This is a collection of the occasional writings of Liverpool priest Father Kevin Kelly who has been discerning and clarifying the call of God's Spirit in people's lives over the last fifty years.
This is a collection of the occasional writings of Liverpool priest Father Kevin Kelly. As a retired moral theologian and parish priest, Fr Kelly has been discerning and clarifying the call of God’s Spirit in people’s lives over the last fifty on questions of pastoral, moral, liturgical and ecumenical interest and this is a collection of articles written over that period.
His Introduction, reproduced below, tells the story of the different appointments he held and of the issues and challenges that faced him in them. Going on to expound on the Church as the People of God he stresses how at Vatican II the bishops very deliberately put the ‘People of God’ before the hierarchical structure of the Church.
For ten years (1998-2008) Kelly was parish priest in the shared Roman Catholic/Anglican Church of St Basil & All Saints, Widnes. For those ten years there was a Simultaneous Roman Catholic/Anglican Eucharist on all major feasts: the author gives his thoughts and feelings around how this began with the tacit consent of the “Better Together” Liverpool Bishops Derek Worlock (Catholic) and David Sheppard (Anglican) and how it was finally discontinued by Archbishop Kelly. Kevin Kelly gives the text of his Retirement Homily at the final simultaneous Eucharist. “We cannot tie the hands of God’s Spirit,” he said. “Our God may well have other and even better tricks up his sleeve.”
There is an interesting statement (given in a Letter to The Tablet 13/2/2010) on homosexual relationships: “As a moral theologian, my view on same-sex relationships has changed radically over the years. I now believe that God’s call to lesbians and gays is to accept themselves as they are as a gift from God; to accept their homosexual orientationas the way God has gifted them to live their lives as loving persons.”
In an openly controversial article Kelly criticises the “flawed process” by which the New Translation of the Roman Missal was introduced on the First Sunday of Advent 2011 without consultation or sensitivity to the good work already done by the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL). He feels the English bishops should not be publicly praising the translation while privately being critical of it. He praises the Association of Catholic Priests of Ireland in their forthright criticism of the texts as “archaic, elitist and obscure and not in keeping with the natural rhythm, cadence and syntax of the English language” and points out the withdrawal of eminent US liturgical scholar Anthony Ruff OSB from a commission given him by the US bishops to prepare people for the new translation in the US. But with the community of Notre Dame sisters in Liverpool where he celebrates Mass, “we decided to open ourselves wholeheartedly to praying the Mass in the new translation for a whole year without any changes. Then we would be in a better position to judge whether it has been a help of an obstacle to our praying the Eucharist. I suspect that the latter will be the case, but I hope I am to be surprised by God.”
He has two articles about the refusal to ordain women priests, pointedly asking “Is that part of the Good News?” And there are many significant pastoral articles on topics such as: general absolution, communion for the divorced and remarried, HIV prevention, the diminishing number of priests.
The book is largely a testimony of his personal experiences as a priest with pastoral concerns and with the skill of a moral theologian looking at the issues that have arisen in the Catholic Church since Vatican II. Somewhat wistfully he says:
“The Church that emerged from Vatican II was a bit like the dignified figure of Nelson Mandela, walking free from captivity, eager to give his all to promote peace, unity and reconciliation in a sick and bleeding country. John XXIII, through Vatican II, freed the Church to repossess the dynamism of its living tradition. Surely that was the greatest exercise of Church authority this century.”
There is a great respect and openness in Kelly’s writing, but he also knows how to say his truth uncompromisingly as he sees it.
Kevin Kelly was ordained in 1958 and served for many years as parish priest in inner-city Liverpool as well as lecturing in moral theology at Heythrop College in the University of London and Liverpool Hope University where he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in 2007. He was a co-founder of the Association of Teachers of Moral Theology and travelled extensively whilst a member of CAFOD’s HIV Advisory Group.
Key to Abbreviations
Introduction: My Personal Odyssey – An Overview
PARISH AND PASTORAL MINISTRY IN THE LIGHT OF VATICAN II
1. We, the People of God, are the Church
2. Listening to Parishioners and Priests
3. Vision of a Vatican II Parish
4. Spirituality of a Vatican II Parish
5. Being the Catholic Parish Priest in the shared Roman Catholic/Anglican Church of St Basil & All Saints, Widnes
Appendix One: Shared Services during the Year;
Appendix Two: Canonical and Theological Reflections on the Decision to discontinue the Simultaneous Eucharist;
Appendix Three: Retirement Homily
6. The National Pastoral Congress 1980 and Collaborative Ministry Including Letter to The Tablet: On Homosexual Relationships
MORAL THEOLOGY AFTER VATICAN II
7. Receiving Vatican II: An Ongoing Challenge for Moral Theologians
8. The Changing Face of Moral Theology after Vatican II
9. The Responsibility of Moral Theology to Church and Modern Society
10. Receiving Vatican II: The Contribution of the Association of Teachers of Moral Theology
11. Towards an Adult Conscience
12. ‘Do it Yourself’ Moral Theology
13. Live Simply: Being True to our Togetherness
14. Two-Minute Talk at a Liverpool Public Rally, Protesting against Government Cuts
15. Saints or Sinners? Towards a Spirituality of Growth out of Sin
Jack Mahoney SJ, ‘Christianity in Evolution’
