Friday, November 30, 2012

The Papacy and the Holy See, does it matter in the twenty-first century?

All aboard for a diverse ride tonight as I seek to cover much in salute of a dedicated Melbourne-based priest, Pallottine extraordinaire Walter Silvester, who did so much for so many.

At age 24 he commanded a U-boat in the Bay of Biscay and who knows may have been attacked by Captain Dudley Marrows of Mildura. 

History records that on 30 July 1943 Dudley Marrows as pilot of a RAF Squadron 461 Sunderland bomber sank U boat 461 in the Bay of Biscay. Both Father Silvester and Dudley Marrows got into trouble for turning back to help in the rescue of their enemy. 

I salute their gestures and tonight am privileged to give the 2012 Walter Silvester Lecture.

I thank you all for attending and let me begin with a brief report on what is happening in Rome, not from my three year posting as first Rome resident Australian Ambassador to the Holy See but from the couple of days my wife Judy and I spent there last week.

Firstly six new cardinals were announced by the Pope last week and not one of them was an Italian, this could be the start of a trend to balance the Conclave, to better reflect the need to be an actual Universal church and not, as some would have it, an Italian Universal Church.

Secondly six Italian scientists were sent to gaol for six years, having been found guilty last week of manslaughter for failing to issue high level warnings about the L'Aquila deadly earthquake and its likelihood. Over 300 were killed in this powerful earthquake. Let me say this ruling has worldwide ramifications.

Thirdly my successor John McCarthy QC has received his date for presentation of credentials to Pope Benedict XVI, namely in six days time on the 5th of November, he has hit the ground running in Rome and I wish him well.

Finally all six floors of Domus Australia near Termini (six if you count the basement and rooftop) are glistening, it is a great place to stay in Rome eg the shower cubicles are very large by Italian standards as Cardinal Pell insisted on them being able to cater for large Australians and the guest laundry actually works, likewise the six or more guest computer screens work well! I happily commend it as a breath of fresh air and very convenient place to stay.

Let me observe Rome is in many ways a great country town, I always get a buzz from visiting and while Judy and I walked along near the Farnese to the Pellegrini Church just over a week ago, we bumped into semi-perpetual Rome student and friend Simon Grainger from the mighty Beda College.

As I address the issue of does the Vatican matter in the 21st Century, a good stepping off point is the recent huge win by Australia in the United Nations ballot for a rotational seat on the UN Security Council. Australia topped the ballot with 140 votes out of a possible 193 votes, an incredible result. In the second ballot Luxembourg beat Finland 131 to 62.

Only two in the world predicted a fortnight or so before the ballot in New York that Australia would win easily, notwithstanding static on our Middle East voting track record at the UN. 

The first was Greg Sheridan in a bold article in the Australian and the second was the Holy See.

It was affirmed to me in a conversation in the Vatican Gardens on Friday 19 October, at a huge reception hosted by the USA ahead of the canonisation of two saints of North American background, by a European DHOM, that the Holy See Secretariat of State had clearly predicted an Australian win by a large margin. Luxembourg was the other winner, winning a seat on the UNSC for the first time ever, for ‘Western Europe and Others' zone.

Here is proof again that despite all the other troubles faced by the Holy See this year, Vatileaks and the case against the Pope's Butler, a tough visit to Lebanon by the Pope, financial turmoil with aspects of the Vatican finances including the sacking of the head of the IOR or Vatican Bank and the ongoing Clergy Sex Abuse saga worldwide, the Holy See had called accurately the result of the UNSC ballot.

In essence my message is do not right the Vatican off now or ever, as the oldest organisation in the world it has made its fair share of mistakes over the last 500 years in particular but it has also delivered much for the posterity of the world. In this regard let me give three solid examples involving three recent Popes.

Pope Paul VI

Firstly Pope Paul VI in a trail blazing decision ordered the Holy See to establish the first University on the West Bank in 1973, the Bethlehem University operated by the De La Salle Brothers and currently led by Anzac Brother Peter Bray. 

Each day some 1000 Christian students join some 2000 Muslim students for lectures at a great campus, about 500 metres down from the Great Wall that divides Jerusalem from Bethlehem and about 800 metres above the Square of the Manger.

In the troubled Middle East the Bethlehem University is a shining beacon of enlightenment, producing some very successful graduates over the years, notwithstanding shelling directly by Israeli Defence forces and even stoning of staff and student by Israeli settlers as they drove along a West Bank road. These hardline Jewish settlers from settlements that even the Israeli Courts regard as illegal think nothing of spraying offensive graffiti on the walls of Mosques and attacking innocent law abiding civilians as a tactical ploy.

Yes rockets are fired from the Gaza into Israel every day I was visiting last November, yes suicide bombings by radical Palestinians killing innocent Jewish citizens has resulted in the world's newest ugliest wall, equally there is a brutality about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank you rarely hear about. Israel has a dynamic economy and a working democracy but an underside that is camouflaged a great deal.

Part of the presentational problem is that brilliant Melbourne trained Mark Regev as an Israeli Governmental spokesman will always run rings around Palestinian spokesmen, if the PLA had five Mark Regevs then a more balanced picture might emerge. I respect Mark Regev, he makes Tony Blair's Alistair Campbell look a novice but adjustments must be made to see a more balanced story about the Middle East actually gets to air.

