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The Inaugural Rosemary Goldie Lecture

The Inaugural Rosemary Goldie Lecture

The Inaugural Rosemary Goldie Lecture

Presented by Clifford Longley. Wednesday 9th May 2012.

Synopsis

This lecture follows story of the of the People of God, the laity’s status and involvement in and with the Church over the years prior to the Second Vatican Council to the present. 
Clifford Longley  is a story teller, using material from diaries, his sharp observation and experience to show us some of the contentious issues of the times. His main point is the growth of lay activity, education and sense of ownership of their role in the Church and indeed society.

Longley’s message is a plea to return to the ethic of virtue, seemingly weakened in the Middle Ages and Enlightenment. The Church turned to issues of right and wrong, good and bad, sinfulness and reliance on a clergy to forgive sin, so sinners could go to heaven. This made for a dependent, guilt ridden and anguished people.

The virtue ethics moves the lens from rule constrictions (and its trappings of titles, dress etc.) to personal responsibility, goodness for its own sake, respect for others’ life experience. It leads to equality of relationships, and attention to Catholic lay women. These are some of the signs of a maturing laity.

This talk is a very fitting tribute to Rosemary Goldie, whose courage, faith and prudence spoke of and for the recognition of all, male and female, in the Church of God’s people.

The Lecture

This inaugural Lecture, which it is my entirely undeserved honour to be called upon to give, bears the name of one of Australia’s most distinguished Catholic figures. Rosemary Goldie had a central role, as participant and spectator, in some of the most important events in recent Catholic history, not least the Second Vatican Council itself. If a giant in intellect and influence, however, she certainly was not so in physical stature. Pope John XXIII called her affectionately “la piccinina”, which means something like “the little bit of a thing”. A Vatican journalist labelled her “la bambina Vaticana”, and The Tablet described her as “tiny, wise, spirited – and elfin”.

She was first and foremost an apostle of the lay apostolate – by which I means she was a tireless advocate of the importance of the Catholic Church taking the laity seriously, and developing a proper understanding in the Church of the laity’s appropriate role.

It is right, as this lecture is also one of a series to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, to remind ourselves of what the Council achieved in this area, an achievement to which she immensely contributed. Now it just so happened that about 15 years ago I embarked on my own exploration and research into this exact field, in order to prepare a biography of the late Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool. I had access to virtually all his papers, including the detailed secret diary he kept as a close observer and participant in the Second Vatican Council himself. He was, as it happened, also an expert on the laity. In that capacity he had been appointed a periti, that is to say an expert theological adviser to the commission which was working on the drafting of the Council’s own document on the laity. He must have worked alongside Rosemary many times.

This extract from his diary, written in 1962, gives is a revealing and somewhat disconcerting picture of the state of the argument at the time. Catholic laity who had not been properly trained as lay apostles could easily become a “menace”, Derek Worlock remarked. They needed training in the sacramental, doctrinal, social and professional spheres.

“It is a mistaken belief,” he goes on, “to encourage priests to become experts in secular affairs in order to be able to guide the laity. It is the layman who must become an expert in union matters and other industrial subjects which are of such a great concern to the laymen today. The layman should then bring those problems to a priest for advice and guidance from the social principles which have been laid down by the Church. Whilst a priest must know about the conditions in which his people are living and working… it is better for him to steer clear of them but remain at hand to advise the layman in their treatment of the problem…”

We cannot get a fair measure of the achievement of people like Rosemary Goldie and Derek Worlock unless we know what was the status of the laity, as seen by the Church, before the Council started.

In many Catholic countries the predominant model for lay Catholic involvement in what would be termed “social action” – a broad Catholic euphemism for politics – was through a structure known as Catholic Action. The principle behind Catholic Action was that lay activity in the name of the Church had in some sense to be directed by the Church – which meant it had to be under the control of the local hierarchy. Loose control in some cases, fairly tight control in others. It was this link to the official Church that enabled lay Catholic initiatives of this kind to be reg
arded as an “apostolate” – missionary work as an extension of the Church’s apostolic vocation.

As we have seen, Worlock’s model for the lay apostolate drew a clear distinction between what was appropriate for the laity and what was the proper function of the clergy. All the campaigning and organising of political or trade union life was within the competence of lay people, but outside the competence of priests and bishops. Their job in the first place was to teach lay people the general principles of Catholic Social Teaching, generally as laid down in the Social Encyclicals Rerum Novarum of Leo XIII, published in 1891, and Quadragesimo Anno of Pius XI, published in 1931.

In the second place it was to supervise the spiritual formation of lay Catholics involved in this work. They had to be “good Catholics”. In practical terms that meant seeing that they attended to Bible study, frequented the Sacraments (especially Sunday Mass and Confession), studied church teaching, and developed their prayer life (saying the Rosary regularly, for instance, or occasionally going on retreats.)

Much of the debate at the Vatican II commission on the laity arose from the fact that the particular experience of delegates related closely to the situations in their own country. Only slowly did they grasp the point that a general document should not generalise from the particular.

Their pre-war history still had a major influence on how they saw the world. In all those countries they had been actively opposed by anti-clerical movements of the left and actively courted by authoritarian movements such as Mussolini’s Fascists or Franco’s Falangists, from the far right. But Catholicism was not comfortable in such company, probably because the principles of the 1891 and 1931 Social Encyclicals were egalitarian rather than oligarchic. Fascists tended to glorify violence: Catholic social theory tended towards pacifism. Indeed while Catholic political sentiment gravitated towards the right in much of Europe and Latin America, the opposite was the case in countries like Australia, Great Britain and the United States, where it lent on the whole to the left.

What tended to weaken Catholic lay action was the overarching influence of the Church hierarchy, which wished to have a veto over leadership and policy and to overrule the membership in the name of some greater good that was more visible to bishops than to anyone else.

In at least two cases, Italy and Germany, this desire to control Catholic political movements led the church authorities to undermine those they could not control. Pius XI disapproved in principle of Catholic parties that were independent of the Church, and in Italy actively encouraged Catholics to join Mussolini’s Fascists as being more amenable and respectful to the Church than the Catholic Popular Party had been. With regard to Germany, Pius XI, advised by Cardinal Pacelli (later Pius XII), had actively collaborated with Hitler in undermining and eventually dissolving the Centre Party, which was in effect the Catholic party, again because the Church could not control it. Arguably – for instance as in John Cornwell’s book Hitler’s Pope – this removal of the Centre Party from the stage was one of the principle reasons why German political life was so quickly and completely dominated by the Nazis after they came to power in 1933. We should not however infer from this that Catholicism found Nazism congenial. If you look at a map of votes cast for National Socialism, region by region,  you will notice an inverse relationship between support for the Nazis and the proportion of Catholics in the population. The more Catholic a region was, the less Nazi.

These Catholic parties, from the church’s point of view, were difficult to deal with as they set up in each society an alternative pole of Catholic leadership to the bishops. No matter with how much pro-Church goodwill they may have started with, sooner or later headstrong prelates and headstrong politicians would disagree about something – and eventually, human nature being what it was, about almost everything. So the existence of Catholic parties tended to divide the Church and weaken the authority of the bishops. They were not regarded as a suitable instrument for translating Catholic social theory into action, therefore. Any other body which was to meet this criterion, on the other hand, had to have formal links to the Hierarchy: to be, so to speak, its agent in the world of politics. Hence the concept of the Lay Apostolate.

Incidentally, even in countries where Catholic opinion lent to the left, it was not unusual for senior prelates to have behind-the-scenes influence on the way politics was shaped. To give one example – before the war in the city of Liverpool, England’s most Catholic city, the presence of  a Protestant Party naturally brought forth an equal and opposite Catholic party. The archbishop was approached on behalf of the Labour Party in the city to see whether he was prepared to merge the Catholic party with Labour, which would henceforth be committed to protecting Catholic interests. The archbishop agreed to do so, but only on condition that he had a right of veto in the selection of candidates, in both local and national elections. He had to make sure that whoever was chosen was not a Bad Catholic. And so it happened. The Labour party would quietly submit a list of names to Archbishop’s House, and Archbishop Downey would delete the ones he did not like. I don’t doubt that Catholic folklore in Australia has similar tales to tell.

In the ecclesiology prevailing prior to 1962, power and authority in the Church was envisaged as trickling down from the top. The divine “entry point”, so to speak, was at the peak of the pyramid. The closer one’s position was to that, the holier it was. The laity were the bottom layer, not very holy at all. They were neither ordained nor consecrated to higher office; they had not been called. They were assumed to be generally ignorant of the twin Catholic sciences of theology and canon law. They were deemed much more liable, left to their own devices, to get things wrong rather than right. As their status in the church placed them at a lower level than priests, it was through their priests that they were connected to the total life of the church. And of course, the laity had sex; some of them were even women.

The bishops, of course who didn’t and weren’t, were successors to the apostles. It was they, above all, who had an “apostolate”, a mission to spread the Word of God throughout the world. Whether this commission came directly from God, or was transmitted, so to speak, through the office of the Pope, was a moot point which the Second Vatican Council eventually tried to resolve in favour of the former position against the Ultramontanists who favoured the latter, but without a definitive solution. This would soon have interesting consequences.

The priests were sharers in the work of the bishop, under his leadership. They had a share in his apostolate, therefore. What of the laity? They too could share in this apostolate, by loyally assisting the priests and bishops. It was not only a matter of financial support. The lay person was “out there” in a way priests and bishops were not. The lay person was sometimes the best person, therefore, to fulfil the Church’s mission in a particular situation. If he was a good lay person, he would be a humble one, and if a humble one, he would be prepared to take instruction from his Church on what the methods and goals of his lay activity should be.

After the council Worlock himself became a bishop – in Portsmouth which is where I first got to know him as a young reporter on the local newspaper. The newly formed Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales set itself up, after the council ended, with a series of expert committees or commissions who were to advise the bishops on various matters – an ecumenical commission, for instance, a social welfare commission, a commission for the what was coyly called “world of work”, and so on.

Because of his role in Vatican II and his continuing interest in the issue, Worlock was made president of the Laity Commission for England and Wales, which he promptly packed with his own hand-picked lay nominees. They represented to him the epitome of the idea of the Vatican II lay person. It was through himself, of course, that this cream of the Catholic laity, carefully selected members of the Laity Commission, were to receive guidance on all matters spiritual or moral. So this was the immediate post-Vatican II model.

And three years after the end of the Council, it crashed. The publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae in the summer of 1968 saw an immediate and strong reaction, as laity and priests up and down England and Wales went public to declare their opposition to what the encyclical had to say about birth control. Numerous priests were instantly suspended by their bishops for disloyalty to the magisterium. The papers were full of it.

The Laity Commission was hastily assembled to discuss the crisis, and it was plain that Bishop Worlock had lost control. They demanded the end to further priestly suspensions and the immediate reinstatement of those already suspended. They wished to make known their total opposition to the encyclical. The best that Worlock was able to do was to persuade them to address their objections in the form of questions rather than declarations, and send them to the Bishops’ Conference in private. The questions they asked were never answered, incidentally. They were reluctantly persuaded not to go public with their views.

This was quickly overtaken when the document was leaked – to me, in fact, as I had by then gone to work at The Times in London. Not by Worlock, I hasten to add. A parallel body to the Laity Commission in the structures of the Bishops Conference, the Social Welfare Commission, which was not so exposed to Worlock’s feline subtleties, simply declared that the encyclical was wrong, and dissolved itself.

But the significance of this for our subject tonight is that it represented, in England at least and for Worlock at least, the sudden and catastrophic end of the lay apostolate model he had so painstakingly helped to construct. His hand-picked lay Catholic leaders, his shining examples of the lay apostolate theory in action, hadn’t asked him for guidance on sexual ethics in the wake of the encyclical, which is how the model was supposed to work. They simply told him the Pope was wrong, the infallible Pope had in their eyes been proved fallible. They knew more about sex and marriage than he did; and they were not about to be budged.

This was what happened in just one country, and I think it helps to look at a particular example. But similar events occurred elsewhere. The results, eventually, were much the same.

Can I just now shift the focus, because it seems to me to be very relevant to a crisis which is still unresolved in the Catholic Church – about the role of the laity and its relationship to the hierarchy.

In his recent visit to Mexico, Pope Benedict XVI made an extraordinary remark. “It is not right that laity should feel treated as if they hardly count in the Church,” he said. “It is particularly important for pastors to ensure that a spirit of communion reigns among priests, religious and the lay faithful, and that sterile divisions, criticism and unhealthy mistrust are avoided.” Well amen to that. Note that the Pope made two points – one, that the laity were indeed now being treated as if they did not count; and two, that they should not be so treated. “It is not right.”

That requires a much more equal relationship. If the clergy and hierarchy continue to insist on the dichotomy I have just described – “they as the teachers and leaders; we as the taught and the lead” – that relationship of inequality will inevitably lead to the “sterile divisions, criticism and unhealthy mistrust” that the Pope deplored. In my experience many priests have already grasped that truth. They have rejected the infantilisation of the laity that came from the old priest-people relationship based on a downwards gradient of power and significance. They want to be equal; indeed they want to serve rather than be served. The buzz words now are partnership and collaboration.

It will only be after the recasting of these relationships that the Church will be ready to tackle the crisis represented by the widespread dissent among lay Catholics from traditional church teaching on sex and gender. It will mean for example paying serious attention to what lay Catholic women have to say about their experience – their relationships, their status, even their sexuality.

I have long had the impression that the two fundamental flaws in Catholic sexual morality, for instance, were, first, that it was based on a very male idea of what sex was about, and second, that it ignored what we now believe to be the way sexual and reproductive behaviour has evolved in our species and the species that came before us.

What if human sexuality has evolved primarily not as a reproductive device, more or less completed once it results in pregnancy, but instead as a “binding” mechanism, so that the growing human infant has the benefit of the nurture and protection of one parent of either sex – bonded together by a life of sexual intimacy – throughout its extended childhood:  a far longer childhood than any other mammal, and closely connected with the gradual development of the human brain from infancy to maturity? What if, indeed.

To put it crudely, putting all the emphasis on the importance of the genital act itself is rather a male thing to do – would you agree? – and putting more of the emphasis in the total long term relationship would strike me as a more female perspective. But a male clergy is not going to find it easy to understand the female voice, and it would be all the more difficult if the female voice is speaking out of the experience of her side of a long term sexual relationship and the raising of children.

But I have to say I do not think the church has yet reached the point where it would allow Darwin’s Origin of Species to sit in judgement over Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. The time will surely have to come eventually.

Meanwhile, we are stuck where we are. The story of the relationship between hierarchy and laity moves to 2009, and the place – the United States of America. In accordance with its long-established tradition the University of Notre Dame in United States proposed to award the incoming President Barack Obama an honorary degree, just as it had done with previous incoming presidents. The United States Bishops conference, however, strongly objected to the conferring of any such honour on President Obama on the grounds that he had promoted as public policy an approach on certain issues, such as abortion, which was contrary to Catholic teaching.

There was a furious row, as you can imagine. The authorities in the University stood their ground and went ahead with the award; bishops boycotted the event, even told Notre Dame it was scarcely entitled to call itself Catholic any more. But both the academic and student body stood united behind the decision. In the event, at the ceremony when the award was made President Obama received a standing ovation. Clearly there was a wide split between lay opinion, as represented by the academic community both staff and students, and the bishops.

This was a sign of things to come. As the Obama healthcare reforms made their cumbersome way through Congress, the United States Bishops’ Conference lobbied hard against them and let forth a stream of criticisms, on the grounds that the reforms could or might in some circumstances involve taxpayers’ money – including therefore Catholic taxpayers’ money – being used to finance abortions. They were not satisfied with assurances to the contrary, but proceeded to put pressure on Catholic members of the House of Congress and the Senate to defeat the health reform bill. Indeed, they presented it as an order, a binding instruction.

However the organisation representing Catholic health-care workers, and the organisation representing the very substantial Catholic healthcare industry which controls literally hundreds of Catholic hospitals throughout the country, did not share the Bishop’s objections. They gave the healthcare reforms their welcome and support.

What made the controversy all the more perplexing to me, familiar as I am with the situation in the United Kingdom, is that the bishops of England Wales and Scotland have never to my knowledge objected to British taxpayer’s money, Catholic or not, being used to finance the British National Health Service, even though the NHS does perform abortions. Under the British system doctors and nurses are allowed to register a conscientious objection to abortion and are not required to participate in them, but there is no such opt-out for taxpayers. The political involvement of the Catholic Church regarding abortion has been directed at revision of the abortion law, not at withholding State funding for it. I would very much like to learn what the situation is here. More like the UK than the US, perhaps?

These are the sort of tensions and this is the sort of confusion which continues to exist on the interface between politics and religion. A friend of mine, a distinguished professor of Christian ethics within a Catholic University, found himself not long afterwards sitting next to Cardinal Francis George of Chicago at dinner. He asked the cardinal, who had been prominent in criticising the Obama healthcare reforms, whether it was permissible to regard the question of the wisdom of  the reform is a matter calling for prudential judgement. He knew, and the cardinal knew, that if it was a matter of prudent judgement, that would imply that the politicians were free to decide for themselves, after weighing all the factors, which course of action best upheld the common good. No, said the cardinal. It wasn’t about prudence. It was about obedience.

This anecdote brought to a head my feeling that the Catholic Church has yet to come to a full understanding of the principles of democracy. That should not surprise us too much. I recently came across the startling statistic that at the outbreak of World War II the number of true democracies in the world was precisely eleven, no more. Few of them were Catholic countries. If we look at the career of Pope John Paul II, who was anxious to tell us what were the duties of a Catholic legislator in such a system, we find that he lived almost his entire life in non-democratic societies and had virtually no contact with or experience of any democratic system.

Officially, when it comes to legislation involving moral questions, the Church still seems to regard the Catholic politician as simply an agent of the local bishops without any discretion. Yet the case for exercising a prudential judgement is overwhelming.

Standard Church teaching on the issue, as set forth by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, still leaves no room for such judgement but insists Catholic politicians must adhere to an absolute position. “In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it or to ‘take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it’,” he wrote.

I myself find this theory puzzling, as it seems to suggest that Catholic politicians must share in the blame, on the principle of cooperation or consent, for every immoral act that they have not actually voted to outlaw by legislation. If they are responsible for the guilt of abortion, by not having voted to make all abortion a criminal offence, then are they not equally guilty, for instance, of every act of adultery, not having voted to make all adultery a criminal offence? Having voted for instance to decriminalise suicide, are they then not morally responsible for the death of every person who kills himself? Nobody seems to think so. Abortion seems to be an anomaly.

It is not without interest by the way that the stand-off between President Obama and the Catholic bishops of America does not seem to have stood in the way of good relations between President Obama’s administration and the Vatican. In their absolutist judgement of the duties of Catholic politicians, the American bishops seem somewhat isolated. But they can claim they are applying the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. That suggests to me that the teaching of the Second Vatican Council does not go far enough in its treatment of democracy.

It is not without significance that most if not all of the fault lines in the church concern issues of sex and gender. And the standard pattern repeated again and again shows a conservative hierarchy trying to manage a difficult relationship with a laity which, by and large, does not share the hierarchy’s basic assumptions. Not always and everywhere, of course, but more often than not.

The same is perhaps true of Australia, but you will know more about that than me. It is extremely difficult for the Church’s leadership to know how to react to this situation without making it worse. Fulminating against it only get you so far. Merely replacing retiring bishops with more conservative ones is manifestly not the easy to win hearts and minds. What appears to have has happened as an indirect consequence is the decline of any sense of the laity being subordinate to the hierarchy. All those notions of lay apostolate had become obsolete.

It may seem a curious thing to say, but one reason is the success of Catholic education. Church schools do not operate in a vacuum, but reflect to some extent the educational values of the surrounding society. Thus in Church schools as in others, emphasis is put on teaching children to think for themselves, and how to be critical in their judgements. RE is no different from any other subject in that respect, though Catholic RE starts from the assumption that the Catholic faith, reasonably presented, will attract assent – what one might term critical assent. If the ethos of the school is Catholic, that assent will be culturally supported. But it has nothing whatever to do with turning out Catholic children who are, where their faith is concerned, mindless zombies. On the contrary. A Catholic who is a citizen of the state as well as a citizen of the Church will apply a similar mental attitude in each case. They will automatically ask themselves – does this politician, or this priest, know what he is talking about? Does the kind of person he is, and the things he says, convey sincere conviction and honest commitment?

So in the years since Vatican II have developed new and more mature ways of being the Catholic Church’s faithful laity. But here we need a word of warning. To define the laity as simply those outside the Church’s control, or as those in opposition to the way the Church is currently governed, or those who are against certain aspects of church teaching on sex and gender, is a very inadequate expression of what it means to be a Christian, and a very anaemic fulfilment of the commandment to love one’s neighbour as oneself. Nor does it do justice to the ringing declaration at the start of the Vatican Council final document, Gaudium et Spes, known as The Church in the Modern World:

“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. “

So where do we turn? I think a clue comes later in this document, where it states that “individual men and their associations cultivate in themselves the moral and social virtues, and promote them in society”, and it elsewhere calls the Catholic Church “an unspent fountain of those virtues which the modern world needs the most.” But it does not say much about what they are. The only one given a name, it perhaps will not surprise you to hear, is the virtue of conjugal chastity.

This insistence on the importance of virtue while failing to be more specific is not confined to this one document from 50 years ago. The papal encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI published in 2009, Caritas in Veritate, asserts that “Technologically advanced societies must… rediscover within themselves the oft-forgotten virtues which made it possible for them to flourish throughout their history.”

It is right that we should acknowledge three major areas where the Second Vatican Council set in train developments which were overwhelmingly positive, which in my view outweigh all the negatives things it is possible to say about the present state of the Catholic Church – many and serious though they are.

First, one which wasn’t so successful – collegiality. The bishops attending it generated an extraordinary dynamic during the council. They wanted this to continue  afterwards, so that the Church would henceforth be governed and be seen to be governed by collaborative decision-making between the Bishop of Rome and all the other bishops of the world. The theory was that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was no confined to curial departments in the Vatican – indeed if it was there at all – but was spread throughout the church.

Let us look at one example where the breath of the Holy Spirit seemed to blow in through the windows opened by Pope John XXIII with the force of a gale. This is an extract from the secret diary of Derek Worlock that I referred to earlier. The subject matter is religious freedom, probably the area where the results of Vatican II most closely confirm a hermeneutic of rupture rather than of continuity. But while religious liberty was affirmed, collegiality, sadly, never found the institutional expression that fathers of the council had plainly hoped for.

Thursday 19th November will rank as one of the historic dates in the history of the Council both for good and for evil. The morning’s debate was divided into two parts, first of all on Christian Education and secondly on the Sacrament of Matrimony… But the whole debate was completely overshadowed by the rumpus on the question of the document on Religious Liberty. I had spent the early part of the morning at my desk at the College and didn’t arrive at St Peter’s until just on eleven o’clock. By then things were really boiling. It seems that before the debate started Cardinal Tisserant, acting in the name of the Commission of Presidents, announced that the Council would not after all proceed to a vote on Religious Liberty. The previous day he had said that a preliminary vote would be taken to see whether or not the Fathers wanted to deal with this matter during the Third Session. But today he announced that a sufficient number of persons had asked for more time to consider this new Declaration that the President decided to postpone further discussion on the matter until the next Session.

One recognises of course that the new Declaration did contain a certain amount of new matter but the manner in which this things was handled was certainly sufficient to set off the furore which followed. It seems that as soon as Cardinal Tisserant had made the announcement, Cardinal Meyer got up from the table and went to Cardinal Tisserant to dissociate himself from this announcement made on behalf of the Presidents. His objections were obvious and clearly and quickly spread into the Aula itself. Nearly all the American bishops trooped out of the benches and moved into the side aisles and they were followed by a large number of others who were gravely disturbed at what was reckoned to be a calculated attempt by possibly the Curia and some of the right-wing conservatives – the Spaniards were named, though they subsequently denied that they were responsible – to block this contentious matter once again. When I arrived it was in time to find the American periti setting up shop in the side aisles where they had large sheets of papers and bishops were queuing up, one behind the other, to sign a petition to the Holy Father to beg that a vote be taken on this Declaration this Session. It was an incredible sight.

The story went round that in order to prepare the petition, one of the periti had slipped into the office and pinched Felici’s typewriter.

