Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Chris McGillion Responds to the “Exacerbating” Actions of Cardinal Pell

In reflecting on the recent actions of Cardinal Pell,
Chris McGillion ponders what it means to be Catholic.

Earlier this evening a friend who is a priest here in the St. Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese informed me of a very well written commentary by Australian academic Chris McGillion in today’s (or, in Australian time, yesterday’s) Brisbane Times.

Described as “one of [the] most penetrating observers of the religious life of [Australia],” Chris McGillion (pictured above) teaches in the school of communication at Charles Sturt University. A journalist and author, McGillion has for a number of years been the religious columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald.

His latest commentary is in response to recent statements made by Cardinal George Pell of the Sydney Archdiocese. As has been noted in a previous post, a number of these statements focus on Pell’s seeking of a public commitment to a profession of faith and an oath of fidelity by principals, deputy principals and religious education coordinators in Catholic schools.

A profession of faith, McGillion notes, is “little more than the Apostles creed . . . which all practicing Catholics recite each Sunday at Mass.” An “oath of fidelity,” however, is something quite different. It is something “usually subscribed to only by senior clerics in the church,” and requires one “to hold fast to the deposit of faith in its entirety, to avoid any teaching contrary to it, and to follow the common discipline of the entire church.”

Such an oath would require those working in Catholic schools to publicly commit to non-core Catholic teachings on such issues as homosexuality or women’s ordination. As McGillion points out, these are teachings that “ many Catholics conscientiously reject and which even many bishops concede need further exploration and finessing.”

McGillion also highlights Pell’s “recent warning that Catholic politicians should consider the consequences of their vote on therapeutic cloning or, as [Pell] put it in the Herald last Friday, just as members of a political party who cross the floor on critical issues don’t expect to be rewarded and might be penalized, so it is in the church.” (So much for the primacy of conscience!)

It’s clear that it is the “veiled threats” by the Cardinal that most concern McGillion. Indeed, his main concern, as expressed in his commentary, is to do with “the way [Pell] is acting – rather than in his purpose.”

Such actions, McGillion observes, are “exposing and exacerbating disunity and division in Catholic ranks.” This is all the more unfortunate given that as a bishop, Pell should be “a symbol of unity of the faithful.”

McGillion concludes his commentary by offering two very different responses to the question, “What does it mean to be Catholic?”

“One answer,” he writes, “is to employ the faith to inform one’s decisions. That’s an understanding that is messy and uncertain but it is also creative and conducive to the development of responsible adults.”

And the second response? Well, it’s the one that Cardinal Pell “seems to prefer,” says McGillion, and it says that “to be Catholic means having ready-made answers universally applied to the dilemmas that life inevitably invites.”

Such an understanding, says McGillion, “is neat and tidy but also potentially stultifying.”

“More worrying,” he writes, “is that this is an answer that betrays an acute doubt about whether God is involved in some ongoing sense in human affairs.”

McGillion, who is the editor of the book A Long Way from Rome: Why the Australian Catholic Church is in Crisis (Allen and Unwin, 2003) writes with great clarity and a discernable sense of love for the Church. The perspective he shares and the questions he raises are valid and crucial at this particular stage of the Catholic Church’s pilgrim journey.

To read his June 11 commentary in its entirety, click here.

Image: Allen and Unwin

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Two-Sided Catholic Crisis
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
Coadjutor Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Learning Curve”
Reflections on the Primacy of Conscience
The Question of an “Informed” Catholic Conscience
Who Gets to Be Called “Catholic” – and Why?
Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”

Recommended Off-site Link:
“Secularism is Simply Respecting Difference” – a 2004 commentary by Chris McGillion.


Winnipeg Catholic said...

Very interesting. I was horrified by your quote of Pell that the Doctrine of Primacy of Conscience should be done away with. I'm less sure about an oath of obedienc by catholic employees such as principals. That doesn't sounds so bad on the surface of it, depending on the oath.

