Tag Archives: Martin Pendergast

CSCS News, Autumn 2014: Editorial & Contents Guide


Anthony Woollard

Shortly after CSCS’ highly successful Embodied Ministry conference at Cuddesdon in July, our sister organisation Modern Church (www.modernchurch.org.uk) held its own conference on Liberal Spirituality.  Unsurprisingly, there was some read-across – certainly in the dramatis personae, with Martyn Percy facilitating both conferences, Emma Percy making a most significant contribution to both (including, at the latter, a memorable talk on breastfeeding as a model of spirituality and ministry), and yet more wise words from Carla Grosch-Miller.  But for me one of the less expected links was the showing of an unusual Swedish film called As it is in Heaven.  It showed how an ailing professional musician took a backwoods church choir to international fame, at the cost of his own life.  There were quite a few (not very explicit) sexual awakenings in the film, including that of a pastor and his wife who came to be confronted by the role of Law in their own lives and the need to rediscover Love.  But it was the moment of the conductor’s death which moved me greatly; as he lay stricken by his fatal heart attack, having just impregnated the girl who loved him, he listened to his choir bringing an international audience to their feet – and died with a smile on his face. Continue reading CSCS News, Autumn 2014: Editorial & Contents Guide

Not so much an earthquake, more an ice-breaking!

The 14th Extraordinary Synod of Roman Catholic Bishops – October 2014

Martin Pendergast

The 14th Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on Marriage & Family proved to be a barometer of climate-change in the Roman Catholic Church with more ice-breaking than earthquake tremors. It had started with a questionnaire circulated to garner Catholic opinion from around the world on broad family issues. Unthinkable in the immediately preceding papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the pastoral needs of same-sex couples, along with those of children in such families, figured in the Synod’s Working Document setting the agenda for this recent meeting. Continue reading Not so much an earthquake, more an ice-breaking!

“Embodied Ministry” Conference 2014: Speakers

Speakers and workshop leaders

Adrian Thatcher, Redeeming Gender

 Adrian Thatcher, Redeeming GenderThe churches have forgotten that, until the 17th century, the dominant understanding of sex and gender was of a single humanity, ‘man’, within which women were imperfect, malformed men. Later, a two-sex view of humanity, supposedly established by modern science, became preferred. The idea of the complementarity (not equality) of the sexes arose directly from this view. The Christian Gospel offers neither an ancient one-sex theory, nor a modern two-sex theory, but a single inclusive humanity, made by God and redeemed by Christ, in which differences of all kinds are a means towards communion instead of conflict.

Professor Adrian Thatcher is Visiting Professor at the University of Exeter. He is ‘retired’ and currently editing The Oxford Handbook of Theology, Sexuality and Gender. His most recent books are Making Sense of Sex (SPCK, 2012) and God, Sex and Gender: an Introduction (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). He is an Anglican.

Carla Grosch-Miller, Fifty Shades of Grace: The Crafting of Sexual Wisdom

Carla Grosch-Miller, Fifty Shades of Grace

 Each of us has lived sexual experience that gives us embodied knowledge.  This embodied knowledge is the premier source for the creation of practical sexual wisdom. We learn by doing, bumping up against others and surviving the consequences. Grace accompanies us all along the way. The purpose of this workshop is to explore a model of sexual-spiritual integration in which embodied knowledge is in critical-liminal conversation with theological sources to create practical sexual wisdom. Space will be made available for (private) personal reflection and creative expression. Implications for theological education will be discussed.

Revd Dr Carla A. Grosch-Miller is a minister and theological educator specialising in sex and ministry short courses for various ministry training colleges.  She is the author of Psalms Redux: Poems and Prayers (Hymns Ancient and Modern, 2014).

Brendan Callaghan, Guided Examen

Brendan Callaghan, Guided ExamenThis workshop takes the form of a guided Ignatian “Examen” – helping people reflect on where and how they encounter God in the sexual dimension of their lives. This will include an introduction from Brendan, followed by 20 minutes’ or so guided silent reflection, followed by a chance to share and discuss (as people are comfortable to), followed by a little plenary discussion.

Revd Dr Brendan Callaghan SJ is Novice Director for the North-Western Europe Provinces of the Jesuits. In addition to his 30 years of academic work in psychology of religion, based at Heythrop College in London and Campion Hall Oxford, he has run numerous workshop courses on sexuality, both for retreat guides and for committed celibates at various stages of their lives.