An online book review
16. I Believe in a Sinful Church
17. The Gift of General Absolution
18. Pastoral Care of the Divorced and Remarried
19. Can Marriage Breakdown be a Death-Resurrection Experience?
20. Is there a link between Sex Abuse and Systemic God Abuse in the Church?
21. HIV-Prevention, Women, Condoms: A Gospel of Life Perspective
22. Maria’s Story and other HIV/ AIDS encounters
23. Vatican II Moral Theology in Practice: Part One — Bernard Haring
24. Vatican II Moral Theology in Practice: Part Two — Charles Curran
25. Dissent or Disagree: A Debate with Charles Curran
THE EUCHARIST AND VATICAN II
26. The New Translation of the Roman Missal: Lament for a Flawed Process
27. The Eucharist and Unity
28. The Eucharist and Violence
29. On viewing Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ
30. Some Thoughts on the Diminishing Number of Priests
31. Is ‘No’ to Female Priests ‘Good News’ for women? Letter to The Tablet, 2 December 1995
32. The Inhumanity of excluding Women from the Priesthood: A talk given in 1977
33. Celebrating the Eucharist in the Spirit of Vatican II
34. ‘Mind the Gap’: Person-centred Liturgy
35. Samples of Eucharistic Prayers
36. We are Church, We are Eucharist, We are Theology: A Feast of Thanksgiving
37. We are God’s Gift to Each Other: So to Honour One is to Honour All
346 pp. To purchase this book online, go to www.columba.ie
MY PERSONAL ODESSEY — AN OVERVIEW
This essay was first published in a Festschrift edited to mark my retirement by three of my fellow moral theologians, Bernard Hoose, Julie Clague and Gerard Mannion, Moral Theology of the 21st Century, (T & T Clark, London, 2008). Until 2011 Publication was limited to a hardback edition costing £80. Hence, this piece was not easily accessible to most readers. In the course of 2011 a paperback edition was published. The original title of the piece was ‘The Role of Personal Story in the Teaching of Moral Theology’. I have made some slight alterations to the text to accommodate it to its new context.
(1) Early years
I was blessed with a very happy childhood. I felt loved and secure at home. In my innocence little did I realise how my childhood was also ‘deprived’. I had no sisters, an impoverishment which deepened still further when, at the age of fourteen, I moved to the all-male establishment of the seminary at Upholland College. Unconsciously I was being affected by an atmosphere of emotional deprivation and so did not receive the kind of well-integrated education in personal and sexual relationships which is now recognised as part of any young person’s healthy development. This all-male environment encouraged a macho culture in the seminary. Discipline was strict. Feelings were not for public display. The image of a priest put before us was of a man, strong, independent, able to control himself and others, and totally obedient to the will of God which came through the voice of authority and the rules of the seminary. Tintinabulum vox Dei est (‘the bell is the voice of God’) was drilled into us. Later, the attitude to authority this had inculcated into me was bound to have a negative influence on me when I began studying moral theology – and, in fact, the whole of theology and spirituality. Moreover, this ethos of the seminary was itself a by-product of the kind of theological thinking which held sway in the Church in those days.
My initial theological education was in a pre-Vatican II seminary. I was ordained in 1958, four years before the council began. Yet it would be unfair to present my seminary education as all doom and gloom. While I could not say it did me no harm, I am still grateful for much of the seminary experience. The senior seminary staff at Upholland College in those days included two outstanding priest Biblical scholars, Alexander Jones and Tom Worden, both of whom played a major role in awakening the Catholic Church in the UK to the renewal in Biblical studies beginning to emerge in places like the École Biblique in Jerusalem. Moreover, their spirit of critical enquiry was infectious and was not restricted to biblical studies. It is worth mentioning one experience I have never forgotten and which, I suspect, had a long-term influence on my later theology. While I was in the Sixth Form we followed a course on St John’s Gospel given by Alexander Jones. He went to a lot of trouble explaining to us his particular interpretation of a passage in chapter six of John’s Gospel. When it came to the end-of-year exam, I had the nerve to reject his interpretation and offered my own alternative complete with my reasons why. That was totally against the ethos of seminary education. It was not just the bell which was the voice of God; the teacher was too. I was expecting to fail my exam because of my foolhardiness. Instead I was given top marks. Looking back, I feel sure that the case I argued was probably very flawed. I suspect that my high mark was for being prepared to approach the issue in a spirit of critical enquiry.
I had respect, even affection, for Paddy Hanrahan, the Irish priest who taught moral theology in the seminary. Yet much of his course was light years away from the approach to moral theology which emerged from Vatican II. The three-volume moral theology manual by Noldin was our text. Its subtitle was ‘secundum mentem S Thomae’ (‘according to the mind of St Thomas’). When later, I studied moral theology in Switzerland from the actual text of Aquinas I discovered that Noldin was very far from the mind of Thomas. In addition, a great deal of the Upholland moral theology course was devoted to canon law – not unnaturally, since Noldin’s treatment of the sacraments was largely based on canon law. The manual’s coverage of sexual ethics was in a separate volume on the sixth and ninth commandments and said little, if anything, about sexual maturity and healthy relationships. Its main aim was to specify as accurately as possible all the kinds of sins against chastity and to offer guidance on determining what guilt was involved.
