Of Good Order and Legitimate Complaints

Cathnews carried a link to this article by Bishop Kevin Manning of Parramatta: “Take the plank out of your own eye first”. The article is short and merit reading and reflection.

Oddly, it corresponds with a conversation I had yesterday with a priest. We were talking about the merits or otherwise of complaining to one’s bishop about abuses that occur in one’s parish – particularly liturgical abuses. I have often spoken to Australian Catholics who have found this or that regular feature in their parish liturgies extremely grating. They know that these “features” are contrary to the practice and teaching of the Church, but feel powerless to do anything about it. I always suggest speaking to the parish priest. But sadly, this approach more often than not does not bear the desired fruit, for the simple reason that no one likes being corrected. The parishioner just earns the reputation of being “critical”.

Another option (that of which Bishop Manning writes) is to take the matter to your bishop. This simply could end in the same result writ large: now the bishop thinks you are a trouble maker too. OR the bishop might be on your side and take up your case with the parish priest. THAT’S really going to make you popular at church on Sunday, isn’t it?

We all know that as Catholics, we have right to the true teaching of the faith, and the liturgy conducted according to the rites of the Church. But in the end, it is a bit like renting a home. You have rights. You could complain when your rights are not respected – to the landlord/agent or to the Rental Tribunal. But in the end, you put your own housing security at risk by doing so.

I sympathise with Bishop Manning’s expression of distaste for “whinging”. I completely sympathise with his castigation of those who accuse people of all sorts of things anonymously. In some ways, mutatis mutandis, his article could be a guide to how to behave online.

However (and please, this isn’t a “rash judgement”, but an honest question), I wonder about this paragraph:

Perfectionists will always run up against rigidity of mind, narrowness of vision, stoniness of heart. The one who loves good order, uniformity and strict discipline will always be confounded by a spirit which blows where it will. The sheer complexity of human situations means that radical individuals, outlandish prophets, far-sighted visionaries, and non-conformists, will never be regulated like alarm clocks. Our Church will always be riddled with contradictions; will always have a dark side as well as a light side for it is a Church of sinners, the People of God. All people are imperfect and contradictory. To know this we only have to look at ourselves.

I think there is a difference between being a “perfectionist” and being “one who loves good order, uniformity and strict discpline”. Well, perhaps I don’t know about “strict discipline”, but good order and uniformity in the Church are not bad things for which to aim. After all, St Paul tells the Corinthian church (where everything was most definite NOT in order) “Let all things be done decently and in order.” (1 Cor 14:39). He mentions the importance of “good order” also in Colossians 2:5 and Titus 1:5. He says that “God is not a God of disorder” (1 Cor 14:33) and lists “disorder” among a number of sins in 2 Cor 12:20.

So we can take it that there are some situations of “disorder” that might arise which, even making allowances for human weakness, need to be rectified. The question is, how is it possible for us to bring forward a legitimate complaint, if the mere act of complaining results only in one being “rashly judged” as a “whinger”?

Bishop Manning says he has the solution:

I have a cure: you might simply focus on not complaining. If this approach works it would be wonderful, but it doesn’t. You don’t cure habitual whingeing by focusing on the complaint. Instead, you rise above your whingeing by developing gratitude for what you are, and have. Gratitude is a feeling you get when you recognise just what you have been given by God. This is the most effective antidote to negativity. Whingers have a knack of finding problems just about everywhere.

Well, that’s good advice. And by and large I follow it. Whenever something happens in my parish that I find contrary to the practice or teaching of the Church, I generally keep mum and try to appreciate the good things I receive from my parish community. But the simple result is that, while I might have grown spiritually in practicing silence and gratitude, the abuse continues. Fine for me. My faith is strong enough to handle it. But what of my neighbour whose faith may in fact be negatively impacted by practices not in keeping with the Faith of the Church?

It’s a bit like the saying that “you aren’t paranoid if they really ARE watching you”: you aren’t a whinger if there really IS something to complain about.

Are you?

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56 Responses to Of Good Order and Legitimate Complaints

  1. Tom says:

    I’d say it all depends on how severe the breach of liturgical form is. I mean, if you have people who are standing up too early, or being overly ostentatious in their devotions, etc. etc., then yeah it’s probably something you just have to put up with as a Church full of humans. If on the other hand, we’re talking about lay people giving the homily or non-baptised people receiving communion then it’s something that one ought to do something about.

    Those are both pretty extreme i guess (the first in its banality, the second in its severity), but if you’re somewhere in between, like odd music being used, prayers that are just a little funny and perhaps more political than religious etc. etc. then I guess its still a matter of prudence. If you deem it to be really serious, then talk to the Bishop. If you’ve done that 5 times in 5 weeks, then you might need to be a little self-critical, making mountains out of molehills etc. Still, maybe you’re not overly fussy, and there genuinely is a problem.

