, getting across some important messages, and making it a useful psalm to be able to say at appropriate moments.

The text

Laudáte Dóminum, omnes Gentes: * laudáte eum, omnes pópuli :
Quóniam confirmáta est super nos misericórdia ejus: * et véritas Dómini manet in ætérnum.

The Knox translation of it is:

Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, let all the nations of the world do him honour.
Abundant has his mercy been towards us; the Lord remains faithful to his word for ever.

Looking at the Latin

Here is a word by word literal translation of it:

Laudáte (praise) dóminum (the Lord), omnes (all) gentes (peoples): * laudáte (praise) eum (Him), omnes (all) pópuli (peoples)
Quóniam (for) confirmáta est (it is confirmed/established) super (upon/over) nos (us) misericórdia (mercy) ejus (his): * et (and) véritas (the truth) dómini (of the Lord) manet (it remains/endures) in ætérnum (forever)

The priority of worship

Why is this psalm so important for us?  

Firstly because it exhorts us to our primary duty of worshipping God.  St Robert Bellarmine commented on it that:

He addresses the whole Church and exhorts it to praise God.  “All ye nations” is directed to the converted Gentiles, who are named first by reason of their being in the majority, and the people nearer those of the Jews who had been converted to the faith; and the apostles themselves, in alluding to a similar expression in the second Psalms, “Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people meditated vain things," apply the former to the Gentiles, and the latter to the Jews.

Secondly, it brings us back, once more, to our response to the salvation offered through the Incarnation and Christ's public ministry, as St Benedict's contemporary Cassiodorus points out:

The reason is given why the Lord must be praised throughout the world: it is because He has fulfilled His promises made through the holy prophets by His coming to us. His mercy towards the Christian people is confirmed and will not be moved for ever, for He who granted it, as we justly believe, protects us with His pity. He added: And the truth of the Lord remaineth for ever. The truth of the Lord here means the Son; as He Himself says: I am the way, the truth and the life? 

Wolves in Sheep's Clothing: the Reynolds saga updated

There is a strange story in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald that provides even more context on the lead up to ex-Fr Greg Reynolds of Melbourne's laicization and excommunication (and gives me and Fr Ray Blake a mention as well!).

The article contains lots of faux outrage from people claiming Reynolds was hard done by despite his refusal to actually obey the rules of the institution which he purported to represent as a priest.

It is one of those stories that one assumes is meant to garner sympathy for him and his 'Inclusive Catholics'.

In reality the story surely does the opposite, raising questions about how he ever managed to get ordained in the first place, and then why he was allowed to stay in the priesthood for so long.

An atheist priest?

Fr Z has drawn attention to one shocking part of the story, namely that ex-Fr Reynolds apparently entered the seminary not actually believing in God:

He enjoyed it [the seminary] and began to think that he could be a priest. "But it's a bit awkward if you don't believe in God," he says laughing. "So I gave God, if She's [sic] out there, a bit of time, saying, 'You're going to have to sort this out because I can't go on here indefinitely.' "

This was of course the notorious era of Archbishop Little, where the seminarians didn't even have daily Mass; when traditionally inclined seminarians were given the boot; and where the seminary was a training ground for a disturbing number of sexual abuser priests.

According to the article Reynolds did go on to develop some vague sense of belief in God - but not perhaps an actually Christian one, since he apparently regularly inserted 'in the name of the Mother' in place 'in the name of the Father' into his Masses!

How then did he even get ordained?

And why wasn't he disciplined earlier?

Disobedience and pride

The story chronicles a rather curious career that could perhaps have been a path to sanctity - a sudden appreciation of the cause of the poor, exploration of a monastic and then eremitical vocation - had it been coupled with genuine charity, an appreciation of the virtue of obedience, and genuine humility.

Instead though it lead him to  decide that he knew better than the Church what the Holy Spirit required when it comes to issues such as  homosexuality and the ordination of women, leading to his eventual exit.

Unfortunately the story doesn't end where the SMH leaves it.  Mr Reynolds may have been ex-communicated, but the group of 'Inclusive Catholics' he leads continues to operate.

Inclusive bishops?!

