Aussie Bishop on American Catholics: “My overwhelming thought was that, if the church loses these people, it has lost its very soul.”

Bishop Robinson.jpgBishop Geoffrey Robinson, whose lecture tour of the United States last month brought him critcism as well as praise thanks to his provocative book, “Confronting Sex and Power in the Catholic Church,” has returned home and has written up his impressions of the U.S. church. My Q&A with Robinson is here, and in his column at the Catholica Australia site, the bishops expands on his impressions (we spoke near the start of his cross-country circuit) and offers nuggets on the Vatican effort to bar him from the States.
Chief among them was a quote from Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, who asked that Robinson cancel his tour (Robinson received the letter when he returned home, though he knew of its existence during his trip) and added: “It has been brought to my attention by some Bishops in the United States who are concerned that you have been invited by some organizations that are not in communion with the Catholic Church…” Apparently the cardinal was referring to Robsinson’s chief host, Voice of the Faithful, and Re’s take on VOTF reflects an extraordinarily rare and dim view.
Much more, worth reading. See below for the rest…


A reflection on all that happened…
I recently completed a five-week tour of the U.S.A. in which I spoke at fifteen different venues around that country. It was exhausting, and it has taken me some time to recover, but I am now able to reflect on all that happened.
In his letter asking me to cancel the tour, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, said, “It has been brought to my attention by some Bishops in the United States who are concerned that you have been invited by some organizations that are not in communion with the Catholic Church…”. This is the exact opposite of my experience. The people who came to listen were mainly older people who had spent their lives as faithful and loyal Catholics, raising their children in that faith and supporting the church in every way they could. They still practise their faith. Yes, there were also victims present, and married priests and gay people and three Catholic women ordained as priests. Some of these were angry, some disillusioned and many were struggling hard to keep faith in the church. But even these disaffected people still cared and still wanted to see a better church. To dismiss the entire audience as “not in communion with the church” is a complete failure to understand the book I have written or the response it has evoked among many thousands of Catholics of every age. My overwhelming thought was that, if the church loses these people, it has lost its very soul.
I met many wonderful and inspiring people who welcomed me and invited me into their homes. Most were from the organization called Voice of the Faithful, that started in Boston in 2002 in response to the revelations of sexual abuse there and wants to see a comprehensive response to those revelations. If this makes them “not in communion” with the church, then we all have a most serious problem!!
I naively thought that the American church would be similar to the Australian church, but found myself continually having to revise my ideas and adapt to a very different world. This was the single greatest difficulty I had on the tour, especially when people tried to involve me in matters that I did not really understand. I was overwhelmed with evidence of incompetence and far worse, though the canon lawyer in me kept warning that I needed to hear all sides of the story first. I am still confused about the extent of incompetence and wrongdoing by bishops, but came away with the clear conviction that the American church has some massive problems before it. It is said that ex-Catholics constitute the second largest religion in the country, and this trend may well continue.
I returned to find on my desk the letters from thirteen U.S. bishops asking me not to go. I am not saying that I was not aware of their existence, but in fact I saw them only on my return. They all quote the statement of the Australian bishops and it is clear that both this statement and the letters of the U.S. bishops were orchestrated by Cardinal Re.
I have had the opportunity to study the statement of the Australian bishops more carefully. I have several difficulties with this statement.
Firstly, it says that I question the teaching authority of the church and quotes John’s gospel concerning the promise of Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to the apostles “in order to lead them into the fullness of the truth”. In this the statement appears to confuse teaching authority with infallibility. I do not deny that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit and I do not deny the teaching authority of the church, as even a cursory reading of my book would show. What I question is the teaching on infallibility and especially on “creeping infallibility”, in which, even without the formal apparatus of infallibility, Catholics are told that they must believe many truths. The bishops appear to brush aside the very real problems associated with this phenomenon.
Secondly, it says that my questioning of authority is connected to my “uncertainty about the knowledge and authority of Christ himself.” But surely the real question is not where my doubts concerning the knowledge of Jesus come from, but rather where the certainties of the bishops come from? I point out that the biblical evidence is conflicting and that “We are, after all, speaking about what went on within the mind of Jesus, an individual unlike any other who has ever walked on this earth, a person within whom the divine and the human were bound together in a singular manner.” The bishops make no attempt to explain where their certainties come from.
Thirdly and most importantly, the statement makes no comment on my book as a response to sexual abuse, though this is its very raison d’etre. It implies, therefore, that one may not ask questions about church teachings or laws under any circumstances, not even in responding to abuse. My book starts from the opposite end, the fact of abuse, and says that, if we are to overcome it, we must seek out the deepest causes both of the abuse and of the inadequate response to abuse, and, in doing this, we must be free to follow the argument wherever it leads. If it causes us to question teaching or practice concerning creeping infallibility or sexual morality or obligatory celibacy, we must be free to do so. The bishops do not address these issues, or how we are to overcome abuse if we are not free to ask the questions that arise.
I remain convinced that we have a long way to go and that, if we are ever to look to the future with a clear conscience, we must be free to ask the questions that spontaneously arise from the terrible fact of abuse and the inadequate response to it. Until that happens, we are trying to manage rather than truly confront the problem.

