02 February 2008
Dear members, readers and friends of Catholica,
Those who've been reading our forum in recent days will have already seen this video. It's worth watching again though as it contains a few ideas that I want to use as a starting point for this editorial reflection…
The guy who first drew my attention to that video on an email list I belong to invited us to watch it with the caution "this is scary". I do not find it scary. On the contrary I find it exciting. I would far prefer being alive today with all the marvellous technologies and increase in access to knowledge that is now available to us than at any previous point in human history. Yes, there are enormous challenges ahead — in another century or half-century's time it may well be that Euro-centred civilisation is no longer culturally and technologically dominant and the peoples of Asia will determine the major economic and thinking paradigms within which human civilisation goes about its business and leisure.
While I honestly do not know what it would be like to live in a world where I was not part of the cultural and economic elite as all of us have been in Western civilisation for centuries, if not a millennia and more, I think I could cope with it just so long as we remain free to choose our beliefs, our systems of political organisation and our freedom to pursue ultimate meaning and truth.
Closer to home there are other causes for concern — the present instability in the global economy is perhaps the major one albeit that doesn't affect me too much personally as I am no longer part of the rat race where my sense of self is measured by how much I own or what I might be able to leave to my children in material assets.
Of far greater concern to me is the seeming catastrophic and accelerating breakdown in spiritual leadership Western civilisation seems to be experiencing. For a long time now I have been drawing attention to the small cyber community that gave birth to Catholica Australia, the CathNews Discussion Board. In microcosm it has reflected both the very best and the very worst of what Catholicism has to offer the world. In recent days, following some comments on the ABC's Religion Report, when the Chief Executive Officer of CathNews, Fr Michael Kelly SJ, was put on the spot by Stephen Crittenden, that discussion board has been in meltdown. Forget about the so-called "red-back spiders" that Stephen Crittenden suggested have overrun the place, the critical question is where are the spiritual leaders who are supposed to establish the ethos under which organisations and agencies which operate under the name "Catholic" operate? Where are the Australian bishops in this crisis and cultural meltdown? [For a transcript of Fr Michael Kelly's comments, and a link to the original interview, including audio version, on The Religion Report see this post in our forum.]
Red-back spiders can't help themselves for being red-back spiders. Those who have stewardship of the household or flock though do have a responsibility to ensure that red-back spiders do not kill the inhabitants of the household or the flock.
Yesterday on the CathNews discussion board I posted a copy of the earliest front index page of that forum in my archives. That snapshot was taken on 20th December 2002. It wasn't even from the time when that community was operating at its peak but what a marked contrast it provides to the front page of that discussion board in the most recent year, and more so in the last few days.
Indifference at the level of our ecclesial leadership…
Catholica Australia, through a slow evolutionary process, largely came about because of the total indifference of the institutional and spiritual leadership of the Catholic Church in Australia to the community that had grown up around the CathNews discussion board. The institutional and spiritual leaders seemed totally uninterested in the discussions going on in that place, nor its potentials for exploring new ways of "building community and communion" in the rapidly changing world so graphically illustrated in the video with which I began this commentary.
Ironically, a couple of days before Fr Kelly's comment, Amanda McKenna and myself as publishers of Catholica, had made a decision to remove the links to the CathNews discussion board from the bookmarks on our computers and to totally divorce ourselves from any further involvement with that place. It literally had become a place that, in our view, was both sapping of our personal energy and well-being and, to some extent, sapping to the well-being and energy of the Catholica community. In a sense then, Kelly's announcement that the CathNews discussion board is to close has come as a blessing for us. I am not sure that it is a blessing for institutional Catholicism. In a sense his decision is gutless and reflective of the environment in which he operates where from the very highest levels the institutional Catholic Church has become afraid to tackle the real issues that the world seems so hungry to explore. Succour is, more by default than anything else, constantly given to the "red back spiders" — which seem to abound in all the Christian churches not just the Catholic Church — and the elected and ordained leadership within Catholicism seems to care sweet fanny adams for the spiritual hungers of everyone else in the wider Church or wider society. It is little wonder that so many people around the world now seem to be leaving the institutional framework and setting up their own communities both in cyberspace and physical space where they can be free from the red-backs, and the institutional leadership who support them, who prevent anyone discussing what is now an extensive host of spiritual concerns within the framework.
Let's turn to more optimistic and life-giving matters...
