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There are deep seated problems with Australia’s Catholic bishops over their responsibilities as shepherds and teachers of the Catholic faithful. This paper deals with their failures with respect to the Catholic education of children and in moral matters.

Catholic Education

The Catholic episcopacy lives in cloud cuckoo land when it comes to the Catholic education system. There may be exceptions, but as a general rule there is no way more certain for a Catholic child to lose his faith than for him to attend a Catholic school. The Catholic school system is now simply another state school system. It has the added defect, however, that the faith of the Catholic child who attends will be systematically subverted.

The religious education guidelines set by the bishops throughout Australia for their schools are almost uniformly defective. The worst of them has recently been the subject of a detailed study by Eamonn Keane (A Generation Betrayed, Hatherleigh Press, New York, 2002; Crisis In Religious Education, Association for Renewal of Religious Education, Sydney, 2003). What is taught the child is not the Catholic faith at all, but what might be described as ‘Catholicism and water’; a mélange of faintly Catholic principle accompanied by encouragement to doubt and cynicism. The delicate flower of Catholic faith is drowned in a Modernist sea.

When his schooling comes to an end, the Catholic school student thinks that he has been given a Catholic education. He thinks that he knows what the Catholic faith is. Very little time passes before he realises that the nonsense he has been taught cannot stand up to challenge from those outside the Church. His faith, such as it is, collapses and he can see no possible reason for remaining in the Catholic Church. But more than this, the falsity of what he has been taught serves to innoculate him against appeals from bishops and priests to return to the Church. His response is likely to be: ‘I know what the Church teaches and it is rubbish!’

There is no guarantee that those who teach the children in these schools are Catholics. They are inevitably lay people––the religious teaching orders have almost disappeared––and are likely to be men or women, themselves engaged in contraceptive practices, who have little fidelity to Catholic principle. Often they are disillusioned ex priests, brothers or nuns, who can find no occupation, now that they have abandoned their vocations, than as teachers in the Catholic school system. More and more frequently are they likely to be living in de facto, or even homosexual, relationships.

Anyone doubting this assessment of the fundamental defects in the ‘Catholic’ education system throughout Australia need only study the statistical evidence set forth in the works of Brother Marcellin Flynn, The Culture of Catholic Schools and Catholic Schools 2000 and in Eamonn Keane’s A Generation Betrayed to obtain verification. Given the poison of the system, how could anyone wonder at what the statistics show?

Next, in the face of specific directions from the Holy See to the contrary[1], the bishops allow and encourage secular humanist ‘sex education’ in the classrooms of their so-called ‘Catholic’ schools. Nothing is more calculated to destroy the innocence of the child. The errors involved are manifold. The proper formation of the child in this matter is not ‘sex education’ at all, with its detailing of the technicalities of genital intercourse, but education in human sexuality which regards the whole person, whether as male or female, in its only licit setting of married love, leading to formation into full manhood and womanhood in the joy and strength of the virtue of chastity. The very term ‘sex education’ is a secular humanist one; it has no proper place in a Catholic setting. The Church warns explicitly of the dangers of spelling out the details of the acts of intercourse. There is no pedagogical need for its visualisation.

In the first place the right to teach the child about human sexuality is that of the parents, not of the school. Insofar as a school may become involved in the matter it is bound to give its assistance not to the child but to the parents. And the parents have the right of veto over any attempt at interference in this part of their child’s life. The school has no rights in the matter at all. Teachers in Catholic schools who are permitted to violate these norms are not only propagating the spirit of the world, the flesh and the Devil but they are allowed to give the impression that in doing so they have the blessing of the Church. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Secondly, the bishops may not assume to themselves the supervision of the parental rights in this matter.

Thirdly, education in human sexuality is properly to be done in the home––in the bosom of the family––with the child personally, not in the institutionalised setting of a classroom. The approach demanded is the very contrary to that of a science lesson.

To disobedience to the Holy See, then, the bishops add theological error, the failure to acknowledge the effects of original sin in the child and his peculiar vulnerability. They err grievously in refusing to recognise this inborn weakness of human nature and in refusing to acknowledge the experience of facts which show that in young people evil practices are the effect not so much of ignorance of intellect as of weakness of will exposed to occasions of sin without the support of grace[2].

Blessed Mary McKillop must turn in her grave as she witnesses the systematic subversion of the faith and morals of the grandchildren and great grandchildren of those for whom she and her sisters gave up their lives.

