Are you feeling particularly “powerful” this morning?

I was mercifully spared the usual Fairfax breakfast menu over the weekend (I read The Age as a voluntary act of penance…), as the fill-in holiday newspaper deliverer gave us the Herald Sun two days in a row.

But I wake up this morning to find a reply to a letter published in The Age on Saturday, written by a good friend of mine. I found his letter online here, and reproduce it below:

AS A Catholic, I have been with each passing day offended by the Age’s bashing of Catholics and its priests any way it can. There is no denying that a few priests engaged in immoral and illegal behaviour, but to stigmatise all Catholics is almost unforgivable. Most of our priests are good men. Yesterday, on Good Friday, to see Spooner’s caricature of the Vatican was too much. All of this gives Good Friday a new meaning, wouldn’t you say? Please give it a break and desist.

Stewart Sharlow, Box Hill South

If Stewart had asked me for advice before sending in this letter, I would have advised him not to bother. The reply among the letters this morning was so predictable, it could have been written by a computer (programmed by the New York Times, of course):

STEWART Sharlow (Letters, 4/4) is offended by the continued reporting of abuse in his Catholic Church and thinks the attention given to it excessive. He refers to ”a few priests engaged in in immoral and illegal behaviour”, while not mentioning that this behaviour was officially sanctioned by the bishops, who did not remove those priests from their duties and call in the police.

Thousands of victims worldwide are not only ”offended” by the Church’s behaviour, but greatly distressed and damaged.

It is bad enough to be abused by an evil priest, but to then have a powerful organisation turn on you by allowing the priest to continue and be lauded as ”a man of God” is so abhorrent that I think the media will rightly pursue the matter until there is some sense of justice in this sorry saga and those involved in the cover-up are also bought to account.

Marianne Dalton, Balnarring

The key word in this reply is, of course, “powerful”. Every single media article on this subject uses it as an adjective for the Christian community to which I belong.

I don’t know about you, but I am not feeling particularly “powerful” at the moment. In fact, I am feeling fairly vulnerable. If the Catholic community were really as “powerful” as the media makes us out to be, how come we are absolutely “powerless” to defend ourselves against the slander and vitriol thrown at us on a daily basis in the public press? Who, really, is the “powerful organisation” in this confrontation?

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25 Comments

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25 responses to “Are you feeling particularly “powerful” this morning?

  1. matthias

    I wonder of this self righteous person from Balnarring-appropriately the backside of the Mornington Peninsula-has given a thought to the fact that there are other organisations that are really powerful ,such as certain large multinationals,who try to manipulate the economy.eg the oil companies and large pharmaceautical firms,as well as the media ,especially the bigots who are the editors in Fairfax papers

  2. Paul

    I certainly agree. The stereotype is of the Catholic Church run by “Dr Strangelove” type Bishops, skillfully pulling the levers of power.
    The reality is of course of a ramshackle and uncoordinated organisation with people running off in all sorts of directions without talking to each other. I see no evidence of the Catholic Church, here or in the Vatican, employing the “spin doctors” that politicians use, or at least the spin doctors are not doing much.

    Personally, I think the correct response to a vague and generalised accusation like the one from the woman from Balnarring is to give specifics. eg how many charges of child abuse are in the courts now, how many are against priests, what proportion of priests have unblemished records, what procedures are followed when accusations are made. We could do worse than copy Kevin Rudd’s style of working through an issue step by step, procedure by procedure, statistic by statistic.

    • Astoundingly, you won’t have to look far to find people criticising the Vatican for it’s “bungling” of the PR end of this crisis. This very same commentary can be found in the same journals, and sometimes the same articles, that accuse the Vatican of “spin”. The fact is that – for good or ill – the Church is one organisation that doesn’t actually use PR services.

  3. David,

    I don’t want to rub salt into your wounds, really I don’t, as this must be a difficult time for loyal and pious Catholics, and I do regard you as Christian brethren, (unlike your Russian Orthodox reader)…but it seems to me (good weazel phrase, that one) that the Catholic Church (yes, out of politeness, I’m going to bow to your wishes on nomenclature) has brought much of this sort of criticism on itself – I’m not referring to the abuse scandal, let’s leave that aside for the moment – but to the perception that it is a powerful institution.

    Let’s face it, there probably _is_ no human institution that has been able to mould and shape peoples’ minds and lives over so many centuries, for better or worse – I can’t think of one anyway.
    That _is_ real power, David.

