Monthly Archives: May 2010

Not quite sure what to make of this RaboDirect ad…

This half-page ad appeared in yesterday’s Sunday Age. I am not quite sure what to make of it. Any ideas?


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Oh how sad. They’re pulling the Hitler rants…

I wanted today to show my daughters some of the “Hitler rant” parodies on YouTube (this was the one I was attempting to find), only to find that I could hardly find any of my favourites. The story is here. How sad. One would have thought that all that free publicity would be good for the producers of the film. Some people take the law far too seriously. The really sad thing is that now we can’t have a “Hitler Rant” about Constantine Films pulling all the “Hitler Rant” parodies off YouTube.

Update: Actually – and ironically – I just found one. Apologies for the language used. Funny ending. One warning: by the time you click this link, it might not be there any more.


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“Challenge, Change, Faith: Catholic Australia and the Second Vatican Council”

Last Sunday night Compass featured a film which was mainly made in the Melbourne Archdiocese called “Challenge, Change, Faith: Catholic Australia and the Second Vatican Council”. It was produced for the Burke Family Trust by X-Ray Vision. It features a lot of people we know, and uses some film footage from the Melbourne archives that I have been lucky enough to see in full (you will see Rachel Naughton, our archivist, listed in the credits).

It starts with our own Archbishop celebrating an Extraordinary Form mass at Caulfield (pick the people you know in the congregation!), and then launches into a description of Catholic life in Australia in the 1950’s (predominantly Irish), the election of John XXIII, the Council, the changes to the liturgy, the aftermath of the Council.

It includes a real mixed bag of commentators – everyone from Cardinal Pell to Bishop Robinson to Fr Bob Maguire – but has the virtue of telling the narrative by stringing together excerpts from these interviews: it is “all in their own words”. For this reason, the documentary actually invites deeper study and conversation: you want to say “Yes, that’s exactly right”, or “No, that isn’t the way it was”, or “Yes, but…”. There is no almighty omnipresent invisible narrator who gives the authoritative interpretation – you are aware that you are dealing with impressions and personal stories and interpretations. While the interviewees are perhaps weighted more on the “left” than on the “right”, the producers are careful not play the stories off against one another. Nor are they heavy handed with the message. The archival film footage – both local and from Rome – is really excellent.

If you missed it, you can watch it all here on the Compass Website and find out more about it (or purchase a copy for educational purposes) by visiting this website.


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N.T. Wright on Freedom in the Spirit

I read this passage this morning from N.T. Wright’s “Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vison“, on page 164. I thought it worth putting up the whole paragraph for your consideration.

When, by clear implication, I am charged with encouraging believers to put their trust in someone or something ‘other than the crucified and resurrected Savior’, I want to plead guilty – to this extent and to this extent only: that I also say, every time I repeat one of the great historic creeds, that I trust in the holy spirit.

Of course, within Trinitarian theology one is quick to say that this is not something other than trusting in Jesus the Messiah, since it is his own spirit; the Father who sent Jesus is now sending ‘the Spirit of the Son’ (Galatians 4.4-7). But the point about the holy spirit, at least within Paul’s theology, is that when the spirit comes the result is human freedom rather than human slavery. When God works within a community, or an individual, the result is that they ‘will and work for his good pleasure’ (Philippians 2.13). The pastoral theology which comes from reflecting on the work of the spirit is the glorious paradox that the more the spirit is at work the more the human will is stirred up to think things through to take free decisions, to develop chosen and hard-woon habits of life and to put to death the sinful, and often apparently not freely chosen, habits of death. Sin is what bubbles up unbidden from the depths of the human heart, so that all one has to do is go with the flow. That has the appearance of freedom, but is in fact slavery, as Jesus himself declared. True freedom is the gift of the spirit, the result of grace; but, precisely because it is freedom for as well as freedom from [this emphasis, BTW, has always been a central emphasis in Ratzinger], it isn’t simply a matter of being forced now to be good, against our wills and without our co-operation (what damage to a genuine pastoral theology has been done by making a bogey-word out of the Pauline term synergism, ‘working together with God’), but a matter of being released from slavery precisely into responsibility, into being able at last to choose, to exercise moral muscle, knowing both that one is doing it oneself and that the spirit is at work within, that God himself is doing that which I too am doing. If we don’t believe that, we don’t believe in the spirit, and we don’t believe Paul’s teaching. Virtue is what happens – I know many in the Reformation tradition shudder at the thought of the very word ‘virtue’, but there is no help for it if we are to be true to scripture and to Trinitarian theology – when the spirit enables the Christian freely to choose, freely to develop, freely to be shaped by, freely to become that which is pleasing to God.


