Two Completely Different Ideas of the Church: A Tale of Two Radio Programs

Yesterday, while out on the parking lot at the Fete, I listened to EWTN’s “The Good Fight” with Barbara McGuigan. McGuigan is something of an acquired taste. She looks and sounds like an American TV evangelist, but listening to her you soon discover that she is, as the Scots would say, “a canny lassie”. On this particular program, she was interviewing seven women who were participants of the Feminine Genius Conference. The program focused on the various apostolates of the women involved, and their contribution to the life of women in the Church. The program was replete with talk about “Jesus”, “God”, “the Holy Spirit”, “the Blessed Trinity”, “our Blessed Mother”, and deep love for the Church.

It was while listening to this program that I suddenly realised what it was above all else that deeply disturbed me about another radio program I had listened to the day before, this time a local production from the ABC Sunday Nights with John Cleary. In this particular program, Cleary was discussing the Catholic Priesthood Crisis. His guests were (as described on the website):

Bishop Patrick Power, Auxiliary Bishop of Canberra-Goulburn. Chris McGillion and John O’Carroll are the authors of ‘Our Fathers: What Australian Catholic Priests Really Think about their Lives and their Church’, to be released at the end of the month by John Garrett publishing. Peter J. Wilkinson is the author of ‘Catholic Parish Ministry in Australia: Facing Disaster’. We are also joined by Bernice Moore of Women and the Australian Church, one of the groups that supported Peter Wilkinson’s research.

As I said, I found this program deeply disturbing on many counts. But at first I couldn’t work out what exactly the underlying problem was. After comparing it to “The Good Fight”, I now know what it was.

This group – including a bishop and a priest (they were joined later by phone by a Fr Daniel Donovan from Sydney) – spoke for almost 50 minutes on radio about the challenges and crises facing the priesthood in “the Australian Church”. They did so without ever once mentioning the name of Jesus Christ. Not once.

Unfortunately, there is no transcript of this program on the ABC website. In a moment, I will give the basic gist of the conversation from a rough transcript I did last night on my second listening to the program to check out if my memory had served me correctly. It had. I am now able to articulate the main reasons why this program was so disturbing for me:

1) there is not one mention of Jesus Christ in the whole segment

2) God only gets a mention in the phrase “people of God”

3) the mass is only mentioned as something that people attend, or that “sister can do better than father”

4) no mention of prayer in the face of the crisis (particularly disturbing given our Lord’s direction to “pray the Lord of the harvest”)

5) again, the issue ends with “ownership of the church” – the “people” or the Pope? Just two options. Both wrong.

6) a strong belief that the church and priesthood at human creations and institutions: “we made them, we can unmake them; no need that the future must be like the past”.

7) recognition of a crisis in the church and the need for accountability, but a rejection of an outside assessment of the cause of the crisis, namely the 1998 Statement of Conclusions,

8) cry over the lack of priests, but a rejection of increased priestly vocations as the answer, suggesting rather “human” solutions such as married priests, re-instituting ex-priests, and women priests.

9) and finally a rejection of the current seminarians and new priests as being “the wrong sort”, with accusations of “clericalism”, etc.

All the commentators on the program and the interviewer himself (it always disturbs me how much John Cleary puts his own opinions into the subject of his interviews) seemed to be under the impression that the pope and bishops currently “own the church”. Their solution to the crisis therefore is a call to a revolution so that “the people” take “possession” of the church, even of the role of priests.

It is often said of Conservative Catholics that they are far too fixated with the institutional elements of the Church. Oddly, however, it appears that it is precisely liberal Catholics who have a view of the church which is entirely “institutional”. In complete contrast to Barbara McGuigan’s program, there appears to be no awareness that the Church is a sacred and spiritual community, which relies for its life upon the Triune God, and which exists to give him praise and glory by proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

In contrast, I am able to make “Sentire Cum Ecclesia” my motto precisely because I believe that to do so is to follow the motto “Sentire cum Christo”. As McGuigan said towards the end of her program, “it’s all about Jesus”.

