Home' Aurora : Aurora September 2012 Contents 14
Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mn.catholic.org.au
By GERALDINE DOOGUE
The question renowned broadcaster Geraldine Doogue poses, and answers, is relevant not only to
Catholics but to anyone who has made a commitment to an individual or institution that is less than
perfect. Her response makes salutary reading.
Why am I still a Catholic? How
should I answer this important
question? In truth, sometimes I'm
not sure why.
Yet I know the Church frames my identity,
as basic as that. It's the source of
consolation without peer. I can't slough
it off: it's too embedded in the way I see
the world and myself. I take it for granted
in some respects, one of the products
of being formed in post-World War II
Australian Catholicism, with its strong
It has been one of the most rewarding
venues of growth and stimulation of any
in my life. I believe that if you do hang
in there, Christ's great offering from St
Matthew's gospel comes true, in ways
impossible to imagine: 'I have come to
give you life and give it in abundance.'
Abundant life: such a precious booty, not
available at will.
So no, I'm not about to step aside from
But the unfolding headlines of late,
together with what I've forced myself to
look at square in the face, have tested
Maybe I've been through something
of an epiphany, that wonderful biblical
word from catechism classes which I
once barely grasped. I think that deep
down, I've come to believe that the world
beyond the institutional church is kinder,
gentler, full of more conscientious ethics,
values and care for others, than the
That is, the much-criticised secular world in
which lay people explicitly live is probably
more functional and more ready to
conscience-examine than the institutional
Church. What an extraordinary thing! This
was something of an epic realisation
for me which again prompted further
reflection: why then am I still a Catholic?
anyyone who has made a
h t i lless tthh perffectt. H
I suspect Vatican II's central idea of a
Pilgrim Church definitely influenced my
thinking as a young 20-something believer.
It raised my expectations. It stretched
my idea of faith. But it was a slow-burn,
nothing hasty. Only gradually did my
Catholic identity shift.
Despite remaining a pretty faithful
adherent overall, I've sought out broader
Church experiences via groups like
Catalyst for Renewal, by the occasional
retreat, by good reading including The
Tablet and by participating in Ignatian
reading groups, up to the present day.
So, without the sense that the ordained
officials of the Church had so powerfully
lost their way, would I be speaking to
you like this today, with any
ambivalence? If I hadn't drawn
the awful conclusion that
key parts of the institutional
Church essentially ditched
the role of Good Shepherd;
if they hadn't decided that
the priestly caste had to be
protected above all, rather than
the most vulnerable, would I be feeling
I doubt it. I would much prefer not to be
suffering any collateral shame, as I do feel
with these constantly emerging stories.
But even a pretty compliant person like
me would feel foolish at best and cowardly
at worst if I didn't have the guts to look
this crisis in the eye and see devastating
dysfunction at a systemic, not individual
level, in an institution so close to my own
values-centre. It demands my own self-
audit. I must say, surely: what next? Or do
I simply retreat into something small and
extremely private, in the comfort of people
who feel exactly as I do?
Until now, I've seen my duty and vocation
as pursuing my personal journey, always
guided by the wonders of our great
tradition, knowing how much it could
both humble and stretch me. I have tried
to introduce my children to a Pilgrim
Church's offerings, though I am not sure
how successful I've been...as one Eureka
Street correspondent replied to an Andrew
Hamilton article recently 'they don't want
And I would have been alive to requests
from ordained ministers and religious to
serve the Church. I would have happily left
the bulk of it to them: the job of ritual, of
teaching and administration and I would
have respected them for fulfilling that role.
Whereas now I feel naïve and, yes, angry.
I am struck by some unpalatable truths
about some key Church officials' priorities
...amid them warning about the perils of
the secular world!
So why do I still bother? Partly because
I'd feel so much poorer without my faith.
It anchors me. It introduces me to the
whole notion of a journey in life, such an
It brings a great capacity for rapture,
beauty, sensuality, joy, alongside the
capacity for acute vices because
emotion is not mortgaged in the
scheme of offerings made to us,
that's the majesty of it all. Risks
are invited within our faith. 'Ours
is a faith of possibilities' was
a wonderful phrase included in a
Redemptorist pamphlet distributed in
my home parish in South Perth back in
the 1970s. It influenced me to my core,
then and now.
So, I treasure the sheer tradition of our
faith. I seek it out. It helps me fulfil the
natural human urge to make meaning; as
the British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
insists: 'We are meaning-seeking animals.'
My conviction is that our children and
grandchildren will be immensely the
poorer for not growing up with a Catholic
sensibility, without access to the rich
armoury of belief, consolation, glimpse
of the divine, the whole notion of
commitments, of artistry, of abundant life.
So somehow, we lay people especially,
have to ask ourselves some big questions.
How much are we prepared to commit
ourselves to refreshing this Church of
ours? How much do we value it in our
lives? How much have we sought to
replace it with other elements (because
meaning is offered in various parts of our
society --- it's a more contested space
How much have we dodged evaluating
its impact on ours and on community
lives? How much have we left it to the
officials; abandoned them and left them
unreformed, when all about us we're
experiencing considerable institutional
reform in our daily working lives? I've been
through about three big restructures in my
media life and more could be coming. This
rarely proceeds at a pace that we choose.
It dislocates, often profoundly.
Did we seriously delude ourselves that
the Church could escape all that? One
can rarely prophesy the exact manner of
acute challenge. Otherwise it wouldn't be
a crisis, just a big problem. But truly to
see the Church 'crucified' on the cross of
something as awful as sexual abuse and
cover-up, is very hard to bear. Who would
have thought this would be the vector?
But it is.
In the words of respected Vatican reporter
John Allen, from his book The Future
Church: 'The real question ... is not whether
the bishops are up to the challenges of the
21st century. The question is whether the
rest of us are?'
Again, why do I bother? Because somehow
I can't just stand back from it all. I'm
not sure what is asked of us individually.
I don't even know my talents for any
But then again, I am haunted by a bold
statement from St Edmund Campion,
before returning from safe France to
England in Elizabethan times, and to
almost certain martyrdom: 'The expense
is reckoned, the enterprise is begun, it is
of God, it cannot be withstood: so the faith
was planted; so it must be restored.'
The setting may be different. But some
of his courage and surrender rings a bell.
Geraldine Doogue is an Australian
journalist and broadcaster who has
been the host of Compass on ABC TV
since 1998. She presented the above
reflections for Q&A in the Crypt as
part of Catalyst for Renewal's year of
events marking the 50th anniversary
of Vatican II. Her words are reprinted
with kind permission of Eureka Street,
a faith of
Links Archive Aurora August 2012 Aurora October 2012 Navigation Previous Page Next Page