Monthly Archives: December 2006

All I want for Christmas…

Every body pauses and stares at me
These two teeth are gone as you can see
I don’t know just who to blame for this catastrophe!
But my one wish on Christmas Eve is as plain as it can be!
All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth,
my two front teeth, see my two front teeth!
Gee, if I could only have my two front teeth,
then I could wish you “Merry Christmas.”
It seems so long since I could say, “Sister Susie sitting on a thistle!”
Gosh oh gee, how happy I’d be, if I could only whistle (thhhh, thhhh)
All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth,
my two front teeth, see my two front teeth!
Gee, if I could only have my two front teeth,
then I could wish you “Merry Christmas.”
Merry Christmas from
David, Cathy, Maddy
and (our front-toothless) Mia

May God bless you all this Christmas,
as you celebrate the joy of the Saviour’s birth


I’ll be taking a bit of a break from blogging between Christmas and New Year. Even “Mr Blog” (as someone called me recently at her 60th birthday party) needs a rest!

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A Synopsis of the Benedict(XVI)ine Agenda

Hats off to Cardinal Ruini for this phenomal synopsis of Benedict XVI’s thought and theological/pastoral agenda “At the heart of Benedict XVI’s teaching: to present the salvific truth of Jesus Christ to the mindset of our times”. He has managed to do what I would have thought almost impossible, and that is to string together all the various strains of thought in Benedict’s theology in under 7000 words. Print it off, make yourself a cup of coffee or pour yourself a beer, and sit down to read it from beginning to end. You will not regret the time spent.

Ruini choses his Benedictine “canon” carefully, listing the following as central to an understanding of the Pope’s agenda:
The Regensburg Address of September 12, 2006
The Address to the Verona Conference of October 19, 2006
The Encyclical “Deus Caritas Est”
“Introduction to Christianity” from 1968
“Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions” from 2003
“Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures” from 2005
I have read all these except the last, which is now on my reading list.

In addition to these, he also refers to Ratzinger’s
upcoming book “Jesus of Nazareth”
Discourse to the Roman Curia of December 22, 2005
Inaugural address at the University of Bonn from 1959
Autobiography “Milestones”
“The New People of God” (Das Neues Volk Gottes) from 1969
The Address to the Swiss Bishops of November 9, 2006
Message for the 2007 World Day of Peace

Given that Ruini has already synthesised Benedict’s thought in such a small space, it seems almost impossible to sythesise Ruini’s paper into an even smaller space, so I will just give some juicy quotations:

In the first place, in fact, God is clearly distinct from nature, from the world that He created: only in this way do “physics” and “metaphysics” arrive at a clear distinction from one another.

Thus the primacy of (metaphysical) philosophy was replaced by the primacy of history, later replaced by that of science and technology. This latter primacy is today fairly clearly visible in Western culture, and, to the extent to which it claims that only scientific understanding is really true and rational, must be described as “scientism”.

In this context, the theory of the evolution of species proposed by Darwin has ended up taking on – among many scientists and philosophers, and to a great extent within modern culture – the role of a kind of vision of the world or of “first philosophy,” which on the one hand would be rigorously “scientific” and on the other would constitute, at least potentially, a universal explanation or theory of all reality, based upon natural selection or casual mutations, beyond which other questions about the origin and nature of things are not supposed to be necessary any longer, or even licit.

But J. Ratzinger observes that, because of that great change by which, from Kant on, human reason is no longer thought to be capable of understanding reality in itself, and above all transcendent reality, the alternative to scientism most culturally accepted today seems to be, not the affirmation of God the Word, but rather the idea that “latet omne verum,” all reality is hidden, or that the true reality of God remains entirely inaccessible and incomprehensible to us, while the various religions are thought to present only images of God relative to different cultural contexts, and thus all are equally “true” and “untrue.”

Limiting reason to what can be experienced and examined is, in fact, useful, precise, and necessary in the specific field of the natural sciences, and constitutes the key of their unceasing development. But if it is universalized and held to be absolute and self-sufficient, such a limitation becomes untenable, inhuman, and, in the end, contradictory.

