Monthly Archives: August 2006

Utopian Apocalyptic and Real: a Decalogue for peace in the Middle East

I recently read in one of Terry Pratchett’s novels the saying that it is easy to see things that aren’t real; the tricky thing is to see the things that are really real.

In an essay entitled “For a Definitive Peace Settlement in the Middle East: Toward a Middle East Union”, Fr Samir Khalil Samir SJ outlines of vision that is utopian, apocalyptic, and yet perhaps the only real chance of peace for the Middle East.

He begins with the most amazing statement:

“Everyone lost. Praise be to God!”

The fact that no one “won the war”, was a good thing in Fr Samir’s eyes, because it ” allowed millions of people to see that violence is useless, and that this area will not be pacified by means of war.”

While on the one hand, he says that “a perfect solution” to the situation in the Middle East “does not exist”, and that “it is necessary to seek and pursue the least imperfect of solutions possible”, the 10 point solution he outlines is nothing short of the utopian vision that puts one in mind of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech.

And why not? If the descendants of black slaves can live as equal citizens in the United States, and if the ancient enemies, France and Germany can live in the one European Union, why could not “the wolf be a guest of the lamb and the leopard lie down with the kid” (Is 11:6)?

Fr Samir, like Terry Pratchett, believes that sometimes we have to be able to see the real things that (as far as common sense is concerned) “aren’t there”, if we are to achieve the reality that we seek. Or to put it as he does: “Realism consists in having a utopian vision in order to be able to realise it.”

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More Evangelisation 101 (for those not doing the Rocket Science stream)

I read a review today by Philip Hughes in the Christian Research Association magazine Pointers (June 2006) of a book called Predicting the Religion: Christian, Secular and Alternative of Futures.

In his review, Hughes reports that one of the authors (Rob Hirst) gives for reasons why some young people continue to attend church (despite the general trend):

A. Their parents generally considered church attendance to be essential.
B. The young people were immersed in the church at an early age.
C. The young people attended church on a voluntary basis.
D. The young people had positive church attending role models who espouse traditional religious beliefs, requiring the commitment to the church.

How many times do I have to say it? It ain’t rocket science.

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Jesus is out of his box!

Anyone who has visited the ground floor of the Cardinal Knox Centre in recent times would have noticed a large statue of the Sacred Heart in a glass box. It was not the best place to put him, but I understand that the Historical Commission was looking for a good home for him and that was the only free spot that could be found.

I have taken to arriving at work in the morning and tossing a cheery “‘morning Jesus” in his direction.

What what a surprise to come to work earlier in the week and discover that Jesus is out of his box! What’s more, it appears he has been ousted by nothing less than a didgeridoo!!

Was this a cunning plot in the never-ending battle between indigenous art and Catholic kitsch?

No, it turns out the didgeridoo is the one that was used in the 1973 Eucharistic Congress indigenous liturgy. Because it is fragile, and the fibreglass Jesus isn’t, the didgeridoo was placed in the box and Jesus was let out for a breath of fresh air. In short, Jesus is big enough to look after himself.

All well and good, but you never know what some joker is going to come along and do in the meantime…

[Reader: You naughty boy!
Schütz: Please sir, Peter Plustwick made me do it!]

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GenY Catholicism: "C+" on the old scale or "E" on the new Vic Education Dept report card?

Here is my “report card” for the Catholic Church on the basis of the results of the Spirituality of Generation Y survey and report.

“In February and March 2005, a national telephone survey was conducted with the assistance of the Social Research Centre. Respondents from all Australian States and Territories were selected randomly using both listed and unlisted telephone numbers, and 1619 completed survey interviews were conducted.”

Almost half of the 13-27 year old Christians in the sample group were Catholic (17.9% as compared to 22.6% non-Catholic Christians). This may be compared to other statistics that has about 27% of Australians registering themselves as Catholic on the census, and NCLS figures that suggest that on any given Sunday there are more Catholics in church than all the other types of Christian added together (about 750,000).

