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Sydney Anglicans under fire

The Sydney Morning Herald has denounced the Sydney diocesan newspaper with glorifying sadomasochism and denigrating women as sex objects.

The Sydney Morning Herald has denounced the Sydney diocesan newspaper with glorifying sadomasochism and denigrating women as sex objects. In an opinion piece published on 4 June 2014, columnist Elizabeth Farrelly stated the cover of the June issue of the Southern Cross offended her “depersonalised pseudo bondage “.

In an article that touched upon the virtues of Australian aboriginal spirituality, the sacred feminine, semiotics and Anglican symbology, Dr. Farrelly asked “What has got into Anglicans? The cover of this month’s Sydney Anglican magazine, Southern Cross, shows a scarcely clad female in black lycra. Headless and hairless, she kneels full frontal; naked thighs, leather finger-gloves, red nails and, centre page, the coveted “box gap”. The graphic focus, where all lines converge in swelling cruciform, is her barely concealed crotch.”

The cover, she said, was “flavoured somewhere between X-treme workout and S&M. The blood-red headline, stamped across the woman’s ovaries, graphically reinforces this message. But the text tells a different story. The phrase ‘knee workout’ offers its slender pretext for the faux porn: a story on the art of prayer.”

Dr. Farrelly – an architect by training – suggested the answer to the question why the diocese would have published the magazine lay in economics and psychology. She suggested “ Anglicanism is just so desperate for congregation and coffer-fill that its cover strategy is reduced to whatever it takes.” However, amongst the Australian dioceses Sydney has the strongest track record of congregational growth.

She also offered a Freudian analysis of the motives of the magazine’s publishers, “perhaps the S&M cover invites women to leave their heads (and clothes?) at the door, abandoning mind and identity both, bringing to church only their generic, sanitised sexual self – and that for subjugation.”

She concluded : “The Sydney diocese’s proud stance against both women and gays supports this construction. While world Anglicans have moved on to debate female bishops, Sydney’s lot – leaders in backwardness – join with Africa in staunchly refusing women even as priests.”

All of the Anglican Provinces of Africa save for the Church of the Province of Central Africa ordain women to the priesthood, while the Anglican Church in Southern Africa has two women bishops.

Sydney Anglicans have not been the only target of Dr. Farrelly’s wit. The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney and Cardinal George Pell have come under fire from her pen. In February she wrote:

George Pell wants to insure priests against being sued for child sexual abuse. My head is still rotating on its axis. Our man in purple, our alpha priest, moral paragon. Our Vatican princeling, just days from taking up his dauphindom in Rome: he said that? He dropped this fissile solipsism on our public debate and left, smacking the dust from his hands like, we’re done now, right?

However, journalists covering the proceedings before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, where Cardinal Pell was alleged to have made this statement, reported that it was not Cardinal Pell but Justice Peter McClennan, the head of the Royal Commission, who raised the suggestion that priests might insure themselves against paedophilia. Cardinal Pell merely responded to Justice McClennan’s suggestion.

However in a statement released on 4 June 2014, the CEO of Anglican Media Sydney, the publisher of the Southern Cross, Russell Powell recognized that some might find the cover inappropriate. He explained the photo was used to illustrate a story on prayer

Article complete, we went about trying to illustrate it. It seemed ‘knee fitness’ might be catchy and contemporary. Because we don’t have the funds to stage our own photography, we used a stock image of a woman in fitness gear.

In an effort to focus on the knees to make the theme work, the cover unhelpfully drew attention to other parts of her body and cut off her head, depersonalising the image.

Let me be clear. This was a mistake. With the best of intentions we actually did the opposite of what we were trying to do. Instead of drawing attention to the critical issue of prayer it drew attention to the image. Further, it offended people and may have caused brothers and sisters to stumble.

Upon receiving complaints Mr. Powell removed the image from the online edition and apologized for the offense given. Upon reflection he noted that:

First, the fact that some people had such a visceral reaction to it and some saw no problem indicates to me that the issue needs further exploration. Our beloved Anglican educators and those who work with youth have much to teach us about the pressure young men and women are under. We must explore this further.

Second, the graciousness and godliness of Sydney Anglicans has moved me more than I can adequately express.

Mr. Powell noted that “Sydney Anglicans minister to Sydney in the broad daylight, often in the glare of secular publicity. All we do and say and are, including our mistakes, is open to the public every day.”

He added that “based on my contact with our brothers and sisters this week, they are nothing like they are caricatured to be by some loud public voices and they are everything I would want them to be. They are loving, gracious, thoughtful, sensitive, sincere and most important to all of us at Southern Cross at the moment, forgiving.”

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