Which leads me to wonder, although I don’t normally use such language, whether the guests on the ABC’s Sunday Night program couldn’t do with a decent “Baptism in the Holy Spirit”? A dose of talking in tongues would perhaps remind them of the mysterious force of the Holy Spirit. A “personal relationship with Jesus” (another term I do not usually use) might perhaps inflame their hearts to the proclamation of his saving gospel. In short I wonder, whether the real crisis in the Church is not perhaps a crisis of conversion.

As I said, there is no transcript of the ABC Sunday Night’s program “Catholic Priesthood Crisis” on their website. In case you haven’t got 50 min to listen to the whole program, I have placed my notes on the discussion here. Please leave all comments, however, here on this post.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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26 Responses to Two Completely Different Ideas of the Church: A Tale of Two Radio Programs

  1. Terra says:

    Thanks for summing up the program – and the underlying paradigm – and hence saving me the pain of listening to it.

    I’d suggest that the bottom line is that the reason they don’t mention prayer or anything else is because, to paraphrase the words from the blog of one of your regular commentators from his blog, they don’t actually believe in an ‘interventionist God’ [!]…

    But particularly sad to hear Bishop Power once more advocating ‘re-opening’ the forever closed question of women’s ordination.

    I agree with your conclusion on the need for conversion.

    Usquequo Domine!

    • Tony says:

      Just in case Terra’s slight at me is missed by the rest of you, she is referring to my post in the wake (pun not intended) of the events in Japan.

      The quote was not that I ‘don’t actually believe in an interventionist God’, it was that I find it hard to believe in and interventionist God. I find it particularly hard in the context of tens of thousands of people being wiped out in a tsunami and earthquake. It wasn’t meant to be an intellectual exercise or theological treatise, it was meant to be a pathetically inadequate but heartfelt prayer in the face of mind numbing tragedy.

    • Schütz says:

      they don’t actually believe in an interventionist God

      Well I am just wondering if they believe in God at all, Kate!

      • Tony says:

        What people don’t say in a particular context has always struck me as the thinnest pretext to make any substantial conclusions about what they believe.

        I suspect your ‘wondering’ betrays the bias you bring to the assessment.

        As it happens, I was reading +Pell’s Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion Are Fundamental Rights in relation to your earlier observation of a … mmm … ‘disconnect’ in Fr Brennan’s article.

        You’ll no doubt be upset to see that there is not one mention of God, Jesus Christ or prayer.

        • Schütz says:

          Sorry, I just found that this comment required moderation, Tony. It does that when there are a number of links in the comment.

          As I said in response to your other comment, it is entirely appropriate, when addressing the world on matters of morality and society, to argue entirely from the Natural Law which applies to all human beings, rather than invoking the name of Jesus or God or prayer.

          I have read many things written by many Christians on many topics that do not mention God, Jesus or prayer. What I was drawing our attention to in this post was the fact that in a discussion of the shortage of priests in our Church – an entirely ecclesiastical matter that in no way affects people who are not members of the Church – there was no mention of Jesus, God or prayer.

          The first step in good thinking, Tony, is to be able to make distinctions.

  2. Matthias says:

    . The need to talk about the Church in relation to the Lordship of Christ would be considered bad form by the programmers and the host. thus what you have Schutz , were the use of supposed ‘God words” but in fact a sociological discussion,or a theologized form of secular philosophy.

  3. PM says:

    Don’t forget that Chris McGillion is the theological genius who thinks that we ‘only’ need to get rid of the corrupting influence on Chritstianity of St Paul and all shall be well. Why do they think that recycled Harnack is contemporary and cutting edge?

  4. matthias says:

    ah Adolph Harnack, a onetime favourite of Bonhoffer I think at Tubingen University (.I hope i have given him the correct name and spelt the uni correctly)

  5. PM says:

    As for Berenice Moore on about transparency and accountability, can we have some accountability from her and her colleagues over the catastrophic failure of the school system they have dominated for 40 years to transmit anything remotely resembling knowlege and understanding of, let alone commitment to, Catholic Christianity. Fr Tendy’s preaching won’t have helped either.

