Cup of tea in hand, we sat down with Fr Ian McGinnity of Christ the King Parish, North Rocks to chat about his views on the Catholic Church today.
There is nothing more that Fr Ian McGinnity wants than to see the Catholic Church grow and offer its gifts for generations to come. But he doesn’t underestimate the complexity of this task, nor the need for the Church to be open and listen to the issues that people want to talk about.
He has been Parish Priest at Christ the King since 2013. Having entered the priesthood straight after high school, he has ministered in a number of parishes in our Diocese including Emerton-Mt Druitt, Baulkham Hills, Kenthurst, Dundas Valley and Quakers Hill-Schofields. He has chaired the National Council of Priests of Australia (NCPA) twice, from 2006 to 2011 and then 2013 to 2015. He has also been lucky to visit the Church in Nigeria, noting with a smile that the two-hour long services they hold there would be unlikely to catch on here in Australia.
Over the years he has seen the wide variety of perspectives that Catholics around the world hold. He regularly contributed his own through NCPA’s magazine The Swag which was redeveloped during his role as NCPA Chair. His deep understanding of humanity comes through as he discusses the many different influences that impact a person’s approach to their beliefs.
“It may be socioeconomic, the politics of the person’s country of origin, parental influences or some other personal experience that shape a person’s perception,” he says. “We humans are complex!”
With Australia, and particularly the Diocese of Parramatta, welcoming people from so many communities, once you add the rise of social media to the mix, it can lead to even more diversity says Fr Ian. Nowadays, he sees people joining parishes that reflect their perspectives rather than the geographic area they live in.
“Our task is to unify, but sometimes this is a very difficult task” he acknowledges. When he looks to Jesus, he can relate in a way to what he was facing “Jesus had to work with people who were suspicious, negative, in positions of power they didn’t want to give up. There were also the non-Jews who had to find a way to fit in” he says. He sees Pope Francis facing criticism at times too for trying to walk a “precarious” line to introduce reform when many Catholics wish to keep the status quo.
He is very aware there are members of his Church who want change but stay and accept parts of the Catholic faith they don’t agree with. At the same time, he also sees many people moving away from the Church when they feel it doesn’t relate to their lives. “We have to face head-on to a number of issues,” he says. “We need to listen to voices on the fringe.”
Rather than give up or be overwhelmed he looks for guidance through the Holy Spirit.
“God moves through people” he reminds us.
As well as heading up the Northern Deanery of the Diocese, Fr Ian finds meaningful participation in the Church through the International Catholic Reform Network (ICRN).
“The ICRN looks at where the Church can best meet the contemporary world. We look at issues we feel the Church needs to seriously consider, such as the role of women in the Church and in ministry; the arena of sexuality; a more collaborative ministry and how we connect with people on the fringe of the Church or who have left the Church, and the reasons why.
“I’m hoping that the Plenary Council will look at some of those questions we are dealing with on a micro level, such as how to build up the Body of Christ.
“I’m really happy that our Diocese has the leadership of Bishop Vincent. I think he’s shown us a different way of going forward. He’s saying and, in a lot of ways, doing the right things and I hope he has the strength, compassion and courage to continue to make the right decisions.”
While acknowledging the deeply caring community of North Rocks of mostly older parishioners, Fr Ian wants the Church to listen to young people and be ready for them when they need to turn to the Gospel for meaning.
“Parents say how worried they are that their children won’t go to Church,” he says.
“I tell them there will come a time when young people begin to question their lives. That’s when we need to be ready to accompany them and show them a different model of what life can be like.”
He finds joys in accompanying people on their various journeys from birth to death and in between.
“It’s often in the tough periods of life for people where, if you are available to them, some will see the presence of God and His Love.”
A message for Advent
Fr Ian sees the positives in a ‘slower’, less rushed Advent this year due to the pandemic. He encourages us to turn to the Scriptures and focus on community.
“Advent has often been the second cousin to Lent when it comes to seasonal experiences in the Church because there’s so much other commercial activity around it.
“So, while Advent is technically about waiting on the Lord, of being patient, of anticipation of the joy of the birth of Christ, the rest of the community is in a rush.
“We may have to look at how we can, in our own personal lives, joyfully anticipate the Lord to come into our world and into our hearts.
“A bit of advice that has been given to me is that ministerial priesthood is not about the role, but about being an authentic human being within the role.
“It’s an ongoing journey, it’s not an instantaneous journey. We learn from our flaws, mistakes and failings. We [as priests] are no different from anybody else in that reality,” he says finishing his cup of tea.
This article was originally featured in the Summer 2020/2021 Edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine.