Monthly Archives: August 2007

Where locals fear to tread…

Sometimes foreigners can say things that locals would not be caught dead saying (except, that is, the inhabitants of the Cloister, who have that special type of diplomatic immunity that comes with anonymity).

A case in point is Rocco Palmo’s (oversimplified but basically correct by all accounts) summation of Australian Catholic ecclesiastical politics on his blog “Whispers in the Loggia”:

To bring everyone up to speed, in recent months a high-profile apostolic visitor from abroad [another foreigner from the same shores as Rocco Palmo, we understand] was reportedly dispatched to a rural diocese where, faced with a priest shortage reaching dire proportions, the ordinary used a pastoral letter to muse on the ordination of women and married men as a means to replenish the numbers; in an interview last week, another senior prelate lamented the church’s tendency for being too removed from its own and characterized “radical right-wing Catholics” as “taking the place of God” and being driven to “cut” their opposition’s “head off” (whilst simultaneously defending Humanae vitae); and Bishop Pat Power, the Canberra auxiliary for whom ribbing established teaching is usually akin to breathing, noted in an open letter that “many loyal and committed Catholics want a more open and thorough examination of the issues around the ordination of women.”

Even for all that, though, the controversy is poised to ratchet to a new level… While the continent-nation’s market of ecclesial polemics has been largely dominated by Power – Oz’s answer to the retired Detroit auxiliary Thomas Gumbleton – on the left, and its senior churchman, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, on the right, the retired Sydney auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson hasn’t been known for his outspokenness.

The rest of the blog entry is about Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s new book. But he has pretty well nailed the Australian ecclesiastical landscape in those few paragraphs. Scary (do you spell “scary” with or without an “e”?) how someone on the other side of the Big Pond can know so much about what is happening Down Under, isn’t it. Just goes to show you the power of blogging and the internet communication age.

BTW, Rocco has been covering the media frenzy on the Robinson book quite thoroughly. But he hasn’t told us yet just what he thinks of it.

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John L. Allen Jnr. on Evangelical Catholicism: A "one-two punch of grass-roots ferment and official support"

Two articles have appeared on the National Catholic Reporter’s web site both by my favourite ecclesiastical journalist John L. Allen Jnr:

The Triumph of Evangelical Catholicism

Liberal Catholicism endures in pastoral church

Take my advice and read both of them — back-to-back. This is Allen at his (literally) balanced best. You could see it as a bet both ways, but you need to remember who his audience is — writing for a more conservative audience might have produced a different approach. Nevertheless, as he himself would say, the role of the journalist isn’t to make the news but to report it as it is. And he does a fairly good job of that.

Assuming you have now taken the time to read these articles, there are a few comments I would like to make. (And for those of you who don’t know me, it should be fairly obvious that I self identify as an “Evangelical Catholic”).

My first comment is by way of the quibble.

The second, a brief declaration from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, addresses a phrase from the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) that the church of Christ “subsists in” Catholicism. Many people thought it meant the true church cannot be identified with institutional Catholicism, and it was understood as a gesture of ecumenical openness. Now, however, the Vatican has ruled that “subsists in” means the true church “endures” in Catholicism alone, without denying that “elements” of the church can be found in other Christian bodies.

The “quibble” is that Allen consistently uses the word “Catholicism” as a synonym for the communion of Churches which is the “one holy Catholic Church” (ie. the Una Catholica). That will be a cause for misunderstanding if it is allowed to continue. “Catholicism” is usually used to describe that way of being Christian which is Western, Latin, and papal. In truth, the Una Catholica is the Church “governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him”. That is manifestly not quite the same thing as “Catholicism”. To put it bluntly, to say that “Catholicism” is “the Church” is not to use the word “Church” in the proper sense.

David Bebbington…defines [Evangelicalism] in terms of four commitments: the Bible alone as the touchstone of faith, Christ’s death on the cross as atonement for sin, personal acceptance of Jesus as opposed to salvation through externals such as sacraments, and strong missionary energies premised on the idea that salvation comes only from Christ. Clearly, some of these commitments mark areas of disagreement with Catholics rather than convergence.

