Monthly Archives: March 2010

What we need in this situation

By Michael Leunig, published in the A2, The Age, 20th March 2010

I think Leunig has put his finger on just what it is that we need in the current situation. Where can I get one?

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“A step comparable to a parent who denounces his or her own child”: A different perspective

Pastor Mark made the following comment on the post below:

There are ways and means of reporting child abuse to the police without violating the confidentiality of confession. This really is a red herring, given that the Vatican’s own investigations must presumably tread on this territory. I do think that this is a less than satisfactory reponse, given the gravity of these crimes. The cloak of secrecy really needs to be removed entirely if the Roman church is to regain public trust and respect.

There has been a lot of confusion about the so-called “policy of secrecy” in the Catholic Church regarding the offences we are discussing. I thought it would be helpful to include here a few paragraphs from an interview by Italian journalist Gianni Cardinale with Monsignor Charles J. Scicluna, the Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. John Allen carries the full interview translated into English.

Monsignor, you have the reputation for being tough, but the Catholic Church is systematically accused of being accommodating with regard to so-called ‘pedophile priests.’

It’s possible that in the past, perhaps due to a misunderstood sense of defending the good name of the institution, some bishops in practice were too indulgent with regard to these very sad cases. I say in practice, because in principle the penalty for this type of crime had always been firm and unequivocal. Just in terms of the past century, it’s enough to recall the now-celebrated instruction Crimen Sollicitationis of 1922 ….

Wasn’t that 1962?

No, the first edition dates to the pontificate of Pius XI. Then under Blessed John XXIII, the Holy Office prepared a new edition for the bishops in the Second Vatican Council [1962-65], but they only made 2,000 copies, which were not enough for distribution, and it was delayed indefinitely. In any case, it’s a matter of procedural norms to follow in the case of solicitation in the confessional and other grave crimes of a sexual nature, such as the sexual abuse of minors …

Norms, however, which recommended secrecy …

A bad English translation of the text made people think that the Holy See had imposed secrecy in order to hide the facts, but it wasn’t like that. Procedural secrecy served to protect the good names of everyone involved, first of all the victims themselves, and then the accused clergy, who have the same right as everyone else to the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise. The Church doesn’t like to make a spectacle of justice. The canonical rule on sexual abuse, however, was never understood as a ban on reporting [crimes] to the civil authorities.

That document, however, is periodically invoked in order to accuse the current pope of having been, in his capacity as prefect of the Holy Office, responsible for a policy of cover-up on the part of the Holy See …

That’s a false and slanderous accusation. In this regard, let me point out certain facts. Between 1975 and 1985, I’ve found that no report of cases of pedophilia involving clergy arrived to the attention of our congregation. However, after the promulgation of the new Code of Canon Law in 1983, there was a period of uncertainty about the list of delicta graviora reserved to the competence of this dicastery. Only with the motu proprio of 2001 was the crime of pedophilia returned to our exclusive responsibility. From that moment, Cardinal Ratzinger demonstrated wisdom and firmness in handling these cases. What’s more, he also showed great courage in taking up some cases which were extremely difficult and delicate, sine acceptione personarum (without special treatment for anyone). Therefore, to accuse the current pope of a cover-up is, I repeat, false and slanderous.

…A frequent accusation directed at the ecclesiastical hierarchy is that of not denouncing the crimes of pedophilia of which they were aware to the civil authorities.

In some countries with an Anglo-Saxon legal culture, but also in France, the bishops – if they become aware of crimes committed by their priests outside of the seal of the sacrament of confession – are required to report them to the civil authorities. That’s a very grave matter, because these bishops are being forced to take a step comparable to a parent who denounces his or her own child. That notwithstanding, our position in these cases is to respect the law.

What about situations in which bishops aren’t legally required to do it?

In these cases, we do not impose an obligation on bishops to denounce their own priests, but we encourage them to contact the victims to invite them to report the priests who victimized them. Beyond that, we invite them to give every kind of spiritual assistance, and not just spiritual, to these victims. In a recent case regarding a priest condemned by an Italian court, it was precisely this congregation that suggested to the accusers, who came to us for a canonical process, to also take it to the civil authorities, in the interests of the victims and also to avoid further crimes.

Final question: Is lifting the statue of limitations [the canonical term is “prescription”] for the delicta graviora anticipated?

