Another Catholic bishop—Kieran Conry, from the United Kingdom diocese of Arundel and Brighton, who in 2001 succeeded the recently-retired Archbishop of Westminster Cormac Murphy O’Connor—has broken ranks in the church by criticising a decision by Benedict XVI and questioning the relevance of the church to many Catholics. Conry told a BBC interviewer that personally he was “not entirely convinced” about the pope’s decision to establish the Pontifical Council for New Evangelisation in an effort to re-evangelise secular Europe. “I think the church has a problem in its own proclamation of the Gospel,” Conry said. “I am not entirely convinced about this secularisation argument. It suggests that the church’s problems are external; in other words, that society has gone wrong but the church is fine. I am not sure that is true.” The bishop said that while secularisation was part of the problem, the church had become irrelevant to people. “The church is intolerant, demanding, exclusive,” he said. “I think it has to re-present itself instead of simply blaming everything on the ills of society. It needs to become a little more tolerant, accessible, welcoming, compassionate—all the things that for many people it is not.”
No to no burqa
New South Wales premier Kristina Keneally has thwarted an attempt by Christian Democrats MP Fred Nile to persuade the parliament to legislate to ban on the burqa, the head and body covering favoured by some Muslim women, saying it had no place in her multicultural state. Keneally declared her government’s position on the burqa at an interfaith dinner at Parliament House, an annual event in Ramadan initiated by former premier Bob Carr in 2004. The premier told the more than 200 religious leaders at the dinner—Christians (among them Cardinal George Pell), Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and others—that “we are fortunate to live in a largely harmonious state where differences in language, culture and faith are rightly seen as things which enliven and strengthen our society.” It was in this spirit, she said, that her government had decided to oppose a bill “seeking to create a criminal offence of wearing a burqa in public.” Nile sought to justify his action by claiming that wearing of the burqa oppressed women and that it could be used to disguise terrorists.
Reprieve for long homilies?
Church-going Catholic tourists planning to spend time in Louisiana will be relieved to know that despite Governor Bobby Jindal’s approval of legislation authorising, for the first time in the United States, the carrying of concealed weapons in places of worship, the risk of their being caught in the crossfire during Mass has been greatly reduced by the intervention of the local Catholic bishops’ conference. Announcing a ban on weapons in Catholic churches, conference director Danny Loar explained, “We don’t think it is appropriate to have guns in churches.” Republican legislature member Henry Burns, who sponsored the measure—passed in July by 65 votes to 24—was philosophical about the church’s lack of co-operation. “It is a freedom of choice thing,” he said.
Rush to celebrate with Mary
Between 7000 and 8000 Australians will be in Rome next month to witness the canonisation on 17 October of Australia’s first saint Mary MacKillop. Among them will be 150 Sisters of St Joseph who are members of Mary MacKillop’s congregation. It will be the biggest pilgrimage ever to leave Australia, according to official tour operator Philip Ryall, managing director of Harvest Pilgrimages. To date, Mr Ryall’s firm has sold 1760 complete tour packages and has met another 3000 requests for bookings to attend the actual canonisation and related events. In addition, another 3000 Australians either holidaying independently or resident in Europe were known to have made their own arrangements to attend the celebrations. Mr Ryall said thousands of the visiting Australians would also attend a vigil in St Peter’s Square on 16 October and would gather again on the day after the canonisation for a thanksgiving Mass.
Beware, women cross
Public relations professionals, long used to shaking their heads over the Vatican’s propensity for shooting itself in the foot with communication gaffes must have really cringed last month when the attempt to “clarify” new rules (norms, in church language) on dealing with the dedict (crime) of clerical sexual abuse went terribly wrong. Somehow they managed to bundle it in with “the attempted ordination of a woman,” described it as “one of the most grave dedicts” that existed in the church. Vatican spokespriests tried hard at a media conference to say that this really wasn’t what they meant but the journalists were mainly unimpressed and the norms ended up getting a lukewarm reception over all and attracting probably more brickbats than bouquets. The critics were particularly unhappy that the statute of limitations in respect to sexual abuse allegations had only been extended from 10 to 20 years instead of being waived entirely, and they were astonished that the new norms virtually ignored the fact that there was scandalous cover up by senior clergy, including bishops, of incidents of abuse, and also that the revised norms failed to make it mandatory, throughout the church, for credibly accused clergy to be removed from the ministry—as is already required in the United States and Britain. The sceptics’ dissatisfaction certainly would not have lessened when they learned a month later that the Vatican had intervened to overrule Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s decision to accept the resignation of two of his auxiliary bishops, Eamonn Walsh and Raymond Field, who were named in a report of investigators of sexual abuse in Ireland. The archbishop, who had demanded that all clergy in his diocese make themselves accountable for their actions, chose his words carefully in announcing the Vatican decision. “Following the presentation of their resignations to Pope Benedict,” he said, “it has been decided” that the two bishops “will remain as auxiliary bishops” and would be “assigned to revised responsibilities within the diocese.”