(2) Further studies
After my ordination in 1958, I was sent to Fribourg University in Switzerland in preparation for eventually returning to the Upholland Seminary to teach Moral Theology. My remit was to do a Licentiate in Theology there, and they go to Rome for a Doctorate in Canon Law. That was seen as giving the necessary competence to teach moral theology. Even at that early stage that struck me as putting the cart before the horse, so I managed to get approval to reverse the priorities. I was able to complete the two-year Licentiate in one year, which enabled me to spend the necessary time at Fribourg and elsewhere to complete my Doctorate in Moral Theology. So my Canon Law studies were reduced to a Licentiate. I have since enjoyed describing myself as a lapsed, non-practising canon lawyer!
My theological studies at Fribourg were truly a liberating experience, Although we studied from the actual text of St Thomas’s Summa Theologica, that text was seen in its historical context, wrestling with the problems of its day. Its very methodology encouraged a critical approach to theology. The quaestiones (questions) in the text presented key problems that the contemporaries of Aquinas were struggling with. They were far from Aunt Sallies, set up deliberately to be knocked down. They actually engaged one’s personal faith. The teacher was the leader of the exploratory expedition, rather than an oracle whose teaching had to be taken on faith. I and my fellow students were engaged in a struggle for meaning, delighting in any insights into the truth we achieved, though always conscious that the truth was something much bigger than we would ever grasp or understand. This approach gave us a respect for tradition. It was also a reminder that it is a living tradition, to be further enriched and we all share responsibility to try to develop this living tradition.
My appreciation of the complexity of this living tradition deepened as a result of my doctoral work on conscience and the Caroline divines, a group of mainly Anglican theologians in seventeenth-century England who kept alive the very fertile insights of Aquinas on conscience and the virtue of prudence. This was at a time when the neo-Scholastics were sucking the lifeblood out of this tradition and reducing prudence to a fearful cautiousness instead of seeing it as a virtue of creative initiative in the face of the exigencies of real life with all its particularities. My interest in this field was stimulated by my tutor, Cornelius Williams OP, an Irish Dominican who became a close friend. Though not a brilliant lecturer, our paths crossed at just the right moment. He also introduced me to the writings of his predecessor, Thomas Deman, a French Dominican who died in his early forties, but not before producing some magnificent writing on prudence and conscience. Although I never met Deman, his writings have inspired much of my later writings and practice.
My two years of Canon Law at the Gregorianum University in Rome were far from inspirational. However, there were two redeeming features. The first was a course on the philosophy of law by the German Jesuit, Bertrams. Though the dullest of lecturers, he opened my eyes to the importance of having a sound philosophy of law. That frees moral theology from the shackles of legalism. Laws are no longer chains depriving us of our freedom. Rather they are tools enabling us to live together, respecting each other’s freedom and life-commitments through a shared vision of the common good, while at the same time doing justice to the demands of the uniqueness of individual situations through the exercise of ‘epikeia’, part of the more general virtue of justice.
The second redeeming feature was a seminar with Ladilas Orsy. The subject matter of the seminar was not the important thing — in fact, I cannot remember what it was. What has affected me ever since was the way Orsy personified ‘the human face of canon law’. For him — as for Jesus himself — laws are made for people, not people for the law. The impact of Bertrams and Orsy on my moral theology can be seen in a whole variety of ways. It probably comes out most clearly in my short piece entitled, ‘Mind the Gap’: Person-centred Liturgy, later in this volume, where I describe ‘epikeia’ as a ‘gap virtue’.
(3) Initial parish experience and teaching in the Seminary
After completing my further studies, I spent two years as a curate in St Clare’s, a very busy parish in Liverpool. Vatican II was in full spate at the time. I still remember my parish priest (also vicar general), Mgr Adamson, looking up from his breakfast table reading of The Times and saying to me with a note of puzzled excitement in his voice. ‘What do you think of this? “The church is a community of churches”.’ The excitement in his voice told me that his heart was in the right place theologically. That moment has remained embedded in my mind. Somehow it was symbolic of an energy-releasing fusion of two very different mindsets.
From five to nine most weekday evenings all four priests in the parish engaged in house-to-house visiting. Having covered every Catholic home in my district about three times in my first six months in the parish, I was feeling pretty desperate. I rang a good friend of mine, Jimmy Collins, a very inspirational priest, and asked him: ‘Jimmy, what the hell do you talk about when you visit people in their homes? I have never forgotten his reply. It has deeply influenced my moral theology and pastoral practice ever since. ‘You don’t talk about anything’, he said, ‘you listen to people’s lives.’ I am not opposed to the academic dimension of moral theology. However, if that becomes the be-all and end-all of moral theology and if moral theologians lose touch with people’s lives, I think moral theology will lose its soul.