Be that as it may, the organisation of this protest petition was remarkably efficient, even though one could regret the vehemence with which the whole matter was being tackled. It soon became clear that the majority of the bishops present were prepared to sign this petition ,but could anything be done about it? Meantime Bishop de Smedt had been called to the microphone in order to read the Relatio for the Declaration, even though it was not to be voted upon. This of course was just the opportunity that was needed for high drama. Bishop de Smedt started off by saying that it was with feeling that he introduced the Declaration – and here he changed his text from “which is now to be voted upon” to “which is now not to be voted upon”. As he began his impassioned plea for a matter which is thought generally to be closest to his heart, his full flights of oratory soared around the ceiling of St Peter’s. He sobbed, his voice broke, and he delivered the most impassioned appeal that I have ever heard, even from a Continental. As he was drawing towards his end, those bishops who had been out in the side aisles all packed in round the President’s table and the Confession of St Peter’s and looked down the Aula to where this lone figure was standing in a state of high emotional tension.

To an Englishman it was all rather embarrassing but there is no doubt that the cause was served by this Continental oratory on this occasion. Archbishop Heenan told me afterwards that he squirmed as he listened to his friend but I do not think that it was a put up performance: he really felt as he sounded. Finally he regained control of his voice as he reached the end of his text. In a complete monotone, which was the more effective in that it followed after the high oratory of the earlier parts of the Relatio, he quietly said that the Secretariat for Christian Unity had finished with this document and passed it to the Co-ordinating Commission some three or four weeks ago: I forget the exact date which he mentioned. It seemed that nothing had happened about it until a short time before and then it had been suggested that the Vatican Press, which has to do all the printing of the official documentation for the Council, had become absolutely jammed up with the various documents which had to be given to the Fathers. He left it quite open as to whether one accepted this story or not and he merely gave the date on which the document had reached the Fathers, earlier in the week. Then with great deliberation he said: “Let us pray at this moment for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in an issue which is of supreme importance to the Church”.

There was thunderous applause, quite the loudest I have ever heard in St Peter’s and after a while one realised that it was going to take a long time before it died down. When eventually it showed some sign of flagging, it rose once more from the far end of the Aula and it became evident that what had started as applause for a feat of oratory had now turned into a positive attempt to pass the document by acclamation. Cardinal Meyer was standing in the side aisle with some of the other American Bishops and the atmosphere was quite electric. On several occasions the Moderators tried to break in over their microphones but the applause did not cease. In fact it continued for about four and a half minutes, so far as I could time it, but when at last it did die down Cardinal Döpfner, the Moderator, called the first speaker for the debate on the remaining document of the Sacrament of Matrimony.

Once it was realised that the Presidents had carried the day, the atmosphere changed from one of exhilaration to one of acute bitterness and disappointment. Cardinal Meyer went back to the Presidents’ table, clearly in two minds as to what he should do. He was beckoned once more to the side and I saw Father Molinari, an Italian Jesuit and a very good man, advising him quite straightly that he should take the petition directly to the Holy Father. Word evidently reached Cardinal Ritter and Cardinal Léger, both of whom left their places in the Aula and came down to join Cardinal Meyer. The petitions were brought in by the periti from the various parts of St Peter’s and Cardinal Meyer rolled them up and put them under his arm. It was reckoned that there were over 800 signatures already and later that day we were told that the number had risen to over 1,000. It was a straight request for a vote of some kind on the Declaration before the Session stopped.

As poor Cardinal Gilroy laboured away, almost without anyone seeming to listen, on the subject of Matrimony, the three cardinals with some other bishop whom I could not recognise in attendance walked slowly across behind the Confessional and away up the stairs towards the Holy Father’s apartments. I could not help wondering what would have happened had the cardinals walked the whole length of St Peter’s before making their way out to the doors to go to the Pope. I fancy that half the bishops would have stood up and gone with them. Perhaps it was as well that they didn’t but even so it was a moment of great tension and drams: something which one is unlikely to see again…

Rome buzzed all that day with the excitement of the morning and not without reason. Some of the periti, notably Monsignor Osterreicher, could be seen after the morning Congregation giving a full account to the press and inevitably the thing was blown to fantastic heights in the press reports which followed the next day. (When I got back to London I found this incident described widely as a “punch-up” which it certainly was not.) But there is no doubt that it was all very regrettable and, though one must question the policy of Cardinal Tisserant and the General Secretariat in the decision which they made, there was little evidence of approval of the bitter vehemence of the American bishops. They seem to think that they have a corner in this question of Religious Liberty but I suppose that they were so disappointed in their failure to take the document home at the end of the Second Session that this third delay was just the last straw.

This electrifying account tells us a great deal about episcopal collegiality – even episcopal democracy – and how it works. You could almost feel the wind of the Holy Spirit blowing through the corridors of power. It isn’t a tidy process, and it often works against the tide of official thinking. With the end of the Vatican II, all scope for its expression as a means by which dissent against official policy and teaching takes over and becomes official policy and teaching, as on this occasion, seemed to disappear. In no way is this  collegiality adequately expressed through bodies like the International Synod of Bishops or by including international Catholic church leaders among those who are consulted by the main Roman dicasteries. Indeed, both structures  seem implicitly designed to make sure that nothing like the spontaneous rebellion of Thursday November 9th 1964 could ever happen again.

Nor for the successes, which were of course amazing. First – human rights, and we should include religious liberty in that package. In his encyclical Pacem in Terris, Pope John XXIII gave the Catholic Church its own charter of human rights which is still to this day one of the most comprehensive and best argued explanations and defences of the concept of human rights. It was a long time coming, of course, and it took all the terrible mayhem of the Second World War to make it necessary. But the Catholic Church is now recognised as one of the leading players in the human rights field in the whole world.

The second is ecumenical. One of the great initial hopes when the Council started, inspired chiefly by Hans Küng’s best-selling book The Council and Reunion, was that the Catholic Church would so change as a result of the Council that many of the churches which dated themselves from the Reformation in 16th century Europe would realise that the reform that Luther and Calvin had called for had at last happened, and separation was no longer necessary or justified.

That optimistic view always was naive, not least because it failed to notice that those Reformation church traditions had acquired a history and identity – and indeed a sense of a tribal “us and them” – which erected strong social and emotional barriers against the sort of structural unity that was envisaged. They will take generations to overcome, and they would take a good deal more movement on the Catholic side than actually seems possible, given the constraints.

I have one positive suggestion. In the encyclical Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul II confessed to the fact that the papacy as at present structured was a stumbling block. He asked the Catholic Church’s ecumenical partners to declare what they would require to be done to remove that stumbling block. In the case of Anglicanism, and the Church of England in particular, a tremendous opportunity for progress towards church unity was missed by failing to make a formal response to that invitation, and to follow it up with proper negotiations. Can you image how valuable it would be for the Catholic Church to be asked to state what its bottom line was with regard to papal authority, the irreducible minimum below which it could not go? Would any of the Vatican dicasteries, congregations, institutes, commissions and councils survive such a cull?

An opportunity missed, but maybe it will come back some day. But what is still extraordinary is the transformation of the climate of ecumenical relations, the friendly feelings, the mutual respect, the cooperation and collaboration, the sharing of each other’s treasures and traditions. Catholics have taken to Methodist hymns with enthusiasm, and Methodists have taken to Catholic Social Teaching with delight.

And Catholic Social Teaching itself is a major success story for the Church, with much of that success owed to Pope John Paul II. His major social encyclicals – Laborem Exercens, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis and Centesimus Annus – were not only ground breaking but said things the world badly needed to hear for its own good. Pope Benedict’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate was widely acclaimed. For instance one prominent British economist, Lord Brian Griffiths of Goldman Sachs who was formerly head of the Downing Street policy unit under Margaret Thatcher, described it as “without doubt the most articulate, comprehensive and thoughtful response to the financial crisis that has yet appeared.” It is the basis of a project sponsored by the Archbishop of Westminster, in which I am involved, to hold a profound discussion with business leaders and financiers in the City of London about the morality of what they do. The key word here is “virtue.”

It was as a result of reflections on this that when the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales issued their own document on Catholic Social Teaching in the course of 2010, they recognised that the issue of virtue needed more attention.

“Everyone involved in politics and public life must accept the personal character and a moral standards are as relevant to public life as they are to private life, “ it declares.

“The restoration of trusted institutions, whether in politics or in business, places a particular responsibility on those in leadership roles. They help shape the culture of the institutions they lead. Over time, leaders wield immense influence, and carry a heavy responsibility, especially now, to help bring about a real transformation by their vision and example. As Pope Benedict XVI has said: “development is impossible without upright men and women, without financiers and politicians whose consciences are finely attuned to the requirements of the common good”.

To act in this way requires more than not breaking rules. It demands the cultivation of moral character, the development of habits of behaviour that reflect respect for others and a desire to do good. It requires, in fact, the practice of virtue.

And here I think we are getting somewhere at last. “Virtue helps to shape our lives as people,” it goes on. “By the pursuit of virtue we act well not because of external constraints but because it has become natural; thus do the virtues form us as moral agents, so that we do what is right and honourable for no other reason than it is right and honourable, irrespective of reward or punishment and regardless of what we are legally obliged to do. Virtuous action springs from a sense of one’s own dignity and that of others, and from self-respect as a citizen. It is doing good when no one is looking.”

The classical virtues form us as people who are prudent, just, temperate, and courageous. Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity root our human growth in the gifts of God and form us for our ultimate happiness: friendship with God. And what is the role of the Church in all this? Well, surely, to be a school of virtue, especially by teaching by example. Virtue can be learnt; virtue improves with practice.

The virtue of prudence or right reason is the opposite of rashness and carelessness. The virtue of courage  ensures firmness and the readiness to stand by what we believe in times of difficulty. Justice is the virtue by which we strive to give what is due to others by respecting their rights and fulfilling our duties towards them. The virtue of temperance bids as to moderate our appetites in the use of the world’s created goods.

These virtues and the exploration of them belong to all humanity. They’re held in trust for all not least in the Christian traditions of thought and moral teaching. I should add, perhaps, that the recovery of trust through a revival of virtue needs to happen in the Church too. The hierarchy have to learn to trust the laity, in whom the spirit also dwells. The laity have to learn to trust the hierarchy, anointed stewards and guardians of the deposit of faith. This is not the time to rehearse in detail those things that have undermined that trust in recent years; just to note that they exist.

Now why is it so unusual if the find a treatment of the classical virtues in a Catholic document of this kind? What has happened to this ancient tradition that was so alive in the Middle Ages but which modernity has managed to forget? It seems the Catholic Church has been suffering from the same amnesia is the secular world. It is surely time for that situation to be reversed. My contention is that it is necessary to recognise that the emergence of a mature laity means not a revival of obsolete models of the lay apostolate, but above all the rediscovery of virtue as central to the Christian life.

We owe the beginning of the revival of interest in virtue ethics to the English philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, who was a disciple and literary executor of the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. I should add by the way that she did believe certain actions to be intrinsically and absolutely wrong. But even more important to the recovery of the memory of virtue ethics was the later work of the Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, who published about 30 years ago a groundbreaking work, called After Virtue. Incidentally both Elizabeth Anscombe and Alasdair MacIntyre converted to Catholicism in the course of their philosophical work.

Alistair MacIntyre started something of a revolution in moral philosophy, with journals, seminars and even a learned society, the International Society for MacIntyrean Enquiry, devoted to promoting and developing his work on the ethics of virtue. And yes, it has a website and a journal. MacIntyre’s basic insight was as follows: if we look around the modern world we quickly notice fragments, shreds and traces of an older moral universe, but one which has lost its coherence and has become disconnected from its philosophical foundations. We do not even know what it was called. But we continue to make use of it, if we can. Its origins lie in the work of the ancient Greek philosophers, Aristotle above all, who asked the basic question: what are the qualities required of a good citizen to make Athenian democracy flourish? It is an excellent question, easily transferred to the present day. What are the qualities of character needed to make a good citizen of Church and Society in the year 2012 AD? And the answers turn out to be not very different the answers Aristotle arrived at in 300 and something BC.

To him we owe the four categories of civic virtue which I mentioned earlier. The route by which these ideas about virtue entered Catholic moral theology was largely through the role of St Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. The virtues had sometimes been thought of as essentially pagan, and were viewed with some suspicion for that reason. At the risk of oversimplifying a very long story, Aquinas Christianised them by adding to the four civil or cardinal virtues the three supernatural or theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.

So what happened to the virtue tradition? It was severely criticised during the Reformation, for instance on the grounds that it promoted the notion that individuals could earn their place in heaven by their good works. This attack, initially from Luther and Calvin, was responded to by the Catholic Church itself by renewed emphasis on salvation by faith and grace in its own doctrine. And in line with Reformation thought, emphasis was placed on the Ten Commandments.

Thus did Catholic morality, like Protestant morality, become more interested in the avoidance of sin and observance of rules than in virtue, and indeed in the Catholic case in the gradations of sin in the working out of the appropriate penance. The concept did not altogether die, and indeed was kept alive most of all within the order to which Thomas Aquinas has himself belonged, the Dominicans. But the tradition was in decline.

An even greater assault on Aristotelian virtue ethics occurred in the Enlightenment, because its radical rejection of metaphysics left no room for Aristotle’s philosophical idea of moral character because it depended on the idea of telos, the end towards which our lives are directed.

Virtue ethics places the emphasis on what kind of person you are rather than on your actions or even your intentions. That raises the teleological question, asking “What kind of person ought you to be?” It presupposes that we are constructed according to a pattern not of our own design. This becomes highly complex when we live in the age of the self-made man. For Catholics there is an easy answer – easy to give, hard to practice. The kind of person we ought to be is, essentially, Christlike.

But MacIntyre is right that virtue ethics has left a loud – if rather incoherent – echo in our culture. We still refer to moral character, for instance, as when we say a person has a good character or a bad one. Virtues are essentially moral habits, and our virtuous acts flow from the sort of person we are. We can learn how to be prudent or just, and we can get better at it. Indeed this is how wisdom is acquired.

So here at last are some answers to the question of how we ought to behave, and what is the route to a truly mature Christian laity? Think what a transformation there would be if examinations of conscience in ordinary Catholicism concentrated on our virtues rather than a vices. We would no longer be so interested in what homosexuals did with each other sexually; instead we would ask in what way does their relationship serve the common good, and is their relationship governed by virtue?

Think what a difference this would make to the impasse over contraception in the Catholic Church… Or the remarriage of divorcees. Certainly marriage should be a school of virtue, not only for the adult partners but above all also for their children. This is surely a much richer concept of conjugality and fidelity. Education has to be seen not as the teaching of knowledge and skills, but as the formation of the whole person, the intellect and memory but above all of the character.

As I read those who remember her, the one thing everybody who knew her seemed instinctively to recognise about Rosemary Goldie was her virtue – not just her humility, but her prudence, courage, justice and temperance. And of course her faith, hope and charity. Indeed it may be no exaggeration to say that it was this which empowered her, gave her strength; and won her friends and influence. And that is why we honour her today.

It would be presuming too much for me to requisition her to my cause by saying that in her whole life she was an apostle of virtue; but the proposition is surely not absurd. Why did people trust her? Because they saw the moral character that shone through her.

I’ve nearly finished, but I’ve saved the best ‘til last… I spoke earlier about the concept of the lay apostolate as it was understood 50 years ago, at the time of the Vatican Council. The lay person was regarded as someone who needed instruction from the clergy concerning Christian doctrine, before going out to do apostolic work in the community – what is still known, in the UK at least, as “social action”.

So let me tell you the current state of play in my country. We have an impressive network of Catholic agencies dealing with various aspects of welfare and community activity, ranging from working with young people and immigrants, legal and otherwise, to care of the elderly, vulnerable children, the mentally infirm, etc. They are almost exclusively lay. We are currently trying to organise this network on a national basis, as it had become too disjointed and uncoordinated. I am a member of the steering committee trying to bring this about. (It has been described as trying to herd cats.) Caritas Social Action Network, as it is called, intends to promote the ideas of Catholic Social Teaching through this network. It also intends to engaged in advocacy, that is saying addressing governments and the media on behalf of those people with whom we are working, and thus able to be the voice of the voiceless.

The bishops are on board of course but the initiative is in the hands of lay people. Policy making is not reserved to the bishops, though they have a valuable role – which they are willing to play – in amplifying the message. But nowadays you see very few dog collars at the lively and entertaining meetings called by Caritas Social Action Network. I would almost go so far as to say, if you meet a priest at such gatherings he is pretending to be a layman.

More to the point, it is intended to appoint “theologians in residence” to various parts of the network, because there is a perceived need for expert input to the work, based on Catholic Social Teaching – perceived not by bishops trying to keep the laity in line, but by the laity themselves. Those theologians in residence are likely to be lay, and to have learnt their theology in lay academic institutions – and I have to tell you, they are very likely to be female. Women are drawn to this work, and are very good at it.

I have a feeling that the right metaphor here is about the damming of a river. The Church’s rejection of the possibility of ordaining women to the priesthood could be likened to a giant dam thrown across a wide river from bank to bank, holding back the flow of water. As a result the land below the dam becomes dry and barren. But then what happens? As the water builds up behind the dam, it starts to find other ways to go forwards, it forms little trickles and streams which go round the dam, gradually expanding to bigger streams and even rivers, until eventually the original flow is restored and the land becomes irrigated and fertile again. The dam is still there, but it has been rendered ineffective.
We have some first rate young women theologians coming forward. Does it matter that they are not priests? Not at all. It is an advantage. They are not part of any clerical power structure. Indeed, they share the lived experience of those they are working with. That is what gives them authority. And they are the channel through which the social teachings of the Church are conveyed to the active laity.

Now isn’t that interesting? Isn’t this everything Rosemary Goldie could have wished for, worked for, devoted her life to? I wish she were here, for me to tell her about it. So I am very happy to dedicate this lecture to her memory, and very privileged to be able to do so.

Thank you for inviting me, and for giving me so much of your attention. I hope I have been provocative enough to being you to your feet with questions, which I shall be happy to answer to the best of my ability.

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Papers, Slider

The People of God and the World Today

The People of God and the World Today – Presented by Clifford Longley – Friday 11th May 2012

Synopsis

Catholics old enough to have experienced the changes introduced since the Second Vatican Council, are also those who have experienced the movement from a rule based and sin focused Church, to one that is based on ‘virtue ethics’ and even human rights ethics.

  This is the fourth lecture given by Clifford Longley, during the month of May when here in Australia.  His message is a plea for the return to the practice of virtue, the definition of which can be traced back to Aristotle. The stress on virtue was diminished during the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment and replaced by rules and quantifying sinfulness and punishment.

 Our call to maturity is a call to personal responsibility; to a life of virtue,   that is:  courage, prudence, temperance, faith, hope, charity and justice for all.

Above all these lectures are challenging, happy, hopeful and trusting. Happy that the struggle has brought change and continues to do so; Hopeful that the move to ethical virtue will continue to bring the laity to full maturity in the Church and society; Trusting that the well-being of the Church is largely in safe hands of an emerging mature laity who are courageous, educated and faithful to the words and life of Jesus Christ.

 

The Lecture

It is such a pleasure to be with you for what is the fourth and last of my lectures in this lecture tour. I assure you I shall return to England in a few days tired but elated. The hospitality I have been shown in Australia has been amazing, not to be forgotten. You have got something very special going for you in this country – a “land which abounds in nature’s gifts, Of beauty rich and rare…” And the impression I am forming is that you have got something very special going for you in the Catholic Church here in Australia. Do your bishops realise how lucky they are? Does the Vatican? I’ll leave you to answer that later…

It always surprises how many people one meets in the course of the day in England turn out, if you ask them, to have kith and kin here.  Every since my grandfather’s brother Bill went off to be a sheep farmer in New South Wales before the First World War, Australia has been part of my family mythology. The brothers used to play cricket together in Reigate in Surrey, I believe. Whether Uncle Bill played “down under” I do not know, but I would like to.

So we should not be so surprised when we come across Anglo-Australia coincidences. Let me tell you about on of them. About 15 years ago I was given the key to the archives of the late Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool. He had been secretary to cardinals and bishops at the Second Vatican Council and later, a peritus, that is to say theological consultant.

He even kept a secret diary, which was full of gossip and backstairs intrigue. I was to write a book about him and his papers – indeed, it was called The Worlock Archive. In one volume of his diary I came across an account of a dinner he had attended. It was the day a lay English Catholic, Pat Keegan of the Young Christian Workers, had addressed the council on the subject of the lay vocation – a first, apparently.
This is what Derek Worlock had written: “That night, after a meal in the Hotel Columbus, Archbishop Gillie Young of Hobart made an inspired speech about the caravan of God, trundling forward, some pulling ahead, some pulling back, some hanging on like grim death to the sides. It was the Church we were to know so well in the years following the council.”

Here’s the coincidence. I came across exactly this quotation on the website of Catalyst For Renewal here in Australia, the very people who have so kindly invited me over to give this series of lectures. It was in an essay on Archbishop Young by Father Edmund Campion, who teaches history at the Catholic Institute of Sydney. So I know that at least one person in Australia has read my book, though he told me he didn’t remember doing so! Father Campion added his own comment about Archbishop Young, whom he described as the only Australian to have had any impact on Vatican II. Guildford Young, he said, “was a bishop for a grown-up, Vatican II church.”

Cardinal Basil Hume had a similar metaphor for the post Vatican II church. He likened it to a caravan of the People of God on pilgrimage, strung out across the desert. Those at the front shouted “faster” while those at the back cried “slow down”, while outriders explored alternative ways to go and tried to steer the caravan to left or right.

The Second Vatican Council was never likely to be the last word about anything. It instituted reforms, but it also instituted an expectation of continuous reform. Now, I am unhappy with the view that Vatican II laid out a blue print for a modernised church, and all we had to do was to follow certain steps and we would get there. It was never a route to a promised land. The work was semper purificanda, which means a work in progress.

There is a disappointment narrative about Vatican II,  a hermeneutic of betrayal, which says simply that we were offered a vision of a new church, which was promptly snatched away from us by the people it threatened. This feeling is summed up in the protest – “We was robbed!” But reform always was going to be an unpredictable process with uncertain outcomes. I don’t think that hermeneutical of betrayal is very helpful. It dies in any case have an expiry date.

Wise politicians understand that in politics there is a general rule, the law of unintended consequences, which says more or less, that any remedy for an existing known problem will create other unknown problems, also in turn in need of a remedy. Church politics is not immune from that principle. For example, relax the rule on what people may say because you want to hear them, and sooner or later they will start telling you things you did not want to hear. Good managements recognise that institutions need to foster all the talents available, which may include people who disagree over policy. Good managements know how to listen carefully, with a willingness to learn.

A recent Tablet editorial reflected on what it called “normative dissent”, using Ireland as an example, remarking that “new survey of grass-roots opinion indicates that the typical Irish Catholic no longer accepts church teaching on a range of issues, mainly to do with sex and gender. Yet in terms of religious observance, they remain some of the most committed Catholics in Europe. But committed to what? The survey suggests that church teaching in these areas is no longer regarded as normative, and dissent from it as exceptional. The true position is almost the reverse: it is no longer seen as dissent, but as normal. It would be strange if that snapshot of the sensus fidelium were peculiar to Ireland. All the evidence, including surveys conducted in Britain, suggests it is not.”

The same is perhaps true of Australia, but you will know more about that than me. And as The Tablet also remarked, it is extremely difficult for the Church’s leadership to know how to react to this situation without making it worse. Fulminating against it only get you so far. What appears to have has happened as an indirect consequence is the decline of any sense of the laity being subordinate to the hierarchy. I have to say I do not think it is a good and effective pastoral strategy to treat grown-up people like children,  or even, as in the United States, to try and tell nuns what they should or should not think. It won’t work. These are not the ways forward towards the creation of a mature laity.

So we have to make our own way, and develop new and more mature models for being the Catholic Church’s faithful laity. It does seem to me that the Vatican II model, based on the idea of a so-called lay apostolate where lay involvement in secular affairs is directed backstage by the bishops, cannot be the way forward for us today.

But here we need a word of warning. To define the laity as simply those outside the Church’s control, or as those in opposition to the way the Church is currently governed, is a very inadequate expression of what it means to be a Christian, and a very anaemic fulfilment of the commandment to love one’s neighbour as oneself. Nor does it do justice to the ringing declaration at the start of the Vatican Council final document, Gaudium et Spes, known as The Church in the Modern World:

“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of human beings. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for everyone . That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with humanity and its history by the deepest of bonds.”

So where do we turn? I think a clue comes later in this document, where it states that “individual men and their associations cultivate in themselves the moral and social virtues, and promote them in society”, and it elsewhere calls the Catholic Church “an unspent fountain of those virtues which the modern world needs the most.” But it does not say much about what they are. The only one given a name, it perhaps will not surprise you to hear, is the virtue of conjugal chastity.

This insistence on the importance of virtue while failing to be more specific is not confined to this one document from 50 years ago. The papal encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI published in 2009, Caritas in Veritate, asserts that “Technologically advanced societies must not confuse their own technological development with a presumed cultural superiority, but must rather rediscover within themselves the oft-forgotten virtues which made it possible for them to flourish throughout their history.” But it is still specific what those virtues are.

