Brisbane archdiocese’s new leader Archbishop Mark Coleridge held a press conference on April 4 at New Farm’s historic “Wynberg” attended by members of Queensland’s print, on-line and television media. These are his responses to questions on topics ranging from same-sex civil unions to ecumenical and interfaith relations and the importance of education of the young to the Church’s future
Q: How will you make the Church in Brisbane more missionary?
A: There are three pillars upon which a more missionary strategy is built. The first is the liturgy – that might sound peculiar but we will only become more energetic in a missionary sense if we encounter Jesus Christ crucified and risen in new and deeper and more powerful ways. (This is) Jesus Christ not as a role model who lived once upon a time … but Jesus Christ as a presence and power now.
The prime place in which we encounter him in his presence and power is in the worship of the Church.
I would say the Church is passing across another threshold in the ongoing journey of liturgical renewal.
The point of liturgical renewal is to empower the Church for mission; it’s not about ecclesiastical interior decorating.
That’s the first of the three things upon which a mission strategy depends – serious attention to the worship of the Church and I have considerable experience in that area.
The second is the transmission, that is, teaching of the faith … especially to the young. In other words schools are at the absolute heart of what we are as the Church.
Again I have extensive experience in education at all levels – primary, secondary and tertiary and I would intend to be mightily engaged with Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Brisbane by being in the schools and supporting teachers in whatever way.
Tribal Catholicism is dead. Just simply because you were born into the tribe doesn’t mean anymore that you become Catholic.
Catholicism that was learnt by virtue of a cultural osmosis now has to be learnt and passed on in other ways.
That is crucial – the passing on of these gifts to the young and I think one of the gifts I bring to the diocese is teaching. I was a teacher before I was a bishop and I think it is the thing I do best in life and will do till the day I die is teach.
So that is the second and a crucial element of becoming a missionary Church.
Third I would say is vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. I will be as energetic and as imaginative as I can be in stirring up new energies on that front. There is movement on that front.
You can’t have the Catholic Church without priests. And at this point of the Church’s life that entails male celibate priests.
Now, some say we’ve lost the battle on that front. I don’t believe it at all. I will be as energetic as I can to recruit … the future leaders of these more missionary communities.
Q: So you don’t believe the Church will change from male celibate priests?
A: No I don’t. I think it’s unrealistic at this time. The male bit I think is non-negotiable. Celibacy, it is negotiable but not at this time. In the Catholic Church you can’t have provisions that apply to Brisbane or Australia and nowhere else. We are a universal community … by and large the discipline of one place is the discipline of the universal Church.
Q: Your views on celibacy … at what stage do you see that changing and to what extent do you think priests should be able to have wives?
A: I can speak personally and say that I have found celibacy to be in my life something deeply creative, in a mysterious and counter-cultural way. Not only do I not have regrets about the choice I made when I was 25 or younger perhaps when I chose celibacy, but I think it’s been an empowering thing in my life and I’ve seen it in the lives of many other priests.
Q: You said before it might be negotiable.
A: I said before it’s theoretically negotiable … there’s nothing about the Catholic priesthood that says the priest has to be celibate. It is a long-standing discipline of the Church which has shown itself to be spiritually and pastorally creative and although it creates difficulties from time to time I see no reason to abandon it at all. In fact I think we need to educate the seminarians more deeply and effectively to live the celibate life.
Q: Is there anything in your talk about change that might give the parishioners of the Toowoomba diocese or the people in St Mary’s (the community self-exiled from St Mary’s, South Brisbane) who have had issues any hope at all?
A: The answer in general terms is that any talk of change that I might indulge in doesn’t mean an abandonment of the doctrine and the discipline of the Catholic Church. If there are communities or individuals who want to abandon the doctrine and the discipline of the Catholic Church, we have a problem and one I would like to address pastorally and not as some sort of brutal policeman. In other words there are certain elements of the Church’s doctrine and discipline, which for me as a bishop and indeed the Church as a whole are non-negotiable.
Q: The Brisbane archdiocese has a very strong tradition of ecumenical relations and interfaith relations. How important is this?
