Monthly Archives: May 2009

And the scandal here is…?

Alberto Cutie (centre) with his girlfriend, Ruhama Buni Canellis, and flanked by priests at his ceremony to join the Episcopal Church. Photo: AP

Alberto Cutie (centre) with his girlfriend, Ruhama Buni Canellis, and flanked by priests at his ceremony to join the Episcopal Church. Photo: AP

Okay, I haven’t been following this story, but…

I remember years ago, Fr Fleming telling me he was once asked to go on a TV chat show in Adelaide to speak about his conversion to the Catholic Church from the Anglican Church. When he got to the studio, he found that he was to be put up against another priest – an Anglican priest who had been a Catholic priest but who “converted” so that he could get married. At one point in the ensuing interview, the Ex-Catholic Anglican asserted that “there really is no difference between you and me, we both did the same thing, just in reverse.” To which Fr Fleming responded, “Excuse me, there is a world of difference. I left the Anglican Church and became a Catholic because I was convinced of the truth of the Catholic Faith. You, on the other hand…”

Well, I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. However, I am strongly reminded of that here. Fr Cutie (please tell me that isn’t his real name…) clearly isn’t joining the Episcopalians because he is convinced of the truth of the Episcopalian faith (whatever that may be). While the consequence of renouncing his priesthood to marry in the Catholic Church would have been an end to his public radio show, I am sure that he could have found a way of continuing to serve God faithfully as a laicised man in the Catholic Church.

But the REAL scandal in this case is glaring at you from the AP picture above. There is something simply obscene about the gloating bishops and clergy in the picture above. They look like they’ve just snared the biggest fish of their lives while fishing on their monday off, and are posing with it (before tossing it back in the water or…?).

By contrast, Fr Fleming was a big radio personality in Adelaide at the time of his conversion also. But his reception as a quiet private affair in the Cathedral one evening. Associated Press were not invited.


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Swine Flu Pandemic: A “teachable moment”?

A good bishop knows that he is called to teach “in season and out of season” – even if that season be the flu season.

Swine Flu has hit Melbourne. At last count we have over two hundred cases in Australia, with more than 170 of those here in Melbourne. The prediction is that in the end, one in five of us will get it.

The response of the community has been everything from panic to amusement. The Age has been having fun – Michael Leunig especially – in its cartoon section.

From The Age, May 27 2009

From The Age, May 27 2009

From The Age, May 29 2009

From The Age, May 29 2009

But while our cartoonists are using the swine flu outbreak for a bit of fun (and seriously, the symptoms haven’t been serious – quite mild apparently, even in comparison with the ordinary seasonal flu), one still has to take one’s hat off to our local ordinary in excelsis, Archbishop Denis Hart, for finding a “teachable moment” in the current situation.

Archbishop Hart yesterday issued a statement to all priests of the Archdiocese of Melbourne with new protocols to be followed at Mass for the prevention of the spread of the H1N1 virus. I became of aware of these when our parish priest read them out at the beginning of Mass tonight. Here they are from the Archdiocesan website:

Statement by Archbishop Hart regarding human swine flu
Friday 29 May 2009

Dear Father,

Re: Impact of H1N1 Influenza (Human Swine Flu) on Liturgical Practices

You will be aware that the H1N1 Influenza (Human Swine Flu) is extending into our community.

My advice at this time is that currently confirmed cases of H1N1 Influenza are exhibiting mild symptoms of illness, typical of the usual seasonal influenza virus. My advice is not to be alarmed but to consider the implications of swine flu in your parish and communities and to keep up to date with the latest information on the outbreak.

If parishioners are unwell they should seek medical attention for the best possible advice and avoid public places and close contact with others.

I remind priests, deacons and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion to practice good hygiene. Ministers of Holy Communion should be encouraged to wash their hands before Mass begins or to use an alcohol-based antibacterial solution before and after distributing Holy Communion.

During the Sign of Peace instead of shaking hands, kissing or embracing, as is practised in some parishes, it would be best to simply nod your head and avoid bodily contact.

