Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Two-Sided Catholic Crisis

The Sydney Morning Herald reports today that Cardinal George Pell is calling for all Catholic school principals, deputy principals and religious education coordinators within the archdiocese of Sydney, Australia, to take an Oath of Allegiance to Church teachings.

According to the newspaper, “the oath demands ‘religious submission of intellect and will’ on questions of faith and morals - even if these are inferred but not defined by the pope and his bishops - and an acceptance that everything solemnly taught by church tradition is divinely inspired. It suggests they would be bound not only to impart these teachings but to live by them.”

That such a demand would come from Cardinal Pell (pictured above) doesn’t surprise me in the least. After all, here’s a man who, as I’ve documented in a previous post, has gone on record as saying that “the [Catholic] doctrine of the primacy of conscience should be quietly ditched” as it’s “a dangerous and misleading myth.”

Brian Coyne, who is a co-editor and regular contributor to the always topical and informative Catholica Australia website, has written an insightful commentary on this particular development in Australia (although I do wonder about the source of his statement that “85% of the baptized faithful across the Western world” have left the Church).

Interestingly, Coyne contrasts the crisis of Pell’s “Orwellian style tactic” with what he calls another side of the crisis facing Catholics – the financial and membership crisis in the U.S. of “one of the principal activist groups in the Church,” Voice of the Faithful.

Following are excerpts from Coyne’s commentary, “We’re in a Crisis!”


Which ever way you look at it the Holy Roman Catholic Church is in the midst of an enormous crisis. This morning’s front page story in the Sydney Morning Herald regarding Cardinal Pell’s call for all Catholic school principals, deputy principals and religious education coordinators to take an Oath of Allegiance to Church teachings, underlines the crisis from one side.

One hardly needs to be Methuselah to appreciate the crisis - where 85% of the baptised faithful across the Western world have now vamoosed out the door - has now reached the point where, privately, even principals, deputy principals and religious education coordinators have serious misgivings of what the institutional leaders believe is “the truth”. . .

A serious question [has] to be asked: will Orwellian style tactics borrowed from the Totalitarian States of yesteryear that try to impose compliance on the faithful who are still trying to participate, address the underlying cause of the crisis?

The crisis is not all one-sided though. In news overnight from the United States, one of the principal activist groups in the Church disenchanted with the present direction being forged by the Church’s ecclesial leaders is itself in crisis. Thirty-eight newspapers across the United States yesterday carried an Associated Press story about the financial and membership crisis facing Voice of the Faithful.

The Church faces an enormous crisis at the moment. In the Western world, 85% of the ordinary faithful have just “given up” and quietly walked out the door without leaving any protest notes. They don’t write to the pope, or any bishops or parish priests explaining why they have left. They seem to have figured it simply isn’t worth the effort. No one is listening. These men seem to think they have all the answers, they know God’s mind even better than God knows it himself, and they never make mistakes.

The sad thing is that there are no really effective voices at the moment strong enough to protest. . . .

There is actually cause for some hope. While there has been a massive slide in participation in the spiritual and sacramental life of the institutional Church, this is not matched by any catastrophic decline in interest in spirituality and belief in God or Jesus Christ more generally.

One measure of this is that even though the institution seems to have lost interest in the spiritual welfare of its flock, others, like Papal Knight, Rupert Murdoch, and other media barons and publishers, have perceived there is a significant audience out there with spiritual needs and we have seen a steady increase in “body and soul” type programming.

In Australia the quality of religious programming on our own national broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), has increased substantially in recent decades. Less and less of this secular programming is even interested in examining the decline of institutionalised religion and the failings of the existing system and it is forging out endeavouring to meet the aspirations of this now vast sector of the population that has left the likes of Cardinal Pell far, far behind. The people might be sick of the Church. They are not necessarily sick of God, sick of Jesus Christ, or the appreciation that the spiritual side of life is important.

The challenge each of us faces as an individual is where do we place our bets? Do you put your life, and eternity, on the line that the Cardinal has the right answer? Or do we have to strike out on our own? Self-evidently most have chosen the latter. My confident expectation is that the measures the Cardinal is presently implementing — which are basically a regurgitation of the policies that have failed so abysmally for close on 200 years and which have largely been responsible for driving the faithful out of the pews — will only exacerbate the drift. . . .

To read Brian Coyne’s commentary in its entirety, click here.

Cardinal George Pell Charged
with Multiple Sexual Offences

– Melissa Davey
The Guardian
June 28, 2017

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
Keeping the Spark Alive
Reflections on the Primacy of Conscience
The Question of an “Informed” Conscience
Paul Collins and Marilyn Hatton
Our Catholic “Stonewall” Moment

Image 1: Sydney Morning Herald
Image 2: Catholic News


episcopalifem said...

Michael -

Sadly, I'd have to say that this has been my experience - I perceived a lack of desire to listen on the part of church leaders, and with Benedict's election a strong push to reassert all that is "traditional". Basically led me to speak with my feet.