A subordinate problem with enormous implications for each bishop is the appalling bureaucracies which have developed to support this so called ‘Catholic’ education system, namely the Catholic Education Offices. These institutions have developed a life and momentum of their own and are an enormous drain on the resources of the Catholic Church. The drain is only matched by the harm they do to the Catholic faith wherever they operate.

Catholic Home Schooling

Catholic parents alive to these problems have long since removed their children from Catholic schools and put themselves to the task of educating them at home. They are supported in this by the demands of canon 798 of the Code of Canon Law[3]. The burdens they have taken on themselves are heavy but they reckon the preservation of the faith and the chastity of their children sufficient justification. These parents have to earn a living in an economic setting where, for the family to survive, it is almost mandatory for the wife to go out to work. They get no assistance whatsoever for their efforts from the bishops. Moreover, they must continue to pay taxes which support not only the state school system but also this poisonous Catholic school system. They are in a worse case than were their grandparents who paid for the education of their own children while paying, via their taxes, for the education of those educated only in the state school system.

Catholic home schooling has burgeoned throughout the country and its existence is an indictment of the bishops’ wilful refusal to acknowledge the fundamental problems in their Catholic school systems.

Deficiencies In Judgment Regarding Cooperation In Moral Evil

It is not licit to do evil that good may come of it (Romans 3:8). It is not licit to cooperate in the evil that another engages in. One of the consequences of the lack of adequate formation of the bishops is an inability to judge rightly about the application of the principles of formal and material cooperation in the evil conduct of others. These failures occur frequently.

  • From at least 1993 through until 2000, Cardinal Edward Clancy tolerated the existence of a youth drop in centre attached to St Francis’s Catholic Church, Paddington, an inner Sydney suburb, which advocated conduct in breach of the Church’s moral teachings. At one time or another the centre displayed pamphlets promoting ‘safe sex’, artificial contraception, oral and anal sexual activity, masturbation and showing young people in graphic display how to fit condoms to an erect penis. It made condoms available. It provided information as to where young people might obtain an abortion, making available names, addresses and phone numbers of abortion providers.
  • In the 1990s a proposal was put to the Western Australian Law Reform Commission by a Church theologian which would have permitted the sterilisation of the mentally handicapped in certain circumstances. It was only withdrawn after representations were made by members of the laity to the Archbishop of Perth and he had taken advice from the Holy See.
  • The Church’s moral theologians have supported the endorsement by state and territory Catholic politicians of pro abortion legislation in breach of the supreme principle of the moral law. They have sought to find authority for their view in a false interpretation of the teaching of Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae n.73.[4]
  • In the course of his address to the Roman Rota on 28 th January 2002, Pope John Paul II said––

Professionals in the field of civil law should avoid being personally involved in anything that might imply a cooperation with divorce. For judges this may prove difficult, since the legal order does not recognize a conscientious objection to exempt them from giving sentence. For grave and proportionate motives they may therefore act in accord with the traditional principles of material cooperation. . . . Lawyers, as independent professionals, should always decline the use of their profession for an end that is contrary to justice, as is divorce. They can only cooperate in this kind of activity when, in the intention of the client, it is not directed to the break-up of the marriage, but to the securing of other legitimate effects that can only be obtained through such a judicial process in the established legal order.

The President of the St Thomas More Society, the society of Catholic lawyers in New South Wales, Mr John McCarthy, issued a press release the following day––widely reported in the newspapers and reproduced subsequently in the New South Wales Bar Association’s journal Bar News and in the New South Wales Law Society Journal––commenting gratuitously on this address of His Holiness. In the course of that press release he said––

Since judges and lawyers in Family Law proceedings have proper and grave moral reasons for their professional participation . . [t]hey are certainly not being told to withdraw from such professional activity or judicial roles.

Neither Mr McCarthy nor the St Thomas More Society was authorised by the Holy See to deliver this blanket judgment on the effect of the teaching of His Holiness.

There was no public correction of Mr McCarthy by his Archbishop. Moreover, no report appeared of any Australian bishop dissenting from the views expressed by Mr McCarthy in his press release and upholding the Pope’s teaching.

  • Notwithstanding that the Church made it clear at least from February 1987, that the practice of in vitro fertilisation was immoral, the Australian Catholic bishops have conducted themselves in such a way as to lead Catholic and non Catholic alike in this country to assume that the practice is morally licit. That is, they have remained silent when they should have spoken. That failure facilitated the passage in 2002 of the Research involving Embryos Act through the Federal Parliament. More will be said on this topic hereafter.

