Archbishop Pell and the Banning of Tomorrow’s Catholic.


Throughout the 1990’s I was part of a 3 person adult faith development team living in the western suburbs of Melbourne. The team was set-up in response to an urgent request to religious congregations from the Archbishop, Frank Little, for adult faith development ministry in the poorer western suburbs parishes. We had full support from the Archbishop. Gradually our work expanded into working with school staffs and net works of school principals and RE co-ordinators not just in the western suburbs but through Victoria and then into other states.

I wrote a book, God Is Near. Understanding a Changing Church in 1992. It had four printings in the first six months and sold more than 16,000 copies in Australia in the next couple of years. The book had an Imprimatur and a Nihil Obstat. However the book came under vehement attack from the religious right and I found myself targeted. The "darling" of the religious right, their "ear" in the local hierarchy was George Pell, a regional bishop in Melbourne, well known throughout the country for his ultra-conservative theology. The team knew that Pell thought our theology was suspect; we know he complained about our teaching on Real Presence. Of course he had never heard us speak, but listened to people reporting to him, people who would ask us whether we believed it was "really Christ’s flesh on the altar after the consecration" – how often this came up as THE test of our orthodoxy! – and when we tried to explain a distinction between "physical" and "sacramental" presence it always fell of deaf ears. It’s hardly surprising that Pell would listen to these reports since he himself does not appreciate the distinction (cf his pamphlet on Why Catholics Go to Mass)

Pell, Rome’s man-in-waiting, was made (no consultation) Archbishop of Melbourne in late 1996. Tomorrow’s Catholic was published in May 1997 – and it was a matter of when, not would, Pell move against me.

In late February 1998 Pell summoned me to his office. I was given two days’ notice and was not given any reason for the summons. I was handed a 10 page document written by Pell who subsequently stated that the document was his own work. The document outlined "errors" the Archbishop found in his reading of my book, Tomorrow’s Catholic. Understanding God and Jesus in a New Millennium (published 1997).

The document is interesting. What Pell does is quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church again and again. Proof-text stuff. And full of scriptural and theological literalism. Subsequent events would show Pell’s total inability to move beyond the security of quoting the Catechism. He demanded absolute, unquestioning assent to what he could quote as "church teaching" and showed himself incapable of engaging in conversation about events and worldviews that shaped dogmatic thought in the early centuries.

At the meeting, Pell forbade me to speak the following week at the annual Conference of Victorian Catholic Secondary Schools’ Principals on the topics of redemption, incarnation and the Trinity. I had been contracted to facilitate and speak at the two day conference.

At the meeting, Pell told me I was not to speak on these topics in the archdiocese of Melbourne.

At the meeting, Pell gave me a draft copy of a press statement which he stated would be released the following week. The statement, issued on March 11, mentions that my book is "in error". This is a vital issue: at the first meeting with me, before I had even read the 10 page document, Pell handed me a draft press statement, to be released "at the end of next week" in which Pell was going to announce publicly that my book was "in error". In other words I was presented with a guilty verdict and told that this was would be made public in a week’s time!! It is significant that Pell’s released statement concludes with:

On Thursday, 28th February, Archbishop Pell met with Father Morwood to inform him of what was about to happen and to explain to him why his book was in error.

Judgment had already been made about the book being in error and I was informed "of what was about to happen" as a consequence.

Pell, at the time, was a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine and the Faith. In June, 1997, that Congregation released a document "Regulations for Doctrinal Examination." While it is a document on how the Congregation in Rome is to handle issues, Archbishop Pell, with access to this document supplying guidelines on dealing with writings suspected of error and as an Archbishop would have been (or should have been) aware of the need for due process in any investigation of error.

I draw attention in particular to these articles of the document:

Art.9 The Congresso designates two or more experts who examine the text in question, give their opinions, and evaluate whether it is in conformity with the doctrine of the Church.

Art. 10. The same Congresso appoints a relator pro auctore, who has the task of illustrating, in a spirit of truth, the positive aspects of the teaching and the merits of the author, of cooperating in the authentic interpretations of his thought within the overall theological context, and of expressing a judgment regarding the influence of the author’s opinions. For this purpose, the relator pro auctore has the right to examine all the acts relative to the case.


Pell handed me a 10 page document outlining his reasons for believing I was in error. He took immediate action against me, indicating (to the organisers of the Principals’ Conference) that I was not a fit person to speak on certain topics.

Pell indicated that I "could get back" to him if I disagreed with his judgment. And this is the crux of the matter. I was given the press statement and told by Pell it was to be released the following week. So in effect I had just one week to mount a defense (what? Me against George Pell?!!) before a public statement that my book was in error was to be released.

Pell acted as judge and jury. There was no due process, no allowance whatever for anyone to speak objectively on my behalf, no proper time given for objective, competent investigation. This was clearly a case of Pell desiring to tackle me on his and my own.

The Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney later publicly acknowledged that principles of due process were in place at this time. The Cardinal was responding to a media release from the Australian Conference of Religious Institutes, released shortly after Pell’s statement about me. The ACLRI (19th March 1998) was headed: "Dialogue: The Hallmark of an Adult Church" and expresses concern – explicitly mentioning media attention given to Pell’s handling of me – that condemnation rather than "a climate of dialogue" was seen to be operating. Cardinal Clancy issued a statement in the Sydney Archdiocesan newspaper the following week saying there was no need for concern and that principles for dialogue and due process were in place. If this was the case, why did Pell act so contrary and raise such concern?

The principles of which Cardinal Clancy spoke were formulated into document form in the Australian Catholic Church a year later, (1999) when the Australian Bishops Conference released its guidelines for "The Examination of Theological Orthodoxy". The following passages from this document are interesting in light of Pell’s refusal to engage in any proper process:

A Theologian has the right to have his or her good name and academic reputation respected, and to just procedures in the resolution of any concerns about his or her orthodoxy. These procedures should protect the theologian from any spurious or ill-informed criticisms. It would also normally be inappropriate for the procedures to involve the assistance of an Expert who was known to be personally or academically in conflict with the theologian.

Whenever the question of orthodoxy is being examined, the process should be undertaken without delay and in such a way to respect the privacy of all parties concerned. Prior to resolution of the matter, there should be no public censure of the theologian or curtailment of his or her responsibilities, unless the pastoral situation demands some action, and, in that case, it should be as discrete as possible. Should the matter come to public attention, the Bishop or superior should acknowledge that the matter is being investigated according to due process, and that the final outcome will be made public.

In cases where the theologian is a member of an institute of consecrated life … the Bishop and the competent superior are to proceed by way of mutual consultation.

I maintain that these are principles of due process that should have been followed by Pell. We have Cardinal Clancy’s public guarantee that such principles were in operation at the time Pell was dealing with me. This is not a case of judging Pell in the light of a document that appeared after the event. It is a case of judging Pell by a document that articulates principles of due process of which he should have been fully aware in view of the document from the Congregation for Doctrine and Faith.

Yet, I note:

The book contained a testimonial from Fr Michael Fahey SJ, at the time editor of Theological Studies, one of the most prestigious Catholic theological journals in the world. Michael Fahey SJ is a most-respected theologian. He was at one time the President of the American Catholic Theological Association. I thought that even George Pell might have some caution when a book carried a testimonial from a theologian like Fahey. Fahey’s testimony for the book should have been some sort of alert to Pell not to set himself up as sole judge of whether the book was in error. My confidence in Fahey’s testimonial was one of the reasons I insisted with Pell that we enter into due process of investigation. There was no point in my engaging Pell on a one to one basis when he had already handed out a public judgment that my book was in error.

The book has a Foreword by Professor Thomas Groome, Professor of Theology and Religious Education at the Jesuit university, Boston College. Groome wrote to me when he heard of Pell’s actions against me and his words illustrate the wisdom and the need to have a process in which there is a relator pro auctore:

"I read the manuscript, found it "courageous" – as I say in the Foreword – but there is certainly no heresy there. You don’t even pretend to than raise good questions and try to respond in relevant and accessible ways for today’s laity. It’s a popular piece to stir conversation and imagination; you never claimed to be writing a catechism."

Move ahead to February 27th 2000 and the screening on the ABC TV "Compass" program: "George Pell: Defender of the Faith". I stated in an interview that guidelines were in place in the Church for due process of theological investigation, and that in Pell’s treatment of me "what surprises me was that the procedure were not followed even slightly." The following exchange then takes place between Geraldine Doogue, the program presenter, and George Pell:

Geraldine Doogue:

He claims there was a lack of due process in the way you disciplined him - according to Congregation for the Doctrine and Faith standards.

George Pell:

I don’t think that is correct at all. I invited him in, gave him the reasons why I thought he was in error, invited him to respond before, in fact, I announced I was doing anything. He has never at any stage responded to the substance of my objections. He has spoken all the time about procedures."

Pell clearly demonstrates here that he believed this was to be a one to one situation - me answering to him. No mention that I had only one week to respond and that he had already a prepared statement announcing my error! And no concern whatever that I kept speaking about "procedures". Pell actually seems disdainful of "procedures" as if this had nothing to do with him deciding I was in error. Pell also knew that I had replied to him at some length explaining why I was most reluctant to engage in one to one discussion with him on doctrinal issues. For example, in May 1998 I wrote in conclusion to a lengthy letter to him,

If you and I were to engage in friendly conversation I would want to make the observation that it seems to me you want to hold onto the traditional theological language and classical definitions and refuse to look at the questions and issues with which a change in worldview challenge us. I, on the other hand, engage the change in worldview and have problems with some of the classical language and definitions in so far as they seem tied to a worldview from which many people have moved.

This seems to have brought not only an impasse, but a situation whereby you have already passed public judgment detrimental to me. I, then, look to a process which Cardinal Clancy proclaims is operative in our Church. If you continue to have doubts about my orthodoxy then it would seem reasonable and prudent, as well as just, that at our meeting with Brian Gallagher in June we set ourselves the task of agreeing upon a process of independent, competent, theological investigation. Once again I affirm my willingness to abide by whatever recommendations might be forthcoming from such a process.

