Monthly Archives: May 2006

Forgiveness and Absolution: "two indispensible elements" in Reconciliation

The Age this morning ran a story entitled “Pope calls for an apology”. It is true, Papa Benny pulled no punches, and these comments were central to his address to our Australian Ambassador to the Holy See:

“In regard to the Aboriginal people of your land, there is still much to be achieved. Their social situation is cause for much pain. I encourage you and the government to continue to address with compassion and determination the deep underlying causes of their plight. Commitment to truth opens the way to lasting reconciliation through the healing process of asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness — two indispensable elements for peace. In this way our memory is purified, our hearts are made serene, and our future is filled with a well-founded hope in the peace which springs from truth.”

I have highlighted the words “asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness”, because I think this is a slightly different thing than the usual political demand for “an apology”.

My concern with the general “Sorry” campaign is that it is completely one-sided.

When the Aggressor (all non-aboriginal Australians—that might sound a bit rich, but where do you draw the line and say “They weren’t/aren’t responsible”?) says “Sorry” to the Victim (ie. all Australians of indigenous descent who have ever or will ever live), this is one “indispensable element”. It’s not quite what the Holy Father means though, because he is not just talking about “saying sorry”, but about “asking for forgiveness”.

So, if we (I am including myself in the role of the Aggressor, since I have no indigenous blood to absolve me of this role) not only say “Sorry”, but also “ask for forgiveness”, who is going to reply with the other “indispensable element” of “granting forgiveness”? Who has the authority to say: “I absolve you” in the name of every indigenous Australian who has ever lived, or who will ever live?

Without the second “indispensable element” of absolution, we could go on with annual “Sorry Days”, beating our breasts, paying out continual and continuous compensation to each successive generation of Victims. The result: No closure. No healing of wounds, no peace.

Surely this is not what Pope Benedict means? Asking for forgiveness and granting it are the “two indispensable elements for peace”. Peace will not result if one is given and not the other. Unless there can be a formal absolution, a formal apology will serve no healing purpose.

We can’t change the past. We might even have to face the fact that apologies and absolutions for the past are not possible. But we can change the future. We can speak the truth about both the past and the present, and act with compassion and determination to address “the deep underlying causes” of the plight of our indigenous peoples. Somewhere along this road of reconciliation we might just find that forgiveness has been tacitly asked and granted.

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Whatever fantasy you fancy…

There was a letter in The Age today by an ex-pat in China about the impact of the “That Bloody Film” (based on “That Bloody Book”, aka The Da Vinci Code”). He went to see it with his Chinese wife (the film was dubbed into Chinese). The reaction?

“The Chinese audience loved it. My wife even insisted on buying the book (in Chinese). I pointed out that it was a complete fantasy; her reply was that all religion was fantasy, but that sometimes we need a bit of fantasy.”

Ah yes. That’s how insidious This Bloody Book/Film is. In line with its general Gnostic approach, it casts the Christian Faith adrift from any anchorage in history. History is ditched in favour of “a complete fantasy”, but what does that matter? “All religion is fantasy” anyway, s what does it matter which fantasy is chosen by those who “need a bit of fantasy” as a crutch in their life?

[Reader: They’re all looney losers anyway…
Schütz: Yeah, it’s a good thing we’re so bloody rational, isn’t it?]

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When a founder is not a saint…

I don’t know the details of the cases and, to be honest, I don’t want to. But finally it looks as if the Vatican has made a decisive move on the long running case of Fr Marciel Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ:

The Vatican Press Office released the following communiqué today, May 19, 2006. This is an English translation of the Italian original.


In reference to news reports diffused concerning the person of the Founder of the Legionaries of Christ, the Reverend Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the Press Office of the Holy See communicates the following:
Beginning in 1998, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith received accusations, already in part made public, against the Reverend Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ, for offenses reserved to the exclusive competence of the dicastery. In 2002, the Reverend Maciel published a declaration for denying the accusations and for expressing his displeasure at the offense provoked by some ex-members of the Legionaries of Christ. In 2005, for reasons of advanced age, the Reverend Maciel withdrew himself from the office of Superior General of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ.