Naturally, such a question and such reflection, although they begin from an examination of the structure and presuppositions of scientific knowledge, pass beyond this form of understanding and arrive at the level of philosophical inquiry: this does not conflict, therefore, with the theory of evolution, as long as it remains within the realm of science. And furthermore, even on the philosophical level the creating Lógos is not the object of an apodictic demonstration, but remains “the best hypothesis,” an hypothesis that demands that man and his reasoning “renounce a position of domination, and take the risk of a stance of humble listening.”

In concrete terms, especially in the current cultural climate, man by his own strength is unable to make entirely his own this “best hypothesis”: he remains, in fact, the prisoner of a “strange shadow” and of the urge to live according to his own interests, leaving aside God and ethics. Only revelation, the initiative of God who, in Christ, manifests himself to man and calls him to approach Him, makes us capable of emerging from this shadow.

In concrete terms, as by making more room for our reason and reopening reason to the great questions of truth and goodness it becomes possible “to connect theology, philosophy and science [both natural and historical] with each other in full respect for their individual methods and their reciprocal autonomy” (ibid.), so also, at the level of life and practice, in the current context it is particularly necessary to highlight the liberating power of Christianity, the bond that joins Christian faith and freedom, and at the same time to make it understood how freedom is intrinsically connected to love and truth.

In practice, I am in fact forced to choose between the two alternatives identified by Pascal: either to live as if God did not exist, or to live as if God existed and were the decisive reality in my existence. This is because God, if He exists, cannot be an accessory to be removed or added without any effect, but is rather the origin, the meaning, and the end of the universe, and of man within it. If I act according to the first alternative, I adopt in point of fact an atheistic position, and not a merely agnostic one. But if I decide in favor of the second alternative, I adopt the position of a believer: the question of God is, therefore, unavoidable.

In the current situation in the West, in any case, Christian morality seems to be divided into two parts. One of these concerns the great themes of peace, nonviolence, justice for all, concern for the world’s poor, and respect for creation: this part enjoys great public appreciation, even if it risks being polluted by a politically tinged moralism. The other part concerns human life, the family, and marriage: this is rather less welcome at the public level; even more, it constitutes a very serious obstacle in the relationship between the Church and the people. Our task, then, is above all that of presenting Christianity not as mere moralism, but as love that is given to us by God and that gives us the strength to “lose our lives,” and also to welcome and live the law of life that is the Decalogue. In this way the two parts of Christian morality can be reconnected, reinforcing each other, and the ‘nos’ of the Church to weak and distorted forms of love can be understood as ‘yeses’ to authentic love, to the reality of man as he was created by God.

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Of the new Archbishop of Toronto, Thomas Collins

My friends, the Quists, recently returned to Edmonton from their two year stay in Melbourne to study at the John Paul II institute, are philosophical about the translation of their Archbishop, Tom Collins, to Toronto. “While we’re happy for Toronto and the Church in Canada, we in the Edmonton archdiocese are sad,” he recently wrote.

John L. Allen Jnr. has posted these comments about the Archbishop:

– A leader with rock-solid credentials on Catholic identity, yet personally gracious and pastoral, for whom conflict is the court of last resport.
– While Collins is outspoken, he is also known as modest and approachable, someone expected to bring a less divisive style to Canada’s premier English-speaking see
– a good match for Cardinal Marc Ouellet, 62, of Quebec, widely seen as the main papal point of reference for French-speaking Canada…are seen as deeply traditional, yet gracious and open to argument.
– an inspiring speaker

I was impressed by this:

A Scripture professor at St. Peter’s Seminary from 1978 to 1997, …“He did much of what Cardinal Martini did in Milan,” Rosica said. “He would fill the Cathedral on Sunday evenings with young people, doing a Lectio Divina and Scripture teaching unparalleled in Canada. I was with him for several of those sessions and I marveled at what was happening. To quote many of the young people: ‘It was awesome.’”

