Jerome Murphy-O’Connor meets St Paul?

I sometime fantasize about writing a series of fiction novels with a theological slant. One idea I toy with now and then is to do a series of detective mystery novels, each with a different saint of the Catholic Church as the main investigator, written with their life and particular charism in mind. “St Augustine Investigates”, “St Therese of Liseux Investigates”, “St Padre Pio Investigates” etc. Could be fun.

Another idea I toy with now and then is the old idea that Peter Kreeft uses so well in such books as “Socrates meets Kant”: pitting together great minds from different ages. In that vein, I would really like to do a “Professor Jerome Murphy-O’Connor meets St Paul”. I would love to see the sparks fly!!

I will candidly admit that I have not read much JM-O’C. I know he is a great expert on the Pauline epistles, and especially on the Corinthian correspondence. I am doing an Anima Education course on 1 Corinthians at the moment (continuing for a second 6-week period this Monday night), and so I am reading his little work in the “The People’s Bible Commentary” series on 1 Corinthians. I chose this rather than his major commentary because I was looking for a text to recommend my class as an accessible popular work informed by deep scholarship. At first I thought I might be on the right track, but now I am having my doubts.

JM-O’C gives a whole new meaning to “critical” exegesis! Here is just one example I have just read:

A Potty Principle: In each instance Paul’s answer was essentially “Yes, but”, because circumstances alter cases. Now he formulates a general principle to cover all such situations: “each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (7:16, cf. 7:20). At this point one begins to have a certain sympathy with the Corinthians because, when taken literally, this is nonsense. …Obviously Paul has put his foot in it once again. (p.78)

There are instances where JM-O’C takes it upon himself to be critical of the apostle. Has anyone with greater familiarity with his work noticed this?

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R.I.P. Stumpy Rat (b. 17th Oct 2013; d. 29th Sept 2014)

Stumpy Rats have very short lives, even if they live a “long life” for a rat. The years of their life are two or, by reason of strength, three. Alas, our little Stumpy drew the short straw. She was always the runt of the 13-pup litter, and (to continue the “short straw” analogy) she lost half her tail to one of her siblings when she was only a couple of weeks old (hence her cognomen). Compared to her sister Stripe, and even more to her cousin Persephone (daughter of Smudge and affectionately known as “Pudge” due to her ever expanding girth) she was tiny. When it came to taking all of her sisters and brothers back to the pet shop in December last year, we decided to keep her as well as Stripe. Her chances of finding a good home were small due to her rear-end defect, and we didn’t want her ending up as snakefood. But she was never very affectionate, was forever hiding from the world, and, whenever we reached into the cage to pull out a rat, she would always be the one at the back of the rat pile. So I actually have very few pictures of her.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that she had developed a lump (first a stump, then a lump…). I took her to our family vet, and after a test he confirmed that it was fatty tissue, probably benign. But there are always risks with putting such little animals under anesthetic, so he suggested leaving it to see if it got any bigger. Well, it did, and so I took her back today to ask for it to be removed. I was talking to a fellow member of the Australian Rat Fanciers’ Society on Saturday at a fundraising sausage sizzle at Bunnings (yes, there were questions when people saw our sign as they were buying their sausages, but we made $700 to help with our Rat Rescue program). Apparently, even if benign, if left untreated, the lumps can grow very large and cause all sorts of problems for the little critters.  So I decided today to act, and took Stumpy down to our vet this morning on the way to work.

Stumpy's lump

Just before mass this afternoon (Feast of the St Michael etc – cantoring in the Cathedral), I received a text from the vet to say that all went well, and that Stumpy was just coming out of her anesthetic. He added that he had in fact found a second lump growing in her groin, and had taken that out too. Apparently neither tumor was a benign as he first thought, and were more difficult to remove than he expected. I offered prayers of thanksgiving, and at lunch afterwards told my colleagues that my little friend had pulled through.

Then the vet called me about an hour later to say that Stump had relapsed into unconsciousness and died…

One part of me is actually glad. I was concerned that if another tumor was already growing in such a short period, others might yet grow, and before she had recovered from this operation she would need another. I was also (rather shamefully) glad that it was Stumpy – the unfriendly one – and not Persephone, or Stripe, or Mummy Smudge or Aunty Dot.