Indeed, a reader has forwarded me some emails to this group from Mr Reynolds which announce a series of wacky events, including something that sounds awfully like ancestor worship for All Saints day, and the purported 'ordination' of two notorious practising homosexuals, one as a 'priest' and one as a 'bishop' for the group:

"On October 20 our community shared a ritual in which we affirmed the ordinations of two of our long-term members, John Rolley and Michael Kelly. Both men are ordained in the Independent and Old Catholic traditions – John as a priest and Michael as a bishop. The entire gathered community laid hands on these brothers of ours, and as we affirmed their ordinations, we also called them to be sacramental ministers and spiritual leaders for us, along with me. This action also affirmed the role of the community in choosing and commissioning its priests and minsters – something that the Catholic community as a whole needs to recover.  John and Michael are both well qualified and very experienced in theology and ministry. Both are also openly gay men...."

 Archbishop Hart should perhaps consider declaring the excommunication on these two men in particular for simulation of a sacrament, and the group as a whole...

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Better late than never? The plague of 1984ism.

Yesterday's Canberra Times carried an op ed piece by Monsignor John Woods is administrator of the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, on why the Territory's same sex 'marriage' laws are a bad idea.

A tad late one might think, given that the law has actually been passed.

When to fight?

Yes, Mgsr Woods did actually pen something similar in the Archdiocesan newspaper a few months back, but to say the campaign against the Act has been muted is to put it kindly.

There are of course several reasons for that.

The diocese has been without a bishop for some period now, with Archbishop-designate Prowse scheduled to be installed next month.

More fundamentally, many of the clergy and most of the people in ultra-liberal Canberra are at least sympathetic to the gay cause, not to say outright supporters of the legislation.  You will certainly not hear any denunciations of the practice of homosexuality, or the subversive 'gay lifestyle'  from the pulpit here!

Still, as a reader commented on a previous post, there is a potential teaching moment here, so perhaps Msgr Woods' natural law defence of marriage is a case of better late than never.

How to pitch the fight

All the same, I do wonder whether there is really any value in soft-soaping the reasons for our opposition to it.

The classic example of this has of course been at the Federal level, with Prime Minister Abbott's claim that the High Court challenge (launched today) to the ACT legislation reflects a constitutional issue (ie national consistency under the Commonwealth's power to legislate for marriage) rather than a moral one.

That is a pretty strange claim from the party that has consistently supported States rights to opt  of national programs over the last several years.

But reflective, it would seem, of the Orwellian media suppression and doublespeak that seems to becoming the mark of this Government - such as the attempt to suppress reports of refugee boat arrivals, and the classic instruction that asylum seekers are now to be officially referred to as 'illegals'.

Perhaps this approach may gain some results in terms of control of the public discourse.

Yet the objective of Catholics working in the public sphere should surely not be to win the battle by any means foul or fair, but rather to change hearts and minds.

It would be nice if there was someone - anyone - actually trying to fight the good fight on the idea that if our country is to have a future other than as a rundown old person's home supported by a mainly Islamic migrant workforce attached to the quarry for China and farm for Indonesia, it needs to protect the (traditional) family and encourage people to have children.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

In Sodomite Canberra today..**

The Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory, Australia's national capital, is likely to pass same sex 'marriage' legislation today. [UPDATE: It has now passed.]

It is unlikely to last long, as the Federal Government has already signalled it will challenge it in the High Court; if that fails, it could also be overturned by the Federal Parliament.

Dictatorship of the minority

All the same, it is helpful that Christian (including Catholic), Jewish and Islamic leaders (calling themselves representatives of the 'Abrahamic faiths' have released a common statement opposing the move:

"Seventy percent of Australians identify with an Abrahamic religion – Christianity, Islam and Judaism. As leaders of several of these faith traditions, we have gathered to share our concerns about the ACT Government’s proposed same sex marriage legislation. We are concerned for the long-term risks of such a Bill for our society.

While affirming the inherent dignity of all human beings, our faith traditions also affirm the traditional concept of marriage between a man and a woman as being for the good of the individual, the family and society.

We invite the wider community to join with us in calling for the Bill to be subject to community consultation through the normal Legislative Assembly Committee process.

Imam Adama Konda, Canberra Islamic Centre
Arnold Cummins, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Pastor Sean Stanton, Australian Christian Churches, Canberra
Bishop Trevor Edwards, Anglican Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn
Pastor BJ Hayes, Canberra National Adventist Church
Monsignor John Woods, Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn
Rabbi Shmuel Feldman, Rabbi for Canberra and Region."

