Rowland is Dean and
Philosophy and Continental Theology at the John Paul II Institute (Melbourne),
a member of the Centre for Theology and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham, and a member of the
editorial board of the English-language edition of Communio
founded, among others, by Joseph Ratzinger. She is the author of Culture
and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II
Faith: The Theology of Benedict XVI
(2008), and, most recently, Benedict
XVI: A Guide for the Perplexed
(2010). Catholic World Report
recently about the John Paul II Institute, the writings and thought of Blessed
John Paul II, and the state of Catholicism in Australia.
CWR: Thirty years ago this October, Blessed
John Paul II issued the apostolic constitution Magnum
Matrimonii Sacramentum, promulgating the Pontifical
Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, which today has campuses all over the world. What
specific hopes and goals did he have for the institute?
Tracey Rowland: Blessed John Paul II hoped that the institute
could undertake the academic work needed to defend marriage and family life. Most
dioceses have pastoral agencies to help struggling families, but in the post-1968
intellectual climate it was no longer a simple case of providing pastoral
support, but of intellectually defending the whole notion of marriage as
something worthwhile in itself.
Extensive research also needed to be
undertaken in the ancillary fields of bioethics, sexuality education, natural
family planning, taxation policies, and secularism. One could say that the
mission of the institute was to undertake the intellectual work needed to
promote a culture of life and a civilization of love.
CWR: This past summer marked the 10th
anniversary of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family in
Melbourne. How did the institute come to be established in Australia? What has
been your involvement with the school?
Rowland: As far back as the 1980s there were
Australian Catholics who hoped that an institute would be founded in Australia
as one had been founded in Washington, DC.
Monsignor (now Bishop) Peter Elliott was then working for the Pontifical
Council for the Family and doing his best to encourage the idea in Rome. Dr.
Joseph Santamaria, a Melbourne Catholic doctor, Dr. Nicholas Tonti-Filippini, a
Melbourne-based bioethicist, and Father Anthony Fisher, OP (now the bishop of
the Diocese of Parramatta) were also promoting the idea.
After he was appointed the archbishop of
Melbourne in 1996, Dr. George Pell made the establishment of an Australian
session a major priority. He sent Father Fisher and Dr. Hayden Ramsay to Rome
to liaise with the then-Rector Magnificus
of the Lateran University, Bishop Angelo Scola. Bishop Scola made a feasibility
visit to Melbourne, and Archbishop Pell rounded up young Catholic scholars
(potential faculty members) to present to him. The meeting took the form of a
discussion around an academic paper. Bishop Scola concluded that we were worth
the risk and the institute was established.
I was appointed to the position of dean
since I was one of the few people about who could speak Scola’s theological
dialect. When I was working on my doctorate I read quite a lot of von Balthasar
and Ratzinger (who of course were intellectual heroes of Scola), and I was thus
able to decode Scola and transpose his ideas into something close to plain
English. It was thought that we needed someone on the faculty who could do this,
given that Scola would be our superior in Rome.
Now, a decade later, Angelo Scola is the cardinal
archbishop of Milan and former patriarch of Venice. He is also, according to
the London Tablet, the “Crown Prince of Catholicism.”
Certainly he is close to the top of any short list of papabile.
Apart from dealing with the typical “dean’s
desk” range of issues, my work for the institute has focused on the theology of
culture areathat is, on analyzing trends in contemporary culture from a
theological perspectiveand on
issues in theological anthropology. I have also written two books on the
theology of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI in which I have sought to
outline his key theological interests and relate them to the central objectives
of the pontificate of John Paul II.
The most important books in the field of
theological anthropology for the work of the institute are Angelo Scola’s The Nuptial Mystery, Cardinal Marc Ouellet’s Divine Likeness: Towards a Trinitarian Anthropology of the Family,
the Trinitarian encyclicals of John Paul II, the Wednesday audience Catechesis on Human Love of John Paul II (popularly marketed
as his “theology of the body”), and Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas
Est, in which he deals with the
relationship between eros and agape.
