WHILE NOT DARING to speak for prelates, I feel fairly confident in saying that the Covid-19 pandemic caught most parochial clergy off-guard, and monasteries too. Witness the mad scramble to make provision for a congregation not merely forbidden from attending Mass, but from even entering their churches. (This raises the question of the purpose of our church buildings and to whom, at least morally, they belong, and to what degree we are accountable to God for their use; but that is not for now.)
The move to restrict the liturgy was no doubt a justifiable one. But the move to shut the churches completely came not from the government but from at least some of our own bishops has left many people disturbed. The government had been prepared to exempt churches but it was the bishops’ conference that approached the government asking for churches to be closed. It remains to be shown how an empty church with no more than a handful of people in private prayer, able effortlessly to practise social distancing, is more dangerous than a supermarket.
So, many of us have found ways to stream our daily Mass to allow parishioners, not excluding others of course, some sort of access to the “source and summit” of the Christian life, and a type of access also to their church. Given the age profile of many parishes, this has been of limited benefit in practice, but better than nothing. Some have been able to spend money on the necessary equipment, while others have made do; I use an old phone with a decent camera propped up on a Lenten offering stand. We have had to learn how to arrange things so that everything is at hand and visible in one frame, as there is no one to move the camera during the Mass. (more…)
THERE ARE MANY exasperated (and utterly justified) questions as to how the case produced against Pell could have even made court in the first place. The judgment given in the (rare) unanimous decision of the full bench of the High Court of Australia to quash the conviction is, after all, quite clear despite the detached objectivity of the rhetoric common to legalese: the jury did not act rationally, and the judges of appeal (well, the majority of them that is) erred in not seeing this, even though their own reasoning should have led to this conclusion. The brutal conclusion is that neither the second jury (for whatever reason, but we can hazard an educated guess) nor the two majority judges of the Victorian Court of Appeal were did their jobs properly.
Take note too that these two judges are Victoria’s most senior judges: the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Anne Ferguson and the President of the Court of Appeal, Chris Maxwell.. The High Court has schooled them in their job, declaring their judgment in this case to be, to quote an interview with Professor Frank Brennan SJ, “dreadful.”
But let us go back a step further, to the matter of how it came before a jury on the first place, and how that jury was able to fail in its duty to act rationally. (more…)
THE FULL BENCH OF THE HIGH COURT of Australia today unanimously granted George, Cardinal Pell special leave to appeal, which was heard instanter and allowed. All his convictions were quashed, and verdicts of acquittal ordered to be put in their place. He will be free for Easter when no doubt he will celebrate the Great Feast with a joy he has probably never known before.
The hate-fest has begun already on social media. Evidence is ignored if ever first consulted. Pell, a social and moral conservative in the eyes of secular Australia who stood for all that they hate about religion, and the Church most of all, and who had—beyond their wildest dreams—been accused of one of the worst of modern crimes.
Many issues will soon emerge and demand attention. (more…)
IT IS TRULY AN ILL WIND indeed that blow no good at all. If ever there was an ill wind the Covid-19 epidemic would have to be one. Its arrival was greeted with an outbreak of hitherto more latent selfishness, as people brawled in supermarket aisles to secure vast quantities of toilet paper to hoard, or perhaps just as often, to re-sell at profiteering prices.
Yet, it is not all bad. Pollution has taken a punch to the guts. The shutdown of much industry, and the commuting this requires for its workforce, has seen air quality improve dramatically. That’s something, isn’t it? And we now take our health services less for granted than before and the media, desperate for heroes in times of crisis, has fixed on them for praise, and not without good cause. However, the attendant danger is that we lose sight of the small acts of individual fortitude and perseverance that occur on every street. Carers, for example, whose burdensome task is rendered even tougher in this time of lockdown.
Society needs hope, and it is no wonder that the media look for those who can provide it. Personally, it is not an unwelcome feeling to be out of step with modern secular society. It can be hideously superficial and self-serving. Occasionally however, and quite unintentionally, it gets something right. One thing it seems to have got right is to eschew, for a time at least, the cult of celebrity.
