Monthly Archives: January 2010

Sense and Sensibility on Schools and Virginity from a journalist at The Age

Readers know that I read The Age rather than the other daily rag here in Melbourne, despite the fact that its political and moral views are less conducive to me. Quality can be guaged in more than one way…

However I have been pleasantly surprised by two articles written by an Age writer in the last two days that seem to have a lot more sense and to be a lot more sensible than some of the stuff you regularly find in its pages.

Katharine Murphy (a good “Catholic” name, but that in itself tells you nothing – as the example of Catherine Deveny shows) writes in today’s edition that “My School [website] increases transparency and opens the way for robust debate”:

My School is by no means a perfect beast, but it has already done two significant things.

It has begun a significant national conversation about educational standards, a genuine and substantive policy debate. And it has increased transparency for parents.

Transparency for parents matters both in the primary decision families make about where to educate their children, and in creating a more effective and informed parent body to support and, at times, challenge the institution.

She may not know it, but she is in tune there with Catholic teaching, that one of the primary rights (and responsibilities) of parents is the choice of where and how their children are educated (see this circular letter last year from the Congregation for Catholic Education).

In our household the “My School” website and the tests upon which it is based has been the subject of some disagreement – partly because the other half is an ex-school teacher, the daughter of two retired school teachers. All three are dead against the test and the website. Me? I don’t really care about that the facts might make life a little harder for some schools and those who run them and are employed by them. I’ve got two daughters, and their education is my primary concern.

And while we are on the topic of daugters and parental concerns, Katharine Murphy has also weighed into the Tony-Abbott-Get-Your-Rosaries-Off-My-Ovaries-And-Don’t-Tell-Me-What-To-Do-With-My-Virginity debate in a piece in yesterday’s Age entitled: “The Monk Might Make Sense”. She wrote:

In an interview with The Australian Women’s Weekly, one designed to present himself favourably to the voting public ahead of an election year, this is what Abbott had to say on the subject of pre-marital sex. ”It happens.”

”I think I would say to my daughters if they were to ask me this question . . . it is the greatest gift that you can give someone, the ultimate gift of giving and don’t give it to someone lightly, that’s what I would say.”

Leaving aside the Opposition Leader’s hackneyed ”gift” metaphor – an idea possibly lifted from a Mills and Boon romance novel where the hero’s name is Rock or Brutus – what is Abbott saying?

He’s saying don’t bang the first randy, pimple-faced adolescent you smooch at the school disco just because he insists he loves you. He’s saying think about it.

Isn’t this what many parents would advise their growing kids?

Think. (Please.) The motivation for such advice could range from public health concerns, to religious beliefs, or a desire to hold on to kids who defy their soft-hearted parents by casting off their childhood. I’m a secular feminist and this is more or less what I would advise my kids and I don’t think hasten slowly represents a compromising flight from modernity. On my calculation – again, a personal one, much like Abbott’s – such advice could help plot a pathway towards settled and confident sexual selfhood.

The fact is that a lot of ink has been spilled on this subject by people who forget that he was speaking as a father of three daughters, not as policy maker for all Australian virgins. A lot of that silly reaction has come from people who are NOT parents, our deputy Prime Minister being one of them. As a perfect example of this silly reaction, The Age (in its attempt to be balanced) also published on the same page an opposing point of view to that which Katherine Murphy so sensibly outlined: “Memo Abbott: Virginity debate is no man’s land” by one Gabriella Coslovich. She takes issue with Mr Abbott’s imagery of virginity as a “gift”:

And now we have an Australian politician espousing similar views about the preciousness of virginity. It is no coincidence that Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is also a religious man. Religion is the preserve of patriarchal views. Let’s not forget the comment made by Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali comparing immodestly dressed women to uncovered meat – bound to be mauled by cats. Abbott’s remarks are nowhere near as incendiary. But in its own way, the Opposition Leader’s description of virginity as ”the greatest gift you can give someone, the ultimate gift of giving” was nauseating.

The comment both fetishes a woman’s virginity and reduces her value to the presence of a hymen, to the unpenetrated state of her vagina. Why is that the greatest gift a woman can give someone? What about her mind? Her actions? Dare I say it, her soul? If I were one of Abbott’s daughters I would be furious to have my value reduced to the state of my hymen. Is that really the greatest gift you can give? And if it is, what does this say about relationships between men and women? It’s a pretty superficial exchange.

For the record, Abbott was not speaking as “a religious man” or as an “Australian politician”, although he is both of these. He was speaking as a father. I guess Coslovich might see this as proof of “patriarchal views”, but in the very literal sense, the answer is yes, this is a view of a patriarch, a father, a parent. One might quibble that had Tony been thinking a little more on his feet, he might have spoken less of “virginity” as such as a “gift” and more about the fact that the act of sexual intercourse is of its very nature about making a “gift” of your whole self (=mind+soul+hymen+everything) – but of course we can see why such language is no longer acceptable. We want to think that we can casually engage in sexual acts with others, not only without giving anything, but also without losing anything of ourselves. Yet this is precisely what happens in casual sex – and so often it is the woman who ends up the loser. Which is why, as a father, I will be giving my own daughters exactly the same advice that Tony gave his.