Christina Beardsley, Gender, Sexuality, Spirituality: Exploring the Interplay

Christina Beardsley, Gender, Sexuality, Spirituality

Gender, Sexuality, Spirituality: Exploring the Interplay is an interactive workshop that builds on trans, queer and intersex perspectives. An exploration of identity, role and practice, it requires honesty and attentive listening from participants. Produced for a day conference at St Anne’s, Soho in 2007, it has been offered (and developed) with LGBT Christian organizations, the LGBT Health Summits 2010 and 2011, and the York Spiritual Directors’ Course in 2012 and 2013. Originally a trans-led workshop, at more recent events leaders have identified as lesbian, gay, and trans, and ‘spirituality’ has always been defined broadly.

Revd Dr Christina Beardsley is Head of Multi-faith Chaplaincy at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, London. A member of Sibyls – Christian spirituality for transgender people – Tina is a speaker, writer and activist for LGBTI inclusion in the Church of England   and the author of Unutterable Love (Lutterworth, 2009), a biography of F.W. Robertson.

Rachel Mann, Queering Spiritual Direction

Rachel Mann, Queering Spiritual DirectionThe praxis of Spiritual Direction has a number of well-established orthodoxies, most notably Ignatian, Franciscan and Benedictine, each typically characterized as paths which invite us to become our ‘true’ selves in God. This session explores and interrogates practices of spiritual direction from a queer perspective, examining the exclusions, inclusions, aporia and opportunities for trans* people implicit in traditional notions of ‘Spiritual Direction’. Grounded in my experience as a trans woman, a spiritual director and directee, this session will use queer/deviant readings of Biblical texts and meditative strategies in order to open liberative and creative space for trans* Christians.

Revd Rachel Mann is an Anglican priest and writer based in South Manchester. She is the author of Dazzling Darkness: Gender, Sexuality, Illness and God (Wild Goose, 2012) – a theological memoir about what it means to be a trans, disabled and lesbian Christian – and The Risen Dust: Poems and Stories of Passion and Resurrection (Wild Goose, 2013) A trained philosopher, she regularly broadcasts and writes about the intersections between faith, culture and theory. She is also currently Poet-in-Residence at Manchester Cathedral. 


Nicola Slee, God-language in Public and Private Prayer as a Place of Integrating Gender, Sexuality and Faith: A Workshop

Nicola Slee, God-language in Public and Private PrayerIn this workshop, we will consider how praying with a range of images of God may aid the process of integrating gender, sexuality and faith (and, conversely, how the use of a limited range of patriarchal God-images can limit that work).  We will explore a range of terms, images and metaphors for God drawn from Christian tradition, in scripture, hymnody, poetry and visual imagery, considering particularly how they represent gender and sexuality in God, and how that may relate to our own sense of ourselves as embodied, sexual, engendered beings.  We will use creative writing as a tool to respond to some of these images for ourselves, as well as consider how we might offer a range of God-language to others, through the leadership of worship, spiritual accompaniment, teaching and ministerial formation.

Dr Nicola Slee is Research Fellow at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education, Birmingham, and a well-known feminist practical theologian and poet.  Her most recent publications are Making Nothing Happen: Five Poets Explore Faith and Spirituality (Ashgate, 2014), and The Faith Lives of Women and Girls (Ashgate, 2013). 


Susannah Cornwall, Intersex and Formation

 Susannah Cornwall, Intersex and FormationConcerns about intersex and identity are actually broader questions about identity which face all of us, and the process of thinking and working through one’s own sense of one’s gender and sex is likely to better equip one to help others in this part of their journey. In this paper I note some of the questions and challenges intersex candidates may face during selection, training and ministerial formation, before going on to explore some of the theological questions surrounding formation and identity more broadly.

Dr Susannah Cornwall is Advanced Research Fellow in Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter. Her research focuses on constructive body theologies, and, in particular, the implications of intersex for theologies of sex, gender, sexuality, and theological anthropology. Her books include Sex and Uncertainty in the Body of Christ: Intersex Conditions and Christian Theology (Equinox, 2010); Controversies in Queer Theology (SCM, 2011); and Theology and Sexuality (SCM, 2013). 