Immediately after my February meeting with Pell, I contacted Fr Brian Gallagher MSC, the Australian Missionary of the Sacred Heart Provincial Superior, to inform him of what had happened. Gallagher was appalled that Pell could think of making a public announcement about "error" within a week without any due process and immediately informed Pell both by phone and in writing of his concern. Gallagher wanted to know what due process was in place.

Pell responded (March 10th) with a copy of the announcement that was released on March 11th

On March 12th, Gallagher responded saying he found the notice "confusing" and drawing Pell’s attention to his (Pell’s) incorrect use of Canon Law in publicly implying that the book "required" an Imprimatur, when it did not. Gallagher’s letter ends:

Archbishop, I would still hope that some process of dialogue with Michael could be begun, as I mentioned in my last letter to you. The present situation is too unclear.

In early March the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart formally expressed concern for due process to be followed and sought a meeting with Pell to pursue a process in keeping with the guidelines issued from Rome. The letter stated:

You must know, as we know, that the processes used by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in similar situations involve both the writer in question and other theologians before any judgment is made concerning doctrinal error. In justice, we believe that Michael is entitled to similar pastoral processes.

The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart clearly believed that Pell’s procedure was not just.

A meeting was arranged in June 1998.

Prior to the meeting Pell wrote to me (2 June) clearly indicating that his chief concern was for me to admit that I was in error:

I am heartened by the fact that you have spoken to competent theologians and am more than happy to consider any submissions from them or yourself, especially on the way mistakes are acknowledged and corrections incorporated into any subsequent text.

Included with the letter were "three theological opinions which will be of interest to you." The background to these "opinions" was that Archbishop Hickey of Perth had sent my book to Bishop Michael Putney, Chairman for the Australian Bishops Committee for Doctrine and Morals, for an opinion from that Committee. The Committee asked three theologians to read the book and to pass critical comment. Bishop Putney’s official response to Archbishop Hickey in light of their comments reads:

While a well-trained theologian might be able to interpret his text in ways sufficiently nuanced and irenic to save it from too harsh a judgment, this would be more difficult for the less highly trained reader. Positions advanced by Fr Morwood on Christology, the Trinity and the redemption are somewhat untraditional and, at times, appear to be inconsistent with the teaching of the church. It is clear that it is not Fr Morwood'’ intention to deviate from that Tradition and he certainly endeavors to affirm it at times. However, he seems to lack the theological skill to advance his more adventurous theological positions in a manner which is clearly compatible with the Apostolic tradition. He polarises traditional theological interpretations shaped by the Church’s official teaching and his own contemporary theological formulations, rather than bringing the two into dialogue and showing that his interpretations are still consistent with the doctrinal positions being held by the Magisterium.

Because of this, the book would be most unhelpful as a text for the education of ordinary Catholic People. It would need major rewriting to pass as an example of critical theology which was at the same time clearly consistent with the Apostolic Tradition as found in the teaching of the Catholic Church.

[Quoted with permission from Archbishop Hickey]


The meeting in June was attended by Pell, his vicar general (now the present Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart), a secretary, Fr Brian Gallagher MSC, Fr Frank Andersen MSC and myself.

Early in the meeting Pell gave us a copy of Bishop Putney’s letter to Archbishop Hickey. Brian Gallagher immediately clarified with Pell that this was a private document, not a public judgment being handed down. Pell agreed that this was so.

The MSCs then spoke of the need for due process to be seen to be in operation and discussed with the archbishop the names of theologians both parties would accept as investigators. The MSC party agreed to participate in the process. However, towards the end of the meeting Pell was asked by Fr Gallagher what would happen if on any particular issue the theologians ruled that I was not in error and Pell thought I was. Pell’s response was clear: we had to understand clearly that he was the final judge; the book was in error and if I wanted to continue to work in Melbourne then the book would have to be re-edited in accord with what he considered to be acceptable Church teaching. I recall asking Pell: does that mean we can consult as many theologians as we like and at the end of the process I still had to edit the book in accord with his thinking whatever the theologians said – and I was clearly directed to understand this was the case.


  1. Bishop Putney’s letter.
  2. I have no problems with an Archbishop writing to the Bishops’ Committee for Doctrine and Morals, receiving a judgment unfavourable to me, and acting on that judgment as Archbishop Hickey did. He ensured that I was not able to work with the Catholic Education Office in his Archdiocese. The key fact is that Archbishop Hickey never made any public announcement that I was "in error".

    The language of Putney’s letter is careful: My positions "appear" to be inconsistent. I "seem" to lack theological skill. There is no judgment of "guilty of error" here. Bishop Putney would have known he could not take that step without entering into a more complex process of examination that would involve me and an expert speaking on my behalf.

    The concluding paragraph is irrelevant. The book is neither a "text" nor a work of "critical theology". It should not be judged as either. Its Introduction makes that quite clear.

  3. The meeting with Archbishop Pell.

The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart will witness to their belief that this meeting was a total disappointment to them. It was clear to them that Pell had no intention of allowing any sort of process along the lines suggested by the Congregation for the Doctrine and Faith. His only interest in any theological investigation was in so far as the theologians agreed with his assessment. Any other viewpoint would not be listened to or acted upon.