How many will 'marry'?

Let us leave aside for a moment the broader effects of undermining traditional marriage, and just consider exactly how many people this proposed legislation is set to 'benefit'.

On the local ABC news last night it was claimed that 'hundreds' of couples would utilise the legislation.

Well if they do, they surely won't be Canberrans, since hardly any same sex couples have made use of the ACT's civil partnerships legislation since it was introduced in 2008.  In fact the last figures I've been able to find are to June 2011, by which time a total of 88 couples had registered.  But more than half of those were heterosexual couples, not same sex!

And that is not surprising really, since Census data released by the ABS a few months back show that same sex couples constitute only 1% of all couples in Australia, viz some 33,700 couples in total.

Canberra, it is true, has the highest proportion of such couples in Australia - but we are talking tiny numbers, 0.5% male couples and 0.6 % female.

So why is public policy being designed around the claims of a tiny minority?

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Latin Prayer of the Week: De Profundis



I want to turn this week, in this year of faith series on common prayers we should all know, to one of the psalms, De Profundis ('Out of the Deep'), or Psalm 129 (130).

This psalm actually features in the Introit for today's Mass in the Extraordinary Form, but that is unsurprising as it is used fairly frequently in the liturgy.

It is probably best known though, in two particular contexts: as the six of the seven penitential psalms; and as a prayer for the dead.

It is relatively short, so certainly not that much of a challenge to memorize.  And there is a partial indulgence attached to the recitation of it.

The Text

The Latin:


De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine; Domine, exaudi vocem meam. 
Fiant aures tuæ intendentes in vocem deprecationis meæ. 
Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit? 
Quia apud te propitiatio est; et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Domine. 
Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus: speravit anima mea in Domino. 
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem, speret Israël in Domino. 
Quia apud Dominum misericordia, et copiosa apud eum redemptio.
Et ipse redimet Israël ex omnibus iniquitatibus ejus.

You can hear it read aloud in Latin here.

The English:

Out of the depths I have cried to you, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. 
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication. 
If you, O Lord, will mark iniquities: Lord, who shall stand it. 
For with you there is merciful forgiveness: and by reason of your law, I have waited for you, O Lord. My soul has relied on his word: My soul has hoped in the Lord. 
From the morning watch even until night, let Israel hope in the Lord. 
Because with the Lord there is mercy: and with him plentiful redemption. 
And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities

For those interest, I've written a lot more about this psalm here.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Laicizing priests: both/and not either/or please!

I linked, a day or two back, to a piece over at New Matilda on the Reynolds case of a priest laicized for what appears to be a combination of heresy, disobedience and facilitation of sacrilege.  I gather the story is likely to get another run in the Fairfax papers this weekend too, so I thought I might say a little more by way of context.

The story over at New Matilda attempted to contrast the swift action against Reynolds with the alleged slowness of the Vatican to act on abuser priests.

But here is the thing.  What we need is tough action on both fronts, both against those priests who abuse the sacraments and those who abuse others sexually, for they are both manifestations of the same problem, a fundamental rejection of God.

Secularist incomprehension

Part of the problem of course, is that the secular media, and indeed many Catholics, don't understand that the Eucharist is literally the very body and blood of Christ.

The early Church was plagued by accusations that it practised cannibalism because of the fervour of this belief; these days all too many see it as something purely symbolic.

But the Church itself has never wavered from its teaching on transubstantiation and the importance of reverence for the Eucharist.  That is why celebration of the Mass by a priest who is suspended from his office is such a serious crime, as are liturgical abuses such as the 'help yourself to the chalice which I'll leave on the altar' style of Mass.

Such crimes are, moreover, in effect punishable only by the Church, for the last state instigated prosecution for blasphemy in this country was a century ago.  Unsurprising then that the Church should act swiftly on such matters, particularly when they become a public scandal.

Abuser priests

By contrast, sexual abuse of minors is a crime in both ecclesiastical law and the laws of the State.  Laicization and other appropriate ecclesiastical punishments should certainly be pursued vigorously by the Church, but the State has a role too.

It is hardly fair to blame the Church alone for a failure to act when, on the face of it, they were, at the very least aided and abetted in covering things up, at worst, as the recent NSW revelations make clear, positively encouraged to do so by the police, courts and others.