When praying the Our Father do not hold hands, as may be practised in some parishes, but simply extend hands toward heaven or fold your hands.

Holy Communion should only be distributed under the species of the Consecrated Host and not the Chalice to limit the spread of germs during the H1N1 epidemic.

Prudence suggests that the reception of Holy Communion be on the hand but with respect for the freedom which the Holy See provides in this matter.

The manner of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is unique. The body and blood of Christ, along with His soul and divinity are truly present. (CCC n.1374) Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species. (CCC 1377)

Thus, to receive Christ present in the host is truly to receive the body and blood of Christ.

I encourage you and your parish community to pray for all those affected by Swine Flu and to join with me in doing our part to prevent its spread. We should accept the advice of the health authorities and wash our hands often and if we are sick, sneezing or coughing we should all stay home. Any other queries regarding H1N1 Influenza can be directed to:

The Swine Influenza Hotline – Phone: 180 2007
Nurse-on-Call – Phone 1300 606 024 – For expert health information and advice (24 hours, 7 days)
Your doctor (GP)
The situation will be kept under review and these guidelines revoked when the situation improves.

For those who are unable to attend Mass I draw your attention to the availability of “Mass For You At Home” telecast each Sunday at 6am on Channel 10.

The really neat thing about this statement and the recommendations (all which show a great deal of prudence and wisdom for dealing with the current situation as one would expect) is the way in which His Grace has skillfully used the present situation to teach priests and people a few things about the Eucharist and liturgy:

1) The order in which he names the Eucharistic ministers: The “ordinary ministers” (Priests and deacons) first, and THEN “extraordinary ministers”

2) The way he suggests the simple “nod” of the head as sufficient for the ritual of “passing the peace”. GIRM Australia (2007), while noting that “in Australia the most common form of the gesture of peace is the handshake”, also calls for “he sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner”. A good opportunity to discourage indiscriminate hugging and kissing (“as is practised in some parishes “) outside of family groups. One cannot get more “sober” than a respectful nod! No more personal-space invasions!

3) Another one of these personal-space invasions “as may be practised in some parishes” is the old seventies “let’s-all-hold hands-during-the-Our-Father”. Thanks to swine flu, that one’s out too – although the extending of one’s hands “toward heaven” gets approval. (Thank goodness. I do that.)

4) Then the biggy: Communion under one kind until further notice. I was a bit surprised at the school mass on Friday that it was only in one kind, contra usual practice (but sensible in the school context). I thought it was the decision of our new priest, but perhaps he had already received this notice. In any case, I think tonight was the first time in living memory that a Sunday mass was celebrated in our parish in one kind only. I am sure that most parishioners had forgotten that communion in the Latin Rite is still normally under one kind only (“didn’t that go out with Vatican II?”). His Grace quotes the Catechism not once but twice to assure the faithful that “to receive Christ present in the host is truly to receive the body and blood of Christ”.

5) The next one is interesting. Whereas the Archbishop declares that all communions “should be” in one kind only until further notice, he merely notes that “prudence” might lead the communicant to decide to receive the host in the hand. “What?” I hear most people in the pew asking, “There is another way of receiving communion?” Yes, indeed there is, and that “other way” must be treated with due “respect for the freedom which the Holy See provides in this matter”. Just making the point. (Nevertheless in deference to the Archbishop’s directive, I received communion in the “prudent” manner tonight).

Of course, when I was a Lutheran pastor, I spent endless hours explaining that one really couldn’t catch something like the flu from using the common cup (although the big fear back then was HIV/AIDS), as long as you were using alcohol and a silver or gold chalice and the extraordinary minister knew how to use a purificator properly. But then, I never had the option of distributing the sacrament in one kind.


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New Luther’s Works and a New Work on Luther?

Marco Vervoost (now blogging at Adventures in Jesus) alerted me to this post on Dave Armstrong’s blog: Untranslated German Works of Martin Luther (Including Two-Thirds of the Weimar Werke: “WA”) : 20 New Volumes in English Forthcoming. Good news for Lutherophiles.

