Pastoral problems (letter)

Pastoral problems (letter)

Fr Frank Brennan SJ

I share AD2000's concern about "statistics on the miniscule belief and practices of today's young Catholics" (October AD2000, p. 3). I agree with Michael Gilchrist that there is "considerable disagreement as to the causes". I am pleased that he has quoted at length from my August address to the Sandhurst Diocese Secondary Education Conference (see

As we search for answers to our pastoral problems, let's remain focused on charity, trust and truth within the Church community. Young people demand nothing less of us. In neither my Sandhurst address nor in my ABC Compass interview did I say that conservatives are "driving out youth". Nor did I say that young Catholics are being "turned off the priesthood by an increasingly autocratic and doctrinaire Catholic Church that is out of touch with the 21st century".

In my Sandhurst address, I was asked to consider: "What do our students rightly ask of us?" I gave nine answers and I stand by them.

They are: take us beyond our comfort zones; help us to count our blessings without feeling guilty; assure us that the balance holds; trust us and teach us to form and inform our consciences as we decide how to act, how to relate, and how to love; inspire us and console us that there is such a thing as truth; provide us with the tools to critique our society; invite us to participate in a Church that speaks to us of life, love, mystery, suffering, death and hope; teach us to engage in respectful dialogue in our Church and in our society; and put everything in the context of love. Much more than fairy floss in that lot! And hardly an attack on Church conservatives!

My public difference with Cardinal Pell is specifically about the role of conscience in the Catholic tradition. Unlike the Pope and most bishops, Dr Pell has come out and said that the "doctrine of the primacy of conscience should be publicly rejected".

While affirming the primacy of truth, I prefer the approach of Cardinal Murphy O'Connor who says that the children entrusted to our care in Catholic education are embarked on a journey that "is intended to lead them ultimately to a fuller life in God. To enable them to reach that goal God has given them, not a set of prohibitions but a map; and with that map the compass which we call 'conscience'."

If we provide our Catholic graduates only with a rule book of "do's" and "don'ts", most will throw the book in the bin very soon after they leave school. But if we provide them with a map and a compass for life, there is a greater prospect that grace and the gifts of the Spirit will find fertile ground as these fresh graduates try to make sense of their adult lives in a complex world which throws up moral predicaments which many find irresolvable by reference only to a set of prohibitions. They might even come back to Church.

Boston College, USA

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