The bishops’ consideration of difficult moral questions is not helped by the incompetence of the moral theologians they employ. Because the philosophical formation of these priests is defective, they betray an inability to judge wisely in moral matters. The bishops do not seem to realise that they are not bound to follow such advice. They give the impression that if they employ a specialist, they can follow his advice with impunity. But it is the bishop who is morally responsible for the decision made, not his incompetent servant.


There is a general complacency amongst the Modernist Australian bishops, and a general despair among the Catholic ones, that the Church’s teaching on contraception can ever be insisted upon amongst Catholics.

In 1974 the Australian Catholic bishops issued a 1,600 word pastoral letter on Humanae Vitae. In the course of that letter they said this––

The encyclical On Human Life is an authentic and authoritative document of the Church, and as such, it calls for a religious submission of will and of mind (Lumen Gentium n.25). . . It is not impossible, however, that an individual may fully accept the teaching authority of the Pope in general, may be aware of his teaching in this matter and yet reach a position after honest study and prayer that is at variance with papal teaching. Such a person could be without blame; he would certainly not have cut himself off from the Church; and in acting in accordance with his conscience he could be without subjective fault.

The statement was self contradictory for it is not possible to give religious submission of will and mind to the papal teaching and then, as a matter of conscience, to reject that teaching. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith required the bishops to issue a retraction. They did so in September 1976, not by way of a pastoral letter, but as a directive issued by that Conference. Here is the whole of it––

The Episcopal Conference informs the Directors of Catholic Family Planning Centres and Priests connected with this work, that the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church contained in Humanae Vitae that “every action which either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is “intrinsically evil” and to be absolutely excluded, binds the consciences of all without ambiguity and excludes the possibility of a probable opinion opposed to this teaching.

The retraction was given little publicity and the 1974 statement continues to be cited by dissident priests and theologians throughout Australia––and they are never corrected. The false doctrine of the supremacy of conscience over the Church’s moral teaching is touted frequently. It is never contradicted and the terms of the 1976 directive are never repeated by any bishop.

Many of the bishops, probably most, privately reject the Church’s teaching though they would never admit it publicly. Indeed, if pressed, each one would roundly reject such a suggestion. One episcopabilus (potential bishop) made the mistake of airing his dissenting views on the subject before a member of the laity some years ago and subsequently admitted his rejection of the Church’s teaching. The particulars were reported to Rome and he has never received the hoped for appointment. But the ‘wise’ Modernist bishop never makes his private position clear.

Individual priests throughout Australia may preach on the Church’s teaching on contraception but almost never does one hear a bishop doing so.

This failure of attitude on Humanae Vitae lies behind the malaise of the bishops with regard to abortion and in vitro fertilisation.


Abortion flourishes in every State in Australia. A proportion of the women who attend abortion clinics are Catholics. What action do the bishops take to prevent this appalling evil even amongst their own? They utter pious platitudes on the subject from time to time. They preach about it—rarely. Typical is the experience of a federal politician (not a Catholic) opposed to abortion. He finds himself frequently being pressed by the Catholic bishop within his electorate to address political issues, like the effect of the Goods and Services Tax, but when he seeks the bishop’s public support on the infinitely more important issue of abortion the bishop refuses to give it!

On this issue the bishops fail in any number of ways.

  • They do nothing to set up institutions or support systems or finance to assist women who may be pregnant and contemplating the killing of their infants.
  • With one or two exceptions, they do not themselves attend outside abortion clinics to support those who pray there.
  • They do not urge their faithful to do so.
  • They do not direct their priests to urge the faithful to do so.
  • They lend no material or moral support to lay institutions which oppose abortion—they will not even assist by providing them with accommodation.

Their only involvement seems to be to try and exercise some sort of control over the activities of these institutions, control which the cynical might think, serves only to protect their own inactivity. An instance of this occurred a few years ago in the Melbourne Archdiocese. A member of the laity wrote a letter to one of the daily papers criticising Australian and US Bishops for treating the issue of paedophile priests so lightly. Given this attitude, he concluded, it was no wonder that they were unable to mobilise Catholics against abortion. For engaging in such criticism, it was subsequently suggested by a Church official that he should be excluded in future from representing lay organisations at the Archdiocese’s ProLife Forum.

But the situation is worse than this. For the Catholic bishops by their negligence in permitting sex education programmes in Catholic schools dispose Catholic young people to seek recourse to these clinics. It is notorious that Catholic school girls have abortions. Pro-life helpers outside abortion clinics have observed schoolgirls in Catholic school uniforms entering abortion clinics.