    It seems as always, that the issue is the Golden Mean between excess and deficiency. Prudence is a fun virtue.

  2. Brian Coyne says:

    David, in a gentle way I think Bishop Manning is raising a concern that many, including myself have. If I make a complaint to a bishop — and I have on occasion, giving my full name and address — the likely outcome is a big fat nothing. Not even the courtesy of a reply. There is a small minority who complain though and Bishops, and very often, Rome fall over themselves to appease them and respond to their problems. In some high profile cases in this country the complainers have been anonymous, people have lost their livelihoods and there was no redress or even opportunity to ascertain what the complaint was, or who made it, in the first place.

    This is what many people are sick to death of — or at least to the point where they end up simply walking out the door. There seems this enormous bias where everything is done to placate a small minority who have very fixed and rigid beliefs about the rules (or morality, liturgy, architectural or vestment design, you name it) but there seems very, very little concern for the spiritual and other needs of the vast majority of the baptised. Your good friend Benedict would appear to have taken this to new heights at the international level.

    Kevin Manning is not the first Bishop to have spoken out about this. I can remember Archbishop John Bathersby did a few years ago also.

    The trouble is that some people see some rules as vital elements that can mean the difference between salvation and damnation. Others though see those same rules as trivial or they seem them as getting in the road of the true path to salvation (or however one defines the end-objective of belief and practise).

    If anyone complains that some rules get in the road of deepening one’s spirituality, or if anyone complains about this small element who are constantly complaining forget about getting any meaningful response. If Father So and So held the paten the wrong way over the chalice the monkeys come down out of their trees with their complaints. I often think some bishops simply respond to them in an effort to try and shut them up rather than because they agree with their complaints. I believe this is a huge cancer that has been eating the heart out of the Church for decades. Virtually every classroom in the country has a parent ready to complain that the teacher didn’t teach their little Billy or Sally the “true faith” and I know some parish priests who have likened crossing the carpark from the Church to their presbyteries as facing some sort of obstacle course from this small element who know “THE Rules” better than everyone else in both this life and the life to come.


    • Son of Trypho says:

      Deeply ironic that Coyne mentions Bathersby – isn’t he the Bishop that had complaints from people for YEARS about St Mary’s Sth Brisbane including invalid baptisms, the Buddhist statue, dodgy theology etc and didn’t do anything until the complainers escalated to Rome and he was ordered by his superiors to do something?

      I think he is a perfect example of the failings of the complaints mechanism in the Church.

      If he had acted earlier he wouldn’t have had the debacle he ended up with there.

      And besides, what did Coyne have to complain about to his bishop anyway?

      That Rome was ignoring the spiritual needs of the baptised (or not in the case of St Marys…) with its out of touch adherence to unrealistic and dated beliefs like Jesus was God (contra the progressive Fr Dresser)?

      • Gareth says:

        So Brian,

        Youre point is that if I see something I believe that is untoward going on in the church at my local parish and if I firmly believe this is wrong, I should sit and do nothing???

        This is not the Christanity I know…. and hope you understand that in your own words people who have the ‘balls’ to do something about priests who think they are above God by doing or preaching something that is clearly morally or liturgical wrong – they shoulc be listend too and not condemned.

        Me thinks that these Catholic priests you talk to Brian and Bishop Manning himself have a ‘Catholic guilt’ cos they know the people have a bit of courage and speak out – are in the right.

  3. Kyle says:

    Important topic. I really have no idea what the answer is to this dilemma. On the one hand, there really is a problem with some parishioners who appoint themselves the arbiter of orthodoxy and furiously write off complaints to the bishop about trivial matters. My confessor never wears stole when I see him for confession but it is hardly worth fussing about with his religious superior. On the other hand, there are serious liturgical abuses. In one parish close by to me, the parishioners privately intinct the host before consumption. This is not a good practice. The host becomes soggy and some matter is left in the communicants’ hands. The body and blood Christ is inadvertently desecrated. Furthermore, all Catholics have a right to valid sacraments and they really should report it when the abuses are that serious. Invalid baptism is a serious problem.

    And yes, Brian, the sacraments really can make the difference between salvation and damnation. I don’t think God, as merciful, would punish anyone for the liturgical abuses of someone else, but at the same time, the sacraments are not some cultural add-ons. The Eucharist is an essential part of Christian life and, for many, really does help them to be better. Christ didn’t institute it just for fun.

  4. Salvatore says:

    Well, if a person isn’t prepared to back up a complaint at least with a name and address I don’t see how they can expect to be taken seriously. That just seems plain common sense.

    As for alternatives to complaining: I can think of a couple of other options.

    Withhold Funds. After all, the labourer is worthy of his hire, but only if he’s doing his job. I was in one parish where a new PP managed to outrage the entire community and, as a result, the collection dropped by two thirds in a couple of months. It certainly got the Bishop’s attention.

