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.