In July 2006 the following article appeared in Online Catholics, an independent Australian e journal under the heading 'Trust! Freedom! Maturity!
Where do they exist in the Australian Church?
The model of Church being fostered within Australia has been brought into sharp focus with the decision by the Archbishop of Melbourne to withdraw his approval for social psychologist, Fr Diarmuid O'Murchu MSC, to conduct two lecture series in a Catholic institution early next year.
"It is a matter of trust," the Christian Brothers' St Patrick's Province leader, Br Peter Dowling cfc, said when speaking with Online Catholics this week. While he would not be drawn on whether or not he thought Archbishop Denis Hart's reaction was over-kill, he did express wonder at the level of trust being displayed and the degree of freedom with which people where encouraged to develop their faith.
Br Dowling confirmed that Archbishop Hart had withdrawn his approval for Fr O'Murchu to give two summer courses in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, in January 2007. The arrangements - which had included the Archbishop's approval - had been made at the end of 2005. The Christian Brothers and those associated with the visit were bitterly disappointed by the new decision.
The workshops were to be given at the Christian Brothers-owned Edmund Rice Centre "Amberley", Lower Plenty, near Melbourne. Br Dowling said he believed he had taken the correct and polite action by asking Archbishop Hart for his recognition of Fr O'Murchu's visit.
The withdrawal followed the Archbishop's receipt of information published recently in L'Osservatore Romano that Fr O'Murchu's 1995 book, Reframing Religious Life: An Expanded Vision of the Future had been the subject of a critical note from the Doctrinal Commission of the Bishops' Conference of Spain. Although the note was written more than three years ago, it only recently had been translated into English. While the MSCs Superior General is seeking clarification of the situation, there has been no statement from the CDF critical of Fr O'Murchu's views. Br Dowling said he wondered at the timing.
More perturbing, though, was the level of trust not being placed in those who wished to participate in the Melbourne seminars, he said.
On learning of the Archbishop's concerns, the Christian Brothers' Leadership Team made a strong representation that the courses should go ahead. Among the reasons put to Archbishop Hart were that the people who would be involved were well educated and mature in their faith and that they were attracted by ongoing faith development. No only were they enthused by new ideas, but their established insights and understandings allowed them to make choices about how they received new and stimulating information. They enjoyed the cut and thrust of learning and energizing conversations such were sure to occur during the courses.
However, in a letter of June 8, Archbishop Hart formally withdrew his approval for Fr O'Murchu to speak in the Archdiocese of Melbourne. A media spokesman for Archbishop Hart told Online Catholics on Tuesday that the Archbishop considered that "Fr O'Murchu's views on the nature and place of religious life in the Church meant his lectures would be a disservice here".
Both courses already had proved very popular. At the time "Amberley" stopped taking bookings, 60 people had confirmed with deposits for the Catching Up With Jesus course and 80 had confirmed with deposits for the Religious Life – Changing Paradigms course.
Br Dowling said he was unsure what would happen.
"Diarmuid O'Murchu is committed to coming to Australia but he won't be speaking in the Archdiocese of Melbourne under the auspices of a Catholic body."
On the "Amberley" website, the Director, Mr Andy Kuppe, said he was exploring "other options for the possibility of the courses proceeding". He has asked those interested to check the "Amberley" website for updates.
He told Online Catholics that the response to the withdrawal had been unanimously one of overwhelmingly disappointment and regret that an opportunity to engender faith life had been lost.
It is not the first time a Diarmuid O'Murchu visit to Australia has ruffled feathers.
He has visited Australia several times. On at least one occasion – when he was a keynote speaker for the National Catholic Education Conference, in Brisbane, in September 2001 – his visit drew flak from Michael Gilchrist of AD2000 who wrote in part: "However, the other two speakers' names - Morag Fraser, Editor of Eureka Street, and particularly Fr Diarmuid O'Murchu - leave one wondering about the philosophies of our leading Catholic bureaucrats… Father O'Murchu's name, while less familiar to Australian Catholics than Morag Fraser's, raises greater concerns, in the light of his publicly expressed religious views…"
However, it is the views of reviewer, Bert Monster, of Catholic New Times (June 2005) that are more likely to interest Online Catholic readers:
When three Canadian Catholic cardinals recently returned from Rome, following the election of Pope Benedict XVI, Marc Cardinal Ouellet publicly responded to the question of change in the Vatican. "If there needs to be change, it needs to be in the world, not in the doctrine."
Compare this response to the following quote from Fr Diarmuid O'Murchu in his book Quantum Theology. "Where religions have failed most dismally is in their perception and understanding of the world, which they all tend to dismiss as an inferior, ungodly, and transitory reality. This cosmology goes right back to the Agricultural Revolution, which projected the original mechanistic image that the world was an object to be conquered and controlled.
"Adopting this worldview, the religions concocted a self-inflationary, eschatological myth, whereby the world would come to nothing and the religions themselves would triumph. What was intended to be an instrument of God became a god in its own right; religion became an outrageous form of idolatry." …
If one takes the time to read O'Murchu's book one will quickly recognise that serious change in church doctrine is not only necessary but essential. Again Fr Diarmuid states: "Instead of trying to conquer and eliminate the negative, we [must] try to comprehend - not distance - and appreciate its complementary role for the positive."
… O'Murchu goes on to say that "Once we begin to understand and internalise the sacredness of life from within -- ourselves, our planet, and our universe -- then the classical academic search for an external agent may become quite irrelevant."
Is the Vatican ready for such change? (O'Murchu demands a rethink)
Br Dowling said it was the wish of the Christian Brothers to help people engage in creative and stimulating conversation as a means of sustaining and developing their faith. Their support of Fr O'Murchu's visit to "Amberley" was an expression of this.
"Now we are wondering about the model of Church we are operating in; the kind of trust it engenders and the tension between theology and magisterium," he said.
Fr Diarmuid O'Murchu, a member of the Sacred Heart Missionary Order, and a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, is a social psychologist whose entire working life has been in social ministry. In that capacity he has worked as a couple's counsellor, in bereavement work, AIDS-HIV counselling and laterally with homeless people and refugees. As a workshop leader and group facilitator he has worked in Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, The Philippines, Thailand, India, Peru and in several African countries. His best known books include Quantum Theology (1996 - revised in 2004), Reclaiming Spirituality (1998), Evolutionary Faith (2002), Catching Up with Jesus (2005).
Editor's note: In preparing this report, Online Catholics approached Fr O'Murchu for comment. Fr O'Murchu, although based in London, is currently working in the United States and, at this stage, preferred not to comment.
This Prayer to the Holy Spirit is written by Fr O'Murchu. It and other prayers for special occasions are on his website.
Come Holy Spirit, breathe down upon our troubled world.
Shake the tired foundations of our crumbling institutions.
Break the rules that keep you out of all our sacred spaces,
and from the dust and rubble, gather up the seedlings of a new creation.
Come Holy Spirit, enflame once more the dying embers of our weariness.
Shake us out of our complacency. Whisper our names once more,
and scatter your gifts of grace with wild abandon.
Break open the prisons of our inner being,
and let your raging justice be our sign of liberty.
Come Holy Spirit and lead us to places we would rather not go.
Expand the horizons of our limited imaginations.
Awaken in our souls dangerous dreams for a new tomorrow,
and rekindle in our hearts the fire of prophetic enthusiasm.
Come Holy Spirit, whose justice outwits international conspiracy,
whose light outshines religious bigotry,
whose peace can halt our patriarchal hunger for dominance and control,
whose promise invigorates our every effort:
to create a new heaven and a new earth, now and forever. Amen.