Thursday, July 15, 2010

I Am Gob Smacked As They Say Down In Oz

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson and friends struck a spark and got a fire going at Australia's National Council of Priests annual meeting.

Is the Australian National Council of Priests ready to blow up the world?
15/07/2010 - ABC Australia - Noel Debian

Too much discretion? What was I thinking?!

If there really was any pulling of punches early on in this week's National Council of Priests conference, the gloves were well and truly off by the third day. Though I have heard much of what was said before in other places, I have never heard it all said in front of 250 Catholic clergy and several Australian bishops. I have never heard it said so strongly or clearly. I heard calls for a third Vatican Council, married priests, discussion of women priests, warnings of church implosion, calls for cardinals to be elected by bishops, as well as public criticism of Cardinal Pell’s appointment to Sydney. That was just for starters. At one point I leant over to a Bishop – not noted as a progressive radical - and asked if I could check his pulse. He had the good grace to laugh, though I am not all that sure he was feeling all that jocular.

Many of these issues would cause more conservative Catholic friends to tear their clothes and strew ashes over their heads – immediately before delating the whole meeting to Rome via flaming email. On the other hand, progressive Catholics would have been delighted. I am still gobsmacked at what I heard said. The trick of course is discerning whether this is all just steam being let off, or whether it is the enormous glacier of the Catholic church loudly cracking.

I’ll let the words stand for themselves, beginning with a few highlights from Bishop Geoffrey Robinson and Donald Cozzens :

On celibacy:
“In the most male dominated civil society, at least men have a woman at home to have some influence on them. In the church, not even that is present.”

On clerical sexual abuse:
Bishop Robinson: “ I have listened to any number of offenders and I have heard their unbelievable rationalisations: ‘I was loving this boy. I never loved anyone more. This was doing what Jesus said.’ Incredible rationalisations….”

Bishop Robinson: “You see every bishop takes an oath of loyalty to the pope. And yet from the time it first came to our attention in the mid 80’s right though to 2004 – twenty years- Pope John Paul said next to nothing. And the loyalty of bishops was to a silent pope and so they became defensive – whereas had the pope in 1985 come out and said “this is a terrible blight on the church, we’re going to confront it, obliterate it from the church”; then the very loyalty of the bishops would have worked in favour of victims, whereas in fact it worked against them: a culture of secrecy.”

Donald Cozzens: “One of the first things we might consider doing in terms of challenging the dysfunctions of the church is … to try to make the commitment not to be an enabler….There’s something about the structure of the church that keeps adult men like ourselves less than adult.
On a more representative church government:
Bishop Robinson: “Most bishops would be in favour of the bishops electing the Cardinals…….. Everyone in this room knows very well that George Pell was transferred from Melbourne so he could get the red hat so he would become an elector of the pope. And that was the sole reason. And that has happened in many other parts of the world. So it’s a vicious circle. And it is deliberately designed to ensure we do not have another Pope John XXIII”

Sustained and loud applause from 250 odd priests followed the bishop’s words.


This particular group of priests represents the average type in the trenches parish priest. These are the priests who have toiled quietly, while apparently smoldering. This is also the largest gathering of this organization ever. It was supposed to be Australia's gathering for the Year of the Priest. I don't think Pope Benedict had this in mind since I don't see any references to St. John Vianney. All I can say is WOW.

Maybe this really might be "the enormous glacier of the Church loudly cracking." What a week, first South Africa's Bishop Kevin Dowling lays it on the line, then Argentina passes gay marriage and adoption rights against huge Church oppposition, and now a national priests council finally speaks out. Last and maybe most importantly, one of my hero's, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, speaks the unvarnished truth about Episcopal appointments like George Pell and what exactly they are really intended to accomplish. It isn't pastoral ministry.

I'm really beginning to wonder if the spark has been lit which will get the fire going. It's beginning to look like Benedict's summer vacation is not one he is going to want to write home about. Rather, it's beginning to look like one long summer of open discontent.

For readers looking for more on this meeting of Aussie priests try here and here.


  1. A Big WOW from me as well Colleen. This is Great news!!!!

  2. *picks jaw up off the floor*

    Bishop Robinson's comments at the end of that post you linked to are also very interesting. For a bishop to compare coming changes in the church to the end of communism and apartheid is pretty bold.

  3. The other day I was just joking, but this is truly incredible! (Please, please, please Vatican III *Crosses fingers*)

    Looks like the Holy Ghost has finally gone poltergeist, (It's about time)!

  4. The Holy Spirit will NOT be denied!

    It's one thing when the laity feel left out, but when the priests and even bishops admit they feel left out... then WHO is claiming to be the church?

    Yeah, WOW!

  5. TheraP-
    If you read Archbishop Weakland's memoir you would have needed a stiff drink...or some excellent yoga! In it he says how he, even an archbishop, got only a few minutes of face time with JPII and even Curial officials gave me only perfunctory attention. He went to his first ad limina visit with a list of topics to discuss...and there was no opportunity for even one item.

    The Curia is running the Church, and Benedict is a Curia man.

  6. Came here because a good friend, Wild Hair, recommended it. Bishop Robinson is more than a hero. He makes things understandable. Our Small Faith Group discussed his Power and sex.. Everyone recognized the truth and wisdom in that book.

    The fundamental "culture War" is as Robinson says, between the "Proclaimers of Certainty" and the "Seekers after truth."

    We do not know the "day or the hour" when the glacier will break open the Church. But all of us Seekers after Truth are attentive to the "signs of the times. We may be gobsmacked, we will see our work bear fruit, like the collapse of the Soviet Union.

  7. Welcome to the blog anon. Bishop Robinson's short definition of the conflict in the Church is one of the best I've read. Proclaimers of certaintly vs seekers after truth seems far more accurate that the more political terms progressive vs conservative, or Spirit of Vat II vs traditionalists.

  8. "There’s something about the structure of the church that keeps adult men like ourselves less than adult."
    My own feeling about the whole mess is: too many of the offenders grew up as Mama's Boys: spoiled rotten and with a huge sense of entitlement. That's how offenders come up with these incredible rationalizations. They see something, they want it, so they take it.
    The Mama's Boy is coddled and indulged and constantly has someone else to make excuses for him. He is kept in an artificial state of childhood. Then he grows up, is ordained, and has Mother Church take the place of Mama.
    He may be a grown man, with a college degree, and he's still not able to take responsibility for his own actions. Mama does that for him. Mama also cooks his meals, makes his bed, and picks up after him.
    Unless there is a realization that this structure attracts immature men with a grandiose sense of entitlement and weak impulse control, the pedophiles will just keep on coming.

  9. Your description of a particular subset of priests is bang on. I can think of at least a half a dozen really compromised priests who told me they couldn't leave the priesthood while mama was still alive.

  10. Australia may be the salvation of the RCC -- it has the most open and good-natured Catholics in existence, though much bullied by the abominable Pell.