    Fr Donovan provides a classic illustration with ‘they do not want to go to a church to be told how they have to organise their funeral service…’ Maybe if they hadn’t been left as complete theological illiterates they might understand the nature of the liturgy.

    • Schütz says:

      Yes, I had to admit that when Ms Moore revealed her past history as a teacher in Catholic schools I almost choked. Obviously neither she nor Fr Donovan are spring chickens any more – they have both been on the scene for the last 40 years themselves. What did they do during all that time to increase mass attendance and vocations? Why are they blaming the bishops – or the Pope – for the “crisis of priesthood”? Might the fault not lie a little closer to home?

  6. Terra says:

    David – I think for all intents and purposes, disbelief in an inteventionist God is practical atheism.

    While some Anglicans famously (at least according to the Yes Minister view of history!) deny altogether the existence of God, I think most of those who claim to be within the Church in some sense or other do subscribe to some vague woolly sense that there is a God.

    But he is seen as irrelevant – he doesn’t see what they do, and certainly doesn’t respond to their actions. So events in our lives are no longer seen as a providential call to repentance, and the possiblity of punishment by God, whether collectively (through the effects of Original Sin) either in this life or the next is completely rejected! Thus they never need to respond to him, the work of the Holy Spirit, and certainly reject the efficacy of prayer and above all the Mass.

    • PM says:

      We may need to take a leaf from the scholastics’ book here and make a distinction.

      Talk of an ‘interventionist’ god is often disguised deism which sees God as a kind of watchmaker who designs the machine and mostly sits back to watch it in motion, but occasionally has a poke in the works if we nag him enough.

      That is not, of course, the doctrine of creation that comes to us from the theological tradition through Augustine and Aquinas. For them, creation is a continuous (indeed, from God’s point of view eternal) act that holds everything in being as the singer holds a song. From that perspective, God is interior to everything as the final cause of its existence and doesn’t have to ‘intervene’ as if from outside like a celestial tinker. Rather, he governs everything by his providence which is eternal and unchanging. Our praying for things plays a part in providence, as what Cajetan terms an efficient dispositive cause. Prayer indeed makes a real difference, but not by changing God’s eternal will. And even then, our ability and disposition to pray are a grace.

  7. Fraser Pearce says:

    An interesting post, David. When the name of Jesus is not even mentioned in a lengthy discussion on the church by Christian people, then it is a curiosity.

    • Schütz says:

      Curiouser and curiouser…

      One hates to say it, but one does sometimes feel a little bit like Alice in Wonderland in the “Australian Catholic Church”: lots of people rushing around being madly pastorally active, but affected by a kind of “amnesia” as to what the whole purpose of all this pastoral activity is.

      There is that wonderful old joke about the Italian woman kneeling in prayer before a statue of the Blessed Virgin, when Jesus appears behind to her, shining with light. She pays no notice, however, and keeps on praying. Jesus sidles around into her field of vision a bit, trying to get her attention. Still she goes on with her prayers to the Blessed Mother. Finally, in desparation, Jesus speaks and says: “My Child, it is I, your Lord!” “You be-a quite”, she replies, “I’m-a talking to your mother”!

      Only in this situation, rather than a pious old Italian saying her rosary, we have bishops, priests and laypeople busy being “pastoral”, and ignoring the presence of Jesus in their midst. “You be-a quite; I’m-a being pastoral.”

      A little unfair perhaps.

      • Tony says:

        A little unfair, David?

        I guess if you’re consistent …

        A Pastoral Letter on Sexual Abuse by AB Denis Hart: No mention of prayer, one mention of God and one mention of Jesus.

        Statement on Euthanasiaby AB Denis Hart: No mention of prayer, no mention of God and no mention of Jesus.

        Australia Day by Cdl Pell: No mention of prayer, no mention of God and no mention of Jesus.

        • Schütz says:

          No, not at all inconsistent, Tony.

          I believe that prayer was an important issue in the discussion on the vocations crisis simply because it was our Lord’s express instruction that we should “pray the Lord of the harvest” to provide workers for the mission of the Church (Matt 9:38). It is always important, of course, but in this case the lack of mention of our Lord’s instruction is itself instructive.

