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Transcript of The Religion Report.  ABC Radio  May 2002
   Michael answers some pithy questions!
 

Stephen Crittenden:  The Rainbow Sash Movement made its presence felt at St Maryís Cathedral again last Sunday, and Sydneyís Catholic Archbishop, George Pell, again made headlines by refusing to give the protesters communion or even to bless them, and for his use of a regular campaign slogan of Pauline Hansonís that ďGod made Adam and Eve, not Adam and SteveĒ.

Some pretty remarkable letters have appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald this week,
including one suggesting that the Archbishop badly needed to get himself a wife, or even
just a friend. There are other Catholics, of course, who deplore the way members of the
Rainbow Sash Movement disrupt Mass to make their point; and other people who wonder why gays who feel oppressed inside the Church arenít prepared to just walk away from their
oppressors. And why all this focus on Archbishop Pell? As the representative of an
official Church position, heís not actually going to drop that whole position while the TV
cameras are rolling Ė thatís not how change happens, is it?

Well letís put those questions to the spokesperson for the Rainbow Sash Movement, Michael
Kelly:

Michael Kelly: I think change happens in very complex ways. Firstly, this is not about
Archbishop Pell as such. Heís representative of a particular mindset within the Church
thatís very, very powerful within the hierarchy, and that we believe needs to be challenged. Itís actually about really going to the heart of the Church and saying that the way in which sexuality has been handled, the way gay people have been treated, and the way power and doctrine have been used in the Church, are not faithful to the Gospel of Christ, and people have to be included.

Stephen Crittenden: Would you concede that the Church is like a great ocean liner trying
to change direction, that itís not something that happens overnight. You know, when you
think that itís only 15 years ago that you or I could have been arrested under the civil law, and that apart from people like Archbishop Pell, that actually is changing.

Michael Kelly: In many ways thatís true, but the ocean liner, the passengers on the liner
and some of the crew might want it to change direction but meanwhile the captains have got
hold of the steering wheel, and theyíre doing everything they can to stop it from changing
direction. Itís only by people, I believe, working actively for change within Ė you know,
being within and just hoping for change to come like magic is not good enough. If youíre
going to be within, youíve got to find ways to make the institution faithful to the Gospel, to make it a place that actually does welcome and love and do justice as Jesus would want it to be.

Stephen Crittenden: I guess what Iím suggesting is that this kind of change is only ever
evolutionary, and that this kind of public confrontation runs the very real risk of polarising people on the ground and actually encouraging resistance to change.

Michael Kelly: Theyíre precisely the kinds of things that people said to Mahatma Gandhi,
that change in India would come gradually and with evolution, and ďyouíre only provoking
the BritishĒ. You know, when Gandhi did his famous march of the sea, he was doing
something that was very simple, but was very, very profoundly provocative, and brought
into the open the kind of oppression that was hidden in Indian life. And thatís exactly
what weíre doing in the Church: a very simple symbolic action that brings it out into the
open.

Stephen Crittenden: Yes but isnít there a huge flaw in the thinking behind the Rainbow
Sash Movement, and itís simply this: that when Archbishop Pell is handing out communion
and you go up in your rainbow sash knowing that youíll be turned away, arenít you just
playing into his hands, turning yourselves into straw men for him to knock down? Arenít
you symbolically conceding, in fact, that all the power in this situation belongs to the
clergy?

Michael Kelly: Well thatís an interesting observation, and Iíve gone through some
soul-searching about that myself. Firstly, I think what weíre doing, in fact, is defying the power structure which wants us to sit down, be silent, be invisible, not claim our space. And by claiming our space, we are in fact standing up to it. But weíre also saying the reality is that the power structure at the moment is that these people do have power, and while we can have our base communities on the fringes of the Church Ė and Iíve done that too Ė we also have to stand up to structural injustice, and approach it at its very heart. And thatís the Eucharist.

Stephen Crittenden: Would it not be more effective, and indeed more subversive, just to
ignore Archbishop Pell and get on with your lives, like all those Catholic women on the
pill are doing? Isnít the thing that terrifies Archbishop Pell the most the idea that we live in a modern world where my own individual conscience decides whatís right and wrong, and that if I donít agree with the Archbishop I just ignore him?

