ERIC HODGENS. Pell Conviction a Wake-up Call.

Culture wars are simply factional standoffs given a zippy title. The Church has had them forever. George Pell is a warrior of the right. His conviction is a setback for the right – but only a setback. The war still goes on.

The first standoff between Christian leaders was between Paul, the travelling missionary, and James the leader of the local church in Jerusalem. Both were Jews to their bootstraps, but Paul’s tours were in the gentile world. If gentiles found faith in Jesus as The Lord, he accepted them directly into the fold – not expecting them to become Jews first. Baptism replaced circumcision. James was not happy, so Paul went to Jerusalem to have it out. He won. Ultimately Christianity became a separate religion from Judaism.

The standoff was over whether we go beyond accepted barriers or see the signs of the times and branch out in a new direction. The question only arose because new opportunities beckoned. If Paul’s policy had been successfully blocked, Christianity would have remained a sect within Judaism and probably faded away. Two green lights were necessary: Paul’s vision of expansion and James’s final acceptance – bipartisanship. It is wise to be cautious; But refusal to adapt is death.

Factional confrontation has endured in Christianity to this day. The liberal faction is committed to moving with the needs of the times. The conservative faction does not like change and wants creed, rules and structures to stay the same. This outlook is reactionary, and sometimes restorationist.

Christianity became institutionalised early. Structure, doctrine and laws developed. A movement of faith became an organised religion. It began as a movement imitating Jesus way of life; it became a large organisation with systematised beliefs and laws. It developed a priesthood which controlled the beliefs and laid down the laws. It became literally hierarchical (priest-ruled).

Power is seductive and became a point of division as the hierarchy’s power expanded. Some hierarchs still gave priority to the Jesus way of life, but most gave priority to controlling the organisation – a tension.

Power is maintained by control. Church hierarchy:

· Controls the ideology and propaganda;

· Controls the law;

· Controls the liturgy and

· Controls the selection of bishops.

The last of these has been a major tactic in the Catholic Culture Wars. The Catholic Church is still an old-style monarchy. The bishop runs his diocese answerable only to the Pope. He is the sole overseer of doctrine, law and administration in his diocese. There is no separation of powers, no accountability, no transparency.

Since the start of the 20th century the Pope has claimed the sole right to appoint all bishops. Since Vatican II the popes have used this power to control the church. Paul VI used this power to reign in the Dutch Catholic Church. He saw it as too liberal too fast. He appointed conservative bishops Adrien Simonis to Rotterdam and Jan Gijsen to Roermond against local recommendations. The Dutch implementation of Vatican II was the most visionary and energetic in Europe. Paul’s appointments crushed that movement. He won the battle but lost the war. Rank and file Dutch Catholics simply turned their backs and walked away. Gone forever.

John Paul II turned episcopal selection into an art form. Benedict XVI continued the policy. Wear the clerical collar, oppose contraception, women’s ordination and general confession. Toe Wojtyla’s line or be dropped; no consideration given to pastoral commitment.

The result is a world-wide episcopacy high on compliance, low on leadership and heavily skewed to the right. It’s unfair to blame them because they were chosen precisely for these qualities.

George Pell has had ever-growing influence in Rome since the 90s when he was appointed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. For years he was also on the congregation that selected bishops.

Pell has been in the vanguard of the ideology and propaganda battles of the Wojtyla era. The Theology of the Body, with its excessive weight on sexual ethics, became a key descriptor of living the Christian life. Institutions like opus Dei, The JP II Institute for Marriage and the Family, The Napa Institute in California and Notre Dame university, Sydney promoted the ideology supported by conservative writers like George Weigel, Ross Douthat and John Haldane.

Pell’s conviction will probably lessen his influence, but his legacy will continue. Most Australian episcopal appointments for the last thirty years are clearly his choice. His ghost haunts the two main sees of Sydney and Melbourne. Both archbishops are his protégés, educated in his ideology. Both could hold their posts for 20 years.

His hand can also be seen in English and USA episcopal appointments.

The whole English-speaking world is saddled with a Mass text produced under the control of Pell’s Vox Clara committee. An ideological victory, but a liturgical disaster and a pastoral deterrent.

The present management structure of the Church has failed us. New, more representative management is necessary to prevent further implosion. Pell’s conviction brings all this back to mind and into sharp focus.

Eric Hodgens is a retired Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

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9 Responses to ERIC HODGENS. Pell Conviction a Wake-up Call.