I left work a little early to get back to the vet’s to pick up Stumpy’s body. They had nicely wrapped her up in a cotton cloth, and kindly waived any charge at all for the surgery. I brought her home and buried her in the garden, just a couple of metres from where she was born.

All in all, I guess she had a decent life for a rat. And although five pet rats have, at times, seemed like quite a lot, and although she was usually hiding in some corner or other, the cage is just that little bit emptier tonight, and the rat pile just that little bit smaller.

Rest in peace, Stumpy.

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Congratulations, Archbishop Anthony Fisher

This was one boot that was a long time in dropping, but the news has finally broken that Sydney has a new Archbishop. 

My family, Cathy, Mad and Mia, join me in wishing Archbishop-elect Anthony Fisher OP every blessing and grace from God for his new appointment. 

There will be many rejoicing in Sydney and around Australia tonight at this news, but I feel deeply for the people of the Parramatta Diocese who will lose a very much beloved bishop. Bishop Fisher has been so close to his people there, and has embraced the diversity and vibrant youth of that diocese. Especially, in communion with the people of the diocese, he has introduced the new pastoral plan that will see the Parramatta Diocese take up the call of Christ and the mission of the Gospel into the future. There were still many irons in the fire and plans for the future to work out, but now they will be for someone else to take up. As St Paul wrote, “I sowed, Apollos watered, but God gives the growth”.

And now to Sydney. As he is just 54, his care of the diocese of Sydney is likely to cover the next two decades. Sydney is a smaller diocese and (although Parramatta and Sydney are equally Australia’s European oldest settlements) technically the oldest diocese in Australia, which gives it a certain seniority among the Australian dioceses. It has also traditionally been a cardinalatial see – although given Pope Francis’ new paradigms, there is no reason to expect that Arcbishop Fisher will receive a red hat very soon. 

As great as the honour that now befalls this humble Dominican friar is, I pray that he will in fact be given the grace and strength he needs for what is going to be a Herculean task. One would have to be mad to actively seek high office in the Church these days, and I don’t believe Anthony has ever sought it. Right now, he may be recalling an earlier Bishop Fisher from some five centuries back, and indeed asking for his intercession. 

Many years ago, when I first suggested to my dear friend and father in the faith, John Fleming, that I wished to become a Catholic, he recommended to me that I should make contact with a Fr Anthony Fisher at the Dominican Priory in Melbourne. Fr Anthony became my catechist, and 3 years later received me into the Church by confirmation and gave me my first holy Communion. A couple of weeks after confirming me, Fr Anthony was made auxiliary bishop of Sydney. I remain ever thankful to him for his support and friendship over the years.

Thank you, Pope Francis, for this appointment. Holy Spirit, send your fire and strength on Anthony for his new mission. St Dominic, pray for your son. St John Fisher, pray for your fellow bishop.

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Interesting times all over again

On the Twitterverse this morning, I came across this article in the National Catholic Register: No Scandal Here: The 20 Couples Married by Pope Francis Were Legit. Basically, they say exactly what I said in the previous post and com-thread. I was somewhat amused that they used a headline reminiscent of Faz’s “Nothing to see – Move along” line.

In the mean-time, Cardinal Pell has poured cold water on the idea that there could be any change in Catholic teaching or discipline in regard to admitting civilly remarried persons to the sacrament while their legitimate spouse is living. His words come in a new book that is about to be published by Ignatius Press, upping the ante in the quarrel between cardinals over the matter.

And Rorate Coeli reports that a French newspaper reports that a “source close to the Pope” thinks that the Pope “would be” irritated by the publication of such a volume. Those getting in a tither over rumours that Cardinal Burke may have a change of portfolio in the Curia are adding this as extra fuel to their current fire. Fr Z says “Stay calm, keep the faith and keep on praying”.

