Juliette Hughes. What is there to say? We’ve heard her before on a couple of topics (World Youth Day, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson). She self-identifies as a Catholic, but if you want to get her take on what she believes authentic Catholicism to be, look no further than this article – in which she points out that the only difference between herself and Catherine Deveny is that “she has left” and “I still belong.”
Anyway, in an article today’s edition of The Sunday Age (“Catholic Church must rediscover a tolerant God“), she takes up the sword on behalf of none other than that hero of the Catholic faith: Fr Peter Kennedy and the good people of St Mary’s South Brisbane.
Now, a word to the wise from the very beginning: Ms Hughes is backing the wrong horse in this piece. The word is, according to someone I met this morning who had just returned from a conference in Brisbane, that even those in the Church who once felt some sympathy for Fr Kennedy are now saying he has “gone too far”.
Well, how far is that? To the point of saying that he and his own personal ministry are essential for the faith and life of the parish of St Mary’s. We have a term for that in the Church. It is a “messiah-complex”.
This is reflected a little in the rather disquieting words reported in the Courier Mail today. He said of the priest who has been appointed administrator of the parish in his place:
“The people are not going to receive Fr Howell. He’s naive enough to think he can walk in there on Sunday and the people will welcome him. Well, they won’t. I know the people, I’ve been there 28 years – the people want me there and I’ve helped build that community into what it is today. And then this guy comes in, like a religious scab.”
I don’t know; you tell me. Does that sound like the attitude of a balanced Christian pastor to you? On the other hand, the so-called “religious scab” decided not to approach the parish today, despite his appointment by the Archbishop, partly on the grounds of a bomb threat which had been made (the police took this seriously, even though we would hope that Fr Kennedy is right in asserting it was not a member of his flock who made the threat), but more because – as a good priest – he did not want to risk an unseemly dispute to disrupt the celebration of the Eucharist.
So let’s get to Juliette Hughes’ piece. Remember, as you read this, that Fr Kennedy was not “sacked”. “Sack” is not a canonical term. Archbishop Bathersby “terminated” his appointment as administrator of the parish (he was not “parish priest”) and, as he is 71 years of age, he was offered the opportunity of peaceful and honourable retirement. Note also that the parish was not threatened with closure. No-one was excommunicated. No-one was disciplined. The Archbishop took no step other than that of replacing the Administrator. (And let’s be honest about this: 28 years as “administrator” of a parish is rather odd. The term of office for administrators is usually much, much shorter than this anyway).
So, onto Ms Hughes’ piece:
THE banner outside St Mary’s Catholic Church, South Brisbane, reads: “Everyone has a place in the church. Every person without exception should be able to feel at home and never rejected.” These are the words of Pope Benedict XVI himself. But it seems they don’t apply to the community of St Mary’s. [See here for Archbishop Bathersby’s own comments on the irony of that quotation – quotations should always be given in context so that they don’t become a pretext!]
God is good. [Ms Hughes is very certain that she knows what God is like, and what his will is.] Organised religion is often not. [The Church is dismissed as “organised religion”. That is the extent of her ecclesiology. Ms Hughes prefers do-it-yourself religion.] To some in the Catholic hierarchy, it doesn’t matter how much godly good you do if you don’t toe the line. [Note the argument: Doing good should give you a licence to ignore due authority. Richard Pratt did a lot of good too, but that didn’t give him the authority to break the law.] The past 40 years have seen a determined fundamentalist backlash against the openness and reforms of the Second Vatican Council that began so hopefully in the 1960s. [The shenanigans that Fr Kennedy got up to at St Mary’s cannot in any sense be justified by the decrees of the 2nd Vatican Council.]