          As for the statements on Australia Day and Euthanasia, these are not primarily matters of the Church’s mission as they are of the proper ordering of society. The Church has always made a point of arguing from the Natural Law rather than from Scripture or from Church dogma in reference to moral issues in society. Hence the lack of mention of Jesus, prayer or God in a statement of this kind is entirely appropriate. As for the statement on Australia Day, this too is addressing something in our society, not in our Church.

          No inconsistency or double standards, Tony. It does show, however, that you have failed to understand what I was getting at. I hope this explains it a bit more.

          • Tony says:

            I believe that prayer was an important issue in the discussion on the vocations crisis simply because it was our Lord’s express instruction that we should “pray the Lord of the harvest” to provide workers for the mission of the Church (Matt 9:38). It is always important, of course, but in this case the lack of mention of our Lord’s instruction is itself instructive.

            A post hoc justification David, I think, that the ‘A little unfair perhaps’ comment throws light on.

            It could be simply that in the particular forum addressed to a wider audience than Catholics, the speakers thought it unecessary or not appropriate to mention prayer, God or Jesus. It’s a simple explanation — there could be others — and one that requires a little charity.

            I believe it’s only ‘instructive’ because that’s the quite uncharitable bias you approached it with.

            +Hart’s letters are directed to an internal Catholic audience on an issue of grave concern to the local and universal church. It would be just as reasonable to jump to similar conclusions as you have because he makes little of no mention of Jesus, prayer and God as well as more ‘secular’ arguments.

            Surely, to a Catholic audience, it would be reasonable, for example, to expect +Hart to ask for the prayers of his audience for the victims (and, for that matter, the perpetrators)?

            And +Pell reflects on our nation with a bottom line of ‘We should be proud and thankful’ without reference to being grateful to God? Even in an article to an even wider audience than the ABC, surely this is an omission open to your ‘fair’ appraisal?

            • Schütz says:

              in the particular forum addressed to a wider audience than Catholics

              That’s the real question, Tony. Why on earth would any one BUT Catholics be interested in this issue? Why was a matter of completely internal governance of the church being discussed in such a forum?

              The fact is that the people on the program – including the presenter – are all Catholics. And I believe the motive in speaking about this issue – which is a purely ecclesial issue and nothing to do with secular society – was precisely to stir up Catholics to act as rebels against those who have the duty of governing the Church and her life.

              Could you suggest a more charitable interpretation?

            • Tony says:

              That’s the real question, Tony. Why on earth would any one BUT Catholics be interested in this issue? Why was a matter of completely internal governance of the church being discussed in such a forum?

              That’s the real question? The answer is pretty simple: it’s newsworthy for at least a couple of reasons.

              Catholics comprise a significant proportion of the population and, I dare say, a proportion of people of other faiths too would be interested in these questions because while they are about the priesthood in this case, they also touch on the broader issue of decline in connection with all sorts of religious and non-religious institutions in our society.

              Such a discussion is of interest to anyone who thinks about these things.

              The fact is that the people on the program – including the presenter – are all Catholics. And I believe the motive in speaking about this issue – which is a purely ecclesial issue and nothing to do with secular society – was precisely to stir up Catholics to act as rebels against those who have the duty of governing the Church and her life.

              It is very clear that is exactly where you were coming from and that’s what informed your response.

              Could you suggest a more charitable interpretation?

              I can suggest plenty, David, but I’m glad that you’ve made your position, your real position, clear.

              I believe the bottom line here is that you’ve been more than a little unfair and that’s demonstrated by your own words and some of the critical ‘tests’ you’ve applied in the dot points of your original post; tests that apply to speakers you don’t like but, magically, don’t apply to speakers you do like.

            • Schütz says:

              Tony: I can suggest plenty

              David: But you suggest none. You do explain the motive of the ABC for running the program, but you don’t suggest a charitable reason why professing Catholics would agree to be on such a program.

              As for my “magic”, I have already explained that. Go and find a document by +George or +Denis that is about the vocation crisis that does not mention Jesus, God, or prayer and at least then we will be comparing like with like.

