Scepticism over Mackillop's Canonisation

October 13, 2010's-canonisation

[with video]

The Catholic church is expecting hundreds of thousands of Australians to watch the canonisation of Mary MacKillop this Sunday.

But not everyone has been swept up by Mary mania. Questions have been raised about how miracles can be verified, and even some Catholics are sceptical about the amount of commercialism surrounding the event, SBS' Peta Jane Madam reports.

All this comes at a bad time for the church, with sexual abuse scandals emerging around the world.

Mention the word "miracle", and some might say - it's the Catholic Church that needs one the most.

"Of anyone alive today, Fr Paul Gardiner knows Mary MacKillop more than most, Richard Saunders told SBS.

As "Postulator," he studied her life for 25 years. He says the focus shouldn't be about miracles , but rather her spirituality and attitude to people.

"Most of all, she had a sort of reverence for people - a sort of awe. I'd say a reverential awe. Now some people may think he's talking nonsense here - No! I know what I'm talking about here, Fr Paul Gardiner told SBS.

Another factor testing people's faith - is "Mary Inc".

Its products range from documentaries, musicals, chocolate biscuits, to special coins, books.

She is even on the Harbour Bridge.

"I would say those people are coming in to cash in more or less selling their souviners very much as a way of making an honest dollar, but that's not really the Mary we are celebrating," Fr Dan Donovan said.

Fr Gardiner says Mary's opinion would be quite different.

"She would say 'Well, you can't help it. You can't stop people buying and selling things'".

The canonisation has come at a time when church numbers are falling.

A report by the Christian Research Association earlier this year surveyed nearly 2000 people over 16 years.

It suggests 40 percent of Anglicans and Lutherans - now describe themselves as having no religion at all.

The same applied to 36 percent in the Uniting Church, and 28 per cent of Catholics.

Father Donavan says the sexual abuse scandals have played a role in this "crisis of confidence".

Ironically, it's this very area which won Mary MacKillop praise.

Her ex-communication was in part revenge for her sisters dobbing in a local priest abusing children.

Fr Paul Gardiner is at pains to clarify that Mary MacKillop didn't report the offender herself. She was simply - head of the order that did ultimately cause grief for church authorities.

"The Josephites were controversial Christians. They worked among the poor and begged for food and money. The Bishops didn't like that".

"When she stood her ground, it was always done with style. She did it with great respect - she never got nasty, never got personal, never got angry. She did it with reverence."

And it's these virtues which have won Mary MacKillop so many fans.

Regardless of whether people believe in miracles, religion or even God, it seems most agree she is a great Australian.

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