    Go Elsewhere. At the end of the day there’s no obligation to attend your local parish if you don’t want to.


  5. Apologies in advance, as this is going off on a bit of a tangent, but when the bishop writes that the church is “a church of sinners”, is he to be taken literally, as referring to people with actual sins unrepented of on their conscience, or more metaphorically, as referring to concupiscent people?

    • Tom says:

      I think the second, although our concupiscence is not metaphorical.

      • Son of Trypho says:

        I’d suggest you write the good bishop a letter asking him to clarify his position but he might not take it too well unless you include your name and address…

        • Son of Trypho,

          Mmm…do you think I should mention I’m Lutheran?

          Seriously, I often hear Roman Catholics use this language, but I wonder how it gels with official Roman doctrinal theology, hence the question.

  6. No, concupiscence certainly isn’t metaphorical, Tom; the question I have in mind is: is it sinful?

    • Tom says:

      Sorry, i didn’t realise you were a Lutheran and I thought you were making a slightly sarcastic joke (alla Son of Trypho above).

      Our concupiscence in itself is not sinful (that is, our temptation) – our succumbing to temptation is sinful, and since the Church is full of concupiscent humans who regularly (every day even?) fall into temptation, then we have a Church full of metaphorical and literal sinners. We are all Sinners in that we bear original sin. We are doubly sinners, in that we bear the sins of our actions also.

      • No need to apologise, Tom, as I didn’t take offence at your reply.
        Thanks for following up, too; I’ll respond more fully tomorrow, d.v.

        • “when the bishop writes that the church is “a church of sinners”, is he to be taken literally, [1.] as referring to people with actual sins unrepented of on their conscience, or more metaphorically, [2.] as referring to concupiscent people?”
          [my interpolations]

          We must give His Lordship the benefit of the doubt and assume 1. and 2. (they aren’t mutually exclusive, and, I should add, nor are they exhaustive), since that is, of course, the Catholic (and true) teaching:

          “The Church militant is composed of two classes of persons, the good and the bad, both professing the same faith and partaking of the same Sacraments, yet differing in their manner of life and morality. …”

          But I would ask you to refrain from providing any Scriptural or Patristic proof-texts to the contrary; Tom and I have our hands full at the moment dealing with other private-judgment-based objections to Catholic teaching, namely the ones from Vynette here:


          • I understand, Eminence, it can’t be easy being a Roman Catholic apologist.

          • I must correct myself: I erred by adding “nor are they exhaustive”; obviously, everyone in the Church Militant has concupiscence.

            • OK. If anyone’s still interested, what I was getting at rather cryptically with my original comment is that the matter of whether concupiscence is sinful was a matter of disagreement between Lutherans and Roman Catholics at the time of JDDj and to my knowledge has still not been resolved.
              For Lutherans, conscupsience is itself sinful, whereas for Catholics,as Tom correctly stated, it is not.
              So, why do Catholics speak in terms of ‘a church of sinners’ when their doctrinal theology seems to suggest that Catholics are more often than not in ‘a state of grace’, and therefore most definitely not a sinner?
              Of course, as a Lutheran who believes even the most pious Christian is, this side of heaven, always simul iustus et peccator, I have no problem with such language. But its usage by Catholics puzzles me. Perhaps I should just ascribe it to inconsistency?

            • Tom says:

              I tried writing an answer, and in a paragraph or two I kind of had one, but realised it was incomplete. When I went to further develop my answer, my lack of theological knowledge asserted itself. I would suggest someone like Pole or Schutz is more able to answer such a question.

              Very generally though, yes even though Catholics are not always in a permanent sin (that is, our concupiscence is not sinful in itself), we still do carry the weakness of Original Sin. A propensity to stumble, as opposed to a permanent stumble, if you will. In this, we are a Church of Sinners.

            • Susan Peterson says:

              Even though concupiscence hath NOT of itself the nature of sin (contra the 39 Articles),
              there is no man that lives and does not sin. We fall daily into venial sins, which truly are sins and offend God, but do not absolutely destroy the life of grace in the soul. So we are certainly a church of sinners.
              Some people can become discouraged and feel despair at their inability to stop sinning. A good confessor encourages such people with words of God’s love for them, tells them that God is pleased that they repent and come to confession, tells them that this falling and rising again is the path to sanctification, that God knows they are walking that road and is with them on it.
              Luther’s confessor, I hear, told him “Martin, don’t be so angry at yourself, God isn’t angry with you.”

              I think telling people that God loves them and that with all their failures and repentances, they are accepted by him and on the road to holiness is the pragmatic equivalent in the spiritual life of saying we are simul justus et peccator. It says that we are accepted by God, we are His people, even though we continue to sin. Yet it allows for the possibility that His grace can transform us. I have never understood why anyone would want the righteousness of Christ to be alien. Don’t we want Christ, and His righteousness, to live in us? This business of the imputation of the alien righteousness of Christ sounds to me like the refuge of despair. We should despair in ourselves, but we shouldn’t despair of God’s ability to do His work in us.