It was as a result of reflections on this that when the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales issued their own document on Catholic Social Teaching in the course of 2010, they recognised that the issue of virtue needed more attention.

I should like to read what they said – and if you are harbouring suspicions that by quoting from this document I am guilty of plagiarism, let me quickly assure you that in fact I drafted it for them. So I quote – “Everyone involved in politics and public life must accept the personal character and a moral standards are as relevant to public life as they are to private life, “ it declares.

“The restoration of trusted institutions, whether in politics or in business, places a particular responsibility on those in leadership roles. They help shape the culture of the institutions they lead. Over time, leaders wield immense influence, and carry a heavy responsibility, especially now, to help bring about a real transformation by their vision and example. As Pope Benedict XVI has said: “development is impossible without upright men and women, without financiers and politicians whose consciences are finely attuned to the requirements of the common good”.

To act in this way requires more than not breaking rules. It demands the cultivation of moral character, the development of habits of behaviour that reflect respect for others and a desire to do good. It requires, in fact, the practice of virtue.

And here I think we are getting somewhere at last. “Virtue helps to shape our lives as people,” it goes on. “By the pursuit of virtue we act well not because of external constraints but because it has become natural; thus do the virtues form us as moral agents, so that we do what is right and honourable for no other reason than it is right and honourable, irrespective of reward or punishment and regardless of what we are legally obliged to do. Virtuous action springs from a sense of one’s own dignity and that of others, and from self-respect as a citizen. It is doing good when no one is looking.”

The classical virtues can form us as people who are prudent, just, temperate, and courageous. Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity root our human growth in the gifts of God and form us for our ultimate happiness: friendship with God.

And what is the role of the Church in all this? Well, surely, to be a school of virtue. Virtue can be learnt, virtue improves with practice.
The virtue of prudence or right reason is the opposite of rashness and carelessness. The virtue of courage  ensures firmness and the readiness to stand by what we believe in times of difficulty. Justice is the virtue by which we strive to give what is due to others by respecting their rights and fulfilling our duties towards them. The virtue of temperance bids as to moderate our appetites in the use of the world’s created goods.

These virtues and the exploration of them belong to all humanity. They’re held in trust for all not least in the Christian traditions of thought and moral teaching. I should add, perhaps, that the recovery of trust through a revival of virtue needs to happen in the Church too. The hierarchy have to learn to trust the laity, in whom the spirit also dwells. The laity have to learn to trust the hierarchy, anointed stewards and guardians of the deposit if faith. This is not the time to rehearse in detail those things that have undermined that trust in recent years; just to note that they exist.

Now why is it so unusual if the find a treatment of the classical virtues in a Catholic document of this kind? What has happened to this ancient tradition that was so alive in the Middle Ages but which modernity has managed to forget? It seems the Catholic Church has been suffering from the same amnesia is the secular world. It is surely time for that situation to be reversed. My contention is that it is time to recognise that the emergence of a mature laity means above all the rediscovery of virtue as central to the Christian life.

There is a new category in field of moral philosophy called virtue ethics. Before virtue ethics reappeared on the scene, the theory behind moral reasoning was concentrated on three basic approaches. The first called the consequentialist approach judges the morality of an action by its results; the second, the deontological or rule-based approach, judges the morality of an action by its compliance with certain rules or laws. Both are utilitarian. The third declares certain actions intrinsically and absolutely wrong in all circumstances, regardless of consequences. It tends to be strongly favoured by those who do not have to live with those consequences.

We owe the beginning of the revival of interest in virtue ethics to the English philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, who was a disciple and literary executor of the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. I should add by the way that she did believe certain actions to be intrinsically and absolutely wrong. But even more important to the recovery of the memory of virtue ethics was the later work of the Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, who published about 30 years ago a groundbreaking work, called After Virtue. Incidentally both Elizabeth Anscombe and Alasdair MacIntyre converted to Catholicism in the course of their philosophical work. I should also mention another British philosopher, Philippa Foot, who was a follower of both Wittgenstein and Anscombe and who invented the famous “trolley problem”, otherwise known as trolleyology, as a thought experiment in rational ethics. Unlike Anscombe and MacIntyre she was an atheist; who knows what Wittgenstein was? That of which we cannot speak, we must remain silent.

Alistair MacIntyre started something of a revolution in moral philosophy, with journals, seminars and even a learned society, the International Society for MacIntyrean Enquiry, devoted to promoting and developing his work on the ethics of virtue. And yes, it has a website and a journal. MacIntyre’s basic insight was as follows: if we look around the modern world we quickly notice fragments, shreds and traces of an older moral universe, but one which has lost its coherence and has become disconnected from its philosophical foundations. We do not even know what it was called. But we continue to make use of it, if we can. Its origins lie in the work of the ancient Greek philosophers, Aristotle above all, who asked the basic question: what are the qualities required of a good citizen to make Athenian democracy flourish? It is an excellent question, easily transferred to the present day. What are the qualities of character needed to make a good citizen of Church and Society in the year 2012 AD? And the answers turn out to be not very different the answers Aristotle arrived at in 300 and something BC.

To him we owe the four categories of civic virtue which I mentioned earlier. The route by which these ideas about virtue entered Catholic moral theology was largely through the role of St Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. The virtues had sometimes been thought of as essentially pagan, and were viewed with some suspicion for that reason. At the risk of oversimplifying a very long story, Aquinas Christianised them by adding to the four civil or cardinal virtues the three supernatural or theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.

And the greatest of these is charity, said St Paul. But can there be charity without justice? It is possible to love someone while denying them what is their due as human beings. Slave owners in the Deep South sometimes loved their slaves. Thomas Jefferson fathered four children with his Black slave mistress, Sally Hemmings. I don’t doubt he loved her. But was he just to her?

You might ask what has happened to some of the other attributes we traditionally think of as virtues, such as humility, integrity, open-mindedness, and sensitivity, and the vices of, say, pride and prejudice. The standard answer, which you may or may not find satisfactory, is that these other virtues are sub-sections of the major categories, or combinations of two or more of them, or even are not real virtues at all – certainly Aristotle did not think humility was a virtue.

Talking of pride and prejudice, by the way: the novels of Jane Austen have been described as studies in virtue, because they are all about moral character. So what happened to the virtue tradition? It was severely scrutinised during the Reformation, for instance on the grounds that it promoted the notion that individuals could earn their place in heaven by their good works. This attack, initially from Luther and Calvin, was responded to by the Catholic Church itself by renewed emphasis on salvation by faith and grace in its own doctrine. And in line with Reformation thought, new emphasis was placed on the Ten Commandments.

Thus did Catholic morality, like Protestant morality, become more interested in the avoidance of sin and observance of rules than in virtue, and indeed in the Catholic case in the gradations of sin in the working out of the appropriate penance. The concept did not altogether die, and indeed was kept alive most of all within the order to which Thomas Aquinas has himself belonged, the Dominicans. But the tradition was in decline.

An even greater assault on Aristotelian virtue ethics occurred in the Enlightenment, because its radical rejection of metaphysics left no room for Aristotle’s philosophical idea of moral character because it depended on the idea of telos, the end towards which our lives are directed.

Virtue ethics places the emphasis on what kind of person you are rather than on your actions or even your intentions. That raises the teleological question, asking “What kind of person ought you to be?” It presupposes that we are constructed according to a pattern not of our own design. This becomes highly complex when we live in the age of the self-made man.

But MacIntyre is right that virtue ethics has left a loud – if rather incoherent – echo in our culture. We still refer to moral character, for instance, as when we say a person has a good character or a bad one. Virtues are essentially moral habits, and our virtuous acts flow from the sort of person we are. A person who lacks courage can acquire it, and become more courageous by the practice of it. The same is true of the other virtues. We can learn how to be prudent or just, and we can get better at it. Indeed this is how wisdom is acquired.

So here at last are some answers to the question of how we ought to behave, and what is the route to a truly mature Christian laity? Think what a transformation there would be if examinations of conscience in ordinary Catholicism concentrated on our virtues rather than a vices. We would no longer be so interested in what homosexuals did with each other sexually; instead we would ask in what way does their relationship serve the common good, and is their relationship governed by virtue?

Think what a difference this would make to the impasse over contraception in the Catholic Church… Or the remarriage of divorcees. Certainly marriage should be a school of virtue, not only for the adult partners but above all also for their children. This is surely a much richer concept of conjugality. Education has to be seen not as the teaching of knowledge and skills, but as the formation of the whole person, the intellect and memory but above all of the character.

This also has fundamental implications in other areas. I have recently helped to organised a series of sex lectures at Cambridge  University, with Virtue Ethics as  an underlying theme. Our preliminary document said as follows:

The Catholic Social Teaching tradition centres on the notion of the common good, upholds the primacy of the individual conscience of those engaged in economic processes, and asks what formation such a conscience needs if that individual is to make a contribution to human well-being. A business ethic that encourages personal and  individual virtue is beneficial to society, and to the business itself; within appropriate structures, the initiative, productivity and creativity of the individual increase human wellbeing and prosperity. Catholic Social Teaching recognises  that a business economy geared towards the creation of wealth and made more efficient by the disciplines of the market can bring great benefits to humanity.

Catholic Social Teaching also introduces the concept of “structural sin”, a term which describes structures obstructing or impeding solidarity and subsidiarity, and which fail to respect the full human dignity of those affected. Individual virtue is linked with just and unjust structures by means of organisational culture: what is it in the ethos of the enterprise that encourages or discourages individual members to make sure the joint activity of the enterprise is directed towards the common good? A virtuous structure will help its members be more virtuous; the individual and the institution reinforce each other’s virtue. This may require rethinking of the concept of reward and remuneration, and of the responsibilities of leadership.

Now I always think that one of the tests of Catholicism is that it ought to be somewhat out of step with prevailing culture, from which it ought to try to keep, shall we say, a critical distance. This emphasis on virtue I have just described is certainly that. Since Aristotle virtue has always had a strong social component in its definition – it is not just about being a good person, but a good citizen, a good person-in-community. It does not fit very well with the highly atomised individualism which is such a prominent mark of Western culture.

The strongest expression of that individualism is the use it has made of the concept of human rights. There has taken place in Western culture, perhaps alongside a decline in explicit religious belief, a decline in the notion of sin. It has been said that we have moved almost unconsciously and unnoticed from a sin based morality to a rights based morality. Indeed many people welcomed the spread into general acceptability of the concept of human rights as offering us a set of common moral standards which were independent of revealed religion and hence would fill the vacuum caused by the decline in belief in sin, which only made sense if you had a clear idea of a God who could be offended or angered.

And rights morality does have one serious advantage over one based on sin. Think about it: the central focus in a sin-based morality is one the sinner – whether they have infringed and why, how culpable they are, what they have to do to be absolved and redeemed, etc. A very good example of that is the criminal justice system, and it is just as true in Australia as in Britain and the United States. The emphasis is on the crime and the criminal. It is easy in such a situation to forget the victim. They are marginalised, not because people working the system are deliberately callous, but because the system itself points the spotlight away from them. Courts nowadays do try and take account of the victim’s needs, but the machinery of criminal justice is still mainly preoccupied with the perpetrator and how to punish him or her.

Maybe that is necessary. But a rights morality focuses on wrongdoing differently, and starts by asking what are the rights of the victim that have been infringed and how is that infringement to be rectified. That feels to me better, somehow more moral, than the emphasis on sin and crime.

There is a relevance here to the issue of child abuse inside the Catholic Church. It seems plain that the bishops initially understood child abuse as being mainly about the perpetrator, someone who had put his immortal soul in jeopardy by committing serious sin – indeed all the more serious when committed by a member of the clergy. Because the moral methodology was sin-based and not rights based, the victims were left out of the picture. Yes, it was bad what had happened to them, said the church, but they were passive victims, not sinners, and hence their souls were not in danger. I should emphasise that I am seeking here to explain and understand, not to excuse. Once we look at it from the point of view of rights, however, the victim becomes central, and frankly, compared with that, who cares about the state of the sinner’s soul? It is almost indecent even to raise the question.

But the key point about sin-based morality is that it is heavily dependent on a set of rules. The key point about a morality based on virtue ethics is that it is about moral character, which even envisages the possibility that in certain circumstances rules may have to be broken – virtuously – in pursuit of some higher good. I don’t think strictly following the rule book ever got anyone anywhere near the Kingdom of God, and St Paul says more or less the same, only better. There are some bishops who may needed to be gently reminded of that.

One way of asking ourselves how far we have travelled towards a mature understanding of the laity is to look at where we were a couple of generations ago – let us say in the decades prior to the start of the Second Vatican Council.

Let us then first glance at three English novels, two written before the council and one not long after, all three by distinguished Catholic authors. The first of the three is Brighton Rock by Graham Greene, written in 1938. You will recall that the gangster villain, Pinkie, also described as the Boy, has befriended the lonely and naive Rose.

“You a Roman?” the Boy asked. “Yes,” Rose said. “I’m one too,” the Boy said. He gripped her arm and pushed her out into the dark dripping street. He turned up the collar of his jacket and ran as the lightning flapped and the thunder filled the air. They ran from doorway to doorway until they were back on the parade in one of the empty glass shelters. They had it to themselves in the noisy stifling night. “Why, I was in a choir once,” the Boy confided and suddenly began to sing softly in his spoilt boy’s voice: “Agnus dei qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.” In his voice a whole lost world moved – the lighted corner below the organ, the smell of incense and laundered surplices, and the music. Music – it didn’t matter what music – “Agnus dei”, “lovely to look at, beautiful to hold”, “the starling on our walks”’ “credo in unum Deum”  – any music moved him, speaking of things he didn’t understand.
“Do you go to Mass?” he asked.
“Sometimes,” Rose said. “It depends on work. Most weeks I wouldn’t get much sleep if I went to Mass.”
“I don’t care what you do,” the Boy said sharply. “I don’t go to Mass.”
“But you do believe, don’t you?” Rose implored him, “you think it’s true?”
“Of course its true,” the Boy said. “What else could there be?” he went scornfully on. “Why,” he said, “it’s the only thing that fits. These atheists, they don’t know nothing. Of course there’s Hell, Flames and damnation,” he said with his eyes on the dark shifting water and the lightning and the lamps going out above the black struts of the Palace Pier, “torments. ”
“And Heaven too,” Rose said with anxiety, while the rain fell interminably on.
“Oh, maybe,” the Boy said, ”maybe.”

The second is Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, published in 1945. In the final scene, Lady Julia explain to her one-time and would-be lover Charles Ryder why they cannot ever see each other again. She is trapped in a loveless match to a faithless husband, but divorce is forbidden to Catholics.

“I’ve always been bad,” said Julia. “Probably I shall be bad again, punished again. But the worse I am, the more I need God. I can’t shut myself out from his mercy… I saw today there was one unforgivable thing … the bad thing I was on the point of doing, that I’m not quite bad enough to do; to set up a rival good to God’s.” If she gives up thought of marrying Ryder, “if I give up this one thing I want so much” then “however bad I am, He won’t quite despair of me in the end.”

Let me say what I think is going on here. It is summed up in a term very current before and for some time after the Second Vatican Council: the “Good Catholic”. He had a blacksheep cousin, of course, the “Bad Catholic”. So what was a layman, in the eyes of the church in the era before Vatican II? A layman was not a priest. And a layman was either a Good Catholic or a Bad Catholic.

This approach comes straight form the Council of Trent, whose Catechism, under the heading “The Members Of The Church Militant” goes on to declare: “The Church militant is composed of two classes of persons, the good and the bad, both professing the same faith and partaking of the same Sacraments, yet differing in their manner of life and morality…

“The good are those who are linked together not only by the profession of the same faith, and the participation of the same Sacraments, but also by the spirit of grace and the bond of charity. Of these St. Paul says: The Lord knoweth who are his. Who they are that compose this class we also may remotely conjecture, but we can by no means pronounce with certainty. But although the Catholic faith uniformly and truly teaches that the good and the bad belong to the Church, yet the same faith declares that the condition of both is very different. The wicked are contained in the Church, as the chaff is mingled with the grain on the threshing floor, or as dead members sometimes remain attached to a living body.”

These concepts were so all-pervading in their influence that few bothered to examine their content. They were everywhere to such an extent that they were invisible.  “Good” in this reference does not always necessarily mean morally good, as in “a good man”. It means “good at being a Catholic, as in “good musician”. Like a good musician, a good Catholic had to be specially “formed”. It was even possible, within this terminology, to be a “good” man and a “Bad” Catholic simultaneously. However, a certain odium was inevitably connected with being a Bad Catholic (that is to say, with being bad at being a Catholic). Bad Catholics had broken the rules in some respect, and keeping to the rules was itself deemed morally good even if the rules had no objective moral content, such as abstinence from meat on Fridays. Divine sanction was attached to them. Missing Mass on Sundays, taking part in a Protestant church service, getting married without the blessing of a priest: all these actions, morally indifferent or even conceivably positive in themselves in certain circumstances, became sins when they involved deliberate disobedience of the Catholic Church’s authority.

In English terms the twilight zone between the Good and Bad Catholic was more often explored by novelists than by theologians or sociologists. As we have just glimpsed, both Evelyn Waugh’s and Graham Greene found rich material in the Good-Catholic/Bad-Catholic dichotomy. Their popular success could not have depended solely on Catholic readers, even less in Waugh’s case on an elite wealthy snobbish clique which would have recognised itself in Brideshead, because there were not enough of them. They appealed to the non-Catholic English public at large partly because they transcended this narrow and esoteric caste system of Good Catholics and Bad Catholics in order to say true things about the human condition and the divine spark therein; but partly also because the English were able, through these novels, to get an idea of what a religion would be like if those who belonged to it believed every word of it (something they could not learn from contemplating the internal affairs of the Church of England.) The perils of Catholic damnation or the miseries of Catholic guilt could be enjoyed vicariously. Indeed, they had a powerful attraction.

The Bad Catholic did not equate with the Continental idea of an anticlerical. It may have had its origins in the 17th century divide  between “church-papists” on one side and “recusants” on the other – two ways of coping with the severe penalties that were attached to the practice of the Catholic faith in England at that time. Recusants refused to attend the services of the Church by Law Established, and were regularly fined for their defiance. For some of the period, assisting a Catholic priest to go about his duties was a capital offence.

Church-papists, who were so numerous that their alleged influence over the court of Charles I was one of the causes of the Civil War, were secret Catholics who outwardly conformed to the State religion. Recusants saw them as disloyal to the Catholic faith, putting self before duty. English Catholics had to grow acutely sensitive antennae to distinguish between recusants and church-papists. Thus arose the searching question one Catholic would ask another about a mutual Catholic acquaintance: “Is he completely loyal to the Church?” In other words: “Is he a Good Catholic?”

On top of the political issue there was also the influence of Jansenist spirituality in English-speaking Catholicism, not least in Ireland. The movement started in France in the mid-17th century as a protest against the alleged moral laxity preached by the Jesuits. It was strict; it did not like the human body and its functions, and it did not like people enjoying themselves because of the ever present danger of sin. It had some of the characteristics of Calvinism in its insistence on the initiative of God in human salvation – “by grace alone”. Its influence on popular Catholic piety was to foster the feeling that salvation was a precarious prize easily lost, and that God was fearsome and only to be approached with extreme trepidation. It discouraged regular Communion almost as much as it discouraged human contentment. It was the source of a lot of Catholic anguish.

Aside from this intensification of spiritual nervousness caused by Jansenism, orthodox moral theology of the Counter Reformation era already taught that mortal sin destroyed the relationship with God and could only be restored by confession and absolution. Hence priests were necessary. One who died in a state of mortal sin went straight to Hell: only confession to a priest could save him. If you want to see this theme developed, read Graham, Greene’s The Power and the Glory, where the duty to save souls by hearing the confession of those about to die leads directly to heroic martyrdom.

One who was not in a state of mortal sin was said to be in a state of grace. Though it was not part of the teaching of Cornelius Jansen as such, the Jansenist outlook made it seem that mortal sins were easily committed and the state of grace was for ever in danger of slipping away. It was necessary to be very watchful, even scrupulous, if this was to be avoided. Like Calvinists, Jansenists strongly believed human beings were naturally wicked and left to their own devices much more likely to prefer the wrong to the right.

Priests influenced by this spirituality naturally encouraged lay Catholics to stick to the rules of the Church as rigorously as possible, as the only safe course. It was accepted, for example, that to eat even a morsel of meat on a Friday was a mortal sin, damning the soul to Hell. There were, of course, escape routes. The young thug Pinkie (‘the Boy”) torments himself with the thought that he might die in a state of mortal sin and burn in Hell for ever; but is comforted by remembering that even “between the stirrup and the ground t is possible for the sinner to repent and still get to heaven. The  Good Thief was the Patron Saint of Bad Catholics. Crucified with Jesus, the Good Thief repents of his sins and asks to be admitted into heaven even as he dies. Jesus tells him his wish is granted.

It is symptomatic of a certain style of Catholicism that with various murders and other crimes on his conscience, Pinkie is also worried by his false marriage to the girl Rose, yet another mortal sin for which to be damned. It was against the law of the Church, and the power of the Church is not to be mocked.

In Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, Lord Marchmain makes that final movement of the hand on his deathbed, the sign of the cross, which signals to those watching that he has repented of his long-time rejection of Catholicism at the last possible moment – again “between the stirrup and the ground”. It is the climax of the novel. But neither Pinkie nor Lord Marchmain are proposed as models to be followed; they are interesting because they defy the rules until the last possible minute and get away with it (or in Pinkie’s case, perhaps not).

There were two essential points about being a Good Catholic. The first was the importance of observing all the rules of the Catholic faith, not just some of them. Being approximately Catholic did not count. The redeeming aspect of this supercharged landscape of instant damnation was the ready availability of the prescribed antidote. Confession to a priest made good the harm done at once, restored the life of grace, washed away the sin (though not, in theory, all the punishment due for it). In extremis, as Greene often noted in his novels, an individual could be rescued from imminent damnation by saying to himself a perfect “act of contrition” – repenting totally of all his sins, and throwing himself entirely on the mercy of God. Risky, though. What if his act of contrition was not perfect?

The second crucial aspect of the life of grace of a Good Catholic, therefore, was maintaining a relationship of good humoured and respectful submission to the clergy. The notion that grace, authority and spiritual power flowed down from the top through the various strata of the hierarchy did not just make the priest special. It also made him necessary. A willing dependence on priests was therefore the mark of a Good Catholic. And that has shaped the relationship between priests and people for many generations. It was, needless to say, a very unequal relationship. They – the hierarchy and clergy in general – were the teachers and leaders; we – the laity – were the taught and the lead.

In his recent visit to Mexico, Pope Benedict XVI made an extraordinary remark. “It is not right that laity should feel treated as if they hardly count in the Church,” he said. “It is particularly important for pastors to ensure that a spirit of communion reigns among priests, religious and the lay faithful, and that sterile divisions, criticism and unhealthy mistrust are avoided.” Well amen to that. Note that the Pope made two points – one, that the laity were indeed now being treated as if they did not count; and two, that they should not be so treated. “It is not right.”

That requires a much more equal relationship. If the clergy and hierarchy continue to insist on the dichotomy I have just described – “they as the teachers and leaders; we as the taught and the lead” – that relationship of inequality will inevitably lead to the “sterile divisions, criticism and unhealthy mistrust” that the Pope deplored. In my experience many priests have already grasped that truth. They have experienced and rejected the infantilisation of the laity that came from the old priest-people relationship based on a downwards gradient of power and significance. They want to be equal; indeed they want to serve rather than be served.

It will only be after the recasting of these relationships that the church will be prepared to tackle the crisis I referred to at the beginning – the widespread dissent from traditional church teaching on sex and gender. It will mean for example paying serious attention to what lay Catholic women have to say about their experience – their relationships, their status, even their sexuality. I have long had the impression that the two fundamental flaws in Catholic sexual morality, for instance, were first, that it was based on a very male idea of what sex was about, and second, that it ignored what we now believe to be the way sexual and reproductive behaviour has evolved in our species and the species that came before us.

What if human sexuality has evolved primarily not as a reproductive device, more or less completed once it results in pregnancy, but instead as a binding mechanism, so that the growing human infant has the benefit of the nurture and protection of one parent of either sex throughout its extended childhood – a far longer childhood than any other mammal, and closely connected with the gradual development of the human brain from infancy to maturity? What if indeed. I do not think the church has yet reached the point where it would allow Darwin’s Origin of Species to sit in judgement over Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, but the time will surely have to come.