The Survey returned much lower figures than the Census for allegiance to the Uniting Church (about a third), Anglicans (about a half), and Catholics (about three quarters), but higher figures for “Other Christian” and much higher for “No religion”. This seems to substantiate for me a theory I have held for some time, namely the phenomenon of the “cultural Christian”. Individuals belonging to the mainline churches (Catholic, Anglican, Uniting) are much more likely to identify themselves “officially” with these religions (eg. for purposes of Births, Deaths, Marriages and Census forms) even when they no longer actively participate in the life of these communities, than are those who belong to the category of “other Christian”. For instance, a Catholic who does not go to Mass still calls himself a Catholic, but a Baptist who never goes to Church calls himself a “no religion”. Hence the higher “non-participation” rate of mainline Christian denominations.

So what about specific beliefs? I am interested in Gen Y “Catholics” here, compared to the rest of the mob.

25% of Catholics (43% of Anglicans!) compared to 9% of “Other Christians” declared their “belief in God” to be “unsure”—although 90% of those “unsure” still said they believed in an “higher being”, so perhaps that begs the question of what they think the word “god” means.

61% of Catholics (43% again of Anglicans) compared to 74% of “other Christians” related to God “as a person”. Of these 33% related to God in a “close” or “very close” way (27% percent for Anglicans, and 55% for other Christians). Mind you, Catholics were the absolute lowest of any believers except the “no religion” category” when it came to describing their relationship with God as “very close” (only 9%).

Again, Catholics scored the highest for “OK to pick and chose beliefs” (75%–looks like Gen Y has caught Cafeteria Catholicism from their baby boomer parents…) and the lowest (except for “no-religion”) in the “Only one religion is true” category (10%–what a change from pre-Vatican II!). Again, among the Christians, they scored the highest on the “morals are relative” scale (56%). All a bit worrying really. What have our priests and school teachers been telling them, I wonder…

They are more certain that Jesus is God and that he rose from the dead (55%) than the Anglicans (45%) but less certain than “other Christians” (71%). The same pattern is repeated for miracles (59% compared to 46% and 75%), angels (54% compared to 42% and 69%) and demons (least popular despite Buffy: 39% compared to 31% and 55%). However, Catholics are actually more likely to believe in life after death than any other Christian (68% compared to 45% and 66%)—put it down to Mary and the Saints, I guess.

34% of Catholics said they attended church “once a month or more” (compared to 19% Anglicans and 55% other Christian), all Christians equally said they found church to be generally “welcoming” (over 80%), but at the same time about a quarter of Catholics and Anglicans found church “boring” (compared to only 15% “other Christian”).

With regard to private prayer, more Catholics said they prayed privately “once a month or every few weeks” than any other religious group (36%), but were the lowest on daily prayer (21%). Still, 36% said they prayed with their families which was up there with “other Christian” and “other religion” at 36% (Anglicans only scored 17%), which says something about the family and communal nature of Catholicism at least.

Catholics were close to “other Christians” and “other religion” when it came to wearing religious symbols (43% compared to 50%; the Anglicans were more reserved at 14%), but when it came to listening to religious music and attending religious groups, the “other Christian” category equalled the Catholics and Anglicans put together (around 50% compared to 25% respectively).

Finally, the pattern of the Catholics falling somewhere between the Anglicans (lowest) and “other Christian” (highest) was born out in the categories of religious experience: Spiritual worship (12%, 26% and 56%), Answer to prayer (26%, 32%, 59%), Miracle from God (18%, 20%, 40%) and the final parting shot at “personal commitment to God” (34% Anglican, 44% Catholic, 62% “Other Christian”).

So, if this were a traditional school report card, I guess we would probably get a “C+” for being about middle of the road when it came to our success in passing on the faith to this new generation. However, I suspect that if the report card was one of the new fangled Victorian Education Department type, we would be somewhere around an “E” as in “well below the standard expected at the time of reporting”. What say you?

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"Keep your Rosaries off my Refugees"?

Very much worth reading is Dennis Shanahan’s peace in the August 18 edition of The Australian: ‘Heads I win, tails you lose’.

He writes about the way that a number of Conservative MPs declared that they would vote against the refugee and immigration bill for religious reasons and thus ensured that it never saw the light of day.