              Susan Peterson

            • Hi Susan,

              Thanks for your response.

              You may well be right about some Catholic spiritual counsel being the pragmatic equivalent of believing we are simul iustus et peccator; Lutherans would see that as a felicitous inconsistency on the part of those Catholic confessors, and we have always had a high regard for Staupitz (Luther’s confessor in the monastery).

              Now, if I may just clarify things in regard to what you have written about saving grace being alien, extra nos, or outside of us – that applies to the grace that justifies, and is not intended to deny the indwelling of the Trinity which leads to our sanctification. You might regard this as a merely notional distinction, but Lutherans regard it as crucial and for quite practical reasons when it comes to living the Christian life . The problem, as Lutherans see it, in regard to ‘interiorising’ saving grace, so to speak, is that once it ‘blends’ with my efforts at sanctification it becomes uncertain. That saving grace is ‘extra nos’ or outside us means that I can have assurance of my salvation – because it stands on what Christ has done and not on what I have done or am doing – and I can pursue sanctification joyfully, living from that assurance.

              To return to your example of Luther, what weighed him down to the point of despair was the medieval penitential system, not the belief that the righteousness was ‘alien’; in fact, once Luther discovered that truth it was if if heaven itself opened up to him.

            • “That saving grace is ‘extra nos’ or outside us means that I can have assurance of my salvation … and I can pursue sanctification joyfully, living from that assurance.”

              But what of working out one’s salvation in fear and trembling?

              At any rate, I thought that you were objecting to the concept of a “church of sinners” because it implies that one can have Faith without Charity; don’t Lutherans hold that one cannot have one without the other? (If anyone wants to respond to this comment then he or she might want to do so at the bottom of the main thread.)

  7. Peregrinus says:

    Whenever something happens in my parish that I find contrary to the practice or teaching of the Church, I generally keep mum and try to appreciate the good things I receive from my parish community. But the simple result is that, while I might have grown spiritually in practicing silence and gratitude, the abuse continues. Fine for me. My faith is strong enough to handle it. But what of my neighbour whose faith may in fact be negatively impacted by practices not in keeping with the Faith of the Church?

    Let me just pick you up on this last bit, David.

    I think the advice to think about whether you can live with something that upsets you and, if you can,, not to complain about it is sound.

    But I fear that your last point offers an easy out. “I can handle it, but I’m complaining on behalf of my weaker/stupider/less faithful neighbours, who can’t”. I can’t help but feel that this too easily becomes a cover for “I can’t handle it, but I don’t want to admit that to myself”.

    And, even if its genuine, it looks a a little bit like arrogance to me. If your neighbours choose not to complain or object, who are you to complain or object on their behalf, on the basis that they lack your discernment and your faith?

    I appreciate the dilemma that a person can find themselves in. One course of action which I suggest might help is, talk to your fellow parishioners. I don’t mean the parishioners who you already know agree with you – whether that be your fellow members of St Scholastica’s Penitential League for Strict Ecclesiastical Propriety, or your fellow members of Guys ‘n Gals for Laid-Back Liturgy. I mean the regulars you see in the pews around you. They probably embrace a fair cross-section of opinion in the (churchgoing) church. If, on the whole, they can live with what the priest is doing and you can’t, you’re probably out of step with the consensus in your local church about what is a reasonable flexibility and what is a liturgical abuse. That’s more your problem than the bishop’s; don’t bother him about it.

    • Gareth says:

      Don’t bother the Bishop.

      Unless he is Pell, Jarratt or Hickey, he is probably useless anyway so do the right thing…

      and vote with your feet and if at all possible, find a parish where the priest or community do take thing seriously.

      • Son of Trypho says:


        I sympathise with your suggestion but I would also advise that conservatives and/or traddies etc should really try to avoid being ghettoised.

        Because so much of the Church infrastructure is run by folks like Coyne etc a lot of attempting to reclaim those areas is a lost cause.

        So, it would be far better for the conservatives and/or traddies to undertake a longer term development strategy concerned with growth in their own communities but combine it with group actions/activities which are demonstrable to their bishops and would be hard to suppress (without negative press) – eg. charity works (eg. volunteer work to assist Catholic students in their academic development eg. tutoring, communal meals as charity after religious talks and/or Masses, volunteering to assist the elderly faithful, donating time/money to help certain causes – I’m sure folks can think of others.)

        Without undertaking these sort of additional activities and engaging with the broader Catholic community people who congregate with the like-minded are just going to get ghettoised and will be cast by folks like Coyne as an out of touch minority (I think he demonstrates his Christian values by referring to them as “the cancer”) of misfits, oddballs, wierdos and will prevent them from having any real influences in parishes/dioceses.

