Does Wollongong's Catholic Education Office endorse dissent?

Does Wollongong's Catholic Education Office endorse dissent?

AD2000 Report

Catholic education offices in some dioceses continue to allow public dissenters access to church facilities to address Catholic audiences. This can give dissent a false legitimacy.

This problem was underlined by a recent report in Sydney's Catholic Weekly (25 June 2006) which referred to the Commonwealth Government's promotion of values in education. In response to this, a number of values education forums were conducted in late May and early June throughout the Diocese of Wollongong.

All schools in the diocese were expected to be involved in these forums over the following three years and the report said that the Wollongong Catholic Education Office had contracted "esteemed Catholic educator" Dr Kevin Treston "to facilitate the process".

At these schools, the report continued, Dr Treston "guided staff in considering the core values of Catholic schooling and how to promote them with staff, students and parents". His "broad knowledge of theology, scripture, history and anthropology" were said to equip him for this task.

It is surprising that those responsible for utilising Treston's services did not first monitor this expert's "broad knowledge" more closely since they have given - in effect - official endorsement to his opinions about the faith. If the Wollongong CEO was aware of his views, it could only mean that its personnel identify with Treston's opinions.

These are not difficult to find.

In his 1993 book titled A New Vision of Religious Education: Theory, History, Practice, and Spirituality for DREs, Catechists, and Teachers, Treston asserted that "the Christian Churches, reflecting the sexual patterns of the cultural environment, have engaged in institutionalised discrimination against women through their structures and ministry" (p. 14).

He also cast doubt on whether or not Jesus founded the Church: "Scripture Scholars debate whether Jesus actually founded a church. What we are certain of is that he preached the reign of God and gathered a community of disciples to announce the good news of salvation" (p. 63). He added that "the only 'structure' initiated by Jesus was the institution of the twelve, and this structure disappeared after the death of Stephen"(p. 64).

So much for bishops being successors of the Apostles.

Treston asserted further that "in the fourth century, the priesthood emerged from the office of the presbyter" while in his supportive Foreword to this book, Thomas Groome expressed the view that with its publication, Treston was making "a mighty contribution" to the "ongoing faith development of our catechists and teachers"(p. vi).

In his book Visioning A Future Church, published in 2000, Treston offers the following dissenting opinions:

* "Those who have studied the story of the church and her teachings on sexuality and marriage know that the church must seriously rethink its teachings" (p.92).

* "Catholic theology teaches that a sign of authentic teaching by the magisterium is when this teaching is accepted by the faithful É Authoritative decisions become effective only when they are received by the faithful É There are deep differences about authority in the contemporary church. In the Catholic Church tradition authority has been regarded as residing principally, but not exclusively, with bishops. Clearly some bishops and elements in Rome do not believe in consultation with the grassroots church. They believe that their office conveys to them a teaching role inherent in the office itself and does not derive from the body of the faithful" (pp. 94-95).

* "How does the church retain the ideal of heterosexual marriages and yet bless those partners whose genetic orientation leads them into homosexual unions" (p. 128).

* "Issues such as remarriage of divorced couples, masturbation, contraception, homosexuality must be addressed openly. To stifle debate by censure is a sign that the official church no longer trusts the Spirit to guide the church and presumes to know God's will without appropriate consultation" (p. 128).

* "The so-called 'shortage of priests' today is in reality a shortage of Roman flexibility in restoring the first traditions in the church about who presides over the Eucharist" (pp. 79-80). "A long tradition of denigration of sexuality was another factor in the prescription of celibacy" (p. 81).

* "As long as the church continues to institutionalise sexism in its leadership structures, its credibility to speak on questions of justice is compromised" (p. 83).

* "Is the exclusion of women from ministerial leadership really an expression of God's will or a self- inflicted wound by the church and a moral disorder" (p.84).

* "The ordination of women by the Anglican Church and women in ministerial roles in other Christian churches leaves the Catholic and Orthodox churches increasingly isolated on the question of women's ordination É I have no doubt that ordination of women will eventually happen but not yet and not in the current form and style of priesthood" (p. 87).

* "A future church will need to address an official theological position that teaches the divine origins of the hierarchical order in the church and therefore is immutable" (p. 98).

Catholic dioceses and their CEOs should not be giving public platforms to people who work against the teachings of the Church. Such people should not be invited to address captive audiences who are not in a position to evaluate the expert's opinions. When this happens, Catholic dioceses and their educational bureaucracies are communicating to teachers and others that they regard dissent from Church teachings as compatible with the faithful performance of the duties of a Catholic educator.

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