The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart quickly responded to Pell (who had demanded that I sign the "Profession of Faith" within 7 days or have my faculties to work in the Archdiocese cancelled.) They informed Pell a week after the meeting that I was being transferred to Sydney. The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart will give witness to their belief that there was no chance of due process or justice for my case under Pell. What Pell clearly demanded was my submission of intellect and will to his understanding of what constituted correct thinking.

The following is a transcript from ABC TV Four Corners: The Vatican’s Verdict (8/3/99)

Michael Morwood

At the end of the conversation when we said to the Archbishop, would you, if there’s something in Michael’s writing that the theologians say is OK, but you disagree with, would you be guided by the theologians – and he said, no.

Archbishop George Pell

That’s absolutely incorrect. I spoke with him a couple of times, and the last time he spoke with me with a number of witnesses, he was to come back to me with a list of theologians who would help him to review his book. He never returned.

So here we have Pell publicly saying a statement made by me is "absolutely incorrect" when I know the statement is absolutely correct. What hope is there for fair play when people expect an Archbishop to be telling the truth – so obviously Michael Morwood has to be not telling the truth. Pell has a short memory indeed if he could not remember that at the meeting we actually discussed a "list of theologians" and came to consensus about four of them. Their names are certain to be in the notes taken of the meeting. It was after the agreement on who the four theologians would be that Brian Gallagher asked his question about following the advice of the theologians. And Pell knows the MSCs acted on my behalf in informing him that I was to be transferred to Sydney.

When the MSCs applied in Sydney for faculties for me to work in the archdiocese of Sydney, I was granted faculties by Cardinal Clancy on 23rd June 1998 "on the strict condition that he refrains from preaching or publicly speaking on those matters in his writings which are currently under review, and until such time as the issues in question are satisfactorily resolved."

This put me in a no-win situation. I was to be transferred from Melbourne and now to be constrained in Sydney by the fact there was no chance of satisfactory resolution of the issues in question because of the lack of due process in Melbourne.

Other dioceses in Australia followed a similar course of action: because Pell had banned me in Melbourne I could not work in other dioceses. Later in the year the Archbishop of Brisbane cancelled work I had been booked to do with primary school principals in Brisbane in early 1999. I was reliably informed that the Archbishop had not read my book, had nothing personal against me, but could not be seen to allow me into the archdiocese if I had been banned in Melbourne.

I resigned from priesthood and religious life at the end of 1998 because of this restriction on me, caused by Pell’s rush to judgment and his refusal to follow any semblance of due process. A teacher in a Catholic school would have far more access to due process in any case for dismissal or restriction of teaching than had been shown me.

Having decided to resign from priesthood in protest at Pell’s lack of process and rush to judgment, I then found Pell and the Archdiocese of Melbourne applying severe restrictions on my efforts to make a living (at the age of 59) in what many, many people in leadership positions in the Catholic community would attest I do very well: adult faith education. In a letter to the Provincial Superior of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (27th August 1999) George Pell stated:

"In connection with his laicisation I have no objection whatever to him residing in the Archdiocese of Melbourne provided it is clearly accepted by him that as a layman he cannot teach in parishes, religious houses, or Church institutions."

This policy has been continued by the present Archbishop of Melbourne, Dennis Hart who wrote to inform that that I was not to speak on any Catholic property in the Archdiocese of Melbourne – on the basis of my "difficulties with" Pell.

Some issues:




Pell was an adversary. He should never have put himself in the position of being judge and jury over someone he was known to be at odds with. Justice was not done and was not seen to be done. And once his judgment was made public, it was highly unlikely that he would entertain processes of investigation that would bring his public judgment into question. The June meeting was compromised because of Pell’s rush to public judgment.


I stand by what I have written in Tomorrow's Catholic. But I am open to advice, direction and correction.


In the Introduction to the book I made these comments:

The task …… is to help people converse with one another and share the convictions and the questions they have about God, Jesus, the church, themselves, their religious worldview, and their bonding with the rest of creation …….

A major concern with this book is to communicate with the reader in simple language - an approach that has its advantages and its inherent disadvantages. But if the task of adult faith development is to engage people's experiences and questions, present information for reflection and discussion, and so develop understanding and growth in faith and commitment, that task requires simple language if it is to involve as many people as possible.

What I find interesting now is criticism coming from some people saying some of the issues in the book are too complex for "ordinary" language, that only a language that "is technical and precise" can deal adequately with them. I wonder whether the technical and precise language has in fact dealt "adequately" with some of the deepest "mysteries" of our faith. Here we are in an age of quite extraordinary breakdown of allegiance to traditional faith, and we are being told that we can only "adequately" speak about God, Jesus, Church etc in technical and precise language. Can't we hear the alarm bells ringing ??




Fr Morwood denies the Church’s teaching that the pre-existent Eternal Word, the Divine Son co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, became incarnate among us by the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary.

Fr Morwood’s most obvious errors concern the Incarnation. He replaces the "trinitarian model" of the Incarnation with the "wisdom model" which he claims is closer to Judaism. We are told that "Divinity is a reality in which we all share." The immanent God is expressed somehow in the "human person" Jesus ….


