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 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.

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