In Vitro Fertilisation

In vitro fertilisation is intrinsically evil. This was proclaimed in Donum Vitae, an Instruction on respect for human life issued by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 22 nd February, 1987. It was confirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church nn.2376-7 (11.10.1992) and in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae n.14 (25.3.1995). The practice is an inevitable consequence of the separation of the unitive from the procreative aspects of sexual intercourse, as Pope Paul VI warned in Humanae Vitae. When Donum Vitae was released Australia’s bishops did nothing to warn publicly of the dangers of this interference in human sexuality nor of the grave offence to God that it entails. They did not speak up. They did not oppose it vigorously. They did not urge the faithful committed to their care to do so. Worse, they did not warn the faithful of the great evil it entailed or that involvement in the process was mortally sinful.

In the absence of such opposition the evil flourished. The scientists needed ‘surplus’ embryos to cover a failure rate, they said. By early 2002 the ‘surplus’ had grown to the point where some 70,000 of them were kept in suspended animation and the secular humanist scientists wanted to use these ‘surplus’ embryos for experimentation. So they pressed state and federal politicians for legislation authorising them to do so. They dressed up the idea in such a way as to appeal to a populace ignorant of moral principle with the prospects of material advantage––stem cell research. They hid the truth that these tiny humans are as much enslaved and abused as were the prisoners of Nazi concentration camps; that they were permitted to exist only for the benefit of others.

Research Involving Embryos Bill

A bill was introduced into Federal Parliament in 2002 inter alia to allow experimentation on these 70,000 embryos. What action did the bishops take?

The Archbishops of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth joined in an open letter at the end of March 2002 with some eighty other signatories, Jews and Protestants among them, calling on the Federal, State and Territory Governments to decline to allow the use of human embryos in experimentation. The letter did not appeal to any Catholic or any fundamental principle. It contained no statement of abhorrence of in vitro fertilisation. There was no mention of the offence to God that the process entails. Given the letter’s provenance and its reductionist basis, this was not surprising. But why was it necessary for the Archbishops to involve themselves in such a letter in the first place?

The Archbishops of Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra-Goulburn and Sydney made submissions to the National Health and Medical Research Council on its consultation into the bill. Nowhere in those submissions did they address the issue of the immorality of the practice of in vitro fertilisation.

The bishops wrote formally to the Prime Minister on 14 th May 2002. This letter was a poor attempt to put the Catholic position, to say the least. Like the letter of the previous March, it made no mention of God or of the offence to Him that is entailed by the very process through which these embryos have come into existence––in vitro fertilisation. There was no mention either of the first law of charity, love of God and of our neighbour, which was at stake. There was no attempt to explain rationally why the human embryo must be accorded all the rights of man, nor, if there be any doubt as to its humanity, that the burden lies on the one opposing its existence to disprove it; nor the necessary assertion that this burden cannot be discharged because of scientific evidence to the contrary.

The… decision to exploit and in the process knowingly to hasten the demise of human embryos, they wrote, constitutes a rupture of the fundamental principle that the inherent dignity of every human being is inviolable. What about the rupture of the fundamental principle constituted by the in vitro process itself? The sentence that followed only compounded the letter’s lack of logic—We believe that the use of one person for the benefit of another is a violation of the foundations of a democratic society.

The letter’s tone was reductionist, an appeal to expediency, as if the issue was one which could be settled by the provision of sufficient information or by the democratic processes of debate. But it was more defective still, for it conceded matters where no concession should have been made. We are entering uncharted territory, it stated. On the contrary, the territory had been very well charted, by the Catholic Church, in particular in the Instruction Donum Vitae already referred to, and by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), issued in March 1995. But worse than this, on one interpretation the letter appeared to adopt, at least as an arguable position, that there already existed adequate supplies of embryonic stem cell lines available for research, thus conceding the compromised principle the bishops thought to be at stake––that it was not licit use human embryos for research purposes.

How could this letter, confused in its perception of Catholic principle and so poorly argued, have served to persuade anyone of the demands of the law of God?

On August 11 th, 2002, Archbishop Pell (as he then was) joined others in addressing a large rally in Sydney against the use of human embryos for stem cell research. But where was the national campaign, the public meetings, the episcopal leadership the issue warranted? Where was the unified action to stir the faithful to adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, to prayer and penance, that this legislation might not be passed? Representations were made by members of the laity to the bishops in early August 2002 that the last two Sundays of that month be devoted to such action but little or nothing was done by the bishops in response. Individual priests stirred their congregations to prayer and to the lobbying of local parliamentarians with some success. Whatever action there was on the issue was taken by Catholic lay people. The bishops were almost completely ineffectual.