After my two years in the parish, I returned to the seminary to teach moral theology. I was struck by the unreality of the situation on my first night back. As the senior students, all aged from eighteen to about thirty, processed out of chapel on that first evening, the thought came to me that in many of the homes I had visited in St Clare’s parish, young men of this age were already married, fathers of young children and holding down a job. Whereas any responsibilities the seminarians carried were fairly minimal and artificial. To all intents and purposes they were treated as minors and subject to the rigid discipline of the institution. Such a situation had massive limitations in terms of personal maturation and also as forming future priests in an experience-based and pastorally sensitive moral theology.
Fr Tom Worden, whom I have mentioned above as one of the lights shining in the darkness, had returned from being a peritus at Vatican II. As Dean of Studies, he set about renewing the whole approach to the theological and biblical studies. Formal lectures were reduced to a minimum. Great emphasis was placed for the students on writing regular essays, which enabled them to give their personal and reflective response to reading usually suggested by the tutor. Each essay would be evaluated by and discussed with the tutor for that particular course. In addition, weekly seminars were held at which the students shared with each other the fruits of their research. This was designed to inculcate in students a kind of mindset in keeping with the spirit of Vatican II. It tried to equip the students to feel at home in a climate of radical change. In this way the seminary itself became a kind of laboratory of how changes occur. Staff and students had to cope with all the struggles and criticism which accompany any radical change. They had to learn how to live with ambiguity, recognising that in any process of change, despite all its benefits, some good things are inevitably lost and new weaknesses are taken on board. Nevertheless, feeling at home with change, though disconcerting, is a more appropriate preparation for a Vatican II-style moral theology.
(4) Early writings
While I was at the seminary I took my first tentative steps in writing on issues of moral theology for publication. Again, the personal element comes in here. I had first got to know Michael Richards while I was in Rome. We both lodged at the Beda College. It was Michael who made possible the publication of my doctoral dissertation, Conscience: Dictator or Guide? (1967) in a series he was editing for Geoffrey Chapman. When he became the Editor of The Clergy Review he began to encourage me to publish in that periodical and later invited me on to its Editorial Board. I have never forgotten my first piece. It was in two parts and entitled ‘The Authority of the Church’s Moral Teaching’ (The Clergy Review, 1967, pp. 682-694 & pp. 938-949). I showed it to my predecessor and former moral theology teacher, Paddy Hanrahan, who was still on the staff. When he returned my manuscript, he had corrected any spelling or punctuation errors but offered no other comment. On reflection, I appreciated what he had done. He was implicitly saying to me: ‘It’s up to you to get on with it now. I have done my bit.’ That tied in with the attitude of historical consciousness which I had imbibed in my time at Fribourg. He had been true to his times. It was up to me now to be true to my times. And the times they were a-changing!
An example of the best of his times was the regular feature in The Clergy Review entitled, ‘Questions and Answers’. In each issue practical problems raised mainly by priests in parishes were discussed and answers provided. Canon E.J. Mahoney was the expert over many years, eventually succeeded by Mgr Lawrence McReavy. Many, though far from all, the problems raised had a canonical basis to them. Mahoney’s two volumes of Questions and Answers were prominent on the shelves of most priests and were frequently consulted.
In the years leading up to Vatican II Karl Rahner had been writing on the importance of helping people in forming their own consciences so that they would be a position to discern what they should do in any situation which presented itself. This will ring bells with anyone familiar with the Ignatian Exercises. The weakness with the ‘Questions and Answers’ approach was that, for most of the moral questions raised, answers were traced back to some kind of authoritative Church teaching, often papal statements or declarations of the then Holy Office. In the absence of such authoritative statements, a search was made of ‘the approved authors’. That was the title given to the more renowned authors of the many manuals of moral theology written over recent centuries and used as text books in seminary training. Although the, ‘approved authors’ would discuss the arguments for and against a particular position, at least as much weight was given to the ‘authority’ of the author as to the strength of his arguments. Moreover, there was no suggestion that the views and personal experience of the present or future confessors reading these texts carried any weight. As for penitents, their opinions did not enter into the equation.
When Michael Richards asked me to take over the ‘Questions and Answer column, my reaction was that a totally different approach was needed for our post-Vatican II age. Consequently, I wrote an introductory article entitled, ‘Do-it-yourself moral theology’ (The Clergy Review, 1970, pp. 52-63 – reprinted in a abbreviated form in this volume) where I expressed the hope that the members of our recently formed ‘Association of Teachers of Moral Theology’ (ATMT would be able to supply a series of articles which would give readers a grounding for tackling their own problems. I have to confess that no more than a trickle of such articles appeared for a couple of years and then the stream dried up. Whether my decision to abandon the ‘Questions and Answers’ format was good thing or not, it is not easy to judge.
The ATMT was founded by Jack Mahoney and myself. We had never met each other and neither of us knew other moral theologians teaching in the seminaries. We both agreed that that was not a healthy situation. So we invited our colleagues to join us for an initial meeting in Manchester. Since then we have been meeting twice a year for residential weekends. It has proved to be a great source of inspiration and ongoing learning. At each meeting we discuss papers submitted and read in advance. This encourages a conversational methodology in which members are never out to score a point but are focussed on trying t help each other deepen our understanding of the topic under consideration. In such a non-threatening climate the ATMT has developed into a group of friends as well as professional colleagues. On a number of occasions we even have shared meetings with the bishops. The listening and learning approach was much in evidence in one such session held after the publication of John Paul II’s encyclical, Veritatis Splendor which dealt with fundamental moral questions. The meeting, carefully prepared by a small joint planning group led by Bishop Jack Brewer, opened with bishops and moral theologians sharing how they felt on first reading the Pope’s letter. Only after we listened to each other’s feeling did we move on to discuss some of the actual issues raised by the encyclical. This was very much a listening and learning exercise, a good model for Church committed to a collaborative model of teaching authority. A fuller hiE tort’ of the ATMT is found later in this volume.