The vital overall point is that amongst all the agony of the Middle East there is an oasis of educational endeavour, an uplifting icon of practical inter religious co-operation and it is called Bethlehem University. It exists because it was created by the Holy See and receives financial and other support from the Holy See to this day.

It operates well enough on each day that the young Israeli soldiers allow, remember they manage Control Point No 300 near the University and students coming through that route from Ramallah or Hebron can pass in four minutes or four hours on an attitudinal whim of the occupying area controllers. May the good efforts of all involved with Bethlehem University gather momentum in the deeply troubled Middle East.

Pope John Paul II

Secondly, let me turn to Pope John Paul II, he cast such a huge footprint that you would be forgiven for thinking he had Army divisions aplenty. The shadow of the huge footprint of John Paul II continues to hang over Rome to this day.

The election of John Paul II had been foretold in that magnificent book by Morris West ‘The Shoes of the Fisherman'. He wrote that the next Pope would be a Slav Pope and apart from the too brief interlude with Pope John Paul I (a Papacy of just 33 days), the next Pope was indeed a Slav, one hell of a Slav!

From years behind the Iron Curtain and behind the Berlin Wall, Cardinal Wojtyla closely observed the workings of communism. He observed the balance of power not only east v west but also Poland v Russia. Further he had travelled prodigiously as a Cardinal, even to tiny far flung countries like Papua New Guinea.

Over the decades his sharp inquiring mind took in a great deal before he became Pope. He not only saw the Berlin Wall go up from the wrong side in a sense but he also met many wise Papal Nuncios in his travels. This Cardinal on the move also met a few political leaders at or around the margins of the various Conferences he attended.

In looking at the long public life of the citizen of Poland who became Pope, it is reasonable to state that he was no shrinking violet and he played the cards available to him with maximum leverage. After 1978 he accepted that part of his designated role relating to Supreme Sovereign and Pontiff, was not to step back from the international stage. He wanted to give real help to good causes.

The first big cause was the startling deterioration of relations between Argentina and Chile in the early 1980s, a dispute that had at its core the fixing of the international boundary between these two giant countries dominating a large part of Latin America.

In a nutshell the problem relates to the main spine of the Andes and the fact that in certain parts the water shed delivers water to the opposite side, in other words the highest point along the spine of the Andes is not the point dividing the flow of water to the lowlands of Argentina and Chile, dividing the flows to the Atlantic or Pacific.

Underlying the dispute was the desire to maximize the gains to be obtained from the huge potential of oil and gas deposits. So the Generals running Argentina at the time muscled up on Chile and prepared plans to bomb Chile's national capital, Santiago as a kind of opening salvo for one sided negotiations.

Both Argentina and Chile are largely Catholic countries, over the centuries this has never stopped European countries of Catholic composition from going to war. The prospect of conflict was ringing alarm bells all the way through to both Washington and Rome.

Cardinal Siri was especially active on the issue, the local Papal Nuncios were keeping him up to speed. Enter the Pope John Paul II, who had just a few years on the Papal Throne but deeply concerned about another unnecessary war killing thousands of civilians. The Pope had bounced back from the assassination attempt in St Peter's Square in 1981 and possibly had a sharpened attitude to life and death and seizing each and every moment of every day.

The Pope offered to mediate, to set up a Papal Commission to examine the border in detail and commend alterations in order to provide a fair set of outcomes. In fact there were more than 900 alterations recommended and these were wrapped into a Treaty that delineates clear cut boundaries for almost all of the length from Ecuador in the north to Cape Horn in the south.

Both countries accepted the outcome and modern maps reflect the Papal intervention, especially near the critical Beagle Canal and Magellan Straits. It was a sensible outcome and one Pope John Paul II could be proud of, but he did not have much time to pause and dwell on it as other crises loomed into view.

In the Pontifical Academy of Science building in the Vatican Gardens, a plaque was unveiled on the 25th Anniversary of this Treaty, with the Presidents of both Argentina and Chile coming to Rome to see the Pope on the occasion. 

I assume the location of the plaque in this spectacular building was because of the fact that ultimately the business of cartology is after all a science and not because the Chancellor and Pope's Chief Scientist is the brilliant and wise Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo (throughout the entirety of my posting).

Either way, the ground-breaking and border-defining treaty was a huge achievement that made Latin America a more stable and by degrees peaceful place. The standing of Pope John Paul II helped bed down the border clarifications and alterations. This standing was further enhanced by the very success of this treaty.

In 1980 Ronald Reagan won the US Presidency and like most US Presidents post World War Two, he was keen to forge links with the Pope of the day and in particular the Slav Pope from behind the Iron Curtain. He arranged to meet with him during his first term. Papal and White House links were not strong in the early years of the USA but they gradually built up.

Reagan was of the view that the evil empire of the Soviet Union was right for challenge and close to the point of being unsustainable as a united power block. Furthermore he possessed the will to challenge the Soviet block and had the spine to follow through over his two term Presidency from inauguration in early 1981 to early 1989.

At the time, Europe was going through a basket case phase. There were huge industrial troubles, bouts of damaging inflation and too much unemployment. Drugs and booze were to the fore, especially with the young brigade.

In Reagan and to some extent Margaret Thatcher there were Head of Government leaders who had spine and meant business. This was soon to be demonstrated in spades with both the Falklands War and the saga of KAL 007, a civilian jumbo shot down by a Russian fighter, the evil empire at play.

