Tony Abbott lecture on Freedom of Speech

Tony Abbott will give the Fr Gregory Jordan, SJ, Memorial Scholarship Lecture in Brisbane on 29 April 2016. The title of the lecture is: FREEDOM OF SPEECH: THE RIGHT AND THE RESPONSIBILITY. Details of the time and place can be found Here.

Fr Gregory Jordan was a much loved and respected theologian and former headmaster of St Ignatius Riverview. Both Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce were at St Ignatius during his headmastership. They attended his funeral in July 2015.

A favourite accusation of Abbott’s army of unappeasable enemies in politics and the media is that he is a religious zealot, eager to force the Australian population to convert – or else. It is one of the most serviceable parts of the Abbott persona they have created, and they keep hammering it.

Those familiar with his background, however, know that Abbott is considered by many orthodox Catholics to be on the liberal side, far from the dogmatic finger-wagging zealot of the manufactured image. Indeed, he fits the image of the modern Jesuit. In his book Battlelines, he gave a short account of his main (religious) influences.

Apart from my parents, the church was the biggest influence on my early life. From 1966 till 1975, I was at St Aloysius and then St Ignatius College, Riverview, in Sydney. The college mottos, ‘born for higher things’ and (roughly translated) ‘do as much as you can’, give a good idea of the Jesuit ethos at that time, which I thoroughly assimilated…

The Jesuits who taught me wanted to bring out the very best in their students but didn’t expect them to be saints. They weren’t dis­loyal to the Pope or subversive of the church but often seemed impa­tient with the ‘scold’ side to religious teaching. ‘Don’t bother giving up chocolates for Lent’, Father Emmet Costello used to advise, ‘but do something positive like going to Mass more often’. ‘We are all the prod­ucts of those who have loved us or failed to love us’, he often observed, quoting, I think, the American Jesuit John Powell. For me, the mes­sage was that God preferred big-hearted people who might sometimes make mistakes rather than robotic rule worshippers.

Tony Abbott’s actions as a politician bear that out. There are numerous ordinary people who give accounts of his generosity and compassion – a sympathetic word, a phone call about a sickness or death. Then there are the public demonstrations – his working with the SES, his yearly stay with the Aboriginal communities in the north, the pollie pedal, and so on. He shows his faith in his works rather than in his words.

The organizers of the Fr Gregory Jordan, SJ, Memorial Lecture have chosen well.