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Educating leaders for the contemporary Australian Church

Fr Frank Brennan SJ Keynote Address Catholic Education Leadership Conference 2008 Catholic Education Office of Western Australia Esplanade Hotel Fremantle 23 September 2008 

My task today is to investigate how we who are Catholic educators can best form Catholic laity who can bring the gifts of conscience and authority to bear on the moral quandaries confronting any serious minded citizen wanting to contribute to a better society and a Church true to gospel values.1

I am one who is not immune to controversy on the relationship between conscience and authority. Once I sat down to prepare for this conference here in Western Australia, I was filled with dread thinking that your conference organisers had made a terrible mistake inviting me to speak on this topic. But then on reflection I presumed the organisers are people of hope who think only good can come from sustained conversation about controversial topics.

Let me explain my dread. Each time I have spoken in this diocese in the last couple of years, your local Catholic paper, The Catholic Record has had a field day. Two years ago the paper ran the banner headline 'Brennan sets his criteria for how to reject church' (The Record, 3 August 2006). Then last year it was 'Embryo research OK: Jesuit' with the subtitile: 'The Church teaches research on embryos left over from IVF process is not morally permissible. Jesuit Fr Frank Brennan says it is.' (The Record, 22 August 2007).

I had made no such claim, being one of the few Catholic commentators to have opinion pieces published in The Australian, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald at that time opposing the introduction of new laws in Canberra permitting scientists to create human embryos for the specific purpose of experimentation entailing their destruction, without the prospect of implantation.

Needless to say, the editor of The Catholic Record and I have had some spirited conversation and correspondence. He has told me, 'We think you sail close to the wind on a lot of these issues.'

Each time after the banner headlines, there comes a month of correspondence in the letters columns with protests such that I claim that 'abortion is not a moral issue'. I make no such claim. I regard it as a very moral issue. One correspondent even asserted that I am 'an obstacle and a source of misunderstanding for those looking for guidance'.

According to one regular published letter writer, my position is that 'Catholic politicians should compromise with evil.' That is not my position. Though I do think Catholic politicians like all politicians need to compromise. Compromise is after all what politics is about. I agree with Cardinal Ratzinger, as he then was, when he said:

Catholic theology has since the later Middle Ages, with the acceptance of Aristotle and his idea of natural law, found its way to a positive concept of the profane non-Messianic state. But it then frequently loaded the idea of natural law with so much Christian ballast that the necessary readiness to compromise got lost and the state could not be accepted within the limits essential to its profane nature. Too much was fought for and as a result the way to what was possible and necessary was blocked.

When it comes to law and politics in a pluralistic democratic society, there is much more need for compromise than when discussing personal morality. It is one thing to say, 'I believe it would be wrong for me to do X'. It is quite another matter to determine what should be the law or public policy applied to all citizens regardless of their views of the immorality of X.

I do not doubt the sincerity of my many Catholic Record critics. Neither do I want to upset them unduly. Maybe I do sail close to the wind. That will be for you to judge. My challenge to you today as Catholic educators is that you need to be more informed and more passionate about what makes a just society so that your students might become educated laity more able to sail close to the wind, because as those of you who once hosted the America's Cup know, there is no other way to do it out there on the sailing course of life. We can stay moored at port, assured the moral purity of our views but failing to contribute to the great moral tussles that confront us. Or we can abandon all sail craft just following the prevailing winds. They're rough seas out there. But armed with a moral compass and a firm hand on the rudder of Catholic tradition, I think we can weather any storm and sail the barque of Peter faithfully on course for the benefit not just of all who sail in her, but also for the well being of our fellow citizens. So let's enjoy the sea spray off Fremantle for the next 45 minutes.

I have 12 pointers for those of you committed to educating leaders for the contemporary Australian Church:

1. Teach your students to question.
2. Don't be afraid of conflict — it can lead to truth
3. Don't be afraid of compromise - in politics it is often the only way
4. Be suspicious of the prevailing orthodoxy, popular fad, or prevailing wind
5. Don't be afraid to stand up for yourself
6. Distinguish the question 'what is moral for me?' from questions like 'What should the law be about this?' 'What should the state ban or permit in cases like this?' Distinguish law and morality
7. Remember just because something is wrong does not mean there should be a law against it
8. Be suspicious of utilitarian and consequentialist arguments like: This will be more helpful for more people, therefore it must be right. This will make more people happy, therefore it must be right. Eg. If the Iraq war had better outcomes it would have been a just war; it would have been the right thing to do.
9. Always ask, what does the Church teach on this issue?
10. If the Church teaching worries you or you doubt it or you disagree with it, make sure you discuss the teaching with trusted friends, and then with someone who knows more than you about the Church tradition. And pray about it.
11. In the end, form and inform your conscience and act according to that conscience. To yourself be true. Priests, bishops, and yes even Jesuits have been known to be wrong in the past.
12. Don't imagine that we even know what the moral issues confronting the next generation will be, let alone what the answers are

On the relationship between conscience and authority, there has already been too much said about the difference in emphasis between Cardinal Pell and myself since I published my recent book Acting on Conscience: How to we responsibly mix law, religion and politics. For Catholic educators I commend the six point summary in Bishop Anthony Fisher's address to the Pontifical Academy for Life in March 2007:

1. that we must do our best to cultivate a well-formed and well-informed conscience in ourselves and those we influence;
2. that we must take responsibility for our actions and thus always seek seriously to discern what is the right choice to make;
3. that we should seek to resolve doubt rather than act upon it;
4. that we must follow the last and best judgment of our conscience even if, unbeknownst to us, it is objectively in error;
5. that we must do so in all humility, aware that our choice may be wrong and so be ready, if we later realize it is, to repent and start afresh; and
6. that we should avoid coercing people's consciences: People should if possible be persuaded rather than forced to live well and so be given a certain latitude.

