With all his undoubted accomplishments as an actor and comedian, it is unlikely that Ernie Dingo has ever thought of himself as a liturgical innovator, never having lent his talents to devising a Christian religious rite. Happily, though, that omission will be rectified if Australia’s Catholic bishops, desperate to find a toehold on the bandwagon of contemporary wokery, decide to graft his “welcome to country” ceremony onto their Church’s most sacred rite, the Mass.
“Welcomes to country” (and “acknowledgments of elders”) are now as ubiquitous as the expression “Enjoy your day” and about as meaningful. They precede every official gathering irrespective of any connection with Aboriginal culture. It’s probably an offence by now not to have one, especially in places, like Victoria, that have gone indigene-gaga. But as official mendacity at federal, state and municipal level will never admit, “welcomes to country” are not the venerable Aboriginal tradition they are touted. They go no farther back than 1976, when Ernie Dingo and another Indigenous actor, Richard Whalley, say they invented the “welcome” formula for an arts festival in Perth. There are other claimants to authorship, but whoever it was it wasn’t long ago, and these “welcomes” didn’t evolve from ancient practice. Indeed, ancient practice in inter-tribal relations was to offer strangers anything but a welcome, unless a hail of spears can be construed as a sign of hospitality.
But in Whitlam’s Australia of the 1970s, when we suddenly discovered our supposedly shameful past, the newly invented “welcomes” were seized on as a way of honouring what were not yet then called our “first nations” and showing how much we, as opposed to the brutal “invaders” from whom we pretended not to be descended, valued them. It was an easy way of feeling good about ourselves without actually having to do anything constructive about such national blemishes as the appalling conditions in outback Aboriginal townships. Such real problems were too upsetting to think about and risked spoiling the self-righteous glow we felt on listening to a “welcome to country” and pretending for a few minutes that the Aborigines “welcoming” us were still in charge.
Fast forward to our own guilt-laden era, when we feel ashamed of everything except our own intellectual arrogance, and particularly about the planet, “racism”, the horrors of “toxic masculinity” and the battery of phobias we accuse everyone we disagree with of having. Into this seething communal wallow steps the Roman Catholic Church, still in perpetual hand-wringing mode over long past child sex abuse, hoping somehow to regain the favour of a society which no longer has much use for it.
And how does it propose to do that? By preaching the Gospel, as its Founder instructed it, with renewed zeal? By reclaiming the beauty of its ho-hum worship, with music and ritual? Or by calling a Plenary Council at which the kind of people who love the sound of their own voices, the kind of earnest bores who now dominate public life, can hold forth on their favourite hobby horses to their hearts’ content?
The last, of course, and as any observer of the priorities of the windbag classes could have predicted, the hobby horses at this four-year council have all been drawn from the contemporary secular repertoire, as its working documents reveal. Hence the brilliant idea of asking the bishops to include Eddie and Richard’s invention as part of the Mass. If they agree, a piece of ersatz theatre, adopted for partisan racial and political ends, would be put on a par with the hallowed words and rite of what Catholics believe is one and the same sacrifice as Christ’s on the cross and is thus outside time, outside all temporal considerations.
The Plenary Council has drunk deep at the wells of modern secularism’s stale ideas. Along with welcomes its delegates want a “first nations voice” to be “enshrined” in the national Constitution (has no one at the council heard of apartheid?) and “truth-telling about our history” (Bruce Pascoe’s ‘truth’?).
Naturally, “climate change” is prominent on the agenda. This, the council’s deliberators assure us, must be “equitably” “addressed”. Does that mean billionaires such as Simon Holmes à Court taking the bus like the rest of us? Oh, and we mustn’t ignore something called “the Cry of the Earth”. Can you hear it, sssh! There it goes, our earth is sobbing, all because of wicked us.
The violins come out for the LGBTQ-etc string of initials, victims still, apparently, of “judgemental, demeaning and hurtful” language from Catholic “spokespersons and others”. “Rainbow people,” says the council, suffer from “discrimination” and “exclusion” by the Church (leave aside that there seem to be a fair few rainbow people actually running the Church). But there’s hope, since, “stigma and barriers” against gays and others are being “dismantled” as “enlightened understandings are assimilated.” That’s one way of describing the current mania for “diversity” and “inclusion”.
Which leads us to that old chestnut, “inclusive” language. The delegates don’t like God being referred to as “He”. Easy. Why don’t they recommend that pronoun beloved of the gender-eclectic, “They”? “Our parent, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Their name …”
The one obsession of the Left on which the plenary councillors are silent is abortion, which in America has prominent Catholic supporters such as President Biden and that old frightbat Nancy Pelosi, for whom the right of a foetus to be killed takes precedence over its right to live (if Jesus had been conceived in the US now he would very likely, statistically, be aborted). It’s a pity for any local plenary delegates with pro-abortion views that their hands are tied, but disapproval of abortion is about the one conservative principle the normally leftish Pope Francis sticks to, and they all love Pope Francis.
Amid all this, from Hobart comes a voice of sanity. The language of the Plenary Council, writes Archbishop Julian Porteous, “at times is more akin to that of a secular report than of an ecclesial document.” It gives the impression of “a church that has lost confidence in itself,” “a church that has surrendered to the surrounding cultural ethos.”
The Catholic Church in Australia, continues the archbishop, “is in the midst of an existential crisis [with] thousands abandoning participation in the sacramental life of the Church each year … yet no real recognition of this reality is given” by the Plenary Council. And although the council “speaks of making ‘God’s reign of justice, love and peace’ visible,” it “rarely speaks of the task of bringing people under the grace of salvation by a bold proclamation of the cross of Christ.”
My guess is that he won’t be asked to speak at the Plenary Council.