Did you happen to see the video of 25 or so celebrities singing a montaged version of John Lennon’s Imagine? It is on Youtube and elsewhere; just Google it if you really want to see it.
My first reaction was: of all songs, Imagine?! Really? They chose that piece of vacuous sentimentalism? The only thing that could possibly convey hope is the line “And the world will be as one.” Yet the other lyrics… (more…)
NATURALLY I CLAIM NO CREDIT, for to do so would be a heinous crime against truth. However, having so recently lamented the omission in the modern missal of any votive mass for time of plague or pestilence, as there had been of old, there has emerged from Rome a decree instituting a votive Mass “in Time of Pandemic,” as well as an intercession for the same purpose in the Good Friday litany.
The Latin Mass texts and their official English translation, as well as the readings for the Mass, are below: (more…)
IN THE MID-14th century the Black Death swept through Europe. Between 30 and 60% of Europe’s population perished, and perhaps even as many as 200 million people died if the Near East is included in the calculations. It would be scores of years before Europe’s population recovered. The Church in many respects did not meet the challenges of the time.
In part this is because in many places as many clergy as peasants succumbed to the plague. But in many places the clergy did not wait to die; they fled. Robert Gottfried, in his work on the Black Death, reports that in the dioceses of York and Lincoln (NB Lincoln reached as far as Oxford and the Thames) 20% of the parochial clergy. Many of those who remained in their posts succumbed. The result was that the numbers of clergy could not meet the needs of a society united in the faith and practice of one religion. Despite the losses of the faithful clergy, clerical reputation suffered immensely. Says Gottfried:
Many parish priests fled, leaving no one to offer services, deliver last rites, and comfort the sick. Flight might have been intellectually explicable, but it was morally inexcusable…[I]n a world in which performance of an appointed role was very important, many clerics no longer seemed to be doing their jobs.
The Black Death: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe (1983), pp.84; 94.
Gottfried is not alone in his assessment of the records that can be found of the period; Philip Ziegler affirms that,
[the clergy] lost in popularity as a result of the plague. They were deemed not to have risen to the level of their responsibilities, to have run away in fear or in search of gain, to have put their own skins first and the souls of their parishioners a bad second.
The Black Death (1969), p.211
Even before the plague had abated surviving clergy began to gather up the now-unclaimed clerical spoils. The ranks of the clergy were filled with young men, of poor education and little if any experience; some could not even manage to say Mass properly. Pluralism was rife. As society recovered from the scourge, the Church was ill-equipped to take the lead. Divinely-inspired charity, which had so well-endowed many a parish church and monastery, began to be directed elsewhere after the plague, not least to hospitals which provided the care and nurture that the clergy had so singularly failed to provide. (more…)
NOT ANOTHER pestilence post on the information superhighway?! Yes, but it will be brief and have a different point. Notice please, to begin with, that the title says “the faith” not merely “faith.” The distinction is important for the point to be made.
Every plague, pestilence, disease, affliction, cross et cetera, is a test of faith. Contrary to progressive theories, the biblical data is clear that God tests the faith in him of humans as a family and as individuals. It is also clear, by the way, that he does lead us into temptation, also as a test of faith. But that is another story. The challenge of every cross is to trust in God that he wills our good, the good that perhaps we cannot see for ourselves, but is no less real for that. To endure a cross willingly is an act of faith in God as all-loving and all-wise.
But a cross can also test the content of our faith. We all believe in God, I presume of you readers. (If you do not, feel free to join the rest of us.) But what exactly do we believe about God; and about his Church and her life?
There are many examples at present of churches being closed and Mass suspended, though recent papal remarks may slow that trend. Where Mass remains mostly now Communion will be by the Host only and the option for the handshake of peace converted to a nod or a bow, or even omitted altogether. People’s reactions to these will tell us much about the content of their faith. (more…)
BEAR WITH ME HERE. I am trying to work things out, and the following will be me showing my working. Things seem rather opaque. One thing is the lack of comprehensive data to work from. That itself is unsettling. Nevertheless, onward and upward…
The Apostolic Exhortation on the Amazon Synod released last Wednesday has been received by “progressives” as a disappointment in that it evaded “needed” reforms and innovations, and by “conservatives” as the Church having dodged a bullet.