I agree with every word of Bishop Fisher's summary, and I presume Cardinal Pell does too. We can leave the nuanced differences to another forum, another day. Applying this to our task as Catholic educators, let's start with that magical first day of Spring, 1 September 2008, which marked history for all West Australians when for just the briefest time, and for the first time, both the Governor General and the Chief Justice of Australia were West Australians. At his swearing in as Chief Justice, Robert French when thanking those in attendance said:

Among you also are representatives of the Ngunnawal people, who are the traditional people of this area. Recognition of their presence is no mere platitude. The history of Australia's indigenous people dwarfs, in its temporal sweep, the history that gave rise to the Constitution under which this Court was created. Our awareness and recognition of that history is becoming, if it has not already become, part of our national identity.

We have come a long way since 1985 when I first came to Western Australia as the adviser to the bishops on Aboriginal Affairs. Bishop John Jobst told Archbishop Foley that he did not want me in his diocese as I was a Communist. Meanwhile Archbishop William Foley on learning that the Kalgoorlie Pastoral Council was not too keen on land rights decided that he would fly with me and the legendary Fr Maurie Toop to meet with the Council. Sure there may have been some differing perspectives and some robust discussion.

But Archbishop Foley believed that Catholics of all political persuasions and social agendas could sit down together and reflect fruitfully on a complex emotion laden situation in light of the gospel. Your present Archbishop was then bishop of Geraldton. He drove me through his diocese convening meetings so we as Church could discuss the issues civilly and in the light of the gospels.

I daresay there would have been hell to play 23 years ago if the Chief Justice of Australia said the gracious and true things said by Chief Justice French in Canberra three weeks ago. Back then he was a barrister and we met in Perth to discuss his deep personal concern that Aborigines should gain something practical from the proposed land rights package.

Later in his speech at the High Court this month, Robert French said:

Let me now move to conclusion by way of confession. I was taught by the Jesuits and one of them, Father Daven Day who became a family friend of long standing, has travelled to Canberra for this occasion. He has joined our family on occasions of joy and sorrow in weddings, baptisms and family funerals. Although I declare myself in all humility, and no doubt to his disappointment, an agnostic with a sense of wonder, the Catholic confessional tradition runs strongly in my blood.

You will understand that we Jesuits are very proud that the St Louis School has now produced two of the only three High Court Justices to have come from Western Australia. Both Robert French and John Toohey came to that Bench with a proven track record for their commitment to social justice, especially for indigenous Australians.

How wonderful that the new Chief Justice would invite his old teacher Fr Daven Day and publicly acknowledge him in such a way. How blessed that this Catholic teacher established such a relationship with his student that for a lifetime he would then join that student's family 'on occasions of joy and sorrow in weddings, baptisms and family funerals'.

Of course, even we Jesuits would hope that many of our graduates are people of faith. Failing that, we are delighted that they be agnostics with a sense of wonder, a strong commitment to public service, the common good or social justice, and an abiding dedication to family and loved ones.

As Catholic educators, your greatest disappointment should be the agnostic graduate with little sense of wonder, infected with a utilitarian ethic, attracted by honour, status, power and wealth for their own sake.

Not one of our graduates will save the world. Not even all of them together will save the world. Not even we Catholic educators acting in concert could save the world. But every day, the school provides the environment for the spark of justice to be set afire in the young and for the passion for justice to take root as the single seed that bears a rich harvest. And who knows where or when that spark will light or when the seed will bear its fruit?

I am no expert on Catholic schools nowadays and you have heard from other keynote speakers truly expert in this field. For my sins 27 years ago, I was sent to a large Jesuit school in Melbourne, Xavier College, to teach Year 10 Mathematics as part of my training before ordination. They did not quite know what to do with a Jesuit lawyer and I did not have a Dip Ed. So they decided I should teach the 'Veggie Maths' Class.

At morning recess in the staff room one day, the deputy headmaster asked if anyone had ever sat in on one of my classes. 'No.' He thought he should come to my next class. Dread set in. My veggie maths class was scheduled for next period.

Once the deputy entered the room, the 22 usually recalcitrant adolescents could not have been better behaved. Every time I asked a question, up shot 22 hands: 'Sir, Sir.' The answers were still wide of the mark, but they were trying their best. I was proud of them. As the deputy left, one boy exclaimed, 'You owe us one now, Sir.'

In English, they were studying To Kill a Mocking Bird. They gave me the nickname Atticus. I daresay I am one of the few teachers to have been pleased with his nickname.

There was only one boy in the class who never played up. His name was Dennis Minahan. Given my failure to teach them much maths, I would sometimes use big words in the hope of improving their vocabulary. One day I turned from the blackboard and spotted young Minahan throwing a ruler across the room. I said, 'Master Minahan, would you please pay at least a modicum of attention.'

Immediately, Matthew Vaughan, a red headed youngest of 12, said, 'Oh Sir, don't be so bombastic.' I erupted in laughter. The rest of that class was a complete write-off.

So I come with no pretence to be an accomplished educator in Catholic schools. But I do know there is no substitute for your personal relationships with your students. Given the difficult family and social circumstances of many of your students, you may be the only significant adult able to give that particular student an experience of dignity, respect and justice.

Your school may provide the one social space where young people can minister and witness to each other their finest qualities. Given poor mass attendances in the parishes, your school is most often the only experience of Church your students have outside the home. As you know, your more difficult students don't often have much of an experience of Church inside the home either.

Recently I have been involved with the Rush family in Brisbane. Lee and Christine Rush are your all time average Ozzie couple. It's just that their teenage son Scott has ended up on death row in Bali having been convicted of being a hapless drug mule. I will meet Scott in the Bali jail next month.

Given some of the Australian public reaction to the Bali bombers also on death row, I have thought it important, and not just for Scott's sake (but definitely for his sake), that we Australians take a consistent position on the death penalty, namely that we are opposed to it, and in all circumstances. It will not go down well on the streets of Jakarta if Australians are baying for the blood of the Bali bombers one month and then pleading to save our sons and daughters the next month.

