Monday, May 26, 2008

A point by point critique of Robinson's book?

According to Cathnews:
Marist Fr Michael Whelan, director of the Aquinas Academy in Sydney, Australia, responded to the bishops' criticisms saying: "We have a right to know precisely what is doctrinally unsound with what Bishop Robinson has written and why it is unsound.

"It is a serious book and it demands a serious response," Father Whelan added in his statement posted on the Aquinas Academy Web site May 19.

The "imprecision and vagueness" in the bishops' "bland and defensive" statement, Fr Whelan said, is a "sad and discouraging reflection on the leadership of the Catholic Church in Australia, likely to confirm those who are unlikely to read Bishop Robinson's book and alienate those who find it worth reading."
Do they really want that? I do not believe that Fr Whelan is incapable himself of identifying the passages to which the "imprecise and vague" statement of the Australian Bishops refers. (He is, after all, an intelligent man). Nor can we seriously believe that the lay readers of Geoffrey Robinson's book are so ill-informed. Essentially, the errors may safely be taken to be those bits of the book that simultaneously warm the hearts of dissenters and inflame the hearts of faithful Catholics.

In the meantime, Cathnews also reports that "at least 11 bishops, including Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles, asked Bishop Robinson to cancel his tour." Unfortunately, we are not given a list of who these "at least 11" are. I take it that would be "at least" each of the 11 bishops in the 11 dioceses he would be visiting? No red carpet then? Small wonder.

12 Comments:

At Tuesday, May 27, 2008 12:27:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Essentially, the errors may safely be taken to be those bits of the book that simultaneously warm the hearts of dissenters and inflame the hearts of faithful Catholics.

Oh, dear heavens, no. Emotional reaction is certainly not a good guide to doctrinal truth. I can’t think of anything more relativist; you will be pleased when people tell you either (a) what you already believe to be true is true, or (b) what you want to be true is true.

I have to say that I think Fr Whelan is on the money here. A non-specific denunciation of this kind is obvioiusly unhelpful to anyone who looks to the bishops for guidance and teaching. It suggests that those issuing it (a) don’t like the book, but find themselves unable to articulate why, or (b) can’t actually agree on what they would like to say about the book. Neither impression gives the denunciation a terribly convincing air. If the bishops don’t want to engage with what the book actually says, then they would have been better off saying nothing.

 
At Tuesday, May 27, 2008 8:21:00 pm , Blogger Peter said...

No need to print a list. They have a Catechism, the differences are obvious.

 
At Wednesday, May 28, 2008 7:46:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

You will be aware, Perry, of the famous constitutional legal argument put forward in that great Australian classic film "The Castle", namely:

"It's the vibe".

I think that applies to this legal decision also.

(for those who don't get it, see here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/arts/articulate/200704/s1891316.htm)

 
At Wednesday, May 28, 2008 9:59:00 am , Anonymous Mike said...

I understand Peregrinus's point, but I think a question like this is a matter of some prudence. For one thing, I think the bishops would like to show that they disagree precisely with Fr Whelan's statement. IE, it's not a serious book and it doesn't deserve a serious response.

If they do respond point by point, there will no doubt be a rebuttal from Bishop Robinson, Fr Whelan and Paul Collins, to which the bishops may decide to respond again, to which there will be a rebuttal, to which they may decide to respond . . . and so on, it seems, interminably. Or else someone will get the last say, and people will think that means they won. Meanwhile, this debate would get to the average person through the usual media filters - it's not realistic to think that everyone's going to read it all. Not to mention that I'd rather the bishops spend time on other things (including the concerns Bishop Robinson *used* to be famous for).

Meanwhile, this would be giving the impression that among all the books against Catholic doctrine, this one in particular deserves attention, and was "attracting debate in the highest circles". I don't think that would help.

I think it would be a good idea for someone else with a lower profile in the church to dissect the book and if there must needs be a debate, to take it on at that level.

 
At Wednesday, May 28, 2008 11:06:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

I agree with Mike to a large extent. I realy don’t think [i]any[/i] response to this book can best be delivered by press release.

I don’t think the church can ignore this book, or pretend that it is irrelevant. Robinson is a bishop, after all. Furthermore, he’s a bishop with very particular experience and very particular achievements in this area. And this is an area which has caused the church a huge amount of trouble and which, I think we will all agree, has been extraordinarily badly handled in the past, so the church needs to be open to some fresh thinking..