By frequently referring to Jesus Christ as a "human person" and redefining "divine", Fr Morwood denies the divinity of Jesus Christ as proposed by the Magisterium of the Church.

Fr Morwood repeatedly advances the heretical proposition that Jesus is a human person…….

Just as he redefined "incarnation", so Fr Morwood redefines "divine". "Divinity is a reality in which we all share" and "God comes to expression, comes to particular life form in ME." Jesus emerges as no more than a supreme example of this divine consciousness.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "The Gospels report that at two solemn moments, the Baptism and the Transfiguration, the voice of the Father designates Jesus his "beloved Son". In calling himself the only Son of God Jesus "affirms his eternal preexistence" and "throughout his public life, he demonstrated his divine sovereignty by works over power of nature, illnesses, demons, death and sin." ……..

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that "Peter could recognise the transcendent character of the Messiah’s divine sonship because Jesus had clearly allowed it to be so understood."……


Fr Morwood belittles what the Catholic Church solemnly teaches concerning the Holy Trinity.

The Trinity is reduced to the level of "the trinitarian theology" and "this theology", which comes much later than the New Testament is a "model" to help us make sense of God and Jesus’ relationship with God………..

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches …………

[Archbishop Pell is insistent that God is actually as the Christian religion defines God to be]



Fr Morwood rejects the teaching of the Church on Original Sin and its effects transmitted to all human beings.

He strongly attacks the Catechism of the Catholic Church for insisting on the fall and Original Sin because this is "dependent on an outdated worldview." He later parodies the redemptive act as Jesus changing God’s mind and claims instead that Jesus’ role was to change people’s minds, adding, that Jesus "would have been horrified by the idea of children being born into a state of utter separation from God."


Fr Morwood distorts the teaching of the Church on the redeeming work of Christ on the cross.

There is no atoning death on the cross – this is explicitly rejected, but by way of parody. Fr Morwood questions "..this Son dying a terrible pre-planned death, so that we could be restored to friendship with this God". He rejects the idea of Jesus’ role as "bringing human beings back into God’s friendship and opening the gates of heaven for us." The passion of Jesus "was not a burden God asked Jesus to bear to ‘make up’ for our sins." …….

A false antithesis is suggested here, as if there is a conflict between "the mystery of blessed communion with God" in heaven which Christ makes possible for us, (CCC n. 1027 ) and true freedom. Fr Morwood sees liberation as freedom from false ideas and images of God. As examples of this he provides parodies of Catholic teaching about a manipulative God who is distant from us and who lords it over us.

[Page 10 has an Appendix in which the Archbishop attacks my Methodology. Included in this summary is the statement that my opinions and arguments are grounded, among other influences, on "a selective reliance on a series of theologians who are either non-Catholics or eclectic, even "new age" Catholics."

The Archbishop concludes, "his limited understanding both of classical theologies and contemporary science is evident to the informed reader."]


Some comments:

In the Archbishop’s "Easter 1998" fax message (April 9) to the clergy of Melbourne he wrote:

"At Easter we celebrate the fact that the Son of God, fully human and fully divine, won forgiveness for our sins, enabled us to live after death."

What I have found in my dealings with the Archbishop is that he will not deviate from the classical language, formulations and worldview of the Church’s Tradition. He steadfastly refuses to even admit there are questions bubbling away under the surface, and these questions are commonplace in the Church community today. He prefers to say I "parody" the faith, when what I think I am doing is reporting honestly the questions of Catholics and their struggle with the traditional religious worldview in which their faith was nurtured.

What does it mean, for example, to say that Jesus "won forgiveness for our sins, enabled us to live after death"?

Are we to believe that Jesus "won" forgiveness for us ? What scenario are we imaging ? And isn’t this what Pell calls "parody" - once you get below the surface and start asking some basic questions about the religious worldview in which he and many others operate ? Like, wasn’t God forgiving until Jesus won God’s forgiveness ? And are we to believe, is it an article of Christian faith, that life after death only became possible because of Jesus ?

Archbishop Pell gave the Catholics of Melbourne more of the same in his Archbishop Speaks column in Kairos (19-26 April 1998 under the heading, The crowning truth of the Christian faith. He wrote:

"Through his redeeming death and resurrection, Jesus ensured that God forgave us our sins and that good people are able to go to heaven where they will find an eternity of reward and happiness. Jesus broke the hold of original sin on us and opened the way to God’s mercy."

It is no wonder Archbishop Pell has big problems with Tomorrow’s Catholic, and indeed, with anyone who questions his naïve theological stance. Jesus "ensured" that God forgives us ??? Just what is the religious imagination at work here ? Jesus "broke the hold of original sin", when clearly Jesus had no concept of "original sin" as it is understood in our Catholic Tradition ??

Asking questions about any of this puts a person at risk of being accused by the Archbishop of "parodying" Christian faith or setting up a "false antithesis".

I have set out Archbishop Pell’s line of criticism and thought simply to show "out of what" am I being judged, and "because of what/whom" do I have to leave Melbourne.

The pages that follow contain more thoughtful criticisms from competent theologians and will end with a couple of high recommendations for Tomorrow’s Catholic from various sources.

