Australia: The Happy Land of Upside Down


The National Catholic Reporter has their undies in a bunch, as is their custom, over the fact that Pope Benedict XVI (perpetually referred to as “Ratzinger” at NCR) is still Catholic. This week, the pope has dissented from the NCR Magisterium by giving Bishop William M. Morris of Toowoomba, Queensland, his walking papers without so much as asking NCR what they thought. It’s all so sudden and prompted by nothing but a teensy weensy sigh of wishing that women could be ordained — or so we are told by NCR!

My mind drifts back in reverie… Back when Pangaea was breaking up, I was invited out to speak at a Catholic conference in Sydney in October 2004. I put a note on my blog in April 2004 (after the October date was confirmed) mentioning that I was heading Down Under and letting my Aussie readers know that if they wanted me to come and speak for them, now was the time (since the air fare was already covered, so they could get me cheap).

A priest wrote me and asked if I could pop out to South Australia to come talk. I said “sure,” we made the arrangements, and I forgot about it till it was time to leave. Only then did I realize, going over my correspondence, that the priest was Anglican. That was a puzzle, because he wanted me to come talk about some rather distinctly Romish stuff: the Real Presence, Mary, Sacred Tradition, etc.

When I got to Adelaide, I mentioned my confusion to the priest, since my conscience bade me note that, well, Anglican eucharists were not valid and therefore there was no Real Presence to discuss as far as their liturgies went.

He told me to just say whatever it was I would normally say and not feel obliged to paper over Roman/Anglican differences. This intrigued me even more, and I was surprised to discover the reason I was there (revealed in a tea with his bishop and about a dozen other priests of the diocese).

It turned out that Australia was the Happy Land of Upside Down where, in South Oz, the Anglicans were good Catholics while (in Queensland) the Catholics were bad Anglicans. While Cardinal Pell was one of their favorite Catholics in the world, the Anglican bishop and priests of the diocese of the Murray with whom I sat drinking tea had nothing but horror stories to tell of the crazy Catholic antics in Queensland that had been going on for years. One sample: Some lunatic Queensland Catholic priest had — for years — been baptizing everybody “in the Name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier,” resulting in legions of invalidly baptized Queensland Catholics. In short, the silly business of ordaining women that Bishop Morris bleated was not an isolated incident that Rome irrationally over-focused on. It was the straw the broke the camel’s back.

The Anglicans I met, by the way, loved then-Cardinal Ratzinger and were thrilled that he had taken management of the Anglo-Catholic dialogue. They gave me an icon of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman (he sits here looking at me as I write), and they couldn’t wait for reunion with Rome. That, it turned out, was why I was there: because they wanted to give their flocks a chance to encounter some Catholic teaching. After I spoke, the bishop got up and said, “There’s nothing in this that opposes Scripture or the Christian tradition.” Later on, in our conversation at dinner, it was he who pointed out to me that part of the hostility to Mary in the English-speaking world was due to the fact that Good Queen Bess had systematically demolished the Cult of the Virgin in England and replaced it with the Cult of the Virgin Queen. If you want to get the hang of this gross politicization and Pied Piper play for the hearts of English commoners, imagine walking into your parish tomorrow morning and finding the Mary shrine occupied with a statue of Michelle Obama. The tragedy is that Elizabeth, being merely a mortal politician and not the Mother of God, died. And when she died, she took Marian devotion with her in most English-speaking lands, including ours.

Happy note: When I got back to the United States, I got an email in which one of the priests told me that they sang the Divine Praises and included, for the first time, “Blessed be God for the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of the Virgin Mary.” May God send the Church in Australia more serious Anglican converts to undo the damage of Woodstockized Catholic bishops.


Mark P. Shea


Mark P. Shea is the author of Mary, Mother of the Son and other works. He was a senior editor at Catholic Exchange and is a former columnist for Crisis Magazine.

  • Martial Artist


    Your closing “prayer” deserves nothing less than my heartfelt Amen.

    Keith Töpfer


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  • Moss WIlson

    G’day Mark, thanks for pointing out some of the oddities of my homeland! Australia is a land of contradicitions- we’re one of the youngest first word societies and home to the oldest continous culture on the planet.

    As for Catholics, we’re the largest religous group but the one that is most often in the media’s crosshairs. Catholic schools and hospitals are commonly accepted as the best practise but Catholic universities are universally sneered at. Our Prime Minister is an Atheist living with her committed partner and is leader of the (traditionally Catholic) Labour party. The leader of the opposition once studied to be Priest. It says a lot about our media that it is considered the hight of bigotry to question our leader’s faith, living arrangements or decision to never have children but the Opoosition leader is generally referre to as the ‘Mad Monk’ who is ‘at war with Australia’s women.’ And yet, our National paper is also home to some intelligent, staunchly Catholic columnists.

    Australia is a fantastic place to live, but for Aussie Catholics you never quite know what side of public opinion you’re going to fall on in any given day.

  • Dan Bosun

    To paraphrase many of your own friends who deem themselves the few “real” Catholics in a sea of imposters, Mark, perhaps you should become an Anglican. You’d probably be more comfortable over there.

    You can take the pope, cardinals and most of the bishops with you, leave Bishop Bill and Father Peter behind, Roy Bourgeois too, we’ll probably make him Pope, unless Joan wants the job.

    I’m sure that the Anglicans will set up a special ordatiate for you, in respect to your faith traditions.

  • Mark P. Shea


    It’s consoling to know that the itch to excommunicate and imagine oneself and one’s friends the Last Pure Catholics is not a phenomenon exclusive *only* to the Remnant. The hubris of your post reminds me of nothing so much as Michael Voris at his most pseudo-episcopal.

    FWIW, I don’t say or suggest that Bishop Bill is Not a Real Catholic. That’s above my pay grade to judge. I merely point out that he is not a good bishop, which is not above Pope Benedict’s pay grade to judge. You retaliate by donning a fake mitre and, like, oh, let’s call it the the “NCR Temple Police” undertake to read a huge number of Catholics out of the Church. You and the Remnant really are brothers under the skin. Or spiders in a shaken jar, to vary the metaphor. Include me out of your sectarian antics.

  • polly

    “We have enough religion to make us hate but not enough to make us love one another” Jonathan Swift. Jesus taught love which supasses all religion.

  • Mark. Keep up the good writing. Keep helping our Anglican brethern to understand & come home in the process. We in Australia have the best of the Cardinal/Bishops/Priests & also the very worse. In my late 20s I almost lost my soul because of very bad advice I received – & honestly wanted to hear at the time – from a Priest. Unfortunately, that man is still given cudos & is probably still handing out soul destroying advice. Good on our Pope. I really hope he looks at a lot more of our Religious. Nuns, Brothers, Priests, Bishops.