And he notes that there has not even been a squeak about this invasion of religious principles into politics from the Greens or the Democrats. He writes:

There’s something missing, something that is illogical and contrary to the prevailing political mood and a golden thread that joins this act of conscience with others on a range of moral issues: Where are the attacks on all these people for acting on religious beliefs? Where is Australian Greens senator Kerry Nettle’s sectarian T-shirt mocking Joyce’s Catholicism and urging him to keep his “rosaries off our refugees”? Why isn’t Australian Democrats leader Lyn Allison deploring Fielding’s links with “Hillsongy types”? Was this not a conspiracy between the churches and proselytisers of the US Bible Belt and our home-grown bible bashers?

By now we have all seen (and possibly filled in) the Democrat’s silly questionnaire of the separation of church and state.

Shanahan comments:

The Democrats’ confused campaign to rightly maintain a separation of church and state is being misdirected against the equal right of individuals to hold religious beliefs and use them in exercising their parliamentary duty.

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Indians, Swedes, and Americans …

I recently came across reference to Peter Berger’s aphorism that, if India is the most religious nation in the world and Sweden the least religious, then the United States of America is a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes.

Apparently under the current regime, there is some questioning of the truth of the aphorism, but it’s still funny, and I thought it was worth blogging.

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Ecumenical Martyrs "keep plugging away"…

John Allen, in his latest edition of All Things Catholic, has this to say:

“Christianity is supposed to provide an “optic” for reading the world that is different from purely human logic. If that’s true, one would expect Christians to make choices that defy conventional wisdom. Traditionally, this has been the role of the martyrs. Less dramatically, however, one can also see it in ecumenists who are still committed to the vision of full, structural unity within the divided Christian family. Despite a fairly persuasive case for futility, ecumenists keep plugging away.”

Yep, that’s us, the martyrs of 21st Century ecumenism…

Later in the column, he reports that Fr Ron Roberson suggests the Catholic-Orthodox Joint International Commission ought to get along better now that Greek Orthodox Archbishop Stylianos of Australia is no longer at the helm. Hmm. It would be both tactless and a risk to my employment to agree with Fr Roberson, but others involved in dialogue with the Orthodox in Australia might just do so.

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Future Church in Australia? One Melbourne Parishioner’s suggestion

Without solicitation, Barry Kearney (a parishioner of St Anne’s Parish in Park Orchards) has forwarded his vision for the “Future Church in Australia” to a very large number of folk in the Archdiocese. He rather innocently suggested that we should “feel free to forward or reproduce in full or in part any of these observations, or to criticize”, so I thought I would do just that. I will send an email to Barry letting him know that I have “blogged” him, so “Hi! Barry, and welcome to Sentire Cum Ecclesia for the first time!”

Barry begins by noting that “The Catholic Church in Australia is in serious trouble”. He identified its “main problems” as:

  • Falling attendances
  • Priests are ageing and are an endangered species
  • Its message is not being heard
  • Lack of leadership

He dismisses (rightly, I would say) the usual answers (“Allowing women to be priests, allowing priests to marry”)—issues which he believes “are important”, but which “miss the main point ie there are almost no young men or women attending Mass.” You have to admit, that is a good point.

He comments: “Young men of the future cannot be priests if the Mass and the sacraments have no part in their lives. Allowing priests to marry will not bring young men to the Eucharist.  Allowing young women to be priests will not bring them to the Mass either. Nor will allowing young women to be married priests.”

He goes on to say: “Church leaders are sometimes encouraged by large numbers of Catholic Youth attending international or national rallies, but those attending are the exception and the reality is that very few 15-30 Catholics go any where near a Church except perhaps at Christmas and for children’s Baptisms and First Communions. And certainly not at Easter, the most significant liturgical celebration of the Church.”

He has a point there, but I would say that it is precisely in these “exceptions” that the hope of the future Church lies, because those who remain are really committed, perhaps more so than the Catholic youth of any previous era in Australia. I might suggest to Barry (and to you, dear Reader) that he have a look at the Spirit of Generation Y report. It is worth a blog entry all of its own.

At this point, Barry gives us some sense of the solution he is proposing. He suggests a “SWOT analysis” such as any business would use “to review where [the Church is] going”.

Now, the Church has been compared to many things (Vine, Bride of Christ, Temple, Household of God, People of God, Body of Christ), but if there is one model that it is totally inappropriate for the Una Sancta Catholica et Apostolica Ecclesia, it is the “business model”. [Of course, that doesn’t mean that parish priests, bishops, parish councils, and archdiocesan business managers don’t occasionally fall into the trap of viewing the Church in this way.] This is the guts of my criticism of Barry’s paper, so if you don’t want to read the rest, you have it right now. But give Barry his due, and read on to see what he has to say.

