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.