    Add to that the way the Catholic Church has in the past courted political power and influence and sought a seat at the table in public policy discussions, and continues to do so, successfully I might add, and has portrayed itself symbolically as a “powerful institution” through the pomp of its rituals and by continuing so many of the trappings of the Roman empire. You may not agree, you may even be right that the CC has far less power in actuality than is ascribed to it, but surely you can’t blame people if they think of the Catholic Church as a “powerful” institution, can you?

    Now, for what it is worth, David, I have revised my view on Pope Benedict’s role in the child abuse scandal, although I continue to think his Letter to the Irish Church was a disastrous failure.

    I saw John Allen on TV the other night with Tony Jones and he said it was perfectly understandable, if not acceptable, that then Archbishop Ratzinger would not have known about Hullermann’s return to priestly service in his archdiocese. I think a man like Ratzinger certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt on that one.
    I also want to acknowledge that Benedict has probably done more than anyone in the Catholic Church to address the scandal with the gravity it requires.
    More “power” to him, as far as that issue goes!

    Blessings for the Easter season :0)

    • Thank you for you blessings, and your concessions! I am glad that “the facts” are finally filtering through “the spin”. John Allen’s reward may not be on earth, but will certainly be in heaven for refusing to be complicit in sins against the eighth commandment.

      Nevertheless, I do plead for further clemency. It is an historical fact that the Church throughout the world and throughout history has never shunned the friendship of the powerful. Diarmaid MacCulloch in his writings makes it quite clear that failure to find political protection has often spelled disaster for this or that branch of the Church in history.

      But what was the purpose of seeking such patronage? Only a cynic would say that it was for personal gain – or even that the endpoint was the increased “power” of the Church. On the contrary, what the Church has always sought – and still seeks today in those places where she does not have it – is the freedom to go about her business of proclaiming the Gospel unhindered. This is the reason for seeking political power. That’s point one.

      Point two is that many different forms of Christianity have sought this political privilege, not just the Catholic Church. The Church of England and the Church of Sweden, for instance, were both established Churches. The Evangelical Church of Germany is still paid for by state taxes. My own ancestors came to this country because the King of Prussia was, in effect, also the boss of the protestant churches in his kingdom. The Orthodox – until the dreadful disaster of 1453 – were always under the authority of the Emperor. Over the centuries, we have learnt that there are negatives as well as positives to being in collusion with the powers of the State – but Christians of all time have, in the past (and probably will still in the future), welcomed State protection.

      Point three: rather than scandal, Christians of an earlier age found sweet and delicious irony in the fact that the territory once ruled by their greatest foe – the Emperor of Rome – had fallen into their own hands. This delight can be seen in the placing of the obelisk of Nero – which once stood in the arena in which St Peter was martyred – right in the centre of St Peter’s square with the inscription upon it “Christus Vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus Imperat”. The so called “pomp” and “trappings” of Rome (as much embraced in the East as in the West) was intended to convey the glory and power of Christ, not of Christians. True, it is a medium that doesn’t communicate quite as well today as it once did in the past, but even today, the beauty of the Church’s worship is (I would argue) one of the best witnesses to the truth of her message.

      • David,
        Yes,
        yes,
        yes
        & yes, with qualifications on @ point that we don’t really need to go into now.

        But, you can understand how, in an anti-institutional age, some of that animus gets directed to the church, both the CC et al. ?

        I think that the Catholic Church will learn much from this when the dust has settled, especially about ecclesiology ‘under the Cross’ …at least, I pray thus.

        (It is no small consolation to a Lutheran right now that we are so small and insignificant in this country that we rarely get media interest, either positive or negative.)

  4. Kyle

    I agree. Why bother writing to The Age? Mr Sharlow certainly did not say he was ‘offended by the continued reporting of abuse in his Catholic Church’ and it hard to understand the claim that bishops “officially sanctioned” sexual abuse.

    • Yes. How Ms Dalton got from the facts to the idea that any bishop anywhere ever “officially sanctioned” these crimes is just evidence of the effect of such sustained journalistic slander.

  5. Louise

    I’ve said it before and I’m going to insist on saying it again. The concern of so many people is really not for the poor victims of these heinous crimes. If they really cared about the children involved, they would be equally outraged by the other institutions which have harmed children and covered it up similarly. Such institutions as the state schools etc. The outrage which is especially valid against the Church exists precisely b/c the Church does teach us about the God who loves us. If a person has been attacked by a priest in this vile way, s/he does indeed suffer more than in most other abuse cases, b/c his/her relationship with God is normally seriously damaged – more so than in other severe cases. Incest is similarly horrendous, for similar reasons. Sexual abuse of anyone by anyone is always bad, of course, but some situations have added evil on top.

