Theology coloured by clergy sex abuse


Neil Ormerod is symbolic of the deep and contested changes in the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council. Prior to the Council it would have been almost unheard of for a lay person to be studying, let alone teaching Catholic theology. But this married lay man, this father and grandfather, pioneered the path, and is now one of the leading Catholic theologians in Australia.

Ormerod is a frequent contributor to Eureka Street, and this interview with him is part of a special series marking the 20th anniversary of the journal. He spoke to Eureka Street TV at the Strathfield campus of the Australian Catholic University where he is based, and he talks about developments and trends in theology since the foundation of Eureka Street.

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Ormerod's career in theology had an unlikely academic start. His first undergraduate degree was in pure mathematics at the University of New South Wales, and at its completion he was honoured with the University Medal. Three years later he gained a PhD in mathematics.

He then radically changed direction and began studying theology, culminating with a doctorate in theology in 1997 from the Melbourne College of Divinity. His doctoral thesis was based on the work of great Canadian Jesuit theologian and philosopher, Bernard Lonergan.

Ormerod has lectured at many Australian Catholic institutions including St Paul's National Seminary, the Catholic College of Education Sydney, the Centre for Christian Spirituality Randwick, Pius XII Seminary Brisbane, the Catholic Institute of Sydney and most recently the Australian Catholic University where he is currently Professor of Theology.

His approach to theology was strongly coloured in the early 1990s by the clergy sexual abuse that began to be spoken about openly around that time. He and his wife Thea became activists on behalf of survivors of abuse, and they jointly wrote a book, When Ministers Sin: Sexual Abuse in the Churches, that was published in 1994.

Ormerod is much in demand as a speaker, and is a prolific author, not only of academic papers, but also of more popular articles. He has the knack of bringing a theological sensibility to bear on everyday life issues.

He has written several books including Grace and Disgrace: A Theology of Self-esteem; Society and History; Method, Meaning and Revelation; Trinity: Retrieving the Western Tradition; Creation, Grace and Redemption; and  Introducing Contemporary Theologies: the What and Who of Theology Today, his most popular book, which has been republished a number of times. 

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

Topic tags: Peter Kirkwood, Neil Ormerod, Australian Catholic University, Second Vatican Council, Vatican II



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Existing comments

More please! or is there perhaps a site already where one can watch and listen to scholars such as Neil Ormerod ? We are hungry- please feed us.
Anna C North Avoca | 11 February 2011

When I studied theology in the early 1990s Neil Ormerod's book was a recommended text. To this day it remains one of the most influential books I have read. As a result of reading it I explored a number of other theological works.

I really enjoyed reading this article and watching this video. Thank you.
Moira Byrne Garton | 11 February 2011

I would not consider the moving away from the study of mathematics to that of theology a radical change of direction.

To me two of the most fundamental concepts in mathematics are zero and infinity. To me two of the most fundamental concepts in theology are the nothingness that was the universe before God created it and the infinite nature of the qualities we attribute to God - all powerful, all knowing, all loving.
I think the clarity that characterises Neil Ormerod's theological writings (regettably I haven't heard him lecture) is an indication of the precision, concisenss and simplicity so sought after by mathematicians.

There have been some brilliant Jesuit theologians over the centuries whose first academic pursuit was mathematics. I'm sure Australian Jesuit Fr Terry Kelly could name quite a few.
Uncle Pat | 11 February 2011


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