Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Responding to Cardinal Pell

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Yes, my summer vocation continues . . .


I can’t say I’m a big fan of the Sydney newspaper The Sunday Telegraph. The only reason I’ve been buying it these past two months is because of Prince Valiant! The paper’s editorial tone is far too reactionary for my liking, and although it has a token progressive voice in columnist Claire Harvey, it’s really not enough.

Roman Catholic Cardinal George Pell, a notorious reactionary within the Catholic community, has a regular column in The Sunday Telegraph. His views are also frequently espoused by the paper as news. On Sunday, January 2, the paper carried no less than three Pell-related pieces: his regular column, a “news” article about his demand that Catholic politicians in Australia toe the Vatican line, and a feature article lauding his strong and consistent moral voice in Australian society. It was all too much.

I wrote a counter-point op-ed but then discovered the paper doesn’t accept such lengthy submissions. So I shortened it to a letter-to-the-editor and submitted it with the following message.

Please find below a letter in response to Cardinal Pell's comments in last Sunday’s issue of The Sunday Telegraph. I’m currently visiting from the U.S. and must admit I find it odd that a secular newspaper would give so much uncritical press coverage to a religious leader such as Cardinal Pell. It’s almost as if the paper serves as his quasi-official mouthpiece. Have you ever considered giving an equal amount of space to a progressive Catholic or to leaders from other Christian denominations or even non-Christian religions? Or does Cardinal Pell's reactionary ideology mirror and bolster the political perspective of the Telegraph’s editorial board?

Hmm . . . Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that the newspaper chose not to publish my letter. Oh, well, as my Nanna used to say, “Never mind, Luv.”

I will, however, share here at The Wild Reed both the op-ed and the letter-to-the-editor that I penned. I welcome any and all feedback that my readers may care to give.

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Roman Catholic Cardinal George Pell articulates a notion of authority based on force and coercion and a model of church reflective of a feudal monarchy (“You’re Either One of Us, or You’re Not,” Sunday Telegraph, Jan. 2, 2011). Yet both this notion of authority and model of church are at odds with the life and message of Jesus.

Of course, the desire for absolute certainty is a very human one, but both secular and church history shows that in our pursuit of such certainty we tend to create rigid, monolithic and dehumanising institutions that are the very antithesis of what Jesus was all about.

Jesus was not a threatening feudal overlord but a humble shepherd who lovingly invited people into relationship with God – a relationship that nourishes us as we continue Jesus’ mission of embodying God’s compassion and justice in the world.

How might authority and church look in the light of such a relationship?

First, there would be an acknowledgment of the age-old truth that genuine authority does not impose extraneous rules and expectations but rather inspires us to be the best we can be. It does this, theologian Carter Heyward eloquently explains, by “evoking ‘something’ we already know, or have, or are.” The role of the bishop in this process is not to issue ultimatums and demand unquestioning obedience but to thoughtfully shepherd the insights, ideas and inspirations of all the members of the “flock” into articulations and actions that reflect the collective wisdom of the entire church. Such an important task requires a willingness to journey with others and an openness to the possibility that certain truths are still unfolding in and through human experience.

The resulting experience of church is one that reflects the oldest and deepest values of the Catholic tradition. It’s “traditional” in the best sense of the word. It recognizes and celebrates, in the words of theologian Ladislas Orsy, that “God’s guidance is given to all, not only to a select leadership group. All of the baptized are to be active participants in the Church and sharers in its mission. All have something to say about its faith and its discipline.”

Sadly, Cardinal Pell and many others within the church’s clerical caste, seem to have forgotten this particular tradition – one that pre-dates the church’s embracing of the imperial trappings of empire in the fourth century and the Vatican’s later appropriation of absolute monarchy in the seventeenth century. Such accommodations to exclusionary political systems and hierarchical structures have obscured the radical egalitarianism that Jesus lived and taught and which inspired and nourished the early church.

While some Catholics may decry the lack of unquestioning obedience to the clerical caste and its dictates, I believe that many more Catholics lament recent efforts to roll back the reforms of the Second Vatican Council – reforms that reoriented the church to that earlier era when the spirit’s presence in the entire believing community was honoured and celebrated.

Cardinal Pell is a leading proponent of a feudal, non-egalitarian model of church. It’s a model that ultimately will reduce Roman Catholicism to a ghetto comprised of puritanical fanatics.

