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Winds of theological change at the Vatican

12 March 2014 | Neil Ormerod

Pope Francis greets the pilgrims during his weekly general audience in St Peter's square at the Vatican on 4 December 2013No one can deny the impact Francis has had. The question remains whether the differences between him and his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI are a matter of style or substance. Francis has downplayed the prospects of major doctrinal changes, yet the rehabilitation of liberation theology and the bringing in from the cold of outspoken 'extreme centrist' theologian Cardinal Walter Kasper do reveal a fundamental shift.

Jury still out on Francis the game-changer

12 March 2014 | Paul Collins

Pope Francis greets the pilgrims during his weekly general audience in St Peter's square at the Vatican on 27 November 2013The greatest danger is that we expect too much from Francis. He brings a new perspective that has little to do with the preoccupations of the developed world. But we shouldn't kid ourselves that he is a closet progressive. The other danger is that he could turn out to be all show and no substance. His 'Gang of Eight' has not even begun to address the diabolically difficult problems embedded in reforming the curial structures of the Vatican.

Encouragement for bleeding hearts

05 March 2014 | Andrew Hamilton

Bleeding heartTo call someone a bleeding heart is an insult, not a description. It has no meaning but does have connotations. Those who call advocates for asylum seekers bleeding hearts usually dismiss ethical arguments. Although they may accept in the case of personal relationships that it would be wrong to inflict pain on people in order to deter others, they usually claim without supporting argument that governments are not bound by this ethical principle.

Robber bands in Parliament

26 February 2014 | Andrew Hamilton

Silhouette of a robber with a money bag and a crow barAugustine wrote of the Roman Empire, 'Without justice, states are robber bands.' His mordant comment aimed to strip away the self-congratulatory rhetoric of empire from the reality of a Rome concerned purely with asking how to achieve desired goals uncontrolled by respect for human dignity. If we appreciate how robber bands work we can better understand what states do, including Australia.

Coming out of Cardinal Pell's shadow

25 February 2014 | Chris McGillion

George Pell speaking, hand raised for emphasisGeorge Pell's promotion to Rome is proof of the powerful friends he has made. As for enemies, it is not hard to compile a list of those who will be glad to see him go. It would include most liberal Catholics, many priests, and a good many of his fellow bishops. One group who are likely to regret Pell's departure are the journalists and commentators for whom he has loomed large as a figure of ridicule if not outright contempt.

Discussing a good death with Philip Nitschke

23 February 2014 | Frank Brennan

'Damned if I do' by Philip Nitschke features the doctor standing with arms foldedI was able to mix with other writers bemoaning Australia's refugee policy including the obfuscation about the death of an asylum seeker on Manus Island and Julie Bishop's latest diplomatic initiative asking Hun Sen to accept refugees from Australia for permanent resettlement in Cambodia. I came away wondering how passionate refugee advocates could be so sanguine about doctor administered death even for children.

Social justice with a smile

19 February 2014 | Andrew Hamilton

World Day of Social Justice poster features a map of the world in black on whiteSocial justice has to do with what we owe to others. No one likes to think of their debts. And when the debts are universalised so that they are owed by us as members of society, we do not want to know about them. No wonder it is more effective to appeal to our individual generosity than to our shared duty, and for religious leaders to be less comfortable speaking about justice than about love.

Thinking Christians spurn hammy creationism

17 February 2014 | Chris Middleton

Water ripplesAustralian-born creationist Ken Ham argues that every human is descended from Adam and Eve, that God created man and all land animals on the same day 6000 years ago, and that there were dinosaurs on Noah's Ark. The relationship between faith and reason goes to the credibility of being a Christian in the modern world. A minority view within Christianity should not be allowed to frame a false dichotomy between religion and science.

Pastoral priests decry clerical culture that fostered abuse

13 February 2014 | Pat Power

Priest in dog collar with hands spreadMost priests believe the Royal Commission was very much needed to face up to a terrible episode in the Church's history. They also believe that sexual abuse took place in an environment of clericalism which was imposed by the highest authority in the Church, and which they felt powerless to confront. 'Father is always right' operated from the Pope down and any questioning of it was seen as disloyal or even heretical.

Best of 2013: Advice for the Pope on reforming the Church

13 January 2014 | Geraldine Doogue

'Geraldine and Francis', by Chris Johnston. Geraldine Doogue whispers advice to Pope FrancisI wish he would invite me to be his temporary consultant, to offer him advice for his next 500 days. I'd begin by proposing a substantial Vatican-led inquiry, into why the Church has been so troubled by sexual abuse across various countries. Then I would point to the experiences of several large secular institutions, including the New York Times and US Army, that have rebuilt after crises.

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