This was the dominant theme of Fr Frank Brennan’s presentation at CatholicCare’s, Towards Practice Excellence, two-day staff conference held at the Hunter Stadium in late February.
Close to 100 employees attended the 30-minute presentation, Catholic Social Teaching – Debunking the Myths.
Regarded as one of the most progressive members of the Catholic clergy in Australia, Fr Brennan is also a human rights lawyer and academic. He is not without controversy having angered some of his fellow Catholic priests when he supported the Yes campaign during the same-sex marriage debate in 2017. He was also a member of the Religious Freedom Review, chaired by Philip Ruddock, established to examine whether Australian law adequately protects freedom of religion.
Fr Brennan began his presentation by answering questions on the impact on the Australian Catholic Church of George Pell’s recent conviction for child sexual abuse offences. He went on to identify six key topics relevant to CatholicCare’s mission to assist the most vulnerable members of society.
The topics included: Australia’s humanitarian responsibilities internationally and domestically as one of the wealthiest society’s in history; the current lack of trust in institutions and authority and the consequences; the Catholic position on the Uluru Statement and the call for an independent Indigenous voice in the Federal; Parliament; refugee support and the moral failing of offshore detention; the environmental degradation of our country and the planet; the same-sex marriage campaign and the Church’s approach to homosexuality; and the widespread concern that Australian society is becoming increasingly unfair and inequitable.
After his presentation, Fr Brennan spoke exclusively to Aurora on a topic he has been particularly vocal on in recent years – the call to afford women a greater role in Church governance.
“There is absolutely no theological reason why all aspects of Church administration have to be decided by ordained members,” Fr Brennan said.
“We need to change cannon law and our structures to allow more female laity as I believe things would be far better if we had a better balance of men and women in the Church.”
Fr Brennan said the days of unmarried men being allowed to completely dominate the decision-making process had passed. “The longer we cling to this outdated notion, the more irrelevant we become to the younger generation. We must have female insight in our administration structure.”
While the topics and challenges in all these areas differ greatly, Fr Brennan’s response held the same fundamental message - a message he asked everyone to always keep in mind.
“How do we accord dignity to all and debate and disagree in a rationale and respectful manner,” he asked.
“It’s very simple - if you are a Catholic you believe in Jesus of Nazareth and therefore you believe everyone is your brother and sister and that we all have a commitment to assisting the poor and the marginalised.”