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Ed Gleason

posted July 7, 2008 at 12:56 pm

Cardinal Re should wish in prayer that his own extended family was in ‘communion with the Church’ as much as VOTF members are. The Catholic University study of VOTF members by D’Antonoi and Pogoreic found high majority levels of VOTF members involved in lay ministry with 12-16-18 years of Catholic education. Catholic U may lose it’s pontifical status if Rome gets a bug in it’s B about ‘studies that contradict the ‘magisterium’ …. (o:
Re should be kept busy pandering to the Society of Pius X crowd, getting ready to re-ordain their exommunicated bishops!
Ed Gleason

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Rev. Paulina K. Dennis

posted July 7, 2008 at 1:59 pm

I am a Reformed Protestant, ordained Congregationalist minister. Having worked with organizations like Catholic Charities and many RC organizations, priests and nuns, particularly in the NYC area, I can tell you that the degree of pain and hurt over the pedophilia scandals of the Church in recent years was overwhelming, and many of them, whether they wanted to or not, took it very personally. After all, they were the ones supposedly to set an example for behavior as either an ordinate or religious person in orders. Heaven knows we Protestants have had our own sex scandals; but, since most Protestant churches are much more independent than Catholic parishes are, most of these scandals are quickly resolved. It’s very hard to keep a secret of such proportions in a Protestant milieu. I was appalled but not totally surprised, therefore, to learn that it was the higher-ups (Bishop and beyond) who actively suppressed open knowledge of these crimes. The Roman Church is still at the core of Christianity; it has a long history that we have to know about as Protestants. Once we know that history, we can be more aware of how (I’m thinking of some of the Megachurches here in America, and some of the more egregious power-hungry preachers in the Protestant tradition) power and control can corrupt religion. One wonders if the Church really learned its lesson with the trial of Galileo; and how, in the end, you cannot dictate religious thought in the name of anything. I have to agree with the Bishop on the subject of “infallibility.” This questionable 19th century doctrine can and will be taken right out the window in its application. There is nothing “infallible” about anything humans do or can do; and we had best learn that early on.
Rev. Paulina K. Dennis
Myrtle, MS 38650

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Bob Nunz

posted July 8, 2008 at 10:53 am

After the Anglicans voted yesterday to ordain women bishops, the divide in that Church will probably become more exacerbated,
But, it mirrors in may ways the unspoken (except for Bishop robinson, and many incvolved in lay ministry) divide in catholicism over the whole propb;lem of “eqaulity” of women in the Church.
The tamping down of discussion by control means that Robinson complains of leaves a sore that continues to run deep.
Of course related to all this is the area of sexuality which again is a source of deep divide with little offical discussion allowed.

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posted July 13, 2008 at 5:10 pm

This was an excellent article. God bless Bishop Robinson and his work. People like Cardinal Re think THEY are the Church and don’t have a lot of respect for the laity. Neither do many of these Bishop who asked Bishop Robinson not to come to their dioceses. They don’t want to hear the truth and they don’t want the people to hear it either. It seems that to many of the higher ups the most important thing is loyalty. That is why a lot of the “pedophile” priests were kept around and moved from parish to parish. Most of them were loyal to their bishops. Some were so loyal they even got to be pastors of parishes or higher positions. Look at people like Father Bozek and Sister Louise in St. Louis. They are despised by Archbishop Burke because they are not loyal. To guys like Burke people like Father Bozek and Sister Louise are worse than those in the clergy that molested children. How many of those guys were excommunicated? How many priests that molested or even raped kids were denied the Sacraments when they were sent to another parish? The Church needs people like Bishop Robinson to ask the tough questions. God bless him.
Peace – Mareczku

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posted July 26, 2008 at 9:31 pm

I attended Bishop Geoffrey Robinson lecture at Temple University in Philadelphia which was the first stop on his United States tour.
It was a distinct pleasure to meet and listen to his frank commentary on the present state of the Roman Catholic Church in the modern world vis-a-vis its continuing sex abuse problems.
Even though we Americans had to wait for an Australian bishop to talk so freely and frankly as he expanded on the topics discussed in his book, “Confronting Sex and Power in the Catholic Church,” his honesty on the subject was something that has rarely been found here. In fact, no sitting bishop in the United States has spoken so openly about the very real problems that Robinson speaks of in his book.
Arriving at about the same time as Bishop Robinson arrived in the United States were the disparaging comments made about him by the Australian Bishops’ Conference in their unsigned letter followed by a letter from Roger Cardinal Mahony of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, California denying him permission to speak in the archdiocese – permission Robinson neither asked for nor needs.
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, is quoted in the above article as saying, “It has been brought to my attention by some Bishops in the United States who are concerned that you have been invited by some organizations that are not in communion with the Catholic Church…,” referring, I suppose, to groups such as Voice of the Faithful which was founded in response to the revelations in the Archdiocese of Boston beginning in 2002.
Surely Cardinal Re is aware that VOTF was founded in accordance with specific Canon Laws of the Roman Catholic Church. It is most assuredly in communion with the Catholic Church.
Sadly, secrecy has gotten church leadership to this terrible impasse but only conversation with the laity will lead to solving the church’s problems.
How sad that the Australian bishops saw fit to attempt to silence discussion at this particular moment.
Did not Pope Benedict recently enjoin church leadership to “do everything that is possible” to alleviate this scourge of sexual abuse?
Or are the pope’s words just more “sounding brass and tinkling cymbals,” 1 Corinthians 13:1-2?
Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
Victims’ Advocate
New Castle, Delaware
She can be reached at:

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