GAVIN A O’BRIEN.-Why I remain a Catholic.

 I am being challenged to consider and discern why I remain a Catholic in a Church whose membership is declining and ageing;whose clergy are decreasing in numbers and ageing,where many Catholics, particularly our children, are no longer attending Mass and accessing the Sacraments.Where do we go from here?
I am 71 years of age,a “baby boomer”, baptised in to the Catholic Church as an infant, who experienced Catholic education as a boarder for a decade from 1955 until 1965. I grew up through the years of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). The Church that I attended was a strict, rule driven,moralistic, monolithic organization. The clergy, in particular the hierarchy, mostly of Irish heritage were placed on pedestals.They could do no wrong as they, by ordination had a special connection with the Divine.It was insidious Clericalism.

Religious Instruction was by ‘rote learning’ .’Textbooks’ where the Green and Brown Catechisms, whose questions and responses were memorised. Nuns and Brothers ran the Catholic Schools.I left school after passing the N.S.W. School Certificate.My Faith was ritualistic, following “rules” and avoiding ‘occasions of sin’. The great changes of Vatican II had little impact in Australia congregations apart from the Mass now being said in the vernacular (English). The Altar was brought forward in the Sanctuary with the Priest now facing the people.

I worked in the public service and was conscripted and saw service in Vietnam, ( 1970-71) . Its impact on my life saw me decide to attend University .I graduated with a B.A. Dip. Ed. in 1981.

University life marked a turning point in my faith and a time of questioning. The Chaplain Peter Durning OP, was a very progressive cleric in the reformist spirit of Vatican II.He allowed us to read the first reading, distribute Holy Communion and receive the sacrament under both kinds ( bread and wine). None of these reforms were implemented in the Australian Church until decades later.

Teaching in Secondary Catholic Colleges followed. Religious Education in 1982 when I commenced my career was ‘fly by the seat of your pants’. There was no formal curriculum at my school until 1985.Many students, taught by inadequately trained lay teachers, left school with a minimal understanding of the faith. Seeing the problem, I enrolled in a Graduate Diploma (Religious Education) with the Australian Catholic University. I learnt of the great changes decreed by Vatican II. I wondered why the Australian Church still living in a Pre Vatican II world.Gradually I realised that the old ‘rules’ based model of my youth was irrelevant,an “informed conscience” was now our guide.

A Survey I conducted, of R.E. Teachers in the Canberra Catholic secondary schools, vindicated the work done by Brother Marcellan Flynn,FMS on Religious Education in Catholic Schools. Many students were not attending Sunday Mass, as their parents did not lead by example. Teachers complained of lack of example and commitment to the religious ethos of the school by other teachers. The findings led me to think why the huge expenses on Catholic Education?

After service related ill heath ended my teaching career, I moved to Pastoral work with a Far North Queensland Parish as the lay pastoral assistant to a 78 year old Parish Priest. Now I witnessed at first hand, the immense issues facing the Church.He had to minister to a large parish, indeed an amalgamation of three former parishes and two parish primary and one secondary school. The students were fortunate if they had one Mass a term, which for most was their only contact with the Parish. Most parents were ‘Nominal ‘Catholics who only came to Baptisms,First Communions Confirmations or Funerals.I used to wonder why the cost of running schools if we were losing more Catholics from the faith.After all the early Australian Church fathers, against great odds, had founded them for this purpose

The first inkling of scandal over the sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and its coverup, surfaced during my tenure in Far North Queensland. Shock, disbelief, dismay and hurt were the main emotions I felt.The subsequent Royal Commission revealed the extent of the problem for all to see. After a year away from family, the Parish Priest explained to me that while celibacy was part of the job for him, it was not for me, so I should return home to my wife . I did. I strongly endorse that offending paedophile clergy should be liacized, and subject to the Law of the Land .Superiors guilty of “cover up” should also be prosecuted and removed from Office.Secrecy must end.

While I have now retired from paid work with the Catholic Church, I continue in lay ministry as an Acolyte, to which I was admitted in 1984. Faith wise, I find great joy and solace in serving on the Sanctuary at Mass, the distribution of Holy Communion to the faithful and the visiting the sick and dying to give them Holy Communion. The sadness of loss is compensated by the joys, peace and love so evident in the families I visit.

