Brisbane's new Archbishop well-equipped for the challenges

Brisbane's new Archbishop well-equipped for the challenges

Michael Gilchrist

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, formerly of Canberra and Goulburn, will be installed in St Stephen's Cathedral on 11 May as Brisbane's new Archbishop. It will be the first time in nearly 50 years that a non-Queensland bishop has been appointed to Brisbane, the last one being Irish-born Archbishop O'Donnell (1965-1973).

Archbishop Coleridge said in a prepared statement: "At a time in life when many are looking to retire, I have been called to take up the greatest challenge of my life. With few illusions about myself or the task that awaits me in Queensland, but with trust in the Lord who sends me, I pack my bags and head north once again.

"Until recently, I never imagined that I would be appointed Archbishop of Brisbane ... I will do my best, but that will not be enough. Yet the Lord equips those whom he sends in ways they could never equip themselves ...

"Statements like this and rites of installation are easy enough. It is harder to do what a bishop must do at a complex time like this in the Church when the future must be made, not just awaited. I commit all my energies and gifts to that apostolic task in Brisbane, looking more than ever to the Lord of Easter, Jesus Christ crucified and risen."


Melbourne-born and educated, Mark Coleridge, 63, has been the Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn since 2006, and will fill the vacancy left by the retirement last November of Archbishop John Bathersby.

Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett of Lismore, who took on the caretaker role of Brisbane's Apostolic Administrator on 14 November, warmly welcomed the announcement of the Pope's appointment: "Archbishop Coleridge already is a distinguished leader in the Church in Australia, and his appointment to Brisbane will be of great significance for the Archdiocese and the Catholic Church and community in Queensland.

"As well as his experience as a priest for 38 years and a bishop for ten, Archbishop Coleridge is a theologian and teacher especially qualified in the fields of Sacred Scripture and the Church's liturgical worship, in both of which he has taught extensively in Australia and overseas." 

As one Brisbane observer put it: "The liturgy is the life of the Church. Archbishop Coleridge is quite outstanding for his understanding of it, and  what he has published on the subject. There have long been widespread reports of liturgical oddities and worse. His steadying hand is badly needed here. We hope that when his entry into the Martyrology is made it will merit the regular term used of the saints: ' restituit disciplinam liturgicam collapsa'.

"Similarly there are widespread reports of oddities and much worse  in our Catholic schools. There is need for a long term rebuilding of  Catholic education."

While in Canberra Archbishop Coleridge issued a detailed document outlining the requirements of church music and in the wider context has served as Chairman of the international editorial Committee responsible for the new English translation of the Roman Missal, which came into use throughout the parishes of Australia last December. He also continues an international rôle as Chairman of the Commission for the preparation of the forthcoming new Lectionary of Scripture readings for the Mass.

In Brisbane, he will encounter Fr Tom Elich, the present Director of the Brisbane Liturgical Commission, who has been a long-time trenchant critic of the new Missal translation via the Commission's periodical  Liturgy News. Fr Elich described Pope John Paul II's guiding document for the revised translation,  Liturgiam Authenticam, as a "betrayal".

Archbishop Coleridge, according to those who have known him in Canberra, is a man of exceptional energy and inquiring mind, one who is not easily intimidated, yet very personable.

According to a Canberra observer, he takes the concept of the "institutional" Church very seriously and believes things must be done according to the "book". His time in Rome working in a Vatican congregation for several years and as Chaplain to Pope John Paul II reinforced this view, along with his appreciation of the Church's universality.

Archbishop Coleridge's impact will also be felt in the vigorous promoting of priestly vocations. Regarding priests as the Church's cornerstone he took measures to limit the use of lay-led liturgies in Canberra and Goulburn and will no doubt build on the recently improving situation in Brisbane's seminary.

New appointments

Of further significance, as the Queensland Metropolitan, he will be well placed to influence the episcopal vacancies in Toowoomba and Rockhampton as part of a wider process of "cleaning up" the Queensland situation, recently dramatised by the resignation of Bishop Morris.

In the political sphere, the new Archbishop is well placed to put forward the Church's position on sensitive social and moral questions after six years of dealing with politicians in Canberra.

His involvement in the successful campaign against the ACT Government over the future of Calvary Hospital indicated his capacity to take up the fight where necessary on public issues. In the end, Calvary Hospital retained its status as a general Catholic hospital.

Important also for a high profile Church leader has been his confident handling of the secular media in defence of the Church's position, as with his recent clashes with the religion correspondent of the  Canberra  Times.

While Brisbane's deep-seated problems won't be solved overnight, the new Archbishop is well equipped to make inroads, especially if he gets the full support of clergy and laity.

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