Monthly Archives: July 2007

Genuine Interfaith Relations is not about Mix’n’Match Religion

At a very pleasant dinner last night with members and friends of the Australian Intercultural Society and the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission, I was talking to some of my good Muslim friends about the recent series on the ABC’s Compass program “The Quiet Revolution” (you can read transcripts here and here). I think “revolution” is much too strong a word for the sort of nonsense these programs cover. “The Quiet Loony-Fringe” might have been more accurate.

Both my Muslim friends and I agreed that this sort of stuff–mix’n’match, make-it-up-as-you-go-along religion–is of absolutely no help whatsoever to the promotion of understanding and peaceful harmony between the followers of the world’s religions. Consider:

Susanna Weiss-Interfaith Minister
One thing about being on this sort of cutting edge of inter-faith, is that there is no great history, there is no Mother Church, there is no dogma, there is no, it’s kind of like wide open, so the creativity of it, and what was going to come just started to open up at my ordination.

Just for the record, folks, this stuff is not “Interfaith Dialogue” of the kind that the Catholic Church practices. And neither I nor my Muslim friends would have a bar of interfaith dialogue if we thought that it was.

Recently on the First Things blog, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross wrote about “The First Openly Muslim Priest” makes the following observations:

The question is whether such doctrinal compromise actually creates interfaith opportunities. Not only is this approach unlikely to bolster interfaith activities, but it may actually undermine them. The available evidence suggests that interfaith dialogue is least effective when those engaging in it do not have their feet firmly planted in their own faith traditions…

Conservative Christians and Muslims alike have expressed skepticism about interfaith dialogue and activities precisely because they fear it will lead to bizarre new doctrines such as that held by Redding. Christians and Muslims need not feel ashamed that their respective faiths make irreconcilable truth claims. Nor should they see interfaith dialogue as an attempt to bridge the considerable theological gap between these faiths…

The highest purpose of interfaith dialogue is not to create some strange hybrid religion that reconciles two faiths that make competing truth claims. Rather, at its best, interfaith dialogue can help people build relationships of understanding, respect, and cooperation even though they adhere to faiths that cannot simultaneously be true [his emphasis–and I agree].


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Pope Blesses Cat?

I found this one on “The Cafeteria is Closed“. I like it. Now the real question is: What was the Holy Father doing? Blessing the Cat? Patting the Cat? Attempting to sneek a pat to the cat while making it look like he was giving it a blessing? (I suspect the last–I understand that the Vatican beurocrats have banned cats in the papal appartments, and the Holy Father is probably starved of feline affection).


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I have been dobbed in for a few memes lately and have had no interest in following these up (eg. what car would Jesus drive. Really.)

I wasn’t dobbed in for this one started by Marco, but I like it. He calls it the “Saintly Dinner Meme”:

If you could invite your five favorite saints to dinner, what would you serve them to eat and drink, and why?

St Peter
Fish. Appropriately enough.

St John the Apostle
A “heavenly feast” along the lines of Isaiah 25: “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.”

Venerable John Henry Newman
A five course meal, including both “the soup and the fish” so we could discuss one another’s conversions between them.

St Thomas More
Roast Beef and red wine. He was English, right?

Martin Luther
Okay, okay, I know that he wasn’t a saint (some would say he was the exact opposite), but I would like to enjoy some “table talk” with him over a good Wittenberg beer.


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Jesus of Nazareth – the Search for a book

I note that many Australians (Marco included) have been having trouble getting a hold of the Pope’s book “Jesus of Nazareth”. I had mine on pre-publication order with one firm that still doesn’t have it in stock, but was able to find a copy early on at the Central Catholic Bookshop which got its hands on a few cartons (fallen off the back of a truck?). I am about half-way through it (reading interupted by Harry Potter VII, would you believe?) and am enjoying the simple pleasure of reading about a subject that is dear to the author’s heart and mine.

But spare a thought for the poor folk in the Congo–which seems even more isolated (just) than Australia.