        • Brian Coyne says:

          Sorry to disappoint you, Gareth, folks like me don’t get employed by the Church. We ask too many awkward questions. Been there, done that and that’s why I am doing what I do today outside the instititutonal agenda. We don’t call it “independent Catholic media” for nothing.

          Where I would agree with you though is if it was to be suggested that the folks who make up the professionally employed Church today are more representative of the broad mainstream than they are the trads and the 5% who seem intent on turning the institution into a museum, curiosity or remnant. The problem for the trad bishops who want to go down that path is that even if they wanted to they can’t find enough guys and gals who are enamoured of the sort of theological and ecclesial agenda people like yourself advocate to staff all their classrooms, hospital wards, and social welfare endeavours.

          • Brian Coyne says:

            I should have added: the problem the “back to Trent” bishops face is a simple mathematical problem — not a theological problem. The broad population simply do not share the thinking and agenda of the 5%. Unless there is some “miracle” by which the Holy Spirit suddengly enlightens the broad masses in society to the wisdoms and insights of the good folks like yourself, the bishops are always going to have enormous trouble staffing their schools, hospitals and agencies with trads.

            • Son of Trypho says:

              That’s where you miss the point about the Parable of the Sower, Brian.

              It would be better to shut down all of those facilities than compromise your faith in Christ.

            • Gareth says:

              All the more reason for ‘trads’ to carry out their mission to make as many Catholics as traddie as possible and see dinosuars such as yourself and your ‘the baddies at the Vatican are stopping the spirit of Vatican II’ put in the dustbin of history or even better the Catholic archives and museum where traddies can come and read about how out of touch the liberal Catholics after Vatican II were.

          • Gareth says:

            Sorry to dissapoint you Brian,

            1) There is a good reason that you are not (and hopefully never will be) employed by the Church and it has little to do with your self-proclaimed ‘critical thinking skills’, that are in reality little more than an immature and arrogant rant that in all seriousness more often than not – do not make any logical sense.

            In my seven years of reading your material Brian, I have never once, even once heard any right-minded Catholic been remotely convinced by your arguments and I am not sure why you continue to post in any Catholic forum or persist that Australian Catholics listen to you, where they evidently do not.

            If your weak intellectual skills are not enough to convince the many Australian Catholics that post on relevant discussion boards, then I think you are only fooling yourself in even suggesting you would be employed by the church.

            2) I will let you keep on thinking that you ask too many awkward questions. Keep up the good work Brian in thinking that you are some sort of Catholic intellectual sent from above to tell all conservative Catholics the truth when in reality the majority of your opinions (especially in regards to artificial contraception) are simple wrong, wrong, wrong.

            3) Indeed you call it independent Catholic media because your website is just that – not Catholic and I am not surprised you ‘don’t have the balls’ to bring your website under any official Catholic banner – because you know any right-minded Catholic authority would dismiss it. Everyone knows the real reason Catholica is ‘independent’ is because when you had the opportunity to undertake a great initiative such as being the administrator of the Cathnews discussion board – you completely botched it…

            4) Your ad-hoc attack on Bishops as ‘back to Trent’ is irrelevant as Pell probably does more good in ten minutes of his life than you and your ‘back to Woodstock’ bishops do in their whole life. Looks like Pell’s seminary is pretty full and Patty Power’s and Bathersby’s is empty – what does that tell you?

            5) Catholic diocese usually recruit employers on merit, rather than anything to do with their faith. If they are a solid, orthodox Catholic it is an added bonus and it should be encouraged that the laity take up their baptismal calling and become good-thinking and active Catholics who are willing and able to defend and support Catholic faith and morals.

        • Gareth says:

          Thanks Son of Trypho,

          you speak a lot of sense and I like your words of advice here – isnt it so true what you said about who really calls the shots in the church.

          In my own diocese, I like to have a ‘bet each way’ and attend my ‘normal parish’ one week and try to get to a parish where the priest and parishoners are more aligned with my own personal values the other week.

          I have the best of both worlds.

          God Bless

  8. Mike says:

    No, that’s nonsense. It is the bishop’s problem – and more so than ours. I think that’s part of David’s point here. There’s only a certain degree to which we parishoners ought to take it on ourselves and let it ruin our (and others’) lives, but there is certainly an issue there for the Bishop to be interested in. And the measure is not the “consensus in your local church” – it’s the question of whether the abuse truly is a serious one or not.
    The fact is, a charismatic priest will often bring his parishioners along with any crazy idea he comes up with, and convince them that it’s wonderful. Those who really disapprove will usually leave, being spoilt for choice as we are in most metropolitan dioceses. Those who don’t will be gradually won over. Take Fr Kennedy’s Mass as an example – barely resembling a Catholic Mass, yet the “local community” were all for it. If that’s the measure, then anything goes.

