Scapegoating – The Church’s fall from grace

As a Catholic, the horror of sexual abuse is not that the Church is being scapegoated by the media, it’s the horror that ordinary Catholics feel conned.

The comments were made from Wales by Professor Thomas O’Loughlin in a “Scapegoating: The Church’s fall from grace”, a Flashes of Insight conversation with Dr Joe Grayland, Dr James Alison in Spain and Sande Ramage in Palmerston North.

This Flashes of Insight conversation considers the impact on the church’s fall from paradise, whether the church is being scapegoated, how the Church is dealing with this crisis and asks about real reform and restorative justice. It is a four-part conversation.

Host Joe Grayland asks if the sex abuse crisis will reconcile the Church with itself and with society or will it be a lost opportunity?

James Alison is an English Roman Catholic priest and theologian noted for his application of René Girard’s anthropological theory to Christian systematic theology.

Alison says we all know what scapegoating is – it’s when everybody gets together and blames someone for something that is not in fact their fault.

When we say that someone is a scapegoat, we’re effectively saying they are falsely accused.

However, Alison says the understanding of the scapegoat mechanism goes back to something much more ancient. It is the initial way groups create unity and a coming together instead of destroying themselves in a frenzied all against all.

Alison says the group mysteriously finds it came together against one of their own number whom they had thrown out, and then recognised they were right to do so.

He describes it as a basic human act and an effective way of creating unity.

“It works to a certain extent in as far as we all gang up together against someone and throw them out, we become united. We suddenly have peace for a fairly short time.”

The people involved think they’ve done the right thing because ‘they’ve got’ the person responsible.

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Synodality: A German perspective on the issues

Synodality in Germany is an oft-mentioned topic that for some is concerning, others confusing and then for another group is considered the “great future”.

“Synodality is a moment of crisis,” Professor Margit Echolt from the University of Osnabrück, told Flashes of Insight.

“The issues centre around the democratisation of the Church, equality, sexual abuse, women, and young people.”

“There are many people, particularly women, of my age but also the younger generation who will leave the church unless they are treated equally, are heard and engaged in the church and their parish,” she said.

The point was reinforced by Emeritus Professor Paul Zulehner, from the University of Vienna, Austria, who told Flashes of Insight that laypeople, pastorally, “The People of God,” are in their professional life qualified, involved and are given responsibility. Still, it is not the case with the Church.

“We need to start again with Vatican II, to open up its meaning and then change the Canon Law,” he said.

While some are fighting for reform, others have given up and are walking away, he said.

Zulehner says to be faithful, Catholics rely on two main sources, biblical tradition and the Holy Spirit.

“Tradition must find shape in culture and the Holy Spirit talking through the signs of the times,” he said.

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Christianity and society: Former Australian PM’s Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott

Through his book, “In the Shadow of the Cross”, former vice-chancellor of Australian Catholic University, Emeritus Professor Greg Craven of The Glenn Institute; the ACU’s public policy think tank is promoting deeper thinking and conversations about important issues confronting Christianity and society.

In this conversation Craven is joined by two members of the former Australian prime minister’s club; the Honourable Kevin Rudd who served as Australia’s 26th Prime Minister from 2007 to 2010 and again in 2013 along with the Honourable Tony Abbott who served as Australia’s prime minister from 2013 to 2015.

Host of the event is the Archbishop of Melbourne, The Most Reverend Dr Peter Comensoli.

In opening the conversation, Comensoli said that both Abbott and Rudd are men of faith who have given great service to Australia and in doing so have brought something of the life of the Gospel into their various roles.

No longer prime ministers, both now serve the nation in other ways and this conversation is to hear their views, as people of the Gospel, and how they engage within the life of society in Australia. Continue reading “Christianity and society: Former Australian PM’s Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott”

Sacrifice, women and ministry: That’s then this is now

People on the edges are what the Church sacrifices most today Elizabeth Young RSM told the conversation on Flashes of Insight.

She describes these people as ‘lost opportunities’.

Young, a pastoral worker who once worked in a large diocese, says that city dioceses, hospitals, schools and parish communities are generally well resourced and have good systems in place, however, there is an issue on the “missionary edges”.

As a sacramental church, the limited resources go first to priests who can celebrate sacraments Young told Flashes of Insight.

She thinks that people are missing out and the Church is sacrificing lots of opportunities by not being able to offer sacraments to people who are being cared for by those who love them and committed to them.

“Sacraments add just so much to ministry”, she added.

Young says she loves the fact the Catholic Church is a sacrament-based church but wonders what might be when something so valuable to those on the margins is not available to them.

“Our church is perhaps sacrificing the ability to be there with people Jesus would have been with”, she said.

Young says we love the Church but in these times need a lot of hope in Christ, as the Church continues to develop.

Kate Bell a theologian and catechist with the Palmerston North diocese in New Zealand makes the issue tangible.

She describes women’s ministry, as, at times, “doing the role with our hand behind our backs and a gag in our mouths.”

Bell says it is the Church that is making the sacrifice; the sacrifice and cost to the Church is the loss of potential not being brought into actuality.

It is a point that Jo Ayers, an Auckland theologian and author amplifies, saying she often wondered what would happen to the church if women went on strike for a generous amount of time.

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Ministry clarity or crumbs from the table?

Anything that authenticates, makes visible and validates women’s ministry will help women take their rightful place in the Church says Kate Bell, a theologian and catechist.

She made the comment on Flashes of Insight, a conversation between herself, and fellow theologians, Fiona Dyball, Elizabeth Young and Jo Ayers.