And over at Crux, John L. Allen is saying the good money is on some improvement of process at the tribunal level in dioceses around the world. (BTW, can I say how much I am enjoying the coverage and journalism on It’s what I would have hoped for had they ever made John L. Allen the editor of National Catholic Reporter…)

Also at Crux is this very honest and to-the-point article by ex-Legionary priest who is now married to the mother of his disabled child conceived while he was still a priest under vows. I like that he makes a distinction between the situation of a priest dispensed from his vows and the case of someone in a second marriage. The priestly vow of celibacy can be dispensed if a priest ceases to exercise his priesthood; it is not his vow of celibacy that constitutes his priesthood. On the other hand marriage vows actually constitute marriage, and cannot be dispensed. The two cases are not analogous. He writes:

Moreover, the central thrust of the synod won’t be how to make it easier to get out of a bad marriage. The Church will want to send a message to young people that she still believes in marriage and that lifetime commitment — with God’s help — is still possible.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Dolan has defended his recent actions in regard to the New York St Patrick’s Day parade. Can’t say I disagree with his defense. As Fr Duffy says, “His post exudes charity”. It is to be noted that Cardinal Dolan is one of the those cardinals who, like Cardinal Pell and the other authors of “The Gospel of the Family”, believes that the Church is not able to change her interpretation of scripture and apostolic tradition on the matter of divorce and remarriage. The word “hardliner” doesn’t really apply.

So many interesting things going on at the moment. One is reminded of the old curse “May you live in interesting times”… One suspects things will only get more interesting over the next month or two as the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops meets and then over the next twelve months before the Ordinary Synod meets in October 2015. Many of us didn’t live in or have experience of the “interesting times” in the 1960’s and 1970’s before things settled down for a bit under Popes Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but I expect that we are just getting a taste for how it must have been back under the papacy of (soon to be) Blessed Pope Paul VI. It is by such toing and froing that the Holy Spirit moves the Church onward in history.

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The Kind of Media Report that Muddies rather than Clarifies Truth

In the combox of a previous post, Faz/Tony gave the link to this report on the BBC News Europe site. To Tony’s credit, he did say that “[the] secular media often screws up reports related to the church”. I’ll say. Let’s look at this report. My comments in brackets in bold. 

Pope marries 20 cohabiting couples [really? They were ALL cohabiting?] in sign of papacy shift

14 September 2014 

The wedding ceremony marks a shift in attitude, explains David Willey from Rome

Pope Francis has presided over the marriage of 20 couples at the Vatican, including some [some? NOT all 20 then?] who were cohabiting, one of them with a child.

Pope Francis had asked to marry 40 people from different social backgrounds who represented modern couples.

It was the first papal marriage ceremony of its kind in 14 years.

The pope has expressed greater tolerance than his predecessor on many issues, including family values. [And so we buy into the "Pope Francis more liberal than Pope Benedict" myth...]

Sunday’s ceremony at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome comes three weeks before a meeting of Catholic bishops from around the world to examine church teachings on family matters.

Slow shift

One of the couples married was a man whose previous marriage was annulled [good - then he was perfectly free to marry again. Who would disagree? Certainly not Pope Benedict] and a single mother with a daughter from a previous relationship. [Since when was having a child from a previous relationship any bar to receiving the sacrament of matrimony?]

Pope Francis has shown more openness than his predecessors on the subject of marriage [Really? Please tell me where in Pope Francis' magisterium we can find evidence of this?]. Pope Francis told the couples at the two-hour ceremony that marriage was “not an easy road, it’s sometimes a contentious trip, but that’s life,” AFP news agency reports. ["Pope says marriage can be difficult" - And this is news?]

Very slowly, the church under the guidance of Pope Francis is facing the fact that many Catholic couples cohabit before marriage, use contraception freely and divorce and remarry without seeking an annulment, says the BBC’s David Willey in Rome. [Now there is a statement that is REALLY "screwed up". No such changes are on the agenda, certainly not Pope Francis' agenda.]

He said in his homily that families are “bricks that build society”, but also believes that the church should forgive those who have sex outside marriage or who don’t obey church teaching to the letter. [A. The bit after "but..." in that sentence is the product of journalistic imagination; B. Even if the Pope did say that, who would be suprised? Parish priests forgive such sins whenever they hear confessions!]

It was the first marriage Pope Francis has conducted in his 18-month papacy. The last wedding to be presided over by a pope took place under John Paul II in 2000.

The world’s clergy will gather in Rome in October to discuss issues such as marriage, divorce and contraception.

They are expected to discuss the results of a worldwide survey launched by the Vatican last year to find out what Catholics really think about its teaching on marriage and family life.

