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From Convert to Church Leader

6/11/2007 - 6:00 AM PST

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Interview With Auxiliary Bishop-Designate Elliott


MELBOURNE, Australia, JUNE 11, 2007 (Zenit) - A love for the liturgy attracted former-Anglican Peter John Elliott to the Catholic Church, a love which he will carry over into his activities as an auxiliary bishop.

Bishop-designate Elliott, 63, of Melbourne, is the third Australian prelate to have an Anglican background. He converted to the Catholic Church during his studies at Oxford. He will receive his episcopal ordination June 15.

In this interview with us, Bishop-designate Elliott discusses his new mission as a Church leader, and the challenges of secularization and religious formation in Australia.

Q: As a convert from the Anglican Church, and now appointed as an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, you bring with you a background not shared by many bishops. What influence has your personal history had on your priesthood, and what will it mean for you as a bishop?

Bishop-designate Elliott: As far as I can see, I am the third Australian bishop with an Anglican background. Archbishop Lancelot Goody [1908-1992] of Perth came into the Church as a child, when his family converted. Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett of Lismore, New South Wales, was an Anglican clergyman until he was reconciled to the Church in 1964.

I came in four years later, halfway through my theology studies at Oxford, where I was training for the Anglican clergy.

But apart from the ecumenical advantages, the Anglicanism in which I was raised was firmly based in the High Church Oxford Movement, so my father, an Anglican vicar, was not anti-Catholic. I could say that I learned the basics of the faith at home.

When I was ordained a priest in Melbourne in 1973, my parents were delighted to be involved in the celebrations. Yet what has influenced my priesthood, rising from this background, was a love of the liturgy, a valuing of the sacraments and a sense of beauty, reverence and awe, which characterized the Anglican tradition at its best. My father also taught me to preach -- without notes!

Q: Your work in Rome at the Pontifical Council for the Family, and then in Melbourne as the director of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family, meant you were in close contact with family questions. In these times when there is so much debate over the future of the family, what do you think the Church has to offer a secular society?

Bishop-designate Elliott: Working in the pontifical council from 1987 to 1997 was a fascinating experience, especially guided by Cardinal Edouard Gagnon and Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, two leaders I was honored to serve, in our common service of Pope John Paul II.

It was the era of the famous, or infamous, U.N. conferences. I served in the delegation of the Holy See at the Cairo Population Conference, the World Justice Summit at Copenhagen and the U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing.

Here I learned in no uncertain terms that the family, marriage and human life itself is under direct attack, and that God's providence is guiding the Catholic Church to meet the challenge of global secularism in all its aggressive and destructive forms.

The battleground in not merely in international conferences heavy with ambiguous jargon and deceitful strategies, but right here in your family and mine -- this is where the struggle for the soul of the human person is taking place.

Yet the Church meets this not with negativity, but by proclaiming the good news of life and love, by saying that babies are beautiful, that the future does move by way of the family, that the great hope for humanity is the living cell of all societies, the family based on marriage.

To put it simply: In a world weighed down by doom-and-gloom postmodern ideologies, we proclaim the virtue word "hope."

Q: You are also a well-known commentator on liturgical questions. Amid all the worries over changes in liturgy and a lack of respect for Church norms, how do you think we can recover a sense of the sacred in the liturgy, while at the same time making it attractive to a mentality that often sees ceremonies as boring and repetitive?

Bishop-designate Elliott: Sometimes I regret getting into writing books on liturgy. Some e-mails I receive are quite amazing. But I love the liturgy, and it was largely through the liturgy that I "came home" to Catholicism.

That is why I deeply regret the abuses of liturgy or the sheer liturgical laziness found in various places. While these abuses continue, I believe they are less frequent, and I see signs of hope, particularly through the liturgical vision and leadership of Benedict XVI.

He takes us beyond techniques, details and issues, and he leads us deeply into the "spirit of the liturgy." The wonderful vision of the Second Vatican Council was of a liturgy that linked ...

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