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<p>Franco Origlia/Getty Images</p>

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Ex-Benedict And A Cracking Religion

The conclave gathering to replace Pope Benedict XVI, who resigns today, is a crisis conclave. From this unprecedented meeting — amid allegations of Vatican corruption, factionalism and homosexuality — can reform emerge?

There are times when everything just seems to go horribly, horribly wrong. As Pope Benedict XVI stepped down this week, the first pope to abdicate in six centuries, the final days of his pontificate were marked by scandal and disarray.

Back in November, the Vatican correspondent for UK Catholic magazine The Tablet, Robert Mickens, gave a speech in the US in which he claimed the Vatican was “imploding”. The Church was witnessing “the collapse of an entire system, a structure, an ethos, a culture if you will, of global church governance,” he said. “It’s the crumbling of what… could arguably be called the last absolute monarchy in the West today.”

Those comments might have seemed a little far-fetched three months ago, but they don’t seem so far off the mark today. Of course, the papacy is one of the world’s most enduring institutions. It has been in far worse shape many times before, and so far it has always managed to carry out necessary reforms and continue on. But at least for the moment, in Rome there is suddenly a feeling that the upcoming conclave is a crisis conclave such as there hasn’t been in 200 years.

First there were revelations about a secret report, now under lock and key and awaiting the attention of the next pope. According to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, it contains information about bitter factionalism and corruption within the Vatican bureaucracy, including allegations about a powerful homosexual faction that is open to blackmail.

It appears the Catholic church’s clerical cadre has begun turning on itself.

That corruption, factionalism and homosexuality exist inside the Vatican is hardly news, and after 30 years in Rome it seems highly unlikely Benedict was so shocked by this report that it contributed to his decision to resign. He is more likely to have resigned out of exasperation.

Then came allegations made by three priests and a former priest against popular Scottish cardinal Keith O’Brien. They accuse the cardinal of inappropriate conduct towards them in the 1980s. By the end of the week, O’Brien, a few weeks off retirement anyway, had resigned as archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh and announced he would not be attending the conclave. That leaves the UK without a voting cardinal.

The O’Brien scandal has certainly drawn unwelcome attention to the fact that some cardinals, as well as some priests, are sexually active. But what some may question is why, after 30 years, O’Brien’s accusers have chosen to make their allegations at this particular moment. It appears the Catholic church’s clerical cadre has begun turning on itself, with clergy lower down in the hierarchy apparently no longer feeling they have anything to lose by making allegations about those higher up.

Keith O’Brien is emblematic of a type that is common in the Catholic hierarchy. Back in 2003, when Rome first announced that he was to be made a cardinal, he gave a initial series of media interviews indicating support for a more liberal approach to priestly celibacy, homosexuality and contraception, but was forced to make a grovelling retraction of these views. In recent years he has become a strident critic of same-sex marriage, to the extent that the gay rights charity Stonewall named him “bigot of the year” in 2012. But many Scottish Catholics have suspected all along that his real views were not the same as his public views. Now it appears he was a gay man all along.

IF JOHN PAUL II WAS A RADICAL POPE, Benedict XVI has been a traditionalist. But his decision to abdicate appears to have set a significant precedent, indeed cardinal André Vingt-Trois of Paris has described it as “a liberating act for the future”. Earlier popes occasionally resigned for specific reasons (Celestine V in 1294 in order to return to a life of solitude and prayer, Gregory XII was forced to abdicate in 1415 in order to bring a 40-year papal schism to an end), but in deciding to abdicate on age and health grounds Benedict appears to be saying that 85 is too old to be pope.

No doubt with John Paul II’s long drawn-out last years in mind, Benedict seems to be saying that in the 21st century it is no longer possible to run a vast and complex international corporation such as the Catholic church with a geriatric or permanently incapacitated CEO.

<p>Livio ANTICOLI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images</p>

Livio ANTICOLI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Pope John Paul II appears at the Vatican in 2005.

In one respect Benedict’s resignation from the papacy is part of a continuum. Intellectually he has always recognised that the papacy began to attain the dimensions of a personality cult during the 19th and 20th centuries, and that this is unhealthy for the Church and an obstacle to unity with other churches, including especially the Orthodox.

