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.”


Fr Whelan has written four interesting commentaries on the issue of clerical abuse. They can be found by clicking here.

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.