(PS. Memo to women who don’t have daughters of their own: This isn’t your land either.)


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Marco’s new blog

Marco Vervoost has alerted me to the fact that he has a new blog, Ordinary Catholic.

Looking at his posts on this blog, I noticed a link to this sermon which Bishop Elliott preached at St Mary the Virgin Church, Traditional Anglican Communion, Melbourne, on 8th December last year. Worth a look.


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Sandro Magister rapped over the knuckles by Cardinal Kasper

There is an old journalistic saying “publish and be damned”. That seems to be the motto of Sandro Magister on his website

On Monday he published an excellent article reporting on the current state of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue. As the superlative journalist that he is, he sought to give “all the facts” and original sources for his story, including the working document for the current round of discussions of the Joint Coordinating Committee for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. This document, written by Aghios Nikolaos of Crete, is the basis for discussion of this very sensitive topic by the dialogue group, working under the joint chairmanship of Cardinal Kapser and Metropolitan Ioannis Zizioulas of Pergamum. Its existence was reported by Zenit last October. I immediately searched the net for it back then, but was disappointed to find that it was unavailable for consultation.

Imagine my delight then (and probably the delight of many ecumenists around the world and the equal horror of many who oppose the talks currently underway) when Magister made this document available – in English – on his website. It is an excellent round up of the first millenium situation, and raises many issues that I am sure will provide fruitful dialogue.

Not all were so delighted. The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity “were not amused”, and issued a press statement to say so:

“The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has learned with disappointment that a media outlet has published a test currently being examined by the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

“The document published is a draft text consisting of a list of themes to be studied and examined in greater depth, and has been only minimally discussed by the said commission.

“In the last meeting of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, held in Paphos, Cyprus, last October, it was specifically established that the text would not be published until it had been fully and completely examined by the Commission.

“As yet there is no agreed document and, hence, the text published has no authority or official status.”

To his credit, Magister published this statement as a post-script update to his article. To date, however, he has not taken it off his site.

As long as the PCPCU’s statement that this is not an “agreed document” and hence “the text published has no authority or official status” is kept in mind, I see no danger in its publication. As I said, it is an excellent summary of the topic, factual (as far as I can tell) in all its details.

We on this blog of course pray for the success of the talks and that one day we will have an “agreed document” to share.


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“We’ve Waited Long Enough”

Also just published in America Magazine is this: “Defending the New Missal: A response to Father Michael Ryan” by Father Peter M. J. Stravinskas.

He writes:

I was a freshman in high school when the “vernacularization” of the liturgy began and a junior in college seminary when the process reached its climax. Having majored in classical languages, I naturally was quite interested in the process and flattered when I was invited by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) to participate in the translation effort. Frankly, I was also surprised that someone of my thin experience had been asked to take part in a project that would influence the spiritual lives of millions of Catholics for decades to come.

When I first reviewed the translation guidelines sent by ICEL, I was disappointed. Ideology, it seemed, had taken precedence over accuracy. Anima was not to be rendered as “soul,” I was informed, because doing so would set up an unnecessary dichotomy between body and soul. No feminine pronouns were to be used for the church, and common words were favored over precise theological or liturgical vocabulary. The goal was to capture the general meaning of the text, rather than a faithful rendering of a rich and historically layered Latin prose. I tried to work within these parameters, but I found it difficult to do and still remain true to the original text. My translations were evidently unsatisfactory because, upon submitting them, I was politely but firmly uninvited from serving on the commission.

His defence of the missal translation is along the lines that are now as standard as its criticisms, but it includes this:

In his essay, Father Ryan argues that not enough consultation has taken place, and that “we should just say, “Wait’” before implementing the new translations. I disagree. As a Web site set up to defend the new translation proclaims, “We’ve waited long enough!”

Fr Ryan’s “What if we just said wait?” website is now well known (notorious?). It currently has 12704 signatories, 276 from Australia. I don’t know when it was started.

The Website to which Fr Stravinskas refers is We’ve Waited Long Enough, and it was started on December 19. It now has 4175 signatures. Unfortunately, the poll does not gather geographical locations for the purpose of comparison, although it does allow you to indicate your state of life in the Church.

I urge you to sign the “We’ve Waited Long Enough” petition. Just a note though: because he is using the ipetitions website, after signing it you will be put through to the standard ipetitions appeal for money. Such donations do not go to the creators of the petition, but to ipetitions. Just close the window at this point, as it doesn’t give you the option not to pay. But your signature will still be recorded.


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An interesting article on Newman as “Doctor of the Church”

Not quite sure what I think of its main point though.

The article is by Nicholas Lash of Cambridge, and appears in the latest edition of America Magazine as “Waiting for Dr Newman”.


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Retraction on Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

One thing about being a loyal Catholic is that you are always ready to be corrected in one’s theological and moral opinions by the Church’s supreme magisterium. This is a case in point.