How do I see the changes needed in the light of discussions, meetings and reading of commentary by other more informed authors ?
The leadership of the Australian Church must listen to the calls of the Faithful’s discernment under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; sensus fidei fidelium.
The Vatican should retain authority on questions of faith and morals for conformity in the Universal Church by a collegeal agreement of all Bishops.
Decisions involving local culture as reflects language translations and liturgical ceremonies, conversant with local tradition and customs should be delegated to local churches.
Bishops should be required to call regular diocesan Synods to listen to discernment in the Spirit, of the “sheep” ( their “flock”).
Bishops , Parish Pastoral leaders, lay and clerical, should be nominated from within their local community of the Faithful.
Rome should cease the direct appointment of the hierarchy, instead it should be by nomination from the local Church of suitable local candidates.
Cardinals should be nominated by the local Australian Church with confirmation by the Vatican.

We have the issue of a shortage of clergy and lack of vocations.Importation of foreign priests is not the answer, as due to lack of inculturation, isolation and loneliness, they can experience many problems .We should invite married priests back to ministry if they are able and willing.Suitable married mature men should be ordained to the Diaconate and Priesthood.Ordination of suitable mature Women to the Diaconate and Priesthood, if desired by the community should follow in due course.There is no scriptural reason or tradition barring them.

Jesus welcomed sinners into His company, yet we exclude many from the Table of the Lord because of alleged violations of “Cannon Law”. The Church should welcome with open arms to the Sacraments, divorced and remarried Catholics, same sex couples, gays and lesbians. Since when has the Clergy(and some ‘pious’, judgemental Catholics) had the right to pass judgement on these poor souls?. Jesus did not condemn the women taken in Adultery , nor should we.

I have to acknowledge the love,support and deep faith of my wife of 38 years, Esther who,as a teacher of RE , is a learned sounding board on religious issues.It is recorded that a successful man owes much to his mother and his wife, I owe both a debt of gratitude that can not be paid.

Finally in the evening of life, why do I remain a Catholic?

When God asks me; “How have you cared for my creation?”. I hope to be able to answer with a truthful heart;
“Lord , I have with your help, done my best.”
I will remain, with God’s assistance a practising, searching, questioning Catholic until my last breath!

Gavin A. O’Brien.

Gavin O’Brien is a parishioner of Corpus Christi Parish, Canberra. A retired Secondary School Teacher, who spent much of his career in Catholic Education.He holds a Masters of Arts (Theology) from the Australian Catholic University. Since retirement from teaching, he held roles as a Parish Coordinator of Liturgical Ministries in the Townsville Diocese, Secretary to the Burdekin Confraternity of Priests, Secretary to the BCLA, Ayr Qld.
He continues in his role as an Acolyte in the Archdiocese of Canberra Goulburn in his parish. He will complete 37 years of Ministry in August 2020.


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17 Responses to GAVIN A O’BRIEN.-Why I remain a Catholic.

  1. Jerry Roberts says:

    One of the heavyweights of the Roman Catholic Church is Steve Bannon, better known as Donald Trump’s Rasputin. He has spent a lot of time in Europe warning the Vatican to prepare for financial Armageddon.

    The $1.3 million judgement against the Christian Brothers in Western Australia supports Bannon’s warnings. Multiply thousands of the Church’s victims worldwide by millions of dollars each and you get the picture. If the Church in Perth has to sell all the rest of its real estate I hope it can retain St Mary’s Cathedral over the road from Royal Perth Hospital because it is a fine venue for music.

    My Aunty Florence (Taylor) sang the alto part in the Matthew Passion there when I was a school boy. English tenor William Herbert sang the evangelist. As we drove home Aunty Florence said: “Bill Herbert was on fire.” He was inspired. I have never forgotten it and listen to the slow but beautifully sung Klemperer recording every good Friday.