David Nixon, Sod ‘Em, Sod ‘Em, Like There’s No Gomorrah”: Comparing Sexualities Education for Teachers, Doctors and Clergy in the UK

 David Nixon, Sod 'Em, Sod 'Em, Like There's No GomorrahThis seminar paper compares education in the field of sexualities equality, enquiring how teachers, doctors and clergy are prepared for their professional lives. Data from questionnaires and semi-structured interviews are analysed to reveal that although in many outward respects teaching and medicine reflect recent legislative and cultural changes and the Church does not, in more subtle ways these three professions share a common theme of disjunction between policy and practice. There is also some evidence that certain subsections of these professions offer differential degrees of welcome to gay and lesbian individuals. Behind this empirical study lies the theoretical question of the way in which historically these professions have enmeshed together to structure a dominant heteronormativity. Evidence from this research points to some loosening of these historic ties.

Revd Dr David Nixon is Dean of Studies of the South West Ministry Training Course, and was previously a parish priest in Plymouth. He is a research fellow at the University of Exeter, and has undertaken research and publication about the intersections of education, faith and sexualities. His book Stories from the Street: A Theology of Homelessness was published by Ashgate in 2013.

Also (abstract not yet available):

Sharon Ferguson, executive director of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, and the Senior Pastor for the Metropolitan Community Church North London.

Sharon Ferguson

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“Embodied Ministry” Theological Educators Conference

Rev Jane Fraser has described her journey as a female Anglican priest, in an article in CSCS News (Winter 2013), titled “Reflections on a ‘ministry in sex employment“. She explains that this rather odd description of her work arose when a parishioner either misheard or misunderstood the explanation of the term MSE (Minister in secular employment).  Nevertheless, she uses the term advisedly, because her secular work is indeed, indirectly, involved with “sex employment”: in sex education, especially among sex workers. While this is secular employment, it is also and at the same time, a valuable form of Christian ministry.

This is valuable work, but in addition to the importance of ministry for those involved in sex work, there is also an urgent need for the converse: “sex work”, in the form of sexuality education, for those employed in ministry, and in theological education of all kinds. The revelations of clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, and later in several other institutions, has brought home to many people the absence or grossly inadequate extent of sexual education in the training of priests, ministers and pastors, across denominational lines. Yet it is often to our pastors, untrained in the complexities of human sexuality, that we may turn for guidance on sexual ethics, or when our sexual lives and relationships become tangled and confused.

It is for this reason that CSCS some years ago launched a “Theological Educators Project”, with the aim of providing support and resources to all those involved in sexuality education for those involved in ministry. This year, the project steps up a gear, with a two day conference at Rippon College, Oxfordshire, on the subject, under the title “Embodied Ministry: Gender, Sexuality and Formation

EmbodiedMinistry flier

Here follows the provisional programme information. More detailed planning is coming along well, and over the next few days we will publish fuller information on the speakers, workshop facilitators, and their topics, together with a call for short papers.

Provisional Programme Information 

Target Audience

Theological educators, those with denominational responsibilities in education, training, and on-going ministerial formation, students, denominational policy-makers.


The conference will attempt to respond to what appears to be a fault-line, in and across a range of denominations, regarding training and formation in the areas of gender and sexuality.


Through a combination of plenary presentations, panel discussion, experiential and reflective workshops:

  • To enable open learning, and reflection on the importance of growth in human and sexual maturity, so as to promote effective, inclusive, and non-judgmental pastoral practice.
  • To identify relevant and appropriate academic and human development resources as tools in this journey.
  • To equip those in formational communities to respond to issues of gender and sexuality.

Areas of Focus

  • Gender, sexuality & the pastoral encounter.
  • Sexual maturity and gender identity and awareness in ministry.
  • Integration of gender, sexuality, faith & spirituality.

Speakers / Facilitators (will include)

  • Christina Beardsley – Changing Attitude, England / Sibyls
  • Brendan Callaghan – Campion Hall, Oxford
  • Susannah Cornwall – University of Exeter
  • Sharon Ferguson – Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement / MCC North London
  • Carla Grosch-Miller – URC minister and theological educator
  • Rachel Mann – St Nicholas Burnage, Manchester
  • Martin Pendergast – Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality / Soho Masses
  • Nicola Slee – Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham
  • Adrian Thatcher – University of Exeter

Topics (will include)

  • Integrating sexuality, gender and spirituality
  • Spirituality in the gendered and sexual “broken middle”
  • Themes from Redeeming Gender
  • Negotiating gender transition in formational communities
  • Fifty Shades of Grace: practicing sexual and spiritual integration
  • Intersex, formation and pastoral care
  • Honouring gender fluidity in liturgy and worship
  • Ministry with the families of LGBT people
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Beyond the stand-off

Martin Pendergast

Oh to have been a fly on the wall in the Clinton household last week! The former US President was quoted in a BBC interview that it was “very important” to change peoples attitudes in favour of more monogamy – though he noted this was not just a problem in Africa. “To pretend we can ever get a hold of this without dealing with that, the idea of unprotected sexual relations with unlimited numbers of partners, I think would be naïve,” he said.