Let’s make a couple of things quite clear:

1) Pope Francis did nothing that parish priests do not do regularly in their ministry

2) Pope Francis did nothing that was not completely in accord with canon law

3) Pope Francis did nothing that was at odds with the teaching or example of their predeccesors

4) Pope Francis sanctified by the sacrament of matrimony the lives and relationships of 20 couples, who will now benefit along the journey of married life from the grace of the sacrament.

It might be worth actually reading what Pope Francis said to the 20 couples in question. Please quote to me the bit where he shows a “shift in attitude” about, a “greater tolerance” for, or “more openness” toward the sins of cohabitation before marriage, divorce, use of contraception, divorce and remarriage, etc.?

Rather he says that “Whoever entrusts himself to Jesus crucified receives the mercy of God and finds healing from the deadly poison of sin.” Sin is a “deadly poison”, and 

“the cure which God offers…to spouses who ‘have become impatient on the way’ and who succumb to the dangerous temptation of discouragement, infidelity, weakness, abandonment” 


his Son Jesus, not to condemn them, but to save them: if they entrust themselves to him, he will bring them healing by the merciful love which pours forth from the Cross, with the strength of his grace that renews and sets married couples and families once again on the right path.

Amen to that. 

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Registered Commentators: Please drop me a comment

Dear regular readers and registered commentators,

Tonight this site was bombarded with spam comments, and it took me some time to get it under control. I have added extra protection and it seems to have done its job, but my concern now is that I have barricaded the gates so securely that maybe legitimate commentators will have difficulty getting through.

So, to celebrate my re-entry into the blogosphere, please drop me a comment saying “Hi!”, and let me know your thoughts on whatever is going on in the Catholic world. That way we will catch up with one another and also I will be able to determine whether my anti-spam plugin is doing its job by keeping out the enemy without deterring “friendly fire” from this site!

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Found it! Michele Saracino’s CTSA response to Paul J. Griffiths

In a previous post, I wrote with praise for Paul J. Griffiths’ address to the Catholic Theological Society of America. I also linked to James Keating’s background article in First Things. In that article, Keating refers to a response that was given to Griffiths’ paper.

Well, now I’ve found it, and here it is, by Michele Saracino. Very interesting.

And, while I’m at it, here are a couple of other responses, via Michael Sean Winters at National Catholic Reporter: the first by Meghan Clark, and the second by Charles Camosy.

All three responses are interesting – especially the last two because they are offered in the context of Catholic moral theology – in the light of the discussion Tony and I have been having on the post two below this this one, ie. on Cardinal Kasper’s proposals for the admission of the divorced and remarried to eucharistic communion in the Catholic Church. Saracino criticises Griffith’s over reliance on “intellectual” rather than “affective” approaches to theology. This seems to be precisely the point at issue in both Tony’s response to my post and to Dr Paul McGavin’s response to the Corbett and Co paper on Kasper’s proposals

These intertwined discussions seem to me to go to the very heart of what Catholic theology is and how the Church determines her teaching and pastoral care and discipline. 

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Bringing out the Big Guns

Okay, some have taken issue with my previous post regarding Cardinal Kasper’s recent article in America Magazine. One in particular, Lutheran Pastor Mark Henderson, has claimed that it is the Catholic Church, and not the Eastern Orthodox or Protestant Churches, that is out of step with dominical and apostolic tradition in this matter. 

So now it is time to pull out the big guns, and refer my readers to an article by a real patristics scholar and not simply an amateur such as myself. Dr Adam G. Cooper, of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family, published this article on “Cardinal Kasper and the Church Fathers” in the Catholic World Report some months ago. You may wish to read it, if you think that Cardinal Kasper has the tradition of the Church on his side. Dr Cooper is, of course, a convert to the Catholic Church like myself. His article was recommended to me by another (still) Lutheran pastor who was of the opinion that the arguments stack up. 

If anyone feels that they can show contrary evidence – ie. that the Early and Patristic Church really did believe that it was possible for a Christian in a sacramental marriage to divorce and legitimately remarry – I would like to see it. I simply am not convinced by claims that the Latin Church has misinterpreted the rule of our Lord on this matter.