CWR: What programs and degrees are available
through the institute? And what are some of the essential
characteristicsintellectual, theological, spiritualof the education received
from the institute?
Rowland: The curriculum of the institute has three
inter-related streams: a marriage and family stream, a bioethics stream, and a religious
education stream. There are graduate certificates, graduate diplomas, and master’s
degrees available in the marriage and family and the bioethics streams, the graduate
certificate and the graduate diploma are available in the religious education
stream, and the master’s of sacred theology (the civil equivalent of the S.T.L.)
is available in the marriage and family stream. The Ph.D. degree is offered in
any area of theology, philosophy, or the social sciences which has some
connection to the defense of the institution of the family or the sanctity of
human life. These courses are all accredited by the civil authorities.
One aspect of the curriculum which has
proven to be highly popular with students is that attention is given to the
historical background of theological disputes. For example, when examining the
Church’s teaching on contraception, attention is paid to the whole history of
the debate in the 1960s, including the so-called Majority and Minority Reports,
the response of various prominent theologians of the time, the sociological
changes of the 1960s (especially the improvement in educational opportunities
for women), the Latin quarter riots in Paris, and the effect of the Vietnam War
on attitudes to authority. In short, doctrines are never plucked out of
encyclicals and served up cold.
Dr. Gerard O’Shea is in charge of the
religious education stream and is a leading authority on the Catechesis of the
Good Shepherd. His project has been described as one of synthesizing elements
of Montessori teaching methodology with Thomistic epistemology and an interest
in the role that the transcendentals of truth, beauty, and goodness play in the
spiritual formation of children. This approach to catechesis in the 3-9 age-group
requires classrooms to have model cities of Jerusalem and model altars where
children can play with sheep, camels, donkeys, palm trees, chalices, ciboria,
and figurines of biblical characters. Children who have been through this
course tend to have a map of Jerusalem with all the sacred places etched into
their memory and a good knowledge of what happens at each moment of the
Eucharistic Rite. The methodology follows the sequence of first interest the
senses, then inflame the heart with wonder and love, and then fit it altogether
intellectually with the Church’s teaching. Many parents are coming to the institute
to learn about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
Professor Nicholas Tonti-Filippini manages
the suite of bioethics subjects. He is a leading Australian public intellectual,
which means that he is the “rabbit” who has to go on television and field
questions about IVF technologies, gay marriages, and the usual list of
difficult-to-handle topics. One special feature of his classes is that he
teaches students how to work as members of bioethics committees in
circumstances where they will be a minority voice.
Our students represent quite a broad range
of spiritual traditions and new ecclesial movements. At any given time around
90 percent of the student body is made up of lay students in the 25-40 age
We have a number of international
students, mostly from countries in Southeast Asia, but we also attract students
from other British Commonwealth countries, particularly Canada and Singapore. We
try to prevent them from feeling homesick by making sure that we have
celebrations on their national feast days.
Blessed John Paul II decreed that Our Lady
of Fatima was to be the patroness of the institute, so May 13 is always a day
of student celebrations.
CWR: There is, as you well know, quite a bit
of interest among Catholics about Blessed John Paul II’s theology of the body.
What are some teachings by John Paul II that might not have yet received much
attention and have yet to be explored and “unpacked” for wider audiences?
Rowland: The theology of the body teaching is one
aspect of his overall plan for the promotion of a civilization of love. It’s an
important plank in the ship, but the whole corpus of his pontifical encyclicals
contains fresh theological insights across a range of fronts. My personal favorites
are the Trinitarian encyclicals: Redemptor Hominis,
Dives in Misericordia, and Dominum et Vivificantem. They each deal with the
relationship between the human person and one of the Persons of the Holy
Trinity. People often speak of the Trinitarian Christocentrism of John Paul II.