You’re touching a sensitive point, in my opinion. In the past, meaning prior to 1898, a statute of limitations for penal action was not part of canon law. For the most serious crimes, it was only with the motu proprio of 2001 that a ten-year prescription was introduced. On the basis of these norms, in cases of sexual abuse the ten-year period begins to run on the day the minor turns eighteen.

Is that enough?

Experience indicates that the term of ten years isn’t adequate for these kinds of cases, and one would hope for a return to the previous system of no prescription for the delicta graviora. On November 7, 2002, however, the Servant of God John Paul II gave this dicastery the faculty to derogate prescription on a case-by-case basis in response to requests from individual bishops. That derogation is normally granted.

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Pope Outlines Spiritual Reformation of the Church in Letter to Ireland

The Pope’s Letter to the Catholics of Ireland has been released. While specifically addressed to the Church in Ireland, it has ramifications for the whole Church, calling for nothing less than a reformation of the post-Conciliar Church. It bears reading in full, but here is a quick glance at what it contains.

The letter consists of five main parts:

§§1-2 Introduction acknowledging the occasion for the letter
§§3-5 Historical background and causes of the current situation
§§6-12 Address to particular groups affected by the crime of child sexual abuse
§14a Proposed initiatives to address the situation
§14b and appendix: Conclusion and Prayer for Ireland

§§1-2 Introduction acknowledging the occasion for the letter

The Letter is specifically addressed to the Irish situation. The Pope writes:

For my part, considering the gravity of these offences, and the often inadequate response to them on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities in your country, I have decided to write this Pastoral Letter to express my closeness to you and to propose a path of healing, renewal and reparation.

§§3-5 Historical background and causes of the current situation

The Pope recalls the essential role that Ireland has played in the propagation of the gospel to all the world. He evens mentions Australia as one place that has benefited from the strong faith of the Irish. He recalls the persecution and the lively growth of the Church in Ireland after the Emancipation. He also recalls that

In almost every family in Ireland, there has been someone – a son or a daughter, an aunt or an uncle – who has given his or her life to the Church. Irish families rightly esteem and cherish their loved ones who have dedicated their lives to Christ, sharing the gift of faith with others, and putting that faith into action in loving service of God and neighbour.

He is also fairly clear about the when “the rot” set in. His opinion in this area will not be a surprise to most readers of SCE:

In recent decades, however, the Church in your country has had to confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid transformation and secularization of Irish society. Fast-paced social change has occurred, often adversely affecting people’s traditional adherence to Catholic teaching and values. All too often, the sacramental and devotional practices that sustain faith and enable it to grow, such as frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats, were neglected. Significant too was the tendency during this period, also on the part of priests and religious, to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel. The programme of renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council was sometimes misinterpreted and indeed, in the light of the profound social changes that were taking place, it was far from easy to know how best to implement it. In particular, there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations. It is in this overall context that we must try to understand the disturbing problem of child sexual abuse, which has contributed in no small measure to the weakening of faith and the loss of respect for the Church and her teachings. (My emphasis)

He then lists what he sees as the major “contributing factors” that “gave rise to the present crisis”:

  • inadequate procedures for determining the suitability of candidates for the priesthood and the religious life;
  • insufficient human, moral, intellectual and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates;
  • a tendency in society to favour the clergy and other authority figures;
  • and a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the dignity of every person.

Like I said, this Letter has ramifications for the Church far beyond Ireland.

He points out that he has, on a number of occasions, “met with victims of sexual abuse” and that he will continue to do so in the future.

I have sat with them, I have listened to their stories, I have acknowledged their suffering, and I have prayed with them and for them.

This brings to mind something I read in a report in today’s “Sunday Age” (“Catholics rocked as shadows cast on Pontiff” – originally published in The Guardian):

Christian Weisner, the spokesman for the lay movement Wir sind Kirche, …argues that this Pope ”learned more about clerical sex abuse than any other bishop or cardinal and has done more to fight it than any other cardinal or Pope”.

[That quote was not meant to be entirely complimentary, as it included – in the dot dot dot section – the question of what Ratzinger did or did not do when he was Archbishop of Munich (just wait for that story to break). Nevertheless, he is quite right: no one can accuse Pope Benedict of inaction on this matter. Although again, there will be many who will and do argue that he is still not doing enough. It is hard to know in this context what “enough” will be for these critics.]

