30 October 2007
As astute readers of Catholica Australia will appreciate, late last week the Bishop of Parramatta, Kevin Manning, sent a message to the priests in his diocese asking them to insert the following note in their parish bulletins.
A Message from Bishop Kevin Manning…
When I first heard of this request to the priests I contacted Bishop Manning's office to confirm that the request had been made. As a result of my enquiry I understand the Bishop also brought forward publication of an article he had written for the diocesan newspaper Outlook and requested that it be published on the diocesan website immediately. The next edition of Outlook will not be published until next week.
Here at Catholica Australia when we first heard about the petition I took an editorial decision to provide strong support and publicity to this initiative. We are not the originators of the petition — that accolade, responsibility or criticism belongs rightly to Dr Paul Collins and Frank Purcell along with a small group of other people who have been advocates for various measures of reform in the Catholic Church for some considerable time — nevertheless in some minds Catholica Australia has become strongly identified with the petition and we make no apologies for that.
While I disagree with the action taken by Bishop Manning — personally I think it would have probably been more politic for him to have simply not said anything — nevertheless I also believe there are some things that ought be said in the bishop's defence. That will be the principal purpose of this editorial — as well as one of using the bishop's intervention to draw further attention to the petition itself and what it hopes to achieve. I have written privately to Bishop Manning expressing my views and they will be no surprise to the readers of Catholica because, in essence, I have only summarised in about two A4 pages the arguments I have presented publicly on Catholica over the last few months with a view to trying persuade him "to a slightly different perspective" on the matters he has raised both in his parish bulletin note and in the article from his diocesan newspaper, Outlook.
I think it is significant that the Bishop has waited so long to make his views known. I am sure he appreciates that already the petition has been an overwhelming success in terms of the original objectives of its organisers. In his usual Wednesday commentary tomorrow, our lawyer commentator, Peregrinus, will be providing a quite detailed analysis of the various ways in which this petition might be evaluated. Why was it necessary for the Bishop to intervene at this late stage? Were there some riots going on in certain parishes because of the stir caused by parish priests who were assisting with the publicising of the petition or encouraging people to sign it? Had some of the vocal opponents of any discussion in the Church been stirring the Bishop up and he felt he needed to placate them? What was the agenda here?
Not as great a crisis in Parramatta…
In Bishop Manning's defence I would just like to make a couple of editorial comments. Firstly, and as he explained in his lengthy interview with myself which we published on 14 August just gone, Bishop Manning is in the fortunate position of not having as great a crisis in participation in his diocese as is being faced in most of the rest of this nation. Whereas most bishops around Australia are faced with embarrassing participation rates of 15% and very often much less than that, in Parramatta Diocese, Bishop Manning has participation rates of the baptised as high as 25 or 30%. Through the good fortune of recent immigration patterns and demographics, Parramatta Diocese has a very high multi-cultural complexion and particularly high in the sectors of the immigrant population who continue to have considerable confidence in the Church and who still practise. Their outlook is not necessarily shared by the wider and more traditional Irish and English families in the population who, some decades ago now, formed the backbone of the Church in this country. As the bishop himself admits, he's not having much success in the more educated sectors of his constituency but I think it is entirely understandable, even if it might be debatable, that he might need to deal with a certain level of panic in sectors of his diocesan congregation who get a bit nervous when they see ideas being talked about like the substantive issues that this petition is asking the Bishops of Australia to discuss.
Secondly, both on the record during my extended interview with him — and more so when the interview finished and we'd shut off the recorder — Bishop Manning made very clear to myself that he holds no brief for those other "dissident sectors" that he sees in the Church from the right wing.
Providing moral support to our bishops…
In the balance I think the more likely explanation for the Bishop's intervention is because of the factors I have mentioned in the first point I made above. While I didn't particularly enjoy the implication that Catholica, or the organisers of this petition, are "dissident", I am quite happy to live with that in that our objective here at Catholica is an endeavour to try and provide an outreach to the educated mainstream of the population who view themselves today as having been disenfranchised from their church and spiritual home. Necessarily to achieve our objective we have to make criticisms of those in positions of authority, and their policies, which over a long period of time have both failed to stem the exodus and have patently failed to meet the real spiritual needs of the broad masses of God's faithful. As I have clearly explained to Bishop Manning though, at heart, the principal reason we have supported the petition here at Catholica is not because we believe the Australian Bishops have any significant power to make changes to the issues that they are being asked to consider — that power ultimately rests in Rome — we believe this petition does serve the other important objective of endeavouring to provide moral support to the Australian Bishops — particularly the moderate and pastoral bishops as they struggle with the crisis in meeting the sacramental and spiritual needs of their people. There is ample evidence that the majority of the Australian bishops do in fact understand the needs of their people and have their hands tied behind their backs in trying to meet those needs.
This book will be no threat to the majority of the Australian bishops but an excellent Christmas present…
Tomorrow, we will also be providing some publicity for a new book by the provocative American Catholic writer and journalist, Robert Blair Kaiser. It's entitled, "Cardinal Mahony — a novel". I would urge our bishops to get in quick and order a copy online to perhaps present as Christmas presents to their colleagues. The initial print run for this book is 10,000 so its likely to have a little more penetration than the discomfort that Bishop Robinson's book might have already brought. There is "something in the air" at the moment and, gentlemen, the comfortable club that the clerical state has been for so long for the privileged few is about to have a bottle brush thrust up its nether regions and out through its gob. If you read Kaiser's book you might gain some insight into what that "bottle brush" is going to feel like for those who are on the receiving end of it. It ain't a soft nylon bristled brush either.
I submit to you that those who have set the agenda for the institution for so long have now reached the point where they will begin to experience increased resistance if the policies and thinking of the last 200 years are allowed to prevail any further. As we cut further and further into the 15% who are still practising, these people are no longer going to passively leave without writing you bishops any protest notes explaining why they are leaving. They are increasingly demanding spiritual guides and mentors who do speak their language. They want men, and women, who understand their spiritual and moral needs. They are not interested any longer in playing this game of worshipping bishops, or priests, or popes or even Jesus or his mother Mary as though they were some pop or sporting stars like Kylie Minogue, Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson, Shane Warne, Ben Cousins or Andrew Johns. The vast majority of the people are looking for a new "presence" of Jesus that is far more "real" than this sham game that the right wing, traditionalist and emotionally insecure sectors of the Church have been playing for decades in trying to elevate the theological "real presence" into some sense of scientific "real presence" and litmus test of orthodoxy. They want "real priests" and "real bishops" who have put away these games of pleasing mummy and social conformism. Those games do not lead to salvation or resurrection. They do not lead to "thy kingdom come". They do not lead to the personal bliss, love and "peace that surpasses all human understanding" that is held out to them in the spiritual and theological concept of heaven as "heaven" has been promoted at the populist level for so long. You, as our spiritual and ecclesial leaders owe your people far more than you have been serving up to them. You might look to the example of Cardinal Mahony as he is semi-fictitiously portrayed in this new racy, but deeply insightful, novel by Robert Blair Kaiser to gain some insight into what I have written in this editorial.
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