Commentators see Clinton’s remarks as evidence of a growing alignment between secular approaches to the HIV pandemic, and the values promoted by faith-based organisations (FBOs). A thawing of attitudes has occurred on both sides. Governments and international agencies have seen the quantity and quality of care given by FBOs, and also an increasing willingness from the latter to work within more comprehensive prevention frameworks. The need for fidelity in human relationships and its fragility is seen in a broader systemic context, not just about personal choices or individual behaviour change but also subject to factors such as poverty and structural violence, gender inequality and homo-negativity. The 17th International AIDS Conference, just concluded in Mexico, found some tired arguments and mutual suspicions still pursued on both sides of the debate. There is a real need for everyone to begin to think and act outside their own doggedly maintained boxes, learning and respecting each others HIV languages. Many faith groups see a growing convergence between values of mercy, compassion, and justice, and the public health principles driving global programmes of HIV prevention and treatment.

In different places, diverse cultures, and various theological contexts, tensions still continue. Secular entities observe a development of teachings taking place in faith groups around safer sexual or drug use behaviour, including condom use, and syringe exchange. FBOs publicly debate these issues increasingly, and many senior religious leaders recognise that prevention of death is about the promotion of life. There is an emerging convergence between secular AIDS entities and some FBOs, both in common action and shared discernment in finding responses to the multiple faces of HIV, its prevention and treatment.

The Catholic network of social welfare and development agencies, Caritas Internationalis signed a Memorandum of Understanding with UNAIDS, the UN’s HIV/AIDS coordinating body in 1999, renewed in 2003. UNAIDS recognises that as 70% of the world’s people identify as members of faith groups, such communities play a very significant role in influencing people’s behaviours and attitudes, and in providing care and support for people living with HIV/AIDS, with some 26.7% of HIV services worldwide provided by Catholic institutions . Acknowledging these positive interventions, UNAIDS encourages FBOs to tackle the negative impacts which can arise from some interpretations of doctrinal positions. Work remains to be done to eradicate stigma and discrimination, while some approaches to HIV prevention, and attitudes towards people at increased risk of HIV infection such as men who have sex with men, or injecting drug users, have sometimes hindered effective responses.

At the Mexico AIDS Conference, Peter Piot, UNAIDS’ retiring Executive Director, praised FBOs’ work, noting how his own attitude had changed over the past 13 years.  “ When I started this job I saw religion as one of the biggest obstacles to our work, particularly in the area of prevention, but I’ve seen great examples of treatment and care that came from the religious community, and lately in the area of prevention.” This echoed Piot’s challenge, issued at the 2006 Toronto AIDS Conference, to maximise the involvement of FBOs and religious leadership in the global AIDS response “and make sure this is part of your core business, because this is where it belongs, at the heart, at the core of what you do.”

UNAIDS prioritises work at the global level with networks representing a huge interfaith diversity. It collaborates closely with a range of Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, and Hindu groups, as well as the newly launched INERELA, an international, interfaith network of religious leaders, lay and ordained, women and men, living with or personally affected by HIV – www.anerela.org .

Cynics might suggest that as national governments struggle to fulfil their financial commitments to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, UNAIDS might count on FBO resources to supplement spiralling deficits in funding for AIDS treatment, support and research. That would be unfair, since UNAIDS far from discredits the ability of faith groups to reach the parts of some populations that other agencies can never touch.

