Being a Priest in the Public Square: The Experience from Down Under
Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life
Frank Brennan, S.J., professor of law at Australian Catholic University and the 2014 - 2015 Gasson Chair at Boston College Law School, discussed his experience as a priest in the public square in Australia at a Boisi Center lunch on February 25. Brennan explained that the relationship between faith and justice is central to his vocation as a Jesuit.
He spoke about his work on behalf of indigenous persons and asylum seekers, explaining that his focus on these issues is rooted in a vision of the Church as a community that cares for those at the margins of society.
While visiting at Boston College this year, Brennan has been able to complete two books: No Small Change outlines a proposal for constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians; Amplifying that Still Small Voices lays out an agenda for the Church to transform itself.
Asked whether he feels pressure to represent the entire Church in his work on public issues, Brennan explained that because he is a priest and not a bishop, he is able to promote the tradition of the Church without presuming to speak for the Church as a whole. This allows him to speak from the heart rather than present an official Church position, as well as criticize the Church when he deems appropriate.
An audience member pointed out that Australia has many Jesuit-educated Catholics in elected positions. Nonetheless, Brennan explained, this does not mean that Australian policy is more sympathetic to those who are most needy. Across party lines in Australia, for example, there is general consensus that the flow of asylum-seekers needs to be stopped.
Brennan also noted that the Church has lost much credibility since the sex abuse scandals became public, and that the Church was not currently viewed in the public square as holding a moral high ground. Still, he expressed hope that the Catholic Church’s values-based tradition and work helping the needy will ultimately save its credibility. Even if the Church has not always lived up to its mission, Brennan believes that there is a public role to play for a strong faith-based commitment to justice.