“IN the end I don’t see myself as a Church mouse.”
Brisbane archdiocese’s new leader Archbishop Mark Coleridge with these words launched his relationship with the wider community in a media conference attended by members of Queensland’s print, on-line and television media.
The April 4 conference, held at New Farm’s historic Wynberg traditionally the residence of Brisbane’s archbishops since Sir James Duhig, was also attended by the archdiocese’s apostolic administrator Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett, members of the archdiocese’s senior clergy and representatives of various archdiocesan organisations.
The new archbishop, who will be installed at St Stephen’s Cathedral on May 11, was also keen to emphasise he intended to work for the “common good of all people in this great city and far beyond”.
The archbishop also acknowledged “the great men” who had gone before him including “Duhig, a titan” and “John Bathersby, a man for whom I have the highest regard and affection”.
“I would like to see myself and the community I lead as engaging the wider culture,” Archbishop Coleridge, who has been Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn since 2006 and who was announced as the new Archbishop of Brisbane on April 2, told the gathering.
“It is profoundly antipathetic to the Catholic Church to turn our back on the culture.
“I don’t see myself as someone who turns his back on the culture and retreats to a safe and self-protective corner of the sanctuary.”
In the course of the conference, Archbishop Coleridge had many opportunities to back up these words as he fielded questions on topics ranging from same-sex civil unions to interfaith relationships, the issue of women priests and even whether South Brisbane’s self-exiled St Mary’s community could expect some leniency in future.
These questions he answered directly.
On same-sex marriage: “It’s not that the Catholic Church finds gay marriage unacceptable, we simply find it impossible.”
On the priesthood: “You can’t have the Catholic Church without priests and at this point of the Church’s life that means male, celibate priests.”
On interfaith relationships: “With regards to the Islamic faith we have no choice but to find common ground for the good of the whole society.”
To a question about St Mary’s separated community and the archbishop’s attitude to those still in dissent regarding the forced retirement of former Bishop of Toowoomba Bill Morris: “There will be no abandonment of the doctrine and discipline of the Catholic Church but this will be addressed as a pastor and not in some brutal way.”
Bishop Jarrett opened the conference by noting the “appointment of a new archbishop represents a turning point in the story of any diocese, especially for this Archdiocese of Brisbane”.
“Your presence and your interest here this morning indicates that you appreciate this is a new moment for the story of the Catholic Church in south-east Queensland, indeed for the province of Queensland,” he told media representatives.
The bishop also spoke of a connection with “Archbishop Mark” going back to the seminary and of being “absolutely thrilled and delighted to hear the Holy Father Pope Benedict had appointed him to the Metropolitan See of Brisbane”.
The archbishop, in his opening words, acknowledged “the great men” that had gone before him.
“Duhig is a titan, he was here for more than 50 years,” he said.
“But there were others too – and I’ve been reading the stories of the archbishops of Brisbane, fascinating stories.”
He then went on to recall the start of a long friendship when, as a young priest studying in Rome, “he met a guy called John Bathersby … and we shared many a meal and many a laugh and many an argument it must be said too”.
“Looking back it’s incredible to me, first of all John Bathersby ended up Archbishop of Brisbane but still less did I imagine I would be his successor.”
Noting “I’m 63 and probably look every bit of it,” the archbishop went on to say he was “conscious at an age when many are looking to retire of facing the greatest challenge of my life”.
“Although I find myself daunted by aspects of it, I find myself spoiling for the challenge in a part of the world I’ve always liked and I certainly like the people,” he said.
He spoke of his first real experience of Queensland’s people in the 1970s after being invited by “John Bathersby then spiritual director of the seminary to hold a retreat there” and of later in Rome becoming friends with others including Bishop Michael Putney of Townsville, Bishop James Foley of Cairns and Holy Spirit Provincial Seminary rector Monsignor Tony Randazzo.
Describing the Church as living through “a time of deep and permanent change in which we can’t talk of business as usual”, of being a time “when we have to roll the wagons in new ways out into new territory” and of Brisbane archdiocese being “a vibrant field of mission rich in possibilities”, Archbishop Coleridge opened the conference to the media.
Press Conference of Archbishop Designate Mark Coleridge with Apostolic Administrator Geoffrey Jarrett at Wynberg, Brisbane, Queensland, 4 April, 2012.