What are you doing now, apart from talking about the book?

I’m retired. I live in a parish house in Sydney. I celebrate mass there every Sunday. I write, I give talks.

Has the dust-up over your book and with your fellow bishops in Australia affected your living status?

Not so far. But whether it will, I don’t know.

Amid all the turmoil, you seem like a man at peace.

Yes, I’ve written what I believe. How others react is up to them. I have no control. One of the difficulties I’ve had with journalists recently is they’re all asking me what other people think, and I can’t tell you that. I’m at peace with what I’ve written. No one has so far said, What you say on page such-and-such is wrong because…They’re saying it’s wrong because it’s contrary to church teaching. But no one has yet given me a reasoned argument against anything I’ve said in the book.

Why then is there this negative reaction from bishops?

Because I’m questioning, I’m saying that a number of church teachings need to be put on the table for discussion. That’s the consequence. Start from this: If we wish to respond fully to abuse we must follow wherever the argument leads. If it demands that obligatory celibacy be put on the table, we must put it on the table. If it demands that church teachings on sex be put on the table, then that must be put on the table. If it demands that church teaching on authority be put on the table, then that must happen. We must follow the argument wherever it leads. And it’s wrong to say, well, you may not question a whole range of things.

You did receive some criticisms in an otherwise supportive review of the book by the theologian Richard Gaillardetz in America magazine. (Read the review here.)

Why did he do that? It was quite favorable review and suddenly this one sentence kills the lot. And then the arguments he made just don’t add up. I was disappointed. I was told he was a good theologian…Two of the three objections simply misunderstood me. I thought, Has he read this?

When you talk about change in the church, are you talking about structures? Or theology? Doctrines? Or are they all intrinsically interconnected?

I do not believe that the way to oppose a set of certainties is by putting up another set of certainties. I don’t do that. Instead I ask questions because I want to start a conversation. The questions concern all church teachings, laws, attitudes, a church culture.

People will also say, if we pose all these questions, then where is the certainty? If everything is up for grabs, what will we have left?

There I would refer them to the Bible. God did not give us a long series of certainties. Instead the Bible is the story of a journey, and that journey involved a struggle toward truth. And in that story there were many detours. And God wants us to struggle toward truth because that is how we grow. To attempt to give people certainties on every subject is not helping them.

Can a church that is questioning itself flourish?

There are always the deep underlying certainties that I have never queried. I believe in God, I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in the church. I believe in the pope!

Is it really a question of ecclesiology then—of talking about the church?

It goes across a whole host of issues. For example I ask questions about sexual morality. Now if you want to call that an issue of the church, you can, because we’re talking about church teaching. But it concerns a lot of different matters.

How would you describe yourself? As a new Martin Luther? Or what kind of historic parallel do you see?

I certainly don’t make any parallels between myself and Martin Luther. I have zero intention of founding any new church and would strongly resist any such idea.

Are there any other figures you’d draw inspiration from?

[Here he hesitates more than usual before answering.] I am not making myself equal to him in any way, but Oscar Romero called himself “the voice of the voiceless.” And perhaps I’m trying to do that, to speak for victims, and to speak for a whole lot of Catholic who ask questions similar to those I’m asking. And if I can be their voice, I’m happy to do so.

I’ve seen the tags on you already—“rebel” bishop, “dissident” bishop.

Those are tags. [He smiles slightly.] Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me. Not that kind.

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