Kinder, wiser Church needs to step out of shadows

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When my aunt was dying in hospital in the late 1990s, she asked to see a priest. The hospital's Catholic chaplain was away sick, so I knocked on the door of a nearby, inner-suburban presbytery, writes Will Day in The Sydney Morning Herald.

The kind priest who answered was unable to help me himself but he made a couple of useful suggestions. As I thanked him and turned to leave he added, "But whatever you do, don't go near the cathedral."

The implication was that my aunt deserved tender compassion, not judgmental nonsense: it was the late 1990s and the era of a type of Catholicism many Australian Catholics wanted nothing to do with.

In the years since then, I have had more to do with the Catholic Church than at any time since my schooldays. I have found myself involved, in various ways, with Catholic educational institutions, retreat centres, religious orders and suburban parishes.

In these realms I have encountered unusual kindness and wisdom; philosophical, social and artistic innovation; considered intelligence; and an astute awareness of the nature and travails of the human condition. I have discovered profound methods of healing and of psychological and spiritual sustenance.

It stopped me in my tracks recently when I realised that most of those varied Catholic environments had wanted to distance themselves from central church authorities, or had indicated that aspects of what goes on in their place (the caring, innovative, daring, human work) would probably not be approved of by those authorities. The comment that rang in my ears was: "We have to be a bit careful."

The messy, reprehensible ''Catholic Church'' we have seen depicted in media reports over recent years - the church that struggles to conceal its horrible abuses, squanders great sums of money, discriminates blatantly against women, calls homosexual people ''disordered'', and treats its dissenting workers like witless children - is as representative of the larger body of the contemporary Catholic Church in Australia as News of the World was of quality journalism.

Regrettably, the depictions of the church in the popular media seldom distinguish between unhealthy aspects of an increasingly marginalised patriarchal authority, and the vast and varied, largely wholesome body of the church.

FULL STORY Don't tell the Cathedral (SMH)

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