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Simon Shama on the “snares of history” for the Secular Humanist

Another TV history professor that I really admire is Simon Shama. I was totally engrossed by his “History of Britian”, both the series, and later the book. So when I saw a new audio book in the library, “The American Future: A History” by Shama, I pounced. By last Thursday night, I had listened to about half of it, and was surprised to look in the TV guide for the evening and see that the first episode of a TV series based on the book (or is it the other way around?) was showing that night. As it turns out, the book and the TV series seems to begin differently (probably because the book concentrated on Obama’s election, and his presidency is not exactly hot news at the moment), but it appears that from next week’s episode, the book and series will be back in sync with a concentration on the history of American beligerance… (it is very interesting, and a story well told, I assure you!).

Any way, yesterday, I was listening to the end of disc 7 – I don’t know what chapter or page that is in the book – and I came across this passage at the end of his treatment of the emancipation of the slaves:

The fervour of the abolitionist evangelicals complicates the way we might feel about the wall of separation erected by the Virginia Statute and the First Amendment between morality and politics.

Of course, it was entirely possible to arrive at an abhorrence for slavery from rationally derived ethics, the degradation of man to commodity, the violation of natural right to sovereignty over person and so on.

Historically though, both in the early nineteenth century and again in the 1960s, the force of shame directed at slave holders and segregationists was religious. Realistically, it was unlikely that the propagation of enlightenment views of humanity would have swayed millions of nineteenth century white Americans against slavery. After all such moral principles convinced Jefferson and Patrick Henry of the infamy of the institution, but still failed to move them to liberate their own slaves. So what hope was there of persuading less high-minded Southerners to make sacrifice of their property, or what Henry described as “inconveniencing himself”.

Both in the 1830’s and 1840’s and then again in the 1960’s, it was the determination of the Rankins and Finneys and Fanny Lou Hamers to cross the line between religion and politics and appeal to the country’s Christian conscience that brought white Americans into brotherhood with persecuted blacks.

For secular humanists like this writer this is an awkward historical truth to acknowledge, accustomed as we are to equating evangelical fervour with illiberal reaction. The abolitionist argument that some enormities were so vicious that they had to be made accountable to the principles of the gospel, even if that meant breaching the establishment clause of the first amendment in the interest of a higher good, is not all together different from the way that “right to life” evangelicals argue today

History sets such snares to make us think harder.


You can find a review of the book here, and if you missed the episode on Thursday night, you can watch it for the couple of weeks here on ABC’s I-View.


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A little game of the imagination here. I want to pick your brains (or at least your opinions, which may or may not be the same thing!).

Imagine that it is the First Sunday in Advent, 2011. Imagine that this is the day that the new liturgy translation is introduced into the Australian Catholic Churches. Now, what do you imagine will happen exactly?

What do you hear when you arrive at mass that Sunday morning?
What do you see?
What are you given to aid you?
How do you feel?
What preparation have you had for this day?
What does the celebrant do?
What do the musicians and cantors do?
What is the lector doing?
How are the other people around you reacting/finding the experience?

I am asking these questions because I believe that if we can imagine what is necessary to make the overall experience of mass on that day a positive one, I think we will have gotten over the first (and main) hurdle of introducing the new translation. To the extent that the experience of this day goes badly, we will find ourselves engaged in a long and uphill battle. And I don’t believe the task here is simply up to the bishops and the parish priests – although of course, they will be the main “make or break” characters in this process. We too will have responsibilities and roles – certainly this will be the case if we are full, active and conscious participants in the liturgy that day.

So, go ahead: Imagine!

[Update: BTW, see Prof. Neil Ormerod’s article on Cathblog here on the subject of the new translation].