The statements and questions here are excerpts from comments from three theologians.

* Does Morwood accept that Jesus was God in some way that we are not, and cannot be ?

* Can we be assured that Christian faith regarding God as a communion of three "persons" really points to what God is, however inadequately, and is not merely a "model" so linked to a previous world-view that it can be replaced as our world-view changes.

* Michael’s efforts to get away from the literal interpretation of the Genesis story and from exaggerated interpretations of redemption seem to reduce Jesus’ saving role to just witnessing to what God is like and what is sacred in ourselves. He speaks beautifully about Jesus in this regard, but to measure up to the faith of the Church he would need to assure us (a) that the significance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection involves more than just what we can learn about ourselves and our relationship with God by looking at him, and actually includes the forgiveness of sins; (b) that Jesus’ "being sent" as our saviour was an expression of God’s grace and undeserved mercy; and that (c) only through what Jesus has done for us can we attain everlasting union with God.

* his book has serious short-comings as an exposition of the Apostolic Tradition as expressed in the teaching of the Catholic Church …….It would need major rewriting to pass as an example of critical theology which was at the same time clearly consistent with the Apostolic Tradition as found in the teaching of the Catholic Church.

*Too often, the author presents theological questions in a "dichotomising" way. The reader is presented with two bare alternatives and urged to accept one, when the matter is far more complex and requires a much more nuanced treatment.

* The author repeatedly refers to Jesus as a human person without further qualification. The effect for readers who are not students of theology is, in my view, a weakening of the sense of Jesus’ divinity …….. This quite unnuanced, almost blasé usage of what appears to be a contrary language strikes one as tendentious.

* There is a central problem in using a word {person] that is so central in the history of Christology.

* I find here and in some other places that Morwood gives the impression that there is no significant distinction between Jesus and us. At root the problem is the pervasive one in these chapters [on Jesus] of finding adequate and appropriate language to express the divine identity of Jesus. The author’s failure to develop such language (it seems to me) inevitably leads to a smudging of this distinction.

* It seems Jesus has either to be primarily on God’s side coming "down" to "save" us or radically on the human side. An adequate account of Jesus Christ must surely have him on both sides. And it is hardly fair for Morwood to couch the divine side of the question in terms of an outmoded cosmology, as though any affirmation of Jesus’ genuine divinity has to be expressed in such unsatisfactory language.

* Why are the two nature christology and the doctrine of the Trinity automatically presumed to make Jesus someone radically unlike us? This is simply to beg the central question, and is typical of the author’s approach here. It can be equally (and persuasively) argued that a proper understanding of both ‘models’ issues in a theo-logy of similarity between the divine and the human …. and of Jesus’ radical likeness to us.

* Other theologians would make a clearer distinction between the anointing of Jesus with the Spirit and the anointing of the rest of humanity.

* Morwood correctly identifies the problem of excessively ‘mythological’ understandings of Christian doctrine. But the solution can never be to throw out the baby with the bath water. This is what he seems to be doing in relation to the traditional doctrine of the triune God: In popular understanding and imagination, trinitarian theology has helped cement images of a localized, male Father-God who sends a unique, male Son-God "down" to our world. This description may well be close to significant strands of popular understanding, but as an account of the best of Catholic trinitarian theology, it is close to caricature. In any case, if the expression of the doctrine is having such deleterious effects, the solution is not to drop the doctrine, but to reflect more vigorously on its meaning and develop for it an improved theological language.

* There is no sense that the various models (eg, Spirit Christology or Logos Christology; trinitarian model or wisdom model) can be in dialogue with each other thereby leading to greater clarity about the truth. Similarly, his complete rejection of the redemption model – on the grounds that it cannot stand up to the scrutiny of modern cosmology – would suggest that he denies the veracity of its truth claims. He seems unwilling to admit that despite the problems of cosmology in certain dogmatic expressions their truth claims have abiding value. The unfortunate consequence of this is that were he to have put the various models in dialogue with each other he may have achieved his aim even more effectively, namely there would be a clearer understanding of the issues involved and a more adequate language to express the faith.

* By the time one has finished reading the book one has the impression that while the aim of the project was worthwhile it never really succeeded because Morwood was not prepared to give any credible place to the Tradition. In the first place it was probably naïve to think that such complex issues could be adequately dealt with in simple language. Throughout Christian history the complexity of these issues has been such that the only way they have been adequately dealt with is by using a language which is precise and technical. Such language has tried to avoid the ambiguity and imprecision that is part of our ordinary, conversational language. ….. Rather than abandon proper theological language the real challenge would seem to be to find a way to communicate the truths held by such language in such a way as to give the contemporary believer greater access to the truth. Morwood was also mistaken to think that the problems inherent in statements which come from a different era with its different cosmology and different cultural foundations could be overcome by simply jettisoning the old formulations instead of confronting them and allowing them to be part of the solution. Much of what was very good in the book became ineffective because it failed to go far enough in confronting the issues head on. He chose instead to sideline the hard questions.





The next page contains excerpts from several theologians who praise Tomorrow’s Catholic.

