WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Confronting book a sell-out three times over

In its first three months, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s book exposing issues of power and sex in the Catholic Church has achieved sales far beyond those of any other Catholic book released in Australia in the last few years.

GRobinsonBook.jpg Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus was published in August of this year and the first 2000 copies sold out in a week.

The book is now into its fourth print run having sold more than 7000 copies. It has been published in the United Kingdom and will soon be published in the United States. Enquiries have also come from Spanish publishers.

John Garratt Publishing general manager Tony Biviano says the book has sold ‘all over the world with many people willing to pay the high postage charges’.

The book has created enormous interest with online forums, news articles and discussion all over the world.

It has featured in The Tablet, London, National Catholic Reporter in the US as well as The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and other major newspapers in Australia. Bishop Robinson has appeared on a number of radio stations.

Robinsonpic_2.jpg A lay organisation, Catalyst for Renewal, recently held a sell-out forum in Melbourne which more than 500 people attended to hear Bishop Robinson. He has also been invited to address a US conference, Voices of the Faithful, in the US early next year.

John Garratt Publishing says sales have been to both lay people and clergy.

‘There is not one specific interest group that we have identified – I think the book strikes a chord with most Catholics with only the most conservative expressing disapproval.’

Tony Biviano says the book challenges some aspects of the church. However, Bishop Robinson does not attack the church and is not ‘anti’ the church but merely asks questions.

Wel-com reviewer Susan Wilson said in the October issue that the book seems to cover too much ground and, as a consequence, some of the arguments lack depth.

Her review follows.

Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson has caused quite a stir with his book published in August and reprinted this month. The book is called Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus (John Garrett, 2007) and was a venture started by Bishop Robinson after his retirement in 2004.

For 10 years before retiring, Bishop Robinson led the Australian bishops’ committee which developed procedures to deal with clergy sexual abuse. While the book is not primarily about this abuse, Bishop Robinson’s work in this area has significantly influenced his understanding of power and sex in the church.

Bishop Robinson’s argument is prefaced by his statement, ‘I …must never forget that I am myself an imperfect member of (an) imperfect church, contributing my problems and failures as well as my assistance’ (p. 22).

The bishop speaks with great faith in God, and a great love for the people of God. His understanding of biblical interpretation does not diverge from Catholic teaching in this area. The section on conscience is well researched and shows the necessity of an informed conscience. He writes with a sense of balance – endeavouring to maintain a central ground. For example, while he questions the increasing power of the papacy, he does emphasise the importance of this office.  Nevertheless, Bishop Robinson has also challenged the present structure of authority in the church and questioned some teaching in the area of sexual ethics. As an expert in canon law, he will be aware of the consequences of this action.

I am not an expert in ecclesiology (the study of the church) and thus will not comment on the bishop’s questions to do with authority and church structure.

His argument on sexuality focuses on three areas: a biblical understanding, his exploration of conscience and what he calls an ethic based on persons. This ethic is based on the good or harm done to oneself, others and the community.

I have some questions regarding his theological understandings. Bishop Robinson uses psychological models to describe what it means to be Christian. This seems to be limited. It is most worthwhile to be healthy people with healthy relationships but this is not the central goal of baptism. The central goal of the Christian life is transformation and new life in Christ. He also uses the word ‘God’ interchangeably with ‘god’ in the first section of the book which is both distracting and does not follow standard convention.

The book seems to try and cover too much ground and, as a consequence, some of the arguments lack depth. For example, Bishop Robinson’s critique of the doctrine of original sin uses the account of the Fall in Genesis 3 but does not mention Paul’s letter to the Romans. The Jewish people do not have a doctrine of original sin. This doctrine arose in light of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. He does not refer to any contemporary theological work on this doctrine. To suggest (wrongly, in my opinion) the doctrine of original sin is no longer valid would, at the very least, require a more exhaustive argument.

However the call to openly discuss various issues is welcome.

Susan Wilson is a theologian in the Wellington Catholic Education Centre. Geoffrey Robinson: Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus is available from Pleroma, 0508 988988.