§§6-12 Address to particular groups affected by the crime of child sexual abuse

In this section, the Holy Father says he is writing “with words that come from my heart”. I can only compare it to the letter he wrote after he rescinded the excommunication of the Lefebvrist bishops. When Papa B. speaks “from the heart”, he does not mince words.

He directly addresses each of the following groups:

  • the victims of abuse and their families
  • the priests and religious who have abused children
    parents
  • the children and young people of Ireland
  • the priests and religious of Ireland
  • his “brother bishops”
  • all the faithful of Ireland

The three most power statements are to the victims, to the perpetrators and to the bishops.

To the victims he writes:

You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen. Those of you who were abused in residential institutions must have felt that there was no escape from your sufferings. It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel.

He could have left it there, but he does not. He realises that those who have experienced this abuse have been robbed of two things: 1) hope, 2) a relationship with Christ.

Paradoxically – and he knows that this is his toughest call – the hope for healing and for relationship with Christ are only possible through the same institution in which they experienced their abuse: the Church. This is a real difficulty, and the Pope knows it. How the heck will they ever regain trust in the Church? The only answer the Holy Father can offer – and the very best answer he could offer – is that answer of Jesus Christ himself:

At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope. It is in the communion of the Church that we encounter the person of Jesus Christ, who was himself a victim of injustice and sin. Like you, he still bears the wounds of his own unjust suffering. He understands the depths of your pain and its enduring effect upon your lives and your relationships, including your relationship with the Church. I know some of you find it difficult even to enter the doors of a church after all that has occurred. Yet Christ’s own wounds, transformed by his redemptive sufferings, are the very means by which the power of evil is broken and we are reborn to life and hope. I believe deeply in the healing power of his self-sacrificing love – even in the darkest and most hopeless situations – to bring liberation and the promise of a new beginning.

But what does he have to say to the actual perpetrators of these crimes? First he confronts them with their crime:

You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents, and you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals. You have forfeited the esteem of the people of Ireland and brought shame and dishonour upon your confreres. Those of you who are priests violated the sanctity of the sacrament of Holy Orders in which Christ makes himself present in us and in our actions. Together with the immense harm done to victims, great damage has been done to the Church and to the public perception of the priesthood and religious life.

Then he asks of them three things: 1) “examine your conscience, take responsibility for the sins you have committed, and humbly express your sorrow”, 2) “conceal nothing[, o]penly acknowledge your guilt [and] submit yourselves to the demands of justice”, but 3) “do not despair of God’s mercy”:

Finally to the bishops, he issues this damning rebuke:

It cannot be denied that some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse. Serious mistakes were made in responding to allegations. I recognize how difficult it was to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make the right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness. (My emphasis)

He includes the leaders of religious orders in this rebuke. He goes on to say that “only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people towards the Church”.

§14a Proposed initiatives to address the situation

This is in fact probably the most significant part of the letter, because everyone by now is asking: But what do you propose? How will you fix this problem?

Secular commentators may express incredulity at the proposals of the Holy Father, for they are proposals for spiritual action, rather than legal and punitive. This reflects the fact that Pope believes – quite rightly too – that the core of this problem is spiritual, and not psychological or sociological or even sexual. Therefore resignations are not demanded, nor is an end to priestly celibacy envisaged. These will not fix the problem, which goes deep to the heart of the Church. So what will? Here are his proposals in order:

  • that Lent this year be set aside as a time to pray for an outpouring of God’s mercy and the Holy Spirit’s gifts of holiness and strength upon the Church in Ireland
  • that all Irish Catholics devote their Friday penances (ie. their acts of fasting, prayer, reading of Scripture [Nb!], and works of mercy), for a period of one year, between now and Easter 2011, to the intention of obtaining the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland.
  • an encouragement Irish Catholics to rediscover and regularly avail themselves of the sacrament of Reconciliation
  • that particular attention should also be given to Eucharistic adoration, that in every diocese there should be churches or chapels specifically devoted to this purpose, and that parishes, seminaries, religious houses and monasteries to organize periods of Eucharistic adoration, so that all have an opportunity to take part to make reparation for the sins of abuse that have done so much harm through intense prayer before the real presence of the Lord and at the same time imploring the grace of renewed strength and a deeper sense of mission on the part of all bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful

Only then does he outline two novel administrative and canonical actions specifically designed and implemented in reaction to the crisis. These are:

  • an Apostolic Visitation of certain dioceses in Ireland, as well as seminaries and religious congregations.
  • a nationwide Mission [ie. special retreat periods of intense preaching, teaching and reflection] for all bishops, priests and religious focusing on “exploring anew the conciliar documents, the liturgical rites of ordination and profession, and recent pontifical teaching”, to lead them more deeply into a rediscovery of their vocation.
    While the media will understand and welcome the first initiative, the second of these actions still shows that Benedict is convinced this is at core a spiritual crisis, a crisis of vocation.