Excerpts from "Jesus of the Suburbs" by Andrew Hamilton SJ. Eureka Street (Vol. 8 No. 4. May 1998, pp 14-15)

To understand the conflict over the book it is important to remember that Morwood is a member of a missionary congregation and lives in Melbourne’s West. This is a country for missionaries. Most Catholics come from immigrant families in which faith has been embedded in national culture. Their faith is often expressed in an attachment to devotions, in a strong sense of sin and personal unworthiness, and in a distant sense of God …..Younger Catholics easily dismiss their parents’ faith as part of an irrelevant culture. Belief either in God or in human worth does not come easily. This is the world that teachers and parents must deal with when they wish to commend faith to the young.

Morwood addresses this culture in lectures. In order to create space for faith, he argues against the approach to faith … already rejected by the young. It represents a God who is outside the world, a humanity whose beginnings can be described only in myth, a Jesus Christ whose humanity is unrecognisable, and a spirituality which fails to acknowledge the goodness of the world ……

The strategy behind the book is to deflect resistance to Christian faith by affirming the conventional ‘scientific’ view of origins shared by his audience. By affirming the value of human beings, Morwood hopes to draw attention to God within the human world and to arouse interest in Jesus Christ.

But such an account of Christian faith will properly raise questions of identity, particularly among Bishops and theologians ….

If I were part of that conversation I would question whether Morwood’s relatively flat account of Christian faith does adequate justice to the high tension of the Gospel…..[He then outlines how he and the author might engage in conversation] And so the conversation would continue, leading to a larger understanding on both sides and the recognition of distortions …

Such conversation, however, demands a great deal of trust and respect on both sides. It is always tempting, particularly for a church grown defensive, to short-circuit the conversation. A contemporary way of doing this is to appeal to the Catechism as a decisive criterion of what can be said about any disputed point.

The reason why this is lazy and self-regarding is that the Catechism, by definition, is written for those at home within the Catholic tradition. Furthermore, the positions and language used in the Catechism represent those of the formative debates about the topics handled there. In the treatment of Jesus Christ, the language, explantions and spirituality reflect the debates of the fifth century. The positions arrived at in the great Councils then, of course, are definitive, but the explanations given of them are generally not so . Certainly, to use earlier definitions in order to judge twentiethcentury writing , directed ultimately to a non-Christian audience is a delicate, if necessary task. But to use the theologies and spiritualities associated in the Catechism with these definitions as a decisive criterion for judgment is methodologically and religiously crude.

If conversation about how to present Christian faith to those disinclined to accept it is important, the controversy about Michael Morwood’s book is healthy.

William Bausch

This book is fascinating. Morwood pulls together a lot I’ve seen scattered and puts it all in exceptionally readable and understandable language. It’s a seminal book in that it will get a new message out there. Its ramifications are enormous and it opens up some serious questions about the Church (and its credibility) and a lot of issues.

Richard G. Rento

I found myself cheering on virtually every page, underlining and making marginal notes, thinking of friends who must read it, and feeling immense encouragement at seeing in print ideas and convictions I, too, have long held, some of which I have published over the past 20 years in the religious and secular press.

Edmond Dunn

Fascinating. Very readable. Faith for Catholics in the new millennium can be understandable and meaningful only if our images of God, revelation, Jesus and church are radically transformed by the emerging and breathtaking cosmology. This … will make possible a genuine spirituality that takes this world seriously … a challenging perspective in a nutshell. I thought at times as I was reading … this is the book I wish I had written.



A friend shared recently the experience of visiting a Buddhist temple while in Thailand, and spending over an hour in prayer there. It gave her a different perspective on "religion". Basically it was an experience of being broadened in outlook, a movement beyond encountering the sacred/God/ultimate mystery/Who:Whatever/ in just Christian terms, and a realisation that "God", to use our Christian term, is in no way bound to or by our Christian thoughts and definitions.

Most of us are more conscious today of "global" existence. We travel more; we live in multi-cultural societies; the media brings different lifestyles and belief systems into our living rooms. We face a choice of staying in our own narrow culture and society or expanding our horizons and the range of people with whom we make contact. And if we travel along this road of global consciousness we experience and learn how alike all human beings are in their deepest yearnings and longings. We also learn how at the heart of all the great religions is the call to be better human persons while acknowledging a "Supreme Mystery" that is beyond us all.

I’m conscious of all this and a lot more as I have typed in the preceding pages. I have a sense that at least some of the criticism of Tomorrow’s Catholic stems from a blinkered "Catholic" (those two words ought to be mutually exclusive surely?) vision. It’s as if Catholicism has the inside information about God. (Well, it does claim that in all sorts of not so subtle ways, doesn’t it?!)

I’m struck by the, at times, severe criticism of the theology of the book. In my mind, the theology is secondary to the spirituality – inspiring people to allow the Spirit that moved in Jesus to move in them. And the spirituality is far more global than the theology, and is a far better language to speak than the technical theological language which apparently spurns the language of ordinary conversation.

