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Plenary voices: Philippa Martyr

Plenary Council members now have a good idea of the rot that harms the Church, writes Dr Philippa Martyr, but they still need to be aware of the danger of comfortable bourgeois Catholicism

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Resistance is useless: dealing with professional Catholicism can be a little like dealing with the Borg, writes Dr Philippa Martyr. Artwork:

My theologian chum Dr Larry Chapp has recently been blogging on Vatican II. What he’s saying rings bells for the Plenary Council.

Larry points out that the Church spent its first millennium working out the nature of Christ. It spent the next millennium working out the nature of the Church, especially after the Reformation.

So now in the third millennium, we have to bring Christology and ecclesiology together, because we have to work out how to engage with – and save – a toxic post-religious world.

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The fathers of Vatican II underestimated the dry rot that had built up the Church which was waiting to catch fire. But they also underestimated just how poisonous our modern secular culture was.

I think our Plenary Council contributors have a better idea of the rot now. But the danger – as Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green pointed out – continues in our love affair with professional Catholicism and middle-class comfort.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge noted recently (Catholic Weekly, 3 October) that there’s been a lack of trust in the Plenary Council process in its early stages.

He’s right. It’s been hard to trust the Plenary Council process. That’s because in the past too many of us have seen similar processes manipulated by professional Catholics.

Their ‘findings’ have usually been carefully curated to present one view only. This view inevitably involved women’s ordination, married clergy, contraception, divorce and remarriage, and whatever other currently fashionable minority issues could be squeezed in.

I’m hoping the Plenary Council takes its opportunity to end our soul-destroying love affair with middle class comfort. It’s like the Borg in Star Trek – there is no compromise; no middle ground, and no, you don’t get to keep your identity separate. You merge, or you die.

The Church exists to save the world – but it only saves the world by being different from it. You don’t save a drowning man by impersonating a large body of water.

We can all lament the awful purgation that the Church has experienced in Australia – popular scorn, clerical sexual crimes, hateful anti-life legislation, and the alienation of 90% of our nominal Catholics from most of the sacraments.

But until we wake up from our dream of blending in effortlessly with the secular world, this is going to keep happening.

Yes, this has all been painful. It’s going to continue to be painful. But like Larry says: ‘Seen in this light, the Lamb’s “wrath” is nothing more than the searing scorch of God’s bottomless love.’

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