Flattening the Church

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Even with the passing of half a century, among Catholics there is still contention and ambivalence about the legacy of this momentous meeting.

Many of a conservative bent see the need for reforms to be reined in, and a return to a more traditional Catholicism. At the other end of the spectrum, progressives argue that reforms didn't go far enough, and the promise of the council was never fully realised.

They say this is particularly the case with the role and place of the laity. Council teachings flattened the hierarchy of the Church, speaking of it as 'the People of God', a community of clergy, religious and lay people all sharing in the 'priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ'.

The man featured in this interview on Eureka Street TV is firmly in the progressive camp. Robert Fitzgerald is a prominent lay leader in the Australian Catholic Church, and a distinguished public servant, who has served at the highest level in a number of government bodies.

The interview took place at a recent conference in Sydney about Catholic lay leadership where he gave the keynote address, 'The time has come — but are we willing?' He argued that as lay people now run most of the Catholic educational, health and welfare institutions, this lay leadership needs to be more formally recognised by the Church and extended further into parish and diocesan roles.

Fitzgerald has degrees in law and commerce from the University of NSW. He practiced as a commercial lawyer for over 20 years, including stints with large law firms and in his own legal practice. Following this he was Community and Disability Services Commissioner and Deputy Ombudsman in NSW, and since 2004 has been a full-time federal Productivity Commissioner.

He has been involved extensively in public policy over many years, including appointments to the National Competition Council, the Ministerial Advisory Council on Social Security and the Commonwealth Inquiry into the Definition of Charities. He also chaired the Commonwealth Taskforce on Franchising Regulation and the Franchising Code Administration Council.

For over 30 years he's had volunteer leadership roles in numerous community organisations and charities, including time as president of the Australian Council of Social Service and the NSW Branch of the St Vincent de Paul Society, as chair of the National Roundtable of Nonprofit Organisations and JOBfutures Ltd, and serving on a number of boards of community and not-for-profit organisations.

In 1994 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia, and in 2001 was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Australian Catholic University where he is now also an Adjunct Professor. 

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Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant who worked for 23 years in the Religion and Ethics Unit of ABC TV. He has a Master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity. 

Topic tags: Peter Kirkwood, Robert Fitzgerlad, Vatican II, lay leadership


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