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Visiting British editor talks of Church's bitter pill

The Catholic church has experienced "very difficult years" under the reign of Pope John Paul II, the editor of the international Catholic newspaper The Tablet said after his arrival in Melbourne.

John Wilkins said yesterday the Pope saw the 20th century "as a century of unparalleled evil which cannot be explained simply as a series of bad choices by certain individuals. He sees a cosmic battle going on between good and evil. To this end, right-wing bishops have been appointed throughout the world and there has been a strong emphasis on church unity.

"The danger with leading the church from the right instead of the centre is that the people who don't agree end up being seen not as a resource but a threat and are marginalised."

Mr Wilkins, who will speak at a dinner at Melbourne's Xavier College tonight, said that while "conservatives aren't always wrong and progressives aren't always right", the present view among Catholic conservatives, that everyone but them is wrong on church issues, struck him as "un-Catholic".

While there was renewed emphasis on the authority of the Church, Mr Wilkins said authority had to be predicated on trust. He conceded that trust was at the heart of the issue of sexual abuse within the church.

Asked to name positives in the church's recent history, he nominated the part it played in Eastern Europe, as well as East Timor during its years of Indonesian occupation. He also referred to El Salvadorean Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated by his country's military leadership. "Romero was put in as a conservative but was radicalised within a few weeks by the murder of a Jesuit friend," he said. "He's been treated with suspicion by Rome because of his left-wing sympathies, but throughout Latin America he's regarded as a saint, a modern Thomas a Becket."

The Tablet

The Age

19 Jul 2002