I am fairly sure that time will not some this side of an event which I am calling Vatican III, a third Vatican Council – though it may be held somewhere different from the last two. The world has changed so considerably since 1965 that it is almost obvious that remedies deemed appropriate 50 years ago would no longer be much help to us now. Indeed, in what other department of life would there by no real policy rethink for half a century, on the assumption that what was good enough for our grandparents was good enough for us?

There is a bigger reason than that. I have a sense that the long established model of bishops, priests and laity isn’t working any more, and in fact both sides are walking away from it. Do we allow it to continue to reshape itself, or do we try to shore it up? Events of the last ten years, especially the scandal of child abuse, have moved us to a different place and I do not see, or even want there to be, a way back.

The problem, in a word, is clericalism. It isn’t necessarily inherent in the basic structure of the church. It owes rather more to the Counter Reformation than to the Gospel. There is a structural dimension to it, in that it traps individuals in ways of being and seeing that they are not free to escape from. Those who are caught in its coils may be entirely free of blame. It is in other words an ideology.

What we have done is to attach power and authority to the sacramental order, so that those who perform the sacred mysteries are also the elite who govern us. The hierarchy represents a gradient of power and of holiness – popes archbishops, bishops, priests of descending rank, then the lowly laity – but even they are divided into two castes, male and female. I don’t find this in the Gospel. And if I may say so, if I were a Catholic woman I would stay well clear of it. Female ordination could so easily suck women into the clerical power structure. The Anglican experience, I believe, shows that that is what has happened there.

If we are to realise the kind of equality that the Pope was talking about in Mexico – though I am not sure he fully realised the radical implications of what he was saying – let’s see if there is anything we can do symbolically to speed things up.

So how about we dismantle some of the appurtenances of feudal aristocracy that the church still harbours? Would Jesus Christ expect to be called His Holiness when he returns for his Second Coming, or addressed as Most Holy Father? So why is it appropriate to use that title for the Vicar of Christ? Would he want his apostles to be called Eminent, or addressed as His Eminence? Why are archbishops still sometimes given the courtesy title of Your Grace, as if they were dukes at a mediaeval court, or bishops as My Lord, as if they were feudal barons? Why all the palaver about Most Reverend, Right Reverend, Very Reverend or even just Reverend; why Monsignor, which simply means My Lord in Italian? And while we are about it, how about all that grand attire, all that lace and silk and gold and silver embroidery: do people seeing that, see the face of Christ? Or do they see power, and an institution which has taught us to glorify in it? Do they see a way of salvation, or a set of rules to burden them with?
Let’s see what Catherine of Siena had to say, in one of her many outspoken letters to Popes and cardinals.

“I tell you in the name of Christ crucified,” she declared on one occasion, “that you must use your authority to do three essential things. You are in charge of the garden of holy Church. So uproot from the garden the stinking weeds full of impurity and avarice, and bloated with pride (I mean the evil pastors and administrators who poison and corrupt the garden)….Use your authority, you who are in charge of us!…”
and later she tells the Pope “The blessed Christ is complaining that the vices have not been cleared out, and that your holiness is not as conscientious about this as you should be…. I don’t want you paying attention to clothes or anything else, to whether these things are of more value rather than less; I am concerned only that these people be honest, that they behave uprightly and not falsely.”

I should like to close by venturing timorously into a subject called typology, which is about the application of Old Testament archetypal figures or situations to New Testament or even contemporary themes. After the Second Vatican Council the metaphor of the People of God tended to replace the metaphor of the Body of Christ as the preferred way of thinking about the Church.

But when we examine how the story of the People of God is told in the Old Testament, we do not see an easy and comfortable relationship, harmonious on both sides. God’s People and God do at times get along, but at other times they are furiously at odds. The People did sometimes wander from the true path, misled by their religious and political leaders – who are sometimes the same people – into all sorts of wickedness and idolatry. And they were chastised. When they fell on hard times or were defeated by their enemies, prophets arose to tell them that that was what was happening. God was angry and had withdrawn his protection. This was known as declension – a cycle of sin, bondage, repentance, devotion, followed by sin and bondage again; and so on.

I don’t think it would be heretical to ask whether we can see the same pattern in the Church today, though one should not jump too quickly to the conclusion that we know what the sin consists of, or how we should repent. It may be the neglect of widows and orphans; it could even be turning the power structures of the church into a false idol.

I would offer one very tentative theory of my own. I do not think the Catholic Church has yet atoned enough for allowing what happened to the Jews in mainly Catholic Europe under Nazism; and I do not think it has yet expunged from itself the tendencies that enabled that to happen. Blind eyes were turned, confrontations avoided, lest the power and authority of the Church be weakened. And I think the child abuse scandal was a demonstration that those tendencies are still present. Are those sins and crimes worthy of chastisement? I certainly think so.

At any one time, you do not really know where you are in the cycle, or be sure what exactly it is that you have done that brought the chastisement on. You may not even be aware that what you are experiencing is a chastisement. It takes a prophet to tell you; and it can take a very long time to sort false prophets from true ones. But there is one comforting, indeed compelling, thought – whatever the true meaning, God is still in charge, calling the shots. I hope that is a comforting and hopeful thought with which to close this lecture. I am anxious to hear what you make of it. I am very grateful for your attention, and for all the generous hospitality I am being offered here in this wonderful city of Melbourne.  I hope I have been provocative enough to stimulate you into a response, and I have learnt over the last three events that the most interesting part of the evening often comes after I’ve finished my lecture, and it’s your turn to speak.

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Papers

Catholic Social Teaching

Catholic Social Teaching – Presented by Clifford Longley – May 2 2012

Synopsis

To explore this topic Clifford Longley commences with the premise that the ”two fundamental models of human development have been found wanting, flawed and defective, unable to deliver the goods. Marxism, he says failed because rigid state control of economy stifles initiative and enterprise; the world free market pursues profit without regard to consequences which leads to instability of the system.

Catholic ethics as expressed in Catholic Social Teaching is the only recognisable alternative to those systems. The principal of common good which underpins Catholic Social Teaching is an ethical ideal which can guide living in a good and just society and govern behaviour leading to both virtuous people and organisational structures which foster virtue.

Lecture

It is a great privilege to be invited to give this lecture here in Canberra. I have to thank my hosts for inviting me and you for coming to listen – and I hope you will join in a vigorous discussion afterwards.

The more I learn about Australia the more excited I become, for this is truly a country of tomorrow. I even have a small personal stake in its future myself, as my sister has lived here in Canberra for many years; and her children and grandchildren are helping to create and live the Australian Dream. I am very proud of them.

It is usual for a speaker to include within his serious remarks something a little lighter, so I diligently searched the internet for good Australian jokes. But then I realised three things. The first is that you will have heard most of them before, even the one about – well I won’t go on if you know it…

The second is that it would be easier and quicker just to tell you the web addresses, then you can enjoy them at your leisure! I particularly recommend Australian jokes about New Zealanders by the way, even though I have sister living there too. The web address you need is called Google.com

The third thing I realised is that there really is such a thing as a typical Ozzie joke, a kind of standard form of the genre. And the odd thing about them is that they are in reality anti-Ozzie jokes, the Barry Humphries syndrome – jokes which if an Englishman were to tell them would sound offensive to Australian ears even if they are also quite funny. I wouldn’t dare. Time to give Sir Les Patterson, Barry MacKenzie, Dame Edna Everidge and the whole Humphries family a solemn and dignified burial followed, if you insist, by a wild Australian party in celebration…

I know the United States fairly well – my wife is an American – and I just cannot imagine Australian jokes about Australians being translated into American. What these jokes tell me is that Australians don’t want to appear to take themselves too seriously. With Americans there is no such inhibition. My god do they take themselves seriously! They do not tell jokes against themselves. What Americans definitely do not do is ironic self-deprecation.

I used the expression the Australian Dream just now. I wasn’t referring to a treatment for arthritis, which is one common use of the term Down Under, nor even to the desire to own your own house and garden where you can conduct endless barbecues under endless sunshine, ditto. To Americans the term American Dream has almost religious significance. Indeed, I wrote a book about it, called Chosen People, and maybe you don’t need to buy the book as the title says it all. It is about the whole nation having a sense of mission, a manifest destiny indeed – a central role in God’s providential purposes. I sense that Australia does need to go that far… Please not.

But please, it ought not to go too far in the other direction. I find the American habit of self-adulation much less appealing than Australian self-deprecation and self-mockery. But – and this is my point – the world does need Australia. It needs it to be – not a joke in its own eyes or anybody’s else’s, but a success and an example. The ingredients are all there. Look at the map; look at the world economy – where is it all happening? Who, in this grim and dismal world, is making a success of things?

So I ask myself, what does Australia need to be and to do, or go on doing, to become that success and that example, to be the admiration of the rest of us? And my best answer brings me to the topic of my lecture tonight. Every society needs a set of principles to live by, and if it is a successful society those principles will aim high. They will aim, for instance, for the integral human development of everyone, without distinction. They will aim for well-being, for true human prosperity, for a society where virtue is rewarded rather than its opposite, and where the common good takes precedence over private or partisan interests. Australia already has many of these principles deeply imprinted on its soul. I intend that to be a sincere compliment, not buttering up my hosts!

It would not be original of me to point out that two fundamental models of human development, two engines of growth and prosperity, have both been found to be wanting, flawed and defective, unable to deliver the goods. Marxism failed, as Pope Benedict remarked on his way to Cuba not long ago. Rigid state control of the economy stifles initiative and enterprise – as the even Chinese have discovered for themselves. But free market capitalism, which for some years was thought to have been the final victor over Marxism, was also deeply flawed. The world free market economy, like that vast floating palace now lying on its side off the coast of Italy, had driven itself into to rocks. The pure pursuit of profit, without regard for consequences, did in the end prove inherently unstable as a system, holed below the water line.

So what else is there? I would not hesitate to say that it goes by the name of Catholic Social Teaching. You could call it something else, and sometimes I wish it were, as the name is likely to put some people off. But tonight we can use it comfortably and without embarrassment. So what is Catholic Social Teaching? It has been called the Church’s best kept secret, though frankly I think the secret is out.

It is best understood not by breaking it up into a series of theoretical categories and talking at length about each one, before struggling to assemble them into a whole, as one might try to put together a bicycle. You would not know what a bicycle was just by looking separately at the handlebars, the frame, the pedals and the wheels. But watch it in action, and all becomes clear. To see how a bicycle works, we have to get on it and ride it, experience it as a balance of forces in action.

So let’s clamber aboard Catholic Social Teaching and see where it takes us. Let us go to the North Atlantic, for instance. The economies of the North Atlantic – North America and Europe – have been going through a period of severe economic difficulty. Many commentators do not yet see light at the end of the tunnel.   Countries not so much affected, like Australian, would do well to regard the economies of North America and Europe as examples of “how not to do it”, real-time laboratories where mistakes were made that everybody needs to heed and learn from. My own experience is that Catholic Social Teaching has proved again and again to be an effective tool for this necessary diagnosis. Its diagnosis of the ills and flaws of Communism was accurate, and its diagnosis of problems in the major economies of the West has also proved pretty accurate.

What makes this crisis particularly agonising is the strange combination of two opposing factors – it is devastating in its effects, and it is extremely hard to understand. You might compare it to the impact of the Black Death in 14th century Europe. Nobody understood anything at all about the bacterial transmission of disease. The nature of the force threatening to devour them was utterly baffling. So the impact of the Black Death must have been both terrifying and mystifying. There is something of that about the way people felt about the economic crisis that overtook the world from 2008 onwards. Why us, they said? Why now?

After the publication of Pope Benedict’s 2009 encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate, one prominent British economist, Lord Brian Griffiths of Goldman Sachs who was formerly head of the Downing Street policy unit under Margaret Thatcher, described it as “without doubt the most articulate, comprehensive and thoughtful response to the financial crisis that has yet appeared.” (The Times July 13 2009).

And Lord Maurice Glasman, not a Catholic but an agnostic Jew, who is a Labour peer in Britain and close adviser to Ed Miliband, the Opposition leader in Britain, recently described Catholic Social Teaching as “the only show in town.”

The economies of the free market systems in Europe and North America had come to depend on a culture of grim atomised individualism. I hardly need to say so, but these cannot be reconciled with the values of Catholic Christianity. Indeed, a recently published Vatican analysis of the problem talks about the phenomenon of the “divided lives” among people who work in finance and industry. They feel it necessary to leave their moral values at the door when they go to work, because they feel there is no place for them once they get down to business. This dichotomy leads to a deep state of sorrow in the soul, because it is not good or healthy for anybody to inhabit a world of such cognitive – and moral – dissonance. It can indeed be soul-destroying.

Let me quote to you from a paper written by Professor Stefano Zamagni, professor of economics at Bologna university who was one of the Pope’s principal advisers in the writing of that encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.

“From the very first,” says Zamagni, “the relationship between Catholicism and free-market capitalism has been characterized by structural ambivalence. On the one hand it is to Catholic thought, especially the Franciscan school of the 13th to the 15th century, that we owe the formulation of most of the analytical categories and no few economic institutions that would later serve the full assertion of the spirit of capitalism. On the other hand, the Catholic ethic essentially rejects the very mind-set of capitalism, what Max Weber called its Geist.”

He asserts that economic agents, acting in a market governed solely by the principle of exchange of equivalents, are led into strictly self-interested decision-making. With time, they tend to transfer this way of thinking to other social spheres, including those in which the public interest demands virtuous acts – a “virtuous” act being one he defines as one that not only is in the public interest but that is performed because it is for the common good. Thus “The market advances over the commodification and desertification of society.” Commodification, meaning to reduce the human things that matter to mere commodities that can be bought and sold; desertification, meaning laying waste to human culture to create a desert – and calling it a victory.

Thus Frederick von Hayek, the Austrian economist who became the chief guru of free market economics, called the very idea of social justice “absurd.” That’s rather like saying “there is no such things as society.”

Catholic ethics are necessarily centred on the common good, and that pursuit of the common good is incompatible with pure free market capitalism. You cannot pursue narrow self interest and the common good at the same time – they are inevitably contrary to one another.

Catholic Social Teaching has known this a long time. The principle of the common good is not merely a description of what is the case, like for instance the phrase “the public good” or the “total good.” Public goods are understood to be services or facilities available to all that are in more or less unlimited supply, like the air we breathe. The total good is the sum of all the goods available. We are into utilitarian territory here – if we are not careful the greatest good of the greatest number becomes our only basis of moral judgement. The common good is more complex. It is an ethical ideal, which can tell people how to approach living as members of a good and just society, how they should govern their behaviour, as “persons in community,” towards themselves and each other.

The common good stands in judgement over the public good. Let me give you an example. Earlier this year I was one of the organisers of a series of Lecture in Cambridge which addressed the question – “Can Catholic Social Teaching help us rebuild the moral basis of economic life?”

The question which kept coming back again and again was about creating not just virtuous people but rather organisational and institutional structures which make space for virtue, do not penalise it but foster it. In our final lecture in the series, Dr Catherine Cowley argued that a very important challenge that the situation in Greece has thrown back to us is the question of money: particularly whether for Catholics money is to be considered a private or a public good – a common good matter.

Dr Cowley, as well as being a religious sister with academic qualifications both in economics and theology, was formerly a City of London financial trader. Indeed she was one of the very few who predicted the crash of 2008 years before it happened. She argued that, in the interests of the common good, money should indeed be thought of as a public good: particularly when we look at the public good of producing a stable currency. If trading in currency is deliberately manipulated for private gain, with the benefits going to a particular group, and the risks being borne by another, ie the whole community, this threatens the common good. This phenomenon has been called “the privatisation of profit and the nationalisation of loss.” She suggested that we ask carefully when looking at flow of money – who benefits, and who is at risk? – not just in theory, but in practice. Much of the public outrage with the response of government to the financial crisis: both the banking crash and the sovereign debt crisis, concerns the failure to see where power lies. In entirely concrete, practical terms those with least access to the public goods of money lose most.

This is the very antithesis of “common good” thinking. To quote Sister Cowley: most people sense “that some financial institutions are acting in ways which undermine our life together and fulfilling objectives other than those which society has traditionally asked finance to fulfil.”

What has become apparent is that some aspects of modern business theory and practice are misaligned with human nature, or the better part of it. In the long run the remorseless appeal to the pursuit of self-interest is not very satisfying. Business people are social animals like everyone else, and they need to feel they are making the world a better place.

Many business leaders are only too aware that they are under critical and sometimes cynical scrutiny, and that public opinion is not over-impressed with some aspects of their performance. The public has lost confidence in the way business is run, and sees it as taking value out of the community instead of contributing value to it. In many cases that may be unfair, and may reflect the media’s interest in failure rather than success.

But it is not all about perception. There are assumptions and practices within business that see the interests of business working against the interests of society rather than for it. Society then starts to expend its energy on controlling business by ever more intrusive regulation, not trusting it to control itself; business reacts by expending its energy to meet what it sees as a threat, either by cheating, finding a legitimate or illegitimate way round the regulations, or lobbying government to reduce the regulatory burden. This leads to mutual resentment and to the depletion of resources. Handling this conflict between the interests of business and the wider interests of society is wasteful on both side: in economic terms it is inefficient.

Catholic Social Teaching says it does not have to be that way. Wealth creation and the meeting of human needs should bring huge benefits to society. There are shared benefits, or to use traditional philosophical language, a common good. So the aim should be to align business and society in such a way that their common good is enhanced. Society and business can then say to each other: “Your problems are our problems; let us solve them together.” And it is self-evidently much more efficient for business to have that attitude at the heart of its objectives from the start, rather than to be made to serve the common good against its will whether by government regulation, fear of media exposure or public disapproval.

At the same time it is realistic to acknowledge that this cannot be achieved by public relations spin. In the short term a business can “buy” a good public image by spending money on PR, advertising, corporate social responsibility projects and so on. If the image does not match the reality, however, that business is risking a backlash when its facade is eventually exposed as a false one. Nor do such companies feel good to work for, and companies which do not feel good to work for do not get the best out of their employees.

The best companies, those that serve both wealth creation and the common good, have certain things in common. They have a solid foundation in a set of unchanging purposes and values, which serve as a buffer against uncertainty and change. They conceive the firm as a social institution, which generates a long-term perspective. They are not obsessed with short-term gain, indeed short-term financial sacrifice becomes permissible in the interest of positioning the firm for sustainable success. Their strong institutional values evoke positive emotions of loyalty and pride; they stimulate intrinsic motivation, and propel self- or peer regulation.

They see themselves as primary pillars of society, not just local or national but global. In their engagement with wider society they seek to be good corporate citizens, cultivating relationships with public officials neither as a quid pro quo nor to push through particular deals. Rather, they seek to understand and contribute to the public agenda even as they influence it. Wise business leaders do not buy into rigid economic doctrine nor hide behind the alibi that they were “only obeying market forces.” They do not believe that “an invisible hand” will automatically turn self-interested choices to the public’s advantage. They instinctively understand what is meant by the common good – to revert to my opening metaphor, it is a bicycle they have been riding all their lives. Such business people do already abide by most of the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, whether they know it or not, as these instinctively feel the proper and right way to behave. It is a strength of Catholic Social Teaching that it articulates this moral intuition, so that many people often recognise it as what they have always thought and felt. That I suppose is what is meant by natural law.

So what is this common good? It is not at first easy to grasp, but very well worth the effort. The common good has been defined for us as “the whole network of social conditions which enable human individuals and groups to flourish and live a fully, genuinely human life… All are responsible for all, collectively, at the level of society or nation, not only as individuals.” Those are the words of Pope John Paul II. This concept of the common good dissolves the tension between selfishness and unselfishness, as it is in everyone’s interest to build up the common good by each person contributing to it. Those who serve others in this way automatically serve themselves.

Before Caritas in Veritate, the last of the series of authoritative teaching documents on social questions or “social encyclicals”, was Centesimus Annus of Pope John Paul II, published in 1991. That year was the centenary of the first social encyclical in the modern series, Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII. Let us recall the flavour of Rerum Novarum, as it may be a while since you last read it.

“A tiny group of extravagantly rich men have been able to lay upon the great multitude of unpropertied workers a yoke little better than that of slavery itself. (paragraph 2)”

“What is truly shameful and inhuman is to misuse men as instruments for gain and to value them only as so much mere energy and strength. (paragraph 16)”

“The first task is to save the wretched workers from the brutality of those who make use of human beings as mere instruments for the unrestrained acquisition of profits. (43)”

“If having no alternative and fearing a worse fate, a workman is forced to accept harder conditions imposed by an employer or contractor, he is the victim of violence against which justice cries out. (45)

While the questions that Catholic Social Teaching tries to address change over time, the answer remains the same – and is in essence very simple and familiar. Jesus Christ reiterated the Golden Rule – “As you wish that others should do to you, do you also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31). He told his disciples “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Such ideals are found in virtually all systems of behaviour and belief, modern and ancient, theist, pantheist and humanist. And Christ offered a simple summary of the Ten Commandments in even more positive and profound terms: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 19:19, quoting Leviticus 9:18; sometimes called the Second Great Commandment.)

The Church has meditated for two thousand years on the meaning of these words of Christ, and how they are to be obeyed. Its Social Doctrine is the fruit of that meditation. What is love, who is my neighbour, and how and why should I love myself? Indeed, contained in that last question are the ultimate ones: “Who am I?”, Why am I of value?” and “What is my true destiny?” These are spiritual as much as moral questions.

What is it one should wish for oneself, and therefore for one’s neighbour? The answer given by Pope Benedict was a restatement of the concept first promoted by Pope Paul VI in his 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio, and expressed in the term “integral human development”. Human beings have a potential for personal growth, for progress and development. Humans are social animals with an instinctive need for sociability, and all those areas of potential growth require a pattern of healthy and virtuous relationships.

This idea says not just that it is possible for individuals to flourish in mutual love and interdependence, but that it is possible to organise human societies in such ways that will help everyone to do so. Indeed, no concept of human development can be called either integral or human unless it envisages such development for everyone. Otherwise it is morally stunted and self-centred, and ultimately bound to fail. In the struggle to achieve integral human development, humanity is not alone. Through faith, hope and love we already look towards the end of the journey, God’s own happiness and freedom. Thy kingdom come…

Without this transcendental dimension human progress can seem an ultimately meaningless goal. Thus Pope Benedict writes in Caritas in Veritate:

“Paul VI set out to convey two important truths. The first is that the whole Church, in all her being and acting — when she proclaims, when she celebrates, when she performs works of charity — is engaged in promoting integral human development… The second is that authentic human development concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension. Without the perspective of eternal life, human progress in this world is denied breathing-space. Enclosed within history, it runs the risk of being reduced to the mere accumulation of wealth; humanity thus loses the courage to be at the service of higher goods, at the service of the great and disinterested initiatives called forth by universal charity.(11)

“Integral” means holistic, nothing left out, human development conceived as a whole. The intellectual, emotional, cultural, physical, moral and spiritual aspects of personal development relate to each other so intimately that they are interdependent. To neglect one is in the long run to diminish all. This interdependence extends from the individual to the social.

The common good is an idea that has often been marginalised in the past, though never lost sight of completely especially at times of national crisis. It has become central to the most important questions facing society in the 21st century. It has been made central by the growing realisation that the current economic crisis was and is a crisis of relationship and of trust, and by the realisation that the crisis is not confined to the economic and financial sphere, but is prevalent, in various manifestations, in all domains of human experience. The common good is a relational entity; take away the relationships in question and the goods previously shared cease to be there.

The common good is not an addition sum; it is not all the goods that were in the shared house, as if they could be shared out among its household members when the house is sold. It is more like multiplication. If a number of figures are multiplied, but one of them is zero, then the result is also zero. Thus nobody may be left out of the calculation: the principle of the common good can never discount the dignity, welfare and thriving of any person or group. It would constitute a denial of the Christian conception of the human dignity of all because all are made in the image of God. Simultaneously, it would deny that the common good is relational – utterly dependent upon the social relations of persons – such that the good life can only be produced communally and enjoyed together in society.

The structural problems of capitalism are in essence derived from over-reliance on Adam Smith’s famous principle in his defining work, The Wealth of Nations: that if each individual operating in a free market system pursues his own interests or goals, an “invisible hand” will ensure that their combined efforts go to the general benefit. But Adam Smith’s principle presumed not only that there would be physical capital – money – available to be invested in the market, but also social capital – trust, prudence, integrity – which would govern how people would behave morally.

The latter requirement has unfortunately received a lot less attention than the former. The industry is at last waking up to what this means: that free markets cannot function in a moral vacuum. Furthermore, as indicated in Caritas in Veritate, while free markets rely on social capital, they are not its source and can much more easily damage it than renew it. Thus they tend to cut off the branch in which they are sitting. At the point at which they have completely drained away social capital, trust in particular, they cannot operate at all. And one of the most spectacular symptoms of the 2008 crisis was the way operators in the major financial markets ceased to trust each other, and hence ceased to lend to each other.