Is it not interesting – and vitally important – that someone who puts out into the public arena an attempt to get the message of Pentecost heard, gets criticised for not sticking to Catholic theological language. Archbishop Pell, for example, cannot abide the term "person" used of Jesus,. Is it not a bit of an overkill for him to denounce me as "constantly proposing an heretical proposition …?" Nor does he seem to like the idea of "divinity" being understood in the sense that all of us (as in all human beings) actually share the same Spirit that moved in Jesus. Can’t have that, can we ?

It has been interesting recently to read reports on the Synod for Asia. The Tablet (16 May 1998) had a Special Report, Doing it the Asian Way (pp 647-9) on the working groups at the Synod. Some reported comments:

* a "less theological, more human" presentation of Jesus is needed

* "emphasise the human traits of Jesus"

* Jesus as "the one who understands the suffering of the weak"

* Jesus as "the fulfilment of the yearnings of Asia expressed in the mythologies and folklore of Asian peoples"

* Start with what the Christian message has in common with other religions.

* it "would not be prudent" to present Jesus as the only saviour immediately. He should first be presented as the perfect human being.

* "the uniqueness of Jesus, though theologically correct, may not be the best place to start"

* For some, the expression, "Christ the only saviour" was "too aggressive".

* Many Asians do not see the Church as a sign of God’s presence or as a teacher of spirituality. It is not seen as a praying Church.

One of the central issues here is: how do we remain "Catholic" and not be so tied to our traditional doctrinal language and worldview that we can present Jesus to an audience that has either a) lost belief in that language and worldview, or b) culturally does not identify with the language and the worldview ?

Perhaps the voices of "missionaries" and the men and women who minister in the arena of "spirituality" and men and women who work in the arena of adult faith development have a right to be heard – and need to be heard – as much as the theologians. Why is all the work and effort of the Church’s ministry gauged (and in some cases condemned) on whether or not there is some breach of theological thinking. You do not think right, therefore we will do everything in our power to shut you down. Why cannot it be turned around: Your theology may be rigidly and technically correct, but the graciousness of the Spirit of God is not evident in your actions, therefore you are deemed not fit to hold office in or speak in the name of our Church.


There exists a widening gulf today between the classical, technical and precise language of faith and the struggle many Christians are having to make sense of their faith vision of life. Put bluntly: the precise and technical language, along with some of its imagery, is not relevant to and does not address the questions arising from contemporary society.

The issue facing anyone in a position of leadership in the Christian church today (and I include here anyone who formally hands on the faith in an educative process) is whether he or she can articulate in a cohesive and clear manner the faith ground on which they choose to stand. It is easy enough to state what we no longer believe; it is also easy enough to "give" answers provided by others. But it is becoming more and more difficult, in the face of the many issues and questions confronting all of us, to stand in such a way that our Christian faith does not come across as hesitant, unsure, lacking depth, or afraid of addressing major questions.

Take, as some examples:

Do we believe that Jesus actually made a difference to the way God relates with us

OR did Jesus reveal what God was and always will be like ?

- Did Jesus actually make eternal life with God possible for us, or would eternal life with God have been possible whether Jesus lived or not ?

- Did Jesus "win forgiveness for our sins" or would forgiveness be God's gift whether Jesus lived or not ?

Is Jesus "God" ?

What do you understand by saying that Jesus is "fully human and fully divine" ?

What does it tell you about Jesus ?

What does it tell you about Pentecost ?

What does it tell you about the task of the church in the world ?

Can you articulate a meaningful understanding of what "sacraments" are ?

What is your understanding of the place of Christianity (and your own particular Christian denomination) with regard to other religions ?

These are just some of the basic - and they are basic - questions confronting us. One skill needed today is that of helping people articulate what and why they believe. Authoritative insistence on what must be believed with no questioning permitted simply does not and will not work for people who are genuinely "searching" for a faith vision of life worth believing.

Strengths and Challenges.


On Monday 14 December 1998 in Rome, the Australian Bishops and the Prefects and Secretaries of six Dicasteries of the Roman Curia released a Statement of Conclusions, in the interest of sharing with the Catholic faithful, and in particular with the Church in Australia, the outcome of the deliberations of their special meeting


Meetings had been held in Rome 17-20 November "at the wish of the Holy Father, between the Congregations for the Doctrine of Faith, for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, for Bishops, for Clergy, for Institutes of Religious Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life, and for Catholic Education." … and Australian Archbishops and those bishops heading those Committees in Australia. (Not all Australian bishops attended)

"The Statement of Conclusions was signed by the Prefects of the Congrehations involved, the President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and the Presidents of the Conference Committees present for the meeting, attesting to the consensus achieved and the accuracy of the document as a representation of the dialogue that took place during the interdicasterial meeting.

"The document was prepared by an editorial committee, composed of His Eminence Cardinal Edward Clancy, their Excellencies Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, Archbishop Giuseppe Pittau and Bishop Michael Putney."



"Catholics should come to understand more deeply Jesus' death as a redeeming sacrifice and an act of perfect worship of the Father effecting the remission of sins. A failure to appreciate this supreme grace would undermine the whole of Christian life."

This strikes me as a rather important statement coming from the Head Office. It’s no wonder any attempts to articulate our understanding of God, Jesus, the world, ourselves and the church community outside of a "redeeming sacrifice" perspective are being so vigorously opposed by HQ.

Back to main page