    I am sympathetic to a lot of the above comments. There are some people around who will complain to the bishop about every tiny issue. But I still can’t help but see the bishop’s comments here as being a bit of a cop-out. There are priests who wear blue to honour Mary, or say Mass devoutly on a cardboard box at World Youth Day and cop a lot of flack for it from liturgical police. But then there are priests who write their own Creed – a different one each week – or change the Eucharistic prayers significantly, and get away with it no problems. And that happens every week in metropolitan Melbourne, and it’s well-known, and nothing is ever done about it. So much for Brian’s “small minority” that are supposedly pandered to by the bishops. That is a pure fiction.

    The first time you’re faced with that situation, you might think the bishop would be interested. After all, they fill their magazines with articles on how important it is that we do this or that in the liturgy, and how meaningful it is. But after a few patronising messages like Manning’s telling you to sit down and shut up (pay, pray and obey, eh, Brian?) you should probably realise that not a lot of good will come from complaining and after all, you can’t let these things rule your life.

    • Gareth says:

      So much for Brian’s “small minority” that are supposedly pandered to by the bishops. That is a pure fiction.

      a pretty common theme I am picking up from the a-catholics.

    • Peregrinus says:

      Hi Mike

      “And the measure is not the “consensus in your local church” – it’s the question of whether the abuse truly is a serious one or not.”

      I wasn’t trying to suggest that the assent of the congregation makes something good which would otherwise be bad. My point is that, if we ask ourselves whether something is good or bad (not in the sense of “less-than-perfect” but in the sense of “so bad we shouldn’t be expected to put up with it”) the the judgment of 200 or 2,000 people is probably more reliable than the judgment of one person.

      We’re Catholics. One of the things that distinguishes us from Protestants is our relatively higher focus on the communal approach to faith, life and worship. We’re supposed to listen to each other, and to be influenced by each other, and to take our decisions as a church, not as a series of individual Christians. So if you find yourself in a position where everyone in your parish – the community that you celebrate the eucharist with, the immediate community with whom you share the source and summit of your Christian life – disagrees with you, then the first thing you should be asking yourself is, why are you so sure you are right? How is the Holy Spirit going to speak to you, except through the voices of you brothers and sisters?

      (And, in purely practical terms, if everyone seems to take a different view from yours, what are the odds that the bishop will take your view?)

      There may be cases where the community goes astray. South Brisbane may be one such and, in the interests of balance, no doubt we can easily point to similar examples on the traditionalist side. But on the whole individuals are more likely to err than entire communities. Common experience suggests this, and so does the Catholic understanding of the relationship between the individual and the church.

      • Gareth says:

        I disagree that we can ‘easily point to simliar examples on the traditionalist side’.

        The hard truth is that most traditionalist parish’s are simply good people willing to do what they can to work with the church and there is little or no examples here in Australia of traditionalist Catholic communities going astray in the same way as you mentioned.

        • Peregrinus says:

          Well, I didn’t particularly confine my remarks to Australia.

          But, if we look at Australia, the SSPX alone claims about twenty mass centres, each of which presumably has its own congregation. I can’t claim to have done a comprehensive survey, but my impression is that traditionalist schism is a rather more prominent phenomenon than liberal schism.

          • Gareth says:

            Dear Pere,

            I feel you are using an extreme example (e.g the SSPX) to validate a poor argument. The truth is that the vast majority of Catholics that are attached to the traditional rite of the Catholic Mass would practice it within church’s/parish’s that are administered by the Fraternity if St Peter (despite some having minor issues with this Society) or a traditionally minded Diocesan priest.

            I honestly can not remember ever any traditionalist group of Catholics every causing any sort of trouble that was experienced at that notorious parish in South Brisbane earlier in the year and most traditional Catholics I know work hard to work within the church, despite the sneers and scorns that have to experience from other Catholics and the extreme lack of support by many Bishops.

            And not to mention the hordes of Catholics that may not necessarily be attached to the traditional form of Mass but consider themselves what can labelled orthodox or conservative and adhere to traditional Catholics morals.

            The problem with your argument also is that not so much that there are not ‘crazy liberals’ creating schisms, but the hard truth that what passes week in and week out in the average Catholic parish in Australia shares its beginnings in a liberal/reform of Vatican II ethos and background and the average Catholic has came to accept it.

            So while there may not be any visual liberal schism, the fact that what passes in the average Catholic parish resembling little or nothing to do with what would be found in the average Catholic parish years ago and the fact that there are countless number of Catholics that see the folly of these church practices but feel they can not really do anything about it is proof that liberalism may not breed schism, but can indeed breed lukewarmness and make many Catholics feel unwelcome in their own church.

            • Peregrinus says:

              Hi Gareth

              At no point did I suggest that many or most traditionalists are “going astray” in any sense. My point was simply that those who do go astray come from both ends of the spectrum of opinion within the church.