All these elements were the object of mature examination on the part of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and, in accordance with the motu proprio “Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela” promulgated April 30, 2001, by the Servant of God John Paul II, the then-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, authorized an investigation of the accusations. In the meantime, the death of Pope John Paul II happened and the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as the new Pontiff.

After having submitted the results of the investigation to an attentive study, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the guide of its new Prefect, His Eminence Cardinal William Levada, decided – taking account of the advanced age of the Reverend Maciel and his delicate health – to renounce any canonical process and to invite the Father to a reserved life of prayer and penance, renouncing every public ministry. The Holy Father has approved these decisions.

Independently of the person of the Founder, the worthy apostolate of the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Association is recognized with gratitude.

[Original Text: Italian]

Lots more news and reflections can be found on the Websites of the National Catholic Reporter , Amy Welborn, and Sandro Magister.

While noting that the Vatican Communiqué does not (in so many words) declare Fr Maciel guilty of the accusations that have been brought against him, I think the important point in the Vatican Communiqué however is that last: Independently of the person of the Founder, the worthy apostolate of the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Association is recognized with gratitude.”

The point is that too often, religious orders and movements (eg. Legionaries of Christ, Opus Dei) have assumed that their founders must be saints for the simple reason that they did such monumentally excellent and saintly work in founding the order or movement in question.

On the other hand, there are always many others who are ready to point out with glee the moral and personal failings of the founders with the hope that the order/movement itself (eg. Legionaries of Christ, Opus Dei) will be brought into disrepute and rendered ineffectual.

Let us always be clear on this: being a sinner—even a very wicked one—doesn’t mean that God can’t use you for a saintly purpose. God can—and does—work with the most amazingly rotten raw-material to build his holy Church. That’s a point that is awfully close to the very heart of the Christian gospel.

Papa Benny, almost 40 years ago, wrote in “Introduction to Christianity” that:

“The Church is not called “holy” in the Creed because her members, collectively and individually, are holy, sinless men… The sharpest critics of the Church in our time secretly live on this dream and, when they find it disappointed, bang the door fo the house shut again and denouce it as deceit… The holiness of the Church consists in that power of sanctification which God exerts in her in spite of human sinfulness.”

Shortly after this passage, he goes on:

“God has drawn sin to himself, made it his lot, and so revealed what true “holiness” is: not separation, but union; not judgement, but redeeming love. Is the Church not simply the continuation of God’s deliberate plunge into human wretchedness? …Is there not revealed in the unholy holiness of the Church, as opposed to man’s expectation of purity, God’s true holiness, which is love, love that does not keep its distance in a sort of aristocratic untouchable purity but mixes with the dirt of the world, in order thus to overcome it?”

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

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Caroline Chisholm Library Celebrates Library Week with an Open Day

Sorry for the limited blogging in the last few days. I’ve spent a lovely few days down at Philip Island with my family.

Here is some news the Caroline Chisholm Library (3rd Floor  325 Lonsdale Street (Mitchell House)  Melbourne City).

They are holding an open day on Sunday 28th May, 2006, 10.30 am- 5 pm

The library is a real treasure, and deserves our support for its continuing existence. It is home to over 30,000 books and resources with a special focus upon the spiritual classics, philosophy, theology, Church history and Irish studies. The Library was founded in 1924 as the Central Catholic Library and it quickly became a centre for meeting, inspiration and education for many Melbourne Catholics.

There will be refreshments throughout the day, with a Book Sale, Collection Tour, Displays, Short Talks

For more information       Phone: 03 9670 1815

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The Riddle of Jaroslav Pelikan (died 13th May 2006 – RIP)

Jaroslav Pelikan, one of the greatest theological historians of our age, died on Saturday at the age of 82.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord :
and let perpetual light shine upon him. Amen.