Nevertheless, Benedict also calls for “no effort [to] be spared in improving and updating existing procedures”, although he remains “encouraged by the fact that the current safeguarding practices adopted by local Churches are being seen, in some parts of the world, as a model for other institutions to follow.”
That last comment seems to indicate that while he is confident that the Church can and has implemented top notch “safeguarding practices”, but that he remains convinced that the real problem from here on is not ultimately administrative, but spiritual.

We all know that this will not be the last that we hear of this subject. There is clearly much more to come yet. If Benedict is able to pull this program off – which is essentially a penitential program focused on all Catholics rediscovering the power of the gospel and the sacraments and a program focused on priests rediscovering the profound meaning and nature of their vocation – he will be likened by future historians to the 11th Century reforming popes who followed their scandalous predecessors of the 10th Century. If we take this message to heart, Catholics throughout the world, and not just in Ireland, will benefit from the program of reformation he has outlined in this letter.

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Rereading the Story of the Woman Caught in Adultery

After the Parish Fete ended tonight, I attended (still dusty and tired from my duties in the carpark) the Vigil Mass for the 5th Sunday in Lent.

The Gospel was, of course, that of “The Woman Caught In Adultery” from John 8. It is a fascinating story, and full of Johannine dramatic tension (including his characteristic way of reducing the essential drama to a dialogue between Jesus and only one other person in the final verses). But surely it loses some of its impact because we today hear of an act of adultery and say to ourselves “STONING? for ADULTERY? How unjust! Of course Jesus was right not to condemn her.” We are on Jesus’ side because we don’t think (contrary to ancient Judaism and modern Islam) that adultery is such a serious or shameful crime that the death penalty should be applied.

An example is the “Reflection” that appeared in the parish bulletin. All I know of the source of this reflection is that at the bottom it said “(c) GIA”. (Here is the full “Reflection” published on the website of another Australian parish.) It is obviously American in its origin. What got me is this rather self-congratulatory paragraph:

Some of you may remember a while back when the news media ran a picture of a woman accused of adultery buried up to her neck, exposing her face and head for a pummeling with rocks. It was the first time many of us existentially understood what it meant to be ‘stoned to death’. We have nothing like that in our culture.

I don’t remember the photograph – although obviously it appeared in the US press. Obvious too was the fact that this stemmed from somewhere in the world where a strict and merciless Sharia law is applied. But do we really “have nothing like that in our culture”?

Run with me on this – and don’t stone me for thinking it. Just try this out for how it might revitalise the story for us.

The lawyers and the reporters brought a priest who had been caught in child abuse; and making him stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this priest of yours was caught in the very act of committing abuse. Now our law and society commands us to stone such man. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at him.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.”

Now, I know that adultery differs greatly from sexual abuse against minors in the major respect that we can generally assume the willingness of the adulterers, whereas child sexual abuse is an horrendous crime against the dignity and will and innocence of the victim. So there is not a strict parallel here.

But ask yourselves this: Do we really “have nothing like that in our culture”? How would you write the ending of this story if the accused in the story was a priest caught in child abuse and not a woman caught in adultery?

I am one of those who was, by Jesus statement “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” is must ask myself whether I can maintain my self-righteous indignation and whether it is possible to show mercy to those whom our society truly (and perhaps rightly) regards as “the chief of sinners”.

For the fact is that Jesus’ terrible and appalling mercy has been shown to me also.

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Benedict XVI Visits Lutherans to Promote Unity

And more on unity: here is a great and heartwarming story of the visit of the Holy Father to the Lutheran parish of Rome.

In his address, which the Holy Father delivered without a written script, he invited his listeners to be thankful for the fact that “we are here together on this Laetare Sunday, that we sing together, that we listen to the Word of God together, that we listen to each other, all looking to the one Christ and, thus, rendering testimony to the one Christ.”

Benedict XVI was welcomed with prolonged applause in the Christuskirche on the Via Sicilia in Rome. The choir, composed of Lutherans and German Catholic seminarians, intoned Mozart’s “Jubilate Deo.”