So one way we could begin to correct the errors of the past would be by building in incentives that rewarded contributions to the nation’s social capital as well as to its economic capital. The idea of banks as generators of social capital is not exactly new, but has been lost sight of in the mad dash for profit. For instance, in Britain local bank managers were once pillars of the community, observers of human frailty, repositories of local wisdom as well as encouragers of the good. They would be governors of schools, magistrates, church wardens, Rotarians and indeed Freemasons, institutions with a wide portfolio of charitable works. It was the City of London “Big Bang” of the late 1980s which saw them swept away, for it made them seem a mere burden on profit-making, or functionaries whose work could be done more efficiently by computers.

The financial crisis that shook the world in 2008 and thereafter was characterised by a wholesale disregard of the virtues that modern institutions absolutely have to depend on if they are to survive. Prudence and temperance were abandoned in the pursuit of profit; justice was ignored as millions of people suffered fearful consequences through no fault of their own; courage was absent as financial institutions ran for cover or foundered in a culture of “every man for himself”.

The origins of the crisis can be addressed narrowly or broadly. At the narrow level, certain practices developed in banking and investments that were intended to take advantage of a sophisticated understanding of how financial markets worked, including the management of risk. It was thought that the mathematical modelling of market behaviours had tamed the factors that led to instability – had made risky investments safe so that market outcomes were henceforth more predictable and no longer so random and unexpected.

That meant that levels of indebtedness could be increased exponentially without a corresponding increase in hazard for investors. It was, at last, a safe “bubble”. There was a widespread expectation that this “boom” would not “bust”, based on little more than a misplaced faith in the theory that efficient markets could be relied upon to be self-correcting, and that financial risk is not dependent on the volume of financial transactions (the technical term for which is “exogenous.”)

It was this hubristic theory that led to the dismantling of systems of supervision, controls and regulations many of which were initially introduced to safeguard against a repetition of the crash and depression of 1929-1930. This sense of omnipotence, fuelled over the years by financial euphoria, took over the culture not only of the traders and financial institutions, but also of the politicians, the media and not a few university and research circles. And by such means, it escaped into the general culture and began to undermine the traditional structures, based on the idea of civic virtue, that had previously sustained society.

This was a fundamental theoretical fallacy with enormous consequences. Once the flaw became apparent, the levels of debt to which financial institutions were exposed were seen to be wildly imprudent, far beyond the capacity of some to bear, which led to a major collapse in confidence, huge bankruptcies and government rescues on an unprecedented scale. With their own reserves at risk, unsure whom to trust and still unsure what had gone wrong and why, the surviving banks stopped lending both within the financial sector and outside it. Individuals and whole industries dependent on a supply of credit, such as the housing sector and manufacturing, were severely damaged.

Meanwhile the very notion of credit, (a word derived from credere, to believe) was no longer based on trust and on personal reputation, but reduced to a formula that could be handled by a computer. Thus the moral bond of confidence (a word derived from the suffix con-, meaning together; and fide, meaning faith) between lender and borrower, based on mutual respect for virtue, was broken.

This catastrophic transition from bubble to collapse belied the reputation of the market system for rational behaviour, for it was driven to a large degree by emotion – first euphoria and then panic (panic as euphoria with a minus sign).

Nevertheless many people operating in financial services were culpable in some degree, and many have subsequently admitted that the mood of the moment lead them to act rashly or even dishonestly. The prospective benefits to them on a purely financial level were so large as to tempt them to behave irresponsibly with other people’s money. They were engaged in financial and economic practices that went against fundamental moral principles, in the belief that those principles did not apply to those practices. In short, those involved thought they had no need of virtue.

Yet few of them have faced a reckoning. Early retirement on a large pension has been the extent of their penalty. Many employees in other types of business, however, found themselves out of a job, resulting in repossession of property and even homelessness, threats to family life, and breakdown from stress and depression. This has driven a wedge of cynicism between the financial sector and the public generally, which has diminished public confidence in all financial institutions including the market regulators.

This is a situation from which recovery is imperative, for the good of society. That means a recovery of virtue – of an ethos, as used to be said in the City of London, where “My word is my bond.” Many date the decline of that ethos to the Big Bang of financial deregulation in the 1980s, and it is no coincidence that many of the factors that culminated in the crisis of 2008 can be traced back to that period. The globalisation of financial services, which was accompanied by a decline in the amount of government regulation, was certainly accelerated by a retreat from the requirements of virtue. The City of London lost its sense of honour and shame. In place of “My word is my bond” we have “Greed is good.”

The broader cultural factors contributing to the financial and economic crisis concern the overall ethos within which modern business is conducted. Late 20th century and early 21st century Capitalism has been characterised by excessive reliance on self-interest and excessive confidence that an economy in which all economic actors are so motivated will, as I said earlier, nevertheless “be led by an invisible hand” to serve the good of society even if that was not their intention.

Letting individuals pursue the maximisation of their own interest was regarded as a key to the efficient allocation of resources, that is to say to the least wasteful means of production and distribution, and had many good effects. The competition which ensued between individual economic actors drove quality up and prices down, to the general benefit. Competition was in itself regarded as good as it encouraged innovation and product improvement, and left consumers to make choices, leaving decision-making at the lowest appropriate level in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity.

Thus the operation of an efficient market economy did not require Government intervention or direction, which was regarded as counter-productive except for guaranteeing the viability of the institutional setup. Implicit in this model was a tug-of-war between efficiency and equity: the more efficient an economic systems was, the less equitable it would be. The demands of social justice – in so far as they were recognised at all – were seen as a drag on profit and prosperity, though perhaps a necessary price to pay for a minimum degree of civic peace.

Pope John Paul II discussed modern economic theory in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, and praised the operations of a market economy as a unique engine of wealth creation which was in turn a key to overcoming poverty. But he expressed a major reservation – that economic processes had always to be subject to the common good. He did not accept as some economic theorists have done that economic activity is autonomous, that is to say not subject to any external moral criteria and not requiring government supervision or regulation. On the contrary, when economic processes had results which ran counter to the common good, it was the responsibility of outsiders, including governments, to intervene.

Nor did Pope John Paul II endorse the metaphor of an invisible hand, which some have erroneously seen as the hand of Providence or indeed of God. The efficiency of markets had always to be balanced against the demands of equity. Market forces could be used and abused. Pope John Paul II declared (interview in La Stampa, Turin, November 1993) that Capitalism was still almost as “savage” in some Capitalist countries as it had been in the 19th century. In others its excesses had been tamed partly due to the influence of Socialist ideas, which, he said, contained “seeds of truth” particularly over concern for the poor.

Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate enters the world of economic theory to propose, contrary to the doctrines of economic liberalism, that efficiency and equity are not necessarily in opposition, and that a fair society can also be a more economically efficient society. In common with previous Popes going back to Leo XXIII, Benedict stresses the priority of labour over capital because labour is human, capital merely material.

“I would like to remind everyone, especially governments engaged in boosting the world’s economic and social assets, that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is humanity, the human person in his or her integrity: Humanity is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life.” (Caritas in Veritate 25)

So in the long run an economic system which gives priority to the creation of wealth for the few over meeting the needs of all is less efficient. But to make short-term profit the only priority can destroy the very conditions a market economy needs if it is to work.

One measure of the challenge presented by Caritas in Veritate, is Benedict XVI’s strikingly original contribution to the corpus of Catholic Social Teaching, his treatment of the idea of gift. It is a notion we have trivialised almost to the point of absurdity. Yet the neglect of the idea of gift, in its fullness, lies at the root of what has gone wrong with modern society, as Benedict convincingly argues. Therefore reviving it is the absolute priority if modern society is to be saved from itself. And it is all around us, all the time. Once we cotton on to what the Pope is really saying, we see it in abundance. But under threat.

Gift is the name the Pope applies to those of our social actions that are neither contractual – an hour’s pay for an hour’s work, this cheque for that property; nor legal – a demand from the taxman or a summons to jury service. These two kinds of example represent what Benedict calls the “exclusively binary model of market-plus-State”, by means of which the condition of our lives is dictated by our economic interests or our legal obligations. Anything outside that counts as gift, and is easily ignored.

He wrote: “The exclusively binary model of market-plus-State is corrosive of society, while economic forms based on solidarity, which find their natural home in civil society without being restricted to it, build up society. The market of gratuitousness does not exist, and attitudes of gratuitousness cannot be established by law.” Nevertheless, he goes on, the spirit of gratuitousness – going further than either law or contract requires – needs to be present in the transactions of both market and State as well as outside them. Indeed, we would see them as indispensable to both.

Take Adam Smith’s well known proposition (regarded as a truism by free market economists) that “it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” In my experience, on the contrary, it is not the fear of the bailiff that gets brewers and butchers out of bed in the morning, but pride in a job well done, what human resources people mundanely call “job satisfaction”. And that is gift. It is anything done out of the pleasure of giving service to others, making a contribution to society, answering the call of conscience, helping the world tick over. It is whatever lies above and beyond obligations to the state and narrow self-interest.

Family life is the epitome of gift. Parents don’t love and nurture their children because they are paid to do so, nor because they will be sent to prison if they don’t. Religious institutions are almost exclusively about gift. Those who earn a living serving the church do so out of a conviction that it is a worthwhile thing to do, and hence they contribute much more than they are paid for. Democracy itself depends on it. This sphere of gratuitous action, this gift economy, pervades our public institutions too. A vast army of unpaid school governors, local government councillors, lay magistrates, members and officers of local political parties, trade union branches and so on, do what they do, as gift. And this is without counting all those who operate in what is sometimes called the voluntary or third sector, organising activities for the public benefit which have charitable status in law.

Thus the gift economy drives civil society, and it drives personal relationships too. You and the person you relate to have a common interest in fostering your bond. You are not in it for what you can get out of it but because the relationship itself matters. The spirit of fraternity is a relational good, to use the jargon. This reciprocity of gratuitous exchange is far from the contractual model, and one of the first lessons the Pope teaches us is not to mistake the one for the other. Paid-for child care will never be the same as family love, because gift isn’t at the heart of it, its primary motivation.

The reduction of everything to monetary transactions or legal obligations is the very death of civilisation. But – and this is where the Pope surprises us – the money economy needs gift too. Indeed, the very lack of this gratuitous element, the moral factor that lies over and above what the contract calls for, is what has run the world economy into the global recessionary buffers. Gift here means looking beyond short term financial gains to the needs of society – giving up, as it were, the pursuit of every last morsel of profit. Gift is necessary. That‘s not so odd, once we connect up the dots. Life itself is a gift, as is the planet that sustains it, and so is love. It’s just that somehow we managed to sentimentalise it, and then forgot about it.

With the idea of gift comes the idea of conversion. Pope John Paul II defined the heart of Catholic Social Teaching in explicitly religious terms as “the need for conversion to one’s neighbour, at the level of community as well as of the individual.” This conversion, he goes on, affects attitudes which determine each person’s relationship with neighbours, human communities, and “with nature itself”: the ordered mutually connected system, including animals, which makes up the natural world. We can begin to see in these words where Benedict’s idea of gift might fit in.

The idea of conversion to another person is an interesting one – we usually tend to talk of conversion to God, or to faith. But if I am converted to you I am indeed making an act of faith – I am deciding to include you in own universe as another “self” that really exists alongside my own self. And that is not so different from what conversion to God is referring to. It is admitting God into one’s universe of realities. And most vividly present in this universe of realities are those who need us most.

The concept of the common good embraces all of us. There can be no exclusions. The concept of the common good fairly obviously implies a concept of solidarity, but we can see that it also implies a concept of subsidiarity. Vice versa too. Without solidarity, the horizontal dimension of social structure, subsidiarity, the vertical dimension, can easily become selfish insularity. The two concepts have often to be held in a necessary kind of tension. They are Siamese twins – you cannot have one without the other.

Subsidiarity was defined in the 1931 encyclical of Pope Pius XI as follows:

“Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater or higher association what lesser and subordinate organisations can do.”

To put this in a nut-shell – it isn’t just up to Governments to put these things right. We cannot shrug off our own responsibilities that way. This is one of those areas, which are not too common in Catholic Social Teaching, where it sounds to our ears more right wing than left wing.

Pope John Paul II defined the concept of solidarity in his 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis in the following terms:

“The fact that men and women in various parts of the world feel personally affected by the injustices and violations of human rights committed in distant countries, countries which perhaps they will never visit, is a further sign of a reality transformed into awareness, thus acquiring a moral connotation…

“This then is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual because we are all really responsible for all”.

Fine ideals, you might say, but not workable. If that is what you think you could not be more wrong. It is the alternatives which are ultimately unworkable. You can tell I am convinced that economic systems that ignore the fundamental tenets of Catholic Social Teaching – based on a profound understanding of human nature – and which do so for the sake of pursuing the alleged greater efficiency and hence profitability of pure free-market systems, are ultimately unsustainable and self-destructive.

To return to my earlier metaphor of a bicycle – the nuts on the wheels are lose, and liable to fall off any moment, as is the rider. I am also convinced that what happened simultaneously on Wall Street and in the City of London in the autumn of 2008 was a catastrophic and cathartic empirical demonstration of that truth.

Finally, this – I am not well enough versed concerning the status of Catholic Social Teaching in Australia to know whether the following has occurred to anybody over here. Australia has managed to avoid the worst of the economic downturn. From the perspective of Catholic Social Teaching, why is that? If you apply the criteria of the encyclical Caritas in Veritate to the Australian economy, what do you get? What are you doing right? Is it just because you have vast mineral reserves eagerly sought after by the Chinese? Before jumping too quickly for that solution, it’s as well we don’t forget that mineral wealth by itself is no guarantee of economic growth and it is perfectly possible to mismanage a mineral-rich economy or even to bankrupt it.

Or is Australian capitalism in its nature less rapacious, by comparison with some others? Unlike the UK and US, one notes that economic inequality is not increasing by leaps and bounds in Australia, though there are trends here which some find worrying . Does this support the theory, promoted in the book The Spirit Level, Why Equality is Better for Everyone by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, that more equal societies are in the long run more successful? Is the explanation structural, or legal, or even moral? And let us all agree that answers which involve a dose of Australian self-mockery may be amusing, but not useful. We on the other side of the world badly need to know, straight up, because we really must start to do better ourselves. You taught us how to play cricket properly. Perhaps you can give us lessons in the creation of a fairer and more just society.

So now, thank you for your patience, I hope I have not taken up too much of your time with things you already know, and if I have misrepresented the Australian situation please do not hesitate to put me right. I do not claim to be an expert in the current Australian political scene or the Australian economy. But I hope we have time left for plenty of questions and I will give it my best shot.

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Papers

Development of a Mature Laity

Development of a Mature Laity – Presented by Clifford Longley – Friday 4th May 2012

Synopsis

In defining ‘mature laity’ today, Clifford Longley looks back to the pre-Vatican II church.  He uses two particular writers to illustrate the mind of  a ‘good’ Catholic and ‘bad’ Catholic; ‘good’ being one who adheres to the rules and remains steadfastly loyal to the clergy;  ‘bad’ does not, is neither of these.  Both were laden with Catholic guilt and anguish .

Vatican II  heard  many voices raised within the Council, some pre-conciliar ideas where the laity remained under the jurisdiction of the hierarchy, and the spectrum of more forward ideas of equality within the Church, (though still under the hierarchy) and autonomy in the secular world.  The difficulty came in the area of training and formation –for whom, by whom, what content and how much.

Then came the crisis of Humanae Vitae, and its prescriptive effect on maturing of thought within the laity, the understanding of their role and as thinking members of the Church and the sudden loss of power of the hierarchy to influence their people.

Clifford Longley’s main thesis is about a need to return to and develop  the notions  of virtue, the standards of behaviour that include justice, prudence, courage, faith and hope. These and others focus on what kind of a person one is. Movement towards this is a measure of a person’s maturity, and indeed maturity of laity/peoples.

Clifford Longley ‘s writing is easy, and includes personal reflections of his rich experience as observer of and activity in the Church.

The Lecture

Let me say how delighted I am to be in Brisbane, which does not seem at all like a foreign city to me – which may be because I have family living here, as indeed I do in Canberra. It always surprises how many people one meets in the course of the day in England turn out, if you ask them, to have kith and kin in this “land which abounds in nature’s gifts, Of beauty rich and rare…”

Every since my grandfather’s brother Bill went off to be a sheep farmer in New South Wales before the First World War, Australia has been part of my family mythology. The brothers used to play cricket together in Reigate in Surrey, I believe. Whether Uncle Bill played “down under” I do not know, but I would like to think so.

So we should not be so surprised when we come across Anglo-Australia coincidences. Let me tell you about one of them. About 15 years ago I was given the key to the archives of the late Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool. He had been secretary to cardinals and bishops at the Second Vatican Council and later, a periti, that is to say a theological consultant.

He even kept a secret diary, which was full of gossip and backstairs intrigue. I was to write a book about him and his papers – indeed, it was called The Worlock Archive. In one volume of his diary I came across an account of a dinner he had attended. It was the day a lay English Catholic, Pat Keegan of the Young Christian Workers, had addressed the council on the subject of the lay vocation – a first, apparently.

 

This is what Derek Worlock had written: “That night, after a meal in the Hotel Columbus, Archbishop Gillie Young of Hobart made an inspired speech about the caravan of God, trundling forward, some pulling ahead, some pulling back, some hanging on like grim death to the sides. It was the Church we were to know so well in the years following the council.”

Here’s the coincidence. I came across exactly this quotation on the website of Catalyst For Renewal here in Australia, the very people who have so kindly invited me over to give this series of lectures. It was in an essay on Archbishop Young by Father Edmund Campion, who teaches history at the Catholic Institute of Sydney. So I know that at least one person in Australia has read my book! Father Campion added his own comment about Archbishop Young, whom he described as the only Australian to have had any impact on Vatican II. Guildford Young, he said, “was a bishop for a grown-up, Vatican II church.”

One way of asking ourselves how far we have travelled towards a grown-up church, a mature understanding of the laity, is to look at where we were a couple of generations ago – let us say in the decades prior to the start of the Second Vatican Council.

Let us then first glance at three English novels, two written before the council and one not long after, all three by distinguished Catholic authors. The first of the three is Brighton Rock by Graham Greene, written in 1938. You will recall that the gangster villain, Pinkie, also described as the Boy, has befriended the lonely and naive Rose.

 

“You a Roman?” the Boy asked. “Yes,” Rose said. “I’m one too,” the Boy said. He gripped her arm and pushed her out into the dark dripping street. He turned up the collar of his jacket and ran as the lightning flapped and the thunder filled the air. They ran from doorway to doorway until they were back on the parade in one of the empty glass shelters. They had it to themselves in the noisy stifling night. “Why, I was in a choir once,” the Boy confided and suddenly began to sing softly in his spoilt boy’s voice: “Agnus dei qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.” In his voice a whole lost world moved – the lighted corner below the organ, the smell of incense and laundered surplices, and the music. Music – it didn’t matter what music – “Agnus dei”, “lovely to look at, beautiful to hold”, “the starling on our walks”’ “credo in unum Deum[i] – any music moved him, speaking of things he didn’t understand.

“Do you go to Mass?” he asked.

“Sometimes,” Rose said. “It depends on work. Most weeks I wouldn’t get much sleep if I went to Mass.”

“I don’t care what you do,” the Boy said sharply. “I don’t go to Mass.”

“But you do believe, don’t you?” Rose implored him, “you think it’s true?”

“Of course its true,” the Boy said. “What else could there be?” he went scornfully on. “Why,” he said, “it’s the only thing that fits. These atheists, they don’t know nothing. Of course there’s Hell, Flames and damnation,” he said with his eyes on the dark shifting water and the lightning and the lamps going out above the black struts of the Palace Pier, “torments. ”

“And Heaven too,” Rose said with anxiety, while the rain fell interminably on.

“Oh, maybe,” the Boy said, ”maybe.”

 

The second is Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, published in 1945. In the final scene, Lady Julia explain to her one-time and would-be lover Charles Ryder why they cannot ever see each other again. She is trapped in a loveless match to a faithless husband, but divorce is forbidden to Catholics.

 

“I’ve always been bad,” said Julia. “Probably I shall be bad again, punished again. But the worse I am, the more I need God. I can’t shut myself out from his mercy… I saw today there was one unforgivable thing … the bad thing I was on the point of doing, that I’m not quite bad enough to do; to set up a rival good to God’s.” If she gives up thought of marrying Ryder, “if I give up this one thing I want so much” then “however bad I am, He won’t quite despair of me in the end.”

 

Let me say what I think is going on here. It is summed up in a term very current before and for some time after the Second Vatican Council: the “Good Catholic”. He had a blacksheep cousin, of course, the “Bad Catholic”. So what was a layman, in the eyes of the church in the era before Vatican II? A layman was not a priest. And a layman was either a Good Catholic or a Bad Catholic.

This approach comes straight form the Council of Trent, whose Catechism, under the heading “The Members Of The Church Militant” goes on to declare: “The Church militant is composed of two classes of persons, the good and the bad, both professing the same faith and partaking of the same Sacraments, yet differing in their manner of life and morality…

“But although the Catholic faith uniformly and truly teaches that the good and the bad belong to the Church, yet the same faith declares that the condition of both is very different. The wicked are contained in the Church, as the chaff is mingled with the grain on the threshing floor, or as dead members sometimes remain attached to a living body.”

These concepts were so all-pervading in their influence that few bothered to examine their content. They were everywhere to such an extent that they were invisible. “Good” in this reference does not always necessarily mean morally good, as in “a good man”. It means “good at being a Catholic, as in “good musician” or “good cricketer.” Like a good musician, a good Catholic had to be specially “formed”. It was even possible, within this terminology, to be a “good” man and a “Bad” Catholic simultaneously. However, a certain odium was inevitably connected with being a Bad Catholic (that is to say, with being bad at being a Catholic). Bad Catholics had broken the rules in some respect, and keeping to the rules was itself deemed morally good even if the rules had no objective moral content, such as abstinence from meat on Fridays. Divine sanction was attached to them. Missing Mass on Sundays, taking part in a Protestant church service, getting married without the blessing of a priest: all these actions, morally indifferent or even conceivably positive in themselves in certain circumstances, became sins when they involved deliberate disobedience of the Catholic Church’s authority.

In English terms the twilight zone between the Good and Bad Catholic was more often explored by novelists than by theologians or sociologists. As we have just glimpsed, both Evelyn Waugh’s and Graham Greene found rich material in the Good-Catholic/Bad-Catholic dichotomy. Their popular success could not have depended solely on Catholic readers, even less in Waugh’s case on an elite wealthy snobbish clique which would have recognised itself in Brideshead, because there were not enough of them. They appealed to the non-Catholic English public at large partly because they transcended this narrow and esoteric caste system of Good Catholics and Bad Catholics in order to say true things about the human condition and the divine spark therein; but partly also because the English were able, through these novels, to get an idea of what a religion would be like if those who belonged to it believed every word of it (something they could not learn from contemplating the internal affairs of the Church of England.) The perils of Catholic damnation or the miseries of Catholic guilt could be enjoyed vicariously. Indeed, they had a powerful attraction.

The Bad Catholic did not equate with the Continental idea of an anticlerical. It may have had its origins in the 17th century divide between “church-papists” on one side and “recusants” on the other – two ways of coping with the severe penalties that were attached to the practice of the Catholic faith in England at that time. Thus arose the searching question one Catholic would ask another about a mutual Catholic acquaintance: “Is he completely loyal to the Church?” In other words: “Is he a Good Catholic?”

On top of the political issue there was also the influence of Jansenist spirituality in English-speaking Catholicism, not least in Ireland. The movement started in France in the mid-17th century as a protest against the alleged moral laxity preached by the Jesuits. Its influence on popular Catholic piety was to foster the feeling that salvation was a precarious prize easily lost, and that God was fearsome and only to be approached with extreme trepidation. It discouraged regular Communion almost as much as it discouraged human contentment. It was the source of a lot of Catholic anguish.

Aside from this intensification of spiritual nervousness caused by Jansenism, orthodox moral theology of the Counter Reformation era already taught that mortal sin destroyed the relationship with God and could only be restored by confession and absolution. Hence priests were necessary. One who died in a state of mortal sin went straight to Hell: only confession to a priest could save him. If you want to see this theme developed, read Graham, Greene’s The Power and the Glory, where the duty to save souls by hearing the confession of those about to die leads directly to heroic martyrdom of the central character, who was certainly a “Bad Catholic” but a good priest.