The son of a Lutheran pastor, Pelikan was a renowned professor at Yale University before his retirement. Many will have read his 1959 book “The Riddle of Roman Catholicism” (I have it in my brief case right now) in which he forthrightly rejects the path of conversion (to another denomination) as a path of ecumenism. Yet the riddle of Roman Catholicism was destined to became the “Riddle of Jaroslav Pelikan” ) when, in 1998 at the age of 74, he stunned his fellow Lutherans by converting to the Russian Orthodox faith.

I once spoke to the great man on the telephone. Here is the story, from my 26th June 2000 entry in my “Year of Grace” journal:

“So what was the answer to this riddle? I decided to try and get in contact with him and ask. I was looking for his email, but in actual fact, I found his telephone number, and phoned him in New Haven, Connecticut! It was thrilling to be talking to the great man himself, but disappointing in the end, because he declined to talk about his personal journey. He said that he doesn’t do email. I told him my situation, and he declined to go any further with his own comments. He says J. H. Newman converted at the age of 44 years, and wrote a 600 page book; whereas he converted at 74 and would require a 1000 page book to do my query justice. He also said that he had had between 750 and 1000 calls similar to mine. I apologised for interrupting his evening, but he was very gracious about it. I said that if he ever did write that book, I would definitely buy it, and he said, “Yep, I think it will be a best seller!”

Well, the book will never be written. The best we can hope for is that he will have left some unpublished paper somewhere that may solve the riddle, and which may one day see the light of day. In the mean time, as Melanchthon said, he is now in the “heavenly academy” where such questions will no longer matter.

You can read or listen to an interview with Pelikan on this week’s edition of the Religion Report.


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New post in "Year of Grace"

For readers of my “conversion retro-blog” Year of Grace, you will be glad to hear that there is finally a new post! For those who have not visited this site, you will find here (in reverse order) a journal that I kept during the year of my conversion in 2000-2001. Folk interested in the nitty-gritty of annulments may also be interested.

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Lord of the Rings; Or "Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing…"

In the web journal “Busted Halo”, Dr Christine B. Whelan reflects on an Anglican wedding which she attended. The bride and the groom were both preparing for ordination to the Anglican priesthood. She refers to the ceremony of the rings:

“When Andrea reaffirmed her vows of Christianity as she started her journey toward the Anglican priesthood, she put a gold band on her ring finger to symbolize her commitment to her faith. Now it’s on her right hand, and her wedding band is on her left. These two gold bands signify both vows, both life callings.”

What a graphic illustration of the difficulty of the calling of a married priest! Of all the eight fingers and two thumbs upon which we wear our rings, our culture has determined that the second to last finger on the right hand should be the “ring finger”.

Historians of ritual know that the ring is a potent symbol of authority. The authority has a two-fold character (reflected in the story of the centurion who says to Jesus “I am a man under authority, with [authority over the] soldiers under me” Matt 8:9): The giver of the ring exercises authority over the ring bearer, and the ring bearer exercises that authority over others. Of course, the ring also symbolises commitment and faithfulness, but it is of the servant who is faithful to the master.

Now consider the ring of pastoral authority/religious commitment (traditionally worn by the Bishop, but also by religious and by priests in some traditions) and the ring of marriage. Traditionally, both are worn on the “ring finger” of the right hand. Both represent the total giving of one’s life to a specific calling. And here is the rub: there is only room for one ring such ring on the ring finger. Any other ring must be relegated to second place—eg. The ring finger of the left hand.

On which hand will the married priest wear his wedding ring? Which calling will have the first place in his life? The dilemma is very practical as well as theological. Jesus himself said “No man can serve two masters” (Matt 6:24). St Paul said “the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided” (1 Cor 7: 33,34).

I have never come across any symbol of this tension more graphic than that with which Dr Whelan provides us in this story about the bride who moved the ring of her religious vocation to her left hand in order to make way for the ring of her marriage vocation.

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