Amanda and I endeavour to live in this mind and spiritual space which we have dubbed "Hughie time". A long time ago now, and separately, we both walked through a personal hell and somehow emerged out the otherside intact. We still have to endure echoes, flashbacks and dreams from those events that disturb our peace of mind from time-to-time but, in large measure today, we both live a very fortunate life with every moment filled with goodness and a sense of peace and grace. Our only complaint is that there never seem to be enough hours in the day to enjoy it all. Catholica is the principal focus of my professional work these days and a significant part of Amanda's as well. It is not just "us" though. If it had been dependent on the resources and energy that Amanda and I have to contribute alone it would have folded a long, long time ago. It continues for three principal reasons: firstly, we are honestly overwhelmed by the many writers and thinkers of considerable calibre who continue to provide us with the raw material for the commentaries and discussion without which there would be no focus for this endeavour and community. As we begin this new year I can promise you that certainly up until Easter, perhaps even June, we already have a stockpile of material of awesome quality from a diversity of political, theological and spiritual viewpoints that give us great confidence that Catholica has a bright future in supplying the raw ideas and thoughts that sustain this endeavour.
The second ingredient that sustains this endeavour are you, our readers. As time unfolds our readership continues to increase as more and more people discover what our commentators and the contributors to our forum have to offer. We thank you for your continued support simply by the simple act of subscribing or visiting our website as often as you do. Discussion, particularly when we do have differences in viewpoint which we want to explore with others, is the lifeblood of any community when that discussion can take place in a civilised and respectful way of the person of those we might have differences of opinion with. We particularly thank all those who contribute their own thoughts via our forum as it is that discussion which both sustains this community and provides the insights of lived life that might assist others who are presently seeking answers in their lives, or who are presently climbing through the challenges we have already had to walk through in our lives.
The third ingredient has been the financial support provided to us via donations and via support of our advertisers. In the coming week we will be launching a new fund-raising campaign to help us to continue to promote Catholica in other media through our own advertising. Your support for that with donations large or small will be greatly appreciated as has been the financial support we have received over our first 18 months of life as Catholica Australia. When we eventually have a large enough readership we remain confident that Catholica can become self-sustaining through advertising revenue. We are still a long, long way from that point though and I see us continuing to be dependent on donations and philanthropic support to promote Catholica so that we can continue to build our readership base.
Is there a theme to what we're doing…
The January break has been valuable to me personally in providing a bit of thinking space as to where we are heading editorially. At heart, I believe the fundamental direction of what we are seeking to create here remains sound: basically we are endeavouring to create a community of people broadly connected through their love of the Catholic ethos and "way of looking at life" — even if they might be wary of red-back spiders and a gutless spiritual leadership in the institution who seem more concerned with trying to prove they, and their predecessors, never make mistakes rather than bringing the insights, love and peace of Jesus Christ to the world. But it is not just a self-absorbed community.
One of the great lessons I learned many years ago in my own life is that if you want to learn something one of the best ways to do so is "go and teach it". The Catholica community is very much about "telling our stories" and reaching out to others to share our "lived-life experiences" and how we navigated our journeys spiritually, emotionally and psychologically. Many in this community have been through "life=changing traumas" like those Amanda and myself had to walk though. While in Perth we were particularly keen to interview Michael Morwood who, as you know, has had to walk through his own personal "hell" when certain powers that be deprived him of his vocation and livelihood. Michael has survived and himself is probably "priest" — or he prefers to describe himself as "adult faith educator" — than he ever had been in the earlier part of his journey and to a far larger audience than he ever had when he was wearing his clerical collar.
As you probably know the Jesuit-funded journal, Eureka Street, has this year adopted the Catholica model and is publishing daily and has dropped its subscription and is seeking to build an audience and survive on advertising revenue alone. We are thrilled to see this development although it does present some challenge to us as the audience (and revenue) pool in Australia for these sorts of endeavours is limited. As far as possible editorially I have been seeking not to position Catholica Australia as a competitor to Eureka Street. As I see it the editorial focus of Eureka Street is to be influencing the broader cultural and political agenda in our nation through the articles and discussions they encourage. To me our legitimate role here at Catholica editorially is to be encouraging the sort of discussion that can "reach out" and intersect with the lives of those who, for whatever reason, have become disillusioned with the answers, or lack of answers, they perceive the institutional Church has been unable to provide to them. We do not see ourselves catering to people who believe they already "have all the answers", we see ourselves as seeking to provide something of value to those who see themselves as "searchers" — searchers for the Divine; searchers for the ultimate truths of what God is asking them to do with, and in, their lives; people who, like Amanda and I, are searching for "how to live in Hughie time"!
Welcome to our third publishing year…
Brian Coyne (Editor)
IMAGE CREDIT: The image of the butterfly used in the headline and foot graphics graphics was taken by Ines Mad. Linz, Austria and sourced through stock.xchng
We welcome comments in the forum from members, or as Letters to the Editor from Catholica subscribers, expressing your views on this commentary.