I also note with interest that whereas the Toronto Archdiocese has 833 priests, it also has 111 permanent deacons. Which leads me to wonder what the effect would be if Melbourne had the equivalent ratio, ie. about 40 permanent deacons for our 320 or so priests.

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Quote of the day

In the Jerusalem Post on Dec 17, Stewart Weiss wrote in an article called “Hanukka and the limits of pluralism”:

What is the difference between communism and capitalism? Under communism, man exploits man; in capitalism, it’s just the opposite.

The article is about the distinctiveness of Judaism. He writes that Judaism, unlike many other “isms” such as commumism, “is the exception to the rule” that lines which were once diametrically opposed are becoming blurred. Over thousands of years, Judaism has mainted its distinct character. In fact, I believe that a case could be made for the enduring distinctiveness of a number religious of “isms”, inlcuding those not usually called “isms”, such as Islam and Christianity. There appears to be something enduring about the distinctiveness of religious movements that cannot be equalled by political and ideological “isms”. He concludes his article by saying:

JUDAISM TODAY – not for the first time in our history – is locked in a struggle to define our character and evaluate our essence. While a certain amount of “dilution” may be acceptable, at some point the purity level must be safeguarded if we are to maintain our unique identity. As a faith system, we can accept those who, for various reasons, choose not to follow certain aspects of ritual law; there have always been varying levels of observance among Jews, who often branch out like the menora itself.

But we cannot tolerate those who would change the basic rules of the game.

Thus observing the Sabbath on Sunday, believing in Jesus or redefining “Who is a Jew” evoke a call to arms by those who sincerely care about the future of Judaism. And it is in this context that we have to address issues like same-sex marriage or gay and lesbian “rabbis.” While Jewish law has always been willing to bend, it is not prepared to break.

If we go too far, we run the risk of becoming just another “ism.”

Perhaps “there is something in that for all of us”, as the preacher sayeth, including Christiantiy.

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Judge Nettle’s findings in the Court of Appeal re Catch the Fire Ministries Inc. vc Islamic Council of Victoria Inc.

(Warning: Another long blog)

I have been working my way through the findings of Judge Nettle who, together with Judges Ashley and Neave, heard the appeal of Cath the Fire Ministries, Daniel Nalliah and Daniel Scot against the findings of Judge Higgins last year in the vilification case vs. the Islamic Council of Victoria.

And I find myself in one of those disconcerting situations of having to admit that I was wrong.

Many of my colleagues–and in fact you yourself, dear reader–will have been repeatedly assured by yours truly (on the basis of my reading of the transcript of the March 2002 Seminar and the findings of Judge Higgins in the original trial) that the two Danny’s were indeed guilty of vilifying Australian Muslims.

Having read (most of) Judge Nettle’s findings, I realise now that there is a legal distinction (if not a moral distinction) that must be made between vilifying certain religious beliefs and vilifiying adherants to those beliefs. Apparently, it is legally possible to do the former without doing the latter. And this is possibly the case in this instance.

To put the case as Judge Nettle does, Pastors Danny and Danny and CTF ministries did not act in contravention of Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. While they may well have vilified Islam, the law is specifically against the vilification of persons or a class of persons, and Judge Nettle holds that there is reasonable doubt in this case as to whether the Danny’s were guilty of vilifying Muslims as a class of persons. Moreover, it appears that they were not so much guilty of “incitement to hatred etc.”, but rather “incitement” to proselytisation. The latter may still not be palatable to many who are working for interfaith harmony, but it is clearly not against the law.

