Daily Archives: September 14, 2010

Barney over the Funerals Guidelines

I was not aware that there was any “backlash” against the Archdiocesan Guidelines on Catholic Funerals, until someone told me that at Mass on Sunday they heard a priest say in the homily “we will do funerals the way we have always done them: following the rite of the funeral mass but with sensitivity to what the family wants.” Well, yes, was my reply, that is rather what the Guidelines say, don’t they? But, said my informant, who had not read the guidelines, everyone is saying how insensitive and unpastoral the new guidelines are. Have you read them? I asked. No, I’m just going by what I read in the paper.

Ah yes. The papers. The source of all wisdom and knowledge… I had a bit of a laugh at something John L. Allen Jnr wrote the other day on this: he described religion journalists as “pundits who “know how to write better than anyone else, but who seem to have a problem with reading”.

Which brings us to Barney Zwartz’s piece in todays Age. Barney isn’t Catholic, but that has never stopped him having an opinion about how Catholics really should be doing things. Actually, his article isn’t too bad for the most part. He points out what a Catholic funeral is understood to be, and therefore concludes:

The Catholic guidelines basically highlight that a church funeral service is still a church service. Its purpose is to commend the deceased to God and proclaim the Christian hope; it is explicitly not a secular celebration of a completed life. Such a celebration is a natural, proper and desirable thing, but the occasion for it, according to the church, is a separate gathering. According to traditional Catholic thinking, the main priority at a church funeral is prayer for the deceased, and nourishing the grieving with the word of God and the Eucharist.

And if he had left it there, that would have been just fine. But he then does a complete 180 degree turn and gives his own two-pennies worth:

But times move on. The alternative view, shared by Father Bob, Melbourne Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier and others, is that it is about the living, and the main priority is pastoral.

Father Bob says he prefers to think of funerals as ‘‘family affairs attended by clergy, not a clergymen’s affair attended by family’’, suggesting only about 10 per cent of Catholics feel comfortable with these ‘‘sanitised’’ rituals. The rest want the ritual to reflect their lives.

There’s also the practical question of whether the deceased was a churchgoer. As Archbishop Freier says, ‘‘Often we first know the family through the death of a loved one, and that a very different ministry from someone who has been a regular congregation member. The funeral is about the grieving and the living.”…

For myself, I think funerals are for the living, and that you cannot separate the church from the culture. While I sympathise with the thinking behind the guidelines, I wish they were more flexible.

But with respect, Barney, no one asked you (or Father Bob, or Archbishop Freier) what YOU think “a funeral” is. The point of the Guidelines is that a Catholic Funeral should be what a CATHOLIC Funeral is. Of course protestants, like Archbishop Freier or Barney, who do not believe in those funny Catholic doctrines like Purgatory or offering the mass for the dead, wouldn’t get that a Catholic funeral is precisely about those things.

The Archdiocesan guidelines are not trying to restrict people in their practices of farewelling the dead. They are just about what the Catholic funeral rites are. The funeral mass is not a party put on by the Church for the family (as Fr Bob seems to think), it is something the Church does for the deceased person. That doesn’t rule out in anyway the grieving family doing what they think is appropriate, but (as Barney acknowledges) the Catholic funeral IS a service of the Catholic Church.

My friend, who told me about the homily mentioned at the beginning of this piece, asked “But can’t the funeral be both? Why do you have to be so strict about it?” The answer is fairly straight forward: because the Church has a message – the hope of Resurection to eternal life – which she doesn’t want garbled at this crucial moment by the inclusion of other messages which compromise that proclamation. Christian funerals, from the very beginning, were always counter-cultural. It was the witness to the Resurrection hope over against all the other pagan religious rites and beliefs around it, which proved to be a powerful persuasion to to those pagan cultures. We all know how fuzzy people’s thinking on the Christain doctrine of the afterlife is – the funeral is the most important point in time to get that message clear: Christ will raise the deceased to life again!

And, I pray, that “time” will never “move on” in regard to this central doctrine of the Catholic faith.


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Tim Colbatch on the Housing Crisis

Tim Colbatch, Economics editor at The Age, has been trying to keep the issue of affordable housing on the boil (see here and here for earlier pieces) – even if our politicians seem treat the issue like playing pass-the-parcel with a time bomb (sorry about the mix of metaphors). Not being an economist, I find it very difficult to understand what causes the decrease in housing affordability, especially (as Colbatch points out) when we are living in a time of economic prosperity. He asks the very question that Perry asked a week or so back in the combox: Why is it that “a million or so young and lower-income Australians who want to buy a home of their own are now unable to afford a home that suits them”?

His article this morning is prompted by a new paper for the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute. While he acknowledges the paper’s suggestion that the solution lies in “a range of targeted solutions”, he also has this to say:

The weakness of their paper is that it looks for demographic reasons for the fall in home ownership, when it is clearly the result of competition from housing investors.

In the 1980s, 85 per cent of finance to buy existing homes went to owner-occupiers and 15 per cent to investors. In the ’00s, investors’ share averaged 41 per cent. In Victoria, in May and June 2010, investors buying existing homes got 51 per cent of bank finance, and owner-occupiers 49 per cent.

You cannot have investors increasing their share of the market without squeezing out the first home buyers. It’s a zero-sum game, and politicians such as Wayne Swan who give $5 billion a year in tax breaks to investors are in effect blocking young and low-income buyers from owning a home.

Oh no, they say, you can’t take away the negative gearing tax break without creating a shortage of rental housing. Yes, you can.

Aspiring first home buyers are mostly renters. When they buy a home, they cease to rent. There is one less home to rent, but one less household wanting rental housing. Supply falls by one, demand falls by one, and the net balance is unchanged. The market does not tighten. Rents do not rise. Families are not thrown out on the street.

This is an issue ripe for a reform government that is prepared to lose some skin to make Australia work better.

As Colbatch says in one of his earlier pieces on the subject: “Housing exists to provide shelter for families, not shelter from tax, and the law should be changed to reflect this.” I generally agree with Colbatch – comparing the massive change in investment to first-homebuyer lending would indicate that this is where the problem lies (in the main, anyway). And I agree with his simple point that in the long run there would be no “rental shortage”. Yet I am also aware that any changes to the current tax situation would need to be gradual rather than dramatic, because in the short term a removal of negative gearing and other tax breaks for rental investors would drive our rental prices up very rapidly. This would settle in time, but there would be a period of pain for both landlords and renters. Still, what must be done must be done. And yet one is all too aware that for any government to actually do this would require, in Sir Humphrey’s words, “courage”…


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Küng “less qualified than most” to comment on Vatican II

A remarkable article in the Irish Times (“Küng invokes spirit of Second Vatican Council he hardly saw”) from one who was there, Bishop Michael Smith (Bishop of Meath). According to the paper, Bishop Meath attended all 168 days of the Second Vatican Council for which he and 11 other young priests prepared the official record. In contrast, by Bishop Smith’s account, it seems that Dr Küng actually appears to have declined involvement in the event about which he so freely lectures everyone else. There are all sorts of narratives about the Second Vatican Council, but it is always interesting to hear the story from “someone who was there”.


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