Thursday, August 28, 2008

The kindest cut...

In our discussion below about St Mary's, Perigrinus said:
You can’t force people to be in communion with you. You can certainly force them out of communion with you, though, or accelerate that rupture, but that is pretty much the last thing any bishop ought to do, ever, to anyone. Hence, if he is to err, a bishop ought to err on the side of maintaining connections, building bridges and seeking to repair relationships, not terminate them.

Sure, he could reassign the administrator, appoint a new administrator or paster and thereby reassert control over the church building. But the church building is just bricks and mortar, and is of no real consequence. If the price of doing that is irrevocably driving the community out, then that action does not build up the church; it breaks it down.

There are obviously difficult decisions facing the archbishop here, and no choice open to him is free of downside, or will insulate him from criticism. But I think his instinct here is sound; he wants this community in the church, not out of it, and he’s inviting – or perhaps challenging - them to want the same thing, and to act like they want it.
And Joshua made the comment:
As David would no doubt say, the real issue here is that the people of St Mary's have not only been cut off from true catechesis, they have been subject to false catechesis for decades - this is spiritual abuse of the faithful, surely a terrible crime.
Before I comment further, I want to make it clear that I am not criticising or trying to advise Dr Bathersby on what he should have done or should do, I am simply wanting to discuss this as a "test case" situation, in the abstract, as it were.

I regard to Perry's and Josh's comments, I must say I am with Joshua on this one. Sometimes acting "compassionately" can be an excuse for inaction or indecision, and the lack of action and decision can end up causing more hurt in the end. Classic sayings come to mind (which can be added to the one I originally cited of "a stitch in time saves nine") such as "you've got to be cruel to be kind" or "spare the rod and spoil the child". Of course, declaring an entire parish to be out of communion with the Catholic Church (= excommunicated) is a drastic action (and hopefully will not be required). And the removal of a much loved pastor and the insertion of a new pastor can be vehemently resented. However, if the over all health of the parish and its members is what is in view, sometimes these things need to be done.

As Joshua says, it is truly a form of abuse to turn a blind eye when a man who is supposed to be a spiritual father leads the children of the Church astray. The Church (and its bishops in particular) are currently copping a lot of (genuinely deserved) flack for turning a blind eye toward priests who were sexually abusing those in their charge. Although the world will not see it as the same thing, turning a blind eye toward the activities of heterodox pastors in our Catholic parishes is just as culpable.

It is not an act of compassion when the surgeon hesitates to amputate while gangrene spreads in a limb for fear of the pain that would be caused by such an operation. For the sake of the children of the Church, the kindest cut is the quickest and most decisive one.

2 Comments:

At Thursday, August 28, 2008 2:00:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Like you, David, I have no wish to second-guess what the Archbishop does. He is much closer to, and much better informed about, this situation than you or I (or Joshua) and, furthermore, it is his responsibility and therefore his right to deal with it. The fact that you or I (or Joshua) might deal with it differently if we were the Archbishop of Brisbane is neither here nor there; we’re not the Archbishop.

Which isn’t to say that we can’t usefully discuss the issues that arise. I’m not laying down any law about what is the right thing for an archbishop to do in these circumstances; as I already said, no choice open to him is free of downside, and I think his dilemma is a very difficult one. Whatever he does risks not having the outcome he hopes for, which is (I don’t doubt) to build up the body of Christ in Brisbane; it may therefore turn out to be an error.

What I am saying is that, if he [i]is[/i] to risk erring – and I don’t see that he can avoid the risk – a bishop’s instinct should be to risk erring on the side of maintaining and building communion, rather than breaking it down.

Will a “short sharp shock” approach build up communion, or break it down? Well, I’m glad that Dr Bathersby has to make that decision, not me, but I think that’s the question any bishop should be asking himself.

It’s worth pointing out that, if our concern is with “false catechesis’, then any course of action which seems likely to result in a community breaking communion with the church, but continuing to function as a worshipping, liturgical community, clearly does nothing at all to protect the community members from false catechesis. They will continue to be catechised in exactly the way they have been catechised up to now.

The obvious response is “Yes, but they will no longer be catechised in that way by, or with the endorsement of, the Church of Brisbane”. That’s a pathetic response though; it suggests that our main concern is for ourselves. We don’t mind if people are spiritually abused; we just want to distance ourselves from it. Substitute “sexually”
for “spiritually” in that sentence to see just how appalling it sounds.

If we’re concerned about spiritual abuse, then we want the course of action which offers the best prospects of stopping that abuse. It’s very hard to see how an archbishop can do that if communion is broken; he will lose all influence and authority in that situation. He may have protected himself, and the reputation of his institution, but that’s not really the first consideration here. So it does seem to me that any course of action which will address Joshua’s concern of “spiritual abuse” has to make the maintenance of communion a priority. That, of course, may not be attainable. And, even if it is attainable, it does not guarantee a successful outcome. But Christians have to be ready to take risks. And I don’t see that a course of action likely to lead to a complete breach presents lesser risks.

 
At Thursday, August 28, 2008 2:44:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

In general, as usual, I agree with all your comments, Perry.

But. (There's always a "but").

With regard to abuse (sexual or spiritual) we have two responsibilities:

1) We must not be the perpetrators
2) We must protect the victims

In regard to the second, we must be concerned for all victims whosoever is the perpetrator.

But our first responsibility must be to make sure that we are not the perpetrator or protecting the perpetrator of abuse.

Spiritual abuse takes place all over the place, and that concerns us. That is why the Catholic Church strives to bring to the world authentic spiritual care.

But we are directly responsibile for any such abuse that happens on our watch. That is why we call the bishops and priests "pastors" or "shepherds". Yes, there are sheep that do not yet belong to the flock, but woe to the one who neglects the flock over which he has been put in charge.

You, of course, agree with that.

In this case, an end to false catechesis could be brought about immediately with a change to the parish priest. The new priest would undoubtedly be unpopular with some members of the parish (though clearly not all), but the bishop would not in any sense be acting outside his rights or outside due procedure, and no one need be threatened (except by their own decisions) with a break in communion from the Church.

 

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