Anyway, SWOT, it turns out, stands for “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats”.

I reproduce his analysis in full as follows:


  • Is the largest Church in Australia.
  • Has Jesus Christ as its founder.
  • Has as its main source of enlightenment the Bible, which has stood the test of many centuries and is also the inspiration for all Christians.
  • Is immensely wealthy, owning real estate worth billions of dollars
  • Is involved in popular community endeavours such as primary and secondary schools, hospitals, social welfare eg St Vincent De Paul, Catholic Family Welfare Bureau, overseas aid
  • Has an opportunity to give religious education to Catholic children in its primary and secondary schools
  • Has thousands of talented employees including bishops, priests, religious orders, teachers, doctors, nurses, ethicists, administrators, pastoral workers
  • Has tens of thousands of talented business people and administrators who are willing to offer their gifts
  • Has 1,500 Parishes with many talented parishioners eager to make a contribution


  • Is fast running out of priests
  • Is organised into Dioceses and Archdioceses and Independent Religious Orders and has no National or even state structure and so suffers from duplication and fragmentation
  • Has no national marketing plan and probably no marketing plan at all
  • Mass attendance is dropping eg an NCLS 2004 article by John Bellamy and Keith Castle reports that from 1996 to 2000 attendance dropped from 18% to 15%. As older Catholics die and other factors contribute this figure is probably fast approaching 10%.
  • Men are outnumbered by about 2-1 in Mass attendance
  • Youth are deserting all church involvement after leaving Catholic schools
  • Women, despite dominating most functions are denied priesthood
  • Priests cannot marry and so many have left the priesthood and good potential candidates are lost
  • Leadership seems almost non-existent or is inappropriate or misguided
  • Church leaders seem afraid to lead
  • The authorities in Rome are either not aware of the crisis in Australia (and USA and Europe) or have no idea how to solve it
  • Possible changes to solve the issues are not considered because of the ramifications they may have in 3rd World countries
  • There are too many Parishes and this means resources are duplicated and wasted
  • Religion is not being taught effectively in schools or more young people would stay connected and involved
  • Lay people and clergy are often involved in social justice issues which are divisive eg industrial relations, environment, and which have no religious relevance or priority
  • Sexual abuse reports have given the priesthood a bad name


  • Australian Youth are looking for spiritual leadership and experiences
  • The Church has a captive audience of hundreds of thousands of Catholic children in Catholic schools
  • It can get access to the parents of Catholic School children by using School based masses and religious celebrations
  • It has millions of dollars that can be made available to research and execute a Marketing Plan/Reorganisation Plan to overcome its problems
  • It can use TV and the internet to get its message across
  • It can use PR and marketing experts to promote its message


  • As the Church attendances and priest numbers dwindle, there is a danger that Church leaders will take up popularist causes eg environmental and broad based social issues and lose sight of more fundamental doctrine
  • The Church may retreat into itself and do nothing, alienating itself from its members until it becomes just a provider of community services eg education, health, help for the poor, and dependent on Government Funding
  • It may controlled by extremists who either want to make the Church a relic of the past or the opposite extreme
  • It will run out of priests
  • It will run out of money as it tries to maintain too many Parishes with too few attendees and contributors
  • It will lose members to other faiths or denominations or movements that are more forward thinking or seem more appealing

Now one could argue about the details, but many of his points are valid. However, if you have read this far, you will notice already that there is a certain leaning toward the “business model” of the Church. He talks about resources a lot—both financial and human. Under “Opportunities” we start to hear the language of marketing and public relations. His final comment under “Threats” is about losing members to what might be called “the competition”: “other faiths or denominations or movements that are more forward thinking or seem more appealing” (ie. the mobs that I spend most of my working day liaising with!).

All this points already to what his solution might be: It is this:

  • Employ a Marketing/Research Company to carry out 2 years of Research into how to Market/Organise the Church in the future. The marketing brief would include every aspect of Church activities from the Mass, Structure, the Sacraments, Schools, Community Activities, PR, Doctrine, Leadership, Using the Media including Internet, Church Buildings of the future, Vocations
  • Apart from essential doctrine, the Marketing company could look at all aspects of Church organisation and activities eg women priests, married priests, national structure, parish restructuring, Religious Education for children, financial, and the future of Religious Orders.