            • Tony says:

              … but you don’t suggest a charitable reason why professing Catholics would agree to be on such a program.

              I don’t need to. It’s not necessary. Prominent Catholics are on the media every week and are not subject to your notions of ‘charity’.

              Notwithstanding that, you’re the one making the charge against the participants. It’s not up to me to prove you’re wrong, it’s up to you to prove you’re right. I would have thought that was natural justice.

              As for my “magic”, I have already explained that.

              No, I think it’s magic, David. On this subject and with this audience, a fundamental criticism of yours is what the participants don’t mention.

              I find other examples with people you’re not critical of who do the same thing, even to a very specifically Catholic audience, and somehow that’s OK.

              The bottom line, the real point I’m making here is captured in your own understated words, ‘A little unfair perhaps’.

            • Schütz says:

              “Prominent Catholics are in the media every week”.

              True. And they have different motives for going to the media.
              Sometimes the motive is to spread the good news of what the Church is doing to bring people closer to Christ, or to a fuller experience of life.
              Sometimes it is because the “prominent Catholic” in question is disgruntled about something and is wanting to stir up opposition in order to bring about change.
              Which “sometime” is this instance, do you think?

              and somehow that’s OK

              I’ve explained the difference between this radio program and the “other examples” you cite. Do you find my distinction to be deficient in some sense? If so, please explain. I have shown you how the “trick” is done, and you still seem to think it is “magic”.

            • Tony says:

              By way of a postscript, David, in my early contact with SCE there was a lot of emphasis on how biased the media were, especially as related to church issues.

              I think SCE has moved past the personal web diary of an individual to being part of the ‘new media’ and a part that has some influence and following, albeit with a niche audience (not a criticism BTW).

              So, all I’m trying to do is call you to account for some of your assertions about other members of the church.

            • Schütz says:

              SCE has moved past the personal web diary of an individual

              It was never a “web diary”.

              part of the ‘new media’ and a part that has some influence and following

              We humbly hope so.

              If I might make another distinction, Tony (watch closely for the smoke and mirrors…):

              A. I have been, am and will remain critical of “bias” and inaccuracy in journalistic reporting of news stories in the public media (newspapers, radio, TV news etc). I believe it is best practice for newspapers at least to make the distinction between what is a news story and what is an opinion piece or personal comment.

              B. In regard to the latter, I have no complaint whatsoever about people expressing whatever bias or crazy opinion they may personally hold in op-ed articles, personal analyses, or their own private internet sites – just as long as they understand that by putting said crazy ideas and biases “out there” they become fair game for someone else’s criticism.

              Since this blog falls into the latter, rather than the former category of writing, (watch the “magic” closely, Tony) I do not feel at all hypocritical when I hold news journalists to account regarding bias, and yet continue to put forth my own extremely and admittedly biased material and crazy opinions on this ‘ere blog.

              Do you see how the “trick” is done, Tony?

            • Tony says:

              … just as long as they understand that by putting said crazy ideas and biases “out there” they become fair game for someone else’s criticism.

              That’s where I come in. Thanks for the endorsement!

              Since this blog falls into the latter, rather than the former category of writing, (watch the “magic” closely, Tony) I do not feel at all hypocritical when I hold news journalists to account regarding bias, and yet continue to put forth my own extremely and admittedly biased material and crazy opinions on this ‘ere blog.

              Do you see how the “trick” is done, Tony?

              It’s an old one David, it’s called ‘do as I say, not as I do’.

              I don’t have a problem with you publishing opinions, even biased ones. I may do so from time to time myself. It’s when you publish an opinion as fact, particularly when it maligns someone else, that I feel an urge exercise ‘fair game’.

              Glad we understand each other!

            • Schütz says:

              If ever I have stated an “opinion” that appears to be a journalistic report of objective fact, please let me know, Tony. I don’t think I am guilty of this. In this instance, my “transcript” of the interview is provided as “objective” reporting, and this post is my “opinion”.

              In any case, to quote from Dr Amy-Jill Levine’s “The Misunderstood Jew”, “being biased is not the same thing as being wrong.”

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