Judge Nettle finds five reasons to question the original finding of Judge Higgins. In the first place, he says:

With respect, there are several aspects of that reasoning which I take leave to doubt. The first of them arises out of the adoption of the Bropho test and, consequently, the Tribunal’s conclusion that the words “on the ground of [religious beliefs]” imply a causal connection between religious beliefs and impugned conduct. In effect the Tribunal decided that the Seminar contravened s.8 because the Tribunal was satisfied that Pastor Scot was moved or caused by the religious beliefs of Muslims to make the statements which he did at the Seminar, and that an ordinary reasonable person who was not malevolently inclined or free from susceptibility to prejudice would be inclined by Pastor Scot’s statements to hate Muslims. But, for the reasons which I have given, I do not consider that that was the question which needed to be decided. In my view the question was whether, having regard to the content of the statements in the context of the whole of the Seminar, and to the nature of the audience in the sense that I have described, the natural and ordinary effect of what was stated was to encourage the hatred of Muslims based on their religious beliefs.

Nb. The business about the precedent and interpretations from the “Bropho” case has an important place in this decision, as it was used by Judge Higgins in the original case. But “Bropho” was a case heard on the basis of the Racial Discrimination Act, which is quite different from Victoria’s RRTA laws.

In the second place, he argues:

that, because the Tribunal adopted the Bropho test instead of directing itself to the question of whether the Seminar as a whole incited hatred of Muslims based on their religious beliefs, it did not give a great deal of consideration to the distinction between hatred of the religious beliefs of Muslims and hatred of Muslims because of their religious beliefs. The Tribunal appears to me to have assumed that the two conceptions are identical or at least that hatred or other relevant emotion of or towards the religious beliefs of Muslims must invariably result in hatred or other relevant emotion of or towards Muslims. In my view, that is not so.

There is an obvious retort to this view, but Judge Nettle heads us off at the pass:

I do not overlook that Muslims are defined by their religious beliefs – as persons who profess Islam – and therefore that to incite hatred or other relevant emotion of or towards the religious beliefs of a Muslim may result in hatred or other relevant emotion of or towards the Muslim. But it is surely not to be assumed that it must do so. Muslims are not the only class of persons who are defined by their religious beliefs. So are adherents to other faiths, including Judaism and Christianity. And there are any number of persons who may despise each other’s faiths and yet bear each other no ill will. I dare say, for example, that there would be a large number of people who would despise Pastor Scot’s perception of Christianity and yet not dream of hating him or be inclined to any of the other stipulated emotions.

And then he makes a really interesting observation:

No doubt the purpose of the Act is to promote religious tolerance. But the Act cannot and does not purport to mandate religious tolerance. People are free to follow the religion of their choice, even if it is averse to other codes. One need only think of the doctrinal differences which separate the several Christian denominations or the Muslim sects in order to see the point. Equally, people are free to attempt to persuade other people to adopt their point of view. Street corner evangelists are a commonplace example. Rightly or wrongly, that is the nature of religion, or at least it is the nature of some religions as they are understood, and in this country it is tolerated. Accordingly, s.8 goes no further in restricting freedom to criticise the religious beliefs of others than to prohibit criticism so extreme as to incite hatred or other relevant emotion of or towards those others. It is essential to keep the distinction between the hatred of beliefs and the hatred of their adherents steadily in view. Beyond that, it is a matter for the law of defamation or the law relating to misrepresentation and misleading and deceptive conduct or, possibly, criminal sanctions.

The Third Difficulty is:

that the Tribunal’s failure to observe the distinction between hatred of beliefs and hatred of adherents to beliefs has resulted in the Tribunal deciding the matter on the basis that the Seminar was not a “balanced” discussion of Muslim beliefs. …The problem with that is that the verity of Pastor Scot’s statements about the religious beliefs of Muslims was irrelevant to the matters in issue. The question for the purposes of s.8 was whether what was said by Pastor Scot taken as a whole and in context was such as to incite hatred of or other relevant emotion towards Muslims on grounds of their religious beliefs. Whether his statements about the religious beliefs of Muslims were accurate or inaccurate or balanced or unbalanced was incapable of yielding an answer to the question of whether the statements incited hatred or other relevant emotion. Statements about the religious beliefs of a group of persons could be completely false and utterly unbalanced and yet do nothing to incite hatred of those who adhere to those beliefs. At the same time, statements about the religious beliefs of a group of persons could be wholly true and completely balanced and yet be almost certain to incite hatred of the group because of those beliefs. In any event, who is to say what is accurate or balanced about religious beliefs? …In my view it was calculated to lead to error for a secular tribunal to attempt to assess the theological propriety of what was asserted at the Seminar.

