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Theology coloured by clergy sex abuse

  • 10 February 2011

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