Christianity Confronts its Greatest Challenge

February 14, 2009

Christianity Confronts its Greatest Challenge

by Michael Morwood (an article for reflection and discussion)


Inbetween is a very dangerous place to be

January 5, 2009

 In-between is a dangerous place to be 

Joan Chittister OSB

Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois is under threat of excommunication for giving a homily at the unauthorized priestly ordination of a woman sponsored by the group Roman Catholic Womenpriests. The question, especially for those who know this priest to be a justice-loving, selfless prophet of peace, is how Fr. Roy’s “case” will be handled by the Vatican. No doubt about it: The situation is an important one — both for him and for the church who will judge him.

It is important for Fr. Bourgeois because it involves the possible fracturing of the commitment of a lifetime.

A man who has given his life for the Gospel, been one of the church’s most public witnesses for human rights, stood for the best in the human condition and modeled the highest standards of the priesthood should certainly not end his life a victim of the conscience that has stirred the conscience of a nation.

But the way this situation is handled is at least as important to the church as it ever will be to Roy Bourgeois. (Read full article)

2008 Annual Hawke Lecture

December 27, 2008

2008 Annual Hawke Lecture
The Greatest Injustice: why we have failed to improve the health of Aboriginal people

Delivered by Professor Fiona Stanley AC

Adelaide Town Hall, Thursday 6 November 2008

Christian Nonviolent Direct Action as Public Theology

October 7, 2008

October 7, 2008 by Justin Whelan

Nonviolent vigil at Baxter Detention Centre

Peace Tree Community nonviolent vigil at Baxter Detention Centre

In  August 2005 a group known as Christians Against Greed joined a rowdy protest against a conference of global corporations at the Sydney Opera House, and found themselves sharing the Eucharist with riot police and anarchists. On Human Rights Day that year, four activists calling themselves Christians Against All Terrorism broke into and attempted a “citizens’ inspection” of the Pine Gap spy base. One week after their trial ended in 2007, five people walked into a war games zone at Shoalwater Bay to play frisbee with defence personnel.

These events were all very public and deeply theological. Yet we tend not to consider them, and other actions like them, as examples of public theology – a term for the process of the church thinking and speaking to the general public about contemporary issues.

In this paper I want to argue that we need a broader understanding of ‘public theology’ that includes public action on the part of the church (or members of the church) that speaks directly into the public sphere. I suggest that Christian nonviolent direct action should be seen in this light, and that both the acts themselves and the public statements made by the actors are clearly designed to articulate a Christian message in response to critical problems of their time.

In this paper I look at three recent examples of Christian nonviolent direct action in Australia. Using the ‘best practice principles’ for public theology identified by John W. de Gruchy, I will explore the way in which these actions make statements to the public about God’s judgment of current policies and God’s vision for a transformed world.

Read the full paper here (4000 words, 434kb PDF)

The sacred from below the ecological spirit of our time

October 3, 2008

An article by David Tacey, first published in Living Now September 2008.

You may need to download Adobe Reader to open this article.

The sacred from below (David Tacey)

‘Agnostic’ priest’s social inclusion scepticism

September 25, 2008

Frank Brennan August 27, 2008

 The Rudd Government’s Social Inclusion Board has now commenced work. As a citizen who has never worked for government, I come to the topic of ‘social inclusion’ with an initial suspicion that it could simply be the novel catch-all phrase used by a new government to mimic recent initiatives in New Zealand, the UK and Ireland.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s broad panoply of ministerial portfolios — Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations, Education and Social Inclusion — may hold a clue: social inclusion is everything on the social agenda except or complementary to employment, workplace relations, and education.

The government commitment to social inclusion includes giving all Australians the opportunity to secure a job, access services, connect with family, friends, work and their local community, deal with crises, and have their voices heard. These are laudable objectives. But presumably they are to be delivered to the most disadvantaged at some cost to others.

Social inclusion is to be delivered by a new government after more than a decade of non-change. For the first time in three years, the government does not control the Senate. That increases the prospect of deliberative debate in the public square about policy questions.