              As to the rest of what you say, you merely make my point for me. If you find yourself out of step with your church, the problem may not lie with your church. A Catholic in particular should be aware of and open to this possibility.

            • Gareth says:

              I generally do not see your point Pere.

              What you are trying to tell me is that if there is an individual that perceives there is an issue or problem in their local parish and accordingly wants to do something productive about it or to politely change it, you think the problem lays with that individual and they should do nothing??

              The hard truth is that the problem lays with lax-free parish’s and residing Bishops and the fact that because Catholicism is a mainstream religion, it attracts people who have a vast different levels of religious zeal, hence the mainstream apathy and fact that the individual who question what is being said is perceived as a ‘troublemaker’ when in reality they are fulfilling their God-given duty.

              In my experience, the vast majority of Australian Catholics are not particularly religious or very well read at all (and would have a very, very poor concept of Catholicism) and this creates an issue where with the small minority who can see clearly the issue at hand but feel there hands are tied.

              A classic example happened in my very own parish over the past week, when my parish priest (whom I have a moderate level of relationship with) made an off the cuff comment that there was a special time during the week for the sacrament of penance before Christmas, but I quote “seeing that everyone has attended the Sunday Mass, it is not entirely necessary and undertook reconciliation, there sins are already forgiven”.

              Obviously this statement is gravely wrong, but the majority of church attendees in my parish did not completely understand as they did not have enough knowledge in Catholic doctorine to know the statement was out of order.

              In this case I was unsure what to do, but it highlights that if a person in my situation that rightfully saw the statement as wrong but choose to take action such as approaching the priest in question or relevant parish body – then I think it is unfair to state that the problem lies with that individual.

              The real problem lies with lax-free parishioners and Bishops who do not set good guidelines.

            • Gareth says:

              Pere: “My point was simply that those who do go astray come from both ends of the spectrum of opinion within the church”.

              Gareth: Well, when you actually see an example of the traditional spectrum of the church going astray, please let me know before you make such a statement.

            • Peregrinus says:

              I have already pointed to a prominent example.

            • Gareth says:

              The SSPX – in which 99 per cent of traditionalists are not involved with.

            • Peregrinus says:

              What you are trying to tell me is that if there is an individual that perceives there is an issue or problem in their local parish and accordingly wants to do something productive about it or to politely change it, you think the problem lays with that individual and they should do nothing??

              No. What I am saying is that the problem may lie with the individual, and the individual – especially the Catholic individual – should be genuinely open to that possibility.

            • Gareth says:

              I generally do not see how the problem lies with the individual if they are simply well rounded and have a bit of knowledge about their faith.

            • Peregrinus says:

              That’s a fairly big “if”!

  9. I read the bishops letter.

    He didn’t seem very grateful for the people who post anonymous complaints.

    In fact he seems to be whingeing about them.

  10. Susan Peterson says:

    Gareth, I think the situation you described deserves a polite letter to your priest. One in which you say you know how difficult it is not to misspeak when speaking casually, etc. but that you think he ought to make clear that the communal confession and absolution at mass are not sacramental absolution, that those with mortal sins absolutely must go to confession and those with venial sins would benefit greatly from it. I am sure there are catechism references you could cite. Have someone else check your letter before you send it, both to see how someone else perceives its tone, and for spelling, grammar, and syntax. Such errors enable the recipient to characterize the writer as ignorant and therefore ignorable.
    A priest really ought to know better than to say such a thing. But many were educated in something which isn’t really Catholicism, and they don’t grasp this. It doesn’t seem to be quite Protestantism either. I am trying to think, and am thinking that maybe the priest is thinking that belonging to the saved community, as evidenced by coming to mass, is sort of the Catholic equivalent of having Christ’s righteousness imputed, as I myself suggested in another post, and then he is coming to the conclusion that no further grace is required. But although there is some kind of functional equivalence, coming to live inside that body is not merely a crawling under a cover. Belonging to that body involves partaking in everything which gives life to that body.
    Well, forgive my runaway thoughts. I do think maybe a letter is in order. Done very gently it might just bear fruit. I wouldn’t expect immediate results; think of it as pushing a peach pit into the ground. It will be many years before there is a mature tree there, if it survives to maturity, and one doesn’t know the quality of the fruit.
    Susan Peterson

  11. @ Cardinal Pole

    “But what of working out one’s salvation in fear and trembling?”
    This verse is one that is often quoted out of context in support of a semi-Pelagian salvation by grace and works sheme. The Greek verb translated ‘work out’ is in the 2nd person plural, which is clear even from the English translation, thus Paul is addressing the Philippian congregation, not an individual; and it is in the passive voice, which denotes that the subject (i.e. the Philippian congregation) is being acted upon rather than acting itself, as the following verse, 13, makes clear – it is God who does the working. So what Paul is actually saying, in the context of the letter, is that in his absence the Philippian congregation is to ‘work out’ in their communal life (remember, the verb is plural, as is the pronoun at the start of the sentence) what God has ‘worked in’, specifically in reference to the unity and humility that Paul encourages them to at the start of the chapter.
    In short, then, I don’t consider this verse apropos to the subject.