Yet I am left wondering about the very synod itself. Why was one held in the first place? In Rome? At such expense? And producing a claimed total of 572,808kg in CO2 emissions? It seemed to me that there must be a massive Catholic Church down there, hidden from my narrow ken, and so long neglected that it needed the assistance of a Rome-based synod. (more…)
LAST WEEK THE DUE DATE PASSED for the last submissions to the High Court of Australia with regard to Cardinal Pell’s appeal against his conviction for sexual assault. Next month the High Court, the Commonwealth’s highest court which can hear appeals from state supreme courts as in Pell’s case, will hear his appeal.
No one doubts the fact that clerical sexual abuse and misconduct has been more widespread than had been previously assumed, insofar as it was even envisaged at all. What has aggravated the matter has been the number of cases in which ecclesiastical authorities have mishandled cases when they have become known. Some bishops and religious superiors in earlier days acted in a combination of ignorance of the effect that sexual abuse has on minors, whose youth magnifies the trauma not least because they have precious little of the psycho-emotional equipment needed to deal with it healthily, and a naive optimism that either a change of scene or professional therapy would set things to right. We know better now.
Other bishops and religious superiors have acted far more cynically. Revelations of such cynicism and duplicity are emerging most clearly from the United States. While the more egregious examples have led to the downfall of the prelates concerned, that is certainly not universally so. Some prelates seem teflon coated, others seems able to ride out the storms of revelations with gritted teeth but little more than that. (more…)
On Facebook I decided to repost an article which reported on the Liberal Democrats’ extreme, and highly odious, policies on abortion. Therefore I advocated against voting for the LibDems. In response some have been enquiring as to whether I now support Brexit. It is something of a non-sequitur but not totally illogical, since the LibDems are explicitly committed to reversing Brexit.
However, responsible voting must allow for the fact that there is more than one issue involved in general elections; they are not single-issue referendums. That so many elections often revolve around single issues is another matter. That the LibDems advocate abortion with the barest of limits, and desire to export their anti-life advocacy overseas, represents a single issue which acts as an effective veto on their desirability. What good is it staying in Europe if we condemn our unborn, and therefore powerless, fellow human beings to arbitrary death? To vote for a single issue is usually unwise; the foregoing notwithstanding, to vote against a single issue is sometimes morally necessary.
Labour is no pro-life party either but Labour’s current advocacy of a second referendum should not be allowed to entice Remainers into its camp. The first referendum was a grotesque mistake; another wrong will not make it right.
The problem is the mechanism of the referendum in the British system. It is a glorified, and vastly expensive, opinion poll of those who can be bothered to give their opinion. It requires only a simple majority across the entire United Kingdom. A referendum is not legally binding and there is no mechanism to balance regional variation. Such a referendum is a recipe for discord.
In Australia, also governed on the Westminster system, referendums are required to change its written constitution. Ordinarily the proposal must pass both houses of Parliament (and always at least one) before it can be put to the people. To pass, the question posed at the referendum must be supported by a majority of people in a majority of the six states; that is, there must be a majority of votes in at least four states as well as a majority nationally—a double majority. Moreover, if the proposal being voted on affects specifically the constitutional rights or status of a particular state, that state must return a majority vote for the proposal to pass. Voting is compulsory in Australia. Thus the result will authentically reflect the opinions of the entire nation.
Only eight out of 44 such referendums have succeeded in changing the constitution. There is a high threshold to surpass, and this acts as a brake on ephemeral, or merely regional, enthusiasm. But when a proposal does pass, it has the secure support of the majority of the nation. It is not a perfect system, but it superior to what transpired in 2016 in the UK.
By contrast the Brexit referendum of 2016 required a simple majority among voluntary voters taken as a whole across the Kingdom. 51.9% against 48.1% does not represent a sufficiently wide margin to ensure widespread acquiescence to the result. In total 33.6 million people voted out of a registered electorate of 46.5 million. Thus the referendum result can only be said to have reflected with certainty the opinions of 72.2% of the registered electorate across the Kingdom. Moreover there is no mechanism to take account of significant regional variation. That is why Ms Sturgeon cries foul on behalf of Scotland, that its No vote was disregarded, as in one sense it was since a simultaneous majority of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom was not required in addition to the overall simple majority.