Yet if these points are restated in terms of their broad underlying concerns, the evangelical agenda Bebbington describes pivots on three major issues: authority, the centrality of key doctrines, and Christian exclusivity. If so, there’s little doubt that Catholicism under John Paul II and Benedict XVI has become ever more boldly evangelical.

I wonder if we can’t analyse this even perhaps a little further. For instance, evangelical Catholics share a high regard for the Bible as Word of God with evangelical Protestants more than they do with liberal Catholics. Evangelical Catholics emphasise the atoning work of Christ present in the sacrifice of the mass. Evangelical Catholics emphasise the personal encounter with Christ in the sacraments. And, as the name would suggest, evangelical Catholics are strongly in favour of the call to the “New Evangelisation”. In other words, there are direct correspondents to each of the classic marks of evangelicalism.

To be clear, evangelical Catholicism isn’t fundamentalism… While evangelical Catholics believe in dialogue, they insist it can’t come at the expense of strong Catholic identity. The bottom line is unambiguous assertion that the visible, institutional Catholic church alone possesses the fullness of the church willed by Christ… None of this means the Vatican is claiming that only Catholics can be saved. The congregation stated that other Christian bodies can be “instruments of salvation,” and there’s nothing in the document to roll back Vatican II’s teaching that non-Christians can also be saved “in ways known only to God.” Yet evangelical Catholics reject suggestions that all religions are equally valid; ultimately, they insist, salvation comes from Christ, and the church is the primary mediator of this salvation. This belief remains the basic motivation for missionary work.

In all these statements, Allen hits the nail on the head.

In his second article, Allen asserts that

most sociologists say that complex religious institutions are likely to contain both and many others — only sects, they argue, have the luxury of rigid consistency.

again he is quite right. This is a sociological reason– rather than a theological reason–why it is hopeless, and in fact undesirable, to search for a “pure” church.

But the second article was a little too accepting of the claims of the liberal Catholics. He quotes Richard Gaillardetz as saying that

liberal Catholicism is less an ideology than a “pastoral phenomenon … alive in parishes that have a flourishing catechumenate, vibrant liturgies, thoughtful and relevant preaching, and multiple lay ministerial opportunities.”

I beg to point out, that these virtuous attributes are by no means lacking among evangelical Catholics. Evangelical Catholicism proposes and offers catechisation intentionally founded on the church’s teaching authority, liturgies vibrant with beauty and sacredness, and a strong emphasis on spiritual gifts, the lay apostolate and personal vocation.

The results of Dean Hoge’s research, cited by Allen, is questionable in value with regard to the attitudes of active, faithful lay Catholics, precisely because the “Catholics” he surveyed include (on his own evidence) 76% who believe that “one could be a good Catholic without going to mass on Sunday”. One assumes therefore that 76% of his survey total are not in mass every Sunday.

Allen cites “engaging social and political questions outside the church” as a “progressive cause”. We will have to wait and see if Pope Benedict is able to reclaim it as an “evangelical cause” in his upcoming encyclical.

The lecture Allen cites by Jesuit Father Thomas Reese is alarming if only for the reason that it considers schism as a possible “survival strategy for reform, minded Catholics”. And if “laying the intellectual foundations for change” is cited in support of the liberal cause, evangelicals too (with the help of the Pope) are hard at work on this.

Finally there is far more comfort for evangelicals than for liberals in Allen’s constant reminder that the future of the church quite likely belongs with charismatic Catholicism. Evangelical Catholics and charismatic Catholics have, as Allen notes, basic theological ground work in common. Liberal Catholics can take no solace at all in the rise of charismatic Catholicism.


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When Being too Thoughtful can be Thoughtless: Jesus, Mary and Osama bin Ladin in Blake Prize Entry

“But I just ask people to think about it a little bit more deeply because it is a very loaded work which means that there are so many different meanings.” – Blake Prize entry Artist, Priscilla Bracks.

A friend of mine used to have a saying about “deep thinkers in the shallow end of the pool”. Sometimes your thoughts can become so deep that you become thoughtless.

These “works of art” in the picture above were entered by Priscilla Bracks and Luke Sullivan in the annual Blake Prize for Religious Art held in Sydney. You can read the entire story here in The Australian. Coo-ees in the Cloister has some strong words on this too.