The new government is also keen to engage with the non-government sector. Those of us from that sector had a sense with the previous government that we were perceived to have little to contribute to real policy formation.

In the area of policy and law, social inclusion will need to be assessed against the backdrop of the ongoing debate about the desirability of a national bill of rights. Recently the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave an insightful address at the London School of Economics pointing out that rights and utility are the two concepts that resonate most readily in the public square today.

The problem is that we need concepts to set limits on rights when they interfere with the common good, the public interest or, dare I say it, public morality — the concepts used by the UN when first formulating and limiting human rights 60 years ago. We also need concepts to set limits on utility when it interferes with the dignity of the most vulnerable and the liberty of the most despised in our community.

It may be in this grey area between rights and utility that social inclusion has work to do.

In the legal academy there is presently a great evangelical fervour for bills of rights. This fervour manifests itself in florid espousals of the virtues of weak statutory bills of rights together with the assurance that one need not be afraid because such bills do not really change anything.

It is a pleasant change for me to be cast in the role of the sceptical agnostic, insisting that the promised parousia of enhanced human rights protection be backed by hard evidence of tangibly different outcomes.

Those of us with a pragmatic, evidentiary approach to the question are now well positioned, given that two of Australia’s nine jurisdictions have now enacted such bills of rights with the double assurance that nothing has really changed and that things can now only get better.

It will be interesting to hear an assessment of the socially inclusionary benefits of a bill of rights which provides lawyers and judges with greater access to the realm of policy and service delivery.

There will presumably still be winners and losers under a policy of social inclusion. If we are to show a greater preference for the most disadvantaged, I presume that for every person on the bottom of the social ladder going through the social inclusionary program there will be ten persons slightly higher up who will be neglected.

The work of Professor Tony Vinson on the geographic distribution of social disadvantage in Australia, published by Jesuit Social Services under the title Dropping Off the Edge, has been pivotal in assisting the government to articulate its position on social inclusion.

In debating whether social inclusion is to be achieved by giving preference to geographically disadvantaged postcodes rather than to disadvantaged persons regardless of where they live, there will be a need to consider the double political impact. The places of greatest need will be safe Labor seats and thus there will be no short term political advantage in giving them preference, and there will be some flak for such preferential targeting.

When we move from law and policy to program implementation, there is the risk that social inclusion becomes the umbrella for every silo interest to push its barrow.

Provided ‘social inclusion’ does not become a buzzword to cloud discussion or close down argument about policy development and service delivery, it could be a useful, dignified and rightful means for enhancing the human flourishing and potential of even the most disadvantaged Australians, whether or not we have a bill of rights.

Australian Social Inclusion Board — Outcomes, July 2008

Frank Brennan SJ AO is a professor of law in the Institute of Legal Studies at the Australian Catholic University and Professorial Visiting Fellow, Faculty of Law, University of NSW.

Book Review I Wish I Were A Leper

June 6, 2008

Author                         Vince O’Rourke

Publisher                    Lumino Press           

ISBN                           978-0-977599363    Paper back 216 pages RRP $29.95

  This is a remarkable book, the story of a couple as they encountered and moved through the debilitating phases of Alzheimer’s disease. It is a story of courage and despair, hope and doubt, rage and circumspection, dignity and compassion.

 Above all it is a powerful love story.

 The reflective genre of this book is fascinating. The author, Vince O’Rourke, is a daily journal writer. The book poignantly tells the story of his wife Margaret and the early onset of Alzheimer’s soon after his retirement as the chief executive officer of Brisbane Catholic Education, one of the largest non-government employers in Queensland. It is enhanced at regular intervals by the inclusion of unedited extracts from his journals. Vince‘s reflection on these earlier raw and emotion-charged reflections is both gripping, very moving and deeply honest.

 Here we have a couple who are moving into a phase of life where they hope ‘to live happily ever after’ their lives of a demanding public career and a supportive home making role that enables the former to occur so well. Too soon they are thrust into the chaos and turmoil of a journey into the unknown, where the reality of a debilitating, life-changing and life-terminating disease all but snuffs out this earlier hope.