Whereas Immanuel Kant claimed that whether there are three persons in the
Trinity or 10 makes no difference to the practice of the Christian faith, John
Paul II clearly had a different outlook.
The encyclicals Veritatis
Splendor and Evangelium Vitae
are also at the core of the renewal of moral theology. They offer a very
different understanding of goodness from what my colleague Professor
Tonti-Filippini calls “tax lawyer moralism”the practice of treating morality
as a set of rules to be lived around and thus implicitly denying the
commandment to love that creates the moral obligations in the first place.
CWR: To put things rather broadly, it seems
that Catholicism in Europe is fatigued and fading, while Catholicism in the US
is conflicted and in conflict. How would you describe the state of Catholicism
in Australia? What do you think the next five to 10 years hold for the Church there?
Rowland: Catholicism in Australia is in much the
same state as Catholicism in America. Over the next two years there will be a
large number of new bishops appointed to replace the retiring Vatican II
generation. The future of the Church in Australia strongly depends on the
quality of those appointments. One recent appointment was to the rural diocese
of Armidale. Bishop Michael Kennedy had only been consecrated a week when he
contacted the institute to see if we could deploy a member of our faculty to
give some professional development seminars to the teachers in his
In some Australian dioceses there is a
flourishing youth movement. It is not uncommon in Sydney for lectures organized
by university student chaplains to attract crowds of up to 800 undergraduates
and young professionals.
In addition to the extensive network of
student chaplaincies staffed by people who actually support the teachings of
the Church, there is also Campion Liberal Arts College, which offers the B.A.
degree, and there is the presence of a large number of young religious at the
Sydney campus of the University of Notre Dame.
Thus, while Church attendance numbers are
still very bleak, and the Catholic schools’ curricula still in need of major
reforms, at least at the level of Catholic tertiary education there have been
significant improvements in the past decade which should start to bear fruit
over the next. As a result of initiatives like the foundation of the institute
in Melbourne, and of Campion College and the University of Notre Dame, the new
generation of bishops should find that they have a pool of professional laity
upon whom to draw support.
There is also a movement in some dioceses
to revive parochial life by having communities of religious move into the
moribund suburban parishes. Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne recently moved
the Capuchin Friars into such an inner-city parish with great success, and
Bishop Fisher’s Diocese of Parramatta (which takes in the population growth
corridor of Western Sydney) is booming with young religious. Meanwhile the rural
Diocese of Wagga Wagga continues to produce healthy numbers of priests. It was
the first diocese to attempt seminary reform in the 1980s. Archbishop Coleridge
has recently been moved from Canberra-Goulburn to Brisbane to sort out the
pastoral disaster zone of South-East Queensland, and Bishop Timothy Costelloe,
SDB has been deployed from Melbourne to the Archdiocese of Perth to continue
Archbishop Hickey’s heroic stewardship in the West.
The Diocese of Lismore has been in the
hands of Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett, an Anglican convert and one of the most
urbane members of the entire Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference. He has
also encouraged a healthy number of vocations to the priesthood and religious
life. For those from a similar background, the Anglican Ordinariate will be
established in Australia in June this year. It is hoped that at least one “gift”
which these Catholics of Anglican heritage will bring is improved liturgical
standards. Many suburban parishes still offer no alternative to 1970s-style
In the crocodile-infested wetlands of the
Northern Territory the task of dealing with the problems of people living in
remote communities falls to Bishop Eugene Hurley. If anyone could come up with
creative, non-bureaucratic and Christ-centered solutions to their problems,
Bishop Hurley could. In an area that requires some lateral thinking and an
ability to liaise directly with the people at the coal-face, his appointment
was an inspired choice.
Overall the situation is improving, but in some
states, such as Queensland and Tasmania, the devastation (judged by practicing
rates and clergy numbers) has been extensive. The vibrant orders of religious
and new ecclesial communities will need to be invited into these areas to lead
the work of renewal and rekindle hope.