Here’s my June reflection for CatholicCare Sydney. CatholicCare’s Person-Centred Approach is about keeping a focus on the dignity of the person at the heart of things. It sounds very straight-forward and obvious, but in fact it calls us to act in ways that are deeply counter-cultural. It calls us to act to change the culture of our society as well as inviting careful attention to the quality of our interaction with the people who access our programs. We need to witness to the dignity of each and every person through our own behavior and through the behavior that we accept, if only by failing to challenge it. In a society where many seem to think it is acceptable to demean and insult the person and the office of the Prime Minister using violence filled language and sexually explicit abuse, the poorest and most marginalized women and men are rendered all the more vulnerable. The coarsening of our political discourse and the deep disregard for the humanity of those with whom we disagree demeans us all. When played out in public by leaders and opinion makers it gives license to others to say and do things that would at other times have been considered socially unacceptable. But what is socially acceptable? We set the standards of our society by what we let pass. For me, one indicator that the deep undertow of racism in Australian society is getting close to the surface, is when I start witnessing or being subjected to racist rants on the public transport. I had to make an intervention on a train last week. What was different on this occasion was the sexual nature of the extreme violence threatened against the woman of Asian descent. And not one man on that Sydney train said or did anything. A person-centred approach means that CatholicCare people and programs won’t let such things pass. Our duty of solidarity is not about whether we are Asian or Anglo, women or men, Labour voters or Liberal voters, but our shared humanity. The dignity, well-being and participation of all persons is important to us. We try to see situations through the eyes of those who suffer. We work at transforming attitudes. We work at building people’s capacity to make life-giving choices and to achieve their potential. We seek to be for each one Christ’s liberating presence in the world.
Bishop Christopher Saunders, Chair of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, has issued a Pastoral Letter calling for social security allowances in Australia to be increased. Allowances for unemployed people and single parents are well below the poverty line. Bishop Saunders argues that adequate income support is a human right and a demand of the right to life. It is the duty of governments to foster the common good by providing income support. Read the Pastoral Statement here.
I’m pleased to be joining up with the Wollongong Diocese Justice, Ecology and Peace Council to present a workshop on Catholic Social Teaching. We will be following an Ignatian methodology (just like Pope Francis), exploring local issues and nurturing a spirituality of justice.
The Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office has again voiced its concern about the treatment of asylum seekers. Their statement comes in the wake of comments by a Federal Opposition spokesperson.
Sexual abuse scandals are shaking the Catholic Church and many Catholic feel deeply ashamed. The concept of structures of sin can help us to understand the relationship between personal and collective responsibility. This article first published in Eureka Street explains. Rotten apples In an effort to encourage and support Catholics shaken by clergy sexual abuse scandals, Bishop Greg O’Kelly of Port Pirie wrote a pastoral letter to his people on 20 November. He rejected generalisations and inaccuarcies in some media reporting, insisted that responsibility for wrongdoing lies with ‘individuals within the Church’ rather than with ‘the Church’, and pointed to the good done by many church organisations. Much of what Bishop O’Kelly says is true, but he misses the opportunity to examine the relationship between personal and collective responsibility. There is such a thing as social responsibility and the Catholic Social Teaching concept of structures of sin can help Catholics to understand and deal constructively with their shame. Bishop O’Kelly objects to the assertion that ‘the Church’ has committed sexual crimes against children, shielded offenders or obscured police investigations, yet presents examples of ‘all the good that the Church continues to do’. I don’t think we can argue that ‘the Church’ is responsible when individuals and Catholic organisations do good things, but that ‘individuals within the Church’ are responsible when evil acts are committed. Sin, strictly speaking, is a free act of an individual person. Structures, processes and institutions, such as organisations and their cultures and policies, do not sin — people do. This is why Bishop O’Kelly rightly says that individuals are responsible for abuse. Social structures, processes and institutions, organisational cultures and policies can reflect, reinforce and even encourage personal sins. They can do this by restricting our freedom to choose the good by conditioning and influencing us, or by condoning or providing opportunities to sin with impunity. Catholic Social Teaching calls these structures of sin. They may mitigate but do not remove personal responsibility. They also give rise to a social responsibility. We share in responsibility for harms that we have not directly caused if we share in the responsibility for creating, maintaining or failing to challenge structures of sin. Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Reconciliatio et Paenitentia explained it in this way: Whenever the Church speaks of situations of sin, or when she condemns as social sins certain situations or the collective behavior of certain social groups … she knows and she proclaims that such cases of social sin are the result of the accumulation and concentration of many personal sins. It is a case of the very personal sins of those who cause or support evil or who exploit it; of those who are in a position to avoid, eliminate or at least limit certain social evils but who fail to do so out of laziness, fear or the conspiracy of silence, through secret complicity or indifference; of those who take refuge in the supposed impossibility of changing the world, and also of those who sidestep the effort and sacrifice required, producing specious reasons of a higher order. The real responsibility, then lies with individuals. Responsibility lies with individuals, but not just those who directly committed acts of abuse. We can’t avoid the fact that the Catholic Church in Australia is a social institution by describing it in theological terms as the Body of Christ. Both dimensions of the reality of the Church must be acknowledged because this mystical body continues to be incarnated in time and place — and not as a collection of individual body parts. We have already seen evidence that the organisational cultures and policies of some Church entities in particular times and places put the reputation of the Church ahead of the wellbeing of children. Such organisational cultures and policies can surely be called structures of sin just like the ‘all-consuming desire for profit’ or ‘the thirst for power’ which Pope John Paul II identified as structures of sin in his encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. Pointing to the good things done by the Church doesn’t help. Catholics need to take responsibility, both personally and collectively, to dismantle structures of sin and build up instead structures of grace. The Church is indeed the Body of Christ, and the head can’t say to the foot ‘you kicked that person, I didn’t’.
Bruce Duncan and I contributed a chapter to this new book on Vatican II. We examine how Vatican II encouraged a renewed social engagement in Australia.
This insightful essay by Evan Ellis reflects on the nature of listening and contemplation. Many of you may be familiar with Benedictine spirituality and its tradition of contemplation, but how about the concept of dadirri in the spirituality of the Aboriginal people of Daly River in Australia? Let us reclaim silence, listening, and contemplation in an increasingly busy world.