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I wasn’t going to blog on this but…

I wonder how many of can sincerely say that was never at least once when we acted in such a way that would have caused us shame and dishonour if someone had maliciously videoed us in the act and posted it on U-Tube with the result that a year later the media started hounding us mercilessly? I myself can think of at least two instances which I am not going to tell you about.

I do not wish to be the cause of furthering such dishonour, so I mention no names or circumstances. Those who know what I am talking about will know, the rest of you don’t need to. If you leave a comment, please make it about yourself and in terms that are generic and do not refer directly to the case which has prompted this blog.

Perhaps those who do know might like to think how we would have acted/reacted in similar circs. Maybe this is one of those points at which we should start to show some of that “trade-mark” Catholic concern for justice that we keep hearing about.


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The word "Child" means precisely what I intend it to mean. Nothing less and nothing more.

While we have been looking at the meaning of the word “Church”, there is another word that has become seriously wobbly of late: the word “Child”.

International (and possibly even interstate) readers will not be aware that our Parliament here in the State of Victoria is looking at removing abortion from the criminal law and incorporating it instead into the Health Act. The surprise and completely voluntary resignation yesterday of both our Premier and Deputy-Premier is not likely to have much effect upon this debate.

There was a very challenging article in yesterday’s edition of The Age, by Rita Joseph entitled “The Right to Life is the Most Challenging of All”. In this article, she argues that

Such an attack on laws that protect unborn children contravenes the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognised the child before birth as having human rights to be protected by the rule of law.

Not being any expert in International Law, I still thought she might be drawing a bit of a long bow when saying that the 1948 Declaration explicity recognised the rights of the the child before birth. She is on more solid ground, I reckon, with the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which does include the following “whereas”:

Whereas the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.

Of course the weakness here is in the phrase “appropriate”, which seems to be left up to each individual state to decide.

Nevertheless it was a valiant attempt to point out that abortion must really be considered under these categories of the basic human right to life and the rights of the unborn child.

But it was no surprise to read a letter to the Editor in this morning’s edition by John Tobin, senior lecturer in the faculty of law at the University of Melbourne, entitled: “International law silent on abortion”. Here he contends (quite possibly rightly–he is rather more expert in these matters than me):

Rita Joseph (Opinion, 27/7) is entitled to raise concerns in relation to Victorian MP Candy Broad’s attempt to decriminalise abortion. But she has no basis upon which to enlist international human rights law in support of her view. International law is silent on abortion and provides no rights to the unborn child.

The disturbing bit is what comes next, when Tobin writes:

When states drafted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the question of when life began was one of the most contentious matters. Catholic states wanted life to begin at conception, while numerous Western states, including Australia, preferred birth. The result is a compromise — each country is entitled to determine when childhood and life begins. There is no foundation to argue that the right to life under international law prohibits abortion.

Well. That must just about blow the whole business of human rights in general and rights of the child in particular out of the water. What possible meaning can it have to affirm that each humanbeing/child has the inalienable right to life and “appropriate legal protection”, if it is then left up to each particular state to define for its own purposes what or who a humanbeing/child actually is.

The 1948 Declaration of Human Rights was meant to protect us against the likes of this fellow (pictured) and his ideas ever rising to the surface of the human political pond again. Lewis Carroll’s character pictured above might seem a little cuddlier, but madness is their common denominator.


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This makes me wild… Andrew Hamilton on the CDF Clarifications

I am truly thinking of writing a book at some stage outlining, clarifying and defending the Catholic Church’s understanding of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. I have spent a very, very long time thinking all these things through, from a point of deep skepticism at times, until I feel that I can comprehend what is going on in the “mind of the Church” (all part of my project of “sentire cum ecclesia”). I don’t pretend that I have understood it all yet, however, everytime something comes up that is clearly a part of the magisterial teaching and yet does not fit the model that I had built up in my own mind, my first presumption is that it my model of ecumenism/interfaith relations that is wanting, not the teaching of the magisterium.

