Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard is a “non-practicing Baptist [atheist]” who lives without benefit of matrimony with her male companion.
Australians, it seems, are even less attentive to the blandishments of their religious right than voters in this country have become to the overstated suasions of the likes of Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land. As Joel Gibson wrote recently for the Sydney Morning Herald:
We’re a weird mob when it comes to God and politics. Two-thirds of us tick a religious box in the census but research for the Herald by Nielsen last year found three-in-four don’t care whether our leaders believe in God. There are as many of us who abhor it in politics as there are who crave it, and both are small minorities.
Macquarie University academic, Marion Maddox, whose book For God and Country details the religious dynamics in Australian politics, says “Australians are suspicious of anyone who sounds too religious.” She has also said she expects the religious beliefs of politicians to fade from public discourse.
Aussie Labor Party member Gilliard isn’t like to be the final test of that, but this far she has been a boon to her party. She and her allies ousted failing Labor PM Kevin Rudd and the Herald Sun reports:
Ms. Gillard has turned around Labor’s fortunes, even in Western Australia where support had slumped to 28 per cent thanks to the mining tax. A poll in The West Australian yesterday showed support had jumped to 36 per cent in the wake of her promotion.
She’s expected to call for an election soon to establish her own governing mandate.
Don’t expect an American-style debate over the church she doesn’t attend. Indeed, that uproar Down Under isn’t happening already.
“CAAH [Community Action Against Homophobia was less hopeful] Sydney believes that Julia Gillard won the leadership with the support of the anti-gay right within the Labor Party and she will be beholden to their agenda,” [Ben] Cooper said. “We hope she will be supportive of issues such as same-sex marriage but we are not optimistic that this will occur any time soon.”
Pope Benedict XVI announced he is establishing a pontifical council for new evangelization to find ways “to re-propose the perennial truth of the Gospel” in regions where secularism is smothering church practice.
. . .
“I have decided to create a new organism, in the form of a pontifical council, with the principal task of promoting a renewed evangelization in the countries where the first proclamation of faith has already resounded and where there are churches of ancient foundation present, but which are living through a progressive secularization of society and a kind of ‘eclipse of the sense of God,'” he said.
No church planting required, reversing secularization is only in part of matter of reversing or at least slowing the decline in church membership and attendance in countries like Austria, Belgium and Germany. Yet as Philip Jenkins recently pointed out in The Christian Century, it is a battle with many fronts, including replenishing the depleting ranks of the priesthood:
Particularly in Western Europe, Catholic countries have been becoming steadily more secular for at least a generation, quite independent of any claims of priestly deviance. In no sense is European religion dying — just witness the continuing popularity of pilgrimage and other popular devotions — but loyalty to the institutional church has weakened disastrously. Rates of mass attendance have declined steeply, as have the numbers of those admitting even notional adherence to the church. Today, fewer than half of French people claim a Catholic identity. The number of priestly vocations has been in free fall since the 1960s, leaving many seminaries perhaps a quarter as full as they were in the time of Pope John XXIII.
Failure of atavistic movements like the SBC’s GCR and the pope’s pontifical council for new evangelization is probably foreordained by the degree to which the secularization they attack is embedded in the cultures to which they speak. Again, as Jenkins observes regarding secularization and the Roman Catholic Church:
One gauge of transformed Catholic attitudes has been the sharp drop in fertility rates and family size. Since the 1970s women increasingly pursued careers and higher education, and the use of contraception spread rapidly, despite stern church disapproval. Fertility rates plummeted, such that Spain and Italy today have among the lowest fertility rates in the world, far below the level needed for population replacement. Catholic Germany stands about the same level. German sociologist Ulrich Beck notes wryly that in Western Europe today, the closer a woman lives to the pope, the fewer children she has. Ireland’s fertility rate today is less than half what it was in 1970.