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The Tricky Business of Forgiveness

There is a rather unusual article by Dr Jodi Death of the Queensland University of Technology School of Justice in today’s edition of The Age, “The divine act of forgiveness has cloaked decades of abuse” (noting, of course, that as usual the headline is determined by the editor, not the author). Unusual because it is a rather “disinterested” report on some actual face to face research rather than an opinion piece as such.

It is also very interesting, because it refers to a “problem” in the Church rather more significant than the usual hackneyed complaints of “clericalism” etc. The problem is (wait for it)…the Church’s obsession with forgiveness.

Here there is a direct connection with something that Archbishop Coleridge said in his Pentecost Pastoral Letter, namely that

Another factor was the Catholic Church’s culture of forgiveness which tends to view things in terms of sin and forgiveness rather than crime and punishment. But in the case of clerical abuse of the young, we are dealing with crime, and the Church has struggled to find the point of convergence between sin and forgiveness on the one hand and crime and punishment on the other. True, sin must be forgiven, but so too must crime be punished. Both mercy and justice must run their course, and do so in a way that converges.

Dr Death doesn’t list who the “15 church leaders” she spoke to were, nor even if they were all Catholic church leaders, but it is possible that she is picking up on what Archbishop Coleridge wrote. She writes:

Throughout, one issue continued to emerge as pivotal in the management of child sexual abuse that is itself central to the ethos of Christianity. This issue has pervaded Christian thought since the time of Christ himself and is central to the gospel familiar to church followers. It is forgiveness – the act of forgiveness of sin and of being forgiven for sinning. It is forgiveness that is increasingly being recognised as a complex and powerful element in addressing child sexual abuse by church leaders.

It is certainly something of an understatement to say that forgiveness is something which “has pervaded Christian thought since the time of Christ himself”. More accurate to say that it is THE Christian thought, the thought at the centre of the whole gospel. But that should be a good thing, shouldn’t it? How could it be a “problem”? Archbishop Coleridge has indicated one way in which it became a problem; Dr Death indicates another:

Research participants in my project were often quick to acknowledge that forgiveness was preached to victims of child sexual abuse in ways that kept them silent. This had enabled perpetrators to walk away to the next church and the next set of victims.

She says that the 15 church leaders she spoke to all showed

significant concern that the adage of ”forgive and forget” not be imposed on victims. The imposition of this model of forgiveness was seen as an abuse of grace and a means of suppressing the stories of victims – stories that churches needed to hear.


While recognising that the Christian concept of forgiveness has been misused as a form of spiritual abuse and manipulation, these leaders were not prepared to abandon it. They were concerned that victims should be able to participate in the church’s recognition of the truth about their abuse and the role of forgiveness within it.

In an alternative model of forgiveness offered by the participants of this project, the liberty, empowerment and emotional well-being of victims was seen to be the central concern of forgiveness. Such models accepted that forgiveness was a very sensitive journey that must originate from the victim, and not be demanded of them under the guise of spiritual direction. Rather, this model of forgiveness allowed victims to remember their abuse and infused this remembering with a call for justice. It placed control of their lives back in the hands of victims. Forgiveness was seen as a means to create a future that was free from the influence of the perpetrator, and marked by healing.

I am put in mind of a conversation I had with a Jewish dialogue partner once about the question of who can forgive and who can be forgiven. This story concerned a German man who had been a guard in a concentration camp that had sent hundreds of Jews to their deaths during the Second World War. Repentant of his crimes (after the war had ended), he sought out a rabbi and asked for forgiveness. The rabbi refused and said that the only people who could have given him forgiveness – his victims – were now dead. He had no right to grant forgiveness in their name.

The principle here is a significant one: no-one can forgive except the victim of the sin. In a spiritual sense, this means the sinner is bound by the victims decision to forgive or not to forgive. The sinner has forged chains of bondage that are bound hard and locked fast around his own soul – and the only one with the key is the victim.

