A LONG WAY FROM ROME
Edited by Chris McGillion
(Allen & Unwin, 2003, 211pp, $29.95)
A Long Way from Rome has seven contributors, an introduction and an afterword, presumably by its editor, and a foreword by Geraldine Doogue, who mentions with approval both Donald Horne and Hugh Mackay. Neither of the latter, however, are contributors nor are they referred to in the other seven essays.
Chris McGillion, in all three of his essays, is very pessimistic, being convinced that the Church is fast disappearing. He makes no reference to the work in Australian dioceses of such groups and organisations as Communion and Liberation, Focolare, Antioch, Ecclesia Dei, Neo-Cathechumenal Way, Marriage Encounter, Marian Movement of Priests, Thomas More Centres, Charismatics, Disciples of Jesus, Opus Dei, True Love Waits, St Egidio Community, John Paul Institute for Marriage and the Family, Fellowship of Catholic Scholars or G.K. Chesterton Society.
No-one in the book tells us whether the Australian Catholic University or Notre Dame Australia is making a difference despite the fact that at NDA the Knights of the Southern Cross disburse annually a significant number of scholarships to RE teachers, and Professor McLaughlin of ACU has claimed that the Church in Australia will soon be taken over by its educational establishment because people "trust" their teachers rather than the clergy.
McGillion holds that the drop in vocations will continue with disastrous results for the Church. But this is not happening at seminaries in Melbourne, Sydney, Wagga and Perth, where numbers are up.
Most contributors seem to have a phobia about Humanae Vitae, the Statement of Conclusions and clergy sex abuse, but not about the scourges of abortion (100,000 a year) or divorce (almost one million children out of touch with their fathers), sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, a sex crazy media and the pornography industry.
Last year's Melbourne conference on the Pope's Fides et Ratio, addressed by Professor John Haldane, also seems to have escaped their notice; nor does the vital struggle between the forces of the culture of life and those of the culture of death seem to concern the authors. Yet if the Church is "finished" how do they explain the anti-euthanasia victory and the first-ever statement by almost all religious leaders opposing human embryonic stem cell research?
While McGillion is entitled to claim that Chapter Two of the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World was "a radical challenge to the old hierarchic-dogmatic model of Church" he should have added that Chapter Three of the same document reaffirms the primacy of the Pope and proposes collegiality only in union with the Pope.
Damian Grace, a social worker, objects to Rome's decision to have use of Third Rite of Reconciliation reduced. Would he be willing to routinely give counselling in group situations or would he find a one-on-one basis more beneficial? The cathartic effect of confession surely works better in the traditional way.
Morag Fraser was most impressed by the National Catholic Education Conference but does not choose to explain Professor McLaughlin's assessment of the role of the 30,000 or so teachers in the current Church. Nor does she ask if the schools are partly responsible for the disastrous outcome achieved when we see only three percent of boys and five percent of girls continue to practise their faith after leaving school.
John Carmody seeks to show that the Church is anti-science. He is probably the most extreme of the contributors in his language, e.g., claiming that "Pius IV and his apparatchiks" prevented the Emperor Ferdinand I from having the Council of Trent legalise a married priesthood. He seems unhappy that the bishops of the time prevented a secular ruler from imposing his will on the Church. While the so-called Stolen Generation upsets him, nowhere does he object to the 100,000 abortions carried out in Australia each year - nor indeed does even one of the contributors identify abortion as the evil that it is.
Juliette Hughes' essay is probably the most perceptive insofar as she identifies the pernicious effect of the media on our morality.
Michel Mullins asks "Has the Church a Future?" but does not supply an answer. Probably because he knows that the world is strewn with the skeletons of pundits who have predicted the demise of the Church.
McGillion in his afterword mentions the case of Archbishop Pell but does not seem aware of Tess Livingstone's book placing the judge's finding in its proper context.
Paul Collins for once resists the temptation to be provocative, bemoaning the loss of imagination in contemporary Catholicism. However, anyone attending the enormous displays of faith in Saint Peter's Square - canonisations, congresses, World Youth Days, etc, would dispute this view.
Overall, the book misses the boat. The Church is thriving or resurgent in many parts of the globe - Latin America, Africa, Asia and in parts of the West. Most contributors are indeed "A long way from Rome." For their sakes and others influenced by their writings, they should reconsider their positions.
John Barich is a member of the State Parents and Friends Federation of WA.