My opposition to the death penalty, my political awakening for justice, began with a significant event 40 years ago when I was a school boy. I was 12 years old, having just been promoted to the large dining room at my country boarding school at Downlands College, Toowoomba. It was 3 February 1967. Breakfast started at 7.45am. The din of 300 boys at table was always deafening once the supervising priest declared, 'Deo Gratias'. For the first and only time in my five years at the school, a handful of senior boys called for a minute's silence at 8am to mark the hanging of Ronald Ryan in Melbourne Jail. As Ryan dropped, you could hear a pin drop in faraway Toowoomba. The recollection still brings goose bumps. This was wrong. It should never happen again. How could a nation do this? All Australian jurisdictions then abolished the death penalty. The lesson for us as Catholic educators is that a student is never too young for that first spark of justice to fire, for that first seed of commitment to take root.

When I was a boy at school, no one could predict that the big moral justice questions to come centre stage in Australia would be Aboriginal rights and refugee rights. No one had the answers. No one was even asking the right questions. How are we to equip our students to be moral leaders of the future? We now know that there are big moral questions involving our stewardship of the planet. When I was a boy, there was no suggestion that we could run out of water in the major Australian rivers or that we could lose the Great Barrier Reef or that our industrial development could be contributing to global warming in harmful irreversible ways. Most Australians, including Catholic educators, now say: 'It is all too hard. It is up to the Government. The major political parties will fight it out. There should be a law about it. We Australians should not get too far ahead of the pack. We should only change our ways if that would make a real change to the level of global emissions.'

Indeed there should be laws and government policies about all this. Indeed the consequences do matter. But what about our own personal and collective moral responsibility for doing the right thing, regardless of the law or prevailing government policy? What is to be the policy and the practice of Catholic educational institutions in Western Australia regarding the unsustainable consumption of energy and the emission of harmful gases?

Alas even we Jesuits when meeting in Rome earlier this year put it all in the too hard basket with our 35th General Congregation failing to do or say anything substantive about ecology/environment/globalisation, noting only the 'magnitude and complexity of this phenomenon'. What is the specific contribution which our Christian faith makes to this topic?

Each Jesuit province has been invited to draw up guidelines for ecologically responsible use of resources. Perhaps for Catholic educators, Catholic Earthcare Australia's ASSISI program provides a start. There is also the Greening Communities initiative of Church Resources which aims to support church and not-for-profit- school communities in developing and realising their environmental vision. So what is your vision? How will you develop it?

How can we be people of faith and justice, true to Christ, true to the Church, and true to our fellowman especially those most alienated, marginalised, rejected or powerless when we don't even know what the next big moral question around the corner is to be? My message today is that we need:

* faith in Christ,
* a commitment to justice for all, especially the poor
* loyalty, but not subservience, to the Church hierarchy, locally as well as universally
* a firm resolve to engage in the public forum, able to distinguish public policy and law from morality and our own religious convictions
* a desire to build bridges between church and state, between faith and reason, between my faith community and the public square, across social, cultural, intellectual, racial and religious divides.

 The recurring images in the documents from our recent Jesuit Congregation in Rome are: crossroads, frontiers and bridges. They are the places we need to be if the Church is to have a human face in the world.

Some press reports from the General Congregation suggested that we Jesuits were in deep trouble with the church hierarchy. Those reports are always around. It is not just The Catholic Record. Cardinal Rodé C.M delivered the homily at the opening mass and spoke of the 'need to present to the faithful and to the world the authentic truth revealed in Scripture and Tradition', as if he were suggesting that we Jesuits were sometimes not presenting authentic truth to the faithful and the world.

At the end of the homily, His Eminence went to trouble of specifying:

The tradition of the Society, from the first beginnings of the Collegio Romano always placed itself at the crossroads between Church and society, between faith and culture, between religion and secularism. Recover these avant-garde positions which are so necessary to transmit the eternal truth to today's world, in today's language. Do not abandon this challenge. We know the task is difficult, uncomfortable and risky, and at times little appreciated and even misunderstood, but it is a necessary task for the Church.

I believe it is the task of all Catholic educators to be at these crossroads. If we are to be active at such crossroads between church and society, between faith and culture, between religion and secularism, there is no way that we can simply repeat Vatican directives or papal formulae to today's young people, or even to the broad range of teachers in our schools. There will inevitably be some distance from, and tensions with, the hierarchy who will sometimes show little appreciation and perhaps even misunderstanding of what we are up to, as we do of them from time to time. As His Eminence highlighted, the difficulty, discomfort and risks at the crossroads are not caused just by the worldly, cultural and secular. They are also caused by the church, faithful and religious. That's what being at crossroads is all about.

In his papal address to the 35th General Congregation on 21 February 2008, Pope Benedict XVI said:

As you well know because you have so often made the meditation 'of the Two Standards' in the Spiritual Exercises under the guidance of St Ignatius, our world is the stage of a battle between good and evil, with powerful negative forces at work, which cause those dramatic situations of spiritual and material subjection of our contemporaries against which you have repeatedly declared your wish to combat, working for the service of the faith and the promotion of justice.

The second decree from that Congregation entitled A Fire That Kindles Other Fires: Rediscovering Our Charism states:

To follow Christ bearing his Cross means announcing his Gospel of hope to the many poor who inhabit our world today. The world's many ‘poverties' represent thirsts that, ultimately, only he who is living water can assuage. Working for his Reign will often mean meeting material needs, but it will always mean much more, because human beings thirst at many levels; and Christ's mission is directed to human beings. Faith and justice; it is never one without the other. Human beings need food, shelter, love, relationship, truth, meaning, promise, hope. Human beings need a future in which they can take hold of their full dignity; indeed they need an absolute future, a ‘great hope' that exceeds every particular hope.

