Monthly Archives: November 2007

Paul Collins paper from the "Catholics For Ministry" meeting

This is the first of a series of comments on the papers of “that meeting” last week run by “Catholics for Ministry”. I thank the website managers for putting the full papers up. It is good that these opinions expressed are now a matter of public record.

Paul Collins titled his address “Is Australia headed toward a Catholic Church without the Mass and Sacraments?”

It is worth noting that historically, the Australian Church has been without the Mass and priests before. For almost ten years, between 1808 and 1817, between the time when convict priest Fr Dixon returned to Ireland and Fr O’Flynn was appointed Prefect Apostolic of New Holland, there was no mass or sacraments. Then, between the time when Fr O’Flynn was sent packing by the Governor and Frs Conolly and Therry arrived in 1820, all the infant Church had to sustain their faith was the Blessed Sacrament reserved at the home of one Mr Davis where Catholics gathered in secret for prayer. I wonder what these faithful Catholics would have thought of today’s petitioners demanding “the right of the community to the Eucharist”?

Mr Collins told several stories—true stories about parishes in need in Australia and about priests stretched to breaking point in their ministries. In the old days, such stories would have been told as a part of a vocations drive, and would have been followed by calls to young men to give their lives to the service of the Lord in the Holy Priesthood. In fact, just such stories inspired generations of young men to become priests to serve in the mission fields. Some of these young men were the Irish priests who came to serve Australia in her colonial days. Foreign priests, every one of them… But not today. Today, such stories are used as leverage for Mr Collins radical demands that would in fact change completely the nature of the priesthood.

The stories Mr Collins tells of priestly dedication are, in the main, inspiring. But not his reference to the situation in Toowoomba. Because we all know what the situation is in Toowoomba and why. When bishops entertain “solutions” that involve

ordaining married men endorsed by their local parish community, welcoming former priests back to active ministry, ordaining women and recognizing Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting church orders

we know that they are no longer serious about promoting true vocations. I do not believe in a God who would leave any part of his church without the gift of priestly vocation. But I do believe that priestly vocations cannot develop where the Gospel is no longer taught with its concomitant radical demand for self-sacrifice. If priests do grow on trees, as Bishop Morris seems to expect, they won’t be found growing on “Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting” trees—they will be found growing on the Catholic tree.

Next Mr Collins points to the research of his friend Fr Eric Hodgens. He says that

The simple reality is that many parts of world Catholicism are facing a sacramental and ministerial crisis due to the catastrophic drop in the number of priests and in the numbers presenting themselves for training to the priesthood.

This, he notes, “is not true of every country”. It is mainly true of “the developed Western world” and parts of South America. It is an odd thing, but the decline in the number of young men presenting themselves for the priesthood has coincided with the drop in Catholic reproduction rates due to Catholics having smaller families which, in turn might be linked to the radical and unprecedented rejection of Papal teach in Humanae Vitae. Just an idea. Mr Collins could have encouraged Catholics to have larger families. “One for the Church”, to paraphrase our former Federal Treasurer.

Mr Collins and Fr Hodgens also complain of “an absolute refusal by church authorities to confront the issue” of the priest shortage. Absolute? Hardly. Several bishops—not those with whom Mr Collins or Fr Hodgens would have much sympathy or vice versa—have been pro-active in encouraging a noticeable turn around in the figures of new vocations. Mr Collins acknowledged this in the question and answer time at the meeting. Moreover, there are many young men reporting being turned away from the seminaries by those whom Mr Collins/Fr Hodgens speak well of. Again, Mr Collins acknowledged this in the question time. Why? Because they are “not the right sort”. Tell you something?

Mr Collins and Fr Hodgens say that

recruitment is down to an all-time-low


there is no significant sign of it increasing, despite claims of increased numbers in the Sydney, Perth, Melbourne and Neo-Catechuminate seminaries.

What gall! Each of these Seminaries has recorded a sustained rise in the number of vocations since the “dark ages” of the eighties. Not enough, of course, but a rise nevertheless. One would think that the responsible thing would be to acknowledge this and then encourage more vocations yet. But no, that would not support the ultimate purpose of Collins/Hodgens, which is to see married men and women ordained in preference to the “wrong sort” of young celibate males.

The comment that “the age of ordination has risen” should surprise noone. This is the case in every Christian church in Australia. Put it down to the voice of God being particular audible when the hearer is going through midlife crisis, I guess.