Under John Paul II, that papal inflation became hyper-inflation and hyper-activity of documents, saint-making and travel, to the point where the papacy was eating up the church. Benedict will be eventually be remembered for the way he tried to cool down this overheated Vatican “nuclear reactor”, returning the papacy to more modest dimensions.

He gave an early sign that this was his intention when he replaced the papal tiara on the papal coat of arms with a simple bishop’s mitre, as if to say that the pope is Bishop of Rome, not king of the world. During the past fortnight, he has repeatedly referred in his public statements to his “Petrine ministry”, never to his “pontificate”, or “reign”, or “office”.

It seems probable that Benedict initially expected to have a quiet pontificate, basking in the warm afterglow of his predecessor’s many achievements. No doubt the cardinals who elected him thought so too. Now, by stating that the problems the Church is facing are too much for him, Benedict is also tacitly admitting that the Church is in crisis, perhaps even that those problems are only going to get worse.

But in the days since he surprised the world by announcing his retirement, political and theological conservatives have rushed into print arguing that his pontificate has been a huge success. The recent contributions by George WeigelTracey Rowland, John Milbankand Adrian Pabst on the ABC Religion and Ethics website are all cases in point: excellent in their way, except that they have little to do with the real world.

Under John Paul II, that papal inflation became hyper-inflation and hyper-activity of documents, saint-making and travel, to the point where the papacy was eating up the church.

But while there is no doubt that Benedict produced a stream of fine encyclicals and homilies (the 2009 encyclical Caritas in veritate in particular) that may come to be seen as his most enduring legacy and part of the Church’s permanent intellectual treasury, the only problem was that they were read, listened to, and understood by no more than a tiny elite, made up mostly of other philosophers and theologians. The Hellenistic ideas the pope was recapitulating were incomprehensible to most contemporary men and women, including the millions of Catholics in Asia and Africa who never had any cultural connection with Hellenistic philosophy in the first place.

The truth is that Benedict’s has been a most intelligent “do nothing” pontificate, even a trivial pontificate, in the sense that so much attention was devoted to tinkering around the edges at comparatively minor issues while failing to come to grips with the really big problems affecting the Church.

So we saw the pope’s penchant for dressing up in baroque vestments and designer sunglasses, the revival of the old Latin Mass, the ineptly handled introduction of a new translation of the English missal, and an attempt to return the Church to the clericalism of an earlier era, when priests were put on pedestals and the laity was obedient. A special ordinariate was created for Anglicans wanting to return to the Catholic Church, but there was huge embarrassment when the promised tens of thousands turned out to be little more than a trickle. There were lengthy but futile negotiations aimed at reconciling with an ultra-conservative Catholic fringe group called the Society of St Pius X. When Benedict lifted the excommunication on four of the Society’s bishops he committed one of the biggest gaffes of his pontificate.

<p>Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images</p>

Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images

Keith O’Brien at his home in Edinburgh, after he resigned.

One of the bishops, Richard Williamson, was an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. Just before being readmitted to the Church, he gave an interview denying the existence of the Nazi gas chambers.

It terms of administration and communications, this has been a disastrous pontificate, with few highlights and numerous gaffes. Ecumenical dialogue was more or less put on hold. Relations with Jews soured, not least because Benedict reinstated a Good Friday prayer for their conversion that had been dropped after the Second Vatican Council. In the rich countries of the West, including Australia, the Church is in undeclared schism over issues like contraception, married priests, female priests, and same sex marriage.

And if the Church’s structures were threatening to implode higher up, they were well and truly imploding lower down. In the United States dioceses were forced into bankruptcy by the sex abuse scandal and many parishes were closed down. In Australia, the Church faced a chronic priest shortage that the Vatican has prevented the bishops from addressing in any meaningful way.