The Fourth difficulty:

flows from the third. The Tribunal’s concentration on the issue of whether Pastor Scot’s statements represented a “balanced” presentation of the religious beliefs of Muslims, and the Tribunal’s conclusion, based on Father McInerney’s opinion, that they did not, appear to me to have resulted in the Tribunal disregarding significant aspects of Pastor Scot’s statements which, at least arguably, went a long way to ameliorating any risk of inciting hatred of Muslims (even if they did nothing to redress the imbalance perceived by Father McInerney).

And at this point, the judgment goes off on a lengthy tangent about whether what the Tribunal claimed Pastor Scot said was what he really said. The conclusion? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. For eg. It is clear that Scot did not claim that “Muslims were demons”, but rather that “Some Demons are Muslims”. Other times, it is clear that while Scot did not say exactly what Higgins’ findings claimed he did, he strongly implied them. The point in the end though is whether this is relevant to the question of whether he actually “incited hatred” against Muslims as a class of people.

“The fifth difficulty with the Tribunal’s reasons”, Nettle claims, is:

that the Tribunal’s concern with the balance or imbalance of Pastor Scot’s presentation of Muslim religious beliefs led the Tribunal to treat as being relevant some evidence given by three recent converts to Islam to the effect that they had attended the Seminar and were upset by what they had heard.

But, under s.8 of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act,

the question…is not whether the conduct offends a group of persons but whether it incites hatred or other relevant emotion of or towards that group of persons. Things might well be said of a group of persons which would be deeply offensive to those persons and yet do nothing to encourage hatred or other relevant emotion of or towards those persons.

In effect,

the affront to the feelings of the Muslim witnesses was largely if not wholly irrelevant. The concentration needed to be upon the members of the audience who were not Muslims

ie. because the question is whether or not they were incited to violence/hatred etc. against Muslims. Here Nettle introduces an important aspect:

What demanded to be assessed was whether the effect of the injunctions to love and to witness to Muslims was sufficient to prevent hatred or other relevant emotion by the non-Muslims towards Muslims.

In this section, he produces lengthy sections from the transcript that show that Scot really encouraged a very respectful attitude toward Muslims and Islam–even if for the ulterior motive of proselytisation. Here follows Judge Nettle’s assessment of the situation:

With respect…it was surely arguable on the basis of Pastor Scot’s exhortations to his audience to love and “witness” to Muslims that the raison d’etre of his Seminar was to infuse his audience with an understanding of the Koran (as he perceived it) so that they might effectively convert Muslims to Christianity (as he perceived it). Indeed his peroration was that, despite the inadequacies of Islamic doctrine (as he perceived them), his audience should love Muslims and seek to inculcate in them a Christian understanding of the Deity (as he conceived of it). If, therefore, it were properly to be concluded that the Seminar incited hatred or other relevant emotion of or towards Muslims (as opposed to their religious beliefs), the terms of Pastor Scot’s exhortations to love and to witness to Muslims, and their likely effect on the non-Muslims present, required a good deal more analysis than peremptory dismissal as “talk from time to time”.

None of this is to say that Judge Nettle does not recognise that “Pastor Scot’s observations on the meaing of the Koran” would be “deeply offensive” to some Muslims. In fact, he states:

I dare say too that there may well be people who, although not Muslims, would think it a far better thing if people like Pastor Scot kept his ideas about the Koran and Islam, and for that matter Judaism and Christianity, to himself and left others to do likewise. It is at least arguable that the world would be a happier place if he were bound to do so. But that is not the law. As has been seen, the prohibition in s.8 is not a prohibition against saying things about the religious beliefs of persons which are offensive to those persons, or even against saying things about the religious beliefs of one group of persons which would cause another group of persons to despise those beliefs. It is against saying things about the religious beliefs and practices of persons which go so far as to incite other persons to hate persons who adhere to those religious beliefs. And as a matter of logical analysis, it does not suffice to establish incitement to hate a group of persons to show that scorn has been poured on the religious beliefs or practices of that group of persons (although it may be relevant).