And in fact, the Church does, albeit somewhat belatedly seem to be getting its act together on this front, at least as far as the actual perpetrators are concerned: evidence given to the Victorian Inquiry makes it clear that action in long neglected cases has finally been taken, and one assumes that in preparation for the Royal Commission, that is happening everywhere else as well.

More action required

That said, there are still clear areas of inaction on the part of the Church that need to be addressed.

First there is the festering sore of priests who may not be guilty of any crime in civil law, but who certainly have and are committing sexual sins, albeit with adults.

Secondly there are those lurking heretics and liturgical abusers who aren't quite so blatant as Reynolds was about making their views public, but who nonetheless continue to subvert the Church's teachings in word and action.

And thirdly, and most seriously of all in my view, is the situation of those bishops and senior clerics who facilitated the cover up of sexual abuse.

Priests are required to set an example to us, for they are the public face of the Church, and act as another Christ to us, a channel of grace.  When they fail to teach and act in the mind of the Church, they imperil souls, and not just their own.

The cover up

In Australia, some of the evidence of outright malfeasance on the part of bishops and others has already come to the surface.  Much more is likely to hit over the next months and years as the Royal Commission rolls on.  If the Church is ever to recover its credibility on this issue, it needs to get in front of the game, and act now.

Many have claimed that they were simply acting on instructions from the Vatican, reflected in the 1962 document Crimen Sollicitationis.  I'm not convinced that claim holds up.

A reader kindly sent me a useful analysis of that document by canonist John Beal, published in Studia Canonica in 2007.

Professor Beal is no apologist for either the document itself, which he acknowledges is less than pastoral in its tone, or for the secrecy surrounding it.

But he makes a couple of important points.

First, far from preventing laicization, it in fact attempted to make action against offending priests easier by softening the traditional rules of evidence and abridging due process.

And secondly, there is little evidence that it actually influenced the behaviour of diocesan officials, simply because most were unaware of it!

Beal's conclusion is that the problem was one of organisational psychology; of ignorance and disdain for canon law, not a problem caused by the state of the law itself.

Certainly the persistence of a culture of reluctance to act and failure to truly confront the situation even since the reforms made by Pope Benedict XVI lend support to that view.

Unfortunately, too many of those implicated in the cover up in Australia are still in positions of power.  Until that changes, don't expect the way the Church deals with these issues to.

Pitching to a post-modern world: AB Porteous and Australia's millions of MIA Catholics

One of the great debates at the moment, prompted not least by Pope Francis' fresh take on the subject, is how best to avoid the utter annihilation of the faith in the West.

Pitching to a post-modern world

While some of the debate is the predictable liberal twaddle, some of the debate is, I think, extremely healthy and worth at least taking seriously.

I'm talking about questions such as, acknowledging that the pro-life cause is supremely important in its own right, does it convert people?  Can the renewed emphasis on the transcendentals, such as beauty in the liturgy help turn the tide?  Does the answer lie in institutional reform - creating parishes that genuinely foster the spiritual life, and ensuring bishops who put the interests of the faithful before the financial and reputational interests of the institution for example?  Or does the answer lie, as Pope Francis seems to be proposing, in emphasizing practical charity as a means of demonstrating God's mercy and forgiveness?

What all of these positive suggestions have in common, I think, is firstly an acknowledgment that there really is a problem, and secondly a recognition that the Vatican II paradigm is simply not cutting it in a post-modern world.

It is deeply disappointing then, to read a blog post by one of Australia's younger and newest bishops, Hobart's Archbishop Julian Porteous, advocating not something new, but rather wanting to treat the texts of Vatican II as if it were Scripture itself.  His post, entitled 'The Spirit and the Council', is yet another of those 'the Council was a great grace' jobs, and contains another kick at traditionalists.

A new Pentecost?

Astoundingly, after canonising the Council, the Archbishop concludes his piece by claiming to detect the signs of that 'new Pentecost' or 'New Springtime' arising from Vatican II in the increased fervour of assorted 'new ecclesial movements'.

Now certain people, including several popes, have been claiming to see the signs of the new Pentecost for some decades now. 

Frankly, those signs seem pretty elusive to me.

We all know the figures. 

Despite the recent upsurge in vocations, more priests are dying or leaving in Australia than are being ordained.  

The proportion of Catholics who attend Mass is down to 10.6% and the collapse in practice shows no signs of bottoming out.  