Following Jesus, we feel ourselves called not only to bring direct help to people in distress, but also to restore entire human persons in their integrity, reintegrating them in community and reconciling them with God.

Now there may be a certain Jesuit ring to all of this. But is it not the role of the Catholic educator, whatever your particular charism in the Church — to recognize the integrity of all in your school community (students, parents and teachers), integrate them into community and to reconcile them with God?

Whenever I involve myself in public debates about abortion, stem cell research or euthanasia, I get told that I am not sufficiently morally pure or that I am too Jesuitical in drawing distinctions between morality, law and public policy.

In recent weeks I have been concerned about the proposed Victorian abortion law. I think the proposed law is a very shoddy piece of work indeed. The chances of its being significantly amended will be increased if more voices are heard in the public square. I have encouraged others, especially those resident in Victoria, to speak and write publicly about the issue. I make no pretence to speak for the Church or even for all Jesuits, and I acknowledge that there are some Catholics who have long had reservations about my acknowledgment of the limited place of law in restricting abortion in the early weeks of pregnancy.

Whatever our differences about the ideal, the achievable and the workable, I would have thought there would be all but universal agreement amongst us on the three issues I have highlighted about the bill:

* Permitting abortion, regardless of the interests of the foetus, up to 24 weeks, rather than (say) 20 weeks as applies here in Western Australia
* Dispensing with the need for informed consent provisions which would give all women the opportunity to consider their decision, and which would protect vulnerable young women being pressured into having an abortion by relatives or those who have abused them
* Requiring health professionals with a conscientious objection to abortion to participate in abortion in some circumstances; and requiring doctors with a conscientious objection always to refer a woman seeking an abortion to another doctor known not to have a conscientious objection.

Hopefully the novel Victorian trifecta will be struck down by Victorian legislators in the Upper House next month regardless of their views on the liberty of women to exercise an untrammelled prerogative to terminate the life of a non-viable foetus with the cooperation of health professionals whose consciences are untroubled. In a pluralistic democratic society, the law should still have some work to do in protecting vulnerable women, concerned, conscientious health professionals and viable unborn children.

The response from Paul on the Cathnews website is typical of those Catholics who feel disappointed that I do not equate the immorality of abortion with the need or desirability of a criminal law strictly enforced such that any person contemplating an abortion at any time during pregnancy for any reason at all would be liable to criminal prosecution and thus more readily deterred from taking such action:

What Fr Brennan has written here is fine as far as it goes but here, as on other occasions, I wish he would use his great intelligence and legal and theological knowledge to support the official Church teaching.

Roman Catholic teaching states that abortion is the moral equivalent of murder and it is not wrong (even in a 'pluralist democracy' like Australia) to have laws prohibiting abortion.

It is not confusing to me when I hear a 'pro-choice' feminist say: it is always the individual woman who must decide what does and does not happen in her womb and not the state.

However, I can find it confusing when I hear a Catholic priest say the following:

'I being a Catholic priest take a quite orthodox Catholic position on abortion. But that doesn't mean that I take the view that the law should step in with criminal sanctions against the 80,000 women in Australia a year who have abortions. I respect that there is a zone of privacy of those individuals where they exercise prerogatives, and it is a very different question to ask what is the morality of something for a particular individual of a particular persuasion, to then ask what should the criminal law be in relation to imposing a sanction upon a particular individual.' (Fr F. Brennan, ABC, Radio National transcripts, The Law Report, 11 August 1998)

It seems strange to me how he seems to be saying as a priest he holds one position but as a citizen and lawyer in a country like Australia he holds a different position.

I was comforted to read the quote from the 1998 radio program. I would say the same again today. I have the consolation at least of being consistent. As a priest and as a lawyer, I think there are very different conversations to be had. If asked to discuss abortion by a woman seeking my spiritual or moral advice, I would conduct myself very differently than when discussing in the public square what the law and public policy on abortion should be in a society where the majority of citizens think the law should not intervene at least in some circumstances. That's part of what being at the crossroads is about.

If this is sailing close to the wind, so be it. As Catholic educators, we need to have a view on the morality of abortion. We also need to have a view on what is the desirable law and policy about abortion in a society where not all citizens share our view about the immorality of abortion, especially in the earliest weeks of pregnancy. We also need to concede that whatever our public talk and formal Church position on abortion, surveys do indicate that Catholic women have abortions as often as others, and Catholic voters have similar views on the desirable law or policy to other voters.

There are times when each of us feels a real disconnect between faith, church and justice. The moments of consolation are when two of the three gel. The moments of abundant grace are when all three come together in a harmony which is the joy and challenge of being Catholic.

I was truly edified and not just intellectually curious or politically suspicious when I read Paul Keating's recent address to the Melbourne Writers' Festival. I admit to being a Keating admirer, though he and I have form. He was the one who christened me the 'meddling priest' during the 1998 Wik debate. I do prefer Kevin Rudd's rider: 'I have always seen him, less prosaically, as an ethical burr in the nation's saddle.' I have spoken at my share of writers' festivals, and I have never quoted a pope at one of them.

Writers' festivals are not events for the invoking of authority. People pay good money to come and hear writers speak in the first person. Imagine my surprise when I found Paul Keating, fresh from his attendance at Sydney World Youth Day events, quoting Pope Benedict four times in a sold-out address marketed as Nothing But the Man — Paul Keating. Coming just from Benedict, these words might appear a little preachy in the public square; coming just from Paul Keating they might appear a little grand and unreal. But Keating quoting Benedict at a writers' festival gives the words that universal touch of grace:

* Is it a case, as Pope Benedict recently remarked, that the Western world is a world 'weary of its own culture', a world 'weary of greed, exploitation and division, of the tedium of false idols and the pain of false promises'? That is, a world without a guiding light; one without absolute truths by which to navigate.