Same-sex marriage OK—US Judge
United States federal judge Vaugn Walker has overturned a Californian Supreme Court ruling—Proposition 8 which was passed narrowly in 2008—that prohibits same-sex marriages in the state, arguing that “a private moral view that same sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples is not a proper basis for legislation.” Walker said the Supreme Court measure denied gays and lesbians “the equal protection of the law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment” of the American constitution. Not surprisingly, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was not amused. “Marriage between a man and a woman is the bedrock of any society,” conference chairman Cardinal Francis George said in a statement. “The misuse of law to change the nature of marriage undermines the common good. It is tragic that a federal judge would overturn the clear and expressed will of the people in their support for the institution of marriage.” The judge may not be all that confident that his ruling will be sustained. He stayed it from being implemented pending appeal.
Happy visit, Benedict
Had Malcolm Fraser been a Catholic he might have been tempted to remind Benedict XVI that life wasn’t meant to be easy, a comment that may resonate with the pope as he packs his white soutane for his state visit to Britain later in the month. The truth is that not a great deal has gone well with it so far. Costs have blown through the roof, largely, it seems, because they were grossly under-estimated in the first place, and now the estimators may be in trouble again because an embarrassing number of entry passes to events on the pope’s itinerary—up to 50 percent in some parishes—are being returned “not required”. Meanwhile, the anti-Catholics and the Catholics who are anti something the church is or isn’t doing are working hard to get their point across while Benedict is in town. During the four-day visit the women’s ordination lobby will be out there in strength having their say, albeit with decorum; on the day that Benedict arrives and for the rest of his stay pro-abortionists will be demonstrating on the streets and there will be banner advertising on buses, and to top it off there will be a much-publicised debate on priestly celibacy in London’s Leicester Square. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Benedict may never see it on the TV. The BBC’s news staff are threatening a strike. But you can rest easy. It’s about their pay, not about the pope.
Two bob each way
If the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams were looking for a ready-made solution to the rapidly-escalating split in his Anglican church over the blessing of same-sex marriages he could do worse than apply the formula that his Canadian colleagues used in reaching a conclusion in their recent Synod in Halifax. After long and earnest debate on how the synod should legislate, the primate Archbishop Fred Hiltz welcomed the outcome as evidence of “healing” in the church in that “opposing sides in the debate were no longer demonising each other”. The Canadian formula? Not to legislate either for or against same-sex marriages.
Vatican denied immunity
An attempt by the Vatican to distance itself from responsibility for the actions of paedophile priests has failed in the United States Supreme Court which has refused to overturn an Oregon court ruling which denied the Vatican sovereign immunity from American courts. Lawyers representing sexual abuse victims in the lower court had charged the Vatican with complicity in the transfer of known paedophiles and the shielding of such priests from the civil authorities. While the decision is a setback for the Vatican, finally the issue may hinge on the outcome of another lower court ruling on whether priests can be categorised as “employees” of the Vatican—which many lawyers regard as unlikely. That decision is not expected for some time and even then could be subject to appeal.
Thought for the month
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I do not do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.—Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude.
For your Catalyst diary:
18 September – Reflection Morning Leader Dr Timothy O’Hearn Spirituality of Everyday Life.
Sacred Heart Church Parish Hall Cnr Sturt and Wentworth Sts, Blackheath 10 AM. For information Carmel 4787 8706.
9 October – Reflection morning (Special: last for 2010) Leader Rev Dr Stephanie Dowrick Gratitude and Forgiveness
Parish Hall, cnr Mary Street and Gladesville Road Hunters Hill. 9.30am For information: Carole 9869 1036 or Michelle 9958 5963.
15 October – Catalyst dinner Speaker Phil Glendenning Edmund Rice Centre director
Subject Asylum Seekers-Debunking the Myths
Parish Hall, Holy Mary Church Hall 3a Mary Street Hunters Hill. 7.00pm for 7.30. Information: Pauline message bank 02 9990 7003
6 November – Reflection morning Leader Bishop Geoffrey Robinson Jesus human and divine in the Gospel of Mark.
Sacred Heart Church Hall, Cnr Sturt and Wentworth Sts, Blackheath 10am. Information: Carmel 4787 8706.
13 November – Eucharistic reflection Presider Fr Michael Whelan
Parish Hall, Holy Mary Church Hall 3a Mary Street Hunters Hill. 4pm, RSVP necessary for catering.
Information: Pauline message bank 02 9990 7003