When Catholics dropped the Bible


The chilling sight of Norwegian mass-killer, Anders Behring Breivik, giving a fascist salute when he appeared in an Oslo court this week is symbolic of a worrying minority trend: in the face of a perceived threat from the complex pluralistic world we live in, a retreat by some into the fortress of narrow militant extremist ideology.

In all religious traditions, this is seen the world over in the rise of fundamentalism, sometimes linked to violence and terrorism. This has raised several key question for religions: how to interpret sacred scriptures, how to educate ordinary believers about appropriate interpretation, and how to apply this to everyday life.

The man featured in this week's interview on Eureka Street TV has devoted his life to these questions. Australian Salesian priest, Frank Moloney, is one of the world's leading biblical scholars. In this 50th anniversary year of the start of the Second Vatican Council, he reflects on the momentous changes brought about by the Council on the way Catholics should interpret the Bible, and its place in the life of the Church.

Born in Melbourne and educated by the Christian Brothers at Moonee Ponds, Moloney joined the Salesians of Don Bosco in 1960, and taught in their high schools after completing his bachelor's degree.

In 1966 he went to Rome to further his studies. In 1970 he gained a Licence in Sacred Theology from the Salesian Pontifical University, and in 1972 a Licence in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute. From 1972–75 he studied at Oxford University in the UK, gaining his PhD for a thesis looking at the term 'Son of Man' in John's Gospel.

He returned to Australia where he became Professor of New Testament at the Catholic Theological College, part of the Melbourne College of Divinity. During this period he was also visiting professor at a number of prestigious institutions overseas including the Salesian Pontifical University and Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, and the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem.

In 1984 Moloney was appointed by Pope John Paul II to an important advisory role, to the International Theological Commission to the Holy See. He served on the Commission for an unprecedented 18 years.

In 1994 he became Foundation Professor of Theology at the Australian Catholic University and made a key contribution to the university in its formative years.

In 1999 he was appointed Professor of New Testament at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC where later he was elected Dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies. Within a few years of arriving in the US, he became the first foreigner to be elected President of the Catholic Biblical Association of America.

In 2006 he returned to Australia to take up the role of Provincial Superior of the Salesians. He was the first theologian to be elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities in 1992, and a few years later was honoured with an Order of Australia for his services to Australian religion and culture.

Moloney is a founding editor of the Australian theological journal Pacifica, and an associate editor of The Catholic Biblical Quarterly. He is a prolific author, penning a huge number of scholarly and popular articles, and more than 40 books. In 2007, with popular novelist Jeffrey Archer, he co-authored The Gospel According to Judas. 

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, Frank Moloney



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Existing comments

Peter Kirkwood should read this before he says too much more http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/catholic-sex-abuse-inquiry-on-hold-20111006-1lbxu.html Is an old story but soon to be finalised ;-)

mike scull | 20 April 2012  

The interview was interesting if not of much depth, but Frank Maloney obviously has great depth of theological knowledge. I was also interested in the subject of his doctoral thesis "Son of Man" and looked around the internet but it does not appear to be for sale anywhere. Does anyone know where a copy can be accessed? Thank you.

Frank S | 20 April 2012  

Frank is right - we do need to go back to the Scriptures and read them with fresh eyes. Really, it's we lay people who need to do this. Perhaps we'd be spurred on to take up our proper responsibility for the good and bad works of the Church, instead of lamenting that our leaders have gone astray. The Scripture itself may call us all to account! Didn't understand your comment, Mike Scull. What does an accusation against the Salesians of poor handling of sex abuse cases)have to do with Frank Moloney's argument in this video?

Joan Seymour | 21 April 2012  

Frank's presentation of Christian tradition as an equal balance of Word and Sacrament is a word perfect definition of Anglicanism, as established in England in the decades after the Council of Trent. One of the painful dividing lines in the European Reformation was when the Protestants gave Scripture to the people and Trent gave sole authority for interpretation back to the priests. It was never precisely like that in the Middle Ages, but in the Roman Catholic Church it certainly became that after Trent.

OBSERVATION | 21 April 2012  

I believe the last word about the Bible was said many years ago by G.B.Shaw, when he said "No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means"

Robert Liddy | 22 April 2012  

That's interesting Observation. Iv'e been reading St Jerome and the his right to interpretation of the scriptures. He certainly had no time for women and historically hasn't very kind towards them that's for sure, apart from the wealthy ones who supported his works. Sounds familiar to me.

L Newington | 28 April 2012  


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