There is no reason a couple with few or no children should not be fervently pious. But the trend away from large families reflects broader social changes. A society in which women have more economic autonomy is less likely to accept traditional church teachings on moral and sexual issues. The resulting conflicts have steadily pushed back the scope of church involvement in public life. Abortion became legal in Italy in 1978 and in Spain in 1985. The Irish church suffered a historic defeat in 1997 when a referendum narrowly allowed the possibility of divorce. Today, across Catholic Europe, same-sex marriage is the main moral battlefield—with Spain in the vanguard of radical secularism and sexual liberation. The Catholic Church struggles to present its views to a society suspicious of institutional and traditional authority of any kind and quite accustomed to ideas of gender equality, sexual freedom and sexual difference.
A telephone survey of 500 Austrian parish priests found 79 per cent support allowing married men to be ordained, and 51 per cent think women should be allowed to become priests.
Commissioned by ORF (Österreichischer Rundfunk: “Austrian Broadcasting”), 51 per cent said the Vatican does a poor job of handling sexual abuse cases.
A survey earlier this month of 406 Austrian Catholic priests by researchers from Kepler University in the Upper Austrian city of Linz found that more than half supported putting an end to celebacy.
Austrians in general support harsher reform, according to the Viennese public opinion agency Karmasin. They reported that “57 per cent of the 500-odd Austrians they interviewed were of the opinion Pope Benedict XVI should resign amid the wave of alleged sex abuse incidents across Europe were there a rule that enabled him to do so.”
Their call for reform isn’t toothless. Like Americans, Austrians have been leaving the Roman Catholic Church in droves:
Earlier this week, the head of the Vienna archdiocese’s church tax office estimated that up to 80,000 of Austria’s roughly 5.5 million Catholics could leave the church this year — a new record. Last year alone, 53,216 people formally had their names removed from church registries, a 31 percent increase compared to 40,654 in 2008.
Adding married men and women to the ranks of candidate priests could find doctrinal acceptance after the practical necessity has departed.
William Warren of Charlotte Atheists & Agnostics was civil in his response. According to the Charlotte Observer:
He said his group considered the vandalism an isolated act and not indicative of Charlotte’s religious community.
It would be ironic if Christians were found to be responsible for the vandalism. For the pledge in its original form, without the “under God” wording which was added in a Cold War heat in 1954, was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister (and socialist).
Other fires were lit by incandescent papal response to Thursday’s daylong Belgian police raids.
Neither was quite as blunt as Fr. Rik Deville, 65, interviewed by the Italian newspaper La Stampa interviewed Devillèon June 27. He was, for example, unimpressed by the Adriaenssens Commission, which resigned en masse to protest the Belgian police action:
The problem was its connection with the Archdiocese, and the absence of either a lay component internally or a connection with the civil authorities. I always hoped that a truly independent commission would be formed, an organism whose objective was to help justice take its course. That must be the way. It’s not up to the church to decide who violated the law and who should be punished.
As for whether “the plague of sexual abuse by clergy a common evil?”
It happens everywhere, believe me. Belgium believed itself to be an exception because no case ever came to light. Yet as early as 1994, I had collected 82 accusations. The victims wanted to be heard by the church, they wanted to break the curse. It’s been useless, at least up to now.
Perhaps the most shocking allegation came from the Belgian right, via Dr. Alexandra Colen, MP. She is a member of the Belgian House of Representatives and wrote in The Brussels Journal of a catechism textbook, Roeach. She alleges:
The editors of Roeach were Prof. Jef Bulckens of the Catholic University of Leuven and Prof. Frans Lefevre of the Seminary of Bruges. The textbook contained a drawing which showed a naked baby girl saying: “Stroking my pussy makes me feel groovy,” “I like to take my knickers off with friends,” “I want to be in the room when mum and dad have sex.” The drawing also shows a naked little boy and girl that are “playing doctor” and the little boy says: “Look, my willy is big.”
When the wheels come off, the vehicle may eventually be found deep in the weeds. The question was and remains, how deep?