  1. Dr Jennifer Anne Herrick says:

    Hi Wayne, please see the response I put under Brian Gleeson’s comment. the website isn’t allowing me to duplicate my response. With thanks, Jennifer

  2. P.Boylan says:

    While the Catholic Bishops are failing to listen to the laity or support victims of clerical abuse or act according to the church teachings, women in the church took action into their own hands at the UN.
    This week at the UN’s largest gathering on gender equality, women’s groups called for the removal of the portentous status the UN wrongly accorded to the Catholic Church – a status that is denied to all other religions and NGO’s.
    Catholics for Human rights called for the UN to remove the Holy See’s participation in the CSW forum and raised concerns over the Holy See’s canon laws – the doctrine of scandal’ or the ‘Pontifical Secret’.
    Other groups detailed the Holy Sees hypocrisy on abortion and child abuse while claiming to uphold family values.
    Participants claim the Holy See’s elderly celibate unmarried male diplomats have used their powerful political connections and Catholic allies to vote with conservative Middle Eastern and Latin American countries to successfully hold back women’s human rights.
    Concerns were raised that the Holy See interfered with internal state criminal laws by operating a secret canon law process to deal with clerical child molesters – providing immunity at the Vatican, relocation and removal of guilty employees from prosecution. The 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (a functional commission of the UN Economic and Social Council) is meeting from 11-22 March 2019.

  3. Brian Gleeson says:

    Dear Jennifer

    I too would gratefully receive a copy of your thesis.

    Brian Gleeson

    • Dr Jennifer Anne Herrick says:

      Hi Brian, probably the easiest is for you to look up my name and the Title “Trinitarian Intelligibility”. The thesis is available and has been published by a variety of publishers. If you have trouble let me know and I’ll arrange a copy direct. At the moment I don’t have any on hand though I’m afraid. sorry. In the meantime there is a short paper by me through USYD freely available online that gives a brief outline of the themes in the thesis, under the title 1+1+1: Making Sense of Nonsense”. thanks for your interest.
      Regards Jennifer

  4. Kevin Walsh says:

    Eric, thankyou for the very well presented article regarding the effects of the trial and sentencing of Cardinal Pell. The influence of this man on the Australian Church in particular and the USA and Britain in general has been dominated by Pell’s ultra conservative views and from that, a very clerical, pompous, arrogant and power filled leadership has not been within a Bull’s roar of authentic Servant Footwashing Shepherding. The Pellites that have followed him as Bishop’s have been by and large tarred with the same brush! Because of the type of Bishop’s that seemingly share his DNA, we here in Australia are in for a continued rough passage for at least 40 years to 80 years. Pell and his Cronies are already in positions of negative influence in our Australian Church. The Diocesan Seminaries have Rectors sharing the same DNA and students for the clerical priesthood, with hands joined together in black soutanes are legion.
    Like Fr Eric, we need more Prophetic people to stand up and voice the kind of Padtoral Vision that Pope Francis has for our Church. Many Bishop’s write great and daring articles about a new vision of Church, but somehow and action or demonstration of a new vision is somehow not happening in reality! The Clergy Club has its ways!

  5. Ted Egan says:

    A brilliant piece. Most importantly, the Conservatives control the (virtually limitless) money and sign the cheques: they are empowered. The honest, ordinary church member has little chance of influencing them.

  6. Dr Jennifer Anne Herrick says:

    Eric, thanks for writing this article.
    I could quibble with the theology of the beginnings and development of Christianity as you set out but now is neither the time nor place nor context.
    I could quibble with your attribution of the number of bishops in Australia psuedo-appointed by Pell as you set out, but now is neither the time nor place nor context.
    I could quibble with your attribution of the current Archbishop of Melbourne (someone I studied with in the same lecture rooms for many years) as being an extension of Pell but now is neither the time, nor place nor context.

    What is relevant and I do want to comment on, concerns the advancement, indeed the very survival, of the Catholic Church as alluded to in your statement “The present management structure of the Church has failed us. New, more representative management is necessary to prevent further implosion…” I would go further, much further and say that better management would be only a desired short term stage.

    What is really required to rid ourselves of this abusive power control can be found in Dulles’ ‘Models of Church’, written 45 years ago, I’m sure you’re aware of it.

    Out of the all the models he presented back then, indicating as he did, the demise of “the Institutional Model” as problematic, I would choose the “Communion Model”.

    My PhD thesis concluded with this in mind if you care to or have the time to read it.

    • Wayne J McMillan says:

      Hi Dr Jennifer Anne Herrick, Please send me a copy of your PhD thesis, I would very much like to read it.
      Thanking You
      Wayne J McMillan

    • Hello Dr Jennifer,
      I would be very interested to read your thesis, if you don’t mind.
      As someone who left the Church rather than remaining part of a group that I saw as reflecting disrespect of others, women in particular, and promoting unhealthy life values, I would say the symptoms are needing curing as well as the cause.
      Kind regards,

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