Catholics in countries like Brazil (where there is one priest to every 7000 or so Catholics) would be scandalized at Mr Collins’ horror that there is only “one priest for every 2000 Catholics” in Australia. The real horror is that about ¾ of those 2000 are non-practicing (non-believing?) Catholics, and so the number to whom Father has to minister is around 500 rather than 2000. That number is not much different from Lutherans in Australia. The census tells us that there are about 350,000 Australian Lutherans, but Lutherans themselves count only about half that many. They have about 350 pastors. That’s about 1 to 500 again. By the way, Lutherans ordain married priests. AND, they have been experiencing a troubling shortage of vocations lately. No solution there, it would seem.

Mr Collins concludes that “It was in this kind of context that Frank Purcell, Anne O’Brien and I decided someone had to take the initiative. So we drew up the petition. Essentially what we are trying to do is to get the bishops to respond to and assume responsibility for their dioceses – and the needs of their diocese rather than looking over their shoulders to Rome all the time.”

My perception is that what Messrs Collins, Purcell and O’Brien (each of them laicised from their original vows) are really “essential trying to do” is get the bishops to accept, not responsibility, but the IRRESPONSIBILITY of the measures which they suggest as the only possible alternatives to the low vocation-rate: an end to clerical celibacy and the ordination of women. And yes, if you were a bishop intending to go in this direction, you really would want to be “looking over your shoulders to Rome”, because your tenure as bishop would likely be nearing to an end.

If their real concern was simply the increase of priestly vocations, they would be going about it in an entirely different way.


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A classic example of the "Hermeneutic of Rupture"

A new terminology has entered the Liberal/Conservative split among Catholics, that of the “hermeneutics of Rupture/Continuity”. As is well known, Papa Benny himself introduced this new paradigm almost 2 years ago in reference to the interpretation of Vatican II in his Christmas address to the Roman Curia. Thanks, your Holiness. Very neat. Very useful.

I hope I am not spoiling anyone’s fun when I point out that the Pope never used the expression “Hermeneutic of Continuity”. What he said was:

On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture”; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the “hermeneutic of reform”, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

So the fact that Benedict XVI repudiates the idea that Vatican II was not a “rupture” doesn’t mean that he thinks the Council mandated “more of the same”. Of course there was change. There was “reform”. But this “reform” was not a “revolution” (as Past Elder wants you to think). It was a “renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church”. So, changes yes, but change of the subject, no.

A good example, if you really need one, of the “hermeneutic of rupture” is the latest diatribe by Professor Swindler on the Catholica website. According to Catholica Dr Swindler is “Professor of Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue at Temple Univierty, Philadephia. He is also one of the founders of the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC) and its current president.” That sounds like a nice group. Maybe we should start one called “The Duties of the Faithful in the Church” or something of that ilk…

Anyway, Dr Swindler claims that there were “five Copernican Revolutions” that came with Vatican II:

The Turn Toward Freedom,
The Turn Toward the Historic-Dynamic,
The Turn Toward This World,
The Turn Toward Inner Church Reform,
The Turn Toward Dialogue.

The funny thing is, as you read through his “analysis” which Catholica tells us is “packed with information and insight”, he barely quotes from the council documents themselves to support his thesis. In general, I do think that a case can be made to say the Council Fathers did think along these lines. But Swindler doesn’t make such a case, he just asserts it; and then he insists that these represent “Copernican Revolutions” (by which I take it means a complete change) from what went before.

I think if he really took the time to examine the Council documents he would find more evidence of continuity (albeit in line with reform) than of the rupture he suggests.


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This one is for Peregrinus

Peregrinus has begun a new series on Catholica on Religion and Science. I am generally with him on this one. I thought I might help out by pointing to several rather interesting mp3 audio files on Sonitus Sanctus on this topic. There is a good one by Francis Collins of the Human Genome project and Fr Ken Miller being interviewed in a rather intelligent radio program. Any way, check them out for yourself. Sonitus Sanctus is a great site for Catholic/Christian audio, by the way. Many thanks to Marco (who has changed the name of his blog yet again) for putting me onto this site.

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The Papers from the "Catholics for Ministry" forum

The four presentations that were given at the “Catholics For Ministry” forum held last Thursday in Camberwell Town Hall (by Paul Collins, Marilyn Hatton, Terry Curtin, and Anne O’Brien) are now on the “Catholics for Ministry” Website. You can read them for yourself. If so inclined.

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And the greatest of these is…

Yes, I know you all know that Pope Benedict’s second encyclical Spe Salvi will be released on Friday (actually, probably that means late Friday night early Saturday for us here in the Antipodes), but I couldn’t let the next few hours pass without letting you know how excited we are at the very prospect of a second encyclical from the Niveous Doctor.