On the first of September 1983 the Cold War reached a critical point. The day was to become a turning point in history and a day like no other in the world's history. A Korean Airlines civilian passenger jumbo jet was peacefully making its way across the Atlantic from the United States to South Korea. It refuelled in Anchorage, Alaska but shortly after leaving Anchorage the flight drifted north of its regular approved international route.

Initially the drift was almost imperceptible but further into the flight it resulted in KAL 007 being so far off course as to cross restricted Russian airspace, including the Sakhalin peninsula. This Far East part of the Soviet Union was crammed with sensitive military assets of a top secret kind, remembering that as late as 1983, the Kremlin was still in fierce competition and a degree of conflict with the west.

Suddenly the Jumbo was intercepted by Russian fighter aircraft, the lead pilot reported the sighting but not the fact that it was a Boeing 747 wide bodied aircraft. After some initial confusion between two senior Russian officers the order was given to shoot down KAL 007 and after initially overshooting the target two heat seeking missiles found their mark and KAL 007 crashed into the icy sea with no survivors.

Over two hundred passengers and crew were killed on impact including a United States congressmen and some extra crew repositioning back to base in Seoul. Within hours Reagan's Secretary of State George Schultz released intercept transcripts between the Russian fighter pilot and his base, yet the Kremlin denied for hours any shooting down whatsoever.

Within days President Reagan released further transcripts relating to the tragedy. The world soon came to accept that the Soviet Union had shot down a civilian airliner which had strayed off course but otherwise was continuing along the broad pathway to South Korea. 

The world was horrified with this action of the ‘evil empire' and from this point onwards it was all downhill for the Soviet Union.

The world also realized that the penetration capability y of the CIA and other intelligence units such as Mossad had greatly expanded with the massive use of computers and Pine Gap type satellite interception. Pine Gap is located near Alice Springs in central Australia, it is a joint intelligence gathering facility between Australia and the USA.

It is now a matter of public record that during the Gulf War One, Pine Gap could quickly detect the necessary weather balloon launched minutes before a scud missile launch by Saddam's forces. The balloon sent wind details back to the Scud missile launch pad and so Canberra, Washington but also Bahrain and Tel Aviv were warning of each Scud missile attack.

What stunned many, including the intelligence units of smaller countries, was the capacity of the USA to produce within hours, the exact intercept transcripts approving and ordering the destruction of KAL 007. The use of buzz word detectors driven by huge computer search engines was now out and about.

Through this period President Reagan found in Pope John Paul II a fellow traveller, who was deeply opposed to Communism and in the case of the Pope, a person who sensed that the first hints of fundamental change were beginning to emerge from behind the Iron Curtain.

Already the Solidarity movement had sprung up in the northern parts of Poland, led by Lech Walesa from Gdansk. The Pope provided both spiritual comfort and financial support for the rapidly growing solidarity movement. It is accepted today that Pope John Paul II provided around $100 million through various channels, greatly helping solidarity through its darkest days of formation.

Gradually Solidarity, with the total support of the Polish Pope, gained sufficient momentum and real traction to manoeuvre Poland towards free elections in 1989 and upend the four and a half decades of communist rule. At the time the Kremlin in Moscow had its hands full, as the Soviet Union was also starting to go through change and starting to show signs of breaking into a series of separate countries which existed prior to Lenin and Stalin coming on the scene.

The unwavering support of the Pope and the Holy See was critical to insuring Poland broke out of the Soviet block and in turn this brought massive pressure to bear on East Germany.

As the northern Autumn or Fall of 1989 gathered momentum, the Berlin Wall itself came under direct pressure. The remnant East German Government blinked and gave the orders not to shoot at those seeking to jump over the Wall. Within hours the Wall started to come down as the ‘standstill and do not shoot' orders were absorbed and obeyed by the East German police.

At the same time the Kremlin blinked and did not or could not intervene. Within hours the famous scenes were beamed around the world seeing West Germans embrace East Germans as they climbed over the wall during the night, and as they came through holes, which quickly opened up in the wall, as they made history in a direct way.

At the twentieth anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke and gave particular credit to the work of Pope John Paul II with regard to the fall of Communism in Poland. She highlighted that this vital work became a critical factor in bringing pressure to bear on the East German communist Government. In turn this created the conditions for the collapse of the wall and the overthrow of the communist regime.

Within weeks all communist regimes between Poland and Bulgaria had collapsed with the Romanian dictator and his wife being executed on Christmas day 1989.

There is no doubt as Hillary Clinton and many others have stated, Pope John Paul II gave the embryonic Solidarity movement critical support which made a huge difference. When in the 21st century you see communism survive in various guises, such as with China and Cuba, it engenders the reflection that the fall of communism was never going to be automatic or a lay down misère.

The Pope had been a white knight, a decisive white knight who played out a block busting role with regard to Europe and as mentioned earlier with regard to Latin America.

No wonder one million people turned up in Rome on the first of May 2011 for the Beatification of the first Slav Pope, the deep thinking anti-communist who came along at the right time to make a real difference in the history of the world. It was one of those very special days which was a great privilege to attend as accredited Ambassador to the Holy See and further it was attended by people of many faiths.

Over the centuries, the Holy See as the oldest organization in the world has seen national capital cities come and go (EG Almaty and Melbourne) and has seen countries and nation states come and go (EG Czechoslovakia and Prussia). It is unlikely to be the decisive and direct lead player, but it is often in part instrumental in these monumental events of the late twentieth century. 