Surely part of the “complex and powerful element” of forgiveness in the Christian Church is that we regularly do what the rabbi could not: we grant forgiveness – in the name of God no less! – to people for acts they have committed against others. No longer is the key to the chains of sin solely in the hands of the victim – Christ’s power to bind and loose is not limited. Confessors do not put the sacrament of absolution on hold until they have been able to consult with the victims and ask “do you forgive this person?”. They exhort the guilty to do penance for their sins (which includes to make amends for their sins and to surrender themselves over to civil justice where the sin requires it), to seek reconciliation with those they have hurt, and resolve not to sin again.

This “pervading thought” of forgiveness is a dangerous one. In all the talk about the “power of the Church” in relation to the scandal of sex abuse, this is the first time that the discussion has turned attention on the only power the Church really has: to bind and loose from the chains of sin. In his letter, Archbishop Coleridge raised the issue of the pervasiveness of evil of the pathology that drives sexual abuse, when he described abusers as

in the grip of a power which they can, it seems, do little to understand or control; and it is a power which is hugely destructive in the lives of those they have abused and in their own lives.

Perhaps we have been under the misapprehension that the key of forgiveness can also be used to unlock the chains of pathology. That clearly is not the case. As we know too well from our own experience in “little sins”, absolution alone does not set us free from our addictions.

What am I saying? Only that in granting the Church the power to forgive sins in his name, Christ was giving us a huge responsibility and taking a huge risk. In forgiving people their sins, are we failing to respect the rights of the sinned-against? The rabbi in the story above would have been scandalised to hear that the German guard then went to a priest who granted him the absolution that he sought. I don’t know if he ever did; but he could have. How is it possible to exercise the “power of the keys” in a way that also respects “the liberty, empowerment and emotional well-being of victims”? Dr Death’s “15 church leaders” are surely right in saying that this has to be at “a” (if not “the”) “central concern of forgiveness”.

Archbishop Coleridge got it right. Both mercy and justice must run their course, and do so in a way that converges. I pray that those to whom Christ has committed this ministry may have the wisdom to act in a way that this ministry requires. I know that personally, it would be beyond me.


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Were you “Left Behind” with the “LOST” Ending?

Well, it didn’t quite work for me, I can tell you. (This is one time when I would be keen to know PE’s take on an issue.)  I was left afterwards asking WTF was that all about? Sorted most of it out, in the end – I got the idea that the “alternate reality” was supposed to be some sort of post-death sorting house, a kind of purgatory before “the next phase in the journey” (as Jack’s dad put it – that was a bit corney). Just as corney was that window in the “church” behind Jack’s dad as he was saying it. Reminded me of the sort of thing I encounter almost daily through my work. As some commentators have said, the final episode of this six year series might have worked at some points on an emotional level, but failed on an intellectual level. In all of this, I am generally in agreement with this commentary here from the New York Times.

Nevertheless, for all that, I found the series engrossing. It kept my interest for the last six years pretty well, and I am feeling now a bit like a twenty-one year old who just finished reading the last Harry Potter novel and realises that there will simply be “NO MORE”. I was lucky enough about a week ago to come across the full DVD sets of the first three series of LOST in a second hand store for a very reasonable price. By the time I finish rewatching them, I may be able to pick up last night’s episode in the same shop…


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Fleming to launch his book in Melbourne!

Great news! There is to be a launch of Fr John Fleming’s book “Convinced by Truth” (click link to order) here in Melbourne. Details as follows:

Caroline Chisholm Library and Connor Court Publishing invite you to the launch of Convinced by the Truth by Fr John Fleming

To be launched by Bishop Peter Elliott
Auxiliary Bishop in the Southern Region of the Archdiocese of Melbourne

Wednesday 9 June 2010 7:30pm – 9:00pm
Caroline Chisholm Library
Mitchell House, Level 3,
358 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

RSVP: Anthony Cappello on (03) 9005 9167 or

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Tess Livingstone reports on New Liturgy Translation in The Australian


HT to Andrew Rabel for this. Andrew writes:

Dear friends,

Tess Livingstone (author of a few books on Cardinal George Pell of Sydney), has written a terrific piece on what to expect with the new translation of the Roman Missal into English, in The Australian, a secular newspaper in my country.

She makes the changes sound exciting. Her article is just the sort of thing that is needed for the catechesis that is to precede the introduction of the new prayers of the Mass.

God bless


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