I find the Jesus/bin Laden picture truly offensive. I am only marginally less offended by the statue of the Blessed Virgin in the veil. It is not the association of the Blessed Virgin with the Muslim religion that offends me — after all, Muslims regard Mary with great devotion. My concerns are a little deeper than that.

Both depictions offend me because of what they do to the faces of Jesus and Mary. The picture morphs the face of our Lord into the face of the terrorist. The statue hides the face of Mary completely. With this in mind read these following statements from Pope Benedict:

To express ourselves in accordance with the paradox of the Incarnation we can certainly say that God gave himself a human face, the Face of Jesus, and consequently, from now on, if we truly want to know the Face of God, all we have to do is to contemplate the Face of Jesus! In his Face we truly see who God is and what he looks like!

In [Our Lady’s] face—-more than in any other creature—-we can recognize the features of the Incarnate Word.

A truly thoughtful person would realise that these “works of art” distort and obscure the face of God which we have been privileged to see in Jesus and Mary.

I, for one, am at least glad that the Blake Prize judges were thoughtful enough not to award these “works of art” any prizes, although a little more thoughtfulness would have excluded the work from the exhibition entirely.


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Look out! He’s out to get you!

(Thanks to Cooees for this one. Pity it wasn’t a bit bigger…)

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And another thing, Barney: The Meaning of "Lay"

In the same article to which I refer in the blog below, Barney Zwartz writes:

On power, the Catholic Church has long treated priests and those in religious orders as a higher caste, separate and superior to laypeople. It doesn’t even have a collective term for all members in the way that nations have “citizens” — a category to which the newest Australian belongs as much as the Prime Minister — because the primary meaning of “laypeople” is non-clerics.

This is a combination of a gross distortion and a falsehood. Lets start with the falsehood.

The term “lay people” is one of those tautologous terms like the place name “Penhill Hill” (“Pen” is old English for hill). “Lay” comes from the greek “ho laos” which means “the people”. As in “The People of God” (or Das Volk Gottes) (eg. Heb 4:9). Vatican II and Papa Benny are particularly keen on this idea. Thus the term “laity” does not primarily mean “not clerical”, just as the term “Catholic” does not primarily mean “non-Protestant” or “non-Orthodox”.

And the gross distortion is the suggestion that the Church regards “and those in religious orders as a higher caste, separate and superior to laypeople”. This may have been the case that for a period (eg. some centuries before the Reformation), but it is not the case in either doctrine or practice in the 21st Century. The doctrines of vocation and charisms have raised up (and praised up) all valid callings, religious or secular, as equal paths to holiness and sainthood. The pope who taught us most on this was John Paul II, and I challenge Barney or anyone else to find anything in his writings (or indeed in the teachings of the Church today) which even suggests that priesthood or religious life is a calling more holy than (eg.) motherhood or garbage collecting.


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No, No, No, No, Barney. You’ve got it wrong from the start.

We are sincerely grateful here in Melbourne that The Age has a religion editor who is a believing and practicing Christian. Barney Zwartz’s commentary on religious life in our city is very welcome, as is his blog. Not so welcome, however, is the way he has rather opportunisticly jumped on Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s band wagon and given his own recipe for the reform of the Church. If I may have my say, it is one thing for a retired renegade Bishop to have his thoughts on the radical reformation of the Catholic Church–at least he is (nominally and officially) one of us. It is quite another thing for an outsider (BZ is a protestant, not a Catholic) to weigh in on the debate with their two bobs worth.

And this is just what Barney does, in an op ed piece in today’s edition of The Age entitled: “Reform that is crucial to the church”. “The church” in question is none other than the Catholic Church–for which I guess we should be thankful that those in charge of writing headlines at The Age acknowledge the latest CDF clarification that “the church” properly speaking is “the Catholic Church”.

BUT, Barney’s op ed is little more than a repetition of Robinson’s basic theses:

Until the Catholic Church tackles deep structural and theological flaws about sex and power, until it is prepared to rethink doctrines dating as far back as Augustine (4th century), it will still be merely “managing the problem” rather than confronting it, the bishop says.

Start with sex.