(5) Humanae Vitae
The issue of conscience came up with a vengeance with the publication of Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae, in 1968. After outlining a very person-centred approach to marriage and sexuality, the Pope gave his decision on the very down-to-earth issue of birth control. He based it on a rationale which did not sit easily with the person-centred approach of the rest of the document. Moreover, his decision went against the advice of his so-called ‘Birth Control Commission’ which included moral theologians, social scientists and some extremely committed married people. Their final report carefully argued that a change in the Church’s teaching would do justice to the heart of what is contained in the Church’s living tradition and it even included a supplement proposing a way this change could be presented to the Church at large. Three moral theologians on the Commission privately submitted to the Pope their own document which argued that such a change would harm the credibility of the Church. Sadly, it was their unofficial advice which was heeded.
Extensive reading and research had convinced me that there would be a change in the Church’s teaching. Hence, Humanae Vitae came as a great shock to me. I had actually supported Archbishop Beck in preparing the Liverpool clergy for such a change and in offering appropriate pastoral guidance to them. An inadequate grasp of ecclesiology and the role of authority in the Church led me to respond to the encyclical in a way which I can now see, with hindsight, was theologically inadequate and pastorally unhelpful. I feel I let people down on this point. Moral theologians like Charles Curran had foreseen such an eventuality and had anticipated and worked through the ecclesiological issues raised by it. Hence, they were able to disagree immediately and publicly with the Pope’s teaching and supported people in their conscience decisions to continue using birth control. I argued rather feebly in long articles in The Catholic Pictorial and The Clergy Review (1972, pp. 108-120, pp. 174-186, pp. 261-275, pp. 330-349 & pp. 803-808) that Humanae Vitae presented the Church with something new and that we needed time to weigh up and wrestle with its teaching. I recognised that, though it was a word spoken by legitimate authority, it might not be the last word or even the best word. I felt we needed to reflect on it before we could responsibly disagree with it and reject its teaching. However, I did recognise that it was a matter with immediate and practical consequences for the lives of married couples. Hence, their conscious decisions needed to be respected during this time of reflection and that they not be coerced into conduct which they considered harmful to the good of themselves and their children.
A major learning experience for me in this matter occurred some months after the encyclical was published. I was asked to speak to a large group of married couples in Rockferry on the Wirral. They were very committed Catholics who used to meet regularly in cells to support each other in their married life. They asked me to explain the thinking of Humanae Vitae to them. Believing that the lived experience of such committed couples was an important source for theological reflection on marriage, I thought that my meeting with them could be a good learning experience for me. Hence, in addition to speaking to them about the encyclical, I asked them — a group of about two hundred — to write down for me how far the teaching of Humanae Vitae tied in with their lived experience. I was taken aback — and chastened — to find that pretty well all of them said that it did not fit in at all with their understanding and experience of marriage. Their response comes back to me every time I read that challenging passage in Jack Mahoney’s magnificent book, The Making of Moral Theology (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1987):
In the case of Humanae Vitae … Pope Paul may appear to imply that the reception of his teaching by the Church at large will have, through the complementary influence of the Spirit, at least a confirmatory value in establishing the truth of his teaching. The possibility cannot be ruled out, however, that in such non-infallible teaching on a matter which is not contained in revelation the response of the body of the faithful will be less than whole-hearted in agreeing with the papal teaching and the considerations underlying it. For the influence of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the faithful, as described by Pope Paul, is envisaged purely as disposing them to be receptive, whereas it might be a more positive one of refining, qualifying, or even correcting the papal teaching (p. 295).
Cardinal Hume was surely right when, at the 1980 Rome Synod on Marriage, he said that the experience of married people can be ‘an authentic source of theology from which we, the pastors, and indeed the whole Church can draw’.
(6) Upholland Northern Institute (UNI)
My appreciation of the importance of human experience deepened still further when I was appointed Director of the newly-formed Upholland Northern Institute after the Upholland College Senior Seminary moved to the North-East and was amalgamated with Ushaw College, Durham. UNI was set up as a centre for Adult Christian Education and In-Service Training (IST) for clergy. Actually, our very first course was an IST course for the Bishops of England and Wales on the theme, ‘The Bishop as Teacher’. My own talk to the bishops was precisely on that topic. My input was deeply influenced by a course of Adult Learning our UNI team had recently undergone. That, combined with Brian Wicker’s analysis of the ‘seminar leader’ model of teaching authority, led me to suggest that teaching authority in the Church is an exercise of collaborative ministry and we all have our part to play in it. The Church is both a learning community and a teaching community. A fuller version of the kind of approach I put forward is found in a later chapter of this book. Such an approach obviously has implications for an issue such as disagreeing with ‘official’ Church teaching. This is an issue which refuses to go away. I get the impression that the heavy-handed way many European bishops today are interpreting Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the Vatican document on Catholic Universities, is leading to a situation where the only form of moral theology seminarians will be exposed to is one of strict compliance with ‘official’ teaching. There will be no chance of their hearing the Spirit speaking through voices expressing loyal and responsible disagreement.