Though it was not part of the teaching of Cornelius Jansen as such, the Jansenist outlook made it seem that mortal sins were easily committed and the state of grace was for ever in danger of slipping away. It was necessary to be very watchful, even scrupulous, if this was to be avoided.

Priests influenced by this spirituality naturally encouraged lay Catholics to stick to the rules of the Church as rigorously as possible, as the only safe course. It was accepted, for example, that to eat even a morsel of meat on a Friday was a mortal sin, damning the soul to Hell. There were, of course, escape routes. The young thug Pinkie (‘the Boy”) torments himself with the thought that he might die in a state of mortal sin and burn in Hell for ever; but is comforted by remembering that even “between the stirrup and the ground it is possible for the sinner to repent and still get to heaven.

The Good Thief was the Patron Saint of Bad Catholics. Crucified with Jesus, the Good Thief repents of his sins and asks to be admitted into heaven even as he dies. Jesus tells him his wish is granted. It is symptomatic of a certain style of Catholicism that with various murders and other crimes on his conscience, Pinkie is most worried by his false marriage to the girl Rose, a mortal sin for which he thinks he is damned. It was against the law of the Church, and the power of the Church is not to be mocked.

In Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, Lord Marchmain makes that final movement of the hand on his deathbed, the sign of the cross, which signals to those watching that he has repented of his long-time rejection of Catholicism at the last possible moment – again “between the stirrup and the ground”. It is the climax of the novel. But neither Pinkie nor Lord Marchmain are proposed as models to be followed; they are interesting because they defy the rules until the last possible minute and get away with it (or in Pinkie’s case, perhaps not).

There were two essential points about being a Good Catholic. The first was the importance of observing all the rules of the Catholic faith, not just some of them. Being approximately Catholic did not count. The redeeming aspect of this supercharged landscape of instant damnation was the ready availability of the prescribed antidote. Confession to a priest made good the harm done at once, restored the life of grace, washed away the sin (though not, in theory, all the punishment due for it). In extremis, as Greene often noted in his novels, an individual could be rescued from imminent damnation by saying to himself a perfect “act of contrition” – repenting totally of all his sins, and throwing himself entirely on the mercy of God. Risky, though. What if his act of contrition was not perfect? The Catholic God, it seemed, was easily annoyed.

The second crucial aspect of the life of grace of a Good Catholic, therefore, was maintaining a relationship of good-humoured and respectful submission to the clergy. The notion that grace, authority and spiritual power flowed down from the top through the various strata of the hierarchy did not just make the priest special. It also made him necessary. A willing dependence on priests was therefore the mark of a Good Catholic.

Let us jump, then, to what the Second Vatican Council thought about the laity. It seems to be generally agreed that this was not its finest achievement. The decree Apostolicum Actuositatem (on the Apostolate of Lay People) bears all the hallmarks of having been assembled from different sources. Some of the compromises that were necessary seem to have consisted of running alternative versions of the same ideas one after another, when finding a synthesis became too difficult.

In places its conception of the lay apostolate is strictly hierarchical: the laity act within and as part of the Mystical Body of Christ and must be governed accordingly. But that is the pre-conciliar stress. Elsewhere, the distinctive voice of the Second Vatican Council can be heard when it talks of the laity as part of the People of God, of their equality with other members of that People, and of their autonomy in the secular sphere. Their apostolate comes from their baptism, therefore, not from being commissioned or sanctioned by the hierarchy. These two ways of talking about the role of lay people sit ill together. The Council refused to choose between them: to that extent the decree reflects an argument begun but not finished.

Nowhere is the difficulty more acute than in the matter of lay formation. The model suggested is definitely the pre-conciliar one, but updated: that of lay apostolate as an official extension of the church’s general apostolate. Hence it is under the church’s control and direction, if not directed by the hierarchy then through priests the hierarchy has appointed for such work. It is a very churchy conception, tending to produce a clericalised laity. Clericalism is clearly not a phenomenon confined to those who wear dog-collars.

“Training” in the lay apostolate “is indispensable”…, said the final document, and “besides spiritual formation, solid grounding in doctrine is required, in theology, ethics and philosophy …” The decree concedes: “While preserving intact the necessary link with ecclesiastical authority, the laity have the right to establish and direct associations and to join existing ones.” By means of lay formation, the gap which had been opened up between priest and people at the time of the Council of Trent was to be closed again, not by lowering the priesthood but by lifting the people, making them less “lay” (in the common, slightly pejorative sense) and more like priests.

The Second Vatican Council brought forth a new understanding of the church as the People of God, which was a rival to or substitute for the more hierarchical pre-conciliar model, of the Church as Christ’s “mystical body”. In the terminology of “lay apostolate”, this ultimately must mean that the right and duty of lay people to spread the message of the Gospel in the secular world came directly from their baptism, not from their receiving transferred or delegated powers from the clergy.

This was certainly a great step forward from the idea that the laity had nothing much to do but “hunting, shooting and fishing” or “paying, praying and obeying” – that as far as the church was concerned their proper place was to be the passive and grateful recipients of the ministrations of those in Holy Orders. But it still put the laity in a subordinate relationship to the clergy, who were still, so to speak, the professionals.

“Lay formation” was an idea modelled on the formation given to priests, but in an adapted and abbreviated form. There obviously was not time to equip a layman with all the knowledge a priest had, so a priest had to be available to him as a convenient repository of this expert knowledge. The spiritual formation was just as important – deepening the layman’s prayer life, so that he became more humble and virtuous, indeed more Christ-like. Humility would make him receptive to the guidance of a priest rather than reliant on his own opinions. If he was receptive to the guidance of a priest he would be unlikely to become a troublemaker, one who criticised the policies of the hierarchy.

It is in this area that the idea of a “Bad Catholic” held most dread for church officials. Bad Catholics could mislead Good Catholics into sinful and rebellious ways. The thought of what they might do was enough to induce a shudder of horror. A Bad Catholic was worse in every way than a merely lapsed Catholic. One thing a Bad Catholic might do, for instance, was to challenge such settled doctrines as the one that said that the use of contraception was a mortal sin.

The Bad-Catholic/Good-Catholic divide may have emerged unscathed from the Council. But it did not long survive the crisis in the Church that broke out three years after it ended, arising from the publication of the papal encyclical on birth control, Humanae Vitae.

Another novelist who has explored the Bad-Catholic/Good-Catholic territory was David Lodge, though he deconstructed it rather than used it as a fictional framework. In his novel How far can you go? – in case you are wondering, yes, the question does address issues of sexuality – he described a group of lay Catholics who travel through the time of Vatican II and the Humanae Vitae crisis and emerge with a transformed idea of the Catholic faith. The title of the book comes from a question allegedly symptomatic of all the angst of being a young lay Catholic in the 1960s and 1960s – “Please father, how far can you go with a girl, Father…?” (Does anybody ever ask such questions nowadays? I wonder.)

The group started to campaign for the kind of Catholicism they now believed in, calling themselves the “Catholics for an Open Church” movement. Ring any bells? It is the kind of thing you may be familiar with, though those who first embarked on it had the thrill of entering into unexplored, forbidding and even forbidden territory. Lodge describes a conversation at one of these group meetings, where the topic was, inevitably, “what had gone wrong…”|

“Where we went wrong, of course,” said Adrian, “was in accepting the theology of mortal sin.”

“No,” said Miriam, who had been listening quietly to their comments. “Where you went wrong was in supposing that the Church belonged to the Pope or the priests instead of to the People of God.”

They nodded agreement. “The People of God” was a phrase the Catholics for an Open Church approved of. It made them sound invincible.

 

Lodge is poking gentle fun at them, though I happen to know he was also one of them. And so, incidentally, was I. But the very question of his title “How far can you go?”, betrayed not only a continuing obsession with sexual sin but also with obedience to rules, neither of which would we regard as particularly mature.

From about the late sixties onwards, the notion of a lay apostolate as being in a subordinate role delegated by the hierarchical church went off the boil, and instead there ensued a battle for control between hierarchy and laity which has not yet been resolved. The essential problem was doctrinal and theological. Perhaps as a direct result of the crisis in 1968 over birth control, lay Catholics began to develop a deaf ear for some of the teachings of the hierarchical church, especially in the area of sexuality.

1968 was a crucial year, for it was the point where many leaders of the more progressive side of the church took fright and decided things had gone too far. This certainly happened to our own Cardinal Heenan of Westminster. And indeed it happened to the Professor Joseph Ratzinger, though partly his own change of mind was triggered by political events that year such as student revolts and anti-Vietnam war riots.

The authorities of the Church were not prepared for the adverse lay reaction to Humanae Vitae, and attributed it, as they inevitably would, to the influence of radical clergy and the supine bishops who failed to rein them in. The most worrying focus of dissent, in this analysis, concerned feminism and its related ideas, including calls for a re-evaluation of Catholic attitudes to homosexuality. Most conspicuously in Holland but more or less all over the globe, the Vatican tightened up on the appointment of bishops. From then on, they were only to be appointed from among priests with a known tack record of opposition to such trends. In most casse, the Vatican waited for a See to fall vacant; in a few, however, it took steps to have the troublesome bishops removed. I’m afraid this is a painful pattern here in Australia just now, with Bishop Bill Morris falling victim to the thought-police. In the United States there was a long term policy of trying to steer the Catholic Church to the right, including the political right, by appointing bishops of a certain persuasion who would gradually pull the centre of gravity of Catholic thinking in a neo-conservative direction.

This naturally produced a bias in new episcopal appointments towards safe men, sound in doctrine, not too adventurous, not likely to be rockers of the boat, for whom loyalty to the prevailing trends in Rome was paramount. This enforced consensus has also affected the work of the International Synod of Bishops, which was initially intended to capture the spirit of collegiality which was so manifest by the time the council ended, but became one more lever in the hands of the Church’s central administration. Clearly there were many moments in the unfolding story of Vatican II when the curia lost control and things did not go its way. Collegiality was a specific threat to that bureaucratic hegemony.

What you make of all this of course depends on which side you are on – if the trends needing to be corrected were away from the truth, then radical surgery was the only way. If they were in some sense a fulfilment of everything the council stood for, on the other hand, then the “powers that be” were smothering the renewal of the Church that the Council had called for. I do not see the gap between these two positions being closed any day soon, though it is also true that later generations of laity do not have the same indignation as the 1960s generation – expressed by one of them to me as “We was robbed!” Dissent is still there, but it has become normative, no longer worth remarking on.

A recent Tablet editorial reflected on some puzzling aspects of this ongoing phenomenon, using Ireland as an example, saying that “new survey of grass-roots opinion indicates that the typical Irish Catholic no longer accepts church teaching on a range of issues, mainly to do with sex and gender. Yet in terms of religious observance, they remain some of the most committed Catholics in Europe. But committed to what? The survey suggests that church teaching in these areas is no longer regarded as normative, and dissent from it as exceptional. The true position is almost the reverse: it is no longer seen as dissent, but as normal. It would be strange if that snapshot of the sensus fidelium were peculiar to Ireland. All the evidence, including surveys conducted in Britain, suggests it is not.”

The same is surely true of Australia. And as The Tablet also remarked, it is extremely difficult for the Church’s leadership to know how to react to this situation without making it worse. But what has happened as an indirect consequence is the decline of any sense of the laity being subordinate to the hierarchy, as if they were troops waiting for orders to go over the top. All those notions of lay apostolate – of the laity being directed by the clergy – were becoming obsolete. They did not even apply to the new religious movements in the Catholic Church, some of which were nevertheless conservative in other ways. They tend to be – or to have become – lay initiatives, lay lead.

So we have to make our own way, and develop new and more mature ways of being the Catholic Church’s faithful laity. Yet to define the laity as those outside the Church’s control, or as those in opposition to the way the Church is currently governed, is a very inadequate expression of what it means to be a Christian, and a very anaemic fulfilment of the commandment to love one’s neighbour as oneself. Nor does it do justice to the ringing declaration at the start of the Vatican Council final document, Gaudium et Spes, known as The Church in the Modern World:

“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of human beings. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for everyone . That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with humanity and its history by the deepest of bonds.”

So where do we turn? I think a clue comes later in this document, where it states that “individual men and their associations cultivate in themselves the moral and social virtues, and promote them in society”, and it elsewhere calls the Catholic Church “an unspent fountain of those virtues which the modern world needs the most.” But it does not say much about what they are. The only one given a name, it perhaps will not surprise you to hear, is the virtue of conjugal chastity.

This insistence on the importance of virtue while failing to be more specific is not confined to this one document from 50 years ago. The papal encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI published in 2009, Caritas in Veritate, asserts that “Technologically advanced societies must not confuse their own technological development with a presumed cultural superiority, but must rather rediscover within themselves the oft-forgotten virtues which made it possible for them to flourish throughout their history.” But it is still not specific.

It was as a result of reflections on this that when the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales issued their own document on Catholic Social Teaching in the course of 2010, they recognised that the issue of virtue needed more attention. This is the only detailed authoritative treatment of virtue as a sub-set of Catholic Social Teaching that I know of.

I should like to read what they said – and if you are harbouring suspicions that by quoting from this document I am guilty of plagiarism, let me quickly assure you that in fact I drafted it for them. So I quote – “Everyone involved in politics and public life must accept the personal character and a moral standards are as relevant to public life as they are to private life, “ it declares.

“The restoration of trusted institutions, whether in politics or in business, places a particular responsibility on those in leadership roles. They help shape the culture of the institutions they lead. Over time, leaders wield immense influence, and carry a heavy responsibility, especially now, to help bring about a real transformation by their vision and example. As Pope Benedict XVI has said: “development is impossible without upright men and women, without financiers and politicians whose consciences are finely attuned to the requirements of the common good”.

To act in this way requires more than not breaking rules. It demands the cultivation of moral character, the development of habits of behaviour that reflect a real respect for others and a desire to do good. It requires, in fact, the practice of virtue.

And here I think we are getting somewhere at last. “Virtue helps to shape our lives as people,” it goes on. “By the pursuit of virtue we act well not because of external constraints but because it has become natural; thus do the virtues form us as moral agents, so that we do what is right and honourable for no other reason than it is right and honourable, irrespective of reward or punishment and regardless of what we are legally obliged to do. Virtuous action springs from a sense of one’s own dignity and that of others, and from self-respect as a citizen. It is doing good when no one is looking.”

The virtues are not about what one is allowed to do but who one is formed to be. They strengthen us to become moral agents, the source of our own actions. The classical virtues form us as people who are prudent, just, temperate, and courageous. Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity root our human growth in the gifts of God and form us for our ultimate happiness: friendship with God.

The virtue of prudence or right reason is the opposite of rashness and carelessness. It enables us to discern the good in any circumstance and the right way to achieve it. It is rational and intelligent, including emotional intelligence which knows how to weigh the meaning and importance of our feelings.

The virtue of courage ensures firmness and the readiness to stand by what we believe in times of difficulty. It is the opposite of opportunism and of evasiveness. It is the practice of fortitude in the face of difficulty, and produces heroism in every field. Courage is an important element in artistic creativity, and it helps those who battle against sickness, injustice or depression.

Justice is the virtue by which we strive to give what is due to others by respecting their rights and fulfilling our duties towards them. It expands our notion of quote self unquote by strengthening the ties between us all. Justice towards God is the virtue of religion which frees us from the tyranny of false gods who would claim our worship.

The virtue of temperance holds as to moderate our appetites and the use of the worlds created goods. It is the opposite of consumerism and the uninhibited pursuit of pleasure. It is about learning to desire well. Indeed it is an essential part of a happy life.

These virtues and the exploration of them belong to all humanity. They’re held in trust for all not least in the Christian traditions of thought and moral teaching. Our society will rediscover its capacity to trust by the recovery of the practice of virtue, and through an ethically founded reform of many of our social and economic institutions

Now why is it so unusual if the find a treatment of the classical virtues in a Catholic document of this kind? What has happened to this ancient tradition that was so alive in the Middle Ages but which modernity has managed to forget? It seems the Catholic Church has been suffering from the same amnesia is the secular world. It is surely time for that situation to be reversed. My contention is that it is time to recognise that the emergence of a mature laity means above all rediscovery of virtue.

There a new category in field of moral philosophy called virtue ethics. Before virtue ethics reappeared on the scene, the theory behind moral reasoning was concentrated on two basic approaches, the first called the consequentialist approach which judges the morality of an action by its results, and the second, the deontological or rule-based approach, which judges the morality of an action by its compliance with certain rules or laws.

We owe the beginning of the revival of interest in virtue ethics to the English philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, who was a disciple and literary executor of the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. But even more important to the recovery of the memory of virtue ethics was the later work of the Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, who published about 30 years ago a groundbreaking work, on virtue ethics, called After Virtue. Incidentally both Elizabeth Anscombe and Alasdair MacIntyre converted to Catholicism in the course of their philosophical work.

MacIntyre started something of a revolution in moral philosophy, with journals, seminars and even a learned society devoted to promoting and developing his work on the ethics of virtue.

Alistair McIntire’s basic insight was as follows: if we look around the modern world we quickly notice fragments, shreds and traces of an older moral universe, but one which has lost its coherence and has become disconnected from its philosophical foundations. We do not even know what it was called. But we continue to make use of it, if we can. Its origins lie in the work of the ancient Greek philosophers, Aristotle above all, who asked the basic question: what are the qualities required of a good citizen to make Athenian democracy flourish? It is an excellent question, easily transferred to the present day. What are the qualities of character needed to make a good citizen of church and society in the year 2012 AD? And the answers turn out to be not very different the answers Aristotle arrived at in 300 and something BC.

To him we owe the four categories of civic virtue which I mentioned earlier. The route by which these ideas about virtue entered Catholic moral theology was largely through the role of St Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. The virtues had sometimes been thought of as essentially pagan, and were viewed with some suspicion for that reason. At the risk of oversimplifying a very long story, Aquinas Christianised them by adding to the four civil or cardinal virtues the three supernatural or theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.

And the greatest of these is charity, said St Paul.

With all due respect to St Paul, I think he was wrong, and the greatest is, in fact, justice. It is possible to love someone while denying them what is their due as human beings. Slave owners in the Deep South sometimes loved their slaves. Thomas Jefferson fathered four children with his Black slave mistress, Sally Hemmings. I don’t doubt he loved her and them. But was he just to them?

The practice of the virtue of justice is not just about what goes on in the law courts, but extends most importantly into the social sphere, hence the concept of social justice. The Catholic Church has a marvellous tradition in this area, sometimes called its best kept secret, which goes under the name of Catholic Social Teaching. I devoted a whole lecture to it in Canberra on Wednesday. It is in this sphere above all that the Catholic laity has a distinct vocation to fulfil, for Catholic Social Teaching covers the whole question of how society is to be organised so that Jesus called “these the least of my brethren” are not to be oppressed or swept aside. It is highly relevant to the economic and financial crisis that overtook the global economy in 2008 and whose effects are still with us. In fact Catholic Social Teaching embraces all the cardinal and theological virtues, not just justice. It is by working in this area above all that a mature laity should be able to find its proper role in the Church.

So what happened to the virtue tradition? It was severely criticised during the Reformation, for instance on the grounds that it promoted the notion that individuals could earn their place in heaven by their good works. This attack, initially from Luther and Calvin, was responded to by the Catholic Church itself by renewed emphasis on salvation by faith and grace in its own doctrine. And in line with Reformation thought, new emphasis was placed on the Ten Commandments.

Thus did Catholic morality, like Protestant morality, become more interested in the avoidance of sin and observance of rules than in virtue, and indeed in the Catholic case in the gradations of sin in the working out of the appropriate penance. The concept did not altogether die, and indeed was kept alive most of all within the order to which Thomas Aquinas has himself belonged, the Dominicans. But the tradition was in decline. It was as if the only virtue that mattered in the Church was the virtue of obedience to authority – which was not on Aristotle’s list at all! Indeed I think he would have said it was contrary to the virtue of courage, not to mention prudence and justice.

An even greater assault on Aristotelian virtue ethics occurred in the Enlightenment, because its radical rejection of metaphysics left no room for Aristotle’s philosophical idea of moral character because it depended on the idea of telos, the end towards which our lives are directed.

Virtue ethics places the emphasis on what kind of person you are rather than on your actions or even your intentions. That raises the teleological question, asking “What kind of person ought you to be?” It presupposes that we are constructed according to a pattern not of our own design. This becomes highly complex when we live in the age of the self-made man.

But MacIntyre is right that virtue ethics has left a loud – if rather incoherent – echo in our culture. We still refer to moral character, for instance, as when we say a person has a good character or a bad one: we also recognise that our virtues can be improved by practice, as in the word virtuosity. Virtues are essentially moral habits, and our virtuous acts flow from the sort of person we are. A person who lacks courage can acquire it, and become more courageous by the practice of it. The same is true of the other virtues. We can learn how to be prudent or just, and we can get better at it. Indeed this is how wisdom is acquired. And in the process we have reconnected the notion of a good Catholic and a bad Catholic with the notion of a good person and a bad person. They are one and the same.

So here at last are some answers to the question of how we ought to behave, and what is the route to a truly mature Christian laity? Think what a transformation there would be if examinations of conscience in ordinary Catholicism concentrated on our virtues rather than a vices. We would no longer be so interested in what homosexuals did with each other sexually; instead we would ask in what way does their relationship serve the common good, and is their relationship governed by virtue?

Think what a difference this would make to the impasse over contraception in the Catholic Church… Or the remarriage of divorcees. And if you ask what then about conjugal chastity, the only virtue mentioned by name in Gaudium et Spes, I would say it is only masquerading as a virtue; it is in fact de-ontology, rules-based morality, in disguise. Certainly marriage should be a school of virtue, not only for the adult partners but above all also for their children. This is surely a much richer concept of conjugality. Education has to be seen not as the teaching of knowledge and skills, but as the formation of the whole person, the intellect and memory but above all of the character.

Alasdair MacIntyre himself was and is pessimistic about the possibilities of virtue ethics ever being fully revived, because he thought it need to be underpinned by a philosophical system that had room for the idea of telos, of our lives having a higher purpose. But it does seem to me that the one area of our culture that does not have that problem of a philosophical or ideological vacuum, that has not sold out completely to the values of utilitarianism, is the Catholic one. We still find the ideas on moral virtue of Aristotle and his interpreter and baptiser Thomas Aquinas, congenial to our souls. The rest of society may not be able to go the whole way with us, but we can show it the way.

A mature laity acting independently of the church hierarchy will be perceived by many hierarchs as threatening, for the theological reason that it appears to upset the due order in which decisions are made inside the Catholic Church, and the psychological reason that it takes a good deal of personal maturity to be able to trust others enough to let go of the steering wheel. If that is an issue where relations between bishops clergy and laity are concerned, it is just as much an issue affecting the relationship of bishops to the Vatican.

After the end of Vatican II mechanisms appeared by which the Church was in future to be governed by the worldwide episcopacy functioning as a college. This spirit of collegiality had emerged very strongly by the end of the Council, and the bishops did not want to let it go. But the international synod of bishops was never able to develop a role for itself, largely because the Vatican naturally stepped in to provide the necessary organisational backup, but in the process took it over. Vatican II had taken note that the relationship between pope and the bishops had been distorted by the decrees of the incomplete council called Vatican I in 1870, which strengthened the powers of the papacy and made many bishops think of themselves as no more than branch managers, under a CEO based in Rome.

Collegiality was the idea that was going to restore the balance, but it never worked that way. It would be wrong I think to attribute this to malice or right-wing conspiracy, because we do not need such explanations. The simple truth is that no organisation willingly gives up power, and the Vatican acted exactly as any social anthropologist would have predicted. It turned the synod of bishops to its own purposes. So the collegiality deficit which marked the church after Vatican I is still there, still waiting to be dealt with. I doubt whether anything short of another general council of the church – perhaps Vatican III, perhaps held somewhere else altogether and hence called something else – would have sufficient weight to redress that balance.

I should like to close by venturing timorously into a subject called typology, which is about the application of Old Testament archetypal figures or situations to New Testament or even contemporary themes. As we have noted, after the Second Vatican Council the metaphor of the People of God tended to replace the metaphor of the Body of Christ as the preferred way of thinking about the Church. Archbishop Young’s idea of a caravan is very much of that kind. Cardinal Basil Hume of Westminster had a similar metaphor, that of a caravan of pilgrims strung out across the desert, the zealots at the front urging “go faster!”, the laggards at the back shouting “slow down!”, some pilgrims wandering off course to left or right – scandalising those still in the middle – but all proceeding towards the same general direction.

When we examine how the story of the People of God is told in the Old Testament, we do not see an easy and comfortable relationship, harmonious on both sides. God and His People do at times get along fine, but at other times they are furiously at odds. The People did sometimes wander from the true path, misled by their religious and political leaders – who are sometimes the same people – into all sorts of wickedness and idolatry. And they were chastised. When they fell on hard times or were defeated by their enemies, prophets arose to tell them that that was what was happening. God was angry and had withdrawn his protection. This was known as declension – a cycle of sin, bondage, repentance, devotion, followed by sin and bondage again; and so on.