It will come as no surprise to you, gentle reader, that there are many Catholics who do not use this method. This can be seen in the reaction to the recent CDF Clarifications on The Doctrine on the Church. Stephen Crittendon, on the Religion Report, didn’t even bother to seek to speak to a Catholic theologian on the matter of the document, and reported that the document was trumpeting “We are the Champions”–and he played an extract from the Queen hit to rub it in. Thanks, Stephen, you’re a real help. (If you can’t hear my voice dripping with sarcasm in that last comment, you’re not listening.)

For a Catholic comment, we go to Andrew Hamilton at Eureka Street, in an article “Ecumenical Roads no longer lead to Rome”. Here again we find the common failure to attempt to “think with the Church”, and the all too common attitude that the teaching of the Church is “lacking”. Implication? Fr Andrew thinks he could have done it better, that he understands this better than those people in their ivory towers there in the Vatican.

He concludes:

In attentive conversation it is possible to say honestly that in Catholic understanding, only the Catholic Church embodies structurally the fullness of church and ministry. But to imply that other churches are not really churches, and that their ministry is not really Christian ministry, would fail to attend to the way in which Christians, including Catholics, commonly use words. The implication of the claim is gratuitously offensive. We should presume that the offence was not intended. But if it is to be avoided, a different kind of attention is needed.

Yes indeedy, there is the problem, folks: the way that “Christians, including Catholics, commonly use [these] words”, that is words like “Catholic”, “Church”, “Christian”, “Ministry”, “Apostolic” etc. If Fr Andrew was paying attention, he would have realised that the way we “use words” was precisely what the Clarification was about. It was intended to clarify the precise meaning of words in the Catholic lexicon.

In fact, this is how I see the problem with most of the commentary on the document:

1) The commentator disputes the meaning of the word “Church” as clarified by the authors of the document
2) The commentator decides to continue reading the document using his own defintion of the word “Church”
3) This of course gives meanings to the statements of the document which are not those intended by the authors
4) The commentator condemns the document for saying what its authors never actually said.

It is axiomatic when interpreting any document that you must seek to understand the meaning of words in their own context. Imagine reading a dictionary definition of the word “cat”. Eg. “A cat is a small feline carnivorous mammal. They make good household pets”. But hold on a minute, since I believe that a cat is in fact a kind of small elephant, this defintion is obviously wrong in asserting that it would make a good household pet.

Back to Fr Andrew’s piece. He himself gets it all hopelessly wrong when he says that the Second Vatican Council taught that

the Church of Christ subsists in the Roman Catholic Church.

The Council asserted no such thing. It asserted that

The sole Church of Christ … subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him

. The Catholic Church does not equal the “Roman” Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is that thing of which we speak in the Creed, the Una Sancta Catholic et Apostolica, it is not the Western Latin Church, much less is it a denomination. The Una Catholica is a communion of Churches which, the council insisted, have communion with the See of Peter as an essential mark of their belonging to that communion.

Nor is this a matter of “structures”, as Fr Andrew tries to make out. That suggests to the modern mind that document is insisting upon some human, earthly, political characteristic as essential to the Church. The document does not talk about structures, but about communion, which is a spiritual reality, which grows out of the common Christian heritage of God’s word and sacraments.

Moreover, it is simply being mischievous to suggest that the document says that the ministry of those not in full communion with the Catholic Church is “not really Christian ministry”. The document says nothing about whether or not a group or its members are “Christian”–it is talking about the proper application of the word “Church” in Catholic theology.

Let’s be quite clear. The document does not state that “only Roman Catholics are Christian”, and it expressly states that “the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church”.

That, I think, is not a miserly statement. It is certainly more generous toward the Orthodox than they are towards us, and it is much more generous than the attitude of those Protestants who believe that Catholics “are not Christian, although there may be true Christians among them.”

Broken communion–which is what currently exists among Christians and what the ecumenical movement is seeking to overcome–is a two way street. Those not in full communion with the Holy See are not so because the nasty old Pope doesn’t want to be in communion with them. Our separated brothers and sisters are separated from us because they judge us or our doctrine not to be truly Christian.

