How orthodox are Australian Catholic University's professorial staff?

How orthodox are Australian Catholic University's professorial staff?

Eamonn Keane

Earlier this year, AD2000 reported on the results of a survey conducted by Professor Denis McLaughlin into the beliefs, values and practices of student teachers at the Australian Catholic University (ACU), which revealed that a large proportion of the students did not accept the Church's teaching on abortion, contraception, the male-only ministerial priesthood and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

The results of Professor Mclaughlin's survey are not surprising given the theological positions adopted by some of ACU's professorial staff.

The Head of the School of Theology at the ACU in Sydney, Dr Laurie Woods, prepared a work titled The Christian Story, for use in various Scripture units included in Religious Education courses since 1995.

While at times Woods speaks of Jesus as divine, he asserts that "whether Jesus saw himself as divine is a question of debate," and adds that the Gospels "do not solve the problem because they reflect the faith of the Gospel writers and do not give us undiluted insights into the very mind of Jesus."

In regard to Jesus' Resurrection and the account of the Empty Tomb, which appears in all four Gospels, Woods says that while "the disciples were convinced that Jesus had been raised from the dead" they "did not commit themselves to belief in an empty tomb ... The empty tomb stories were part of their belief in the resurrection but not an essential condition for it to happen."

However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that "the mystery of Christ's resurrection is a real event, with manifestations that were historically verified".

The Catechism adds that the Risen Christ appeared to the disciples in "the same body that had been tortured and crucified" and that it still bore "the traces of his passion."

In a 1997 article titled A New Relationship Between The Ministerial and Baptismal Priesthoods, Dr Gideon Goosen, Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Education at the ACU in Sydney, proposed "a new conceptual framework" with which to understand the nature of the ministerial priesthood.

"All ministries are sacraments," says Goosen, and in future, "the possible pool of candidates" for ordination will be "broadened to include the married and women."

As to the origin of the Seven Sacraments, Goosen asserts that "the seven sacraments ... do not all go back to the historical Jesus," although the Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing the Council of Trent, affirms that "adhering to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, to the apostolic traditions, and to the 'consensus of the Fathers,' we profess that the sacraments of the new law were all instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord."

A prescribed book for several courses in Christian Ethics run at the ACU in Sydney since 1995 is titled Freedom and Purpose: An Introduction To Christian Ethics. It is written by Robert Gascoigne, an Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Theology and Philosophy at the ACU in Sydney.

In referring to mortal sin, Gascoigne says it should be understood in terms of a "fundamental option," meaning "a state of personal being which rejects the love of God and neighbour at the deepest and freest core of the person."

Gascoigne adds: "We can sin by freely doing wrong in individual actions, without these individual actions necessarily reversing the whole thrust and meaning of our lives." "Traditional" Church teaching on mortal sin, is, he suggests, "implausible." To illustrate this point, he cites the example of a husband who may not have committed mortal sin by freely and knowingly engaging in an act of adultery, if he was "normally faithful to his wife."

Gascoigne further claims that "the magisterium has no unique competence or authority in the detailed knowledge required for developing specific moral norms", even if "the moral teaching of the magisterium calls for respect and serious reflection by members of the Church, and should only be departed from after conscientious and self- critical consideration of the relevant question."

However, in his 1983 Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, Pope John Paul II rejected the theory of fundamental option as presented in Gascoigne's book. Mortal sin, he says, cannot be reduced to a "fundamental option" whereby it cannot be committed through a single action "in which one freely and consciously chooses to act contrary to God's commandments in a grave matter."


Yuri Koszarycz, Senior Lecturer in Religion Studies within the School of Theology at the ACU in Brisbane (McAuley Campus), has a personal home page on the website of the ACU, which he has dedicated to Fr Charles Curran.

In one article on his web page titled Women And The Church, Koszarycz states: "Given our modern understandings of justice and equality, the Church in maintaining a significant distinction between hierarchy and laity and the excluding [of] women from priesthood, radically affirms women's inferior position among the people of God."

After recalling how Thomas Groome has asserted that women were not excluded from presiding at Eucharistic liturgies in the early Church, Koszarycz adds that while "the issue of women's ordination is a vital one", in Roman Catholicism "it is not yet being adequately addressed by those in authority" and that "full membership by men and women in regard to priestly offices and functions [is] necessary."

These and other examples, along with related issues connected with religious education, are to be explored in more detail in Eamonn Keane's forthcoming book on Catholic education, due for release later this year.

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