So, a rich global tapestry of cooperation and commitment – but is this reflected in the domestic picture? In the UK, CAFOD and Christian AID were quick to respond to world-wide challenges, alongside secular agencies like ActionAid. The UK Consortium on AIDS & International Development was formed to share inter-agency knowledge, and to respond strategically to governmental initiatives. In October 2006, the Consortium, recognising the number of FBO’s in its membership, launched a Faith Working Group (www.aidsconsortium.org.uk/faith) which seeks to improve the ‘faith-literacy’ of other non-governmental organisations as well as the UK’s Department for International Development. In 2007, it produced a review, “DFID, faith & AIDS” to inform DFID’s consultation updating “Taking Action”, the UK Government’s strategy for tackling HIV/AIDS in the developing world. The review suggested that DFID contacts in many countries provided a good understanding of the role of faith and faith groups in relation to HIV/AIDS. Others indicated that they had had to learn from scratch about the importance of faith in their particular geographical context. Many DFID staff in affected countries recognised faith-groups as important in the response to AIDS, and believed that the national strategy should include them for pragmatic reasons, rather than because they were religious bodies per se. This is based on the assessable impact of FBOs’ work in education, prevention and care, as well as advocating against stigma and discrimination. There is often a greater trust placed in faith groups, working amongst the people, than in multinational organisations whose agenda appear to be directed from outside the country. However, DFID staff frequently expressed frustration with some of the attitudes and approaches in faith groups, subsequently identified in DFID’s 2008 strategy document.

Despite the significant degree of support offered in many places, there are strong indications that DFID’s financial assistance to faith groups is not remotely proportionate to their contribution in the response to the pandemic. Furthermore, DFID’s support did not appear to be systematic, but fragmented, and probably dependent on the understanding and commitment of relevant DFID staff. It appeared that DFID was not seeing the best return from faith groups’ potential, in spite of having Programme Partnership Agreements with a number of UK-based FBOs. Even though DFID supports a range of FBOs HIV programmes, this is a small percentage, both of DFID’s budget and of FBOs’ overall work on HIV, compared with activity levels of other secular development agencies. The scope for DFID to strengthen its support to civil society organisations, and faith groups in particular, appears to be weakening as the pressure to reduce both its own and agencies’ overhead costs increases. A key question is whether DFID understands faith entities as a distinctive
part of civil society with their own modes of operation, underlying values, assumptions and motivation.

DFID’s updated strategy, Achieving Universal Access, published in June 2008, gave new and welcome recognition to the role of faith leadership, and a more detailed comment:

“ Faith-based organisations (FBOs) form a distinctive part of civil society. As 70% of the world’s people identify themselves as members of a faith community, FBOs can reach many people. They often provide a significant number of basic services in developing countries; in 2004, the World Bank estimated that faith groups account for half the education and health care provision in sub-Saharan Africa. They also have the potential to shape social norms that influence people’s behaviour and attitudes towards someone living with HIV. However, some preach unhelpful messages around sex, condom use, homosexuality, and women’s rights. Those that foster respect and understanding can have significant impact and should be supported.”

‘Faith-literacy’ is not only an issue for those dealing with HIV and developing countries. On the home front, the Department for Communities & Local Government recently launched a framework for partnership in our multi-faith society, Face to Face & Side by Side, strongly encouraging government departments and local authorities to overcome fear or reticence in developing work with faith-groups. Faith-fear has certainly impacted negatively on the practical contribution that faith-based HIV groups in the UK can make to confront stigma and prejudice, promoting prevention, health improvement, or offering care and support.

Most local AIDS funding is now spent on HIV treatment costs; hence little, if any, supports faith-based initiatives. Some groups have benefited from limited National Lottery funding, or the government’s Faith Communities Capacity Building Fund, and the new Faiths in Action programme, operational from August 2008 may offer further possibilities.

Nevertheless, faith matters have been recognised by HIV voluntary sector groups and research units. The Terrence Higgins Trust has focussed, nationally and regionally, on the links between faith and HIV. Its annual CHAPS conference for gay men has held sessions on HIV & Faith for the past two years. The leading sexual health research project, SIGMA, now routinely includes general faith questions in its surveys, as well as conducting specific studies examining links between faith and HIV.

As various secular groups have come to see faith’s relevance as part of the solution in the struggle to stop HIV, rather than only a problem, so it is time for FBOs to develop an inclusive HIV-literacy. CAFOD has given a strong lead, expressing its comprehensive HIV policy with the image of the HIV Tree and showing the interconnectedness of roots through an analysis of systemic factors such as stigma, poverty, gender inequity, structural violence, as well as individual behavioural choices. Similarly, INERELA promotes the SAVE prevention model – Safer practice, Available medication, Voluntary HIV testing, Empowerment through education – as a more comprehensive model than that of ABC: Abstinence, Be Faithful, and if not use Condoms.

