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Around the church

06 May 2020

Q&A: Reconsidering Church leadership in the wake of the Royal Commission

By Kate Mani

Twenty years ago, Dr Paul Whetham and his wife Libby published Hard to be Holy, a book about challenging stereotypes of clergy members and showing how leaders and congregations can work together to support each other. This year they have released a new edition of the book following the five-year Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

What impact do you hope the new version will have on people both inside and outside the Church?
I first realised that Hard To Be Holy had a new relevance and should be brought out again after seeing the Royal Commission on the news regularly. The new revised edition offers insights into the current church crisis and community crisis, and provides a constructive proposal on how to move forward towards a ‘transformational’ or outward looking church.

How has revisiting the book challenged you, confronted you and given you a new sense of hope?
Reading through the Royal Commission in order to rewrite the book was incredibly challenging. Victims’ stories of untold suffering were heart-breaking to hear. It confronted me and I realised again that ‘systemic’ change in the church was desperately needed. However, this is where the institutional church has failed in my view.

Little systemic change has occurred since the first edition of Hard to be Holy 20 years ago. This, in part, is why the Royal Commission edition was rewritten. The book highlights that ethical codes, as important as they are, ironically strengthen the pedestal effect of leaders, [the separation between church leaders and congregation, leading to an imbalance of power in relationships], which can exacerbate their loneliness and potential abuse of power. After all, if abusive church leaders don’t listen to the words of Jesus, will they adhere to an ethical code?

Taking people from inside and outside the established church on a journey to discover the soul and connect on a deeper level is needed more than ever.

Hard to be Holy Royal Commission Edition – From Church Crisis to Community Opportunity is available on Amazon.



Aid to the Church in Need is providing emergency funding to priests and religious sisters caring for the most vulnerable communities around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many poor priests and religious are struggling due to the suspension of Masses in their diocese, with no ability to raise funds to sustain them. A prayer campaign has also been launched among Australian Catholics.

For more visit



The Catholic Church has invited its various agencies across the country to consider what facilities could be made available to support national efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 within the community.

Chair of the new Advisory Council of Catholic and Emergency Relief Australia – set up in January – Susan Pascoe said a national audit has commenced to understand what Catholic buildings might be put on standby to be made available if more facilities are needed for testing people who could be infected, for people to self-isolate, for front-line workers to be accommodated away from their homes and other reasons.

‘With almost 1400 parishes, more than 1700 schools and retreat centres, for example, the Church has a variety of facilities like school and parish halls, boarding schools and other buildings that can be used as needed’, she said.

“As a very prominent part of each community across our nation, the Catholic Church has a responsibility in this pandemic, and the Church takes that seriously.”

The Chair of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, said while the circumstances are unique, with most Catholic buildings currently not in use, the national audit will also create a database that could assist in responding to other disasters, with Church properties being utilised as evacuation centres, food banks or for other purposes in service of the community as a whole.


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