Gunfight, or an OK chorale?

David Virtue DVirtue236 at AOL.COM
Mon May 21 00:07:18 EDT 2001


Gunfight, or an OK chorale?

Sydney may be set for a showdown as two new church leaders ride into
town, writes Chris McGillion.

Old Hollywood westerns often had one gunslinger tell another: "This
town ain't big enough for both of us." The result was usually a
shootout on a dusty main street from which only one returned.

At times, Sydney is a lot like Dodge City - a point that seems to have
been forgotten by those expecting a religious axis between St Mary's
and St Andrew's to project Christian values back into the city's public
life. The basis of this holy alliance is seen in Dr George Pell's
appointment as Catholic Archbishop of Sydney - he will be installed on
Thursday - and the likely election of a conservative as his Anglican
counterpart.

That is, of course, possible. But no more so than the re-igniting of
some sectarian conflict between the two churches.

On the face of it, there will be a distinct coincidence of interests
between Pell and whoever emerges as Archbishop Harry Goodhew's
successor. The two church leaders will both vehemently oppose the
ordination of women to the priesthood, strongly insist that public
policy upholds family values, and reject further concessions, at least
inside their respective churches, to practising homosexuals. Indeed on
the last point, something of an alliance was already emerging last year
when Cardinal Edward Clancy and Goodhew issued a joint statement
condemning the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

But other issues will divide much more than these unite. The Catholic
Church under Pell is likely to be pushed towards an even sharper
distinction between clergy and laity, a more forceful articulation of
recognisable Catholic doctrine, and renewed enthusiasm for old-style
devotional religion.

Goodhew's successor will be under pressure to move in precisely the
opposite direction, particularly in terms of allowing lay people to
take on the traditional priestly function of presiding at Holy
Communion and in terms of maintaining the supreme place of scripture
over sacraments in the life of the church.

These two expressions of the Christian faith are, in important
respects, diammetrically opposed.

It is worth remembering that, historically, sectarianism is the rule
rather than the exception in Anglican-Catholic relations in this
country.

True, the underlying causes of sectarianism - early social prejudice
against the Irish which was reinforced by class struggle and the
political alliances this produced - have long since disappeared. Both
churches are also experiencing similar challenges from the surrounding
secular culture.

Still, it was only a little over 30 years ago, and certainly within the
memory of many regular churchgoers of both religions, that the then
principal of Moore Theological College, Canon Broughton Knox, labelled
Catholicism a collection of "superstitious aberrations".

In a radio broadcast in 1969 during the debate over government aid to
Catholic schools, Knox declared that such schools "are founded to
propagate the Roman Catholic teaching, and we must say explicitly that
this is superstitious teaching, and is the exact contradiction of the
Christian gospel with regard to the most significant of all topics -
forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God".

Can anyone confidently assume that we are beyond such strongly held
sentiments, like those that encouraged Catholic attacks at the time on
Protestants in general and Anglicans in particular? Could peaceful co-
existence, much less mutual co-operation, yet be sacrificed on the
altar of claims to authentic Christian practice?

The record in Melbourne in this regard is curious if not conclusive.
Only occasionally did Pell and his Anglican counterpart undertake joint
initiatives. There was a press conference at which the two (involving
on that occasion Archbishop Keith Rayner) condemned the National
Gallery of Victoria for exhibiting a photo of a crucifix immersed in
urine. Another was the more recent criticism (with Rayner's successor,
Archbishop Peter Watson) of Victoria's Racial and Religious Tolerance
Bill.

But on each occasion, Pell was the more hardline. And on other issues,
most notably access to IVF procedures, the two church leaders went
their separate ways. As one well-placed Melbourne Anglican said of the
relationship: "There isn't any middle ground with Pell"; as others
complained, Pell often seemed to regard himself as spokesman for the
Church in Melbourne.

Goodhew's successor, with a strong and vigorous local Anglican church
behind him, may be unwilling to be seen to be conceding that kind of
territory. This town may well prove too small for the both of them.

Chris McGillion, the Herald's religious affairs columnist, teaches in
the school of communication at Charles Sturt University.




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