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Hostility to Church hurtful
The West Australian Barry Hickey is the former Archbishop of Perth, who stepped down from the job last year. Picture: Ian Munro/The West Australian

The former head of the Perth Catholic Church says the greatest threat facing the Church is not the sex scandals of the past but hostility to its position on key social issues such as contraception, homosexuality and gay marriage.

Emeritus Archbishop Barry Hickey said he was disappointed by what he saw as growing hostility towards the Church but did not believe historical abuse scandals were to blame as much as shifting societal attitudes.

"There'll always be scandals in the Church," he said. "We've had saints and sinners and we'll continue to have saints and sinners because we're dealing with people as they are.

"It's hurtful to see all the negativity that comes from the sins of Church people but it's not the real problem. The real problem is that what I think of as good news is not always seen or received as good news by society.

"Let me take one little matter. I think the Christian vision of marriage is good news in that it produces strong family life, it is based on love, it is based on fidelity and it is a basic cell of stability in society. Now that has become a bit of a minority opinion."

The 77-year-old said it was not an option for the Church to adopt a more popular position on issues.

Instead, he said, members of the Church should live according to the Gospel and "hope it's attractive enough for people to say 'yes, this is what I want'". "We can't force it down anyone's throat, we can simply proclaim it," he said.

Archbishop Hickey stepped down as Archbishop of Perth last year after two decades in the role, a transition that has, at times, been difficult.

"I must confess to a sense of … puzzlement about why I'm still alive because the job I've been asked to do is over, for better or for worse," he said.

"Now in retirement I need to work out: am I still called to be active in the Church or should I, perhaps, spend a lot more time with my extended family or get involved with the local community?

"I think the answer I've come to is that I can do those last two to a greater extent than before but my main job is still to be active in the Church because that was my initial call and the call is still there. That is my way of resolving my sense of puzzlement about what I'm supposed to do now."

Anticipating empty days in retirement Archbishop Hickey had planned writing projects to occupy his time, including a reflection on his time as a bishop. However, his decision to remain heavily involved with the Church means the projects remain largely unstarted.

These days his duties include filling in for absent priests, helping out at confirmations and talking to people experiencing difficulty in their spiritual lives.

What spare time he does have is divided between his extended family, regular Monday morning tennis games and walking around Hyde Park lake. He also reads "a lot" of magazines and newspapers to keep up with current events.

Despite his somewhat crowded days, Archbishop Hickey said it was a relief to have the weight of responsibility associated with his former role lifted from his shoulders.

"I'm a happy man," he said. "My retirement so far has been a happy experience and I hope it stays that way."