With the collapse of communism in Europe and across the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall, it can be said the Holy See and the capital, the Vatican City, did matter and continues to matter.

Pope Benedict XVI

The first few years of the Papacy of Pope Benedict XVI were more stable times, until the Global Financial Crisis unfolded in 2008 and the Arab spring around the Mediterranean in 2010.

Preceding this, in the summer of 2006, there was a particularly ugly war in the Middle East between Israel and Lebanon or elements within Lebanon. This saw Israeli aircraft precision bombing parts of Beirut International Airport, occupying many parts of southern Lebanon and engaging in fierce tank warfare with the Hezbollah.

Rapidly Israel bogged down and casualties were mounting on both sides, worst still the soldier that Israel was seeking to free at the start of the war was nowhere to be found or rescued. He was released in a prisoner exchange eventually, in 2011.

The White House and others stepped up to negotiate a cease fire and it was agreed this would come into effect on the 14th August 2006. Against the odds the cease fire did apply and held so bringing an end to immediate hostilities, with the Israeli forces withdrawing from north of the well fenced and recognized Israel Lebanon border.

However in the last 48 hours before the ‘cut in' of the ceasefire but after it had been agreed, a very nasty saga took place, conducted by elements of the USA and Israel military machines, notably the Israeli Air Force. 

Thousands of cluster bomb munitions were flown from arsenals in the USA to Israel and quickly transhipped and sprayed out across Southern Lebanon in bombing raids. Many of these small cluster bombs looked like smart mobile phones, leading to Lebanese children picking them up and losing an arm or eye in the explosion that followed. 

It was bastardry in a place full of bastardry, namely the Middle East. Israel will always try to rescue its own soldiers and defend villages from attack, including rocket attacks launched without warning by the Hezbollah and Hamas.

Israel has a right to defend itself but at times in the 21st Century has decided to add to the bastardry of the Middle East in crazy ways that weakens both its international standing and for that matter, its core fabric. Likewise just as Fatah Prime Minister Fayyad makes some progress with education on the West Bank, other Palestinian elements ramp up random rocket attacks.

Pope Benedict XVI has often spoken of his deep-seated concern for the Christian populace in the Middle East and especially the Holy Lands. In the aftermath of the summer war of 2006 across most of southern Lebanon, the Pope supported initiatives flowing from three key posts of the Holy See. They were the Papal Nunciatures located in Vienna, New York and the hub of Geneva.

In May 2008 in Dublin there was a gathering of nations to consider the adoption of the convention with a large Holy See delegation present, led by Archbishop S.M.Tomasi. He is now based in Geneva after stints in New York and places like Eritrea and Ethiopia. 

Paolo Conversi a senior Curia lay person was also part of the delegation. He is a shrewd policy officer working in the Secretary of State office in this policy area, he supplied strategic research.

In the end 107 States or nations supported the adoption in principle of the Cluster Bombs Convention at Dublin with each State in turn to consider its own support and ratification. Further plenary meetings took place in the relevant locations of Vientiane Laos in 2010 and in Beirut Lebanon in 2011. 

Over recent years, the convention has gained a great deal of momentum with over 70 countries signing and ratifying, all of this driven by many including the three key Nunciatures mentioned earlier. Today many countries continue to sign up, including Australia but not yet the USA or Russia

Success always has a thousand or more claiming credit for the iniative. Failure has few accepting responsibility so it is difficult to lay down exactly who was the catalyst for what emerged after the dirty war of 2006 and the use of Cluster bombs, supplied by the USA and delivered by Israel. 

Most in the know allow that the Holy See played a critical and decisive role in securing the Cluster Bombs Convention, in other words the Pope and his servants did matter.


There are many more examples I could give but I just want to lighten up and tell you that it was a great privilege to be in Rome for the canonisation of Mary MacKillop. 

St Peter's Square was packed, the sun was shining and for the official functions, the Coonawarra wines of excellence were flowing. Remember Mary MacKillop opened her first school at Penola in 1866, alongside the rich soils of the Coonawarra. 

I invited the Coonawarra Wineries to donate towards the Canonisation functions in one of my better moves and they donated much to the cause. Their wines were very popular in and around Rome and of course in Australia.

I conclude by saying do not write off the soft power of Popes anytime soon, there are two Treaties of significance they helped create (Argentina Chile Border Treaty and the Anti Cluster Munitions Convention and Treaty) and much more. 

Do not write off the Holy See, yes it could do with six Mark Regev types to assist Father Lombardi SJ to boost media coverage, extra language speakers fluent in German, French, Spanish, Portuguese as well as Italian and English, yes the Holy See makes mistakes but it is not going to vanish anytime soon.

Tim Fischer AC, Former Australian Ambassador to the Holy See and ex Deputy PM of Australia, gave the above address, the sixth annual Walter Silvester Memorial Lecture, jointly sponsored by the Union of Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Family) and Australian Catholic University, on 30 October 2012 at ACU's St Patrick's Campus in Melbourne.

“The Infancy Narratives”: Not myths, just plausible stories

Bishop holds a copy of Pope Benedict XVI's book "The Childhood of Jesus" during a presentation in VaticanThe stories about Jesus’ infancy in the first few chapters of the Gospels of Luke and Matthew are not legends or imaginative reconstructions.

