The Dog’s Bollocks

Truth is like a dog’s bollocks – pretty obvious if you care to look.

Pell’s Easter message: don’t be distracted by the Iraq War and global warming

In a departure from the usual Easter message of peace, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney George Pell has used his Easter address to urge followers to refocus on their personal faith and morality. He says that a preoccupation with issues like the war in Iraq and global warming can distract people from their personal responsibilities. He says Jesus calls on Christians to tend to their own affairs first.

“Jesus calls us to address the challenges in our own hearts, families and communities before we moralise about distant worlds, where we are usually powerless.”

Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, eh? Sort out your own shit before worrying about global shit – leave that to the experts. Personally, I can’t see why Jesus would have a problem with addressing global responsibilities as well personal, family and community responsibilities. As Rudd suggested, the practice of religion is more than a ‘personal salvation experience’.

But what happens when one’s conscience is in conflict with church doctrine, for example, the use of condoms to prevent AIDS? No doubt Cardinal Pell is exercising his conscience when he chooses to dabble in political debate. So why is that not OK for his parishioners?

One might cynically interpret Cardinal Pell’s homily as an attempt to discourage Christians from acting on their consciences lest they vote out the Howard government, whose policies on sexual morality are more aligned with those of Pell than the ALP’s. Pell has been dismissive of Kevin Rudd trying to mobilise Christian conscience in matters of social justice – God doesn’t take sides in politics. Presumably, he leaves it to His Cardinals.

For one who advocates that the Church has no business in Party Politics, Cardinal Pell has consciously or otherwise lent considerable support to Howard’s conservative ideology, be it the invasion of Iraq and the War on Terror, climate change, funding for private schools, homosexuality, euthanasia, or stem cell cloning. To be fair, Cardinal Pell has also been critical of Work Choices, the detention of refugees, and concerned, like Kevin Rudd, for the impact of un-trammeled free-market capitalism on family and community life.

On the invasion of Iraq, Cardinal Pell expounded on the Catholic doctrine of Just War and our gratitude for the US:

“The Christian position then was like that of those Australians today who are invariably anti-American, while benefiting from the American peace achieved over the past 60 years. A world without the American superpower would be much more expensive and dangerous for Australians.

Hussein is a tyrant to his own people, an oppressor of the Kurdish minority who has used weapons of mass destruction against Iran and the Kurds. He has defied for 12 years the 1991 UN peace condition that he disarm. It is claimed Hussein pays financial subsidies to Palestinian suicide bombers, and until recently subsidised the Abu Nidal terrorist group. A branch of al-Qaida is fighting a guerrilla war against Hussein’s enemies, the Kurds, in northern Iraq. Experts insist there is much more evidence. Enough of this should be made available.”

While falling short of supporting the War in Iraq, Pell’s comments were used by Howard to support the invasion, and the Cardinal’s later silence left many Catholics confused. Presumably the Prime Minister drew solace from the Cardinal’s pre-war observation:

“Decisions about war belong to Caesar, not the church.”

The Iraq War was two years old before Cardinal Pell clarified for the public record on ABC Radio in Ballarat:

“I never publicly endorsed the second war in Iraq. I wrote publicly about it and I said at that stage the case was not established. They said they were going to Iraq basically on two grounds: that there were weapons of mass destruction there; and that Saddam was actively supporting Al Qaeda. Neither of those two grounds has been established. … I didn’t endorse the war.”

Cardinal Pell has also been outspoken on climate change:

“Some of the hysteric and extreme claims about global warming are also a symptom of pagan emptiness, of Western fear when confronted by the immense and basically uncontrollable forces of nature. Belief in a benign God who is master of the universe has a steadying psychological effect, although it is no guarantee of Utopia, no guarantee that the continuing climate and geographic changes will be benign.

In the past pagans sacrificed animals and even humans in vain attempts to placate capricious and cruel gods. Today they demand a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.”

In Roman Catholicism there has long been a theological debate about the role of individual conscience versus adherence to authority. Cardinal Pell advocates that the Catholic Church should abandon the doctrine of “primacy of conscience” because he argues that young people (and homosexuals, one presumes) use it to justify ‘doing their own thing’ rather than following church or papal dictates.

This teaching that personal conscience is the ultimate guide in all our moral activity was clearly taught by St Thomas Aquinas, probably the greatest Catholic theologian, in the 13th century. Aquinas held that an erroneous conscience was morally binding and that one is without moral fault in following it provided one has already made every reasonable effort to form a right moral judgment.

A doctrine dear to John Howard, do doubt.

But in the matter of conscience, Cardinal Pell is at odds with his superiors. Pope John Paul II, in his message for World Peace on January 1st, 1999, stressed the primacy of conscience:

“People are obliged to follow their conscience in all circumstances and cannot be forced to act against it.”

Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) expressed the Church’s understanding of the primacy of conscience – an understanding which he eloquently expressed while serving as Chair of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Tübingen in 1968.

“Above the pope as an expression of the binding claim of church authority,” writes Ratzinger, “stands one’s own conscience, which has to be obeyed first of all, if need be against the demands of church authority.”

Jesuit Fr Frank Brennan renewed the debate with an address on A Catholic Social Conscience: Can it be Reclaimed in Our Time? where he argues (emphasis added):

Presently, there is a conflict in the Australian Catholic community about the primacy of conscience. It may simply be a difference of perspective, some seeing the glass half-full and warning against the limits of conscience in coming to truth, and others seeing the glass half-empty and espousing the potential of conscience in living the truth.

The Christians’ contribution to the contemporary world would be greater if there were more attention to the formation of conscience and to the injunction: inform your conscience and to that conscience be true. For most people, the questions of conscience will not be: am I to believe this church teaching? But “Am I to do this particular act or refrain from it?” That act may be one relating to personal relationships; it may be about political engagement and a commitment to make a difference in the public forum. It may even be the decision to endorse a war or to condemn it or to remain silent.

Cardinal Pell would do well to practice what he preaches, and leave out the politics on a day most sacred to Christians.

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Filed under: Australian values, Big Picture, Politics, Religion

4 Responses

  1. phil says:

    Muslims are bad, m’kay?

  2. Fringe says:

    Hi Slim,

    Did you notice that in Pell’s rant, he emphasised how terrorism were helping increase church numbers.

    It’s made people stop and think, there’s no doubt about that.

    Wonder if he later realised he’d betrayed one of his faith’s unacknowledged secrets … it’s built on and primed by fear.

    Noone expects the Spanish Inquisition!

    P.S. I’ve enjoyed reading the balance of your blog and have added your site to my links 🙂

  3. AV says:

    Wonder if he later realised he’d betrayed one of his faith’s unacknowledged secrets … it’s built on and primed by fear.

    Good call!

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The Dog’s Bollocks

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The Dog's Bollocks: "Bollocks" is one of my favourite words, and this is now one of my favourite blogs and I've only been reading it for five minutes. – John Surname

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