In the comment string of a previous post, we got into a discussion of the correct interpretation and application of the dictum “lex orandi, lex credendi”. In those comments, I stated:

legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi. Unlike the more commonly used phrase [lex orandi, lex credendi], it cannot be reversed. This is not to deny that there is a relationship which works both ways, but rather to say that this is not a chicken-or-the-egg question. It is so characteristic of Lutherans to put the matter the other way around with doctrine coming first. Remember that for them, there is another principle which precedes even the lex credendi, ie. the principle of sola scriptura. To acknowledge the lex orandi as primary would, in effect, require the acknowledgement of Sacred Tradition as a source of doctrine.

Pastor Mark Henderson has been reading papal encyclicals over the holidays (see this entry on his blog) – something I can only encourage him to keep on doing – and has come up with this from Pope Pius XII’s Mediator Dei:

On this subject We judge it Our duty to rectify an attitude with which you are doubtless familiar, Venerable Brethren. We refer to the error and fallacious reasoning of those who have claimed that the sacred liturgy is a kind of proving ground for the truths to be held of faith, meaning by this that the Church is obliged to declare such a doctrine sound when it is found to have produced fruits of piety and sanctity through the sacred rites of the liturgy, and to reject it otherwise. Hence the epigram, “Lex orandi, lex credendi” – the law for prayer is the law for faith.

47. But this is not what the Church teaches and enjoins. The worship she offers to God, all good and great, is a continuous profession of Catholic faith and a continuous exercise of hope and charity, as Augustine puts it tersely. “God is to be worshipped,” he says, “by faith, hope and charity.”[44] In the sacred liturgy we profess the Catholic faith explicitly and openly, not only by the celebration of the mysteries, and by offering the holy sacrifice and administering the sacraments, but also by saying or singing the credo or Symbol of the faith – it is indeed the sign and badge, as it were, of the Christian – along with other texts, and likewise by the reading of holy scripture, written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. The entire liturgy, therefore, has the Catholic faith for its content, inasmuch as it bears public witness to the faith of the Church.

48. For this reason, whenever there was question of defining a truth revealed by God, the Sovereign Pontiff and the Councils in their recourse to the “theological sources,” as they are called, have not seldom drawn many an argument from this sacred science of the liturgy. For an example in point, Our predecessor of immortal memory, Pius IX, so argued when he proclaimed the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Similarly during the discussion of a doubtful or controversial truth, the Church and the Holy Fathers have not failed to look to the age-old and age-honored sacred rites for enlightenment. Hence the well-known and venerable maxim, “Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi” – let the rule for prayer determine the rule of belief.[45] The sacred liturgy, consequently, does not decide or determine independently and of itself what is of Catholic faith. More properly, since the liturgy is also a profession of eternal truths, and subject, as such, to the supreme teaching authority of the Church, it can supply proofs and testimony, quite clearly, of no little value, towards the determination of a particular point of Christian doctrine. But if one desires to differentiate and describe the relationship between faith and the sacred liturgy in absolute and general terms, it is perfectly correct to say, “Lex credendi legem statuat supplicandi” – let the rule of belief determine the rule of prayer.

So I was wrong. More or less. Perhaps less than more. Here is what I posted in Mark’s comment box (writing while sitting next to the Yarra yesterday on my mobile phone, so it is not an extensive commentary):

Well, there you go. Always ready to be corrected by a pope. But as always, in the passages you quote from Catholic authors, I wonder if you have quite understood what the Holy Father is saying.

Specifically, he is writing in the context of defending his own reforms of the Catholic liturgy, which were extensive. He was defending the right of the Supreme Pontiff to make changes to thwe Sacred Liturgy. He was defending the right of the Magisterium in relation to the liturgy over the rights of academic liturgical theologians. He affirms that the sacred Liturgy is a dependable repository for the Catholic faith. He is not suggesting that an individual theologian can make changes to the liturgy on the basis of their own judgement of what is or is not in accord with the Catholic faith.

For all the reasons, to say as Pope that “lex credendi legem statuit supplicandi” in the context of the Catholic teaching Magisterium is quite a different thing to say it in a context where no such authority is acknowledged.

For all that, I remain suitably chastised and have been enlightened by your research. For this I thank you.


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Patriotism, Ozzie Style

January 26th is Australia Day. We are a patriotic people and observe our national holiday in the traditional manner: viz this Australia Day ad in today’s paper:

Tomorrow is a public holiday. Today wasn’t. I was at work today. A bit lonely. There is another great Australian tradition called “the Long Weekend”. We like to take our holidays consecutively – allows us to “go bush/beach” for a bit. With the barbie, of course. There was a cartoon by Golding in the Sunday Age which showed a prelate addressing as “Pontiff” a seated figure dressed in red with white hair and big ears (obviously hasn’t caught up with the fact that Ratzinger wears white these days) with this caption:

“Pontiff, the whole of Australia has applied for sainthood. they say they’ll be at death’s door, chucking a sickie on Monday 25th, and then miraculously appearing at a mae’s BBQ on Australia Day!”

Amusing, and in the “Spirit of Australia Day”, despite inaccuracies in canonical detail.


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