Yes, let’s, shall we? This is what Barney (and presumable the good bishop, whom he is plagerising) says about the Church and sex:

The church holds that sex is designed only for married couples for the twin purposes of expressing love and conceiving children. Therefore, unless conception is possible it is a sin and so are all other sexual acts, as “against nature”…

[But I, Barney Zwartz, believe that] the key to sexual ethics is the good — and harm — done to people and their relationships.

No, no, no, and a thousand times, no, Barney. And if you are just parroting the Most Reverend Bishop Robinson, then I suggest you and he both go and read John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, and get it right.

Whether I do “good or harm to people and their relationships” is an inadequate basis for sexual morality–indeed any morality at all. The most fundamental basis for the ethical life is a sure and certain understanding and committment to the essential nature of the human person–in both myself and in my neighbour. Start there, and you will find that the Church’s position on sexual morality may be a little more understandable.

The real reformation required is not in the doctrine or faith or practice of the Church, but where all reformations worth their salt should start: in the heart of every man.

[“And every woman.” “Shutup, Stan.”]


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Whoo there!

135 hits on Sentire Cum Ecclesia in one day!
Settle down folks!

Actually, your host here at SCE is wondering where you have all been for the last month or so. Things have been a bit quiet. But yesterday and today the sitemeter has gone through the roof. The result is a new record for monthly hits for this blogsite. Keep it up, folks. Your comments are what make this blog really interesting.

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A question from a Reader: Sacramental Graces

Today I received an email from a regular anonymous reader:

Do you have time to answer a question on the sacraments?

I was discussing the Sacrament of Reconciliation with someone. This person said that during reconciliation we don’t receive any extra grace. God’s grace is everywhere and the sacraments are to celebrate what already exists. In Sacramental Confession we celebrate the forgiveness of God that has already occurred (The sacraments are primarily a celebration.)

QUESTION: Where does this idea come from?

ANSWER: I don’t know. Outer Space? It doesn’t come from the Catholic Catechism at least!

I suggest the person with these ideas is lacking a solid grounding in what Grace is. In short, you should refer him or her to the Catechism, paragraphs 2000-2005, or the Compendium paragraphs 423 and 424. There you will find that Catholic theology distinguishes the workings of God’s grace into four separate kinds of operation:

Sanctifying grace: the habitual grace and a permanent disposition which enables us to live and act in keeping with our Christian calling to holiness.

Actual graces: God’s interventions in our lives to enable us to perform particular salutary actions. This grace is not permanent & lasts only until the action is complete.

Special graces: “Charisms” or “gifts” of the Spirit to carry out a particular service or ministry, eg. Speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy; but also teaching, administration, music, encouragement etc. (cf. Romans 12:6-8 and Called and Gifted program)

Sacramental graces: the gifts proper to each sacrament.

Of course, sanctifying grace is that grace which justifies us by faith and which pervades our whole life in Christ. But each sacrament has graces proper it, and the graces proper to the sacrament of reconciliation are also listed in the Catechism (1468-1470) under the heading “The Effects of this sacrament” (there is a section like this for the treatment of each sacrament). The special sacramental graces of Reconciliation are then also listed in the “In brief” section at the end of this chapter in paragraph 1496:

1496 The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are:
– reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace [ie. sanctifying grace];
– reconciliation with the Church;
– remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;
– remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin; – peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;
– an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle.


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Is Jesus with a beer and a cigarette blasphemous?

A Muslim friend sent me the following news report:

Malaysia daily gets one-month ban
By Agencies

Malaysia has imposed a one-month publishing ban on a Tamil-language newspaper for printing a caricature of Jesus holding a cigarette and a can of beer. State news agency Bernama quoted the internal security ministry as saying the publishing permit of the daily Makkal Osai Tamil would be suspended for a month from Friday.

S M Periasamy, general manager of Makkal Osai, which caters to Malaysia’s ethnic Indian minority, said his office received the directive by fax from the ministry. He said: “Of course we are shocked by this. My entire staff are all in tears. They will lose a month of income.” He said the newspaper would abide by the order for now though it planned to appeal the ban.

