Thanks for that advice, Barney…

…but we generally believe that, as prerequisite, those we consult must have some sort of experience, expertise, wisdom, authority or knowledge in the area on which they are advising. In relation to the nature, structure, dogma and mission of the Catholic Church, Barney ol’ boy, you have none of these. Mind you, I’m always prepared to listen to someone who has something original or helpful to say. But your advice (published in today’s edition of The Age under the title“Catholicism should lower the drawbridge”) was lacking even in this.

I mean, was it you or your editor who chose to put in the subheading “Some changes to church doctrines would make it more appealing”? Come on, Barney. You have been reporting on the changes to doctrine in the Anglican Church long enough. You know the stats. Do you have any proof that the more “go with the flow” approach of the Anglican or Uniting Church has proved “more appealing” to Australians than the doctrinal approach of the Catholic Church?

“Now it is time to try a touch of democracy.” What? Do you think that is how it works in the Church? We try this, and if it doesn’t work, we try that? That’s a little bit like me thinking “I will put LPG gas in my car today, because it’s cheaper.” Doesn’t matter if my car doesn’t run on LPG or doesn’t even have an LPG gas tank. It looks just the same as LPG run cars, so why not give it a go and see if it will work? The Church might look like any other human organisation, but it is completely different mechanically and it runs on different fuel.

You chose as your target World Youth Day. Heck, that’s to be expected. You can virtually smell the rising tide of sectarian anti-Catholicism in the Australian media as WYD approaches. But its about YOUTH, man! So how on earth do you justify rolling out (as on wheelchairs) the opinions of the the “three stooges” of geriatric Australian Catholic Dissent: Max Charlesworth, Paul Collins, Geoffrey Robinson? It’s World YOUTH Day, man! Not World OLD DISSENTERS BEYOND THEIR USE BY DATE Day!

Barney, you say that

In fact, of course, the church can and does change — both culturally and theologically — around the edges while maintaining its central message.”

You don’t quite get it. Yes, the Church changes, but when it does so it is NOT “responding to its environment”. It is responding to its essential mission and purpose which it has from Christ himself. In different contexts, the gospel must be preached in different ways in order to remain the same gospel. The impulse for change comes from within, not from without. It is the difference between a block of stone being shaped by a chisel chipping in from the outside, and a tree being shaped by growing and changing from the inside. If you can’t get this, you won’t get the Church.

Deary me, Barney. You are the head religion reporter for one of Australia’s leading daily newspapers. Take a look at yourself, man, and ask yourself if this un-original sap you dished up for our breakfast today is the best you can come up with.

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5 Responses to Thanks for that advice, Barney…

  1. Schütz says:

    On his blog ( Barney left the a reply:

    Barney says: Alas, David, probably it is. It may not be original, but it’s what I think. I think the clerical caste system is one of the least appealing things about Catholicism, many priests share my view, and I certainly don’t think Jesus set it up. I don’t think you think that either.

    “The Clerical Caste System”? I don’t know if this is a fair description of what we usually call the “ministerial priesthood”. I certainly believe the latter was established by Christ. The way in which some priests live out their priesthood may not be appealing, but the catholic doctrine of the priesthood certainly is one of the most beautiful doctrines of our church (if you take the time to understand what it is).

    Barney says: I think there will be many good things about World Youth Day, but that was an entry point for the article – do you really think World Youth Day is going to solve the vocation crisis, the attendance crisis?

    It is PART of the solution, Barney. It is one step along the way in the new evangelisation, without which there will never be a turn around in the Church. You start with the gospel. You preach it. Sometimes where two or three are gathered, sometimes where two or three hundred thousand are gathered. There is evidence that the WYD movement has already made differences. There will be extended follow up studies of the impact of WYD Sydney, so you will get to see the stats yourself.

    Barney says: Yes, the church is responding to its essential mission and purpose, but these are defined in a context, the context of the world in which the church lives. The counter-reformation was obviously a response to an environment (the Reformation), in which the church re-examined its mission. Either that, or it was simply politics in the face of the appeal of Protestantism – I think you prefer the former description.

    My point is that the Church’s agenda should never driven by the prevailing culture or “environment” or opinion polls. It is driven by faithfulness to its message. It needs to change constantly to remain faithful to the essential mission. I think where the Church and the dissenters part company is that they disagree on the nature of that message and mission. I think that is your issue too: not the “caste system” or the “failing vocations”, but you cannot accept the fundamental nature and mission of the Church as the Catholic Church understands it.

    Barney says: Finally, I hope you don’t mind me identifying you as a senior officer of the Catholic Church in Victoria.

    Well, you flatter me, Barney. Not so “senior”. Just a hack. A chief cook and bottle washer. And I am certainly not in any way speaking on behalf of the Catholic Church in these comments.

    Barney says: And thanks for roasting me in a way that made me smile.

