One’s first day at college is always disorienting – particularly if it takes place halfway ‘round the world. As an American student at the University of Sydney, everything had shock value: Oxbridgian limestone castles stand proudly next to slouching palm trees, which are home to flocks of cackling kookaburras. (Very ugly, mean-spirited birds, by the way.) But nothing was quite so strange as the sight of twenty students dressed in lace and robes marching slowly across campus. Some carried a canopy; one swung a thurible; another held the Cross aloft. And, in their midst, a priest clutching a monstrance. I quickly came to realize that Eucharistic processions were a regular occurrence at the USyd, thanks to the Catholic Society and its marvellous chaplains.
The Society really is a treasure. Despite being an Episcopalian (albeit a traditionally-minded one) at the time, I quickly realised I could do worse than to make friends with its members. And so I did. Those friendships remain strong even two years after I graduated and repatriated. They were crucial in my decision to become Catholic, and a traditionalist specifically: most of them are parishioners in the majestic Latin Mass parish in Lewisham. One of the chaplains, a jovial friar of the old order, would tag along on pub night to keep us out of trouble… and maybe sing a bar or two of the Kaiserhymne.
I hope this is a pleasant surprise to those of you who’ve come to expect a very different experience with college chaplaincies, at least in secular schools: guitars, tube-tops, etc. There are any number of reasons why USyd got it right when so many others have gotten it wrong, but I think it has to do mostly with the great personal interest George Cardinal Pell took in the Society. In fact, one of his last engagements before shipping off to the Vatican was a dinner party he threw for some of the students he’d mentored. He was a sterling influence on them, as he has been for generations of Australian Catholics.
But the Society paid a steep price for his friendship. When the Royal Commission flared up and His Eminence became the victim of a media witch-hunt, the same toxic atmosphere descended on campus. It was as though all Catholic students were culpable in Cardinal Pell’s “crimes” – crimes the Commission hasn’t a single shred of evidence to prove. The open hostility from left-wing Arts majors was shocking. Even conservative Protestants scorned them. Many Catholic students with political ambitions quietly distanced themselves from both the Society and His Eminence.
In my experience, the Aussie faithful know he’s innocent, or at least that he’s been treated disgracefully. They realize that the standard of justice – innocent until proven guilty – no longer applies to Catholics. Our priests are automatically assumed to be pedophiles, and laymen are assumed to be complicit in their perversion. This is nothing new: we all remember Bl. Cardinal Newman having to defend himself against accusations of “effeminacy” for remaining celibate, even as an Anglican.
What’s novel, and disturbingly so, is how deeply this prejudice runs among Catholics themselves. One hesitates to monger grievance, but the phrase “Catholicphobia” – perhaps even “internalized Catholicphobia”! – leaps to mind.
You see it across the Australian media. All of Cardinal Pell’s most shameless and venomous critics invariably begin their attacks by saying something like: “I was raised Catholic, and though I don’t practice myself, I had a very devout grandmother. There are lots of things about Catholicism I still admire. However…” Then they go on to tell abject lies, or else spout nonsense about sexual repression and the patriarchy.
In fact, most of the Western Church suffers from a rather severe case of internalized Catholicphobia. While our Holy Mother has done a sterling job of protecting children from abuse, many “reforms” have badly overshot the mark. Except for in TLM parishes, altar boys are all but extinct, and “extraordinary ministers” have proliferated in their place. We’ve stopped apprenticing our children for the priesthood, and instead deputize laywomen to dispense the Body and Blood like hot dog vendors at a baseball game.
Now, it’s one thing for non-Catholics to distrust priests. That’s been the norm in Protestant countries since the Reformation. But what hope do we have if Catholics themselves mistrust their Fathers?
When I first spoke to my priest about conversion, I remember telling him how refreshing it was to see local boys serving at the altar. After spending eight years in Catholic school and attending hundreds of Masses as an Episcopalian, it was a completely novel experience. How wise their parents are to buck this anti-clerical hysteria – and how brave the priests to defy the gossipers!
That’s yet another example of the power of the TLM to gain converts. Very few are truly won over by the Novus Ordo, with its guitar-strummers and “extraordinary ministers”. No one wants to join a religion that’s embarrassed by its own traditions and suspicious of its own clergy. Yet we persist in privileging rumor over truth and fashion over orthodoxy. It begs the question: is our internalized Catholicphobia so severe we’re willing to let the Church go extinct?