They are not “midrash” either, that is, interpretations of the Scriptures through narrations, typical of Hebrew literature. 

They are “history, history which really took place, history which was certainly interpreted and understood on the basis of the Word of God.” 

Benedict XVI writes this in “The Infancy Narratives” (Rizzoli- Vatican Publishing House, pp. 174), the third volume in the series of books dedicated to Jesus of Nazareth. This book is shorter than the other two. The first was about Jesus’ public life and the second about his passion, death and resurrection. 

The Pope goes back to writing as a theologian and exegete, completing a work he had wanted to write for years, with a volume on Christ’s birth. 

He finished the book despite the fact he was elected as Pope in the Conclave held after the death of John Paul II.
Luke and Matthew’s sources
Who told Luke and Matthew the story contained in their narrations?, Ratzinger asked himself. To which he responds: this is obviously based on family tradition. 

“Sometimes” Luke “alludes to the fact that Mary herself was one of his sources,” when he writes: “Her mother held all these things in her heart.” 

“Only she could tell the story of the Annunciation.” 

The Pope admits that the modern “critical” exegesis considers such links “naïve”, but asks himself: “Why would Luke have made up the comment about Mary holding words and events in her heart, if there was no concrete reference to this?”

He also explains that the late appearance of the Marian traditions in particular, is explained by the Virgin Mary’s discretion”: These “could not become public tradition” until her death. 

Mary, “a courageous woman”
Regarding Mary’s reaction to the Angel’s announcement – from the emotion it caused to the inner reflection on the message received – the Pope writes: “Mary comes across as a courageous woman who is able to maintain self control even in the face of unexpected events. At the same time, she is presented as a deeply spiritual woman who uses her heart and reason to think and tries to understand the context of God’s message in its totality.”

The virgin birth. Myth or truth?
Benedict XVI demonstrates that he does not believe one little bit in the comparison put forward in the history of religions, between the “virgin birth of Jesus” and the myths about unions between humans and deities.” 

There are no real parallels.

The Gospel stories completely preserve the uniqueness of the one unique God and the infinite difference between God and creation. There is no mixing; no demigod … The narrations in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels are not myths that have been developed further” and in terms of their concrete content, they come from the family tradition, they form part of a transmitted tradition that preserves events.” 

Therefore, Ratzinger concludes, the answer to the question regarding the truth of what the Creed says about the birth of the Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin Mary, “is definitely yes.”

With Jesus’ birth comes the end of astrology
Regarding the star which guided the Three Wise Men in Matthew’s Gospel, Benedict XVI recalled that “between 7 and 6 BC – which today is considered to be the likely date of Jesus’ birth – there was a conjunction of the planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.” 

According to the great astronomer Kepler, a supernova explosion occurred in addition to this and there seems to be trace of this on Chinese time charts dating back to 4 BC. 

Quoting Gregory of Nazianzus, the Pope writes that “the moment when the Wise Men bowed down before Jesus, signalled the end of astrology because as of that moment, the stars are said to have followed the orbit established by Christ.”

The massacre of the Innocents
It is true, Benedict XVI observes that “biblical sources tell us nothing about this event, but taking into account all the cruelty Herod was guilty of, this does not prove that this misdeed did not take place.” 

The Pope shares the opinion of Jewish author Schalit: “The suspicious despot sensed betrayal and hostility everywhere and a vague rumour he heard could have easily planted the idea of killing children that had recently been born in his ill mind.” 

Ratzinger claims he is convinced that these “are historical events, whose meaning was interpreted theologically by the Jewish-Christian community and by Matthew.”
Freedom in the family
Finally, the Pope focuses on the episode, found in Luke’s Gospel alone, where a twelve year old Jesus is found by his parents in the Temple of Jerusalem, after they had lost sight of him on their return from the Easter pilgrimage. 

Mary and Joseph notice his absence after one day. 

“This may surprise us given our possibly small-minded perception of the Holy Family. But it is a beautiful illustration of how freedom and obedience went hand in hand in the Holy Family. The twelve year old was given the freedom to decide whether to join his peers and friends and spend the journey with them.” 

Jesus was found teaching some doctors in the Temple. His response to his concerned parents, to Mary who scolded him, was: “I am exactly where I am meant to be – in my Father’s house … It is not Joseph who is my father, it is Another – God himself.”

Vatican faces case of alleged mistreatment

The Vatican has been accused of shortcomings in its detention practices.

Benedict’s ex-butler Paolo Gabriele, convicted last month of stealing papal documents and leaking them to a journalist, accused Vatican police of causing him “psychological pressure” by keeping him in a tiny cell with the lights on constantly for his first 20 days of detention.

Vatican police defended their actions and said the cell conformed to international standards. 

But the Vatican prosecutor opened an investigation.

Call for debate to re-energise church

A senior and influential figure in the Swiss Church has issued a potentially incendiary appeal for church reform with a string of proposals to empower the laity.

The ideas, put forward in a pamphlet by Abbot Martin Werlen of Einsiedeln, include appointing women and young people as cardinals and arranging regular meetings for them with the Pope. 

He also proposes giving lay people greater say in the choice of bishops, discussion of priestly celibacy and Communion for remarried divorcees.

The Benedictine abbot, who is a member of the Swiss Bishops' Conference, says his objective to end the turf wars between conservatives and progressives which he believes are having a deadening effect on the Church.