The women discussed the newly approved ministries for women of Lector, Acolyte and Catechist.

“I think it is helpful that Canon Law has been changed and women are formally allowed into ministry.

“It’s got to be helpful that women because of the ‘womenness’ are no longer excluded from ministry.

However, her view is not all ‘clear water’, Bell telling the conversation she has a slight concern that formal recognition of these ministries might alienate the baptised who have been performing them for a long time.

“The people of God, the baptised, might become further disenfranchised from ministry by yet  another layer and another process.”

While keen to see the introduction of formal ministries Bell does not want ministry to happen only when it is recognised.

“It’s the job of all of us to be involved,” she said.

Host, Joe Grayland politely suggested Bell was ‘sitting on the fence’.

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Warning, Synods may not work for women

Synods, seen by Pope Francis and many to be inclusive, have the possibility of becoming exclusive.

The signs of hope that Synods hold for women and those within the Church who want to see change may deliver the opposite.

The warning comes from involved and committed Catholic women in a conversation on Flashes of Insight.

Saying that synodal discernment is not easy nor fast, leaves the question open to how much time and effort people will have to give to a process that perhaps seems to be better suited for church professionals.

The women warn the noninvolvement of people may have the inverse effect of opening up the Church, implying it may return the Church walled garden albeit built by a minority view.

Through groups, she is associated with in Australia, Auckland theologian and lecturer Jo Ayers is watching the Australian Plenary (synod) develop.

From her involvement with these groups, she questions how inclusive the process is and suggests that excluding people from the conversation will have the significant potential to further alienate, perhaps the majority of Catholics.

“There is a lot of discussion and struggle about the agenda for the (Australian) Plenary and who will be the members who make the decisions”.

All four women on Flashes of Insight are hopeful and want to see change.

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Second-class membership for women is unjust anywhere

The Catholic Church organization reflects an ancient society where women are incapable of leadership and governance says Auckland theologian and lecturer, Jo Ayers.

“Second-class membership for women anywhere is unjust,” she told Flashes of Insight on Wednesday.

Asked by host Joe Grayland if the relationship of women and the Catholic Church is a problem, she replied she did not choose to see it this way and simply called the relationship of women and the Catholic Church “a matter of justice”.

Ayers said that God is made known to us in all our relationships and in examining these we are told that women are fully human.

She says that the Catholic Church is no longer prophetic for women and that civil society is.

“The evidence in New Zealand of women in leadership, in the highest jobs in the country underscores that civic society is ahead of the (Catholic) Church”.

It is a point echoed by Palmerston North catechist and theologian, Kate Bell, who is concerned the Church is so far behind.

“It is the (Catholic) Church that has the problem. It has not been able to comprehend and stay on board with the fact that women are baptized.

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Women deacons in the Catholic Church

No issue in the Catholic Church is hotter than the question of women in ministry.

Whether women can, should or will be ordained to the diaconate is what Dr Phyllis Zagano, Emeritus Professor Justin Taylor and Dr Joe Grayland discuss in the latest edition of Flashes of Insight.

Zagano’s starting point is that the past is clear, and no one’s going to argue that women were not deacons.

“Women clearly are clearly in our many churches histories and were ordained (deacons)”, she said.

“In many cases, they were sacramentally ordained to serve as deacons and to serve as deacons fully in different places in different times”.

Zagano said that in ‘recent’ times two bishops began a conversation at the Vatican Council, asking about restoring women to the diaconate.

“The conversation they began is still going on”, Zagano says.

One of the questions is if the Church restored women to the diaconate, whether they would be installed or ordained she pondered.

However, for others in the Flashes of Insight conversation, women deacons are in effect working well in the Church, except it does not call them deacons, and they are not ordained.

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Synodality: Power to the people

The Synod word has fallen out of widespread use in Catholic circles, but it is back, big-time.

What does it mean? What are the issues? How should we approach a Synod?

Joining Flashes of Insight host Dr Joe Grayland to discuss Synods and Synodality are:

  • Cardinal John Dew of Wellington, New Zealand,
  • Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia and
  • Professor Thomas O’Loughlin, Professor Emeritus of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham.

Synods were introduced to the Archdiocese of Wellington when Cardinal Tom Williams was archbishop.

Reasonably rare occurrences, the Archdiocese has experienced four synods, two while Cardinal Williams was archbishop and two during Cardinal Dew’s time.

Dew told the discussion that while some will be familiar with the concept of a Synod, he suspected most in the archdiocese were unlikely to be. He explained that in the Archdiocese, synods are about working together, listening together and encouraging the participation of lay people in setting the Archdiocese’s direction.

Pressed on whether he thought bishops are prepared to give up their authority, Dew said it was implicit that the episcopal authority would change radically.

He cited a very tangible example of synodality in operation.

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The Vatican’s response to same-gender blessings

The Vatican’s same-gender blessings statement (Responsum) has back-fired according to theologian Dr James Alison.

“I’ve been rather encouraged, and particularly surprised how much more unworriedly critical a vast number of people, including cardinals and bishops have been”.

He’s calling the Vatican’s move ‘a shot in the foot’.

James Alison spoke with Professor Thomas O’Loughlin, Fr Michael Kelly SJ, hosted by Dr Joe Grayland on Flashes of Insight.

He characterised the Vatican’s document as a dialogue that is failing to be dialogical.

Alison says the Responsum is an attempt to shut down ‘horizontal conversation’ between people by introducing a ‘vertical directive’.

The Vatican is trying to place a trump card he claims.

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