There is a final section on the question of the definition of “good faith” and whether or not the seminar was held for “a genuine religious purpose” (which would exempt it from the law). Judge Nettle observes that:

comparative religion and proselytism are both “religious purposes” and…it does not matter which religions are being compared or to which religion persons are sought to be converted. Accordingly, if, as in this case, a defendant’s alleged purpose is “to explain to Christian people certain aspects of Islamic teaching and to encourage and equip Christian believers to share their faith with Muslims”, then, subject to what follows, it is difficult to think that it would not qualify as a “religious purpose”

So, according to Judge Nettle, it is doubtful whether Catch the Fire Ministries overstepped the boundaries of the law. That is why he has sent it back for a retrial. His final word?

Of necessity, the standards of an open and just multicultural society allow for differences in views about religions. They acknowledge that there will be differences in views about other peoples’ religions. To a very considerable extent, therefore, they tolerate criticism by the adherents of one religion of the tenets of another religion; even though to some and perhaps to most in society such criticisms may appear ill-informed or misconceived or ignorant or otherwise hurtful to adherents of the latter faith. It is only when what is said is so ill-informed or misconceived or ignorant and so hurtful as to go beyond the bounds of what tolerance should accommodate that it may be regarded as unreasonable.

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Barry Kearney’s "Future Church: Part the Third"

(Warning: Long blog–please skip down to the next one if you are not interested in this one).

Back in August, I blogged on the ruminations of Mr Barry Kearny, a 56-year old parishioner of St Anne’s Parish in Park Orchards who has “been having a very long hard think about the Church” and who has shared his vision for the “Future Church in Australia” by bulk emailing a very large number of folk in the Melbourne Archdiocese. Today he sent out “Part III”, and I wish to give him a bit of “cyberspace” in this forum for those who care to listen. He is concerned about the falling mass attendance, and about the fact that many “practising Catholics” simply “go through the motions of attending Mass, and yet not even participate 1% in the Sacred Mystery of the Mass”.

I mentioned in my first article that we need a Marketing Plan. I had some very positive responses to that article, but not many responses at all. A couple of people queried the word “marketing”, saying that you cannot compare a business to the Church. OK, let’s ditch “marketing”. Let’s Evangelise.

Good move, Barry. I was one who questioned the use of this commercial approach. Evangelisation is absolutely what its all about.

But we have to begin with evangelising to our own Catholics. Those that “get nothing out of going to Mass”. And this may mean people who never attend, seldom attend, often attend or always attend.

Again, we’re right with you there, Barry. I have mentioned before the strange phenomena whereby a Baptist who stops going to church doesn’t keep calling himself a Baptist, but a Catholic will still call himself a Catholic even if he hasn’t been inside a church since the day of his confirmation.

I am in the usually attend category, but I have been getting very little out of the Mass. …I must take much of the blame for that, and I have now changed my whole attitude. It was very easy, I just had to have a good think about it, and I read 3 books on reviving one’s Catholic Faith. So I’m back.

Yep, folks, he’s right. It IS very easy, and there isn’t really much to it besides actually caring enough to do it. A little side note here. My girls are Lutherans, but I am raising them as Catholic Lutherans. Maddy (aged 8) actually said about a year ago that she wanted to be Catholic like me, but (and here is the shame faced fact of it) she has a better chance of being a Catholic when she turns 18 if she continues as a Lutheran now. Her parish is in the process of hiring a full time “child and family” worker, on top of a part-time youth worker, and an assistant Pastor with post-graduate qualifications in child and family catechesis. The Lutherans haven’t got anything we don’t have–but they do make use of what they’ve got. The 2001 National Church Life Survey found that of all Australian Churches, the Lutherans are best at retaining the young. End of side note.

