Bart: What religion are you?

Homer: You know, the one with all the well-meaning rules that don’t work out in real life. Uh… Christianity.

Episode: 3F21 Homerpalooza

wr_sl_nat_pell-200x0.jpgIt would be nice to give a positive endorsement to World Youth Day on the Thursday before it all begins. Unfortunately, I am feeling neither charitable nor magnanimous: the behaviour of some sections of the Sydney Church over the past two years is quite simply more than most Catholics in the pews can take.

By next week we will all know, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, whether WYD has been a great success or a PR debacle. For the pilgrims, I am sure that the opportunity to gather from many parts of the world and celebrate a common faith in diversity will be as inspiring as these gatherings usually are. My memory is long: I can remember going to Billy Graham, participating in Crusader Union Missions, Evangelical Union activities at Sydney University, missions at Christchurch St Laurence, any number of school retreats. I don’t speak disrespectfully of the power of such events to strengthen and validate faith and provide an important psychological boost to the needs of young people as they try to express something more than market-driven values.

The question for local Catholics and their long-suffering fellow-citizens will be: has the price been too high?

Remember, as you read the following, that I will be volunteering for World Youth Day, supervising at my school and then working for the Augustinian Youth Encounter in the next week. I’m not sniping from the side-lines: I see the public image of the Church damaged by poor organisation at a time when the world is ready to believe the worst of Christians.

The ‘Stuff Up’ File

  1. The local Church was totally unprepared to host such an event. I’m more than ever convinced that no one in the church hierarchy had any real idea what they were doing. We were promised 400,000 pilgrims and full hotels. We might get 150,000 and empty beds. Danny Casey doesn’t inspire confidence, and Bishop Tony Fisher has resorted to bludgeoning.
  2. The local Church has completely ruined the possibility for positive media with its grab for funds and its lack of inclusivity. George and co have simply made it too easy to object and protest. $230m is not peanuts and unless there is a huge social benefit as well as a spiritual benefit, the community at large will have the right to ask, why was so much of the money extracted from the state government? My understanding of what happened with accommodation in schools suggests they couldn’t run a bath.
  3. George lost the media wars with the horse trainers: at least he got the government to pay! As it turns out, Olympic Park would have been the perfect size.
  4. The refurbishment of St Mary’s Cathedral: a new altar screen, cardinal’s throne (presumably with plumbing, new altar, etc; on top of this more than half a milling spend on mass implements for the big day as a present for Benny… It looks great if you are working in the western suburbs, working with immigrants and single mums. Thanks George…
  5. The treatment of schools and the Catholic education system in general has been appalling: So good to be asked to volunteer and so obvious how people felt when we (the volunteered) asked for support from others in the school community. The silence was deafening.
  6. The facilities provided for pilgrims were inadequate. Which genius organised an event where the visitors would be sleeping on floors and showering in plywood facilities, if they could get in, with one shower to 50 piligrims. They’ll be huddled together for warmth and the rate of mortal sins will skyrocket. Actually, given the food, they may resort to cannibalism.
  7. Homestay hosts were given little consideration.I am hearing of some being informed NOW that they will not be receiving guest pilgrims.
  8. importing relics and outdated rituals promises little for our future Catholics. I have huge doubts about the ideological position driving Pell. I think that he believes a return to the authoritarian, priest-ridden church of his youth will revive and re-energise the church, but in this he is surely mistaken. I hope that the experience of WYD is enriching for the young people attending, but to what will they return? Parish have not be similarly restructured and re-energised. in fact, most of use working with young people recognise that they need something different from parishes if they are to turn the ecstasy into something permanent.

  9. The change to public order laws. Oh no, we didn’t ask for this. God, get me a t-shirt. You can’t win.

Julian Morrow:

One easy way to identify a bad law, other than simply reading it, is to think about what types of conduct might fall foul of it. And it’s fun, too.

First, “inconvenience”. My preliminary list of things that could cause inconvenience to participants at World Youth Day includes being ahead of them in a toilet queue, obscuring their view of the Pope, or maybe just situating your convenience store too far away. Ironically enough, excessive security checks can also be a major source of inconvenience, as the citizens of Sydney may recall from the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit last year.

Then there’s “annoyance”. On pain of a $5500 fine, all mobile phone ring tones should be set to silent until the Pope leaves. All banks should drop their infuriating ATM fees in World Youth Day areas. And if being annoying is now a crime, Frank Sartor and Michael Costa should steer well clear of Randwick.

The point here is that the new offence is built on concepts – inconvenience and annoyance – which are vague, subjective and not sufficiently serious to justify imposing a criminal sanctions.

  1. And finally, George, thanks for the news about your treatment of Anthony Jones. The Cardinal’s record on behaving appropriately in matters of abuse is scandalous (my favourite is his statement that it wasn’t important compared with abortion). In the week before WYD, the world really needed reminding about the years of neglecting the abused and protecting the abusers. The Goodall case is just one more disgrace that brings the whole body of the faithful into disrepute
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One can only applaud Ben Pobjie’s hot tips on how to avoid annoying Catholics during World Youth Day:

World Youth Day truly is a spiritual event that will bring together many people from all walks of life except those walks of life that aren’t Catholic. And so, weighing it all up, although it may be a profound inconvenience to Sydney residents, a massive waste of taxpayers’ money, and a disturbing assault on the principle of separation of Church and State, it is also true that Catholics can get pretty nasty when they’re annoyed, so it’s probably best to leave them alone.

Therefore, it’s important, when walking around Sydney between the 15th and 20th July, to avoid some simple mistakes that could cause annoyance

– Avoid using contraception when Catholics are present.

– Do not wear T-shirts with inflammatory slogans, such as “Priests Do It Til You’re Pubescent” or “I Got Hammered With Christ”.

– Be careful not to blurt out insensitive remarks, like “Anselm’s ontological proof is an absurdity that does nothing to demonstrate the necessity of an omnipotent deity, as Gaunilo of Marmoutiers effectively shows”, or: “Catholics are crap”.

– Refrain from having abortions for the duration of the event.

– Don’t mention the Crusades.

– Do not mug World Youth Day pilgrims or attack them with blunt instruments (in many ways, this is good advice for other times of the year as well).

– Do not under any circumstances point out how stupid Catholicism is.

Most of all, do not read this article out in public or email it to all of your friends. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s annoying Catholics. If you know what I mean.