Even though the stand-off between faith and HIV shows signs of ending, it is regrettable that some people of faith have hardened their attitudes, promoting uncritical approaches to ‘abstinence-only’ programmes or denying validity to studies supporting alternative models. As research on different models of prevention, treatment and support filters down to grass-roots organisations, greater confidence is given that embracing a comprehensive approach to the challenges of HIV is not simply value for money, nor just that they work, but is a strong affirmation that they are the right thing to do, entirely consistent with believers’ commitments to faith, compassion, and justice.

(A slightly edited version of this article appeared in The Tablet, 16 August 2008)

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Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church – Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus (BOOK REVIEW)

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church - Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus. The Columba Press 2007, £12.99

Reviewed by Martin Penergast

If there is a phrase to sum up Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s explosive book, it is this: “Confront power and sex in the Church; don’t manage it!” One of the major problems bedevilling the Roman Catholic Church in recent years has been that its management of matters sexual has been to sweep it all under the carpet, be it abuse crises, clergy celibacy, increasing social and theological dissent on issues of sexual orientation, or reproductive health.

Too ready to point the finger at other Christian Churches trying to struggle more honestly and openly with these matters, the Vatican appears increasingly to ignore not just ‘the elephant in the room’, but a whole herd of them!

Attempts to regulate human sexuality through prescriptive directives wrongly focus on individual behaviour, rather than the cultivation of healthy and holy relationships. They define people by their sexual characteristics rather than understanding human sexuality and its manifestations as integral to the development of human personality.

Geoffrey Robinson was an Auxiliary Bishop in the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney from 1984 until his retirement in 2004. In 1994 he took responsibility, on behalf of the Australian Catholic bishops, for coordinating their response to growing sexual abuse allegations, and was co-chair of this committee from 1997 until 2003. It is said that a precipitating reason for his retirement was his inability to work with his conservative Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, himself accused of cover-up allegations, as well as other unsubstantiated accusations. (1)

There were those who criticised Robinson for not speaking out as an active bishop, leaving publication of this book until after he had retired. It becomes clear to anyone bothering to read “Confronting Power & Sex …” that a fundamental reason for this was that he was only able to write the book after he had dealt therapeutically with the coming to terms of his own experience of sexual abuse, as a boy. That said, this is no raging victim, railing at either his abuser, or the social or ecclesiastical institutions that have protected them. This is a faithful and committed bishop who wishes to see the body of Christ, the people of God, as it is meant to be.

Robinson sees the sexual abuse crisis as the immediate challenge to be grasped but recognises that this is but a symptom of a pathologically dysfunctional system. In his analysis, echoed by others such as the American Jesuit clinical psychologist J.A Loftus (2), the sexual abuse crisis was a disaster waiting to happen for a Church where the exercise of centralised, hierarchical power and authority had failed to be “received” by people in the pews, including many of the Church’s bishops and priests. In such abuses of power, institutionalised in the Church’s ‘modernised’ corporate structures, the sin has to be “named”.

Robinson’s book is a work of popularisation at its best. He takes us back to the original vision behind Roman Catholic Church reforms envisaged by the 2nd Vatican Council, reaffirming the insights of critical biblical and theological scholarship, and the principles behind a pastoral ministry consistent with those foundations. This, of itself, is a valuable exercise in a Church which currently seems to be seeking pre-Vatican 2 forms of retrenchment. He questions calmly the basis of current teachings on sexual ethics within a framework of broader ethical principles with as much attention given to property as to purity ethics in scripture and tradition:

“If the Catholic Church is to regain some credibility after the many scandals of sexual abuse, it must first learn to speak with humility, intelligence, realism and compassion about all aspects of human sexuality.”

Rightly giving prominence to a person-centred ethic and the centrality of a fully-rounded, informed conscience, Robinson might disappoint many readers by giving only one answer to the huge number of questions he raises: a change of heart and mind. Nevertheless, at the end of each chapter, he offers a succinct meditation on key-points which might serve as useful material for small group discussion, reflection, and action.

“What is needed is an open and honest discussion of such matters by the whole church. When I see this … taking place, I will believe that the church is serious about confronting abuse. Until that happens, I cannot have this conviction. Change in external structures can help, but they cannot of themselves produce a new church.”

(1) ‘Bishop admits abuse money offer’, BBC News 3 June 2002; ‘Catholic Church in fresh abuse row’, BBC News, 20 August 2002.
(2) ‘Aftermath of Abuse’ in Opening Up – Speaking Out in the Church, ed. J. Filochowski & P. Stanford, reviewed in CSCS News 28, Winter 2005.

Martin Pendergast

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