…Benedict XVI was also already familiar with the church. In 1998, when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he met with the Lutheran community during its annual festival.

The young pastor of the community, Jens-Martin Kruse, began his homily acknowledging that “for us it is truly a day of joy.” Pastor Kruse’s homily, appropriately themed for “Laetare Sunday,” was a commentary on the meaning of Christian joy.

Citing St. Paul, he invited his listeners to advance along the way of Christ together, everyone “for each other” and “in tribulation consoling each other with the consolation by which we are consoled by God.”

I wish I could have been there. The visit reminds me of his Holiness’s recent visit to the Jewish Synagogue. Despite all the controversies, what can be seen is that both Roman communities – the Jews and the Lutherans – have a love for the Holy Father which is reciprocated tenfold by Pope Benedict himself.

What do we have to do to translate this good will into action?

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Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I issues Lenten Encyclical defending dialogue and ecumenism

I know from several of our Orthodox readers that the ecumenical movement has some way to go in completely convincing the Orthodox hoi poloi of their leaders enthusiasm for ecumenism. Most Russians, for eg, are dead against any talk of unity with Western Christendom, papal or otherwise. The fact that Patriarch Kirill was in charge of the “ecumenical desk” in Moscow – a post now held by the excellent Archbishop Hilarion – does not excite them at all. And there are a good number of Greeks who are not too keen on the Ecumenical Patriarch’s for enthusiasm for links with Church and Pope of Rome (a term I use in its most specific sense) – see here for news of a “document on ‘heresy of ecumenism'”, a manifesto published “a group of Orthodox clergy in Greece, led by three senior archbishops, …pledging to resist all ecumenical ties with Roman Catholics and Protestants.”

The topic chosen by the Ecumenical Patriach, Bartholemew I, for his Lenten Encyclical – published on “the Sunday of Orthodoxy” no less – could therefore not have been more pointed or controversial. Nevertheless, his empassioned plea for Orthodox Ecumenism is to be applauded and welcomed by all non-Orthodox. Here – at some length – I quote from the Letter:

With a sense of duty and responsibility, despite its hurdles and problems, as the First-Throne Church of Orthodoxy, the Ecumenical Patriarchate cares about protecting and establishing the unity of the Orthodox Church, in order that with one voice and in one heart we may confess the Orthodox faith of our Fathers in every age and even in our times. For, Orthodoxy is not a museum treasure that must be preserved; it is a breath of life that must be transmitted and invigorate all people. Orthodoxy is always contemporary, so long as we promote it with humility and interpret it in light of the existential quests and needs of humanity in each historical period and cultural circumstance.

To this purpose, Orthodoxy must be in constant dialogue with the world. The Orthodox Church does not fear dialogue because truth is not afraid of dialogue. On the contrary, if Orthodoxy is enclosed within itself and not in dialogue with those outside, it will both fail in its mission and no longer be the “catholic” and “ecumenical” Church. Instead, it will become an introverted and self-contained group, a “ghetto” on the margins of history. This is why the great Fathers of the Church never feared dialogue with the spiritual culture of their age – indeed even with the pagan idolaters and philosophers of their world – thereby influencing and transforming the civilization of their time and offering us a truly ecumenical Church.

Today, Orthodoxy is called to continue this dialogue with the outside world in order to provide a witness and the life-giving breath of its faith. However, this dialogue cannot reach the outside world unless it first passes through all those that bear the Christian name. Thus, we must first converse as Christians among ourselves in order to resolve our differences, in order that our witness to the outside world may be credible. Our endeavors for the union of all Christians is the will and command of our Lord, who before His Passion prayed to His Father “that all [namely, His disciples] may be one, so that the world may believe that You sent me.” (John 17.21) It is not possible for the Lord to agonize over the unity of His disciples and for us to remain indifferent about the unity of all Christians. This would constitute criminal betrayal and transgression of His divine commandment.

It is precisely for these reasons that, with the mutual agreement and participation of all local Orthodox Churches, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has for many decades conducted official Panorthodox theological dialogues with the larger Christian Churches and Confessions. The aim of these dialogues is, in a spirit of love, to discuss whatever divides Christians both in terms of faith as well as in terms of the organization and life of the Church.