(7) My three-pronged sabbatical
After five very fruitful and stimulating years as Director of UNI, I was succeeded by Fr (now Archbishop) Vincent Nichols. That gave me the opportunity to enjoy the great privilege of a seven-month Sabbatical. Two separate blocks of two months were spent as a Fellow of St Edmund’s House, Cambridge. To broaden the learning experience, I asked a scientist friend to recommend a non-theology book which might open my mind to new horizons. His suggestion, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago Press, 1962), blew my mind. Kuhn’s analysis of ‘paradigms’ of knowledge enabled me to make sense of the changed approach to the theology of marriage found in Vatican II. It gave a solid basis to my book, Divorced and Second Marriage (Collins, London, 1982). Though most of the writing was done at Cambridge, it was not finally completed until I became Leader of the Skelmersdale Team Ministry. The learning experience at Cambridge was intensified through many stimulating personal contact, most notably visiting fellows Ellen Leonard from St Michael’s, Toronto, an expert on Modernism especially here in England, and Peter and Ann Pettifer Walshe who have managed to keep alive their enthusiasm in the hardly revolutionary setting of Notre Dame University, where Peter is Professor of Government and International Studies and Ann edits an alternative campus newsletter entitled Common Sense. Their continuing friendship has been a rich theological resource for me.
Two months of my sabbatical comprised visiting a number of developing countries, notably, India, the Philippines and Peru. I had the privilege of seeing liberation theology and inculturation put into practice in real life. It was an experience that has marked me for life. My sabbatical ended with a thirty-day Ignatian retreat at Dollymount in Dublin. One unforgettable insight from that retreat was to do with the will of God. I have always been attracted to the spirituality of Charles de Foucault and continue to recite daily his well-known ‘Prayer of Abandonment’. It came home very powerfully to me during this retreat that to pray ‘Father, I abandon myself into your hands’ lacks any real credibility if, in fact, I am not prepared to exercise my will. It is to give God nothing. I had tended to accept too passively whatever happened as God’s will. I now realise that it is only by fully accepting responsibility for whatever lies in my control that I am enabling God’s will to be truly realised. In a sense, it is up to me to ‘create’ God’s will.
(8) Skelmersdale Team Ministry and The Queens College, Birmingham
After my sabbatical I was appointed Leader of the Roman Catholic Team Ministry in Skelmersdale New Town. This was a steep learning curve for me since the Team Ministry had been in operation for a number of years. It was made up of priests, sisters and laity, well formed and experienced in the skills of collaborative ministry. It certainly taught me that any mission statement at any level of Church life has to be based on an analysis of the local situation in which the Church community in the area is called to live its life and exercise its ministry. (cf. chapter three of my FPB, ‘Collaborative Ministry: a Pastoral Experience in Skelmersdale’) I learnt that a mission statement which could apply to any Church community, regardless of time, place or culture, will never arouse people’s enthusiasm and set them on fire.
At the end of five years in Skelmersdale I was becoming worried that there was very little writing taking place in the UK in the field of moral theology. Because of my training and experience I could not ignore such a lacuna. Although I had thoroughly enjoyed my years in the Team Ministry, I decided that I would make better use of my talents, such as they were, by re-engaging with teaching and writing in moral theology. To give myself time to catch up with developments, I applied for and was awarded a one-year Research Fellowship at The Queens College in Birmingham, an ecumenical establishment for training for the ministry. Although Skelmersdale had been a rich ecumenical experience, The Queen College offered me a much broader form of ecumenical life, especially in the field of liturgy. With Queens being an ecumenical foundation, free from the restraints of different denominational Churches, I had the opportunity to experience the Eucharist celebrated according to the rites of various Christian Churches, sometimes even under the presidency of ordained Methodist and German Lutheran women. This was prior to the Church of England accepting women’s ordination. I was happy to find myself feeling completely at home with a woman presiding at the altar.
Moreover, my research project was itself ecumenical. It was an examination of the positions taken up by different Christian Churches on the ethics of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) which was a new development at that time. My research was published by Collins in 1987 under the title, Life and Love: Towards a Christian Dialogue on Bioethics. My growing appreciation of the importance of women’s contribution to the full life, ministry and teaching of the Church led me to include a specific chapter entitled, ‘What some women are saying about IVF’. Later on when the rich contribution of women had had an ever great impact on me, I went much further than that. In my 1992 book, New Directions in Moral Theology, one of the major chapters was entitled, ‘Moral theology – not truly human without the full participation of women.’