* Benedict told us in Sydney that 'life is a search for the true, the good and the beautiful' and we know that whenever those objectives become subordinated, we become lost, in a morass of preferences and experiences uninformed by truth or ethics. Experiences, he went on to say, which detached from what is good or true, 'lead to moral and intellectual confusion and ultimately to despair'.

* Benedict also told us in Sydney that the State cannot be 'the source of truth and morality'. That that source can only be a set of truths and values which devolve to what it means to be human, one to each other, society to society, state to state. In Benedict's terms, one of God's creatures.

* Can we, all of us, assimilate; adjust ourselves to a constancy of peace and prosperity without lessening our regard for those enlivening impulses of truth and goodness? The search, as Benedict said, for what is good, beautiful and true. A new international order based on truth and justice founded in the recognition of the rights of each of us to live out our lives in peace and harmony, can I believe, provide the only plausible long term template.

Three of the graced events of the past year for me have been the parliamentary apology to the Stolen generations on 13 February 2008, the rite of penance at the Ignatian gathering prior to the MAGIS Youth Festival, and the Stations of the Cross through the streets of Sydney on World Youth Day.

Sitting at my computer in Silicon Valley, California, on Abraham Lincoln's birthday, I was able to watch the national apology on the web. I would have loved to have been there in Parliament House, which, like all houses, leaks, as Matilda House reminded us when giving the first welcome to country at the start of a new commonwealth parliament.

I had just got off the phone from an Aboriginal friend who told me that she would be watching the telecast at home. She wanted privacy, but was pleased that the words of apology set the right tone. Her friends had bought black T-shirts with just one word, 'Thanks'. Later, I spotted another Aboriginal friend in the Great Hall wearing one of the shirts, with a beaming smile as a bevy of former prime ministers were introduced by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

The process leading up to this apology was right. The compassionate Jenny Macklin had consulted widely in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. There was a cross-section of the Stolen Generations who were prepared to trust the new Government, to sit down, tell their stories and assist the Government with appropriate words. Not only did the Prime Minister touch all necessary institutional consultative bases, he took the time to sit down with Nanna Nungala Fejo and her family, heard her story, and then shared it reverently with the nation. This elegant, eloquent and wonderful woman in her 80s, full of life, full of funny stories despite what has happened in her life journey, became the emblematic human face for the nation trying to get right this gesture of reconciliation.

The parliament, replete with galleries packed with indigenous Australians and their supporters, carried the pain, the stories, the apology and the gratitude that at last the word 'sorry' had resounded in the chamber, with support on both sides of the aisle. Only once before, in 1990 with the institution of the Council of Aboriginal Reconciliation, was there a show of bipartisan support in parliament. This time it was not left just to the ministers. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition shook hands across the dispatch box while all members present stood.

Many Australians in the public squares stood and turned their backs on Brendan Nelson. Some members of the Stolen Generations were offended by his remarks. Yet he did well. He had brought the Liberal Party and the Nationals with him, ensuring they did not rain on the national parade, as they had in 1988 and again in 1997. He trusted the Government and its indigenous advisers sufficiently that he was prepared to lock in his side of the chamber, even though it was not to receive the wording of the apology until the previous afternoon. He was able to assert his new leadership sufficiently to indicate unqualified acceptance of Rudd's offer to set up a joint policy commission in an attempt to work co-operatively for future Aboriginal wellbeing. It was inevitable that some of our politicians would say 'We are sorry AND..' while others said, 'We are sorry BUT...' It was a blessed day. For me as a Jesuit, the day resonated with the challenge put to us at General Congregation 35 by Pope Benedict eight days later when he said:

Nowadays the new peoples who do not know the Lord or know him badly, so that they do not recognize him as the Saviour, are far away not so much from the geographical point of view as from the cultural one. The obstacles challenging the evangelisers are not so much the seas or the long distances as the frontiers that, due to a mistaken or superficial vision of God and of man, are raised between faith and human knowledge, faith and modern science, faith and the fight for justice.

This is why the Church is in urgent need of people of solid and deep faith, of a serious culture and a genuine human and social sensitivity, of religious priests who devote their lives to stand on those frontiers in order to witness and help to understand that there is in fact a profound harmony between faith and reason, between evangelical spirit, thirst for justice and action for peace. Only thus will it be possible to make the face of the Lord known to so many for whom it remains hidden or unrecognisable.

Then at World Youth Day, we saw the everyday splendid landmarks of Sydney transformed by the Stations of the Cross performed outside St Mary's Cathedral, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and the Opera House, through the Domain, the Rocks and Darling Harbour, and on the waterside at Barangaroo. Jesus walked on our familiar streets as the embodiment of all who are despised, rejected marginal and poor. Watching those stations on the big screen from my beach chair at Circular Quay, I recalled Benedict's challenge to us Jesuits at the General Congregation earlier in the year:

I encourage you to continue and renew your mission among the poor and for the poor. Unfortunately new causes of poverty and exclusion are not lacking in a world marked by grave economic and environmental imbalances, processes of globalization, caused by selfishness rather than by solidarity, by devastating and absurd armed conflicts.

The preferential option for the poor is implicit in the christological faith in a God that has made himself poor for us, so as to make us rich by his poverty. It is therefore natural that whoever wishes to make himself a companion of Jesus, really share the love of the poor. For us the choice of the poor is not ideological but is born from the Gospel. The situations of injustice and poverty in the world of today are countless and dramatic and it is necessary to try to understand and combat in the heart of man the deeper causes of the evil that separates him from God, without forgetting to meet the more urgent needs in the spirit of the charity of Christ..

Only 15.3 per cent of Australian Catholics now attend mass regularly. Whatever of the grim statistics and the contemporary challenges for the Australian Church, a priest is able to reflect on the abiding grace of church life and participation. It is at the altar and in the enjoyment of the sacraments that the Australian Church continues to find life and relevance. Liturgy and sacrament are still transformative of the most ordinary lives and of the most extraordinary moments.

