In February 2006, an article by Wanda Skowronska, titled 'New Age paganism's creeping influence within the Church', was published in AD2000. The article addressed in some detail seriously problematic issues associated with the Mercy Sisters' Earth Link website and Four Winds Centre in the Brisbane Archdiocese. Since then, no discernible corrective action of any significance has been taken.
Meanwhile this writer has approached Archbishop John Bathersby seeking a response to the following queries on Earth Link and Four Winds:
* How is it that this openly neo-pagan, gnostic operation has been allowed to function?
* What is his position as Archbishop of Brisbane in relation to Earth Link and Four Winds?
To date no reply has been received.
'Earth Link' and 'Encouraging deep bonding with Earth' are respectively the title and subtitle of a website publicising the Four Winds Centre in the Archdiocese of Brisbane. Earth Link is described as 'a collaborative ministry sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy'.
Earth Link Coordinator, Sr Mary Tinney RSM, sees the website's mission and vision as 'encouraging connectedness between people and the earth ... through education, earth- sensitive spirituality, through promoting sustainability and bio- diversity, and through justice for the earth'.
The Four Winds Centre is located in an idyllic rural setting outside Brisbane. It offers an annual calendar of events including a winter solstice ritual and dinner, a spring ritual and dinner, an earth and the sacred residential retreat and a men and earth retreat day.
The Centre's lending library features a range of publications that clearly indicate its focus. They include Carol Christ's Rebirth of the Goddess, Berry and Clarke's Befriending the Earth, Riane Eisler's Sacred Pleasure, Molyneaux and Vitebsky's Sacred Earth, Sacred Stones, Spiritual Sites and Landscapes, RJ Stewart's Celtic Gods and Goddesses, The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature by self-proclaimed witch Starhawk and Marija Gimbutas' The Language of the Goddess: Mythologies of Old Europe.
The video collection includes Secrets of the Stone Age and the usual range of productions by New Age alchemist Brian Swimme, including The Powers of the Universe: An Exploration of the Powers Coursing through the Universe and Each of Us.
The website's reviews are also revealing (assuming one can make sense of their obscure waffle), such as an unattributed one of Paul Reid-Bowen's Goddess as Nature: Towards a Philosophical Thealogy (sic).
This review states: 'Goddess as Nature makes a significant contribution to elucidating the meaning of a female and feminist deity at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Bridging the gap between the emergent religious discourse of thealogy - discourse about the Goddess - and a range of analytical concerns in the philosophy of religion, the author argues that thealogy is a highly coherent system.
'By developing a close reading of the reality-claims embedded within a range of thealogical texts, one can discern an ecological and pantheistic concept of deity and reality that is both metaphysically novel, and in need of constructive philosophical, thealogical and scholarly engagement É Reid-Bowen proposes a metaphysical account of the Goddess as nature: Goddess/ Nature. This is true to the experience of most Goddess feminists, and the comprehensive exposition of the principles that shape this naming will be of great interest to practitioners and scholars alike É'.
In addition, Earth Link offers an 'education program' which 'considers the place of humans in the universe'. Its first unit is titled, 'The Universe is my Body; My Body is the Universe'.
It would be difficult to overstate the depth of the superstition inherent in these two statements, reflecting as they do the 'visionary', superstitious, shamanistic, subjective experience of the 'Goddess' which has in recent times led so many spiritually inclined but theologically challenged Catholics into the New Age wilderness.
This is also the phenomenon which was referred to by the then Cardinal Ratzinger as an 'idol' and 'cult of the body' in his 1989 letter to the bishops of the world, 'Some Aspects of Christian Meditation'.
That certain members of religious orders are particularly attracted to this form of New Age narcissism is an open secret among better informed Australian Catholics. Earth Link's Sister Mary Tinney, for one, is on record as having had her own 'Mother Earth' experience.
While these beliefs and practices have taken root in pockets of the Church throughout Australia, mainly via a few members of some religious orders, they seem especially symptomatic of the situation in the Brisbane Archdiocese and in other parts of Queensland.
In recent times, that archdiocese has experienced a range of direct challenges to Church authority which collectively suggest its problems are more endemic in nature, for example, the well known and widely canvassed controversies associated with:
* the occult Womenspace centre at Kedron, supported by the Sisters of Mercy and the Presentation Order;
* the dysfunctional and rebellious parish of St Mary's in South Brisbane;
* the notorious former St Stephen's Cathedral 'Human Search for God' shrine;
* the aggressive local prosecution of a 'priestless parishes' agenda;
* the widespread and seemingly endless liturgical abuses; and
* the exodus of young men seeking their priestly training in southern states.
Tim Pemble-Smith is a Queensland Catholic writer.