It is not surprising to find in the recent biography of Cardinal Pell the following comment by the author on the Australian Catholic bishops’ application in the McBain case, an application by the Australian Catholic bishops to quash a Federal Court decision whose effect operated in favour of a Melbourne woman, a self confessed lesbian, being given access to Victoria’s in vitro fertilisation technology[5]––

What seemed particularly curious about the Catholic bishops’ attitude was that they were singling out a small proportion of IVF applications for opposition when the Church’s moral teaching suggested that a far graver issue––the creation of new lives, in the form of embryos, many of which were frozen for years then destroyed––was at stake with IVF technology in general. Traditionally, the Pope and the clergy teach that life begins at the moment of conception – and this includes embryos. This issue is central to the Church’s opposition to the use of embryonic stem cells for medical research, which would be taken from unwanted frozen embryos.

Yet in the High Court battle, the Church appeared to be directing its resources and wrath at a very small number of women wishing to access the technology, while leaving other, seemingly graver matters, to one side.

Pell does not see the issue that way. The bishops’ prime concern, he says, was defending the traditional family and the ideal of heterosexual marriage from yet another form of undermining…[6]

The fundamental flaw in the bishops’ approach over the Research Involving Embryos bill is that they failed to exercise their vocation as bishops. There was no need to ‘make submissions’ to any secular body, to any court, or to the Prime Minister. They have the power given them by Jesus Christ to demand of all the citizens of this country adherence to moral principle through exhortation made from the pulpit and in the media, through urging and example, in prayer and in self denial. Their duty is to convert the hearts of people back to God, not to make submissions to organs and institutions of state. They have numerous members of society at their command, members of the Catholic faithful, a leaven for good in the dough of society, who only want leadership in order to achieve the ends that God wants in Australia. But the bishops will not give that leadership!

In the course of the public debate on the bill, Professor Alan Trounson of Monash University criticised the Catholic Church for opposing the research as irrational and hypocritical. He commented with some particularity on the failure of intervention in the past by Catholic clergy and said—Now, suddenly to say these embryos have all of the qualities of a person and should receive the same respect is astonishing. That criticism, insofar as it alleged hypocricy, was just!

The bill was passed by the House of Representatives and subsequently, in December 2002, by the Senate. It has now become law.

* *

By their inaction the bishops give the impression that they think each of these issues of sexual morality is a lost cause. None of them is lost––not one. The ground could be recovered, and recovered quickly, if the bishops were to take a unified stand––no, if even one bishop was to take a stand, to apologise for the negligences of the past (apologies, after all, are politically correct in the current climate!) and to insist on a return to adherence to principle. To turn the hearts of the Catholic faithful back to Catholic principle all that is required is leadership. But the bishops will not give that leadership. They have the power of the pulpit but they will not use it. They will not exercise their authority to advance the kingdom of Christ in Australia.

And as for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, with its mandatory requirement as to attendances at consecrations or installations of candidates of doubtful merit, its preoccupation with cabinet solidarity at the price of Catholic principle, its stifling of the initiative of the individual bishop for the sake of unity––what would an independent observer make of it? Would he not be excused from thinking that it operates, and has operated for more than 30 years, under some controlling influence which is not Catholic?


The bishop is the pre-eminent preacher and teacher in his diocese. He is the leader, the shepherd present to protect the sheep from the wolves. The innocent are being slaughtered: the wolves are present in their hundreds decimating the flocks. But where are the shepherds?

Michael Baker

[1] John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 22.11.1981, n.37; Pontifical Council for the Family, Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, 8.12.1995

[2] Cf. Pius XI, Divini Illius Magistri, 31.12.1929, nn.65-67

[3] Parents are to send their children to those schools which will provide for their Catholic education. If they cannot do this, they are bound to ensure the proper Catholic education of their children outside the school.

[4] That false view is exposed in the paper Evangelium Vitae 73 & the Supreme Principle of Morals which can be viewed and downloaded on the internet at

[5]Re McBain; Ex parte Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. Re McBain; Ex parte Attorney-General (Cth) ex rel Australian Episcopal Conference of the Roman Catholic Church [2002] HCA 16. 18 th April 2002.

[6] Tess Livingstone, George Pell, Sydney, 2002, p.377