But I also notice on Dave’s website an advertisement for his new book “Martin Luther: Catholic Critical Analysis and Praise”.

Has anyone read it and does anyone know anything about it?

I am usually a bit coy about Catholic books about Luther. There have been many good scholary works done (as a youngster I bought and still prize this one by Peter Manns), but polemical works by people who have never known Luther “from the inside” (as it were) usually tend to get the poor old fellow wrong one way or another.

For instance, I get thoroughly sick of Fr Mitch Pacwa on EWTN constantly citing the “dung heap covered by snow” analogy. I neveer heard such a thing when I was a Lutheran. How can Fr Mitch make it such a centre of his critique of Luther? A far more balanced approach is in this short article on the Catholic Culture website.

As far as I can tell, Dave Armstrong is a convert from US-style Evangelicalism, not Lutheranism. In general, Evangelicals get Luther as wrong as Catholics do, because they read him through Calvinist glasses.

So, my question is, is there any reason to suppose that this book on Luther by Armstrong is any more balanced than his previous work on the same subject (for eg. see this critique)?


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Some reflections on Church and State in “Deus Caritas Est”

A recent conversation with a Lutheran pastor and close friend on “the doctrine of the two kingdoms” (a standard Lutheran “principle” according to Carl Braaten) has led me back to Pope Benedict XVI’s first Encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” in which he touches upon the matter.

My main concern with the “doctrine of the two kingdoms” in the Lutheran system is that it does not seem to be a very scriptural. I do not deny that it is a beautiful and rather logical working out of Jesus’ statement about what belongs to God and what belongs to Ceasar (Matt 22:21); Pope Benedict himself acknowledges this distinction to be “fundamental to Christianity” (DCE 28). I just don’t find this same logic progressing through the Scriptures in quite the way that the Lutherans have traditionally expounded it.

So what does Pope Benedict suggest? In paragraph 29 of Deus Caritas Est, he explains that he needs to treat the topic to “determine more precisely, in the life of the Church, the relationship between commitment to the just ordering of the State and society on the one hand, and organized charitable activity on the other.”

He conducts this examination in paragraph 28. A close reading of that paragraphy will show that, while he regards “the Church’s Social doctrine” as “a set of fundamental guidelines offering approaches that are valid even beyond the confines of the Church” (27), he clearly asserts that “the just ording of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics” (28), not the Church.

Fundamental to Christianity is the distinction between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God (cf. Mt 22:21), in other words, the distinction between Church and State, or, as the Second Vatican Council puts it, the autonomy of the temporal sphere [Cf. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 36.]. The State may not impose religion, yet it must guarantee religious freedom and harmony between the followers of different religions. For her part, the Church, as the social expression of Christian faith, has a proper independence and is structured on the basis of her faith as a community which the State must recognize. The two spheres are distinct, yet always interrelated.

So what is the responsibility of the Church?

He sees a problem with leaving the State entirely to its own devices in the aim of establishing justice.

The problem is one of practical reason; but if reason is to be exercised properly, it must undergo constant purification, since it can never be completely free of the danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interests.

The problem is therefore two-fold:

1) a problem of practical reason, which, to be “excercised properly” must “undergo constant purification”; and
2) a problem of “a certain ethical blindness” caused by “the effect of power and special interests” upon sinful human nature.

In the discussion that follows, he repeatedly returns to the Church’s responsibility in addressing these two problems. I here group the various phrases he uses in relation to these two problems together and in the order that they occur in paragraph 28 so that the two threads he proposes for the Churches involvement in the “fight for justice” (a fight in which “she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines”) may be clearly seen.

1) “ways of thinking”, “purify reason”, “on the basis reason”, “to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice”, “the purification of reason”, “rational argument”, “openness of mind”.

2) “modes of conduct proper to faith”, “the acknowledgement and attainment of what is just”, “natural law”, “to help form consciences”, “through ethical formation”, “to reawaken the spiritual energy”, “openness of…will”.