So whatever else his book is, it’s not irrelevant, and it can’t be ignored.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that we must all fall over backwards and uncritically accept everything that Robinson says. That would be stupid – just as stupid, in fact, as dismissing the entire book and everything it says because of unspecified doctrinal errors. It never pays to look stupid. And since press statements tend to be simplistic and one-dimensional, that’s why I say a press statement here is probably not terribly useful.

If Robinson’s arguments are flawed, his evidence weak, his beliefs heretical or whatever, then the bishops have nothing to fear from widespread discussion and consideration of his book; in fact they should welcome it, since this will tend to lead to its weaknesses being identified and highlighted.

If, on the other hand, much of what he says is good sound and useful, but some of it is embarrassing, threatening or just plain objectionable from the point of view of the church, then the best course is to treat his book as a valuable perspective on this issue, but just one perspective (which of course is perfectly correct) and to seek to embrace it in a larger discussion in which his views are moderated or countered by the views of others. In other words, engage with what he says; treat it as something useful and valuable, but still something to be critically evaluated; treat it as a contribution to a greater process. This enables the church to welcome, applaud, etc much that is good, and gives their rejection of other points he may make rather more credibility.

Quite by coincidence, John Allen’s column last week discussed a symposium on “Truth”, in which senior Vatican figures will be sitting down with a varied collection of atheists, ex-priests, ex-Catholics and others who are definitely not orthodox. What this signals is that even views which are, from a Catholic perspective, dissenting and unorthodox are worthwhile contributions to discourse which can and should be treated with respect, and from which we can learn.

The contrast between this attitude on the one hand, and the attempt to silence Robinson and to condemn his book in strong but vague terms on the other, is striking. True, Robinson in inside the tent, and criticism or disagreement from him has additional dimensions of embarrassment but, still, the objective truth of what he has to say doesn’t actually depend on who he is (Pope Benedict would agree with me on at least this, I am sure) and so shouldn’t dictate how we as a church respond to what he has to say.

The attitude of the official church to Robinson, at least if we judge by actions taken in the past couple of weeks, screams insecurity, and gives the impression that the church is in fact very afraid of what he has to say. This is not, I feel sure, the impression which the church wishes to give.

 
At Wednesday, May 28, 2008 2:59:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Yes, I agree with Mike too. In fact, that was my original reaction and the reason I wrote the post that I did, but in my usual style I didn't spell out all the arguments leading from a to z. Just went for the jugular vein!

I also agree that it needs to be dissected and answered point by point with a short book by some notable, but not as an official enquiry of the Bishops Conference.

 
At Friday, May 30, 2008 1:08:00 pm , Blogger Peter said...

I also agree that it needs to be dissected and answered point by point with a short book by some notable, but not as an official enquiry of the Bishops Conference.

Do you believe this books deserves this attentuion purely because the author is a bishop? Or do you believe that we are duty bound to respond to every piece of tripe and waffle just because some local priest tells us it is a 'serious' work?

The bishops have made it clear it is not a representation of the Catholic faith. There are plenty of other works more worthy of our time and effort if we want to invest them in this area.

 
At Friday, May 30, 2008 1:58:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Just because he is a bishop. That's what makes it serious. And truly, who would be reading it if it wasn't by a bishop? Would he be doing speaking tours of the States if he wasn't a bishop?

 
At Friday, May 30, 2008 2:24:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Actually, the importance of the book doesn't [i]just[/i] come from the fact that he is a bishop, but also from the role he played, and the experience he has, in addressing this very issue on behalf of the church. We don;'t have to like or agree with everything he says but, obviously, as a church, we should be interested in it.

any attempt to marginalise this book is going to backfire on the church. Not looking at anyone in particular, Peter.

 
At Saturday, May 31, 2008 5:17:00 pm , Blogger Fraser Pearce said...

My understanding is that Cardinal Mahony is not the most staunch defender of orthodoxy, and that his own involvement in the sort of scandals that Robinson rightly denounces is less than exemplary.

Is is said anywhere why Cardinal Mahony wishes the tour to be cancelled?

 
At Sunday, June 01, 2008 10:31:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

You understand correctly, Fraser. You can read Mahoney's reason for yourself, since he wrote it down. See the link here: http://cumecclesia.blogspot.com/2008/05/building-perpetual-eucharistic.html

 
At Tuesday, June 03, 2008 10:56:00 pm , Blogger Peter said...

Just because he is a bishop. That's what makes it serious. And truly, who would be reading it if it wasn't by a bishop? Would he be doing speaking tours of the States if he wasn't a bishop?

A fair point mate, I withdraw my above remark :).

Is is said anywhere why Cardinal Mahony wishes the tour to be cancelled?

A good question, unfortunately the answer isn't likely to be a happy one

 

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