It was apparent from early on that Benedict’s curia (the Vatican bureaucracy) was deeply factionalised and that he was not always well supported, especially by a group of powerful Italians, who had thrived during the years of John Paul II’s dotage and preferred “business as usual”. Italian journalist Sandro Magister reported on a “go slow” in the curia, and the difficulty the pope was having in getting his documents translated in a timely fashion: “Not everyone in the upper levels of the Church is full of love and solidarity for this new pope. Resistance to his guidelines is tenacious and widespread, and in some places it is on the rise,” Magister wrote.

Benedict’s choice of secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, was the cause of particular resentment — not just because he was incompetent, but also because he was regarded as a protégé of Benedict’s and an outsider who had been foisted on the Vatican secretariat of state in order to clean it up.

<p>Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images</p>

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Rain clouds gather near St Peter’s Basilica on February 26.

Above all, Benedict will also be remembered for failing to halt the seemingly endless PR disaster of clerical sex abuse. In the popular mind, he was responsible for covering up the sex abuse scandal at the highest level. Certainly, after 2001, when he was prefect for the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and directed that all files relating to abusing priests were to be sent to his office, he would have had a better grasp than anyone of the dimensions of the problem that was unfolding.

And it is difficult to get around the letter he signed on May 18, 2001, in which he told all the bishops in the world that they were to carry out investigation of abuse allegations according to the strictest secrecy or risk excommunication.

As Fr. Sean McDonagh observed in a letter to the Irish Times on December 7, 2009, this directive from the Vatican “effectively encouraged bishops to commit criminal offences in many jurisdictions, including Ireland, by not reporting the crime first to the police”.

It is also impossible to ignore the case of the Bishop of Kansas City, Robert Finn, a member of Opus Dei and the first US bishop convicted of failing to report a priest suspected of abuse to the police. Following his criminal conviction, in October 2011, he remains in office. The only possible inference to draw from this episode is that the Vatican authorities are no respecters of the civil law.

In recent weeks, to add to Benedict’s woes, we have seen the release of HBO’s excellent documentary about the sex abuse crisis, Mea Maxima Culpa. It features a pretty devastating interview with the retired archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, who says Ratzinger blocked his attempts to defrock a paedophile priest who had abused boys in a school for the deaf in the Milwaukee archdiocese. Weakland says he met with Ratzinger in Rome in 1998, only to be told by him that “your problem is you’re not docile”.

On the other hand, we now know Ratzinger was blocked in his attempt to deal with one of the Church’s most high-profile predators by a powerful rival, the former Vatican secretary of state, now Dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano.

<p>Oli Scarff/Getty Images</p>

Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Pilgrims in Saint Peter’s Square after Pope Benedict XVI’s final weekly public audience on February 27.

Sodano, a close friend of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, was also the protector of Marcial Maciel, the founder of an ultra-conservative Mexican order called the Legionaries of Christ. Maciel was a paedophile and morphine addict who lived a double life, with two wives and several children, whom he also abused. Cardinal Ratzinger had to wait until he became pope to deal with Maciel.

If next month’s conclave is likely to be shaped by a sense of crisis, the fact is that there are few obvious front-runners who appear to offer much in the way of solutions. Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson appears to support the persecution of Africa’s homosexuals, which suggests he lacks the moral clarity necessary for the top job. Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Montreal is apparently the victim of a personality bypass. Cardinal Timothy Dolan is an American, and the college of cardinals is unlikely to elect an American pope while the United States is the world superpower.

My own view is that one of the few cardinals who has shown some willingness to speak his mind is Christoph von Schönborn of Vienna, a former pupil of Pope Benedict’s. In recent times he was openly critical of Cardinal Sodano, when Sodano described the sex abuse crisis as “petty gossip”.

Meanwhile, the Italians are desperate to win the papacy back for themselves, and the gossip in Rome this week is that they may have buried their factional differences and settled on a candidate, Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan. I am told this is making Australia’s Cardinal George Pell very despondent. Not because he thinks he has a chance at the papacy, but because he genuinely believes the Roman curia, with its reputation for corruption, is in need of “significant reform” — reform it is unlikely to see under another Italian pope.

