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Oblates’ top canon lawyer in Brisbane

BBI Church governance and leadership conference

Forming leaders: Judith Gardner, Fr Gerald Arbuckle, Greg Bayne, Oblate Father Francis Morrisey, Maria Kirkwood, Fr Gerald O’Collins and Leesa Jeffcoat at BBI’s Church governance and leadership conference.

BBI event focusing on governance, leadership

NORTH America’s most respected canon lawyer had one week to prepare for his studies on the Catholic Church’s legal system.

“Well I studied with the Oblates, at the University of Ottawa, got to know the priest there, and after I graduated, I joined them,” Fr Frank Morrisey said in Brisbane recently.

“I’ve never looked back since.”

It was in this religious vocation, and with reliance on his vow of obedience, that Fr Morrisey was set up to become a canon lawyer at age 29.

“My superior called me in one day and said, “I’ve registered you (for canon law), you start next week,” Fr Morrisey said. 

Fifty years later, the life-member of the Canadian Canon Law Society and Australia’s equivalent, has visited more than 50 countries and is serious about his training in Church law.

He made his eleventh visit to Australia last week as the keynote speaker for Broken Bay Institute’s inaugural formation conference on Church governance and leadership.

At the conference, the emeritus professor of the canon law faculty at the University of St Paul, Ottawa, discussed recent pontifical considerations to canon law at Brisbane’s conference hosting between August 19 and 21.

“I’m looking at lot at how Pope Francis has changed the vision of Canon Law to help see, when we’re governing in leadership roles in the Church, how do we care for persons,” Fr Morrisey said.

“(Pope Francis’) words of mercy, compassion, are the words that keep coming back all the time here.
“It’s not a question of power and control – it’s a question of service and that’s what we’re trying to get at.”

Fr Morrisey also works on demystifying the idea that the Church can live without a written legal system.

“Canon Law (is) the science that contains the rules for governing the norms, the limits (of the Church),” he said.
“One of the reasons we have it written down is that if we have no limits, then it becomes the arbitrary and the arbitrary is the worst form of dictatorship.  
“Now the sense is to move from that idea of power to the idea of service and focus on persons especially those in need.”

While Fr Morrisey returned to Canada last week, he will continue to influence Australia’s future canon lawyers through a world-first merger with his university and BBI.

BBI formally announced a partnership with SPU in May 2015 to offer Australian Catholic lay and religious the country’s first pontifical degree in canon law.

BBI’s Church governance and leadership program manager Greg Baynie said there was a distinct bond between canon law and Church governance.

Mr Baynie said canon law was critical in how the Church was governed and led.

“We realised at the same time to provide more formation in church governance and leadership,”  Mr Baynie said.
Mr Bayne said BBI were following Pope Francis’ call to rethink governance to be “at its heart, service to the poor”.
“We’re being challenged to rethink our traditional ways of leading, governing, and to think more pastorally in the service of, in a spirit of mission, adopting forms of leadership such as servant leadership, so we might better identify the needs of the people we serve, particularly the poor, and bringing them nearer to God,” he said.

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