Michael Kelly: Well thatís an approach to take, itís a good approach to take, but we believe it has to go beyond simply my private life and my private conscience. The Church is not a group of private individuals. It has enormous power Ė educationally, socially, politically Ė and the right wing of the Catholic Church, which George Pell represents, is very aggressive in pushing its agenda right across the board in politics and schools and universities and seminaries. It has to be challenged, and it has to be challenged openly.

Stephen Crittenden: Arenít there hordes of gay and lesbian Catholics who take communion
every week in their parishes from priests who know them, and know they are gay?

Michael Kelly: Of course, and many of those priests are gay themselves, and many of the
bishops standing behind George Pell are gay too. In the Catholic Church if youíre silent and invisible, or at least sotto voce, you can be anything Ė not just get communion, you can be a Cardinal or a Pope, and there certainly are Cardinals who are gay. Weíre saying that code of silence, that duplicity, has to be broken, because itís fostered and allowed injustice and hypocrisy to continue for many centuries. Some of the people who burnt gay people at the stake were gay themselves. Itís only when the people in the pews, and some priests, have enough courage to say ďWeíre not going to stand for this, weíre going to tell the truthĒ, that finally the truth that sets us free, that Jesus talked about, can become a reality.

Stephen Crittenden: Obviously this is all part of a gay self-discovery thing which has had
very good and important aspects to it. This kind of public witness and bravery was very
important in changing the civil law, and itís been a very civilising influence. But when you only feel you can go up to communion as a gay man, rather than just a man or a person,
doesnít that demonstrate a certain kind of self-oppression?

Michael Kelly: It could, possibly. This action is done every year at Pentecost, itís done
at other key moments in Church life. I did it, for example, at the opening of the Australian Catholic Universityís new campus in Melbourne. Certain moments, when we say ďa gay personís meant to be visible hereĒ. On the other hand, if I can never express symbolically who I am, as a gay man made in the image of God Ė if thatís never allowed, then you really are dealing with structural injustice. And you donít have to challenge it every single time, but you do have to make that part of your spirituality and your way to God.

Stephen Crittenden: I wonder whether this is also possibly the right moment historically
to be doing this. I mean, given the kind of scandal that weíve seen in the North American
Church, has the Church really lost its teaching authority on sexuality?

Michael Kelly: Thatís absolutely happening in the United States and in Europe. Itís been
happening, of course, with married people to a fair degree (in terms of contraception) for
some time Ė womenís rights, divorced and remarried people. But finally in the public domain Ė I mean, thatís really the issue Ė in the press, in the media, on television; all kinds of commentators, even right-wing ones, are saying that the bishops cannot teach with moral credibility any more, and this is in many ways a great tragedy. Western society needs a heart and soul and a spirit, it needs spiritual depth and wisdom, and it needs a call to justice. But the bishops, through their own fault Ė I mean, this has gone on for decades, and certainly in the last 15 years, plenty of bishops knew, theyíd been given warning that this was coming, and they continued to move priests around knowing they were molesting children. So when we say (and this is the key part of our call) that we call for an honest, open, thorough conversation about every facet of human sexuality, right across the board, through the Church, with young people, married people, single people, divorced people, elderly people, gay and lesbian people, transgender people, abused people, and only then can we actually find what the Holy Spiritís saying in our lives, and we all contain the Holy Spirit in our lives. Thatís the way forward. So when George Pell, as a representative of that kind of hierarchy, simply stamps his crozier and says ďnothing can change, nothing will changeĒ Ė well, heís wrong. Things have to change, and they are changing.

Stephen Crittenden:
And Iím told that the Mass disrupted by the Rainbow Sash protestors on Sunday also
included a special ceremony in which a number of adult Catholics received the sacrament of
confirmation, and that one of those confirmed by Archbishop Pell was in fact a gay man who
left the cathedral arm-in-arm with his boyfriend. It all goes to show you canít be too careful.