Another referendum will duplicate this situation, and no doubt exacerbate it. Having had the referendum, and the government of the day having pledged—unnecessarily—to act on its result, that referendum needs to be respected.
A further tragedy is that, absent a referendum system fit for purpose, it is not fair to dump all the blame on Parliament for the failure to enact, as yet, the referendum result. Parliament was not legally bound to do so. It is unlikely that MPs were elected solely on their opinion about EU membership. They were elected not to conform to the latest opinion polls but to act and vote in accordance with the principles and policies on which they campaigned to be elected, and also according to their conscience (St Thomas More could teach us much on this point). That is representative democracy. The referendum has set up a rival authority to Parliament, and one that is not countenanced in the British constitution.
In all this can we surely find the roots of the current debacle.
I am not pro-Brexit, but neither am I do-or-die Remain. Another referendum would be pure and destructive folly. The bitterness that has been injected into the British body politic is appalling. The sooner Brexit is done and dusted the better. Then we get on with trying to make the best of it.
No more politics hereafter, but it does at least save me writing at length to all those who suspect a change of opinion on Brexit. And it took my mind off the Church for a while…
In my early-onset amnesia, I wrote a homily for this Sunday (28C) having wholly forgotten that we have a pastoral letter from the archbishop appointed to be read. To save myself from the feeling of utter futility I post it here so that at least it was not totally for nothing! (more…)
An ad campaign is probably trivialising what was clearly a campaign not to sell a product but to advocate for the traditional liturgy when the tide was perceived to be turning against it. The average person in the pew might believe the Church went from the old Mass to the new almost overnight. Seen in the context of the entire history of the Church some might argue it was little short of overnight. Nevertheless there were 5 years of official transition from the old liturgy to the new, with a new Ordo Missae in 1965, which was further reformed in 1967. Contiguous with this official universal reform was a melange of official, semi-official, unofficial and illicit experimentation and adaptation. Most of this was centred on and moulded by the local churches, almost invariably involving the introduction of the vernacular to the Mass to greater or lesser degrees.
In 1967 the Latin Mass Society had clearly taken fright. (more…)
A COUPLE OF COMMENTS have not made it through the combox moderation process. They take me to task for defending such a “vile creature”, for serving to “perpetuate the silence”, asking “why does the church at least try to stop it [sic]”, as well as “blind support of a convicted pedophile” and asserting that “the suffering of the victims seems to be of little interest to the Church.”
I give such comments little time as they exhibit such profound ignorance that it seems reasonable to conclude these are people who want only to sound off, not to listen, and certainly not to try to learn the facts. You would have to be in a coma not to know that the Catholic Church has been so obsessed with safeguarding that it often errs on the side of the complainant and priestly ministries have been destroyed on the flimsiest of evidence on some occasions. The Church is not as centrally run as the uninformed seem to think, so some parts of the Church differ from others, to be sure. But even secular observers now conclude that a Catholic church is, statistically, a safer place for children than the family home.
Silence about child abuse? It is impossible to take such a charge seriously.
Blind support of a convicted pedophile? Well, if he had read the blogs and articles and the vast array of coverage even in secular media, the charge of ‘blind’ support would be found absurd. Convictions are not infallible acts; many innocent people have been convicted of crimes they did not commit. It should be obvious that I, among many others even outside the Church, do not believe Pell committed these crimes. Therefore I do not see him as vile. Since I believe he is innocent I feel obliged to support his cause. You may disagree with me, think me even a fool, but it is itself vile to accuse me and other believers of Pell’s innocence of being party to a cover-up, of not taking the abuse crisis seriously or any other form of bad faith. It is ignorant.
As to the alleged victim, there is a grey area here. Since I do not believe Pell abused him (and since the other alleged victim for whom Pell was charged asserted that he had not been abused by Pell) then I do not believe this person was a victim of Pell. Archbishop Comensoli has allowed that the complainant may be have been abused by someone else whom the complainant has mistaken for Pell. If that is the case then he deserves full support and the real justice of the actual offender being identified and prosecuted.