Fr Andrew Hamilton is right: Ecumenical roads do not “lead to Rome”. There is only one ecumenical road and it leads to Christ. Nevertheless, Catholic ecclesiology–and in fact ecumenical logic–asserts that you can’t walk this ecumenical road without seeking to walk it alongside of and in communion with the Bishop of Rome.


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The Holy Father or the Godfather?

Okay, Boyz, zis time ve show zem ve mean business, ya?

Comments Off on The Holy Father or the Godfather?

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A Cardinal in the Car

Last night I had the extreme pleasure of playing “driver” for Idris Edward Cardinal Cassidy, taking him to the Jewish Holocaust Centre here in Melbourne for one of his (now very rare) public speaking events. The topic for the night was “The Effect of the Holocaust on Christian and Jewish Theology”, and the other guest speakers were Rev. Tim Costello and Rabbi Fred Morgan.

Rabbi Fred is the Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth Israel, the largest Progressive Synagogue here in Melbourne. He is a great scholar and worthy successor to the grand old gentleman, Rabbi John Levi. Tim Costello is a Baptist minister, currently the CEO of World Vision Australia and one time mayor of St Kilda–but most people know him as the brother of our Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello. I have often wished I could be a fly on the wall at Costello Christmas dinners…

Driving the Cardinal meant that I was personally able to thank him for all his work on the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999), and pointed out the great role that it played in my life journey. (I also pointed out that Dominus Iesus was also a significantly POSITIVE document in my life, which caused him to chuckle!). Re the JDDJ, he said that it was probably the most significant achievement in all his time as the President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. When God asks him to give an account of his stewardship on judgement day, he said that he could at least point to that. There may be those of you out there who have a poor opinion of the Joint Declaration, but one needs to acknowledge what a significant step forward it has been in the ecumenical endeavour. It is taking time, but it is having its effect also in the Catholic Church, as Catholics themselves are re-owning the importance of stressing that all salvation is by grace alone through Christ alone.

Which leads to the topic of the evening: “The Effect of the Holocaust on Christian and Jewish Theology”. We have been talking in these pages about the prayer for the conversion of the Jews in the new mass.

(By the way, in my conversation with the Cardinal–who was asked about this prayer at the recent International assembly of the Council of Christians and Jews in Sydney–and came across a little unsure of the detail–I pointed out that the Motu Proprio is actually a good thing for the Jewish-Catholic relationship because at least it puts in place the mechanisms by which that particular prayer might be modified; a point which he said he will use in the future if asked about it again.)

In my little blog on the prayer and its implications, I pointed out that

The experience of the Shoah has awakened the Church to the deplorable history of anti-semitism in relation to which it has not been innocent. It will take much time, effort, prayer and charity for the parameters of our new relationship to be fully revealed.

This was basically the theme of last night’s very well attended event. Tim Costello talked a lot about the Protestant history during the Holocaust–with special mention of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Fred Morgan pointed out the well known fact that Melbourne has the greatest number of holocaust survivors outside of Israel–or at least that it did: he said that about 50% of the funerals he conducts are for survivors, and so the numbers are fast falling. Nevertheless, the effects of that event are still very evindent in those known as “Second- or Third-generation survivors”.

Fred’s presenation was actually quite hard hitting for the Jewish audience. The theme of the evening was “theology”–and Fred opined that in fact most Jews are fairly lazy about this, prefering to emphasise practice over theology. However, one cannot say “I belive in God” or “I don’t believe in God” without asking who this God is about whom we form such opinions. He outlined three major areas of Jewish reflection on the Shoah: 1) The Shoah as a punishment from God for unfaithfulness, 2) What the Shoah says about the nature of God (eg. God was in hiding during this time / Or The Shoah shows that God is not an interventionist who directly acts for his people), 3) the importance of the land of Israel and Zionism (this latter as a theological construct and not just a political or historical or sociological reality). While he did not personally agree with all the ideas put forward, he pointed out the need to answer these questions. This rather stirred up the Jewish audience.