His choice of theme, on the virtue of hope, conincides well with our motto here at Sentire Cum Ecclesia: “Maior autem his est spes”.

We are told that “Vatican sources are indicating another papal document is still to come”. But of course. The trilogy would not be complete without an encyclical on “Faith”!

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New Ceremony in Rite for Installation of a Cardinal

In a revision of the ancient rite, instead of the Holy Father placing the red zucchetto directly on the head of the new cardinal, a small rock is placed inside the zucchetto which is then hurled down onto the candidate’s head by the Holy Father from the open window of his apartment. The rite is intended to symbolise (on the one hand) the descent into hell and (on a more practical level) the headaches that the new cardinals can expect to face in their role.

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Rebellious Students Demonstrate Faith

What can you say? Students. Never did know their place. Always bucking against the status quo. Always claiming to know better than their elders. What has changed in the last 40 years?

A lot. Here is the latest media release from the Australian Catholic Students Association:

23 November 2007

The Australian Catholic Students Association (ACSA) President Camillus O’Kane said Catholic students were disappointed that some groups continued to push for the ‘ordination’ of women, despite it being declared a non-issue for the Church.

“Ever since Christ established the Church over 2000 years ago and assigned His Apostles the task of sanctifying, teaching and governing the faithful, the office of the priesthood has been has been reserved for men only,” Mr O’Kane said.

In his 1994 Encyclical Ordinatio Sacerdotalis Pope John Paul II affirmed the Church’s position on the issue of the priesthood:

(I)n order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.

Public Relations Officer Claire Anthony added, “We are thankful for the good work of our priests, and the tireless efforts they put in to their parishes and the wider community: offering Mass and the Sacraments, teaching the Faith, serving the sick and the poor, and upholding the dignity of human life from conception through to natural death.”

“We are also encouraged to see increasing numbers of young men, who fully uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church and are loyal to Pope Benedict XVI, entering seminaries across the country,” Ms Anthony said.

“As young Catholics, we are optimistic about the future of the Catholic Church in Australia.”

For further information or comment
Australian Catholic Students Association:

Camillus O’Kane (President) 0407 538 044
Claire Anthony (Public Relations Officer) 0401 559 765

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Two excellent programs on ABC Radio Counterpoint

Yesterday there were two excellent sessions on ABC Radio National’s “Counterpoint” program: Climate change and Kyoto and Rights and social justice in Australia. The second of these is with Jim Franklin, the editor of the new collection of essays on Catholic Social Justice doctrine, “Life to the Full” published by Connor Court.

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Have yourself a pagan little Christmas?

Cheryl Lawrie, in Saturday’s Age (“Away with the Manger”), drags up that old furphy:

Historians largely agree that the celebration of Christmas came about just after Constantine had made Christianity a recognised and privileged religion within the Roman Empire. Religious leaders were looking for a way to make Christianity more widely accepted among the populace, so they adopted an existing mid-winter festival and layered it with Christian meanings.

Yes, its the old “ancient-pagan-festival-masquerading-as-pious-Christian devotion” myth mixed with the “Constantine-created-Catholicism” myth.

In fact, Cheryl, “historians largely agree” that the impetus toward celebrating Christmas in the 4th-6th Centuries depended, not upon Constantine, but upon the definitions of Christological dogma from the first four ecumenical councils (Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon). The Council of Ephesus, which approved the designation “Mother of God” for Mary likewise saw an increase in Marian devotion.

Of course, there are plenty who will point out that Christmas is just the pagan winter solstice festival and that Marian devotion looks suspiciously like the devotion to Athena (which was also popular at Ephesus in pre-Christian days). And here is the only thing that Cheryl and the historians largely agree on: the early Christian missionaries were canny evangelisers. Long before the word “inculturation” was invented, they were doing it.

And for those of you scandalised at the “pagan” history of Christmas, I challenge you to find something from Christianity (other than the Gospel itself) that was entirely invented by Christianity alone. The Gospel has the remarkable effect of “baptising” the things of this world, causing a rebirth and renewal into a new reality. Finitum capax infinitum. And that, to be sure, is at least one aspect of Christmas, is it not?


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We’re revvin’ with Kevin in 07!

Just to show that We at Sentire Cum Ecclesia can be as gracious in matters of politics as we are in matters ecclesial, We extend our congratulations to the new primus inter pares of the Australian Parliament, Mr Kevin Rudd.

And just to show the Cooees blokes and blokess that two can play at that game, here is a contender for our new PM’s doppleganger. The only question is, will he lead us forward or back in time–or will he stop time altogether?


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