However, given the evidence as presented, there is no way that Cardinal Pell could have committed the offences of which he has been convicted in the way he is alleged to have committed them. It does not add up. What does add up is that the toxic atmosphere that built up against Pell, especially with the Victoria Police fishing for anything they could get on Pell even without a single complaint or allegation being made, and especially with Louis Milligan’s poisonous book—all this made it almost impossible that Pell could get a fair trial in Victoria. As has been shown, in fact.
Those who blindly assert that Pell must be guilty simply because a jury has said so and because the media say so would do well to read around and beyond their own small radius of news and information. They would do well to read Justice Weinberg’s dissenting judgment. (Is he, too, blindly supporting a vile predator?) Those who are convinced of Pell’s guilt, for sound reasons or for poor ones, should have no fear of an appeal to the High Court. If his conviction is safe then the High Court would hardly overturn the decision. If his conviction is unsafe, then everybody wins if it is overturned. When justice fails so blatantly for one, then it could more easily fail for those who have no profile and no wide support—the little guy, who always gets trodden on when things go awry.
The Church continually prays for victims of abuse as well as paying compensation and providing other support, is highly active in ensuring people with such tendencies are not admitted to seminaries or religious orders, and deals robustly with even the merest hint of suspicion. There will be failures since no system is perfect, but the Church’s systems in the areas where I have lived and worked are very robust indeed and the risk of such failures is vastly reduced. But of course, if one is informed only by a biased press, limited reading and the content of headlines or 30-second items on news’ bulletins, then one would never know this.
Besides it is much easier to bash the Church. Hypocrisy found in it makes it easier to ignore the hypocrisy often found in state institutions, and in the family home indeed. Or even more disturbingly, in ourselves.
Victims are best served by true justice not the injustice meted out by lynch mobs, real and metaphorical. So let’s pray and work for justice, even when it hurts.
I write this in haste, on a train using a phone. Not ideal. But here goes…
A number of people are raising the reasonable question of why Cardinal Pell did not take the stand at his trial to testify in his own defence. Some, not all, suspect that his failure to do so implies he might be guilty, or that it makes him look guilty.
A few considerations might guide our assessment of the failure of Cardinal Pell to testify.
The trial was essentially one man’s word against another’s. A good defence barrister would want to focus on other evidence.
If Pell had taken the stand, it might have looked as if it were a contest between a powerful man of high reputation against a small victim. It would not be a good look in the current climate.
Moreover, it is known that before the trial the defence team thought it would not even reach the stage of jury deliberation; the evidence should collapse under the weight of its own absurdity.
Given that view, why put the defendant on the stand, especially given the fact that a good prosecutor could possibly get the defendant to say something that could be construed in a way damaging to his defence? One false step, once made, cannot be taken back nor can the impression made on the jury. For example, occasionally a judge will direct a jury to ignore a piece of evidence or a segment of testimony. That is, psychologically speaking, almost impossible. While the jury may not use such evidence to inform their verdict, they cannot easily banish the impression that evidence may have made on them. Thus, it is better to avoid the risk if possible.
Some argue that Pell should have insisted, that an innocent man would want to declare his innocence. Yet, his innocence is technically, supposedly, presumed. It did not need to be asserted. It is the datum that must be disproved beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution, not a claim to be proved by the defence.
Moreover, due to the kind donations of others, a professional of high repute, a Queen’s Counsel no less, was retained to conduct the cardinal’s defence. In light of the above, he clearly would have advised Pell not to risk taking the stand and being bamboozled by a clever prosecutor. It would have been brave, even arrogant, to disregard the advice of the professional for whose services others were paying.
Mr Richter QC made a correct assessment of the objective worth of the evidence against Pell. He made a serious mistake in disregarding the subjective effect of the jury having heard only the complainant’s testimony. Perhaps he was too sure of himself. But this is 20/20 hindsight, and rather too late now.
Mr Justice Weinberg QC provides considerable grounds for considering Pell’s conviction unsafe. The cardinal must appeal to the High Court in Canberra. He busy do this not only for his own sake, but for the sake of all clergy. If this conviction stands, no priest is safe.