However, Cardinal Cassidy was the first to speak, and he did so starting with the Second Vatican Council’s statement on the Jews in Nostra Aetate–a statement that was a direct result of Catholic reflection upon the horror of the Shoah–and the question of her own implication in it. He ended by refering to the US document Reflections on Covenant and Mission–something for which I chided him afterwards in the car, saying “You were a little bit naughty in suggesting that this was the accepted teaching of the Church?” “Well, its on the table”, he replied.

Yes, it is on the table, and as such is a valuable document. The Cardinal also told me how significant the night’s event was. When he began in Jewish Catholic dialogue after the Council, the Catholic contingent wanted to talk theology. But the Chief Rabbi got up and said that if they wanted to continue in this vein, then the dialogue would end right here. Theological dialogue was off the table. Whatever the reason for this was (fear of Christian proselytism most likely), the Cardinal noted that in the last ten years or so, there has been a definite openness to talking theology together. I added that the area in which I see this theological dialogue most apparent is when we Christians and Jews get together over the Hebrew Scriptures and start doing exegesis together. (Believe me, it is a very rewarding experience listening to the Rabbis expound scripture).

So here we were last night talking theology. But not only were we doing theology together, we were also talking about the elephant in the room, the Holocaust. (The fact that the German Consul-General and the Polish Consul were present is also significant). You will remember that a few blogs ago, I was suggesting that modern Judaism is Judaism Mk IIA. In fact, post-Holocaust Judaism is possibily even Judaism Mk III. There was a strong suggestion last night that the experience of the Shoah has permanently altered modern Judaism. It certainly led to the establishment of the Zionist dream: their own state in their own homeland for the first time in over two thousand years. This is a big difference–I wonder if it is not a sort of “paschal event”, a dying in the Shoah, and a rising in the State of Israel. (Perhaps that is saying too much, though).

Nevertheless, we Christians need to recognise that as we go about our evangelising mission (a mission to reach every nation of the world, and excluding no human being), speaking to our Jewish brothers and sisters will require a special sensitivity. Good pastors know that it is not the time, when dealing with traumatised victims of tragedy, to come on heavy with an appeal for conversion. Context, as I think I have said before, is everything, and we Christains need to be aware that the context of the modern Christian-Jewish relationship is squarely that of “Post-Holocaust”.

Thank God that we are at least talking theology with one another now. In that, I predict that we will become even more dependant upon the Jewish theologians than in the past–especially in the areas of scriptural exegesis and theodicy. We need to ask ourselves what it is that we as Christians can offer the Jewish people–and our answer had better be something other than the obliteration of their identity. Otherwise we may be in danger of being seen as the ones who handed Hitler a posthumous victory…


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Hi folks! Still here!

Just quickly popping in to say I am still here and have been reading the great discussion on the end of the last post.

I have been attending a super colloquium on Deus Caritas Est at the local John Paul II Institute here in Melbourne. Some great speakers. Check out the program and be jealous!

Janet Smith is a real hoot. Apparently she had them rolling in the aisles at the Anima Conference on Saturday. They want to get her back for the Melbourne Comedy Festival next year. Her impersonation of a young lad’s reaction to his girl friend’s reply to his question “Will you have sex with me?” (her reply was: “Are you ready to marry me?”) was priceless.

The real highlight of the day though was Holy Mass celebrated by Bishop Peter Elliott in the JPII chapel. The beauty of the liturgy just shone through. It was a simple mass but he celebrated it with such dignity that I was just carried away to the third heaven. He caught us all by surprise when we reached the Holy, Holy, Holy of the Liturgy, and he entoned “Sanctus,…” I knew the words but was only vaguely aware of the classic Gregorian setting. Agnus Dei likewise (although we didn’t sing the Pater Noster–I know that one!). Good sermon by the assistant priest, and Communion in both kinds. If the Mass was like this in the days of Luther, I don’t think there would have been a Reformation. Mass celebrated with this degree of decorum and attention may even be the salvation of the modern Church…


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