    “At any rate, I thought that you were objecting to the concept of a “church of sinners” because it implies that one can have Faith without Charity; don’t Lutherans hold that one cannot have one without the other?”

    I’m sorry, Cardinal, but this completely misses my point. I didn’t object to the phrase ‘a church of sinners’, I was questioning in what sense the bishop used it and how it would be interpreted by a Roman Catholic. The phrase makes perfect sense to a Lutheran, as we would take it quite literally to imply that Christians are ‘simul iustus et peccator’ and will always remain so this side of heaven. The real question at issue here is that of the concupiscence which abides in human nature after original sin – Catholics regard it as expunged by regeneration, whereas Lutherans say it still inheres in our nature after regeneration and is formally sinful.
    The bishop would seem to me to be either working de facto with a Lutheran notion of concupiscence, or else saying that the majority of Catholics are not very good Catholics, because they constantly live in a state of sin, rather than grace. Do you see the quandary?

  12. “The Greek verb translated …”

    Sorry, but after all the linguistic twists and turns in the other discussion to which I linked earlier I just can’t be bothered trying critically to engage with yet more such arguments.

    “I’m sorry, Cardinal, but this completely misses my point.”

    I thought I might have been, and now I know. Glad to have sorted that out.

    “Catholics regard it as expunged by regeneration”

    No we don’t, unless you mean completely different thinks from what we mean by “concupiscence” and “regeneration” (and “expunge”, for that matter), respectively; we’ve already been through this.

    “The bishop would seem to me to be either working de facto with a Lutheran notion of concupiscence, or else saying that the majority of Catholics are not very good Catholics, because they constantly live in a state of sin, rather than grace. Do you see the quandary?”

    No, I don’t; the fact is that many Catholics are cut off from Grace but not cut off from the Church. That’s what we mean by ‘a church of sinners’–the sinner, once he sins mortally, remains attached to the Church, albeit as a dead member (unless, of course, that mortal sin also involved incurring latae sententiae excommunication). As I suspected, and as you indicated above, we’re coming at this from completely different angles.

    • Well, for a moment I thought you were running up the white flag, Cardinal, but you seem determined to keep firing nontheless.
      I don’t see how one can refuse to engage in what you call ‘such arguments’, by which you are referring to the exegesis of holy scripture. But, as you wish, let’s leave that aside for the moment.

      I’ll seek to clarify the terms under discussion from my understanding, but I’ll have to leave it until tonight, when I have more time available. I do appreciate your willingness to engage on these questions, which appreciation also applies to Tom and Susan. I assure you I’m not just arguing over words here, there are important Christian truths at stake.

      • “… you seem determined to keep firing nontheless.”

        No, not really; as I said, we’re looking at the notion of ‘a church of sinners’ from completely different angles and with different presuppositions, and I’m content to let it end there. (It’s in these situations when Past Elder’s presence was particularly valuable; he could explain Catholic teaching to Lutherans and vice versa.) If you want to continue the discussion then I’ll continue to contribute, if I have anything worthwhile to add.

        “I don’t see how one can refuse to engage in what you call ’such arguments’”

        Given that I’ve spent many hours, spread over two weeks, in that combox which now has over two hundred comments in it engaging in, among other things, such arguments, you can surely appreciate how I can refuse to spend yet more time on them (for the moment, at least; I need a rest from them, and have more profitable things to which I can allocate my time at the moment)!

        “… there are important Christian truths at stake.”

        No doubt about it.

  13. Sorry, Cardinal, I now realise I left something out of my last post which may have confused you. I meant to say that catholcis regard original sin as expunged – if anyone has a better word I’m open to suggestions -in regeneration, i.e. through the sacrament of baptism, which I presume is why Roman Catholics must then say that concupiscence is not sin.

    With that correction, it’s only fair that I give you the chance to adjust your response accordingly, if you so wish.

    • Yes, my problem was with your statement that “Catholics regard [concupiscence] as expunged by regeneration”; your correcting this to ‘Catholics regard original sin as expunged [though a word like ‘remitted’ might be better] by regeneration” clears things up considerably.

  14. Progress!
    Sorry for all the typos in my recent posts to sentire.
    My computer died recently and being somewhat impecunious I bought the cheapest ‘Netbook’ I could find, which alas has the smallest keyboard you ever saw.
    Well, I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree on whether concupiscence is sin; if the international dialogue team couldn’t nut it out what chance do we have?
    I managed to type all that without a typo!

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