These dialogues, together with every effort for peaceful and fraternal relations of the Orthodox Church with other Christians, are unfortunately challenged today in an unacceptably fanatical way – at least by the standards of a genuinely Orthodox ethos – by certain circles that exclusively claim for themselves the title of zealot and defender of Orthodoxy. As if all the Patriarchs and Sacred Synods of the Orthodox Churches throughout the world, who unanimously decided on and continue to support these dialogues, were not Orthodox. Yet, these opponents of every effort for the restoration of unity among Christians raise themselves above Episcopal Synods of the Church to the dangerous point of creating schisms within the Church.

In their polemical argumentation, these critics of the restoration of unity among Christians do not even hesitate to distort reality in order to deceive and arouse the faithful. Thus, they are silent about the fact that theological dialogues are conducted by unanimous decision of all Orthodox Churches, instead attacking the Ecumenical Patriarchate alone. They disseminate false rumors that union between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches is imminent, while they know well that the differences discussed in these theological dialogues remain numerous and require lengthy debate; moreover, union is not decided by theological commissions but by Church Synods. They assert that the Pope will supposedly subjugate the Orthodox, because they latter submit to dialogue with the Roman Catholics! They condemn those who conduct these dialogues as allegedly “heretics” and “traitors” of Orthodoxy, purely and simply because they converse with non-Orthodox, with whom they share the treasure and truth of our Orthodox faith. They speak condescendingly of every effort for reconciliation among divided Christians and restoration of their unity as purportedly being “the pan-heresy of ecumenism” without providing the slightest evidence that, in its contacts with non-Orthodox, the Orthodox Church has abandoned or denied the doctrines of the Ecumenical Councils and of the Church Fathers.

Beloved children in the Lord, Orthodoxy has no need of either fanaticism or bigotry to protect itself. Whoever believes that Orthodoxy has the truth does not fear dialogue, because truth has never been endangered by dialogue. By contrast, when in our day all people strive to resolve their differences through dialogue, Orthodoxy cannot proceed with intolerance and extremism. You should have utmost confidence in your Mother Church. For the Mother Church has over the ages preserved and transmitted Orthodoxy even to other nations. And today, the Mother Church is struggling amid difficult circumstances to maintain Orthodoxy vibrant and venerable throughout the world.

It is plain to me that the Patriarch shares the same desires as the Pope, who, in his inaugral homily as Pontiff, stated:

Here I want to add something: both the image of the shepherd and that of the fisherman issue an explicit call to unity. “I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must lead them too, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd” (Jn 10:16); these are the words of Jesus at the end of his discourse on the Good Shepherd. And the account of the 153 large fish ends with the joyful statement: “although there were so many, the net was not torn” (Jn 21:11). Alas, beloved Lord, with sorrow we must now acknowledge that it has been torn! But no – we must not be sad! Let us rejoice because of your promise, which does not disappoint, and let us do all we can to pursue the path towards the unity you have promised. Let us remember it in our prayer to the Lord, as we plead with him: yes, Lord, remember your promise. Grant that we may be one flock and one shepherd! Do not allow your net to be torn, help us to be servants of unity!

I pray that the Lord would support and bless the efforts of these two great leaders of world Christendom and answer their prayers for the unity of all Christians, both within and without their folds.

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The newspaper men report on the atheist convention

Lots of other bloggers have already covered this (eg. see Pastor Mark’s comments here), but now it is my turn. Just briefly, the Atheists Convention here in Melbourne last week failed entirely to win friends and influence people.

The newspaper men especially were not convinced. See here for Barney Zwartz’s review and here for Andrew Bolt’s.

I must say that Barney tries to be charitable, but still is unconvinced. Bolt wasn’t even trying. Both reviews increase my wonder at C. Hitchen’s claim that “religion poisons everything”. The best comparison is, as I have said before, with the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Now, I have my criticisms of the latter event also, but it never descended into the kind of ridicule and self-congratulation that the Atheists Convention did. Rather it was truly a positive event which welcomed one and all and which did a heck of a lot of really positive things about how the world could be made a better and more wholesome place to live in. Even the likes of Hans Kung and Joan Chittester didn’t sour the event in the way that the Dawkins crowd did last week. Once again, proof in the wisdom of our Victorian and Australian governments in refusing to give a cent in support of this latest gathering. The fact is that the Parliament injected a great deal of really uplifting and inspiring energy into the cultural and religious life of this state, whereas the Atheists Convention was entirely, utterly negative.

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