In the most routine parish daily mass, there is a deep silence as the priest utters the words, 'This is the cup of my blood....It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven'. From the sanctuary, the priest can behold the scattered faithful who are at that moment full of faith. When you are the priest, you know some of the stories behind the reverential postures before you. The abiding faith of these people sustains you in your own struggle for faith in a God who is with us and who cares enough to respond to our prayers, in blood.

Then we pray for peace. The silence before the prayer formula is wide enough to hold all the battles of our world and the struggles which each worshipper brings to the altar that day. As priest you see this, day in and day out, often having privileged access to those struggles.

Then come the special moments of baptisms, weddings and funerals to which Chief Justice French referred, when the churched ones are like leaven in the loaf, carrying the structure of the liturgy, while the unchurched, through their awkwardness and unfamiliarity with the forms and words, look to you to carry it through. And you look back to them to know what and who we celebrate on this occasion.

It is special to be the vested one who embodies the connection between the citizens of an unchurched world wondering if there is anything more than ritual to mark the passage of life, love and death, and the parishioners of a worldly church which dares to offer the sacrament of Jesus to all comers, in season and out of season. This is the daily life of the Australian Church which is a very blessed place to be, despite the challenges of the secular, materialistic and utilitarian society and the shortcomings of a Church still finding a way to be truly Catholic and truly Australian.

As Catholic educators, we can be bridge builders uniting those of every imaginable frontier in our broken world. 'Faith AND justice; it is never one without the other.'

* The crossroads of faith and justice — the place to be and pray.
* The crossroads of rights and utility — the place to think and work
* The crossroads of bridges and frontiers — the place to see the face of Christ in the Church fully alive and in the poor fully engaged.

If we are not at these crossroads, we need to move so that we can be a fire that kindles other fires and so that the Church and the world can meet and thrive in us and in our classrooms. Let's get out there and sail close to the wind. It's the place where the Spirit is alive and active in the Church and in the World together at once. It's the place from which the leaders for the contemporary Australian Church will emerge able to wrestle with the big moral/justice questions of the future whatever they may be.

Appendix A

The Catholic Church Protocol on Dealing with Sexual Abuse

Church Sexual Abuse Post-WYD

Frank Brennan

During World Youth Day, the Australian Catholic Church had good reason to reflect on its response to sexual abuse within its ranks. Pope Benedict's apology was heartfelt and included a clear directive to the local church to extend compassion, care and justice to the victims. His apology would have been heard more clearly if a couple of local bishops had first apologised for their unfortunate remarks and admitted mistakes in the days before Benedict's meeting with abuse victims.

Some persons expressed strong dissatisfaction with the church's Towards Healing protocol which sets out the principles and procedures for the Church response to complaints of abuse against Church personnel. Fr Chris Riley, Youth off the Streets CEO, went so far as to label the protocol 'a joke', with the perpetrators being the only winners. I beg to differ. Towards Healing needs to be assessed against the backdrop of Australian law.

Sexual abuse of a child by an adult is always a serious criminal offence. The perpetrator is not only criminally responsible but also civilly liable for damage caused to the victim. If the perpetrator is employed in a situation involving regular contact with children, the victim might want to sue the employer as well as the perpetrator. In 2003, the High Court of Australia decided three cases on the liability of the State for sexual abuse of students by state school teachers. The court decided that state education authorities are not liable for the wrongs of these teachers unless the authorities themselves have been at fault.

Chief Justice Gleeson spelt out the ways in which the authorities could be liable for failing to take reasonable care: 'in employing a particular person, or in failing to make adequate arrangements for supervision of staff, or in failing to respond appropriately to complaints of previous misconduct, or in some other respect that can be identified as a cause of the harm to the pupil.'

A Church could be liable for the negligence of (say) a bishop who failed adequately to screen or supervise a Church worker or to investigate thoroughly any complaints made about a worker. If there was no evidence of negligence in recruitment or supervision, the Church would not be directly liable for the wrong committed by the worker.

In law, an employer could still be vicariously liable for the damage caused by a worker committing a criminal act if the act occurred in the course of employment. When dealing with this vicarious liability, Chief Justice Gleeson observed that 'where the teacher-student relationship is invested with a high degree of power and intimacy, the use of that power and intimacy to commit sexual abuse may provide a sufficient connection between the sexual assault and the employment to make it just to treat such contact as occurring in the course of employment'. In one of the cases considered by the Court, not even abuse by a teacher of primary school students in a one-teacher country school entailed vicarious liability of the teaching authority.

In most cases, churches like other employers and service providers are unlikely to be civilly liable for the criminal abuse committed by their workers provided the workers have been properly supervised at all times. In Australia, the victims of sexual abuse are unlikely to succeed in court against anyone but the perpetrator or against a callously negligent employer or supervisor who had little regard for the signs that there may be a sexual predator in their midst. There are many hurdles for a victim wanting to sue anyone but the criminal perpetrator.

A victim faces one additional hurdle when suing for abuse by a priest or other church personnel. Often the alleged abuse will have occurred many years ago and now there is a new supervising bishop or superior. The previous bishop or superior may even have died. Who is to be sued? In 2007, the New South Wales Court of Appeal clarified that in the case of the Catholic Church, there was no point in trying to sue the 'Trustees of the Roman Catholic Church', the statutory trust corporation that holds title to all the church lands of a diocese. That corporation may hold the assets but it does not supervise, employ or oversee clergy or other church workers.

The Church should not give any appearance of hiding behind the corporate veil. Justice demands that present church leaders agree to provide complainants with an appropriate defendant in court proceedings. They need to make a commitment to satisfy any judgment debt against their predecessors or their deceased predecessors' estates when there is an allegation of past failure to supervise or adequately investigate a sexual predator in the ranks. Any damages should be paid from church assets.

