PAROCHIALISM AND FALSE-CHARITY
Despite the impressive turnout, the public meeting confirmed that the Benalla community, like most other Australian parishes, was infected with what might be called ‘anatomical vice’ — two deadly spiritual afflictions which have probably harmed the Body of Christ and done more to further the newchurch cause in this country than all the Catholic Education Offices combined. I am referring to a self-inflicted myopia and a self-destructive achilles-heel.
It is always easy to dismiss those parishioners who “can’t see the Modernist forest for the newchurch trees” as mere products of ignorance. In this case it is true that most parishioners, including those at the meeting, had little or no experience of newchurch clerics, were only vaguely aware of the connotations of Modernism and totally unfamiliar with counter-revolutionary magazines like Fidelity or books such as Rome or The Bush and New Church or True Church. Nonetheless, if Pope St. Pius X had been around to observe the unfolding of events during 1989 he may have found this defense somewhat superficial and hard to swallow. He was adamant that a Catholic could spot a Modernist by “their tenets, their manner of speech, and their action” alone’. After five months of the Team’s revolutionary antics, parishioners had surely seen and heard enough to suspect that more than the material structure of the Church was in grave danger. Yet, apart from a relative handful (including one person who exclaimed during the meeting:
“My faith is more important than the roof on that church!”
their response lacked the vision and urgency required. Why?
There are a multitude of answers, not the least of which is the once comforting but now deadly Father-knows-best syndrome, so deeply entrenched in our collective Irish Catholic psyche. But a major reason surely lies in a sort of myopic spirituality that reveals itself as a tendency to view sin in isolation and, consequently, to consider even its most visible and harmful by-products in a purely local context. There were tell-tale signs of this inclination in both camps.
At one point during my investigations a leader of the Catholic counter-revolt asked me with a puzzled look:
“Why are you making this your fight?” Momentarily stunned, I replied: “Because it’s my fight too!”
On the other side, a newchurch fellow-traveler was shocked to think that a visitor to the parish had written to the Benalla Ensign criticizing the Team and calling for organized resistance. She replied that as an outsider they had no right “to advise people on what to do about a subject that is none of his/her affair.”
A root cause of this myopia might be found in the failure of Catholics to meditate sufficiently, if at all, upon responsibilities implicit in the doctrine of the Communion of Saints. According to this teaching we are all in this salvific plan together — the Saints in Heaven, the Holy Souls in Purgatory and us. We constitute that Universal Catholic family called the Mystical Body of Christ, responsible for each other to the extent that one merit gained or one sin committed by a single earthly member can directly influence the spiritual state of a soul in Purgatory or perhaps someone on the other side of the planet who we will probably never meet in this life.
Among many other benefits, reflection on the Communion of Saints instills in us a fathomless, urgent commitment to defend Christ’s Holy Catholic Church, His Mystical Body, from harm. Neglect this awesome doctrine and we risk diluting even further our sense of scandal and righteous anger, already jaded by an overwhelming familiarity with evil inside the Church.
Unfortunately, a parochial view held sway and led the greater majority of people, opponents and supporters of the Team alike, to discount any connection between the emerging spiritual and material crises. At this early stage, they believed, or wanted to believe, that with sufficient good-will both parish unity and their beloved church would be restored to their former states. They still viewed difficulties and differences of opinion with the Team as mere variations on a Catholic theme instead of a battle between two irreconcilable opposites: Catholic truth and newchurch error.
Both the reconstruction of St. Joseph’s and the behavior of the Team were viewed as local problems with no ramifications, spiritual or otherwise, for Catholics outside Benalla. This myopic view prevented anything more than a softly-softly approach at ,a time when the situation simply had to be viewed in a Universal Catholic context if parishioners were to respond with sustained vigor and coherence.