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Mimicry trap

The future health of the Church and the world depends on our Church leaders modelling themselves on Jesus rather than politicians.

by Kerry Gonzales

I have become very afraid at where George W Bush is leading the world, as the destination seems closer to hell than to heaven. Similarly John Howard’s policies in regard to many issues, make me wonder where our own country is going. Once again I am not keen on the direction we are taking. The reality is however, that these men are politicians, and regardless of their personal religious and moral beliefs, they are still politicians, for whom the next election is vitally important and seemingly of greater concern than lots of other pressing environmental, social justice and work and family issues.

In the Sydney Morning Herald (5/5/06) “Australia’s most influential Catholic”, Cardinal George Pell, was quoted in regard to global warming and the Koran and Islamic tolerance. Generally I take the view that a lot of what the media presents is loaded with “creative licence” to suit a perceived interest. Yet, if only some of the quoted comments are accurate, I’m left wondering whether Cardinal Pell is a political leader in disguise rather than a religious leader.  His style of confrontation and attack seems to be more akin to the political arena, not the spiritual.

While Cardinal Pell is a significant Catholic leader, I doubt that he speaks for the majority of Catholics, especially when the views he espouses are extremely conservative and seem to have little regard for the teachings of Jesus.

It is my understanding that the Bible tells us that man was created to be a steward of the earth, caring for all of God’s creation, including his people, creatures and environment. So for Cardinal Pell to assert that there are “hysteric and extreme claims” about global warming and that it is somehow “pagan” to “demand a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions”, is quite bizarre and not a little scary. I admit, I’m no expert when it comes to global warming, but it doesn’t take much research to see that there are a variety of expert opinions in regard to global warning and the possible effects on the world environment. There is no doubt some truth to both sides of the debate and the full extent of the effects of global warming may not be seen for some time. What eludes me here, is what purpose Cardinal Pell’s comments sought to serve. They were evidently made in America to Catholic business leaders, so the audience may have been more sympathetic to the views expressed. However, his remarks seems to have little spiritual content or context and appear to take such a strong stance that it can only be perceived as inflammatory, rather than open and conciliatory as per the model of Jesus.

Cardinal Pell’s comments in regard to the Koran and Islamic tolerance do nothing to further relations with Islam and again appear to be expressly inflammatory and show little sense of scholarship or understanding.  The Cardinal said: “In my own reading of the Koran, I began to note down invocations to violence. There are so many of them, however, that I abandoned this exercise after 50 or 60 or 70 pages”. I, too, have read the Koran and while it is a particular style of writing, I read it with the knowledge that it is a specific text for a particular religious group. Yes, there are many “invocations to violence”, yet surely as a scholar, the Cardinal could have looked at this scared text in the light of modern methods of interpreting culturally and religiously bound texts to come up with a more balanced and less verbally aggressive opinion.  While I am no biblical scholar I do know that the Catholic Old Testament is very aggressive in part and talks of a God that is merciless and prone to infliction of plague on pagans and dissenters alike. I like to think that a large number of Catholics today no longer subscribe to such Old Testament ideals but a rather are a people following the example of a New Testament Jesus. I’m sure that many first time readers of the Old Testament would find the language, culture and attitudes fairly daunting and difficult to understand. The Old Testament is an integral part of Catholic culture, but it would be unwise to judge Catholicism on the Old Testament alone.

In relation to the notion that every religion has “crimes in their histories” the Cardinal advised, “Islam could not airbrush its ‘shadows’”.  While the Catholic Church has made much headway in regard to admitting to past wrongs and seeking to redress these wrongs, as a group, Catholics can hardly be said to be leading the charge, let alone be taking a modelling role, for Islam to follow. As a church there are still many ”shadows” that have yet to be resolved.

Cardinal Pell also asserted that claims of Muslim tolerance of Christian and Jewish minorities was largely mythical and he wondered about the possibility of theological development in Islam when the Koran was said to come directly from God. Once again I find it hard to see what the Cardinal hoped to gain from such aggressive language and once again it seems strange for a Catholic leader to be so critical of Islam when the record for Catholic tolerance and theological development has itself been questionable. You only have to feel free to discuss such issues as the ordination of women or myriad sexual matters to discover that tolerance barely exists amongst Christians let alone other, more diverse faiths.

There is no doubt that George Pell, in both his role as Cardinal and as a private member of society, has the right to express opinions in relation to anything. However, as one of the most prominent leaders of the Catholic Church in Australia, his view can be seen to be the view of the rest of the Catholic community. Thank God it’s not.  I don’t think that it is too much to ask that when our Catholic Church leaders speak out on issues of concern, that they are mindful of the impact of their language and use it for the advancement of peace and love throughout the world - cross culturally and religiously.

There is no doubt that it is our political leaders who make the decisions that immediately shape our country and our world. However, I like to think that it could and should be our spiritual leaders who help to inform the community in general, and who are instrumental in shaping the views that the general population holds when it elects the government and monitors its progress.

So I look to our Catholic leaders, especially Cardinal Pell, and implore them not to fall into the trap of mimicking the appalling behaviour of some of our politicians, but rather to be a model of the virtues of Jesus for them. For the future health of our church and the world depends on it.

Kerry Gonzales is 50, married to the love of his life with three adult children, a foster child and a grandchild. He is a primary teacher librarian by profession, but not very active in Catholic schools these days for lots of reasons. He has completed a Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) and is interested in Catholic things, for example, Catalyst for Renewal, Australian Reforming Catholics and publications such as OnLine Catholics. He reads both fiction and non-fiction and loves to travel.




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