Arriving in Birmingham a few weeks after the Handsworth riots, I had the enriching experience of helping out each weekend in St Francis parish, Handsworth, courtesy of its amazing and inspiring parish priest, the late Fr Tom Fallon, very much a man of the people. My experience in Birmingham also introduced me to the inter-faith scene. I visited far more mosques than Catholic Churches during my year there and I made good friends with some delightful Muslims. Attending Muslim and Hindu prayer services never left me feeling that the God they were praying to was a foreign or alien God. Despite major doctrinal differences I could sense the truth in the expression, ‘We all believe in the same God.’ Looking back years later, I would add: ‘And the same God believes in us.’
(9) Combining Parish and University: Eldon St, Liverpool and Heythrop College
After Birmingham I was determined to combine parish experience with teaching moral theology. My good friend, Jack Mahoney, offered me the opportunity to join him at Heythrop College in the University of London, while at the same time engaging in pastoral ministry in Our Lady’s parish, Eldon St, in inner-city Liverpool. Although the original suggestion was that I should involve myself in Heythrop as much as I felt able, by the time I arrived there Jack had been appointed Professor of Christian Ethics at Kings College, London and I was left carrying the full teaching load in moral theology on a part-time basis. It was very hard work but I enjoyed every minute of it. I would catch a Sunday evening train from Liverpool Lime Street to London Euston so that I could start work at crack of dawn on Monday morning. Thursday afternoon would see me dashing with a heavy bag of books on my shoulder to Oxford Circus Tube station to get to Euston in time for my return train to Liverpool. I never once missed it, even though at times I had only minutes to spare! I found the twice-weekly three-and-a-half hour train journey a very valuable time to catch up with my theological reading.
Both sides of this ‘double life’ fed off each other. Eldon St was a very privileged pastoral setting. The Eldonians, an incredible community and housing group in this area of multiple deprivation in Liverpool, were still in their early days, though they had already weathered their battle with Derek Hatton and his militant tendency in Liverpool City Council. The ground work was solidly in place, due to the inspired leadership of former dock crane-operator, Tony McGann and the combined force of the local community, solidly supported by the two local priests, Jim Dunne and Michael Lane. To be dropped into such a situation was an immense privilege and one I will never forget. It would be impossible to attempt to summarise the theological richness of such an experience. I can only point readers to ‘Struggling to Live the Gospel in Inner-city Liverpool: a Case Study’, chapter two of my From a Parish Base. There I have tried, very inadequately, to capture some of the inspiration and excitement of those early days. My ten years in Eldon St parish offered me a theological ‘source’ which I was able to share in my theological teaching in Heythrop and which the students seemed to appreciate greatly.
Heythrop possesses one of the best theological libraries in the UK. The Eldonians provided me with a library of a totally different kind. I was privileged to read the ‘living Gospels’ incarnated in their everyday lives. The remarkable thing is that the wonder of the Eldonians is just as much alive today as it was then.
(10) HIV/AIDS and CAFOD
During my early days at Heythrop College I was introduced to a second experiential theological ‘source’ which affected me deeply on my first encounter with it and which has continued to have a major influence on me as a moral theologian. In the early nineties HIV/AIDS was beginning to make its presence felt. Initially considered to be restricted to the gay community, people soon recognised that it was affecting heterosexual people on a far wider scale, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The Roman Catholic Aid agency CAFOD quickly realised that HIV/ AIDS, as well as being a terrible and terminal medical condition, was also a major development issue. CAFOD responded very quickly by setting up a HIV/AIDS section with its own advisory committee. A Medical Missionary of Mary sister, Dr Maura O’Donohue, headed the whole venture. Her medical expertise, combined with her extensive experience of Africa and her deep commitment to social justice and respect for the dignity of women, enabled her quickly to become a key figure in the Church’s response to HIV/AIDS. She became an ‘expert’ in the fullest sense of the word. In other words, her knowledge and understanding of HIV/AIDS was based on grassroots personal experience of how people were being infected and affected by his pandemic. Maura invited me to join her advisory committee and my eyes began to be opened to the enormity of HIV/AIDS, a process of personal enlightenment which has continued to this day. Along with Dr Mary McHugh, chair of the advisory committee, and two CAFOD staff, Maura enabled me to have a three-week exposure experience of the grass-roots reality of HIV/ AIDS in Uganda, a visit I shall never forget. I saw how poverty was a major factor in the spread of HIV/AIDS — and vice versa. I was also confronted with the feminisation of poverty, while being bowled over by the extraordinary resilience of the women involved in one way or another. The slogan, ‘Living positively With AIDS’, made a deep impact on me and I had to face the startling truth that ‘The Body of Christ has AIDS.’
My contact with CAFOD also led to my being invited to share in theological reflection on the pandemic with moral theologians and people living with AIDS from the UK and Ireland, USA and Asia at conferences in New York, Dublin and Bangkok. After the Bangkok meeting, I stayed on for an additional two weeks to meet people working with and living with AIDS in Thailand and the Philippines. This was to ensure that the book on AIDS I was working on was firmly grounded in real life. Unfortunately, the publishers would not accept a book exclusively devoted to HIV / AIDS. They insisted on my discussing some wider issues of sexual ethics. Nevertheless, my primary emphasis on HIV / AIDS comes through very clearly in the subtitle, New Directions in Sexual Ethics: Moral Theology and the Challenge of AIDS (Continuum, London & Washington, 1998).