    Plenty of power is being abused by the media at the moment through their outright lies in recent days. The sins of Church members do not excuse the sins of the media and that is a very important point which Stewart Sharlow was trying to make.

    If we wish to abhor the abuse of power, let us be consistent about it. The Church does indeed have temporal power and ought to use it righteously. Currently, that power is undermined through this scandal. Scandal is like that. My greatest concern after that for the survivors of sexul abuse themselves is to help ordinary Catholics keep their faith in Christ. From that perspective the lies of the media are inexcusable. Their lies are inexcusable in every case. Just b/c you have lots of money to throw around (more applicable to the MSM than the Church, in fact, which has treasure rather than money) doesn’t mean you get to do whatever the hell you like. That’s true for Christians and heathens and apostates alike. It’s the appalling double standards which are galling right now.

    I know how you feel, David. I don’t feel “powerful” either.

  6. Louise

    Some good articles on the current situation and some for general encouragement. These are here particularly for you, David, but of course for anyone to read. I hope they help.

    http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/catholic_stories/cs0437.htm

    http://catholicism.about.com/b/2010/03/29/the-pope-and-fr-murphy-fact-fiction-and-anti-catholic-bias.htm?nl=1

    http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0331.htm

    http://ncronline.org/news/accountability/will-ratzingers-past-trump-benedicts-present

    http://www.ncregister.com/blog/pope_benedict_transferred_paedophile/

    http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/education/ed0407.htm

    http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0332.htm

    It’s important for us all to know the truth: the truth about the abuse cases, the truth about the cover-ups and the truth about the wickedness (ie lies) in much of the recent media reporting.

    Interestingly enough, you don’t hear much about the fact that most of the abuse cases were against boys. I.e. a large number of the attacks were committed by homosexuals, way out of proportion to their representation in society (only about 2%-3% of people are homosexual). You don’t hear much in the media either about the high rate of domestic violence in gay relationships. Ask yourself why. Who is covering that up?

  7. Matthias

    Remember when Hillsong had the ear of the Government. I wonder if KRUDD will go there just before the election.And let us not forget that it was Hillsong that sacked a Pastor for child abuse and the Senior pastor asked for prayer for his family- nothing ofr the victims.

  8. PM

    We interlopers who live north of the Murray are still waiting for the glimpse we got in the Yeldham of what went on in the legal establishment to be followed up with anything like the vigour that has gone into pursuing clearical peadophilia.

    And the ABC, with the glorious exception of Classic FM, has been worse than ever this Easter. The Red Guards in Ultimo will probably have another go at shutting down Classic FM for that!

    • Bruce

      As a possible word of encouragement… my diocese in the U.S., the Archdiocese of Atlanta, had 2062 people join the Church this Blessed Easter. Amid all the hue and cry, God has blessed us greatly with an abundance of folks who didn’t listen to the media or, at the least, paid little attention. There were 644 baptisms. Wow!

      I do wonder what they had in Boston… Our diocese is fairly conservative, and may certainly reflect that. It would be easy to mark it up to all the Hispanics who have moved into the area, but many were from other denominations or just new believers.

  9. matthias

    The media ‘believe half of what you see and none of what you hear”.

  10. Christine

    I don’t know about powerful, but I’m feeling pretty good about this news item:

    We have been following what began as rumors and evolved into reliable sources just this past week. Now, it is official. A Co-Adjutor bishop has been appointed to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a move which will have huge implications not only for L.A. but for the Church in the United States. Archbishop Jose H. Gomez is highly regarded for his theological orthodoxy, his warm, pastoral heart and his teaching gift.

    Also the good news about the many new Catholics received into the Church in the U.S. (1,000 alone in Baltimore).

    The Triduum was wonderful, I feel very blessed.

    Christine

  11. Christine

    @Louise:

    Spot on!