Now an entire parish of decent, spiritual people [Again, note the reasoning: “decent, spiritual people” (assuming for the sake of the argument that the “entire parish” is such) should not be required to submit themselves to lawful authority] can be threatened with expulsion from the faith [note well that no such threat has been made; the Archbishop pointed out that they were in danger of expelling themselves – his wish is to draw them back into the fellowship of the faith] because some bigot has protested to Rome that they are, horror of horrors, too tolerant and accepting of diversity [I don’t think the “bigot” in question (and there was more than one complaining to Rome, I believe) would have quite put it that way; they protested that Fr Kennedy was administering invalid sacraments, blessing that which could not be blessed, allowing those with no mandate to preach the Word, and blatantly flouting the liturgical laws which the Church has given for the sake of unity and good order]. Most parishes are burdened with a tiny minority of fundamentalist obsessives who dob in priests for supposed breaches of tradition [what if they are REAL breaches of Tradition? Would that be alright then?]. They are successful way beyond their numerical strength [they are successful because they have right on their side, and, as King Arthur discovered many years ago, “might is not right” – ie. the justice of a cause has nothing to do with the numbers who fight for it]; indeed, the Vatican is notoriously deaf to anyone else in the laity, ignoring the concerns of the vast majority of those who call themselves Catholic [The Holy See listens to anyone who has just cause according to the law of the Church – for eg. it has supported laity against bishops before where bishops have overstepped their authority]. Accordingly, in August last year, the Archbishop of Brisbane, John Bathersby, wrote a letter to Peter Kennedy, St Mary’s parish priest. In it he objected to the kind of prayers said at the parish’s liturgies and to the style of clothing worn by Father Kennedy at Mass (Kennedy wears ordinary clothes much of the time) [Ms Hughes is being deliberately obtuse at this point, misleading her readers into thinking that the “kind of prayers” and “style of clothing” were minor issues rather than the very serious breaches that they were. If they were so “minor” why didn’t Fr Kennedy, for the sake of peace, just accept to make the requested alterations to his “kind of prayers” and “style of clothing”?].
It wasn’t only about clothes [you’re damned right it wasn’t!]. The parish was adapting some prayers, allowing divorced and gay people to receive the Eucharist and letting groups such as a Buddhist group and a gay choir use the church when it wasn’t in use for Catholic celebrations. According to the letter, this was enough to put them outside the Catholic Church. [Yes, the “letter” of canon law; the law which Fr Kennedy was, as a priest of the Catholic Church, obliged to obey. Failing in this obedience, he was failing in his ordination oath. Flouting the law of the Catholic Church, he was, in effect, putting himself outside the Catholic Church.]
“The question for me,” the archbishop wrote, “is not so much whether St Mary’s should be closed down, but whether St Mary’s will close itself down by practices that separate it from communion with the Roman Catholic Church.” [Precisely: he wasn’t going to do it. If anyone was doing it, they were closing themselves down.]
Now Kennedy has been sacked [his term of office – which he held only by the authority of the Archbishop in the first place – was terminated] and yesterday a new, Vatican-approved parish priest [“Vatican-approved”!?? What a howler! I have a “Vatican-approved” priest in my parish. I expect you do too (if you are Catholic). Every priest is “Vatican-approved” by virtue of his ordination and incardination into a diocese or belonging to a recognised religious order! Even Fr Kennedy is a “Vatican-approved” priest – until such time as he goes so far in his rebellion that he is dismissed from his priesthood altogether!] was shoehorned [“appointed” – and Fr Howell isn’t parish priest either – he also is an “administrator” appointed by the will of the Archbishop] into the place. Kennedy has said that he intends to offer the 9am Mass today, and many are expected to attend. [Fr Kennedy said that he expected 1000 to turn up – news reports say “hundreds” did.]
In the meantime, the Pope is battling on another front: the public relations disaster he incurred when he rescinded the excommunication of four dissident hyper-conservative bishops [Oh yes, thank you for reminding us of that. How helpful. And relevant.]. These chaps, so much more acceptable to the Vatican than the gentle people of St Mary’s [who was it that made the bomb threat again?], belong to the Society of St Pius X. The SSPX adheres to a form of liturgy that was rejected by the Second Vatican Council as anti-Semitic: it includes a disgraceful Good Friday prayer for the conversion of “the perfidious Jews”. [Ummm. A) the Second Vatican Council did not reject the liturgy of Pope John XXIII – which didn’t have this phrase in it, B) Anti-Semitism had nothing at all to do with the request for the reform of the liturgy. Good Grief. You see how the hostile media strings ideas together into a noose with which to hang the mean old nasty Church?]