His message has been made all the more significant by being backed by the future president of the Swiss bishops' conference, Bishop Markus Büchel of St Gallen, who takes up the presidency on 1 January.

Jesuits to hand over iconic parish in Wimbledon almost 130 years, the Jesuits are to withdraw from running one of their landmark parishes as the order undertakes a review of all its apostolic work in Britain.

The British Province of the Society of Jesus has announced that it will hand over Sacred Heart in Wimbledon, south west London, one of Britain's largest parishes with thousands attending Mass each week, to the Archdiocese of Southwark.

In a letter to parishioners, Fr Dermot Preston SJ, the provincial, delivered the "very sad news" and said the decision had been taken because of the declining number of Jesuits. 

There are currently four serving the parish.

Fr Preston pointed out in his letter that there were now fewer than 200 British Jesuits compared with almost 1,000 in the early 1960s.

He added that the Jesuits "will need to hand over a number of our present commitments to other ministers" in the future and that Sacred Heart is our "strongest and most mature parish".

Presumption of innocence (Comment)

The Scales of Justice.The presumption of innocence is one of the basic principles of justice. 

It is summed up in article 6.2 of the European Convention of Human Rights: “Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.”

The principle states that the authorities must prove the guilt of a criminal defendant. 

It is not for him to prove his innocence. 

The burden of proof rests with the prosecution.

The principle can be traced back to Roman times. The 6th Century Digest of Justinian states: Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat - “Proof lies on him who asserts, not on him who denies”.

The development of the presumption of innocence in the modern era took place primarily in the common law jurisdictions of England and the United States. From there it has taken root in international human rights law.

The presumption of innocence, as a general principle, extends beyond the confines of the courts of law. The media should also respect a person’s right to their good name, and their right to be presumed innocent until they are found guilty by due process of law.

However, some argue that Catholic priests are nowadays effectively denied the presumption of innocence, especially where an accusation of sexual abuse is made against them. 

The Association of Catholic Priests is critical of the Irish bishops’ practise of making a public statement about a priest when an abuse allegation is made: “this episcopal practice seems to make the preservation of the presumption of innocence of the accused priest very difficult to maintain, in spite of the official Church re-assurance that that principle stands.” 

Once such a statement is made, the media often report the allegations, which can make life very difficult for the priest concerned. It may take years before an innocent priest is cleared of allegations.

If reporting on criminal proceedings, the media should carefully state that anyone on trial is ‘accused’ and that what they are accused of is ‘alleged’. Indeed, widespread coverage suggesting the guilt of a defendant, may enable them to argue that they cannot get a fair trial.

In the past, publication was done only by professional media organisations. 

Nowadays, anybody with internet access can instantly publish material to the entire world. 

In just a few hours, online rumours can become repeated so often online that they become treated as fact.

Last year, the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed a murder conviction because a juror who had used their mobile phone to tweet about the trial during jury deliberations. 

In Texas, a juror was found guilty of contempt of court when he tried to ‘friend’ the defendant on Facebook.

Similar concerns arose regarding the Australian trial of the suspect for Irish murder victim Jill Meagher. 

A vast amount of prejudicial online commentary about the accused prompted fears that the defendant would not get a fair trial. 

Victorian police pleaded with people not to post such comments, saying, “it is inappropriate to post speculation or comments about matters before the courts”.

The internet can act as an uncensored global rumour mill. 

Its role in diminishing the presumption of innocence cannot be ignored - either by the courts, or by anyone involved in the publication of allegations. 

Even ‘trial by media’ is far preferable to ‘trial by social media’. 

In the internet age the publication of mere allegations are more likely than ever to injure a person’s human right to be presumed innocent.

The role of the laity (Opinion)

The recent establishment of the Association of Catholics in Ireland has raised many questions regarding the role of the laity in the Church. 

Are they expected to simply toe the party line when it comes to orders from the hierarchy or can they play a more significant role in ‘their’ Church?

The group, which is seeking liberal reform in the Catholic Church is “committed to the renewal of the Catholic Faith in the changed and changing circumstances of the 21st Century and to the reform of the institutional Church which, at this time, is experiencing conflict, crisis, and lack of credibility”.

A number of people at their AGM condemned the organisation, labelling members of ACI as “outside the Church” and stating their aims have “nothing to do with Vatican II”.

However, should this have been the case? Do the laity have a right to establish an organisation such as the ACI? And are they sincerely committed “to the pursuit of a reform and renewal agenda in the Irish Catholic Church based on the letter and the spirit of Vatican II”?

To answer some of these questions we can look to the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem.

The document begins with the assertion that “the apostolate of the laity derives from their Christian vocation and the Church can never be without it”.


Moreover, “modern conditions demand that their apostolate be broadened and intensified” because of increasing population, progress in science and technology, and the “serious danger to Christian life” caused by an increasing autonomy in many areas of life which has involved “a degree of departure from ethical and religious order”.

The first chapter of the document which deals with the vocation of the laity to the apostolate, defines apostolate as all activity of the Mystical Body directed to the goal for which the Church was founded; “spreading the kingdom of Christ throughout the Earth for the glory of God the Father, to enable all men to share in His saving redemption, and that through them the whole world might enter into a relationship with Christ.”

Therefore the “Christian vocation by its very nature is also a vocation to the apostolate”, to the extent that “the member who fails to make his proper contribution to the development of the Church must be said to be useful neither to the Church nor to himself”.


