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Paul Collins and the Vatican


At the end of last week Australians learned that adding a price to carbon might cost households almost $900 per year. This week, Kevin Rudd revealed that there was dissension in Cabinet when, as Prime Minister, he decided to ditch a carbon trading scheme.

These were the latest rounds in the ongoing debate surrounding climate change, one of the big issues of our time. This debate usually focuses on two areas: whether global warming is a reality and is indeed caused by human activity; and what should be done to deal with it.

Another important aspect of this problem, much less discussed, is the way in which our ideas and beliefs shape the way we treat the environment; whether our basic underlying philosophies and belief systems have added to the environmental crisis, and whether they need to change to deal with it.

Paul Collins, who's featured in this interview for Eureka Street TV, is an Australian pioneer in this area. Since the early 1990s he's been writing and speaking about eco-theology, in particular Christian theology; how it has contributed to environmental problems, and how changing, adapting and developing it might lead to solutions.

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Collins is a longterm contributor to Eureka Street, and this interview is part of a special series to mark the 20th anniversary of the journal. In the interview he discusses eco-theology, as well as his views on the Catholic Church and its governance, another of his pet subjects.

Collins is a former priest who belonged to a religious order, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. As a priest he worked in parish ministry and adult education before entering the world of public broadcasting. He worked for many years as a presenter on ABC TV and Radio, and for three years he was specialist editor in charge of all religion programs on ABC Radio.

He has a master's in theology from Harvard and a PhD in history from the Australian National University. Since leaving the ABC in 1996, he's worked as a freelance writer, speaker and broadcaster on the environment, social and ethical issues, history, the media and communication.

A major inspiration for Collins in his work on the environment is American theologian, Thomas Berry, who died in 2004 at the age of 94. Quoting Berry in an obituary for Eureka Street he wrote:

'The greatest failure of Christianity in the total course of its history is its inability to deal with the devastation of the planet.' Christians have sensitivity to suicide, homicide and genocide, 'but we commit biocide (the killing of the life systems of the planet) and geocide (the killing of the planet itself) and we have no morality to deal with it'.

In 2001 Collins resigned from priestly ministry because of a dispute with the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith over his book Papal Power. He has remained devoted to the Church, seeking reform from within as a highly articulate and very vocal lay person.

He is a prolific writer, penning articles for a range of journals and newspapers. His books include Papal Power, Mixed Blessings, God's Earth: Religion as if matter really mattered, Upon this Rock: The popes and their changing role, From Inquisition to Freedom: Seven prominent Catholics and their struggle with the Vatican, God's New Man: The legacy of Pope John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI, Burn: The epic story of bushfire in Australia, and Judgment Day: The struggle for life on earth.

Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.

Topic tags: Paul Collins, eco-theology, Papal Power, Mixed Blessings, God's Earth, Upon this Rock, From Inquisition



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Existing comments

Paul Collins makes a lot of sense. However the video shows him driving a large four wheel drive car around city streets while discussing environmental issues. There seems to me to be a contradiction here between what he espouses and his personal choices.

Julie o'Dea | 07 April 2011  

I’ve read several of Paul Collins’ books. I find he writes very clearly, accessibly, without jargon, and has introduced to me some ideas that not only make a lot of sense but enabled me to think of various things in an alternative way. I also enjoyed his Sunday Spectrum panel discussions. It’s only natural that not everyone will agree with all his conclusions about different things, but I think he frequently hits the mark, and his personal slants give added insight into what he thinks and why.

Stephen Kellett | 07 April 2011  

"What form does the retreat take?" reads the caption, as Paul Collins reverses out of his drive. Not your finest moment in photo-journalistic choices, I would suggest, Peter Kirkwood. Talking heads may be static, but, as Julie O'Dea points out, there are hazards to being dynamic in 4-wheel-drives.

Anna Summerfield | 07 April 2011  

Thank you Paul Collins for continuing to maintain by your writing and your spoken word, the broader perspectives on faith and Catholicism that came to us with Vatican 2.

And thank you to the Belgian Chevalier whose followers, the MSC priests, first opened my eyes from the narrow confines of Pius XII Catholicism to a faith which, while Christian, could also be truly catholic.

More than 40 years on, Paul Collins, perhaps still an MSC at heart, reinforces the liberating openness which breathed new life into our Church which had been so inward-looking and so defensive against what it saw as a threatening secular world.

Together with the liberating openness, Vatican 2 challenged us to accept the responsibility of looking beyond the comfort of neatly filed concepts of faith and morals to the broad scope of Christian living in a larger, faster, more intense world.

Paul suggests perhaps a nostalgia as the cause of some younger Catholics apparently harking back to the Church of their grandparents.

The rigidity of that Church might have given the comfort of "knowing I am right", but it would paralyse the spiritual development of anyone with a modern education.

Thank you Paul.

Ian Fraser | 08 April 2011  

Paul collins is right on many issues, It is a shame that he is no longer a priest.

maryellen flynn cowra n.s.w. 2794 | 08 April 2011  

Really interesting - thank you. I often listen to Paul Collins on the radio and appreciate his knowledge and his thinking.

I don't think we need to get caught up on whether Paul Collins drives a 4WD vehicle or not. We don't know the full circumstances of his life or his carbon footprint, and even if we did, there is no need to cast judgement!

MBG | 14 April 2011