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Malaysia’s prime minister, condemned publication of the Jesus caricature, saying it was unacceptable in a multi-racial society. Last year, Badawi, a Muslim, imposed similar bans on two newspapers that reprinted caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

Makkal Osai printed the caricature last Tuesday on its front page with a caption quoting Christ as saying: “If someone repents for his mistakes, then heaven awaits them.”

The paper’s editor apologised, saying the caricature had been taken from the internet, but a local politician filed a police report, calling it a “threat to national harmony”.

Periasamy said the graphic artist who downloaded the picture of Jesus had overlooked the fact that the picture had been altered to insert a cigarette in one hand and another object, possibly a can, in the other. The artist had since been suspended, he said.

Murphy Pakiam, Kuala Lumpur’s archbishop, criticised the picture as “desecration” but later accepted the newspaper’s apology. Some Muslim groups joined church groups this week in calling for action to be taken against the newspaper.

Just over half of Malaysia’s roughly 26 million people are Muslims, almost all of them ethnic Malays, who are deemed to be Muslim by birth.

I must confess that I hardly know what to think about this. I haven’t seen the picture, so I can’t be sure of the intent of the publishers.

I myself smoke (a pipe, not cigarettes) and drink (generally wine rather than beer–which I believe was Jesus’ preference also). I don’t believe these are sins–although they could be if they were addictive behaviour or caused significant harm to me or any harm at all to others around me.

I guess the difficulty is that most Malaysians (being Muslims) would think that smoking and drinking are sinful acts. In this context, depicting Jesus doing these things may be regarded as blasphemous.

But I guess that more concerning is a lack of understanding of Christianity reflected in the caption that goes along with the picture (“If someone repents for his mistakes, then heaven awaits them”), and the implication that Jesus himself made such “mistakes” and therefore, in spite of doing these “sinful things”, he went to heaven. That is certainly one way of understanding the coupling of the caption and the picture. If it was the intent of the publisher, I would be very concerned.

Unfortunately, the Lord Jesus gets far worse treatment at the hands of cartoonists here in Australia on a regular basis in our daily media.

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Bishop Geoffrey Robinson speaks his (own) mind

You will have noted that this blog is called “Sentire Cum Ecclesia”: to think with the Church. As in: rather than thinking against the Church.

You will also notice Chesterton’s little quote about reformers in the header. If you haven’t, note it now–it is pertinent to the subject of this blog.

The latest well intentioned “reformer” to hit the headlines in Australia is Bishop Geoffrey Robinson (70), who retired from his post as auxiliary bishop of Sydney in 2004 due to ill health and has just published what looks like being the best seller since Paul Collins’ latest tome, “Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus“. You can read the introduction to the book here.

One can only imagine that the change in theological climate among the Sydney episcopacy may have been one cause of his ill health judging by the new report in yesterday’s edition of the Age: “Bishop calls for Catholic Reform“.

John Garrett, the publisher of the bishop’s book, hosted the bishop for a speaking event on Friday night. When I first received an invitation to the event, I wondered if he had the requisite permission from the local ordinary. My assumption, given the subject matter of his presentation, is that he did not.

The connection between the two words “power” and “sex” coupled with a third word “church” was always going to ensure that Bishop Robinson’s book got attention.

According to The Age report, the Bishop said that

While it [the Catholic Church] refuses to look at some fundamental teachings — including sex outside marriage, women priests, homosexuality and papal power — the culture that produced and protected [sexual] abusers will continue.

A powerful cocktail, you will agree.

In his blog entry, Zwartz compares Robinson to Martin Luther. The comparison, Zwartz admits, is “slightly mischevious” because “Bishop Robinson remains a devout Catholic”. However, he thinks that the comparison is justified, because of “the ambition and extent of his suggested reforms”.

Well, Luther also regarded himself as a “devout Catholic” and was equally well intentioned with his “reforms”. Nevertheless the effect of his teachings was to tear a chunk of the Church right out of its orbit and send it hurtling out of control into ecclesiastical “outer space”.

By both his address to the John Garrett crowd and the publication of his book, Bishop Robinson seems intent on stirring the nest of discontented dissenters in the Church. As John Garrett’s publishing blurb prophetically states: “Readers will love or hate this book, but will not be able to be neutral.”

I agree entirely. I am not so able.


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