  2. Michael Furtado says:

    Gavin, I acknowledge your reformist initiatives but they very much occupy an end of the spectrum that has moved on and offers drastic new solutions to critical new problems. By way of example, Marcellin Flynn is now old-hat and thought by many researchers to have misread some his data and his attendant interpretations of it. To read him now is to read the work of an apologist. Then there’s the new theological cosmology (within the added dramatically shifting context of an age of pandemic) which questions the old certainties and points to the subjectivities – especially religious – that engulf us all. I feel sure that the billions who have abandoned institutional Church membership and have swapped it for an intelligent journey into spirituality are onto something much deeper than that offered by a contemporary Catholic faith. Wasn’t Teilhard de Chardin saying precisely that, viz. that the old certainties are gone and that questions are the answers? Careful that yesterday’s heresies (in the sense of new thinking) don’t get bogged down into becoming tomorrow’s orthodoxies! That, at least, is what the intelligent young seem to be saying. And religion has no certainty to offer, according to +Francis; only Hope.


    • Gavin O'Brien says:

      I have read and reread your remarks,but I have to admit that I am not sure what you are saying. We do live in a world of selfishness and self centeredness, such as I have not experienced at any time in my life.Unfortunately that attitude has spread to some of the clergy and hierarchy of the Church who have become isolated from the laity they are supposed to serve. In a way the Corona Virus pandemic should be seen as a wake up call that all is not well with human society. I hasten to add that I do not believe God intervenes or punishes in the sense of the Old Testament understanding of God’s relationship to His creation.

  3. My Church


    Not in structure, organization, culture, or practice,
    But as Jesus, in Love and Forgiveness.

    Not in common external signs of piety,
    But in the pursuit of Spiritual Growth.

    Not as members of one universal organization,
    But reaching out to serve ALL peoples of the world,
    especially the marginalized.

    Not in physical lineage to the Apostles,
    But living in the Holy Spirit as bestowed on them
    and us.

    not in a limiting or exclusive sense,
    but in an Expanding and Inclusive sense.

    John Chuchman

  4. Jim KABLE says:

    One of the very few honest analyses from within the church which I have read. Gavin A O’Brien – thank you for the candid nature of your curriculum vitae – for the acknowledgement of those who guided you in moral ways – and for your tribute to your wife. There is much that the Bishops (including the Arch-bishops) might take to heart and act upon – if only they could see.

    • Gavin O'Brien says:

      Thanks Jim,
      The truth needs to be told, loudly from the roof tops- just hopefully they will hear.

  5. Gavin O'Brien says:

    Thank you Kevin,
    I very much appreciate your response. As I walked along the shores of the Sea of Galilee last April I thought very deeply about the words of Jesus as He walked there over 2,000 years ago. I firmly believe that He was a reformer not a rebel. Of course he angered the powerful religious leaders of his day and paid the ultimate sacrifice.For those of us who venture down that path, martyrdom faces us, like Archbishop Romero for example. It is time we, the “Flock” take leadership, as the leaders have failed us.
    Take care,


    • Alex Nelson says:

      Gavin, you have certainly stimulated a lively discussion. In trying to address questions like how do I connect with the catholic church these days, I remember a friend’s comment to me that after the Exodus, the Hebrews travelled for a long time (40 years?) before they reached the promised and desired place. He says that it took all that time to get slavery out of their system so that they would no longer be like, think like and act like the slaves that they had been forced to be under Pharaoh. Nor would they treat each other as slaves. They had to learn and live a new way of love as kin and peers, given by God, that has no place for masters or slaves.
      Many Catholics have woken up to the distortions that patriarchy and hierarchy have brought into their / our lives through clericalism and a lifetime of grooming.
      We make the road ahead by walking together, not by following old ways that would keep us in slavery. Thanks for your company.

      • Gavin O'Brien says:

        Thank you Alex,
        An interesting analogy. I just hope there will be enough practising and concerned Catholics to force the change. Pussyfooting will not do it.

  6. Gavin O'Brien says:

    Thank you very much for your response. It is very tough being a Catholic these days and I think many of us feel the way that you do.I just hope “they’ get the message at the Plenary Council 2020 from “us”.