This structure has basically been unchanged for too long. The church as an institution has become more important than the reason for having a church.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Eileen,

Your comment on "the institution [becoming] more important than the reason for having a church," reminds me of the insights shared by Chuck Lofy here.

Following is an excerpt:

“The institutional church is a power structure that in some areas of life in intellectually dishonest or spiritually blind – something that Jesus consistently warned against. For me, one of the most important things Jesus said was when he said to the religious leaders of his time, ‘If you knew you were blind, you would have no sin. It’s because you say, ‘We see’, that your sin remains.’

“What happens in religion is that people have experiences of God that are ineffable. And they’ll lay down their lives for what they’ve experienced. When people start taking the names that the mystics have given to these experiences and pass them on, then for the next generation or two there’s not necessarily the experience underneath the names. And so we end up with language that, as Joseph Campbell says, is ‘not transparent of the transcendent.’ It’s become opaque. It’s become like a rock. It’s monolithic.

“The temptation for any form, image, or organized structure is to become monolithic; to become crystallized and to become an end unto itself. In some ways that is what’s going on with the church right now. The function of any monolith can become primarily to continue itself in its current crystallized, opaque form. Yet Jesus said the form profits nothing. It’s the spirit that gives life.

“All of this can, of course, be overstated. The church is, of course, a beacon of light to the world in many ways. But like all of us, it has a shadow side and, in my view al least, that shadow side lies in the area of sexuality.

“So if I had to say what people – GLBT or straight – can do to go beyond monolithic structures and language, it would be to become conscious, to embark on the Hero’s Journey of consciousness.

“Becoming conscious means that you really understand what’s going on within you as you encounter the forces of the monolith, and that you develop an almost detached – or perhaps better stated – more mature, adult-relationship with the institution you’re trying to change.

“It’s a paradox, I know, and it can cause a lot of grief. Internally what people need to do is affirm themselves, while externally they need to be doing just what CPCSM is doing – fostering dialogue, building networks of support, and building community. It’s spiritual work and it’s prophetic work.”

Jeff said...


Interesting post, and thanks for the link. I happen to belong to the parish where the VOTF started, and I can testify that there is a level of frustration on the part of the founders on their inability to motivate the young, who are either totally indifferent, or, if they are still interested in the Church at all, are drawn towards pre-conciliar forms of "orthodoxy" they pick up on the web, imagining a golden age in the days before their parents and grandparents that never quite existed. As the curia continues to blast way at the laity for their supposed "lack of faith", millions defect to other faith traditions, drift away into a vague self-directed spiritualism, or silently protest in place... It's a lot like a disfunctional Irish family.

episcopalifem said...

Michael -

Thank you for sharing that.

It took me over 10 years to decide to leave. It was a long spiritually dark struggle for me.

I couldn't stand on the altar and lie before God, and I couldn't practice Catholicism as the church had instructed me, so I decided to go and worship where I felt fed.

And Jeff is right about the young Catholics: Those that practice tend to be among ultra-orthodox.

However, I think that serious contemplation of church begins for many people in their 30's - when they start to have families and such, and many disaffected Catholics - who are likely more progressive or moderate (else they'd be out in full force as their ultra-orthodox counterparts are) - will be returning to church.

It's hard to say at this point, I think, what the next generation of Catholics will bring.

I'm less fearful for those who run to other denominations, as I am for those who give up completely and become atheists or agnostics. That's where the real loss is.

Anonymous said...

The conservatives in our faith are like terrorists in that it only takes a few of them to set off little bombs that send millions of us packing. I'm not sure why that is. Vatican II was huge, right? But then these conservatives today seem to have taken over everything and they act like VII was just some pastoral care memo. It was a Vatican council that affirmed separation of church and state and primacy of conscience! Where did these ayatollahs come from?

Anonymous said...

BTW I did a post as a thought experiment on whether I could ever go Anglican. It's here. I think the answer is still 'no'.

crystal said...

I first heard of Cardinal Pell when he made comments a couple of years ago about the primacy of conscience ... kind of a scary guy.

Anonymous said...

It is time we talked about 'Cathlofascism'. Fair is fair. We might as well prepare for the eventual polarizing of all faith terms with 'fascism' hyphenated onto the end. In any event, here is a link to a pithy blog that I think speaks to this issue.

If the link does not work here is the URL:


In any event, there is a backlash going on against Vatican II, that much is clear. And the reactionaries have the reigns of power. The return of the Tridentine mass without so much as the courteous removal of the singling-out call to conversion for all jews is just the tip of a much larger iceburg, IMHO, of what the next 20 years will bring. If the Cathlofascists have their way it will be a total return to the church temporal, that is, a renunciation of the separation of church and state, the doctrine of the Primacy of Conscience, and the very idea of loyal dissent within an anti-nihilistic framework. In other words, the very essence of real catholicism.