The Council teaches that for the laity, this mission grows from their share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ, while their activity must be “directed to the evangelisation and sanctification of men and to the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel”.

Those who engage in the apostolate do so through “the faith, hope, and charity which the Holy Spirit diffuses in the hearts of all members of the Church”.

Above all, “the success of the lay apostolate depends upon the laity’s living union with Christ”.

In the second chapter, entitled “Objectives”, the council fathers note that Christ’s redemptive work, while essentially concerned with salvation, “includes also the renewal of the whole temporal order”, which God intends to raise up and make into a new creation.


Hence, lay persons are both to offer the witness of their way of life and to look for specific opportunities to announce the message of Christ.

The document then provides an important passage calling on the laity to right some of the wrongs that have developed in modern society.

“Since, in our own times, new problems are arising and very serious errors are circulating which tend to undermine the foundations of religion, the moral order, and human society itself, this sacred synod earnestly exhorts laymen-each according to his own gifts of intelligence and learning-to be more diligent in doing what they can to explain, defend, and properly apply Christian principles to the problems of our era in accordance with the mind of the Church.”


The document asserts that the laity should work together to renew and perfect the things that make up the temporal order. These include the family, culture, economic matters, the arts and professions, the laws of the political community, international relations, human good and all human development.

According to the council fathers, these “not only aid in the attainment of man’s ultimate goal but also possess their own intrinsic value”.

Thus the whole Church must work vigorously so that people become “capable of rectifying the distortion of the temporal order and directing it to God through Christ.”

Then comes the distinction between ordained clergy and members of the laity which is hinted at earlier in the document with the sentence; “In the Church there is diversity of ministry but unity of mission.”

The document states that pastors must teach the principles concerning the purpose of creation and offer the moral and spiritual aids by which the temporal order may be renewed.

However, the laity “must take up the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation”. They are to be led by the light of the Gospel and the mind of the Church and motivated by Christian charity. The document also encouraged dialogue, stating the laity should “cooperate with other citizens with their own particular skill and on their own responsibility”.

In the third chapter of Apostolicam Actuositatem, the various fields of the apostolate are discussed. The council identifies the spheres of potential action for the lay apostolate, such as church communities, the family, youth, the social milieu, and national and international levels.

Married couples 

The fathers take special notice of the importance of apostolic activity undertaken by married couples to manifest and prove by their own way of life, “the indissolubility and sacredness of the marriage bond strenuously to affirm the right and duty of parents and guardians to educate children in a Christian manner, and to defend the dignity and lawful autonomy of the family”.

The document also states the need for the laity to work harmoniously with priests in the building up of their parishes. 

It also makes clear the importance of cultivating a sense of apostolic mission in young people and the need to “infuse a Christian spirit into the mentality, customs, laws, and the structure of the community in which one lives”.

The fourth chapter of the document deals with the various forms of the apostolate. The council emphasises that the individual apostolate, “flowing generously from its source in a truly Christian life, is the origin and condition of the whole lay apostolate, even of the organised type, and it admits of no substitute”.

The laity must remember “that they can reach all men and contribute to the salvation of the whole world by public worship and prayer as well as by penance and voluntary acceptance of the labours and hardships of life whereby they become like the suffering Christ”.

Active laity

The document also emphasises the special need for a strong and active laity in “those regions where the freedom of the Church is seriously infringed”, and also in “areas where Catholics are few in number and widely dispersed”.

The council fathers stressed the need for the formation of “a great variety of associations”. 

These associations are not ends unto themselves; rather “they should serve the mission of the Church to the world”.


Wherever possible, the formation of formal apostolic associations working in cooperation with the hierarchy, often called ‘Catholic Action’, are highly recommended.

There was considerable discussion of what constitutes authentic ‘Catholic Action.’:  

The following characteristics were offered:
  •  The immediate aim of the organisations is the apostolic aim of the Church.
  •  The laity, cooperating in their own particular way with the hierarchy, contribute their experience and assume responsibility in the direction of these organisations.
  •  The laity act together in the manner of an organic body, to display more strikingly the community aspect of the Church and to render the apostolate more productive.
  •  The laity, whether coming of their own accord or in response to an invitation to action and direct cooperation with the hierarchical apostolate, act under the direction of the hierarchy, which can sanction this cooperation with an explicit mandate.

Apostolicam Actuositatem also deals with ‘External Relationships’, discussing the need for proper relations between laity and the hierarchy. 

It declares “the hierarchy should promote the apostolate of the laity, provide it with spiritual principles and support, direct the conduct of this apostolate to the common good of the Church, and attend to the preservation of doctrine and order”.

The final chapter, ‘Formation for the Apostolate’, emphasises that the laity should engage themselves wholly and actively in the reality of the temporal order and effectively assume their role in conducting the affairs of this order. 

“At the same time, as a living member and witness of the Church, he renders the Church present and active in the midst of temporal affairs.”

The concluding exhortation reaffirms that through the holy synod, “the Lord renews His invitation to all the laity to come closer to Him every day, recognising that what is His is also their own, to associate themselves with Him in His saving mission”.


The call for the significant involvement of the laity in the Church prior to the Second Vatican Council would have been a revolutionary notion. 

However, it is a tribute to the growth of the lay apostolate since the council convened that this document can now be read without shock or surprise.

Based on the decree, the ACI are well within their rights to establish their organisation. In fact, the council fathers of Vatican II would have encouraged them.