  7. Fernando Longo says:

    Thanks for your explanation of why you continue to be a Catholic. I too was brought up in a Catholic family but early on I questioned the value of the Church – not so much the teachings but of the System created many years ago to do what I do not know – but to raise the consciousness of its flock has not been one of their drivers. I saw it through my own experiences and the experiences of many other Catholics.
    Now, after the Royal Commission, where it was laid bare the horrific crimes of the priests and also of the Church itself in the cover ups but more disgustingly in causing continued mental abuse for those that suffered sexual abuse – not accepting their pleas for assistance and even dragging them through court proceedings.
    There is so much more disgusting actions that I could mention but wish not to as it is very upsetting.
    I have no time for the Catholic Church. And I do not believe God would be interested in it either. I don’t think he’d be too interested in any Church for that matter.
    I trust you have more to express to God when you die than just that you were a “Catholic”.
    My life is a work in progress – making more mistakes than I would like but nothing like the “mistakes” of sexual abuse and harassment of victims.

    • Gavin O'Brien says:

      Thank you for your response. I sense your pain.The hierarchy of the Church has much to answer for, both in this world and before God. I have to agree with you that they”don’t get it!” That is the curse of “clericalism”. The lay people should have crushed this evil, but were too slow to act, now the damage has been done. As for me I serve my community not the Bishops!
      Take care.

  8. Fosco Ruzzene says:

    I was one year behind Gavin’s journey until 1970 when my conscription lottery numbers did not come up, which meant that I did not go to Vietnam. During the 1970’s unlike Gavin, I joined the Great Exodus. At first I thought I had walked out on “The Church”, eventually I came to see I had outgrown an infantile, brainwashing fantasy.
    Vatican II has come to nothing. Not because the conservatives crushed it –they did – but because it was a great idea five hundred years too late. As for the conservatives Chris Sidoti’s contribution on Archbishop Fisher says it all.
    I always respected those who have taken the path chosen by Gavin. We all had the same childhood experiences, same educational experiences – for better or worse, education is a tricky business – but we came to a fork in the road and made different choices.
    But, with the greatest respect I disagree with Gavin. I am not saying his reforms are unworthy rather they reform the past. The Uniting Church has done all that and is still obsolete.
    During the 20th century the Rabbi Jesus Story – that all powerful, all conquering grand fable of Western Civilization – if I am allowed to sound so important – has “returned to dust”.
    Some people blamed John Lennon, and little people like me who had “lost the faith”, and were ungrateful. Remember B.A. Santmaria?
    So, where are we? In my opinion, we are back at the beginning. In a way we are like Rabbi Jesus on the cross having to really face the question as to whether there really is something out there?
    But, there is even more unknown – I do not think we will ever find an answer. If we are lucky we may become more human in searching for one. Having said all that, I do not want to sound like a guru because I am only guessing.

    • Gavin O'Brien says:

      Thank you for your comments and for sharing your journey. I read with amusement Chris Sidoti’s comment on Archbishop Fisher’s Pastoral Letter. I have to agree he was writing as the arch-conservative that he is. It read like something out of the 1950’s not the 2000’s.Our own Archbishop Christopher Prowse also wrote but much more relevant to today’s crisis.The Church really has to think as I used to tell my students; “If Jesus was to come into this classroom now, what would he say?” It really made them think!
      take care.


  9. Kevin Liston says:

    Well said, Gavin. And thank you for all the work and energy you have put into promoting the good news. Your last sentence is particularly encouraging, ‘I will remain, with God’s assistance a practising, searching, questioning Catholic until my last breath!‘ Your suggestions for the way forward are spot on. I would like to add that we do not need to leave leadership to those in office. The best leaders are the people who take the initiative. We can all do that. Christianity and Catholicism are made real first and foremost in the lives of people, the way we live with our families, friends, neighbours, strangers and the wider community and how we shape our own integrity and values. That is the basis for the ‘sensus fidei fidelium.’ I often feel I am asking the wrong question with, ‘Who is my leader?’ instead of looking at what I am doing myself. Thank you, Gavin.

    • Gavin O'Brien says:

      Thank you Kevin,
      I very much appreciate your response. As I walked along the shores of the Sea of Galilee last April I thought very deeply about the words of Jesus as He walked there over 2,000 years ago. I firmly believe that He was a reformer not a rebel. Of course he angered the powerful religious leaders of his day and paid the ultimate sacrifice.For those of us who venture down that path, martyrdom faces us, like Archbishop Romero for example. It is time we, the “Flock” take leadership, as the leaders have failed us.
      Take care,


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