Book Reviews October/November/December 2021

Letters from Rome and Beyond
Gerald O’Collins SJ
ISBN 978-1922449528
Connor Court Publishing, Brisbane 2021
Paperback 260pp £20.00
Pastoral Review bookshop £18.00

Now in his 91st year, the Australian Jesuit Gerald O’Collins supplements the three volumes of his autobiography, A Midlife Journey (2012), On the Left Bank of the Tiber (2013) and From Rome to Royal Park (2015), with a collection of letters he wrote between 1974 and 2020. These were kept by the recipients – his mother, his sisters, especially Moira, the eldest of the family, and an American friend – and passed back to him more recently. One of the most prolific and representative of post-Vatican II Catholic theologians, O’Collins is also among the most affable, with a genius for friendship and networking which comes through very gently but powerfully in these pages. There is an intimacy in them from the fact that most of them are addressed to family members, but they are also full of interesting information, wry observations and humorous comments on theological, ecclesiastical and political matters and personalities. He is as likely to be writing ‘I hoped to see Hans Küng, but he was away’ as he is to be asking how one of his nieces or nephews is getting on in school.

Never one to back away from publishing or communicating, it is not surprising that his circle of friends is made up not only of fellow Jesuits, colleagues and former students, but also of diplomats, politicians and journalists. He would have made a fine diplomat himself since the conversation never stalls, while at the same time he rarely ventures onto controversial issues. Or at least he rarely shows his hand in relation to controversial issues, presumably because most of these letters are to his family. But even in areas where you would expect that family members will have different views, Australian politics, for example, it is impossible to work out where O’Collins himself stands. He does express dismay at the possibility of Silvio Berlusconi being elected in Italy for a second time: ‘we Italians’, he says, surely will not do that again. (They did.)
There are only two theological ‘flashpoints’ that I could see where his own thoughts and feelings come through clearly. One is where he expresses dissatisfaction with the arguments presented in Inter insigniores, the 1976 declaration regarding the question of ordaining only men to the priesthood. The other, and much more strongly, is in relation to the process against his friend Jacques Dupuis SJ, a process in which O’Collins took a significant role defending Dupuis.

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