2011 Melbourne series Melbourne Town Hall - November 15, 2011
For more than two millennia, the Catholic Church has been the author and repository of some of the highest ideals of humanity. Yet, as humanity is flawed, so is the Church. Few would deny that the Catholic Church has dark chapters in its history. However, do these darker moments unfairly obscure the light – perhaps because so much is expected of an institution that claims to bridge the sacred and secular? Or is the Catholic Church simply the most ancient of wolves in sheep’s clothing?
Father Peter Kennedy
In 2009 the ABC Australian Story produced a feature film entitled “Holier Than Thou” which documented our forced removal from St Mary’s Church in South Brisbane into Exile.
At the end of the filming of our story at Natural Bridge in Qld I went down with the production team for a coffee at the roadside café on the road between Nerang in Qld and Murwillumbah in NSW. As we sat down on the veranda a classic Aussie bloke dressed in stubbies and thongs shot a glance in my direction and pointed me out to his wife. Shortly after they got up to leave and he put his hands on his hips, looked down to me and said “Stick it up ‘em mate”. A little surprised, I half stood up and said “what’s your name mate” and he said “it doesn’t matter what my name is mate, just stick it up ‘em”.
Only later did I realise how pivotal that encounter was for me – a light bulb moment, a road to Damascus moment, except it was on the road to Murwillumbah.
The insight that arose was that the ordinary man and woman, the bulk of the church’s membership, the battlers, the mums and dads, who built the churches, hospitals, schools - who were loyal all their lives to the church to its bishops, priests religions and its rules and regulations, its doctrines and its dogmas - frankly - had had enough - they were voiceless in a church ruled by an elite, clerical caste who demanded and expected that the “laity” that derogative term, should just pray, pay and obey. They have had it up to here and they’ve left in their hundreds of thousands, never to come back -“stick it up ‘em mate”!
My argument is simple: – that the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church that arrogantly refuses to allow its membership, its most loyal supporters, a voice in its governance cannot be a force for good in today’s world where increasingly democracy and human rights is the primal cry of people who know the pain and suffering and disempowerment of dictatorships – especially women.
The Roman Catholic Church is such a totalitarian regime e.g. to become a bishop, male of course, a priest has to promise obedience of mind and will, to one man the bishop of Rome, the Pope, in whom all authority resides.
To argue that Jesus established the church in this way and that the church cannot be more democratic, involving the people in its governance, is based on a fiction, a lie – known as apostolic succession,
Stay with me… the bishops claim to be the successors of the twelve apostles with the bishop of Rome claiming to be the successor of the apostle Peter, who was no.1 in Team Jesus. They argue they have that same authority to rule over the church today. Please note it is an authority of power – it ought to be an authority of love.
The Pope as No.1, claims to be – wait for it – the Vicar of Christ- well, I don’t know about you, but from my reading of the gospels I think Jesus would be far more at home with the Vicar of Dibley!
The facts are very different. In the first 3 centuries of Christianity in the various communities of faith that dotted the Mediterranean there was no one form of liturgy, no one form of governance, no one theology. Instead you had communities of equals where both women and men exercised the various gifts given to them by the Spirit. e.g. The gift of leadership, the gift of healing, the gift of prophecy, the gift of preaching etc.
In the 4th Century of the C..E the Pagan Emperor Constantine used the fledging literalist community in Rome to unify his empire. In order to bolster their claims to authority, the church leaders invented the fiction of Apostolic Succession which is still the basis of governance in the Roman Catholic Church today.
As Harvey Cox, Emeritus Professor at Harvard writes in his book “The Future of Faith” – “as the empire became notionally Christian, the church that had been from its beginning fiercely anti – imperial became its fawning imitators blurring the essence of Christianity almost beyond recognition.
The paradox is that when the Roman Empire collapsed, up bobbed a pseudo-religious empire – the Roman Catholic Church. As the philosopher Thomas Hobbes in the 17th Century wrote – “the Church, the papacy became nothing other than the ghost of the deceased Roman Empire, sitting on the grave thereof
Let me now speak from my own experience and that of our community, now in exile in our struggle with such absolute, ruthless and callous authority.
On that fateful day when I saw the Archbishop in 2008 as I was leaving his office, I turned towards him and with some compassion said “You know John, you are going to cop a fair bit of flak from our community”.
He paused and said “This is the Roman Catholic Church. You put me in a corner and I’ll come out fighting”.
People began writing to him respectfully and as intelligent people of faith. He wrote to me saying “if you think that what they’re saying is going to change my mind, let me tell you, it will do the very opposite.” He added “I obey the Pope, you should obey me, and they should obey you”
I tell you this – not to denigrate the Archbishop but to indicate to you the mindset of total obedience of the bishops of the church to absolute Roman Papal authority.
Such an undemocratic church cannot be a force for good in today’s world. Until the Church falls unto the hands of the people it cannot be a significant player in today’s world – a world that demands and expects that the voice of the people be heard. -- Peter Kennedy