Saints Alive!

By DeusExMacintosh

Mary MacKillop, who was born to Scottish parents, worked in often harsh conditions in the Outback and will become Australia’s first saint during a special Mass at the Vatican on Oct 17.

An Australian documentary due to be aired a week before her canonisation claims that she was persecuted by the Catholic Church for denouncing a priest, Father Patrick Keating, who was abusing children.

In 1871 MacKillop, then 29, was excommunicated by her bishop in South Australia for five months but it has never been clear exactly why. The priest was disciplined but then simply moved back to his native Ireland, where he took up a job in a new parish.

The claims that she was shunned by the Church for speaking out against paedophile priests have led to calls from some Catholics for her to be made the unofficial patron saint of victims of clerical sex abuse around the world.

The Rev James Martin, an American Jesuit and an expert on Catholic saints, said the nun should be regarded after her canonisation as the patron saint of whistle-blowers.

The Telegraph


  1. Posted October 20, 2010 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    Yeah that thread on LP kind of degenerated, with very few people willing to give anyone else a fair run. That’s why I bowed out early, I’m afraid. I feel a bit personally responsible for it because I suggested Mark write on the issue on Facebook. It’s all a bit fraught really.

  2. Peter Patton
    Posted October 20, 2010 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think it is all that fraught at all. I am an atheist, but totally respect the whole canonisation thang, and religion in general. However, to go to town on life-long leftist rationalists for mocking the whole carnival of sky-fairy superstition is surely to reify irrationality? And then to throw said rationalist leftists in with slave-owners, imperialists, and so on, is beyond farce.

    And the language used was beyond excruciating.

  3. desipis
    Posted October 20, 2010 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    Re-reading that LP post by Mark, I wonder if his assessment of atheist arguments reveals something about the rationalisation of Catholic (and perhaps other religious) beliefs. He considers that people inherit ideas from others and then further develop them (something not unexpected of a sociologist); that modern atheists use particular arguments against the Church because they were used by the Protestants; that Catholicism is rational because it inherited its truth down the generations from God. As the whole truth about God is seen as incomprehensible by people, such truth could only be inherited and not independently deduced (hence the need to spread the ‘word’ of God).

    Of course this epistemological approach is inconsistent with what I’ve seen in atheists. Atheists tend not to care about who, when, where or why ideas came into being, as long as they are logically consistent and/or empirically observable. Atheists make the arguments they do because they highlight logically inconsistent and unobservable ideas, making them irrational from the atheist’s point of view, not because they were used by someone else.

    It’s not really all that surprising that groups with such fundamentally different epistemological approaches to faith so frequently mischaracterise each other.

  4. Peter Patton
    Posted October 20, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    You are being too kind. The post was written by somebody who is clearly dumb. Sorry for the political incorrectness. But enough is enough.

  5. Posted October 20, 2010 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

    A few things:

    1. Mark is very smart. I went to university with him and was complacent about being the smartest kid on the block until he showed up. I’m a university medallist and won the Oxford Jurisprudence prize. I think that makes me pretty smart. Mark is just as smart. Disagree with him if you must, dislike his writing style if you will — that’s all fine and good — but he is a clever and careful thinker. Doesn’t make him immune from stuffing up or being wrong, but it also doesn’t take away from his ability to think things through.

    2. [email protected]: I think you’ve gotten very close to the nub of the issue there. One of the great fallacies of much philosophy and intellectual history (and I’ve done it myself) is assuming that one system of ideas inherits everything from another, related system of ideas. Sometimes it’s true, but most often it isn’t. Sometimes the extent to which it isn’t is miraculous. Sitting in my Scots law conversion classes watching Roman lawyers and common lawyers come up with identical solutions to the same problems roughly 1500 years apart when it is a known fact that the two systems did not engage with each other at any point is as good an example as any. Top this off with the realisation that no-one else did anything remotely similar to those two systems and things start getting very mind-blowing.