24 comments on this story
by Roxee

I am not religious so will never understand why someone is drawn to a particular religious faith (other than hereditary indoctrination). I got agitated while reading this though. I have suffered the same agitation when the TV starts showing me the adoring crowds and the pomp and ceremony of the popes last speech and farewell parade. Because I have no affiliation with the institution of the Catholic church I can't understand how Pope Benedict, some of the Cardinals present and the institution are getting the respect they are being shown. Child rape, paedophile priest protection, money laundering, links with dictators and fascists, preaching and lobbying against gay rights when some of them are gay, lying to Africans about condoms and the resultant spread of AIDS, lobbying against birth control and other reproductive rights for women. I fail to see how Catholics can still look to this institution for their moral instruction. It's incredible to me. I am often told the church does such good works. I see people doing that work not the institution and they could still do those good works without it.
A lot of e faithful seem to be hoping for change. I wonder what they'll do if it's not forthcoming.

February 28, 2013 @ 11:06pm
by Susan O'Sullivan

Whilst the vast majority of the Catholic Church, the laity, are humble, competent and compassionate followers of Jesus, our church is stuck on one simple principle, that only the ordained can make decisions. This means only unmarried men make decisions. And guess what? The only members of the church with authority to review that principle - are all unmarried men. How is this a good idea? Unless, we are back before the Industrial Revolution. Who else would even try to set up a structure like this? It is not surprising then that the church has done such a bad job in responding to issues about the welfare of children. These men are not parents. Their closest relationships are their ordained brothers. Such a management structure is medieval, it appeals in the same way as pageantry and regalia appeal. Deep down we all love the idea of magic and secret ritual. But there is now too much at stake. The Catholic church in Australia already has a crisis because there are simply not enough unmarried men to continue the pantomime that this is a justifiable way to run parish communities. I am all for having priests be priests - they can do what Benedict likes to do - reflect on theological questions, offer spiritual guidance, continue the ancient practices and they can consecrate the Eucharist. Meanwhile, there are parishs and dioceses out there that need those humble competent and compassionate laity to do the leading and inspiring in a modern world. The Roman Curia should be in the British Museum with the Elgin marbles.

March 1, 2013 @ 12:13pm
by Mark

This is all very curious, and probably will all appear as thinly disguised fiction in a soon to be published novel by Dan Brown or the like. I was taught as a young Catholic school boy, that God guided the hand of the Cardinals when electing the Pope. So I'm struggling to understand whether God intended for Ratzinger to become too frail to do the job, because of course He must have known the outcome. Did He therfore know the factions hiding the sexual backdoor machinations of homosexual priests would grind down His choice as Pontiff?

Interestingly, it has also been reported elsewhere that Pell, Australia's own walking anachronism, was critical of Ratzinger for his decision to retire. Does Pell think the Church is best served by a frail old man, sliding into dementia and clearly unable to cope with the demands of the role. Or is Pell afraid that a new man might finally lift the carpet under which the Church has swept this problem and let the light of day shine on the evil little spiders and their protectors. I suspect Pell does not wish this - it may well show him for the fool he is.

March 1, 2013 @ 2:45pm
by Andrew Starkie

The glee with which this piece was written is obvious. And fair enough - the Church is a soft and worthy target of criticism for all the reasons outlined above.

However, shouldn't Pope Benedict be commended for resigning; for walking out as opposed to being carried out feet first like those who have gone before him? John Paul should have left years before his death. Images of him appearing to fall asleep during Mass weren't a good look.

Rumours always abound when a leader rides, or in this case, catches a helicopter, into the sunset before their time is up. Was he pushed? Was he 'exasperated' by the Italian or homosexual mafia in the Vatican? Who knows. As I said, it's all rumours at this stage.

As for the crisis in the Church assertion: yes, the problems are many and all good Catholics and non-believers are frustrated by the lack of change at the top. Our greatest fear is another conservative to the bone Pontif, unwilling to drag the Church into the 21st century.