Part of ‘living positively with AIDS’ for me has been the great privilege of meeting many inspiring people such as Noerine Kaleeba, Ursula Sharp MMM, Archbishop Pius Ncube, Sister Mary Courtney, Bob Vitillo, Julian Filokowski, Martin Pendergast, Ann Smith, Bishop Kevin Dowling and two very dedicated and multi-talented U.S. moral theologians, Jim Keenan and Jon Fuller. Although I am neither gay nor HIV-positive, HIV/AIDS is a key dimension of my personal story. In any teaching of moral theology I have been engaged in, it has certainly made its presence felt. ‘AIDS is my gift’; I have never forgotten those words of a poor man in Thailand whose broken life was transformed and given new purpose when he was diagnosed as HIV-positive. He was sharing his experience at a meeting of Asian moral theologians in Bangkok.
I have kept detailed diaries of my three extensive exposure experiences in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Nairobi and Zambia. Perhaps publishing a collection of some excerpts from these diaries could be another positive task for me now I am retired. An awareness of HIV / AIDS can not only transform our own lives. It can also galvanise us to combat the many dehumanising factors which fuel injustice in our world and which also lie at the roots of the pandemic. It was not without reason that the last subtitle I use in the final chapter of NDSE is ‘A Time of Grace: AIDS — a window of opportunity for our global society.’ In the words of Enda McDonagh, we are living in ‘a time of AIDS’. I finished my book on a challenging and hopeful note:
Many individuals living with HIV / AIDS experience a conversion to living more fully and with more commitment to what life is all about. Our human family is now living with HIV/AIDS. Will that experience turn out to be a conversion experience for us? … Theologically, I would suggest, our world is faced with a redemptive moment. If that is not a challenge to Christians and Christian Churches, what is? (pp. 212-213).
For the next ten years of my personal odyssey I was parish priest of a shared Roman Catholic/ Anglican Church in Hough Green, Widnes. A fuller account of that experience is given in a later chapter. This experience served to deepen my conviction that the future is ecumenical — and more than ecumenical. As a Hindu priest once said to me, ‘Religion, though good, can also narrow our minds. God is not narrow. God is all-embracing.’
Almost from its inception nearly thirty-five years ago, the Association Teachers of Moral Theology (ATMT) has been graced with a small, but high influential ecumenical membership. In past years I remember people of the calibre of Professor Gordon Dunstan, Ann Loades and Oliver O’Donovan attending our meetings. Professor Ronald Preston, the eminent Manchester Anglican ethicist specialising the field of social ethics was a very faithful participant our twice-yearly residential weekends until his death in 2001. He had a deep impact on all of us and we treasured him as a good friend and wise adviser.
Chapter two of my New Directions in Christian Ethics is entitled ‘Graceful Disagreement’. In it I try to wrestle with the phenomenon of disagreement on moral issues between different Christian Churches. This is a far cry to those early days when authoritative papal or Vatican statements were regarded the final word on most moral questions. When the English-language version of The Catechism of the Catholic Church was published in 1994, I highlighted still further the ecumenical context in which that document needed to be read, insisting that ‘when there are particular issues of moral disagreement between the major Christian Churches, the Catechism’s presentation of the current authoritative Catholic teaching should not be presumed to be the final and definitive Christian position on this topic,’ and I also pointed out that, ‘it would ecumenically harmful if such a presentation was understood to carry such authority that any other position must be rejected as unchristian’ (From a Parish Base, p. 135).
Life in Christ, an Agreed Statement by the Second Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC II), authored by a body co-chaired by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, is a powerful witness to the fact that, even on specific moral issues where these two Churches disagree, they may share the same vision and are committed to the same common values. Furthermore, sections 29 and 32 of Life in Christ offer a challenging comment on the formation of conscience and how a well-formed conscience actually contributes to the development of the Church’s moral teaching:
29. The fidelity of the Church to the mind of Christ involves a continuing process of listening, learning, reflecting and teaching. In this process every member of the community has a part to play. Each person learns to reflect and act according to conscience. Conscience is informed by and informs, the tradition and teaching of the community. Learning and teaching are a shared discipline, in which the faithful seek to discover together what obedience to the gospel of grace and the law of love entails amidst the moral perplexities of the world.
32. Teaching developed in this way is an essential element in the process by which individuals and communities exercise their discernment on particular moral issues. Holding in the mind the teaching they have received, drawing upon their own experience, and exploring the particularities of the issue that confronts them, they have then to decide what action to take in these circumstances and on this occasion. Such a decision is not only a matter of deduction. Nor can it be taken in isolation. It also calls for detailed and accurate assessment of the facts of the case, careful and consistent reflection and, above all, sensitivity of insight inspired by the Holy Spirit.
My personal story in the setting of our Shared Church of St Basil and All Saints has only made me more convinced of the truth and importance of the above quotations.
A new phase of my personal odyssey began after I retired at the end of June 2008. Austin Smith CP, a good friend of mine who died recently, used to describe retirement as ‘disengaging to re-engage’. That could be a description of this whole volume, even though, in the concluding chapter I offer a few specific reflections on the theme of retirement as a theological experience.