 It is a well written narrative from a male perspective, which is most unusual. Here is a high achieving male who has retired early from a groundbreaking role to pursue a consultancy. Almost immediately he is thrust unpreparedly into the role of full-time carer. The book covers the 7.5 years that Vince nursed Margaret at home and of his daily visits with her in the following 18 months when she was in care before her death at the age of 67.

It covers the terrain of a carer; the confusion, the tiredness, the anger and frustration, the glimmers of hope and recognition that occur oddly and randomly through this debilitating disease. It demonstrates how the carer often feels alone and abandoned by government policy and support. It reflects how supportive children, extended family and genuine friendship are true gifts. It points to the paucity of appropriately resourced respite and long term care facilities for people with Alzheimer’s and other life-sapping illnesses. It demonstrates the manner in which some community groups and agencies do a sterling job in assisting people such as Margaret and Vince.

The book is an invaluable insight into Alzheimer’s. It is a powerful book which at times expresses the raw feelings of the moment. It offers significant and accessible commentary for those who are carers and of what may lie ahead for them and those who share the journey with them and the Alzheimer sufferer. It will be a valuable contribution to those in health care, government policy makers and those lobbying for better support to carers and their families.

Moreover, the narrative presents a compassionate, respectful and genuine loving testament to Margaret. The truth is told unambiguously about her demise but in ways that introduce us to the person she once was and of how difficult it was for her as the disease increases its intensity. It also offers us an entry into her moments of recognition even though she appears unable to communicate verbally – the perceived joy at nursing new grandchildren, her apparent recognition of significant events such as birthdays and wedding anniversaries, and the frustration she demonstrated occasionally when she was being talked about in her presence. Candidly the other side is also presented; of her lack of recognition and of her confusion about who Vince was; lack of recognition of who the family were; and of her new friends that she found in various mirrors!

Finally, the book offers a reflection upon the spiritual journey of a couple and their family within the Catholic faith tradition. As with many of the Christian spiritual classics this too rails against God from time to time as the very core of faith is tested. It reveals how the Catholic faith tradition can connect a person to earlier times and seasons and to a range of spiritual insights that can provide comfort, challenge, and a foundational story based upon suffering, death and resurrection, especially as expressed in the celebration of the Mass. At its best Catholicism can also connect individuals to a community of belief which keeps the rumour of God alive and can provide practical assistance in times of need.

I recommend this book as a very practical, well written account for those seeking understanding about Alzheimer’s disease (or any other debilitating disease), for carers and for those who care about them. It reflects the selfless love and commitment of 41 years of marriage within the many moments of despair and anguish that the disease brings. Margaret’s is a well lived, much respected, dedicated, faithful and faith-lived life. The author shows how the lasting hope of dedicated love and commitment overcome that which would otherwise be a desperately sad epilogue.

The book is available from

Damien F Brennan


Religious Education and Curriculum Services

Brisbane Catholic Education


2 June 2008




The Gospel of Mary Magdalene

April 24, 2008


Book cover


‘A Life of Unlearning’

March 20, 2008

‘A Life of Unlearning’

Revised Second Edition

Totally re-written with an additional 80 pages


A Life of Unlearning – A Journey to Find the Truth is Australia’s Brokeback Mountain and Ted Haggard stories rolled into one. It’s a behind the scenes look into the life of a high profile preacher who, believing being gay made him unacceptable to God and others, struggles to resolve his homosexuality and his Christian beliefs. Ultimately, this honest account is as story of resolution, the impact the author’s courage has on others and what it means to live authentically.

Human stories, like the one in these pages, play a part in advancing understanding and acceptance. It is the story of a quest to find not only self-acceptance but one of the most powerful forces in nature-human love..”

The Hon. Michael Kirby

Anthony Venn-Brown
Professional Coach – Author – Speaker

Personal Success Australia

+ 61 2 9699 2448 or 0416 015 231