But the suggestion the Church is dying in all western countries, for example, Australia, couldn't be further from the truth. Granted, the Inquiry in Victoria and the approaching Royal Commission will shake the foundations (while also offering a chance for cleansing) and in a generation or two, the Mass as we know it - weekday mornings and Sundays, Eucharist, Creed etc - may be a thing of the past simply due to a lack of priests or congregation. However, in other ways the Church has never been healthier in Australia. The Catholic Church is the largest provider of charity work, private education, health and pastoral care in the country and also the largest non-govt employer. The future of the Church lies in social justice and with young Australians more socially aware than ever and wanting to reach out to those in need, the Church is a major player in harnessing that youthful drive.

In terms of who will be the next Pope, it's anyone's guess. Sure, there will be politicking and backroom deals going on that will make Canberra and the White House look like a scout jamboree, but if we're talking about who needs or deserves a Pope, it's pretty obvious. The West needs a Pope drawn from its ranks to claw back lost profile, support and dwindling numbers while the developing world, Africa or Asia, deserves a pope due to the growth in Catholicism there in recent decades. We will see.

March 1, 2013 @ 3:11pm
by Michael Siddle

Cardinal Pell wasn't critical of Pope Benedict's decision to retire- he supported it so where is that suggestion coming from?. Also Mr Crittenden does seem to understand anything about the Catholic faith. There can never be women priests, condoned contraception or acceptance of homosexual behaviour. These are based in Scripture and are confirmed Dogmatic teaching and hence the determination of God through the Holy Spirit. These Dogmas are in effect for all time.The Church would cease to be the Catholic Church if any Pope declared them to be acceptable. Any person supporting any of these concepts immediately excludes themself from being Catholic. You can't pick and choose. To be Catholic you must accept all the Church's Dogmatic Teachings in Faith even if you struggle with them. You either trust God or you don't.

March 1, 2013 @ 5:25pm
by Neil Baird

God help them

March 2, 2013 @ 9:22am
by James

In 1922, the Catholic Church through Crimen Sollicitationis re-established through the back door and very successfully, the medieval "privilege of clergy" by which priests guilty of sex crimes against children would be protected from the State courts and instead dealt with the Church courts. It was done by Canon Law which prohibited the reporting of such crimes to the police once an investigation of a complaint was commenced. For 25 years, Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger was in charge of administering this system, and advising Pope John Paul II about any necessary changes. In 2001 he advised Pope John Paul II to require all such complaints of sex abuse of children to be sent to his Department for the Doctrine of the Faith, but instead of ditching the secrecy provision, it was confirmed. In the 4,000 cases dealt with the up until 2012, the Vatican has produced not one case where the bishop was told to take the matter to the police. In 2010, as Pope, he revised the 2001 decree by expanding it to include amongst the crimes to be dealt with by secret trials, possession of child pornography and sex abuse of people with mental disabilities. In 2011, his successor at the CDF instructed Episcopal Conferences to bring in guidelines that had to include a provision that local laws on reporting had to be obeyed, and these would then be approved by the Vatican pursuant to Canon 455 giving them an exception to the secrecy provisions of Canon Law to allow reporting to the civil authorities for the particular region. But what if a region does not have such reporting laws? In that case "pontifical secrecy" still applies and a bishop breaches Canon Law if he reports to the police, even if he thinks it is warranted. Australia is in exactly that position. Until the 1980s and 90s, all States had misprision of felony laws, but all of them abolished the common law offence and, apart from NSW, did not replace it with anything that required reporting of clergy sex crimes against children who are now adults - which form the vast bulk of the cases. It follows that unless laws throughout Australia are changed bishops will still not be able to report such crimes to the police, and the system of secret trials will continue as it has in the past. Deputy Commissioner Ashton at the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry said that of the 620 cases dealt with internally by the Church, none had been reported by the Church the police. Prior to the abolition of misprision of felony this occurred because Canon 22 required bishops to follow Canon Law where it conflicts with Civil Law. After the abolition because bishops could follow Canon Law without infringing the criminal law. And this will continue to be the position. There could not be a clearer example of a "systemic issue" that comes within the terms of reference of the recently established Royal Commission.