But what are we going to do about the 90% of Catholics who rarely attend Mass? …The Mass and the Eucharist are the answer.

Right you are again, Barry.

As you may or may not have read in my second letter on the Future Church, after my first letter I attended some Baptist services. I attended even more after the second letter. The Baptists at New Hope Blackburn and Crossways Burwood have thriving communities. They have big bands, talented singers, cameras showing the services on big screens, hordes of young people, piles of money, and the communities throb with enthusiasm. They have strong “faith” And huge attendances. Everything that most Catholic Churches are lacking including young Catholics. I even saw young Catholics being baptised, saying how the Catholic Church was lacking for them and that they have been born again.

They can do all this, and they do not have the Mass or the other Catholic Sacraments and they are part of a denomination that has broken away from the Church founded by Christ. The question is not, “how do they do it?” It was very clear how they do it. I found some of what happens in these churches quite disturbing. The question for our Church is what can we do within the parameters of our Faith to help Catholics to want to come to Mass.

Like I said with regards to the Lutherans, they don’t have anything we don’t (or couldn’t) have (I don’t know if we really want “big screens”, but I wouldn’t say no to the rest of the list). In reality, we have more, as Barry points out, in the fullness of the Word, the Ministry and the Sacraments. But we seem to be less ready to make use of it. Its as if the ecclesial communities to which Barry refers have learnt to feast on a famine, whereas we have grown so used to the feast that we have preferred to fast in the face of it.

Barry then attaches the summary of the ACBC Report on “Catholics Who Have Stopped Going to Mass” by Bob Dixon, the chief planner for the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference. As Barry says, “It was compiled after in depth interviews with 41 Catholics who have stopped attending Mass or just attend on special occasions.”

I have also attached a statistic sheet published in 2001 which showed that about 15% of Catholics regularly attend Mass. …The Report mentions that some people are ceasing to identify themselves as Catholics. It calls this “disidentification” and says that ceasing to attend Mass is an early stage in this process.

As I said above, this process of “disidentification” is much slower for Catholics than for almost any other type of Christian (except perhaps Orthodox), largely because of the cultural element. It would be worth seeing some studies on this.

The three most commonly mentioned “church-centred” reasons [for not going to mass anymore] were:
1. The misuse of power and authority in the Church.
2. The irrelevance of the Church to life today especially in relation to co-habitation and contraception.
3. Lack of intellectual stimulation eg poor sermons.

I don’t know about no. 1, which is largely a matter of perception, but no. 2 is probably a sympton of no. 3. More intelligent, more faithful and better presented homilies would go a long way to fixing the perception that the Church is irrelevant to life today.

The 3 main participant-centred reasons were:
1. Crisis of faith – it no longer provided meaning or made sense.
2. Family or house-hold related issues.
3. Going to Mass simply not a priority.

Barry comments with regard to these three that “Probably these reasons are all inter-related eg if the Church is irrelevant or there is a lack of intellectual stimulation, a Crisis of Faith or making Mass a low priority are likely”, which accords exactly with what I said above.

The major findings of the Report are:1. A large majority of participants believe that the Church is out of touch with the current world and is not relevant to their own lives
2. In general, participant’s alienation from the Church has been a gradual process in which changing attitudes to Church teaching have interacted with negative personal experiences of Church personnel and regulation
Supplementary findings of interest are:1. It was difficult to isolate a single reason why they stopped attending Mass.
2. Many participants displayed a very poor knowledge of the Catholic faith.
3. It was important for virtually all participants that they nurture the spiritual dimension of their lives.
Concluding Remarks
“Factors identified by the participants in this research which led them to stop going to Mass are also influencing people who are still regular Mass attenders …….In other words, if no action is taken, there are Catholics who are regular Mass attenders who are already on a path that will make them disappear from church life in a year or two”.

Given all this, it is interesting that, as Barry notes, The Report “…recommended that “Parishes review and evaluate practices and policies, especially the way liturgy is celebrated, to ensure that people are welcomed and respected””, especially when it appears that it is the quality of catechesis and homiletics that needs to actually be reviewed.