    3. I don’t respect religion. It’s a tower of crap, all of it. I do, however, respect people. And that means cutting people slack. I’ll freely admit (and you read it here first!) that I’ve walked out to bat with a lucky bat grip, decided along with 7 other people that a particular boat was ‘lucky’ and should therefore be crewed in the next bumps race, worn lucky socks when playing the ladies’ MCC team (it must have worked, I took 5 wickets) and I think we’ll stop there…

  6. Peter Patton
    Posted October 21, 2010 at 12:10 am | Permalink


    Fair enough.

  7. Posted October 21, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] An important clarification! Yes, now I see your point. Mysticism can be contained within Christian traditions, it does not represent some sort of grand break-out.

    [email protected] Yes, my sort of book. The cost is a bit horrendous, but I may have to fork out …

    [email protected] Try observing the institutional overlaps between medieval Europe and medieval Japan: talking about similar responses without any connection, apart from extremely distant ones (they both were influenced by the Central Eurasian comitatus pattern, but so were lots of societies).

  8. Posted October 21, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Regarding the LP post: I so hate how sociologists tend to write. I am confident MB is making some good points, but irritation at the language used to make them detracts from the effect too much for me.

  9. Posted October 21, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    While I agree with PC over at LP that ‘use the dictionary’ is very good advice when it comes to sociology-speak (as it is for legal and scientific jargon), I know from my literature studies that much of the complex language therein is a cover for mediocre thinking.

    Once, as an experiment, I handed in an assignment on Derrida using the ‘expected’ language. I also wrote the same paper again using what I considered to be ‘plain English’. After I was sure of my high distinction, I gave the plain English paper to the lecturer and asked him to review it. He gave it back the following week and was honest enough to tell me that it, too, would have received a high distinction. He then pointed out the following:

    1. I was the best student in the year.

    2. A degree in classics and literature does not confer the ability to write lucidly. It helps to facilitate that ability, but it is not possible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

    To this day I am grateful for his willingness to acknowledge the differential distribution of talent. There are very few specialists in any discipline who can write lucidly about their speciality without ‘dumbing down’. Tim Harford can do it in economics. Lord Denning could do it in law. Richard Dawkins can do it in evolutionary biology. Mary Lefkowitz can do it in classics. But it is a rare skill, one to be treasured.

    Posted October 21, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    Had no idea this thread had taken off.
    What a hard bitten bastard you are, Lorenzo.

    Posted October 21, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    Whoops, not meant in anything but humour. Now back to rest…

  12. Patrick
    Posted October 22, 2010 at 4:11 am | Permalink

    Dumbing it down Lord Denning style is a bit different – he dumbed it down by getting it wrong, basically. He got lucky that he was in the right place at the right time to do so (although a few hundred years earlier would have worked out ok too).

    Anyhoo, if you can dumb down complex legal ideas and communicate it lucidly in plain english then I know a rewarding and lucrative career for you!

  13. Posted October 22, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Don’t worry, I took it in as humour even before I read your @60 🙂

    I am not quite sure what I was being quite so hard-bitten about? Irritation at modes of expression? (I will also admit to having read rather too much truly crap sociology: which does not help, but, in my defense, I was not accusing Mark B of writing crap in content, merely being finding his mode of expression irritating.)

  14. Peter Patton
    Posted October 22, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Permalink


    While I agree with PC over at LP that ‘use the dictionary’ is very good advice when it comes to sociology-speak (as it is for legal and scientific jargon), I know from my literature studies that much of the complex language therein is a cover for mediocre thinking.

    Oh, hallelujah, sistah! 🙂 I don’t think too many people in this neck of the words do not necessarily know what Occluded … celebritisation … diachronic … narrativisation … dissensus mean, and if they do not, the criticism is in no way answered by “look it up in the dictionary”. Because, once you have done that, the criticism still won’t budge. For we have this

    The ceremony itself, to the degree it was visible through the coverage, resisted this theme, inscribing Mary in a communion both synchronous and diachronic in time

    Note “diachronic in time”. Even those who did not reach for the dictionary, might have picked up hints like “dia” – a Greek prefix – and “chronic” provokes “chronology” – time. So what is “diachronic in time” if not a tautology (bad writing). Again, with “synchronic” we have the Greek prefix, and “chronic” – again time.