    Thanks for taking it on the chin. I look forward to your reporting in the next few weeks. I predict the event might just make an impact on you.

  2. Peregrinus says:

    In fairness to Zwartz, subeditors are usually responsible not only for the headline but for what in the scribblers’ trade is called the “lead”; the little teaser at the beginning that’s supposed to give you the flavour of the article, and to encourage you to read it. Zwartz likely never saw the lead until he opened his newspaper in the morning.

    The lead here is misleading. Zwartz says plainly that he is not advocating doctrinal change, but rather change in “how the church operates as an institution”. And he also says that what he wants “another bout of self-examination of the sort that has been done sporadically through the centuries”. In short, he doesn’t ask the church to do anything that it hasn’t already seen fit to do itself.

    I think you create a false dichotomy, David, by attempting to distinguish the church “responding to its environment”, as Zwartz urges, from the church “responding to its essential mission and purpose which it has from Christ himself”. The Council of Trent was an absolutely textbook example of the church responding to its environment, the environment in question being being the Lutheran reformation. Do we conclude, therefore, that the Council of Trent was not a response to the church’s “essential mission and and purpose . . . from Christ himself”? In fact, the essential mission and purpose that we have from Christ himself involves responding to our environment; isn’t that one of the most consistent messages in the teachings of Vatican II?

    There’s a certain pavlovian flavour about your reaction. Geoffrey Robinson: bad! Paul Collins: bad! Max Charlesworth: . . . . well, noscitur a sociis; bad! I get a sense that you are responding to the invocation of these names rather than to the substance of what Zwartz is saying.

    But, actually, the fact that Robinson may have got something wrong doesn’t mean that he has got everything wrong. There is a problem with “how the church operates as an institution”. the systemic failure to deal adequately with instances of child sexual abuse is about the clearest evidence of that you could hope to find. Robinson is perfectly correct to point this out, even if you don’t necessarily favour the diredction in which he takes the argument after that point. A more confident response would be open to, and would embrace, what is useful in Robinson’s analysis, rather than simply dismission him as “geriatric . . as on a wheelchair . . . past his use-by date”.

    Young people are not as stupid as you seem to think. if you dismiss Robinson (71 last birthday) et al with this kind of language, they will wonder why you think they should pay any attention to Pope Benedict (81 last birthday). They will suspect that your real reasons for dismissing Robinson are different, but that you are afraid to voice them, or – worse still – that you do not expect others to find them persuasive.

    Pope Benedict will influence people, young and old, according to his power to win them, to inspire them, to persuade them. But exactly the same is true of Bishop Robinson, and if you disagree with Robinson you cannot hope to counter his influence with this kind of approach. An appeal to reject everything that Robinson says simply because he is Robinson, or because he is 71, will get about as far as an appeal to accept everything that Benedict says simply because he is Benedict; or because he is 81. Young people will listen to the message that each of them has to offer, and will judge that message according to its contents. Pope Benedict’s status may secure him a larger audience, but it will not secure him readier acceptance.

  3. Schütz says:

    When I say that the opinions and world view of the three stooges is “geriatric”, I am not actually referring to their ages (although that comes into it). I mean precisely this: they are tied to their age. They are the voice of the Generation of 1968. They are stuck in the arguments of 40 years ago. Whereas JPII and BXVI–both old men–were moving the Church forward.

    Moving forward with what? Not new ideas on “how to run the institution”, but forward with the GOSPEL. And it is precisely this, the new evangelisation, which you will never hear from the lips or pens of Robinson, Collins, Charlesworth et al. They are obsessed with sex and power, and never, never, NEVER say an actual word about the gospel, about Jesus Christ who loved us and gave himself for us in sacrifice, about the forgiveness of sins in his name, about the cross or the resurrection from the dead.

    Of these themes we get bucket-loads from Australian bishops such as Pell and Fisher and Hart and Coleridge.

    The stooges and all who follow their geriatric antics are “passed their used by date” because they are stuck in the political battles of 1968 and wouldn’t be able to evangelise if their life depended on it.

  4. teajay says:

    Doesn’t look like my previous comment went through.

    I simply made the comment that, by any standard, Barney is an appalling journalist. He is an even worse amateur historian and theologian.

    It’s is unfortunate that someone so lacking in critical reasoning skills is given such a major platform, but that is one reason I tend not to rely upon journalists. It’s all style over substance these days.

  5. Brian Coyne says:

    Come on David. JPII moving the Church forward with the Gospel. More people exited the Church during his pontificate than for any equivalent period in the history of the institution. Here in Australia there was some “bounce” because of the Jubilee Year but even that has not stopped a significant decline in participation between 2001 and 2006 from 15.3% down to 13.8%. I think you delude only yourself if you believe the Church is “moving forward” at the moment. It is becoming more irrelevant in the minds of more people by the hour.

    Cheers, Brian

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