March 2, 2013 @ 12:13pm
by Michael Furtado

Some commentators here appear unhappy at the line taken by Stephen Crittenden. However, with so much mainstream media devoted to precious little critical news commentary instead of the two-minute sound-bite, it shouldn't surprise that what Stephen has written will shock. That a Cardinal, and a popular one at that, should be gay, will also come as a shock to those who like their ecclesiology eau-de-cologned and who have no concept of a Christ who lifted our humanity to new heights. For Jesus the starting point for engagement with others was the truth and exposing the rank hypocrisy of those who followed the law was his particular forte. The Catholic Church is in deep deep crisis and not to address such a thing is to live in a kind of fool's paradise that no true lover of Christ ought really to countenance. In this sense Crittenden does his fellow Catholics a service by stripping away the dross about what's happening to get to the truth. His copy, after many years of religious reporting in this country, has all the makings of a very good religious journalist. This kind of praxis theology has never really been tried by Rome. I cannot imagine a more inappropriate way of missionising to the Church and the World in this day and age through reference to hanging onto every word emanating from the lips of a Big Bwana in Rome with bishops appointed by him sworn to abject obedience and no consultation. Its simply too absurd for the modern world to countenance. Let's therefore hope and pray that, far from 'clawing back lost profile' (is this a euphemisism for more of the same?) and a reimposition of 'dogma', the governance of the Church dramatically shifts towards a more collegial structure incorporating lay women and men from many cultures and traditions that follow Christ (for there are many of these within and beyond the formal structures of the Catholic Church). I suspect it wont happen and that it will take more crises before there's a change but the unstoppable process of renewal has already started and that cannot but be a good thing. Incidentally, I thought the photograph of Cardinal O'Brien deeply troubling as well as moving. I hope and pray that he has the courage to abandon the closet and, relieved of the burden of wearing a red hat, takes up the mantle of pastoral leadership for Scottish Catholics, straight and gay.

March 2, 2013 @ 12:27pm
by KMC

This article is a fair statement of the many major problems that have been put on the back burner for decades & now the chickens have come home to roost!!

The Catholic Hierarchy doesn't need any enemies to do itself harm -- they shoot themselves in the feet all the time!!

March 2, 2013 @ 12:33pm
by Joe Logan

I would take Andrew Starkie's point that the church may change over time and improve. Change is normal for human institutions. There should be no disbelieving that the church does do a lot of good in the areas he mentions and I think it is a worthy organisation from this point of view. The problem then in Michael Siddle's comments is the attitude that the church is unchangeable due to it being somehow run by a god from the depth of eons past in the form of sacred scripture. If it comes down to this then sorry I don't trust god. It denies humanity.

Personally I do not believe in god but I see the value in church belief for many people. However any institution on earth is a human organisation. The church will have to change. Who gives a toss if it has to go through a period of upheaval.

When it suddenly discovers that homosexual men and women, for example, are people too and not to be punished or kept apart because of their nature - or heaven forbid, considers allowing women to become priests - then it will be seen as relevant by more people. The scourge of AIDS in third world countries is another standout issue that the church has shown itself to be quite evil.

Don't even start me on that crazy Mother Teresa.

March 2, 2013 @ 12:40pm
by Tony D'Ambra

Granted there are major issues with the Church, I fail to see how Pope Benedict's abdication is a sign of weakness. Surely it requires a certain moral strength to confront the ravages of age and let go the reins so that one in more robust health can take on the challenges facing the Church.

Another general point. I would like to see your journalists engaging with those who make the effort to contribute to the discussions their articles engender.

March 2, 2013 @ 1:44pm
by Ron Kerr

I could not agree more with the correspondent, Roxee. I am not a believer and it is beyond my comprehension why the blind faith in God is placed in a man selected by other men who claim to have a direct line to this mysterious being, God. They are just like other men - they bicker, they fight (quietly behind very closed doors), they have ambition and they are sure in their own closed minds that God is on their side. If it is possible, just for the purposes of my argument , to ignore for a moment the child molesting and the gay bashing, the whole set up sounds to me like a company with a CEO. However, a company would be run in the best interest of the shareholders whereas the Vatican company is run in the best interests of the board. The sad thing is that religion, and especially the Catholic Church is so powerful (and rich) that politicians, who could do something about, it are scared. However, I have to say that what is happening in Rome now, maybe there is just hope.