Unfortunately, Richard Williamson, one of the four bishops, went further, stating on Swedish television that no more than 300,000 Jews perished under the Nazis, and that he did not believe there were gas chambers in Auschwitz.
It is baffling that the Vatican machinery that can sniff out a recalcitrant liberal in Queensland did not pick this up. [You see the argument here, don’t you? Pope favours anti-Semitic conservatives over against decent, spiritual liberals. As the Monty Python skit puts it so well: “This isn’t an argument”…]
For those who adhere to notions of papal infallibility, it wasn’t a good look: either the Pope didn’t know and blundered into this, or he knew and didn’t care until the international fuss. In damage control, the Pope stated that Holocaust denial was “intolerable”. And then he had to go and threaten to excommunicate Williamson again. [He never made any such threat. Good double grief.]
Now that puts the excommunicated Kennedy [KENNEDY ISN’T EXCOMMUNICATED!!!!] and the St Mary’s folk in some unpleasant company. But we have to realise that to the mindset of fundamentalists [nB. Ms Hughes uses this word “fundamentalist” a lot – she means people who are religious but not “decent” and “spiritual” like her, and Fr Kennedy, and the “entire parish” of St Mary’s; she especially means people for whom submission to lawful authority is a virtue], all deviation from the party line is intolerable [no, Ms Hughes: insubordination to lawful authority is intolerable], so Holocaust denial is only as bad to them as some other things that wouldn’t bother you or me [What? There’s an argument in there somewhere trying to break out, but I don’t get it.].
Let’s see: allowing women to preside at the Eucharist and preach homilies; that’ll get you into heaps of strife. Bless the loving union of gay or divorced couples? Ouch. Wear ordinary clothes to celebrate Mass? That’s it, you’ve done it now: the vestment police are at your door. [Aha! The Church Police again. Must be the same blokes giving Bishop Morris a hard time…]
Fundamentalists are so afraid of freedom [Read: “People who believe that submission to lawful authority is right and just and good are fundamentalists – they need to be “set free” like us “decent, spiritual people”]. The deity they believe in is one whose morals are like any sociopathic despot’s: toe its line, obey, don’t commit a thought-crime or it will chuck you into a lake of fire for all eternity [correspondingly the “deity” that Ms Hughes and the “decent, spiritual” folk believe in is a God who throws your soul into the air and says “Fly! Be free!”, leaving you to your own devices (and presumably utters the word “Shuzbut!” when your soul falls to the ground and cracks due to the undeniable and inescapable law of gravity]. Do these worshippers ever think how they would judge a human who was such a sadistic tyrant as this nightmarish torturer-god? [What? Archbishop Bathersby beieves in a God who is “a sadistic tyrant”? A “nightmarish torturer-god”? Where did that come from?]
But for the majority of Catholics (only 13 per cent of us even bother to go to church these days [I guess by this arguement (majority rules) the “real” Catholic – the one you can rely on for having a really good understanding of the faith and of God etc. – is one of the 87% who don’t go to Mass anymore?]), their God does not sit there devising horrible punishments and scourging the unbeliever, but is infinitely, unconditionally loving and kind [which is why they don’t go to Church anymore. God understands if I don’t bother with him or his Word anymore…]. That’s the God I can believe in [“the one I made up in my own imagination”]. The one who understands failure, suffering and frailty [Memo to Ms Hughes: My God understands failure, suffering and frailty too. He gives me grace and power in my weakness to overcome this. He doesn’t glorify it or leave me wallowing in it.]. I hope the hierarchy of my church can rediscover the God of all creation, with the gentle son of a humble Jewish woman as our guide. [That would be the same gentle man who made a whip and cast the money-changers out of the temple, I guess.]
If you are still reading this – good luck to you! Despite all the inaccuracies and downright errors in this piece, the upshot of the whole thing is that for Ms Hughes, the “real” God is the God who has brought us freedom by abolishing all laws and “organised religion” and leaving it up to us to decide for ourselves as individuals how we want to worship him (or indeed whether we want to worship him). There is no place in her theology for authority and submission, despite the pretty important place these have in the scriptures, and not the least in the preaching of Jesus Christ himself.