I don’t think it would be heretical to ask whether we can see the same pattern in the Church today, though one should not jump too quickly to the conclusion that we know what the sin consists of, or how we should repent. It may be the neglect of widows and orphans; it could even be turning the power structures of the church into a false idol. I would offer one very tentative theory of my own. I do not think the Catholic Church has yet atoned enough for allowing what happened to the Jews in mainly Catholic Europe under Nazism; and I do not think it has yet expunged from itself the tendencies that enabled that to happen. Blind eyes were turned, confrontations avoided, lest the power and authority of the Church be weakened. And I think the child abuse scandal was a demonstration that those tendencies are still present. Are those sins and crimes worthy of chastisement? I certainly think so.

At any one time, you do not really know where you are in the cycle, or be sure what exactly it is that you have done that brought the chastisement on. You may not even be aware that what you are experiencing is a chastisement. It takes a prophet to tell you; and it can take a very long time to sort false prophets from true ones. But there is one compelling idea in all this – whatever the true meaning of the Church’s travails at any one time, God is still in charge, calling the shots. I hope that is a comforting thought.

So here we are, entirely fulfilling Archbishop Gillie Young’s of Hobart prophetic image of the Church as the caravan of God, trundling forward, some pulling ahead, some pulling back, some hanging on like grim death to the sides.

But where is it headed, and is that the right direction? I think that would be a good moment to stop, and having heard what I think, for you to tell me what you think. Thank you

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Papers

Sexual Morality

PUBLIC FORUM ON SEXUAL MORALITY

On Saturday July 14, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson addressed a public forum in Sydney. The forum was sponsored by Catalyst for Renewal and Aquinas Academy and held at the Salvation Army Congress Hall in Elizabeth Street Sydney. About 300 people were in attendance. Michael Whelan SM introduced Bishop Robinson’s presentation with the following words:

We live in a time of transition. Many issues demand attention. There are three particular issues, intimately connected with each other, that are relevant to our conversation here this morning.

The first is the FACT of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. The second is the REACTION to that fact by representatives of the Catholic Church. The third is the SYSTEMIC reality in which the fact and the reaction took shape.

First there was the discovery of the FACT. It took us a while to assimilate this terrible truth. Then there was the discovery of the EACTION. With some notable exceptions, the reaction was, at best inadequate and at worst reprehensible. Our first instinct, it seems, was to cover up rather than own up. And one of the consequences of that was our disregard for the pain and suffering of the victims.

We must ask ‘WHY?’ Even allowing for the loss of perspective that so often accompanies hindsight, we must still ask certain questions:

• Why was our first instinct one of self-defence?
• Why were we so averse to the truth?
• Why did we not immediately ask, ‘What about the victim?’
• Is there anything about our self-understanding that might have aided and
abetted the FACT and our bad REACTION to that fact?

Such questions lead us to the third issue – the SYSTEMIC reality. We Catholics need to look long and hard at ourselves and what we are in fact proposing as Good News for the world. Fifty years ago the Second Vatican Council set in train this program of renewal. It remains very much unfinished business. In particular, we need to have an honest and informed conversation about sexuality.

That is the purpose of our gathering here today. As we engage in that conversation, I urge you remember the link between onversation and conversion. The one thing that will make this a truly enriching event will be our openness to conversion, metanoia, whatever that might mean for us individually.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson will address us to facilitate that conversation. Geoff studied in Rome from 1955 through to 1965. He was rdained in Rome in 1960, a priest of the Archdiocese of Sydney. His doctoral work was in Canon Law, though he has always maintained a scholarly interest in the study of Sacred Scripture. From 1967 until 1983, after a few years as a parish priest, he taught Canon Law at theCatholic Institute of Sydney. In addition to serving as Chief Justice of the Archdiocesan Marriage Tribunal, he was secretary and then president of the Canon Law Society of Australia and New Zealand.

In 1984 he published a book on marriage, divorce, and annulment. A few years later he published books on the Gospel of Mark and religious experiences in our everyday lives. More recently he has published his book, Confronting Power and Sex in the
Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus (2007) and Love’s Urgent Longings: Wrestling with Belief in Today’s Church (2010).

For many years he served as the Chairman of the Sydney Archdiocesan Catholic Schools Board and the Australian Catholic Education Commission, NSW. Finally, he worked extensively in the areas of ecumenism and professional standards in ministry. In 1984, he was named auxiliary bishop of Sydney, combining administrative work with his Tribunal and other duties.

In his work in the area of professional standards, from 1994 to 2003, Geoff showed intelligent, courageous and wise leadership in tempting to develop honest and constructive ways of dealing with the issues I have mentioned above. In particular, he was largely responsible for the Towards Healing process that was introduced in December 1996 and is widely followed both in Australia and abroad.

SEXUAL MORALITY: HIERARCHICAL TEACHING v CATHOLIC PRACTICE –

CAN WE BRIDGE THE GAP?

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

The constantly repeated argument of the Catholic Church is that God created human sex for two reasons: as a means of expressing and fostering love between a couple (the unitive aspect) and as the means by which new human life is brought into being (the procreative aspect). The argument then says that the use of sex is “according to nature” only when it serves both of these God-given purposes, and that both are truly present only within marriage, and even then only when intercourse is open to new life, so that all other use of the sexual faculties is morally wrong.1

I have no problem with the idea that human sex has both a unitive and a procreative aspect, but I havefour basic difficulties with the teaching that every single act of intercourse must contain both of these aspects.

A Sin Against God

The first difficulty is that through this teaching the church is saying that the essence of sexual sin is that it is a direct offence against God because it is a violation of what is claimed to be the divine and natural order that God established. It is claimed that God inserted into nature itself the demand that every human sexual act be both unitive and procreative. If it does not contain both of these elements, it is against “nature” as established by God. This raises two serious questions, one concerning nature and the other concerning God.

The Question concerning Nature

In relation to nature, may we not argue that, if this divine and natural order exists in relation to our sexual faculties, it should exist in many other areas of human life as well? So should not the church’s arguments concerning sex point to many other fields where God has given a divine purpose to some created thing, such that it would be a sin against God to use that thing in any other way? Why is it that it is only in relation to sex that this claim is made? I remember reading years ago the mocking argument that the natural God-given purpose of human eyes is to look forwards, so rear vision mirrors in cars are against nature and hence immoral. Granted that this is a mocking argument, does it not raise questions about what we mean by “nature” and how difficult it is to draw moral consequences from a claim to a divinely established nature?

The Question concerning God

Imagine that you read in the newspaper two stories of Australians being physically attacked while overseas. Imagine that the first concerns a man who has largely brought it on himself by drinking too much and getting into a fight, while the other concerns a woman who has not been drinking, has done nothing to provoke anyone and whose name is Julia Gillard. The second story would be by far the bigger, with profuse apologies from the government of that nation. The reason would be that, as Prime Minister of Australia, she represents this country, and an unprovoked attack on her is an attack on the nation. We would all agree that this story concerns a far
greater offence. In the same way, a physical attack on Queen Elizabeth would have the entire United Kingdom up in arms.

This helps us to understand the argument in past centuries that striking a king was far more serious than striking a commoner. In line with this, it was said, the greatest king by far is God, so an offence against God is far more serious than any offence against a mere human being.

Because all sexual sins were seen as direct offences against God, they were, therefore, all seen as most serious sins. This put all sexual sins right up there with the other sin that is directly against God, blasphemy, and this helps to explain why, in the Catholic Church, sexual morality has long been given a quite exaggerated importance.

For centuries the church has taught that every sexual sin is a mortal sin.2 In this field, it was held, there are no venial sins. According to this teaching, even deliberately deriving pleasure from thinking about sex with anyone other than one’s spouse, no matter how briefly, is a mortal sin. The teaching may not be proclaimed aloud today as much as before, but it was proclaimed by many popes,3 it has never
been retracted and it has affected countless people.

This teaching fostered belief in an incredibly angry God, for this God would condemn a person to an eternity in hell for a single unrepented moment of deliberate pleasure arising from sexual desire. I simply do not believe in such a God. Indeed, I positively reject such a God. If this were the only God on offer, I would be an atheist.

My first rebellion against church teaching on sex came, therefore, not directly from a rejection of what the church said about sex, but a rejection of the god that this teaching presented.

The parable of the prodigal son may help us here4. The younger son had received the entire share of the property that would come to him and he had wasted it. He had no right to one further square centimetre of the property, for the entire remaining property would now go by strict right to the elder son (“You are with me always and all I have is yours” v.31). The father respected his elder son’s rights and would take nothing from him. When, however, it came to the hurt the prodigal son had caused to his father by abandoning him and wasting the property he had worked so hard for, the father brushed this aside out of love for his son and insisted that he be welcomed and treated as a son rather than a servant. The message is surely that God cares about the rights of human beings and what they do to one another, but is big enough, loving enough and forgiving enough not to get angry at direct offences against God.

When a person takes great offence at even a trivial remark, we tend to speak of that person as a “little” person, while a person who can shrug off most negative comments is a “big” person. My reading of the bible leads me to believe in a very big God indeed who is not easily offended by direct offences. I believe, for instance, that God shrugs off much of what is called “blasphemy” as an understandable human reaction to the felt injustice of evil and suffering in this world. I do not believe that God is in the least offended when parents who have just lost a child rage in terrible anger against God.

In this vein, I must ask whether God will be offended by any sexual thought or action considered solely as an offence against an order established by God, before any question of its effect on other persons, oneself or the community is taken into account.

It must be added that, in the response to revelations of sexual abuse, the idea of every sexual sin as a direct mortal sin against God became a most serious problem, for far too many church authorities saw the offence primarily in terms of a sexual offence against God. This sexual sin was seen as the great mortal sin, far more serious than what was seen as the lesser sin committed against the minor. At the same time, sexual sins were seen as sins of weakness rather than malice, so forgiveness was always easily given. The sexual mortal sin involved in paedophilia was, therefore, to be treated according to the criteria governing all sexual offences – repentance, confession, absolution, total forgiveness by God and hence restoration to the status quo. This contributed greatly to the practice of moving offenders from one parish to another in the name of Christian forgiveness. There was never going to be an adequate response to abuse as long as many people thought primarily in terms of sexual offences against God rather than harm caused to the victims.

Proven Fact or Simple Assertion?

My second objection to the teaching is that it appears to be a mere assertion rather than a proven fact.

No one disputes the facts that sexual intercourse is the normal means of creating new life and that it can and ought to be a powerful force in helping couples to express and strengthen their love. Both the unitive and procreative elements are, therefore, foundational aspects of marriage as an institution of the whole human race.

But are they essential elements of each individual marriage, no matter what the circumstances? For example, if a couple are told by medical experts that any child they had would suffer from a serious and crippling hereditary illness, are they going against God’s will if they decide to adopt rather than have children of their own? Beyond this, are the unitive and procreative elements essential in every single act of sexual intercourse, and, if so, on what basis?

There are always problems when human beings claim that they know the mind of God. So is the statement that it is God’s will, and indeed order, that both the unitive and procreative aspects must necessarily be present in each act of sexual intercourse a proven fact or a simple assertion? If it is claimed to be a proven fact, what are the proofs? Why do church documents not present such proofs?5 Would not any proofs have to include the experience of millions of people in the very human endeavour of seeking to combine sex, love and the procreation of new life in the
midst of the turbulence of human sexuality and the complexities of human life?

If it is only an assertion, is there any reason why we should not apply the principle of logic: What is freely asserted may be freely denied? If it is no more than an assertion, does it really matter who it is who makes the assertion or how often it is made? Where are the arguments in favour of the assertion that would convince an open and honest conscience?

Concentration on the Physical

The third objection is that the teaching of the Catholic Church is to far too great an extent based on a consideration of what is seen as the God-given nature of the physical acts in themselves rather than on how such acts affect persons and relationships. Moral questions are then concerned solely with the details and circumstances of the physical acts rather than of the persons performing them. And the church continues to do this at a time when the whole trend in moral theology is in the opposite direction.

As a result it gets into impossible difficulties in analysing physical acts without a context of human relations. For example, some married couples find that there is a blockage preventing the sperm from reaching the ovum, but that in a simple procedure a doctor can take the husband’s sperm and insert it into the wife in such a way that is passes the blockage and enables conception. But the Vatican condemned this action because the physical act was not considered “integral”.

Teaching of Jesus

The fourth objection is that the entire idea of the necessity for both the unitive and procreative element in each act of intercourse is not based on anything Jesus said or implied, but comes from ideas outside the bible concerning acts that are said to be natural and acts that are said to be against nature. Sexuality concerns a most powerful and important force in human life. In seeking to understand its moral nature, why would the church not turn to anything Jesus said or did, and instead rely
on ideas from other sources?

Hierarchical Teaching and Catholic Practice

We are left with the fact that the Catholic Church is propounding a teaching that only a minority of Catholics still accepts, especially among the young. Western society as a whole has rejected this teaching and gone to a position that is in many ways an opposite extreme. Few people, it seems, are left to argue for a middle ground between the two extremes. It is this middle ground that I now wish to explore.

The Middle Ground

If we decide to leave behind an ethic that sees sex in terms of a direct offence against God, that emphasises individual physical acts rather than persons and relationships, and that is based on a repeated assertion rather than an argument,
where should we go?

I suggest that the answer is that we should move to an ethic that, firstly, sees any offence against God as being brought about, not by the sexual act in itself, but by the harm caused to human beings; secondly, speaks in terms of persons and relationships rather than physical acts; thirdly, looks to the gospels and the person of Jesus for its inspiration; and then, fourthly, builds an argument on these three foundations rather than on unproven assertions.

Harm to Persons

If it is impossible to sustain an entire sexual ethic on the basis of direct offences against God, all the evidence tells us that God cares greatly about human beings and takes a very serious view of any harm done to them, through sexual desire or any other cause. As the gospel of Mark says, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea” (Mk.9:42). Granted the deliberate Semitic exaggeration in these words, does not this quotation
alone tell us what God thinks of paedophilia? Does it not also tell us that Jesus puts the emphasis on the harm done to the victim rather than on some direct offence
against God?

Or take the quotation from Matthew’s gospel, “Then they will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’” (Mt.25:44-45) In these two quotations Jesus identifies with the weakest persons in the community, and tells us that any harm done to them is a harm done to himself.

I suggest, therefore, that we should look at sexual morality in terms of the good or harm done to persons and the relationships between them rather than in terms of a direct offence against God.

Following from this, may we say that sexual pleasure, like all other pleasure, is in itself morally neutral, neither good nor bad? Is it rather the circumstances affecting persons and relationships that make this pleasure good or bad, e.g. a good pleasure for a married couple seeking reconciliation after a disagreement, a bad pleasure for a man committing rape?

The Church v Modern Society

To take this further, if we go beneath the particular teachings of the Catholic Church on sex and come to its most foundational beliefs, I suggest that there is a fundamental point on which the church and modern Western society appear to be moving in opposite directions.

The church is saying that love is the very deepest longing of the human heart and sex is one of the most important expressions of love that we have, so people should do all in their power to ensure that sex retains its ability to express love as deeply as possible. They should, therefore, make sure that sex does not become so trivialised, for themselves individually or for the community as a whole, that it loses its power to express the deepest love. Modern society, on the other hand, has become more and more accepting of casual sexual activity that is not related to love or relationship.

In its simplest terms, the church is saying that, because love is all-important and because sex is so vital a way of expressing love, sex is always serious, while modern society appears to be saying more and more that sex is “a bit of fun” and not in itself serious.

On this basic point I find myself instinctively more in sympathy with the views of the church than with those of modern society. It was, in fact, the effects of sexual abuse on minors more than anything else that convinced me that sex is always serious.

Do not Harm v Love your Neighbour

Because I see sex as serious, I do not simply conclude that all sex is good as long as it does not harm anyone. I would never want to put the matter in those simple terms, for I have seen far too much harm caused by this attitude.

The idea is expressed in negative terms (“Do not harm”) and inevitably contains within itself the serious risk of brinkmanship, that is, that, with little thought for the good of the other person involved, one may seek one’s own pleasure and, in doing so, go right up to the very brink of causing harm to another. In a field as turbulent as this, countless people basing themselves on such a principle will go over that brink.

Jesus invariably said “Love your neighbour”, and this implies more than the negative fact of not harming. It implies genuine respect for the other and positively wanting and seeking the good of the other. The essential difference between the two is that an attitude of “Do no harm” can put oneself first, while “Love your neighbour” must put the other first. A Christian ethic must, at the very least, be expressed in these positive terms. It is only on this positive basis of respecting and seeking the positive good of the other that we could feel confident of having found a truly Christian ethic. We could never have that confidence on the basis of the negative principle of “Do not harm”.

In doing this, we must take the harm that can be caused by sexual desire very seriously indeed, and look carefully at the circumstances that can make morally bad the seeking of sexual pleasure because they involve harm to others, to oneself or to the community. Some of these factors are: violence, physical or psychological, deceit and self-deceit, harming a third person (e.g. a spouse), using another person for one’s own gratification, treating people as sexual objects rather than as persons, separating sex from love to the extent that sex loses its ability to express the depths
of love, trivialising sex so that it loses its seriousness, allowing the desire for present satisfaction to restrict the ability to respond to the deeper longings of the human heart, harming the possibility of permanent commitment, failing to respect the connection that exists between sex and new life, failing to respect the need to build a relationship patiently and carefully, failing to respect the common good of the whole community.

It will be seen from all of this that I have most serious difficulties with the idea that “anything goes”. In reacting against one extreme, there is always the danger of going to the opposite extreme. I believe that this is what many people have done in relation to sex.

The Teaching of Jesus

The major criterion of sexual morality that Jesus gave us was his universal principle of “Love your neighbour”. He presented this principle as the basis of everything in the Christian life, and this means that, like any other act in a Christian’s life, a sexual act should be based on a genuine desire for all that is good for the other person rather than simply on self-interest. Since we may assume that he was not naïve about either the good or the harm that sexual desire can cause, we must conclude that, having said this, he believed he had said all that needed to be said. In this the church has definitely not followed his example.

The Central Questions

I therefore suggest that the central questions concerning sexual morality are:

Are we moving towards a genuinely Christian ethic if we base all our sexual thoughts and actions on a profound respect for the relationships that give meaning, purpose and direction to human life, and on loving our neighbour as we would want our neighbour to love us?

Within this context, may we ask whether a sexual act is morally right when, positively, it is based on a genuine love of neighbour, that is, a genuine desire for what is good for the other person involved, rather than solely on self-interest, and, negatively, contains no damaging elements such as harm to a third person, any form of coercion or deceit, or any harm to the ability of sex to express love?

Is the question of when these circumstances might apply, and whether and to what extent they might apply both inside and outside marriage, one for discussion and debate by both the church community and the wider community, and for decision and responsibility before God, other people and one’s own deeper self by each individual?

Application

Let me here give the briefest possible answer to some of the questions that might be asked. I am, of course, aware that each question deserves to be thought through far more thoroughly than in it is in these brief comments.

Adultery: It would be very hard to justify adultery under the ideas I have presented, for there would surely always be the breaking of a solemn promise on which another is building his or her life and there would always be the gravest danger of harm to that other. I do recognise, however, that some marriages can be very dead indeed.

Pre-marital sex: I would always like to see a couple carefully building their relationship on a solid foundation of friendship and mutual interests rather than being caught up too quickly in the intoxication of sex, but I recognise that the closer they get to their marriage, the more intimacy there will and should be. I would like them to think about the implications of a full sexual relationship rather than just fall into it, or
feel that there is something wrong with them if they don’t.

Masturbation: My questions would be along these lines: Is it simply part of the normal search for identity of an adolescent? In an adult is it an act of needed self-love and affirmation? Or, on the other hand, is it part of a turning in on oneself and the avoidance of relationships with others? Is it becoming addictive?

Homosexual sex: I believe that, once we see the matter in terms of persons and relationships, the ideas I have suggested apply equally to homosexual sex.

Conclusion

Many would object that what I have proposed would not give clear and simple rules to people. But God never promised us that everything in the moral life would be clear and simple. Morality is not just about doing right things; it is also about struggling to know what is the right thing to do.

Many would also object that such ideas would be too easily abused and would lead to people doing whatever they wanted to. Yes, these ideas would be abused, for sexual desire is a most powerful force, and for that very reason any moral framework on this subject will be abused, just as Catholic teaching has been abused and ignored. But morality is not just about doing what everyone else around us is doing; it is about taking a genuine personal responsibility for everything we do. And sexual morality is about being profoundly sensitive to the needs and vulnerabilities of the
people with whom we interact. It is through this sensitivity that we will grow as moral persons, in a way that mere obedience to authority can never make us grow.

I believe that there is normally a far better chance of a sexual act meeting the requirements I have suggested within a permanent vowed relationship than there is outside such a relationship. But I could not draw the simple conclusion that: inside a vowed relationship everything good, outside everything bad. The complexities of human nature and the turbulence of sexuality do not allow for such simple answers. Ultimately we must come to personal responsibility, with all its difficulties and dangers, but also with all its potential for growth.

The encyclical Humanae Vitae of 1968 was a genuine watershed in the relationship between papal teaching and Catholic people, and I cannot see the slightest possibility of the Catholic people as a whole ever returning to the current hierarchical teaching on sexual morality. If the gap between the two is to be bridged, it must be on the basis of mutual acceptance of a middle ground. I hope that I have pointed in fruitful directions.


The most important papal document on sexual morality of the last century, the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, expressed the argument thus:
“Such teaching, many times set forth by the teaching office of the church, is founded on the unbreakable connection, which God established and which men and women may not break of their own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning.” Indeed, in its intimate nature, the conjugal act, while it unites the spouses in a most profound bond, also places them in a position (idoneos facit) to generate new life, according to laws inscribed in the very being of man and woman. By protecting both of these essential
aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in an integral manner the sense of mutual and true love and its ordering to the exalted vocation of human beings to parenthood.” Pope Paul VI, encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, 26th July 1968, no.12.

2 See Noldin-Schmitt, Summa Theologiae Moralis, Feliciani Rauch, Innsbruck, 1960 Vol.I, Supplement De Castitate, p.17, no.2; Aertnys-Damen, Theologia Moralis, Marietti, Rome, 1956, vol.1, no.599,p.575. The technical term constantly repeated was mortale ex toto genere suo. The sin of taking pleasure from thinking about sex was called delectatio morosa.

3 For example, Clement VII (1592-1605) and Paul V (1605-1621) said that those who denied this teaching should be denounced to the Inquisition.

4 Lk. 15:11-32

5 In recent years there has been an appeal to anthropology, but I have not seen a clear statement of how anthropology demands that every act of intercourse include both the unitive and procreative purpose.

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Papers

Catalyst Digest Edition 26

Catalyst Digest Edition 26 – October 2010 – Edition 26

Euthanasia coming?

Melbourne Catholic archbishop Denis Hart warned in a statement early this month of a concerted drive to legalise euthanasia in Australia, pointing out that legislation to this effect was about to be introduced in the Victorian parliament, was proposed also by the New South Wales government and would be the subject of a private member’s bill to be brought down by the Greens in the Senate.  Conceding that it was never easy to face the end of the life of a loved one, the archbishop said that sometimes misplaced compassion led people to call for assisted suicide but “we cannot support the legalisation of euthanasia however it is described.”  This was the opposite of care and represented the abandonment of older and dying persons.  Hart said he called on the Catholic community and all people of goodwill to continue to care for the frail elderly, the sick and the dying at every stage of life.

Police raid “Pope’s bank

Italian police shocked the Vatican last month by raiding the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), known as the Pope’s bank, in a surprise money laundering investigation.  According to the respected London Financial Timesthe police seized 23 million euros and began inquiries into the activities of senior IOR executives, including its president Ettore Gotti Tedeschi and general director Paolo Cipriani.  The Vatican responded hastily with a statement in which it expressed its “perplexity and amazement” at the police action and staunchly defended the IOR and its management.  It did, however, confirm that certain (unspecified) IOR cash transactions were under investigation by the Procurator’s office in Rome.  This was the result of a misunderstanding, the statement said, and could have been “clarified with great simplicity”. Vatican spokesman Fr Frederico Lombardi SJ, said the purpose of the statement was to “clarify matters in order to avoid the spread of inaccurate information and to ensure that no damage is caused to the activities of the institute or the good name of the managers.” To what extent the statement achieved this objective is hard to gauge because it made no attempt to address the money laundering issue per se and concentrated almost entirely on arguing that the IOR was not a bank “in the normal definition of the term” but was an institution that “administers the assets of Catholic institutions whose goal is to further a religious and charitable apostolate at an international level.”  Lombardi went on to say that the IOR “was located within the territory of Vatican City State; in other words, beyond the jurisdiction and surveillance of the various international banks.”  The statement insisted that “from the day of his appointment and in accordance with the specific mandate he received from the highest Vatican authorities” Tedeshi had been working “with great commitment to ensure the absolute transparency of the IOR’s activities.”