All entirely consistent with the “business model” of the Church, but entirely inconsistent with the real nature of the Church (more on this in a mo).

He ends by giving his own view of Australia’s “Future Church”. It is nothing less than a thoroughgoing restructuring of the Church without much consideration of the essential nature of the Church. Suggestions include the following:

  • A proper National structure without independent Dioceses and Archdioceses.
  • All Catholic Religious Education under National Church Control.
  • All religious orders and their assets under the control of the National Church
  • New mega Churches (catering for at least 1000 to 3000 attendees) to replace the archaic local small Churches, which could support married priests and their families or a community of priests, Youth Leaders and Youth programs, better live music ministry and Children’s Liturgy and stronger bases for community outreach.
  • A National Marketing and PR Organisation, using Australia’s top Marketing and PR companies, for TV, internet, Cinemas and Newspapers.
  • Schools would be used to gain access to the parents of Catholic children to try to bring them back to the Church, and to influence children to attend Mass [I think this is most revolutionary suggestion! – Schütz].
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to assess the performance of all Catholic organisations

He concludes by saying that this “is how all Best Practice Businesses operate. We should expect nothing less than best from our Church. We are not getting best practice presently.”

Now, I have a great deal of sympathy for Barry’s perspective. He and his wife are (according to their website) successful business managers, and it probably frustrates the hell out of them to see what an inefficient, lumbering mess the Church is from a business point of view.

One cannot defend a lot of the nonsense that goes on in the Church. But the Church is a society of human beings—more akin to a family than to a business. Anyone who has seen “The Sound of Music” even only a dozen times will know that you can’t run a family on the “Captain Von Trapp” method. Good leadership in the Church has more to do with responsible and loving fatherhood than good business sense (cf. 1 Timothy 3). Business models are entirely inappropriate when what we are dealing with on the one hand are human souls and on the other hand the Gospel of reconciliation between man and his divine Creator.

The real solution is a whole lot simpler—and harder—than Barry’s analysis suggests. The Real Strength of the Church is Jesus Christ. The Real Weakness is human Sin. The Real Opportunity is millions of sinners in the world who need the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. The Real Threat is that we do not appreciate our Real Strength enough and at the same time underestimate our Real Weakness so much, that we will not take the Real Opportunity when it is handed to us on a platter.

Thanks Barry, for your thought-provoking piece, but like I said in a previous blog, it ain’t rocket science—and it ain’t business management either.

If you want a full copy of Barry’s paper, just email him at:


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New Entry in "Year of Grace"

I have posted a new entry into my “conversion retro-blog”: Year of Grace.

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Islam: "Of God" or "of the Devil"?

I was shocked recently by a priest who said to me that he prays every day for the downfall of Islam. As if to explain, he told me that he believes that Islam is “of the devil”, and that the world would be a better place if it had never originated.

Well. See my previous blog re “vilification”, but in return, I not only pointed out that it was perhaps a good thing that the Muslim religion had converted so very many from paganism to monotheism, but that we could have no idea what might have been the alternative. I can imagine Jews not being totally thrilled about Christianity, and even thinking that Christianity was “of the devil”, nevertheless, it was via Christianity that the names of Abraham and Moses, the Torah, the practice of monotheism, etc. etc. came to the entire civilised world, and surely that can be “no bad thing”. Likewise, has not Islam carried the name of Abraham, Moses, AND Jesus to the world? Albeit in a way that we would not endorse, nevertheless, can all this be “of the devil”?

And then that very night I was reading the evening bible story to the kids, and I read aloud this passage:

“Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

I recently challenged one of my co-workers on the common “snobbery” of favouring other religions according to their “longevity” (ie. regarding Buddhism, Hinduism etc. as more “respectable” than Mormonism and Scientology). He defended himself with the prophecy of Gamaliel:

“So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:38-39)

Contrary to my friend’s prayers, Islam looks like it is here to stay. Perhaps this is because God is blessing them for blessing Abraham? Perhaps it is because, far from being totally “of the devil”, there is in fact something “of God” in the religion of Muhammad?

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