These two sets of terms, closely related indeed, form a thread throughout the whole paragraph. Clearly the Holy Father is thinking that the Church – which in and of herself has no responsibility for political action – does have a responsibility to aid the State by purifying ways of thinking and forming ways of acting in order that justice may be promoted. Thus he concludes in paragraph 29:

The Church has an indirect duty here, in that she is called to contribute to the purification of reason and to the reawakening of those moral forces without which just structures are neither established nor prove effective in the long run.

Paragraph 29 also shows where the two realms – or “kingdoms” in Lutheran parlance – actually meet and overlap. “The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society” is not proper to the Church as such, but it

is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the State, they are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity.

He goes on then in the rest of the encyclical to defend the work of the “organised activity of believers”, which may indeed include agencies and groups officially organised by or established by the Church (such as Caritas International etc.).

I wonder if that is helpful?

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Swine Flu, DVDs and the Plague

Maddy has been home the last couple of days with a sore throat. Doesn’t sound serious. Probably isn’t. And certainly not in any way connected to the fact that in the last day or so, the first cases of “swine flu” have been reported in Victoria, occuring among children in school.

In line with the current themes, I am listening to an audio book recording of “This time of dying”, by Reina James, about a funeral director trying to cope with the outbreak of the Spanish Flu in England in October 1918. Quite sobering stuff.

This morning, after dropping sprog no. 2 off at school, I came home to find sprog no. 1 on the couch watching a TV program designed for 4 year olds. “There’s nothing else to do”, was the excuse.

Which brings to mind a comment made by a parent of the Victorian family who have been quarantined at home because their children have the Swine Flu:

The quarantine would give her the chance to do some cleaning, but it was difficult to keep her children entertained. “How did they do the black plague without DVD’s?” (“Swine Flu Goes Local”, Print edition of The Age, Friday May 22)


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The more things change…

Having spent a couple of days pondering the aversion which some express toward the use of hymnody at Mass, I have found these comments by Percy Jones in his 1952 introduction to the Hymnal of St Pius X most apt:

In the second part of the hymnal, the English hymns chosen are not intended to be exhaustive. The thorny question of English Hymnody will apparently never be resolved. In these circumstances, it is necessary to steer a middle course. We have around us only too many evidences of the blight of the mawkish sentimentality of several generations reared on the romanticism and self-satisfaction of the Victorian and Edwardian age. It was not confined to hymns; it was a plague infesting a whole civilization. But in reacting to vulgar taste, care must be taken not to go to the other extreme. In the reaction, we have been equally plagued by intellectual “puritans” in art to whom sentiment is abhorent. This approach can do as much damage as the mawkish. For this reason, particularly in hymns to our Blessed Mother, I have chosen words and music which have a certain dignity, but, more important, have the glow of filial love. “A lover must sing,” says St Augustine, and when he does, it is lyricism, not “four-square pomposity”, that will express his love.


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An Australian Charter of Rights? Great Opportunity in Melbourne!

An information session for all Christians.

Wednesday 27 May 2009
Auditorium, Crossway Centre
Vision Drive, Burwood East

The Commonwealth Government is examining the proposed introduction of a Federal “Charter Of Human Rights” and has appointed Fr Frank Brennan as Chairperson along with Mary Kostakidis, Mick Palmer and Tammy Williams.

They have been tasked with asking the following questions and reporting to the Government.

Which human rights and responsibilities should be protected and promoted?
Are human rights sufficiently protected and promoted?
How could Australia better protect and promote human rights?

Many Christians are concerned that such a Charter would limit Christian freedom. Should they be concerned?

As a service to the Christian community, this special session has been organised by The Australian Christian Lobby, the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne and the Church & Nation Committee, Presbyterian Church of Victoria.

Key speakers:
Professor Greg Craven, Vice-Chancellor Australian Catholic University
Bob Carr, former Premier of NSW
Jim Wallace, Australian Christian Lobby

This event will include a panel based Q&A session with questions submitted in writing on the night.


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