Christians beware, patriarch warns

The Christian presence in the Arab world was threatened by the cycles of war afflicting the region, the cradle of Christianity, Gregoire III, Patriarch of the Greek Melkite Catholic Church, warned delegates at an historic synod of Middle East bishops which began in Rome on 10 October.  The synod was personally initiated by Benedict XV1 because of increasing anti-Christian violence in the Middle East.  The main reason for the threat, the patriarch said, was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The fundamentalist movements, Hamas and Hezbollah, are consequences of this conflict as well as internal dissension, slowness in development, the rise of hatred, the loss of hope in the young who constitute sixty percent of the population in Arab countries”. The Eastern rites church leader said emigration of Christians was among the most dangerous effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The emigration would “make Arab society a society of only one colour, Muslim, faced with a European society identified as Christian.  Should this happen, should the East be emptied of its Christians, this would mean that any occasion would be propitious for a new clash of cultures, of civilisations and even of religions, a destructive clash between the Muslim Arab East and the Christian West.”

Win for church lobby

An interfaith lobbying alliance succeeded last month in achieving exemption for church-related adoption agencies from legislation in New South Wales—described by Sydney archbishop George Pell as a pre-state election stunt—that allows gay couples to adopt children.  The churches had argued that, as it stood, agencies that refused to conform could be sued under anti-discrimination laws.  The measure was sponsored in a private member’s bill by Sydney lord mayor and independent MP Clover Moore.  It was supported by New South Wales premier Kristina Keneally and Opposition leader Barry O’Farrell both of whom, like Moore, are Catholics.

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Catalyst Digest

Catalyst Digest Edition 25

Catalyst Digest Edition 25 – September 2010 -Edition 25

Church irrelevant, says bishop

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

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Catalyst Digest

Catalyst Digest Edition 24

Catalyst Digest Edition 24 – August  2010 – Edition 24

Visiting priest: act like adults

The role of modern-day Catholics was more to follow the way of life to which they were called by Jesus than to try to live out a life defined by doctrines and the rules of moral theology, American priest and renowned Catholic commentator Donald Cozzens told a Catalyst for Renewal audience in Sydney on 23 July. “The role of the laity is no longer just to ‘pray, pay, obey’,” he said. “We are called to act as adults, think like adults and speak like adults while listening to the Spirit.”  In a lively discussion with Aquinas Academy director Fr Michael Whelan, Cozzens argued strongly for greater dialogue in the Catholic church and used the analogy of a ship in a storm, asking, “Do we take refuge in our cabins or are we up on deck helping?”  He submitted that Vatican II had called for dialogue and thus it was “not outside the magisterium” for concerns about the church to be discussed.   Some members of the church misunderstood the meaning of dialogue, he said, and they needed to understand that renewal and reform were not the same as revolution. “Certainty of faith is an oxymoron,” Cozzens said, “True dialogue presupposes the possibility of change.” Reverting to the church’s sexual abuse “crisis”, he reminded his 200-plus audience of the observation of respected Protestant theologian Paul Tillich that if a religion judged society, society would judge the religion.  The sexual abuse scandal made the Roman Catholic Church particularly vulnerable, Cozzens warned.

Double whammy for Williams

The Anglican synod’s rejection last month of a compromise proposal designed to placate members of the Church of England who are opposed to the ordination of woman bishops was another setback for Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams but could be a bonus for the Catholic church which is expected to benefit from an increase in the number of disaffected traditional Anglicans who will accept Benedict XVI’s invitation to switch their allegiance to Rome.  The downside, of course, is that it could undermine efforts to bring the Catholic and Anglican churches closer together.  Dr Williams, with the Archbishop of York John Sentamu, tried unsuccessfully to persuade synod delegates to accept the proposition that rather than amend church legislation to give no-strings-attached approval to women bishops, clergy and laity who did not want a woman bishop working in their diocese or parish would be able to call for a male bishop to take her place.  Synod’s decision to press on with the contentious issue (which now goes to the church’s 44 parishes for “evaluation”) brought a sharply adverse reaction from traditional Anglo-Catholics who predict that a minimum of 200 of their 1300 priests were likely to defect, many taking their congregations with them.   Williams is living in difficult times.  He must now face the dilemma of deciding whether to give way to strong pressure to elevate the popular gay but celibate dean of St Albans Canon Jeffrey John to bishop of Southwark.  If his answer is yes the gap between him and the Catholic hierarchy will begin to look like a chasm.

Sound familiar?

The cost of Benedict XVI’s state visit to the United Kingdom next month, originally estimated to be £10m and then amended to £14m has, at last reading, rocketed to £19m without taking account of “policing
and security,” the cost of which doesn’t seem to have been calculated but you can bet it will be substantial.  Nor has anyone been game to promise, core or otherwise, that £19m will be the absolute maximum.  The British taxpayers will foot most of the bill with the Catholic Church committed to give £7m of which £2m is still to be raised.  The conjecture is that the parishioners who have already contributed most of the church’s $5m via the collection plate, are about to be asked to dig even deeper.  Why so expensive?  A spokesman said the government had underestimated the “complexity and sophistication of the event”. In case you are wondering, the papal visit will last for four days.

Ah well it’s only money

And speaking of money, last year wasn’t exactly a great year for the Vatican.  Delegates to the 45th meeting in July of the (deep breath, please) Council of Cardinals for the Study of Organisational and
Economic Problems of the Holy See were told that the 2009 consolidated financial statement of the Holy See showed a deficit of 4,102,156 euro.  Total income in the year was 250,182,364 euro but costs were 254,284,520.  The Governate of Vatican City State didn’t do too well either.  It lost 7,815,183 euro but it did better than in 2008 when the deficit was a whopping 15m euro plus.  The statement noted that, the Holy See employed 2762 people last year of whom 766 were ecclesiastics, 344 religious and 1652 lay people.   Mostly men, one assumes.

Less anger, more hope

One-time prime minister Ben Chifley once explained why he had had a larger than expected election campaign meeting. “We must be in trouble,” he said.    Maybe there is a similar message to this for the Catholic
church in the fact that 250 priests including five bishops attended the 2010 Australian National Council of Catholic Priests at Parramatta last month; the biggest in memory, perhaps ever.  No doubt it was a reflection of the intense pressure that priests have been under for years because of the sexual abuse crisis and of their need to be with others who have shared their suffering.  Among them was Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, the author of the best-selling Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church, whose arrival was greeted with a standing ovation that lasted five minutes and would have been some small compensation for the pain he has suffered since he embarked on his crusade for church action and justice for abuse victims. Asked what he had taken away from the council, one priest, a regular attender, said, “Less anger, more hope.”

Bishop lashes out at leadership

Hard on the heels of the pope’s rebuke in June of the archbishop of Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, apparently for speaking out of turn, there is yet another instance of restlessness among his troops.  South
African bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, who is already on record as a critic of church policy that prohibits the use of condoms as a protection against HIV/AIDS, recently told a gathering of lay Catholics in Cape Town that the moral authority of the church’s leadership “had never been weaker.”  The 66-year-old bishop said instead of giving an impression of its power, privilege and prestige the church leadership “should be experienced as a humble, searching ministry together with the people.”  Dowling said that when “thinking people” looked at the church leadership they raised questions about real participation of the membership in its governance and how the church was to be held accountable and to whom.  He said the principle of subsidiarity, by which decision-making was devolved to the lowest appropriate level, was “highly relevant” to the current needs of the church.  “However,” Dowling said, “I think we have a leadership in the church which undermines the very notion of subsidiarity; where the minutiae of church life and praxis at the lower level are subject to examination and authentication being given by the higher level, in fact the highest level.” The bishop asserted that the “mystique” surrounding the pope, and the perception because of this that unquestioning obedience was required, had made it more and more difficult for the bishops to exercise their “theologically-based servant leadership.”  The church leadership should recognise and empower decision-making at the appropriate levels in the local church, he said.  In this way the church could be “enriched through a diversity which truly integrates socio-cultural values and insights into a living and developing faith.”

Stop “using” boat people

More than 100 delegates to the National Council of Churches, representing 19 different religious faiths across Australia, have called on the federal government and opposition to stop using asylum seekers,
most of whom were fleeing conflict and persecution, for political advantage. They resolved during the council’s seventh national forum in Canberra to appeal to all candidates in the 21 August federal election to work together for a humane, bipartisan approach to the issue “to fulfil our international obligations and enhance Australia’s reputation as a just and humane global citizen.” The resolution also reminded election candidates that asylum seekers were not illegal migrants and had rights under international law to seek protection.

Vacancy for Latin teacher?

After a long-running battle that began in 2002—archdiocese in one corner, parishioners in the other—10 parishes in the cash-strapped Boston Catholic archdiocese are about to close, assuming some
higher authority than the Vatican doesn’t intervene.  Nearly a decade ago the archdiocese was embroiled in a horrifying sexual abuse scandal that led in 2002 to the resignation of Cardinal archbishop Bernard Law (who, incidentally, is now comfortably ensconced in a plum job in Rome). Threatened with bankruptcy because of the millions it was required to pay to compensate victims, the new management of the archdiocese sold its investments and a lot of property and engaged in a major “reconfiguration” of the archdiocese, part of which was a decision in 2004 to shut down the 10 parishes, which, not surprisingly, caused a huge kafuffle.  The parishioners protested the decision and when they got nowhere with the archbishop they appealed the issue to Rome, first to the Congregation for Clergy which rejected their plea in 2006. Not to be denied nine of the parishioners then took their case to the Apostolic Signatura.  Last month the archdiocese was advised that the appeals had been denied.  On what precise grounds is not clear because as at 22 July the archdiocese had not yet published a translation of the nine Latin language decrees.  In a statement, it explained: “While our initial review of the decrees appears to confirm that the Apostolic Signatura has affirmed the earlier decision of the Congregation of the Clergy regarding these closed parishes we look forward to a formal review of the translated text.” All of which seems to suggest that the archdiocese could be short of Latin translators as well as cash.

One rejection, perhaps two?

Opponents of the new translation of the Roman Missal whose What if we just wait? campaign has gained widespread support from Catholics around the world have taken heart from an unprecedented Vatican
decision to shelve an authorised translation into German of the Order of Christian Burials and revert to the 1973 version that it replaced because of “objections to the translation, especially to the many changes Rome made to the submitted translation”.  Although many Catholics have thought that final approval of the much-delayed English translation of the Roman Missal is imminent, in fact it is still, to use British journalist Robert Mickens’s description, only a “work in progress” with a number of English-speaking bishops yet to vote on it.  Hence, as Mickens pointed out, the presentation of a beautiful leather-bound copy of the Missal to Benedict XVI almost a year ago to mark its recognitio would appear to have been somewhat premature.

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Catalyst Digest

Catalyst Digest Edition 23

Catalyst Digest Edition 23 – JUNE 2010 – Edition 22

US report chides own religious freedom policy

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has branded 13 nations—Burma, China, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam—as “countries of particular concern” and has placed on its “2010 watch list” another 12 nations that “require close monitoring due to violations of religious freedom”. The United States’ own foreign policy on religious freedom did not escape censure, the commission’s annual report quoting its chairman Leonard Leo as saying that “after some strong language on religious freedom” by President Obama his references to the issue  “had become rare.”  The same, he said, applied to Secretary of State Clinton. “The government must do more,” he said. Nations on the USCIRF watch list are Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, India,
Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela.

Catholic stamp on history

Australian philatelists, especially Catholic ones, will be queuing up this month to buy Australia Post’s first stamp to commemorate an event in a parish church.  The stamp, which appropriately goes on sale on 11
June, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, is to celebrate the 120th anniversary that day of the dedication of the Sacred Heart parish church in Kew, an eastern suburb of Melbourne.

Yes, no, maybe

Catholic folk who are inclined to believe the old saying that where there’s smoke there’s fire could be wondering if Cardinal George Pell’s nine-year tenure as Sydney’s archbishop is nearing its end.  There have
been persistent rumours for months, frequently aired by Tablet’s well-informed Rome correspondent Robert Mickens, that Pell, who turns 70 in June next year, is in line for promotion to a senior post in Rome, often nominated as successor to the soon-to-retire Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, a position he has held for the last 10 years. Some Australians will not weep at Re’s departure.  It was his pressure on the Australian bishops in 2008 that was reported to have persuaded them to attack the theology of fellow Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s best-selling book Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church. But that, of course, was before the church was forced to admit, at least by implication, that there was substance in Robinson’s courageous questioning of its handling of the sex abuse scandal.  Spare a prayer for Bishop Geoffrey.

Priests in search of hope

Spare a thought also for the tens of thousands of good, totally blameless Catholic priests whose lives have been turned upside down and their morale battered mercilessly by the scandal.  A remarkable number of
them—236 already booked against a usual turn up of half that—will attend the biennial convention of the National Council of Priests in Australia at Parramatta on July 12-16, the theme of which will be Where is the Risen Lord in the changing face of the priesthood?  One of the organisers (and Catalyst foundation member), Fr Michael Whelan, thinks the convenient location and the strong line-up of speakers (among them American Fr Donald Cozzens, Fr Richard Lennan, of the Newcastle-Maitland Diocese, who is currently lecturing at Boston College, ABC presenter Geraldine Doogue and Professor David Tacey) could be factors in the unprecedented interest in the convention but he suspects there is a deeper meaning.  He points out that the Catholic church has in recent times brought on itself terrible opprobrium from the wider society.  Some
priests had been responsible for criminal behaviours that had hurt people horribly and some priests and bishops had tried to hide from this awful truth, only to exacerbate the pain and damage already done. “The great majority of priests who generously and faithfully continue to serve their people are looking for some signs of hope,” Whelan said.  “Where is the Risen Lord in all this?  I see the unprecedented interest in this convention as a very good sign, indicating energy and hope and a willingness to face what must be.”

Footnote

Fr Whelan has written four interesting commentaries on the issue of clerical abuse. They can be found by clicking on the link http://www.aquinasacademy.com/PDF/WEB%202010%2023%20SEXUAL%20ABUSE%20AND%20THE%20CATHOLIC%20SYSTEM%20objectivism.pdf

Priest reformist to speak

American priest, author and outspoken advocate of reform in the Catholic church, Donald Cozzens will speak in Sydney next month at a Catalyst dinner.  Cozzens, about whom a journalist once said, “While some people try to ignore the fractured foundation of our church, Fr Donald Cozzens calls attention to the cracks in the hope of inspiring enough people to work together to repair the damage,” has written several books
including his award-winning best-seller Sacred Silence: Denial and the Crisis in the Church. The Catalyst dinner—titled Fr Donald Cozzens in conversation with Fr Michael Whelan—will be on 23 July in St Mary’s Parish Hall 3 Mary St Hunters Hill, commencing at 7pm. See Digest Diary for further information.

No blogs please

The Traditional Anglican Communion which is leading the drive among Church of England members to accept Benedict XV1’s invitation (Anglicanorum Coetibus) to move en masse to the Catholic church is showing evidence of growing pains. TAC primate Archbishop John Hepworth has announced the introduction of a special section on Anglo-Catholic, the movement’s website, on which only official statements may be published.  It appears that a report of proceedings of a recent meeting of the Anglican Church in America’s House of Bishops, seemingly contentious, was posted on the website in the archbishop’s name without his approval.  In his statement Hepworth wrote of the unauthorized report causing difficulties of communication and confusion and he complained that the message published was “not entirely helpful” to the TAC’s
commitment to pursue unity with the Catholic Church.  The new official documents section of the website would maintain an absolute distinction between formal announcements and any open discussion conducted on the site.  Discussion would be prohibited in the section.

Abortion ads on TV

The Catholic bishops’ conference of England and Wales has condemned as “exploitive” an advertising campaign that promotes abortion on British television, and has demanded that it be stopped.  The sponsor, Marie Stopes International, launched the campaign at the beginning of June, planning to run it on Channel 4 for the whole of the month.  The advertisements urge women to call a help line if they believe they could be pregnant and need advice.  The company

Bishops warn “wound to Catholjc unity”

US president Barrack Obama could be forgiven for permitting himself a wry smile when he read the Catholic claims it received 350 000 calls in the first couple of days and argues that the response justifies its decision to advertise. The bishops will be lucky to win this one.  The UK Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice prohibits commercial abortion clinics from advertising on television but the Marie Stopes
clinics escape the ban because it does not apply to not-for-profit organisations.bishops’ statement on 21 May after his Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act finally made it into the statute book. This despite the
bishops’ unrelenting opposition to the bitter end and the widespread dismay of ordinary citizens, including Catholics, who desperately needed decent health care which Obama has now delivered.  The bishops’ long statement contains the faintest hint of confession that the legislation probably wasn’t all that bad but none of apologia for the hard words they used against the president and his health reform.  It does however record that the bishops were “disturbed and disappointed” by reactions “inside and outside the church that had sought to marginalise or dismiss legitimate concerns that were presented in a serious manner by us.”  “Our clear and consistent position,” the bishops said, “has been misrepresented, misunderstood and misused for political and other purposes.  Our right to speak in the public forum has been questioned.”  The statement
continued: “Our teaching role within the Catholic Church and even our responsibility to lead the church have come under criticism.”  The bishops “disagreed” that the divergence between the Catholic conference and Catholic organisations, including the Catholic Health Association, represented merely a difference of analysis or strategy. Rather, they said, for what ever good will was intended, it represented a “fundamental disagreement, not just with our staff as some maintain but with the bishops themselves.  As such, it has resulted in confusion and a wound to Catholic unity.”

Prayerfest for Brisbane

If you are going north to catch the Queensland sun next month it would be a good idea to book early and make sure you pack your Rosary beads as well as your swimmers and sun cream because in July Brisbane archbishop John Bathersby is staging a quite remarkable program that he’s calling Pray2010.  The aim of the project is to bring together people from across Australia and perhaps overseas “to deepen their relationship with Jesus through prayer”.  The program will be in Brisbane over three days—7-10 July— and will include a wide variety of top keynote speakers from the United States, Italy, the UK and Australia.  Archbishop Bathersby, who has long believed that prayer is the powerhouse of our lives and mission, is confident that Prayer2010 will be a “wellspring for renewing the prayer life of Catholics” in his archdiocese and beyond.

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Catalyst Digest

2010-MAY-06-BISHOP WEEPS AND SOBS AT WASHING OF THE FEET

BISHOP WEEPS AND SOBS AT WASHING OF THE FEET

The Holy Thursday congregation had gathered in the Cathedral to celebrate the first of the three holy days of Easter. This evening the people came to remember the Last Supper and the direction that Jesus gave to his followers to live in communion in memory of him. The few priests who accompanied the Bishop in the Procession to the sanctuary would probably also remember with gratitude and fondness this night as the origin of the sacrament of their ordination. And there would be the Washing of the Feet, to remember how Jesus had washed the feet of his friends and told them to wash each other’s feet. The Bishop would put on a special apron and kneel to wash the spotless feet of twelve members of the parish who could be relied on to participate with dignity. The choir would sing to provide a background for thought and prayer during the foot washing.

After the reading of the Scriptures, the Bishop continued the Liturgy without a Homily. The acolytes arranged the chairs in the sanctuary under the direction of the Master of Ceremonies. As usual, two rows of six faced each other. The Bishop came to the front of the sanctuary and gestured a welcome to twelve men and women seated in the congregation who made their way quietly forward to the chairs.

Those in the congregation who regularly attended the Cathedral for Mass realized straight away that these were not local parishioners, and a slight hum of inquiry as to who these twelve might be floated through the pews. As the choir began its first hymn, the Bishop took off his outer vestments and stood before the chairs in his alb and stole. He waved aside the apron offered by the Acolyte, and knelt squarely before the first person seated, feet bare, waiting for the washing.  The warm water flowed over the old man’s nervous feet and the Bishop’s hands carefully held and washed one foot after the other before drying them with a soft towel.  A brief word, a smile, a touch of hands between them and the Bishop rose and moved to the next chair. At the third chair, he faced a middle aged woman who smiled at him and offered her feet to be washed. Having washed and dried her feet, he rose from his knees. She held his hand to steady him and looking into his eyes, said, “Thank you from all of us who are not here”. Up till now he had not looked into the eyes of those whose feet he was washing. He was engaged in a liturgical action, not one of nurture or intimacy. But now he could not avoid looking at her eyes. A tremor ran through him and deep inside him a sob arose. Tears came to his eyes. He caught his breath, smiled and moved to the next person.  The choir director, aware that something unexpected had occurred and that perhaps the Washing might take longer than usual, began to review mentally which music resources he would choose to cover what might be a possible disruption.

By the time the Bishop was half way through the Washing and had crossed to the other row of chairs, the usual restlessness in the onlooking congregation had given way to a quiet wondering about what was going on in the sanctuary. The washing of each person’s feet by now had become an encounter, eyes meeting, a few words exchanged and sometimes a hand extended to the Bishop’s shoulder in friendship and appreciation.  At the twelfth washing, after the Bishop had dried his feet, the young man took hold of the Bishop’s face in his hands, looked into his teary eyes and said to him quietly, “God bless you for your courage”. This time the sob, previously held in place leapt free as the Bishop’s body shook. He turned towards the altar, still kneeling, covering his face with his hands. The twelve washed came to stand quietly round him, holding him and soothing him with words as his weeping and sobbing continued. The choir, out of music by now and inspiration too, stood silent. The congregation waited, with whispers of uncertainty circulating. Finally, one of the priests seated in the sanctuary came to the Bishop’s side and led him back to his seat. The Master of Ceremonies ushered the twelve to their seats in the congregation and waited. Everyone waited for some direction to be given.

After a few minutes silence, the Bishop stood, put on his outer vestments and walked slowly to the front of the sanctuary to speak to the congregation.

My dear friends, each year we invite worthy members of our congregation to have their feet washed to remember what Jesus showed us as an example.  This year I invited twelve men and women who have told me of their experience of sexual, emotional and physical abuse at the hands of people who represent the Church as clergy, religious and lay employees. It is likely that you have never seen them before because most of them have lost their confidence in the Church and do not join us any more at Mass. They tell me that they are not believed when they relate their experience of abuse, but I believe them. They say that they are rejected for causing trouble and lessening public respect for the church, but I welcome them for giving us the chance to come clean, be truthful and make amends.

I chose to bring these twelve out of the shadows into the light on this blessed night. I thought that I would be a channel of Christ’s peace for them in this setting so that they might feel welcome and know that they have a place of grace in our church just as we all believe that we do. I had no idea what this would do to me.

My heart is broken by this moment and my tears flow when I think of their suffering, many as small children; of their isolation and loneliness; of the indifference and rejection they have met when they sought a hearing and remedies from the church. Their gracefulness to me in the Washing of the Feet this evening has left me washed all over with God’s grace. I am left now with a soft heart and a just purpose for these and all who have suffered as they have. I have a contrite heart and a firm purpose now for those clergy and other workers whom I have not known well enough to realize both their weakness and their cruelty. To avoid embarrassment for the church and myself, I have preferred to move them from my sight to situations where I hoped that they would be unlikely to harm others. I realize that I have acted without the care that both perpetrators and their victims have a right to expect.

My heart is open and my purpose is just also towards you all from whom I have preferred loyalty and compliance in many things to make my job easier, rather than have you speak out truthfully and courageously so that I could respond with leadership worthy of Christ. I intend to make amends with your help and God’s grace.

This Holy Thursday evening begins the three days of the Easter Liturgy for 2010. At the same time, here in this Cathedral this evening our Washing the Feet of victims of abuse is our first step in the Way of the Cross that our Church is taking at present.  For some time yet, on our journey of conversion we, the Church, will experience suffering that heals us and brings us integrity. Only when our ways of using our power have changed will we be willing and able to receive the new life that God offers us.  The abuse of the vulnerable by both perpetrators and Church leadership reveals us as not worthy to claim at present that we are firmly in the footsteps of Jesus. We have gone astray and we are now asking God to lead us back through our sorrow and change of heart to our calling and dignity. We are confident that our rising to new life will come in God’s time. But for the present, with hope we call on God’s mercy and grace to lead us back to wholeness and holiness.  I need you to accompany me and Pope Benedict and all the members of our Church on our way home.

After a moment of warm silence as the Bishop’s words sank into his hearers, the Choir recovered its voice and so did the congregation. Here was something worth singing for.

Alex Nelson – 6 May, 2010

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Forums