The Towards Healing protocol is not a substitute for criminal prosecution of sex abusers. Nor is it a cheap alternative to civil liability for damages. It is a procedure available by choice to victims in addition to criminal prosecution of perpetrators or pursuit of civil damages for negligence by church authorities. Whenever a complaint concerns an alleged crime, the protocol states that 'the Church has a strong preference that the allegation be referred to police and, if desired, the complainant will be assisted to do this.' Many victims of abuse have been helped by this professionally administered protocol. The church and victims would be worse off without this additional path to compassion, care and justice.


Advice to Catholic Religious Australia re Catholic Schools' Participation in activities of Amnesty International

4 October 2007

Fr Mark Raper SJ

I am pleased to respond to the request of your Council dated 27 September 2007 seeking advice on Amnesty's change of policy on abortion, including 'a note which offers considerations on this question, especially from the point of view of ‘common cause' with an organisation or body with whom we may agree on some points, but disagree on others.'


You will be aware that I addressed the Normanhurst education conference on 4 September 2007 in these terms:

Fr Middleton has just announced the withdrawal of his school from Amnesty International, and the establishment of a Benenson Society, Peter Benenson having been the Catholic lawyer who founded Amnesty. Fr Middleton wrote in these terms to his school community:

It is with regret that I confirm that St Aloysius College is severing its association with Amnesty International. At their meeting last week in Mexico Amnesty confirmed that it was abandoning its long-held policy of neutrality on abortion. This means that the College and many other schools, I believe, will no longer support Amnesty groups. I raised these concerns with Amnesty a year ago, and have since canvassed the arguments in the media, as recently as a fortnight ago in an article in The Australian.

Many people will argue that we should remain inside Amnesty, because of the overwhelming good that it does. Indeed, some of the strongest proponents of the change are counting on this sentiment. What is different about abortion, unlike, for example, promotion of gay rights, is that this policy explicitly excludes some of the most vulnerable members of society — the ‘unborn human' — from its campaigns for human rights. To my mind this goes right to the core of Amnesty as a human rights organisation and as a body that gives primacy to conscience. It strikes against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child which states that every child 'needs special safeguards and care, including legal protection, before as well as after birth.' This is surely a crossing of the Rubicon, a qualitative difference to other points of disagreement within an organization. Consequently, we feel we have no choice but to leave Amnesty.

I agree with Fr Middleton that Amnesty International's process has been lamentable. I agree that they should have remained neutral on abortion. I have some question (and difference of perspective) on the co-operation point now that Amnesty has made the policy change. With Amnesty having made the policy change, ought Catholics to avoid assisting and working with Amnesty in all circumstances, including attempts to relieve the plight of prisoners of conscience in jails conducted by totalitarian regimes, even if Amnesty International is the only (or by far the best) avenue for networking and exerting pressure. I could see my way clear to joining an Amnesty campaign for the release of such persons, and I could see my way clear to making a donation for the ongoing work of Amnesty, though with a tinge of regret that it has changed its policy on abortion. I would note that the moral risk of my donation in part going towards a pro-abortion campaign would be similar to the moral risk of part of my taxes contributing to the payment of the medical bills of women having abortions.

In the end the difference of perspective between Fr Middleton and me may simply come down to viewing the glass half empty and the glass half full, once we consider the consequences. Can we more efficiently and with less room for misunderstanding uphold the human rights of persons by setting up a Benenson Society and co-operating on particular campaigns with Amnesty or are we best remaining members of Amnesty while avoiding participating in their pro-abortion activities?

In a school committed to moral and ethical education, I think either outcome is justified. The good thing is that there has been spirited discussion and truthful dialogue in at least one school community and a strong statement of moral values by that school community to the public, in the face of an obscurantist approach by Amnesty which has acted with the lack of transparency which often is the hallmark of the oppressive regimes with which Amnesty has cause to join issue — seeking to shame dissembling state officials.

Respectful dialogue and fearless discussion are the keys to constructing schools as those 'local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us.'

Archbishop Philip Wilson, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, has issued two media releases since then, on 11 September 2007 and on 3 October 2007. Speaking for the Catholic bishops of Australia, he has said, 'it is with much regret that we are now in a position of having to advise that because of this change in policy, membership of Amnesty International is no longer compatible with Catholic teaching and belief on this important point'. The bishops have now urged Catholics 'to seek other avenues of defending human rights'.

Amnesty's New Policy and Practices

The 2006 Chairs Forum of Amnesty recommended policy change on abortion in light of the majority of Amnesty sections and structures supporting the decriminalisation of abortion and favouring the provision of legal, safe and accessible abortion in a variety of circumstances including risk to a woman's life. The 2007 International Council Meeting of Amnesty approved an even broader policy commitment to abortion including women having 'access to safe and legal abortion services where continuation of pregnancy poses a grave risk to their health'. In practice, such a policy if implemented would (or at least would be very likely to) result in abortion on demand as practised in countries like Australia and the United States.

Amnesty states that it is not for or against abortion. But it is now clearly a pro-choice organisation. Questions of prudence and morality about Catholic co-operation in Amnesty activities should be posited on the presumption that Amnesty is pro-choice. Amnesty conducts campaigns, raises funds and raises public awareness for and about a range of issues. In Australia, Amnesty has a range of project coordinators including a 'sexual and reproductive rights project coordinator'. There are hundreds of Australian schools which have Amnesty groups; many others cooperate with Amnesty on particular campaigns.

Is Catholic co-operation with a pro-choice organisation in the attainment of other worthwhile objectives always precluded?

The Australian bishops have adopted a position that 'membership of Amnesty International is no longer compatible with Catholic teaching and belief'. With respect, I do not think the issue permits such a blanket determination. Amnesty, like many modern NGOs, has moved to a 'full spectrum approach' in articulating policies on a broad range of social issues. It maintains its core business which includes the release of prisoners of conscience and fair and prompt trials for political prisoners. It describes itself as 'a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights'.