A: I think it’s crucial and one of the glories of Christians in Brisbane. It’s got a long and interesting history to do with personalities like Archbishop Duhig … and I know Archbishop Bathersby has been mightily engaged in ecumenical endeavour and has very good relations with (Anglican) Archbishop (Phillip) Aspinall and beyond and I would hope to follow suit.
It’s not an area where I’ve had the direct experience that John Bathersby and (Bishop) Michael Putney for instance have had, but I would see myself as following suit in every way possible.
In many ways the Christians have got no choice. I think we either work together or we sink together.
Now, there are some things we can’t do together and I think we need to be honest about that.
In other words ecumenism is more than having cups of tea and stale scones from time to time. It really does mean asking the question in what ways can we work together to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified and risen at this time. How can we together imagine and enact new ways of engaging the culture?
So I look forward very much to entering a scene here where the ecumenical work has been so long standing, so powerful and rich in its fruit.
Q: What about interfaith aspects?
A: My professional training is as a biblical scholar so I’ve always had a deep-seated feel for Judaism and in any place I’ve ever been and worked I’ve sought to have strong relations with the Jewish community. I don’t know any of the Jewish community in Brisbane but I certainly will do the best I can to get to know the Jewish community.
With regards to the Islamic community I think we’ve got no choice. This is true internationally given the antagonisms of the past and we all know Islamic/Christian relations have been nothing if not troubled down through the centuries. But we have no choice but to do everything we can to find common ground for the good of the whole society.
It’s been said the peace of the world depends in many ways upon relations between Islam and Christianity. I think there’s truth in that … When I arrive in Brisbane I will do all I can to develop relations with the Islamic community.
Q: What do you think of (Queensland Premier) Campbell Newman’s somewhat muddy stance on repealing civil unions?
A: Well, the Catholic Church … and I’m not going to speak on Campbell Newman’s position because I know too little about it. I mean, the whole question of civil unions or gay marriage is a tortured and hot issue at this time.
The position of the Catholic Church is clear – was articulated well by a well known English Catholic commentator recently when he said it’s not that the Catholic Church finds gay marriage unacceptable, we simply find it impossible. In other words marriage by any reckoning depends upon or presumes the difference and complementarity of the sexes.
If you’re talking about a relationship that doesn’t presume that, you’re talking about something else. You maybe talking about love but nuptial love is love of a particular kind.
I mean, friends love each other, siblings love each other, carers love the one they’re caring for and vice versa but that’s not nuptial love. To talk about a relationship that is not based upon the difference and complementarity of the sexes and the potential fruitfulness that is kind of to unmoor the language.
Don’t call it marriage. Call it something else. And if you do call it marriage, you run the risk of degrading marriage by reducing it to one among a number of equally valid or invalid options left to the individual to choose.
Q: What about therefore calling it civil unions as it is now?
A: Experience would suggest they are also problematic in their own way. By the way I don’t regard anything that
I have said or will say as homophobic. There is a bit of a tendency to say, “Well, if you don’t back us in this ideological push for gay marriage then you’re homophobic”. I don’t see it in those terms at all.
So experience would suggest, and we perhaps need to see more of the evidence, that civil unions is a way towards homosexual marriage and I am uneasy about civil unions for that reason.
In the United Kingdom, as I understand it, … very often the people who’ve entered civil unions say that this is second rate, it’s an insult, it’s another put-down. Therefore it’s either homosexual marriage or nothing …
So civil unions are seriously problematic. At the same time the Catholic Church would say homosexual people have as much right to justice as anyone else on the planet and any discrimination against homosexual people of any kind is completely unacceptable. But we do not see that saying homosexual marriage is “simply impossible” is an injustice against homosexual people.
In response to an interviewer’s question on what Easter message he would like to convey to the people of Brisbane archdiocese, Archbishop Coleridge said: “Easter talks about the final triumph of life over death. In other words in a world where death is often not talked about, the last word belongs to hope. But it’s not a cheap cosmetic hope. It’s the real thing. The hope of Easter is grounded on a fact, not a fantasy. The fact is Jesus Christ, who was executed as a criminal on the Hill of Calvary, was encountered by people later who didn’t know what the hell was going on. They came to say he rose from the dead but that wasn’t their immediate response … So this is a hope based upon a life that is bigger than death and that has the last word.”