March 2, 2013 @ 1:48pm
by Lynne Newington

And these men of the Roman Curia, recorded as being corrupt, further down the chain, make the decisions affecting our destiny, and not always in the words of our Lord, according to Scripture, but tradition.

March 2, 2013 @ 2:11pm
by Maxine Barry

I was surprised to see Pope John Paul II described as 'radical' : I must have a different definition. I I'm thinking of the persecution of Liberation and progressive theologians, the elevations to sainthood of the friends of dictators, and so on. In all of which, in his Inquisition role, Benedict was involve. What about the elephant in the room, an absolutist, top-down structure which is inherently incapable of democratic reform?

March 2, 2013 @ 3:16pm
by Enda

'I am told this is making Australia’s Cardinal George Pell very despondent. Not because he thinks he has a chance at the papacy, but because he genuinely believes the Roman curia, with its reputation for corruption, is in need of “significant reform” — reform it is unlikely to see under another Italian pope.' One of the ironies here is that Cardinal Pell is a notably poor judge of character evidenced by the dud appointments he has made since coming to Sydney. People get dropped because they do not suit the head man's agenda or his ideology and are replaced by people who are not up to the job. I do not want another Italian pope at this time but I do not feel confident about George Pell's choices either. It is a hard time to be a Catholic.

March 2, 2013 @ 4:53pm
by Tom Hill

None of this Papal scandal is new. It is only better reported than it was when Rome was ruled by the Borgias.

March 2, 2013 @ 6:24pm
by Tom Hill

Read Richard Condon's excellent novel "A Trembling Upon Rome".

March 2, 2013 @ 6:26pm
by Matthew O'Sullivan

Stephen's coverage and commentary on all religious matters are, as always, measured and well-informed. He summaries the issues and opinions that reflect the analysis of the world's most respected commentators. Always a structured and valid overview of events.

March 2, 2013 @ 8:04pm
by Garry Everett

Stephen would be well at home now , in Rome, with the Cardinals. I imagine they are all sitting in "congregationals", listing off similar problems so aptly identified by Stephen. The difficulty witth all this is that the conversations never seem to move beyond problem identification.
I have written elsewhere an article that argues for a better process for the Conclave, essentially one that invites and allows each Cardinal to declare his vison for the Church,its relationship to the world, and for the structures and processes that will take us forward. In a second article, I have provided an imaginary account of one such address. Both articles were previewed by critical friends and I was encouraged to disseminate them more widely. Once the original publishers have cleared me to do that, I plan to make them more available.
The point is though, we need to shift the discussions towards constructive resolutions, thus offering the Cardinals something on which to base their decision making about leadership. Lamenting the problems is not an adequate basis for leadership. Each Cardinal should offer to his brother bishops his views on how he would bring about desired changes. After all, he may be the very man to emerge as the next pope --- but the rest of us would like the surety, that the choice was based on a well articulated vision , rather than on wailings heard in "the room of tears"!

March 3, 2013 @ 8:51am
by Mark

Michael Siddle - to be honest, if I offended you I care little. You are the kind of Catholic I have no respect for. You just deny my suggestion Pell was critical of Benedict, then start an unrelated rant. I won't argue whether or not the bans on women priests, homosexuality and contraception really do derive from the teachings of Christ or not. Christians tend to throw around obtuse passages from both testaments to prove their tenuous points. Better scholars than I have adequately pointed out the inconsistencies in these sorts of teachings in the Bible. Probably more importantly, one doesn't need to look too diligently to see evidence of the Church's hypocritical and often criminal stance on sexuality.

But just as an aside I will pose one question which I have always found curious. One of the biblical passages which fundamentalists often use to "prove" that God is against homosexuality comes from Genesis chapter 19. In the passage two angels, presumably in the form of men, [apparently defenceless as it turns out], came to Sodom and stayed the night with Lot. The people of Sodom surrounded his house and demanded that Lot produce the two men so they could carnally know them. Instead, Lot offered the crowd his two virgin daughters to do with as they pleased. Now this is somehow offered as evidence of God's judgement against homosexuality. But, call me crazy, I'm having trouble accepting that sending your two virgin daughters to be pack raped is a noble thing to do, much less evidence of anybody's stance against homosexuality, except perhaps Lot's. Given that he's happy to have his daughters pack raped, I won't be taking lessons from him in morality any time soon.

