View from below, Colin James

Another “religious” memoir, but in an entirely different vein, being not by a church leader but one of its loyal rebels, is Pauline O’Regan, There is Hope for a Tree, Auckland University Press/ Bridget Williams Books, $29.95, ISBN 186940 1328. O’Regan is a Catholic nun now in her seventies. This book is both a reminiscence of some of O’Regan’s temporal and spiritual travels and a rumination on some issues dividing the Catholic church – both internally and from other christian churches.

O’Regan’s theology has an attractive humanistic simplicity. Sprung from the people, she chose, far into her career as a teacher, to return to the people, setting up a small community in Christchurch (against disapproval from the church authorities). She speaks, as in all her books, the clear language of the ordinary people.

Ordinary people have no truck with angels-on-a-pinhead arguments about contraception, abortion, homosexuality and the place of women. Liturgy and metaphysics are the luxuries of the opulently frocked or the intellectual recluse. Instead, the ordinary people seek practical, humane, sensible down-to-earth guidance, which O’Regan suggests the Catholic church has signally not provided on some issues. In particular her fierce condemnation of her church’s failure of women – and particularly the ultra-conservative, and so damagingly divisive, stance of the recently retired bishop of Christchurch – should sober any church leader too long separated from his flock.

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