The Pope’s Man in Oz
The Vatican’s new man in Australia tells an interesting story which reflects his keen interest in family life.
Shortly after he was ordained a priest at 23, the local Catholic newspaper in Liverpool, England, interviewed his father Cyril.
“It was ages later that I read the article and, in it, my father referred to our family as an ‘ordinary Catholic family’,” the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, recalls.
“Initially I felt rather shocked and thought, ‘No you’re not normal. You’re a special Catholic family, you have a son who is a priest’.
“It was years later that it dawned on me how right my father was, and that what he said is one of the highest forms of praise you can give a family, because what children need more than anything else is security, safety and normality, an environment in which they can flourish.
“Isn’t that the responsibility of parents? Not to force their children into a model of ambition that is unrealistic but to give them the stability they need.”
While there are more pressures on families today, the 59-year-old Ambassador is not shy to challenge parents about their material desires or how much they might be sacrificing family for career.
He recently visited his cousin in Italy who has two newly married daughters in their 30s.
“They are heavily into their careers and I told one of them not to leave it too late to have children because it’s not always easy,” the Nuncio explains.
“People’s aims are almost limitless now, which means individuals have to be more productive at work. That obviously requires more energy and time, which is time not spent with family. The Church should be encouraging people to think, ‘Do we really need that extra money?’
“We need to step back from these things to dedicate time to the things that really matter. Too many people discover this too late. Those years when children are growing up are precious and you have to give them time as you can’t regain them.”
Our new Nuncio believes the Church also needs to take a broad view of families and offer them more support.
“You have to incorporate into family life all the complications of human relations, including broken marriages, divorce, children from previous
relationships and so on,” he explains.
“This is part of nearly everybody’s family now. The Church must speak to families of their call to holiness, but also include those people who don’t fit into established models. We need to stay close to families and one of the best opportunities is through Catholic education, so children receive a positive and nourishing experience.
“Parents must be willing to form their children. otherwise the media and society will. The media is constantly making value proposals to young people and society in general. Quite unrepentantly the Church critiques that and I don’t think we should be hesitant about that.”
As Australia’s new Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Gallagher has been sent by the Vatican to be its representative. He was most recently in Guatemala in Central America.
A Vatican diplomat for almost 30 years, he is also the only English-born Nuncio in active service, having lived in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe, while also spending six years in the Vatican’s “second” or political section, focused on international relations.
The oldest of three children, he keeps in close contact with siblings John and Patricia as well as his 84-year-old Mum, also called Patricia, who lives at home and is tempted to visit Australia. His father Cyril is dead.
Our new Nuncio has been to Australia before, 18 years ago, when he visited Sydney for two nights, and admits he was a bit apprehensive when he learned of his appointment, given our sexual abuse scandals.
“The Holy See obviously looks at what is going on, and as their representative, you feel you’re a bit in the firing line,” he explains.
“We have to be honest and try to learn from this situation, correct weaknesses and examine what changes are needed. Reforms are already being made.”
It’s all a long way from working class Liverpool, raised in a family which practised “discreet Catholicism”.
“My father wasn’t an ostentatious person and didn’t believe in showing off his faith,” the Nuncio says.
“He wanted a very discreet sort of Catholicism in the family.”
There was no grace before meals, no family rosary, and young Paul would say his own prayers at night.
Cyril and Patricia met in an office in 1946, married in 1953 and had Paul a year later. The family lived modestly and money was tight, but the couple made sacrifices to live in a good part of the city and send their children to good Catholic schools.
Today, the Nuncio’s sister Patricia lives in London, has two sons and is the head teacher of a Catholic girls’ school. Brother John has been married twice, has three children and works for a taxi company.
The Nuncio valued his Jesuit education; especially how students were told how lucky and privileged they were, and how they had a duty to contribute and help others.
“The teachers would ask, ‘What are you going to do with your life?’ and I saw value in that,” he says.
After school, 17-year-old Paul weighed up medicine and the seminary, and choose the priesthood because his faith gave him an “inner sense of well-being and love” that were a comfort during the sometimes grim Liverpool years of the 50s and 60s.
Being sent immediately to Rome, to the English, Jesuit-run Gregorian University, was a surprise, yet a “tough, but wonderful” experience.
After two years in a parish back in Liverpool, Fr Gallagher was again packing his bags for Rome, this time to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, which trains the Holy See’s diplomats.
“I thought I’d give it a year and see how it went, and 30 years later, I’m still here,” the Nuncio says.
And now, he’s calling Australia home.