    Without much more knowledge we could probably get to something like if something is both synchronic and diachronic, we are talking time right now – or a single point in history – as well as – how that phenomena/on changes over time.

    So Mark’s sentence is trying to communicate some aspect of his broader point that the “MSM” [of course] simply Did. Not. Get. It with all their focus on “celebritisation and nationalist hooha”.

    His key point is that “the prevalent mythos that the canonisation was an event for “all Australians” is so very wrong, as a matter of both the practice of the ceremony itself – it is an event for the world’s Catholics – and the facts on the ground – the Catholic audience.

    But once again, poor syntax [bad writing] is his enemy, which occludes his meaning and ambitions for the piece. Writing 24 hours after the ceremony, how could any sort of mythos have emerged? Where is his evidence for it, and why didn’t he just say “myth”? Tragically, he once more undermines any claims he might be trying to communicate by anointing the MSM as the creator, holder, and distributor of Australian national myths.

    And what does “prevalent” add to anything? Is he saying that the “oi! oi! oi! mythos of Mary’s canonisation” can only be depended on synchronically? Does he claim to be able to analyze this mythos from the perspective some time into the future?

    But how “prevalent” can this alleged mythos be given

    most of those present were presumably Catholic and would have been well aware of the difference, and the different dispositions appropriate, between the Commonwealth Games and a solemn liturgical celebration

    Given that Catholics make up the largest religious group in Australia, clearly no such philistine MSM can create a myth about the service. He concedes as much himself.

    The ceremony itself, to the degree it was visible through the coverage, resisted this theme

    But how aware were the ceremony’s producers of these vulgar nationalist themes to resist? And how were they resisted? Isn’t he basically saying that the coverage was very Catholic-specific and resistant of the very “prevalent mythos” his whole article was written to censure?

    And what a bizarre “presumption” that most of the Australians there would have been Catholic. I would have gone had I been on the Continent at the time, and I’m an atheist.

    This is all a bit unfortunate as the blog starts with this.

    In a sign, perhaps, of the inability of the media to allow events to unfold, large amounts of the coverage were completely obliterated by the desire to comment on everything. Not necessarily to explain, which would have served a valid purpose.

    Though I am going to stay lined-up with the “bad writing” set, there are many other far greater problems with the piece, which a surprising number of contributors over there have so frankly expressed. And they are again correct to point to the post as but one moment of a far deeper malaise.

  15. Posted October 22, 2010 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    I’m hoping society will one day prohibit the emotional and spiritual abuse of children through forced indoctrination, and that religious institutions will be reduced to political insignificance.

    I too would like to see the dismantling of formal education.

  16. desipis
    Posted October 22, 2010 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    @John H

    No, that’s not what I said.

    Indoctrination is often distinguished from education by the fact that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned.

  17. Patrick
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    Well that has nothing to do with a Catholic religious education, desipis, even if you’d like to think so.

    Personally I don’t care how smart Mark B is, I’d never read something like that. I have to read psychology as part of my work (really!) and that’s enough.

  18. desipis
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    There were elements of my Catholic religious schooling that were indoctrination (“This is true/You must hold Catholic beliefs”) and parts that were educational (“This is what Catholics believe”). My focus is on the former.

  19. Peter Patton
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 10:07 am | Permalink


    Don’t bother re-reading it, as it will never become any clearer. Basically, much of the language has been not only artlessly used, but also wrongly.

  20. Posted October 23, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Most investment in schooling is driven by attempt to control the socialisation of belief. That is why the state’s largest competitor in provisions of schooling are religious bodies. But environmentalism, etc effectively functions in modern public schools systems as religion does in religious schools.

  21. desipis
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Environmentalism is far from the only ideology indoctrinated through the public education system, and to the extent that it is being indoctrinated I’d agree that reforms should be made. Such reforms, however, would be a far cry from dismantlement.

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