In fact, some recent research by Peter Wilkinson, published in The Swag, reminds us that in 1954, the Sunday Mass attendance rate was round 74%.  It has declined steadily ever since, to around 30% in 1978, to its current level of around 10.6%.  

And between 2006 and 2011 only one diocese - Parramatta - managed to hold back the tide against the continuing plummet in Sunday Mass attendance rates (its Mass attendance rate actually increased marginally, from 15.9% to 16.1%).  Everywhere else, though the numbers of Catholics mostly rose, the proportion attending Mass fell, with at least 13 of our 28 geographical dioceses now having Mass attendance rates below 10%.  

Or mass apostasy!

Just to drive home how dire the situation really is, let me draw your attention to another new figure provided in the August newsletter of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference's Pastoral Research Office.

The PRO have highlighted that the number of baptized Catholics who have defected from the faith, that is, cease to identify as Catholic in the Census, amounts to around 200,000 people over the last decade.  The defectors come from all age groups - but surely the most alarming calculation is that this translates into around 72,000 young people leaving the Church each year, a rate up from 60,000 a year in the previous decade.

My take on it is that if you add together past defectors, plus the number claiming to be Catholics but not ever actually turning up to Mass, and the real number of Catholics Missing In Action is now easily well over five million.

In fact if you do the sums, Australia's practising catholics now amount to only 2.7% of Australia's population.

The hard reality is that Catholic numbers - and most especially Mass going numbers - have held up to the extent that they have only because of the effects of immigration.  The problem is that the children of migrants seem to rapidly assimilate into 'no religion' status just like everyone else.

Some, of course, comfort themselves with the notion that our schools (and other institutions) continue to thrive, educating around a fifth of the nation's children.  But as Eureka Street pointed out this week, a Catholic education or background, even on the part of 'practising' Catholics, seems to be no indicator at all of how politicians (and others) approach the moral challenges of life, in the public square or out of it.

By their fruits...

Now none of this can possibly be news to Archbishop Porteous, for his new diocese is one of the strong contenders for the title of most parlous of the country.

The ranks of those refusing to identify their religion or claiming no religion whatsoever in Hobart Archdiocese (ie Tasmania) is a staggering 38.5%.  The proportion of catholics in the population of the diocese continues to fall (in 2011 it was down to 17.9%).

Only 7.1% of those nominal Catholics bother to turn up to Mass regularly.

And a full half of its ever declining number of priests are retired.

Tasmania has, of course, long been one of the most liberal, pro-Vatican II dioceses in the country - Archbishop Guildford Young boasted of having anticipated in the Council in the Rahner inspired reforms he made to the Mass there, and his successors have continued down the path he set.

So to me at least, these figures attest to the utter failure of the 'updating' paradigm that Archbishop Porteous advocates for, and points to the need for a rather more fundamental rethink of how the Church should pitch itself to a post-modern world.

Instead, in his post, Archbishop Porteous claims a 'providential' status for the Second Vatican Council.  He says:

"In the debate surrounding the interpretation of the Council, we need to consider the presence of the Holy Spirit both in the Council and in the Church. It is an act of faith to declare that the Holy Spirit guided the Council Fathers...In this regard it is not the “spirit of the Council” that is important but rather what the Spirit is saying to the Churches via the Council." 

But do we have to believe that?

The decision to call a Council is a prudential decision, one of governance, not doctrine.  It is not protected by the charism of infallibility.  And it was a pastoral council, or a 'council of faith' as Lumen Fidei puts it: one primarily about pastoral practice.

The standard doctrine, as stated in Vatican II itself, is that the Holy Spirit protects Councils (in union with the Pope) from outright doctrinal error when it comes to infallible declarations.  Most theologians (outside the SSPX) would go a step further and argue that it also prevents outright error (as opposed to poorly argued and stated propositions and failures of prudential judgment) in its non-infallible texts correctly understood.

But as far as I read the churches teaching on this matter, we don't actually have to believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the texts or guided the individual decisions.  Rather that is a matter for discernment.

The challenges of a post-modern world

Archbishop Porteous canvasses Pope Benedict XVI's explanation of why Vatican II has not been a success, namely the desire of some to interpret the 'spirit of the Council' quite aside from what it actually says.