In a recent message, Pope Benedict XVI said the laity should be seen as truly “co-responsible” for the Church and not just “collaborators” with the clergy.

“Co-responsibility requires a change in mentality, particularly with regard to the role of the laity in the Church,” the Holy Father said.

Laity should be considered “persons truly ‘co-responsible’ for the being and activity of the Church,” he stated.

He called for a united and committed laity to each make their own “specific contribution to the Church’s mission, in accordance with the ministries and tasks each one has in the life of the Church, and always in cordial communion with the bishops”.

Why then has there been such an animated reaction to the ACI?

The problem lies not in the establishment of the group, rather with their objectives.

One aim of the ACI is to bring about the full participation of women in every aspect of the Church. 

It is also the organisation’s intention to re-evaluate the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. 

The Church simply cannot credibly change such doctrine and retain its Catholic nature.

Instead of focussing on unalterable Church teachings the ACI should reserve its energy for more possible forms of renewal. 

If the group is sincerely concerned with bringing the message of Vatican II to life, they will, in the words of the council fathers, do their best “to explain, defend, and properly apply Christian principles to the problems of our era in accordance with the mind of the Church”.

Groups such as the ACI should be an ally, not an enemy. 

And while they may not represent every Catholic’s position, they do provide a forum for members of the Church to be heard. It’s about time somebody listened.

The Power of the Poor to Change the World (Book Review)

It says something for the influence of Donal Dorr that this is the third, enlarged and revised, edition of a book which first appeared in 1983.

Over those decades he has not only written other books, but through his work as a missionary priest enhanced his insights as a theologian. 

He has been associated with the Irish Missionary Union and served as a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. 

His writings have influenced a generation of Irish activists, but looking round the wider world, with the continuing exploitation of poor people in so many places, one wonders. Or rather, as he prefers, not poor people, but “people who happen to be poor”. 


The aim of this book is to trace the development of Catholic social teaching over the last 133 years, since Leo XII issued Rerum Novarum. 

But there is a sense in which long before that Catholic social teaching had been rooted in the gospels, had been given effect by the such figures as St Francis of Assisi and to Catherine McCauley. 

It did not need an encyclical to tell them what must be done.  

Whatever else it was the essence of Catholic social teaching was no new thing. 

Leo XIII was responding to the emergence over the course of the 19th Century of industrialised society. This had created as all thinking people, from Karl Marx to the Pope, realised great social injustices. 

The Pope, however, wished to see a solution to those injustices, not so much in the over-intervention of the state, as in the actions of groups and individuals.  

Catholic social studies and Catholic action as in developed in the following decades worked along these lines. 

But over the course of the 20th Century it was not the over-intervention of the state (malignant as that often was) that came to the fore, but the often free-roaming activities of great multinational conglomerates. 


Donal Dorr was born in Foxford, but he lived to see the fabric industry, not just of that town, but of much of Western Europe transferred to the Far East. Slavery may have been abolished in the course of time over much of the world. 

But globalisation has resulted in slavery of another kind, where the proprietors do not even have to own the slaves to exploit them. This has meant wealth for a small number, greater hardship for many others. 

As humanity crowds into cities people have not even the land to cultivate for food that the rural poor once had, and still have in some places. 

So the content of his book is immediately and continuingly relevant. So what is new here? 

Approximately a third of this book is devoted to dealing with the development in recent times, especially since 2005 when Cardinal Ratzinger was elevated to the Pontificate as Benedict XVI.  

Human rights

Dorr deals in detail with Deus Caritas Est, which is relevant to Catholic aid agencies such as Trocaire, and with Caritas In Veritae. 

These chapters will be found especially valuable for the developments that will have to be reacted to in 21st Century.  An emerging notion seems to be to extend the idea of what charity is. It is a respect for human rights, yes, but perhaps more. 

Can we, it was asked, at the launch of this book, begin to speak water in itself, and not as property, having rights? 

The theme of an option for the poor might have seemed at a time when western nationals basked in their prosperity as being a divisive one. 

Yet now, as large numbers of the populations of Europe and the USA have themselves being plunged from prosperity into poverty, there is a realisation that the option for the poor is becoming an option for everyone. 

Catholic social teaching is not just applicable in the Third world, or the South, those traditional ‘mission lands’. Mission now begins in Tallaght. 

Social teaching

Social teaching, as laid out with such brilliant clarity by Donal Dorr, means every where it must be based on all humanity. 

And not only on humanity, but also on creation, on the ecology of spiritual development. 

It is not that the poor are always with us, we are all in some way or other part of the world’s poor. 

Human solidarity must be universal. People who are poor, wherever they are, may seem powerless, but with God’s grace and our aid they have the power to change the world for the better. 

This is rich book, with careful discussions and deep insights drawn from long experience. 

The author does not avoid the difficult and controversial places, such the developing ideas about women. 

But in the end he writes: “I hope this will not give the impression that I am playing down the strengths that I outlined earlier. Despite its inadequacies, the tradition of social teaching in the Church is one of which we Christians can be proud.” 

And moreover: “This tradition calls us to examine our actions, our lifestyles, and our structures, and to make sure that there is not too wide a gap between what we are proclaiming and what we are doing.”

Option for the Poor and for the Earth: Catholic Social Teaching, by Donal Dorr (Orbis Books / Alban Books, €32.00/£25.00)