Barry then follows with some valid “thoughts”. First, given that “The report is based on only 41 participants…it is impossible to judge if the participants are in any way representative of the huge number of older Catholics who have stopped going to Mass after previously being regular attenders.”

Secondly, “women outnumbered men by more than 2 to 1”, while “it is quite clear that men as a group are pulling out of Mass attendance more than women”. A very valid point. There is good reason to think that a church that cannot keep its menfolk will not keep its womenfolk or families either. Again, the Lutheran Church of Australia is phenomenally good at keeping men involved. In the long run, I believe, evangelising men and getting them back into active parish life will do more for the future of the church than concentrating on a single age demographic such as youth.

Barry rightly identifies the reason “it no longer provided meaning or made sense” as being crucial. “If it did provide meaning and made sense,” he says, “I believe that many of the other reasons would not be significant.” Contraception and cohabitation included. “The Church has clear policies on all these issues,” Barry writes, “but never seems to address them or discuss them.”

“They should be clarified, and then publicised,” he adds. “Church Leaders shouldn’t have “too hard baskets”.”

But to the matter of the Liturgy:

We do not have to reinvent the Mass. Just remember it. Emphasise it, cherish it. A few subtle enhancements perhaps, and a lot of education. Educate better.

Barry challenges us to do what the Lutherans are already doing: Making the most of occasions like First Communion and Christmas. I think he is heading in the wrong direction with the suggestion that we could impliment policies that “force those wishing their children to attend Catholic Schools to attend Mass with their children”. Not only would that “not be enough”, as he recognises, any kind of “force” would be detrimental. There is an old saying that in the dry outback, a well of water works better to keep livestock from running away than a fence.

Barry rightly identifies the issue of “how we teach our Faith in the Schools”, but perhaps part of the problem is that Catholics have often placed too much reliance on the parish school to do the catechisation. This is largely passing the buck. It is the parish itself that has the first responsibility for programs of catechisation. The School can offer a supporting role, but it can never be expected to take the whole responsibility (or blame when the process fails).

Barry is also right to say that “we must offer education programs to older Catholics”–for the Christian life involves a “whole of life catechesis” not just for children.

I do not agree with this suggestion:

To maximise our celebration of the Mass, Childminding and Children’s Liturgies may be helpful. If we are to do more than just attend Mass, the less distractions the better, for parents and others. And the children would be happier. I personally do not find small children an issue, but it may help to cater for them.

Small Children are Catholics too, and they need the mass as much as older Catholics. Children are catechised from the day of their baptism by being brought to the liturgy and being present at the liturgy. We must not exclude them under any circumstances. Yes, there are ways we can help. People without children can assist parents with numerous youngsters. Children’s liturgy can be offered between masses (not as an alternative to mass). Kids have to learn to sit and listen to a sermon. This is a skill that is only aquired by doing it. Above all, tolerance must be the key. Believe me, it is a far more joyous thing to be at a Mass that is packed with roudy kids than to be at Mass where a child’s voice is never heard.

Barry makes a number of practical suggestions, like “Effective sound systems…, facilitation of participants having access to all the responses and prayers, …a printed sheet every week with all the words and even the readings and some background notes, even prayers.” The latter may not be needed for everyone, but could be useful for some, especially visitors.

These are all important issues, and good on you, Barry, for having a go. As I like to say about these things: “It ain’t rocket science.”

Folk who would like to respond directly to Barry or get his full article can email him at:

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Local Christian (many Catholic) Video Interview Show: "Spirit of Life"

Shannon Donahoo found this on Channel 31 on Sunday night and alerted me to the website. The program is called “Spirit of Life“, and is locally produced here in Melbourne. There are dozens of interviews with local Christians including many Catholics–Andrew Deveroux, Anne-Marie Quinn and Bishop Chris Prowse among them–for you to download and watch on Windows Media Player. Now, if only they put them on audio MP3’s, we could listen to them on our iPods…

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