    Christine

  12. Theo Lo Gaster

    Maybe the way to deal with the sense of powerlessness is not to identify so personally with the church institution – think, rather, here is criticism, some fair, some rabid, about an organisation I’m part of but is not the entirity of my identity. There is a difference between, or at least ought to be, I think, being part of Christ’s body, the church, and identifying strongly with a denomination. I know this is hard for Roman Catholics – I used to be one myself and was certainly brought up to think of the two ideas as synonomous. Therein lies the rub – the RCc, and all ‘brand name’ institutional churches for that matter, have all the flaws one comes to expect from institutions, religious, secular or otherwise. Why else would some ‘powerful people’ in the RCc protect people who abuse their position of trust and sexually violate children, rather than expose them and kick them out as examples of what the church/Christ simply wont stand for? To say that other institutions have this failing too, is a distraction – of course they do, they are institutions!! The important point for us is – what is the Christian way to handle this hideous situation we find thrust upon us? We should use the current media storm to say “we don’t want these people in our church, they’re not typical of ordinary Christians and don’t condemn the good with the bad.” And by these people, of course, I don’t just mean the abusers – I mean the men determined to cover up the crimes to protect the institution from adverse publicity and financial claim. I know it’s a big ask for Catholics to criticise the hierarchy, but be brave! By bemoaning our ‘powerlessness’ and crying unfair everytime the church is rightly criticised for covering up does the whole Christian body a great disservice. I know you will say “yes, but, they are all so biased against us, we can’t get our point across.” Yes, that’s a problem. But you don’t fight that situation by bagging the Age and throwing up your hands. And you don’t do it by accusing people of wanting to character assassinate the Pope for their own purposes. Play a straight bat – hit the balls back and keep at it. Otherwise you’ll sink in the morass of public opinion and lose a golden opportunity to really witness Christ. Sorry for the long post but I’m a newbie – great reading y’all!

  13. Christine

    There is a difference between, or at least ought to be, I think, being part of Christ’s body, the church, and identifying strongly with a denomination. I know this is hard for Roman Catholics – I used to be one myself and was certainly brought up to think of the two ideas as synonomous.

    Well, having one Catholic and one Protestant parent I’ve lived in both camps, and it seems to me that an incarnational faith like Catholicism really can’t separate the “institution” from “the Body of Christ.” Those religious bodies who reject the idea of an “institution” are fooling themselves, in this world one can’t function without it. They usually end up as cults.

    Catholics are quite capable of separating the “office” from the “man” when it comes to the clergy nor, judging by what I see in my own diocese and others is there a lack of criticism of clerical blunders at the moment. At the same time there is a continuing public witness from lay Catholics that we, too, are the Church and neither we nor those priests who have remained faithful to their calling have abused anyone.

    I can’t speak for the situation in Australia but as an immigrant to the U.S. myself it is no exaggeration to say that Catholics have been “under the gun” from the moment they landed on American shores. In our day, especially, certain factions of American culture have always been looking for a way to undermine the unyielding postions of the Church on life, marriage and ecclesiastical structure, and they do it because they are aware that the Catholic Church is not just another “denomination.”

    Let the housecleaning continue, let every legitimate incident of abuse be addressed, let those bishops and priests responsible for the malfeasance be brought to light and prosecuted, and when it is all done the Catholic Church just may be the safest place for children on the planet.

    Then those who are hungering for her demise will be forced to address the abuse that happens even now on a worldwide scale in the trafficking of children and in the halls of educational and other “institutions” where it is now also coming to light.

    Christine

    • Theo Lo Gaster

      Christine, you have the added issue of having a publicly hostile evangelical right against you in the US which is proudly and vocally anti-Catholic. That’s a hard yoke to labour under. Happily while it exists in Oz it’s neither so rabid nor so vocal. Take it from an ex-Mick there’s still plenty of one-on-one anti Catholic sentiment to be assailed with though – my ears still burn on occasion!
      I don’t agree with you comment about institutional and incarnational church though – I think it’s the ones that push the institutional angle that end up like cults, not the other way around. Absolute obedience to a select group or person who alone can interpret holy text, for example? That’s one test of a cult.
      The point about identification was about how you feel as a member, not about being able to separate the office of clergy from the man in that office. A criticism of the church shouldn’t be felt as a personal slight against oneself, as some of the earlier comments seemed to be saying.

  14. Nevber th less, Theo, I am with Christine on this one. To be Catholic means to paart of the Catholic Church, not a denomination. It is precisely a protestant ecclesiology to separate the institution from the Body. Christine’s comment re the man and the office is relevant because it locates the point at which we do make a distinction in the Catholic Church. we do not blindly follow men, nor is our loyalty to men, but to Christ and to his apostolic Church. Our ecclesiology also means that we must face the reality of sin in the Church.We cannot simply plead the distinction between the visible and invisible Church, but must deal with the shameful messy human reality.