Incidentally, Pell's criticism of Benedict's decision to stand down was reported by the ABC. He was quoted as saying the decision set a bad precedent and destabilised the church [ABC online, 28 Feb] and stood by those comments when interviewed immediately after Benedict's farewell address. You can listen to that interview on ABC online.

So Michael Siddle, I'm happy to be corrected if my facts are wrong. Pell's criticism was certainly mild in nature, but criticism it was none the less. More significantly , his criticism and his subsequent explanation for what he said suggests that he thinks that frail old man should have continued in the office of Pope, a role he was quite clearly unable to cope with. And just because you don't like gays, or women priests, or contraception, that doesn't change things.

March 3, 2013 @ 10:22am
by Andrew Starkie

You CAN pick and chose the parts you like and still be Catholic. Most Catholics do. What's important is not believing in the dogma and scriptures word for word or striving your whole life not to slip up or break the commandments, but following the one golden rule: treating others the way you wish to be treated.

Often, the tragic irony is that the more religious we become the less humane and tolerant we remain. Sadly, we've all seen examples of religious brutality.

Blind faith is a thing of the past.

Modern Christianity allows itself to be criticised and questioned. Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in a Democracy are permitted to think for ourselves and make measured decisions about our beliefs and values.

The word 'religion' means to return to something to find answers. Therefore, we should always question our faith. Faith is a never ending search for answers; a journey. It is alive and evolving and like all other parts of life, has its ebbs and flows, ups and downs. In faith, as with everything else, we should always seek to learn more.

Religion ends when we believe we have found all answers to life and that God speaks through us. This is when religion morphs into Fundamentalism and as we know too well, whether it be in the White House or a cave in Pakistan, this is dangerous.

The Bible, Koran and the Torah were written for people from an ancient time and place, not us. We should interpret these documents through literate and informed eyes. Those who take these documents literally - include the second amendment of the US Constitution - are blind and ignorant.

The Catholic Church needs to evolve and change, permitting female and married priests and accepting homosexuality. It will take courage and a lot of hurt, all change does. But it can be done. If not, the Vatican will become outdated and anachronistic, a dart board for the world's media and good for tourism, but that's about all. Maybe this process has started already.

Change will not disrespect or diminish the scriptures - quite the opposite. The Church will show itself to be an evolving, listening, empathetic and mature institution. And many lapsed Catholics will return.

Those Catholics willing and able - who don't already - should consider doing Christ's work: teach, heal and serve with humility. Get their hands dirty. And yes, that includes Mother Theresa's Missionaries of Charity soup kitchens and refuges. Anyone who doubts the MC should pop into a soup kitchen and have a look at the work they do for our homeless. Just don't get in the way. Better still, grab a mop!

March 3, 2013 @ 8:26pm
Show previous 21 comments
by Ron Kerr

Mark's comments (above) about the story of Lot's daughters, reminded me to recommend a book to anyone interested setting out chapter and verse, literally, the contradictions and downright nonsense present in the Bible. It is aptly named "Biblical Nonsense" by Dr Jason Long.

March 3, 2013 @ 9:02pm
by Andy

I'm always bemused by the sub-text of the faithfuls' view that one needs to have a religious foundation in order to do good things in the world and to "treat others as you would like to be treated", as contained in some of the commentary above.

Religious orders do not have a mandate on morality (as highlighted to good effect in the article).

Whilst I concede that religious apparatus and ceremony provide comfort in the familiarity of ritual for some, I disagree strongly that non-believers cannot live moral lives and make significant contributions to our society, as implied by religious sub-text.

March 5, 2013 @ 12:36pm
by Ditte Anne Hellemose

Of all the great governing bodies to have existed, the religious take the champion place as the most wicked and least moral of all.

And it is with humble joy I experience science and logic prevail more and more over silly superstitions.

May 25, 2013 @ 3:14pm
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