My impression is that even secular school teachers are held to ethical codes of conduct and can be fired for being swingers or otherwise engaging in behavior that the public finds scandalous.

Do I agree with that? Yes. Why? Not because I have anything against non-catholic swingers. (I do have a problem with catholic swingers). But I do support such rules because I feel the public has a right to isolate their children away from people whose behavior they find scandalous. That's part of the your-children-are-safe here glue that holds a place for the young together.

So for catholics, it makes some sense to me that we would have such codes and oaths for catholic schools and that we would terminate employees who cause scandal as seen through a catholic lense. That includes public expressions of dissent for catholic educators.

Sound harsh? It doesn't to me. As a conservative I would be annoyed if my kid heard dissent from a school authority. As a liberal dissenter, I figure I can prep my kid with all the dissent he needs to know that the church has a few things it hasn't figured out yet regarding homosexuality, masturbation, contraception, and how abuse of alcohol is more dangerous and spiritual harming than much of sexuality.

So in my mind, we liberals need to learn to relax and let the institution express itself without getting in a big tizzy and fussing so much. All that energy needs to be in writing to the bishops and cardinals so that they cannot ignore the sense fidelis and quietly expressed to our loved ones, and publicly expressed by dissenters who aren't paid to educate the young in the name of the faith.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Winnipeg Catholic,

Thanks for your comment.

The problem with Pell’s “Oath of Fidelity” is that it may well require those working in Catholic schools to publicly commit to non-core Catholic teachings on such issues as homosexuality or women’s ordination.

As McGillion points out, these are teachings that “many Catholics conscientiously reject and which even many bishops concede need further exploration and finessing.”



Winnipeg Catholic said...

Hi Michael,

Of course it will emphasize all of the conservative issues of the day. That's OK. How on earth could you send a gay kid to catholic school and not plan on supporting him or her through all of the issues.

I would say proper dissent includes planning on teaching one's children that the church is sometimes wrong. That does not in any way require that we demand the church refrain from teaching her beliefs. I'll teach my beliefs, the church will teach her beliefs. It's all fine with me. It has nothing to do with changing the doctrine, which will have to occur by a completely different mechanism than say, dissenter school principals. I would contend that dissenter school principals are probably not a very good mechanism for the support of loyal & faithful dissent.

Besides, if I had a gay kid I really wouldn't want to leave him in a catholic school, unless it was one of the single gender ones that are probably secretly reasonably gay. I'd send my kid to Simon's Rock (early college of Bard) or otherwise spring my kid from the whole highschool scene.

All the Best, +B

Eileen said...

As a lot, educators tend/trend to the more liberal side.

If the principals are lay persons, and not clergy, I think it's wrong to require such an oath of them.

If the church finds it a requirement, let them place priests and deacons as principals.

Laypersons can be committed catholics even while disagreeing with the church. I'm more concerned that my child's principal is well versed in child development, staff development and administrative practice, then I am about his Catholic orthodoxy. I'd rely on a priest for that.

But that's just me. While I have very liberal and unorthodox beliefs, I do belief in teaching the traditions, and allowing people to grapple with their own relationship with God as an adult. Lay the foundation, and as they get older and begin to use the reason God gave them, they can begin to question things.

I don't have a problem with the church running the shop as they see fit. I do have a problem with the church using tradition and infalliability as a ball and chain reason to not change on things which they really should change on, such as homosexuality, women's ordination, etc.

If all the adults in church authority seem to be in agreement about such non-core issues, and present a united, authoritarian front, can we really be surprised when Catholics continue to believe they have no right to question such teachings.

Just a few thoughts...

Winnipeg Catholic said...


I suspect you'll want to have a look at the Commonweal Article.

Not much mention of Fr. Alison and the Cybelism interpretation. Does it not have much credibility? I think Fr. Alison is rather inspired in that article really. So it goes. BTW, is he still a priest in good standing?

All the Best, +B

eileen said...

For some reason I'm thinking Fr. Allison is an independent Catholic priest...although, I'm not totally sure what that means...