It would be wrong for a Catholic formally to cooperate with others in providing abortions or in activities aimed at making abortion more readily available to all women whose pregnancies were a risk to their health. Bishop Anthony Fisher has given a useful description of formal cooperation in his August 17 address at the University of Sydney entitled From Good Doctor to Dr Evil: When Should a Doctor Cooperate in Evil?:

Formal cooperation is where the co-operator not only does something that foreseeably helps the principal agent do wrong, but the co-operator does so while sharing in the wrongfulness of the principal agent's act — his/her wrongful end or intention or will.

So it would be wrong for a Catholic to join Amnesty, to participate in an Amnesty campaign or donate to Amnesty specifically with the intention and purpose that abortion be made more readily available.

It would not be wrong for a Catholic to participate in an Amnesty campaign which was unrelated to abortion, nor would it be it wrong to donate funds to Amnesty for purposes other than the provision of abortion. Members of modern organisations which take a full spectrum approach to human rights or human flourishing are not taken to agree to every item in the organisations' policy statements.

A Catholic could involve himself in Amnesty in such a way that he was not engaged in immediate material cooperation or proximate material cooperation with Amnesty's abortion activities. It is quite consistent with Catholic moral reasoning for a Catholic to seek to remain a member of or co-operator with Amnesty while having no part in its abortion activities or materially cooperating only in a mediate or remote way.

For example, a Catholic could remain a member of Amnesty and involve himself only in campaigns unrelated to abortion. If troubled by the prospect that some of her financial contribution would be dedicated to abortion activity, a conscientious Catholic could ask that Amnesty establish book keeping practices which would quarantine flagged payments from abortion activities.

Participation in a 'tainted' organisation only for untainted purposes is the more readily justified when there is no practical alternative for achieving a good result. For example, there may be no better way to agitate for the release of prisoners of conscience than by signing on with Amnesty.

Some Prudential Considerations for Material Cooperation with a prochoice organisation otherwise committed to the finest human rights ideals

Catholics not formally cooperating in any evil regarding abortion could prudently decide either to remain as members of Amnesty or to leave Amnesty. Considerations in the prudential analysis would include:

* Could the good to be achieved (eg. working for the release of prisoners of conscience, raising awareness of the plight of political prisoners) be just as readily achieved by setting up a Benenson Society where we could cooperate with Amnesty and others without involving ourselves in the abortion issue and without undermining the effectiveness of the international campaign?

* Though it may be permissible and desirable for individual Catholic adults to remain part of Amnesty, is it a good pedagogical decision to align our students with a pro-choice organisation when the other admirable human rights objectives could be achieved without membership of such an organisation?

* Alternatively, is it a good pedagogical decision to isolate our students from a compromised organisation with otherwise admirable objectives? Should we not rather educate our students in the way of mediate and remote material cooperation with Amnesty while they are at school so they may be better equipped to contribute to the common good in a fallen world, realising that purity and martyrdom are not the daily fare of public political life and activity?

A Query About the ACBC Media Release of 3 October 2007

Archbishop Wilson's blanket determination, in the absence of any published reasoning distinguishing both formal and material co-operation, and permissible and impermissible material co-operation, raises a significant problem. The issue would be simple if the organisation in question were Children by Choice — the sort of organisation which is dedicated to making abortion more readily available, such that any participation with the organisation would be tainted by co-operation with abortion.

Consider an example which has occupied Catholic moralists for generations. All would agree that a conscientious Catholic should not work at an abortion clinic. But surely it is more a matter for individual prudence and prayerful discernment for the conscientious Catholic deciding whether to work (in any role not directly related to the performance of abortions) at a public hospital where abortions are performed in addition to a whole other range of medical procedures.

In the past our bishops have not suggested that Catholics could not serve on the fund raising committees of our prominent and esteemed public hospitals, nor that Catholic surgeons should not work at them because some of their co-workers practise abortion, nor that Catholics should not work as cleaners or domestic staff in such institutions. It has never been suggested that Catholics should work only at Catholic hospitals.

It has never been suggested that membership of any group or committee in a public hospital is 'no longer compatible with Catholic teaching and belief' and that Catholics should seek employment elsewhere. There have even been occasions when our church leaders have espoused Catholics working in the public health system so that they might influence the system with a coherent Christian health ethic.

Could not the same case be made for ongoing involvement with Amnesty? Though respecting the bishops' decision, especially in the absence of any published, persuasive reasons analysing the different types of co-operation, there must continue to be a place for prudential decisions by persons involved in permissible material co-operation.

If it can be legitimate for a Catholic to be a board member of a public hospital or a member of a public hospital's ethics committee or fund raising committee, there must be circumstances in which it is still legitimate for a Catholic to retain or take out membership of Amnesty. Presumably the bishops are not suggesting that it could be appropriate for a Catholic to work for Amnesty but that it could never be appropriate for a Catholic to be a member of Amnesty.

Further dialogue with the bishops and their advisers would be desirable. For that reason, I will forward a copy of this advice to Fr Brian Lucas, Secretary, Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference.

Seeking a Way Forward

In my meeting with Amnesty personnel to discuss this issue, I found a willingness for dialogue, seeking means by which conscientious Catholics could co-operate with an organisation which though 'pro-choice' has a commitment to core business which is fully consistent with Catholic moral teaching. The Amnesty membership form presently states: 'Amnesty International Australia expects that its members will support Amnesty International's Statute and policies'. Catholic members should not be expected to support the pro-choice abortion policy, and provision should be made for members to opt out of supporting that policy.

I suggest the need for a Catholic working group who could liaise with Amnesty in drawing up a protocol for Amnesty's engagement in Catholic schools, including agreement that educational materials on abortion would not be included in school kits and that there be no invitation to Amnesty groups in Catholic schools to engage in campaigns focused on abortion. Amnesty should set up a transparent book-keeping arrangement whereby donations could be flagged as unavailable for abortion activities.

Topic tags: Brennan, educating leaders, Australian Church, scott rush, bali bombers, victorian abortion legislation



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