However he neglects to mention Pope Benedict's other line of attack on Vatican II, namely that it was all about addressing the challenges posed by 'modernity', directed at the world as it existed before 1968, and doesn't in fact address the challenges of a post-modern world.

Instead, Archbishop Porteous argues that the texts have timeless status, its prescriptions valid forever.  Indeed, he seems to want to place the texts of the Council on the same level as divinely inspired Scripture:

"It is true that the surface understanding of things can often blind us to the deeper action of God’s Grace. For example, we can be so preoccupied with dissecting the human meaning of a text of Scripture that we fail to hear the voice of God speaking to us today through the text. The text may have been written in a particular time in history, yet as a work of the Spirit it has power and efficacy in every age.

The Fathers of the Vatican Council addressed the challenges as they saw them in the 1960s. The texts are rich and have had a deep impression on the Church. However, it is possible that below the surface of the texts lies the greater work of the Spirit. It may be that the Spirit in inspiring the Fathers was about a more profound work. This work may only come to be seen many years after the texts were written. Even now we may just be beginning to glimpse what the Spirit has given to the Church through the Council."

Really?  If the texts of a Council truly have the same timeless status as Scripture, then why aren't we giving equal time to those of Trent or other Councils?

Personally I find rereading the documents of Vatican II shows just how much a product of their time they really are: they repeatedly show how hopelessly, naively optimistic the Council Fathers were on so many fronts; and how flimsy and flawed the 'new theology', how inadequate the anthropology and philosophy on which so much of its thinking was based.

'Updating' and the tradition

Perhaps the biggest problem of all with Archbishop Porteous' piece, in my view, is his interpretation of the value of 'aggorniamento' or updating.

He does, it is true, reject the idea that the Church should adapt to the times:

"At the present moment there is a fresh awareness of the purpose of the Council in having continuity with the past. In the wake of the Council many of the most vocal were declaring that a new day had dawned for the Church. This view tended to be readily accepted by many. Many Catholics thought that the Church was adjusting to the times. Changes were being made to enable the Church to be more relevant. The narrative of the day proposed that the Church was catching up with the modern world and would adapt itself to modern thinking. Those who pursued this path have not shown evident good fruit."

And yes, he does argue that we need to "engage with our times" while being in the world but not of it.

But I really find this paragraph problematic:

"In this regard a correct understanding of the nature of Tradition is important. Those who have rejected the Council outright have claimed that the Council had not been faithful to Catholic Tradition. However, Tradition should not be seen as a collection of beliefs and practices fixed once and for all. To freeze the Tradition by making it begin, or end, at a certain fixed moment means making it a dead tradition. Tradition is a living reality because the Holy Spirit is an active agent leading the Church into all truth."

Here is the issue: actually the Tradition surely is fixed in a certain sense.  Revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle, and the Church's job is to pass on the deposit of faith, not to change it.

The Church doesn't suddenly develop new beliefs: rather new doctrinal formulations simply crystallize what has always and everywhere been believed, as the Church gradually 'fully grasps' the significance of Revelation (CCCC 9).  We can find new ways of explaining the faith appropriate to a particular time and place, but that doesn't amount to changing what we believe!

And the  Apostolic Tradition, as the Compendium of the Catechism points out, actually is transmitted through practices such as 'institutions, worship' and so forth.  Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI said in Summorum Pontificum:

"As from time immemorial, so too in the future, it is necessary to maintain the principle that “each particular Church must be in accord with the universal Church not only regarding the doctrine of the faith and sacramental signs, but also as to the usages universally received from apostolic and unbroken tradition.  These are to be observed not only so that errors may be avoided, but also that the faith may be handed on in its integrity, since the Church’s rule of prayer (lex orandi) corresponds to her rule of faith (lex credendi).”

Certainly some things can change.  Yet it is not simply a case of 'retreating to the past' and 'clinging desperately to what existed before', as the Archbishop seems to be suggesting, when we treasure the patrimony that has been passed down the centuries.  As Pope Benedict explained in his letter to the bishops on Summorum Pontifucm:

"What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.  It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place."

Time to move along

There is, in my view, absolutely nothing to be gained by continually rehashing the debate over Vatican II, whether to sing its praises or to agonise over its destructive impact.

We can't of course altogether ignore history, but fifty years on we need to take a hard look at where we are now, and what can be done to confront the issues of the world today, not the world as it looked in the early 1960s.

I'll have more to say on that anon.