Again, I will encourage readers to consider Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 5-7 over again. Paul is quite prepared to withhold judgement from those outside the Christian community (‘Who am I to judge?’), but by golly he holds those within the community to the highest possible standards – standards some might today regard as ‘unrealistic’. Similarly, he is ready to allow that a Christian married to a non-Christian is ‘not bound’ should the non-Christian spouse abandon the marriage, but he seems a very long way from allowing the same to those married ‘in the Lord’. His teachings in fact appear to give strong support to the Early Christian expectation that those who have been divorced or even widowed should remain unmarried for the rest of their lives.

I’m just saying that the current Catholic teaching and practice seems to me to be in complete concord with both Scripture and the Patristic witness. As usual, I’m happy to be proved wrong.

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Cardinal Kasper again: So right, but so wrong

Just a month or so before the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family begins in Rome, Cardinal Kasper is at it again with an article in America Magazine, “The Message of Mercy”.

There is much to like in his article. He is right that the Church must be a reflection – a sacrament – of God’s mercy. He is right that, as taught by the Gospel of Matthew and by St Paul, the Church must have effective means of discipline lest the Gospel be received as “cheap grace”, that is (and he quotes the Lutheran martyr theologian Bonhoeffer on this) “without mincing words”: 

“Cheap grace means the justification of the sin and not the sinner…. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.”

And he is absolutely right when he says that “No theologian, not even the pope, can change the doctrine of the indissolubility of a sacramental marriage”.

But then he goes and blows it all with this:

So the question is: If a person after divorce enters into a civil second marriage but then repents of his failure to fulfill what he promised before God, his partner and the church in the first marriage, and carries out as well as possible his new duties and does what he can for the Christian education of his children and has a serious desire for the sacraments, which he needs for strength in his difficult situation, can we after a time of new orientation and stabilization deny absolution and forgiveness? In the Creed we profess: “I believe in the forgiveness of sin.” When God gives a new chance, a new future to everybody who repents and does what is possible in their situation, why not the church, which is the sacrament of God’s mercy?

Again and again, Cardinal Kasper seems to be incapable of understanding the flaw in his argument. It is not the “sin” of “divorce and remarriage” that prevents a Catholic from being able to receive the sacrament (while their first spouse is still living) – it is the fact that at this point in time, they are having sexual relations with some one who is not their spouse. The Church does not dissolve sacramental marriages, as Cardinal Kasper has said. If a person in a sacramental marriage divorces and remarries, then the new relationship is not a marriage, it is adultery – at least if the couple are having sexual relations. It is this act of adultery which must be repented of, not the failure of the first marriage, or the civil marriage. Let them live as brother and sister and then approach the sacrament.

I recognise the argument Kasper makes, of course. It is the basic approach of the Lutheran and other protestant churches. But it is not recognisable as the teaching of the Catholic Church or the discipline of the Church as the scriptures direct. It is, in fact, precisely what Bonhoeffer would have called “cheap grace”.

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What is Catholic Theology…?

…And what should a society of “Catholic” theologians look like? That’s the question raised by two essays that have come across my twitter screen in the last few days.

The first is a plenary address to the Catholic Theological Society of America entitled “Theological Disagreement: What it is, and How to Do it”, by Paul J. Griffiths. Griffiths is the Warren Chair of Catholic Theology at Duke Divinity School, and a convert to Catholicism from the Anglican Church. Scott Stephens very kindly put this excellent paper up on the ABC Religion and Ethics website. Take the time to read it. If your job description has “Catholic theologian” in it, this paper will help you comprehend your task and vocation when you wake up in the morning.

But if you, like me, found yourself wondering “How on earth did such a clear-thinking, rational and truly Catholic theologian come to be addressing such a pull-no-punches paper to the CTSA?”, then you will want to read this article in the latest edition of First Things by James Keating: “In the Wake of Heroic Theology: how the quest for relevance distorts theology”. His thesis is that the fact that the ‘heroic’ theologians such as Congar and Rahner successfully challenged and changed the way Catholic theology was done within their lifetime has led today’s (somewhat less ‘heroic’) Catholic theologians to think that it is their right and duty to achieve the same.

The only thing I would still like to be able to find to round out this little debate would be access to the CTSA respondent’s paper so tantalisingly described at the end of Keating’s article. Sounds like she was spitting chips. [Update: Here it is]

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