As a Catholic, I’m not interested in living in any type of ghetto. I’m drawn to a Church open to the Spirit of God, a Church that recognizes and celebrates itself as the Risen Body of Christ, alive and afoot in the world; a Church unafraid of journeying and engagement, of growth and change. My advice for Cardinal Pell is that he focus less on drawing lines in the sand that exclude people and more on listening to the Spirit of God present and operative in the lives and relationships of all members of the living tradition we call the Catholic Church.

Australian-born Michael Bayly is the executive director of the Minnesota-based Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities and the author of Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective. He shares thoughts and reflections from a progressive, gay, Catholic perspective on his blog The Wild Reed (www.thewildreed.blogspot.com).

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While some Catholics may decry the lack of unquestioning obedience to the church’s clerical caste and its laws and rules, many more Catholics lament recent efforts on the part of this caste to roll back the reforms of the Second Vatican Council – reforms that reoriented the church to that earlier era when God’s guiding presence in the entire believing community, and not just a select leadership group, was honoured and celebrated.

Cardinal George Pell is a leading proponent of a feudal, non-egalitarian model of church – a model totally at odds with the life and message of the humble and radically inclusive Jesus and hostile to the reforms of Vatican II. It’s a model that, left unchallenged, will ultimately reduce Roman Catholicism to a ghetto of puritanical fanatics.

Many Catholics are not prepared to allow this to happen to their church and are actively engaged in promoting and embodying a church unafraid of dialogue, growth and change. Such activity is supported by our Catholic tradition.

Accordingly, my advice to Cardinal Pell is two-fold: 1) honour the church’s ancient understanding of “reception,” i.e., the belief that for a law or rule to be an effective guide for the believing community it must be accepted by that community, and 2) focus less on drawing lines in the sand that exclude people and more on listening to the Spirit of God present and operative in the lives and relationships of all members of the living and thus evolving tradition we call the Catholic Church.

Australian-born Michael Bayly is the executive director of the Minnesota-based Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities and the author of Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective. He shares thoughts and reflections from a progressive, gay, Catholic perspective on his blog The Wild Reed (www.thewildreed.blogspot.com).


See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Chris McGillion Responds to the “Exacerbating” Actions of Cardinal Pell
Reflections on the Primacy of Conscience
The Two-Sided Catholic Crisis
"Uncle Vince" is at it Again!
Pan's Labyrinth: Critiquing the Cult of Unquestioning Obedience


Image: Peter Morris (Sydney Morning Herald, 2008).

5 comments:

Brian R said...

When I lived in Sydney, I replied to any requests that I subscribe to the Telegraph with the comment that I did not read rubbish. Unfortunately as a school librarian I discovered that many students could not understand the language level of the much better Sydney Morning Herald. I did subscribe to that paper and still read it online. While not perfect it is much more balanced in its coverage and more likely to publish your letters. As an Anglican teacher in Catholic schools in both the Sydney and Parramatta Dioceses for over 25 years I found both the religious and lay staff far more advanced in their views and few had any good words to say about Pell. Unfortunately Sydney is doubly cursed in both the Anglican and Catholic Archbishops but the Catholic laiety are more open to liberal views than their Anglican brethren. There are just a few Anglican parishes willing to oppose the hierarchy. The situation is so bad that I fled to NZ to find an open and accepting church.

Mareczku said...

Excellent letter, Michael. Thank you for sharing it.

Joe O'Leary said...

If the Church only realized what a golden age of Christian civilization it could enjoy -- by opening up dialogally to contemporary human kind and the other churches and religions -- it would shed eccentrics like Pell immediately. Canon Law must be changed, to undo the papal monopoly on the appointment of bishops. Until that happens, and until the present crop of bishops die out or are removed, the Church will remain paralyzed, tragically cut off from its true, great, gospel potential. Meanwhile the only hope is prophetic laity like yourself.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Joe, you do me a great honor with your comment. Thank you.

And thank you, too, for including me in your list of "Joyful Creative People."
Peace,

Michael

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Brian and Mark,

Brian, thank you for sharing your informed perspective on the situation here in Australia.

Mark, thanks as always for your positive feedback. I'll soon be back in the U.S. Do you think you could try and do something about that weather you've been experiencing?! It's definitely going to be a big adjustment for me.

Peace,

Michael