    • Paul

      I also think that Catholics have no trouble distinguishing between the Church and the individuals in it. For example, many parishioners complain and whinge about their local parish priest but would never see that as a reason to stop going to a Mass he says. If Catholics visit foreign fields, they often go to a local church where they talk to no-one and can’t understand the homily, but still see it is a source of grace.

      I hope the following doesn’t sound like an aggressive attack, it is not meant to be….

      I really think Evangelical groups have sometimes had a problem by identifying Christianity with the “charismatic” preacher who runs the local assembly (by charismatic, I mean a powerful speaker and personality). Sometimes this can go badly wrong, such as the case of the Jimmy Swaggert ministeries.

      It is the Catholic Church which keeps the attention on Christ and not on the passing parade of flawed individuals that occupy the roles of clergy, religious, laity etc.

      (I personally think that some of the newer movements in the Church do run the risk of becoming personality cults, which is dangerous, for example Marcial Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ. We should beware of this)

  15. Christine

    Christine, you have the added issue of having a publicly hostile evangelical right against you in the US which is proudly and vocally anti-Catholic. That’s a hard yoke to labour under.

    Actually, Theo, it depends on which evangelicals one is dealing with. They are not monolithic. The late Richard John Neuhaus was involved in the “Catholics and Evangelicals Together” project. Many evangelicals are beginning to realize that perhaps the baby was thrown out with the bathwater at the Reformation when they jettisoned the sacraments and liturgy for their “decision” theology. Also, they are finding more common ground with Catholics on life, marriage and other issues than they do with the Protestant mainstream.

    I don’t agree with you comment about institutional and incarnational church though – I think it’s the ones that push the institutional angle that end up like cults, not the other way around. The Incarnation of Christ is intimately related to the church as an outward, tangible and visible “institution.” The mystical body that is the Church is united to Jesus in the Eucharist and in turn each member of the Body with each other. “He who hears you hears me” he said to his apostles, who preached the faith orally and broke the Eucharistic bread long before the canon of the Scriptures was completed in the fourth century under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    Cults? What does the Bible say about cults — one of the chief marks is any teaching that denies that Jesus came in the flesh — that would include the neognostic movements of today such as the new age and those Christian bodies that have incorporated that ideology, or groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses that deny the Trinity and the divinity of Christ.

    Absolute obedience to a select group or person who alone can interpret holy text, for example? Yes, that’s something I heard often myself before I became Catholic. Actually, I’ve found more freedom as a Catholic than I knew as a Protestant because the Church has held firm on the non-negotiables of historic Christianity. Not all Christian bodies can make that claim today.

    The point about identification was about how you feel as a member, not about being able to separate the office of clergy from the man in that office. A criticism of the church shouldn’t be felt as a personal slight against oneself, as some of the earlier comments seemed to be saying. Oh no, I don’t take it personally at all. But the sacramental nature of the Catholic Church rests on the promises of Christ, not the personal perfection of those who administer the sacraments, which is why it is a very valid issue for Catholics.

    I’ve also seen how unlovely it can be when Protestant churches with a congregational structure bounce out a pastor for various reasons. The tyranny of the laity, as it is sometimes cheekily called 🙂

  16. R J Stove

    Now let me see if I’ve got this right, Marianne Dalton, whoever you may be.

    The Vatican has (save for the Swiss Guards) no army.

    The Vatican has no navy.

    The Vatican has no air force.

    It would take approximately five minutes for any hostile Italian government, should such exist, to control every square millimetre of Vatican soil in Rome.

    The Vatican controls no mass newspaper in any Western language.

    The Vatican controls no commercial TV station.

    When the Vatican declared Pius XII Venerable, every pinhead Klan groupie and old-fashioned Stalinist from Balmain to Boston yelled “antisemitism”.

    When the Vatican declared the latae sententiae SSPX excommunications to be at an end, every pinhead Klan groupie and old-fashioned Stalinist from Balmain to Boston yelled “antisemitism”.

    Rates of Sunday Mass attendance in Australia are 15%.

    If this is a powerful church, Marianne Dalton, whoever you may be, then what, pray, would an enfeebled church be like?

    Incidentally, don’t think that the words “powerful”, “Catholic Church”, and “Poland” will fit terribly easily into a sentence just at the moment, do you, Marianne Dalton?

    Do you?

  17. Jen Marianne

    My experiences of the Catholic Church from both friends and my professional career have only been positive.