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Durham University

Centre for Catholic Studies

Gael Pardoen

My name is Gaël Pardoën and I am a first year Integrated PhD student in Theology and Religion at Durham University and a student in the Centre for Catholic Studies.

As you might have guessed from my name, I am not from here. Despite a Breton name, I grew up in Aix-en-Provence before studying Literature and Politics in Angers and History in Paris. I arrived in Durham in September 2017 as part of the Erasmus programme. Not only was I charmed by this beautiful city, its bridges and castle, and above all its magnificent cathedral. I found here a benevolent community, willing to support me in my attempt to make sense of my faith and how it is relevant to our challenging (and fascinating) times. Having enjoyed my year in the shadow of St Cuthbert and St Bede a lot and being willing to pursue my study of theology, Durham seemed to me to be the best place to take up this challenge. The CCS and some of its members have been essential in the discerning of this project. I see myself as very fortunate to be part of a community that combines its commitment to Catholicism and to the academy in a very creative manner, gathering people from different faith backgrounds and different disciplines. This constructive, pluralist and trans-disciplinary approach has influenced me in the shaping of my projects on which I will come back.

The Integrated PhD is a four-year programme that enables its participants to build a solid background before effectively starting the PhD. The first year is a taught Masters, and the requirements are almost the same than those of a normal MA, i.e., classes, assignments and a short dissertation (15,000 words). Half-way through this first year I can say that I have very much enjoyed my courses and have received a lot of support from the teaching community as I am learning how to express myself in a different discipline and a different academic system. My short dissertation will explore the question of disagreement in a plural ecclesial context. An important aspect of the CCS is its involvement in Receptive Ecumenism and it is driven by its ethos that I want to critically engage with the Church of Englands approach to those questions, seeing what can be learned from it. I will look at the emergence of the good disagreement in its historical context, before looking at Rowan Williams contribution, as theologian and as Archbishop of Canterbury, to the conversation around good disagreement. I will examine the articulation of truth and unity and ask if the commitment to unity is made at the expense of commitment to the truth, asking what being committed to the truth might mean in a pluralist context.

As I submitted my PhD proposal last year when I applied for the Integrated PhD, I was planning to ask what it might mean to be gay as Catholic and to be Catholic as gay. I was willing to get involved in the conversation through an empirical approach of gay Catholics in Britain and try to see if some more systematic conclusions could arise from such an inquiry, for example becoming aware of the contribution of gay Catholics to catholicity. As the year has passed that project has evolved and I am currently working on the shaping of a new proposal. I would explore the idea of faithful/loyal dissent and belonging in a Roman Catholic context. In a first part I would explore the idea of assent/dissent through a conceptual analysis of authority, obedience and catholicity through the work of Paul D. Murray and Nicholas M. Healy. Using the classification of systematic theology in branches (official, ordinary, churchly, and academic) I would look at three Roman Catholic dissenting theologians (Charles E. Curran, James Alison, and Hans Küng), asking how they justify the very act of dissenting as one authentically Catholic and if they provide us with methodological resources for a faithful dissent. I would then look at ordinary/practical dissent that is the dissent of ordinary faithful from the magisterium in their daily life and the process of negotiating their faith beyond the formal boundaries. I am particularly interested in their personal faith and their relation to the larger community of the church. Finally, in a fourth part, having looked at Catholic cases of dissent I would look at Rowan Williams ecclesiological approach to faithfulness and obedience.

As you might have noticed from this short presentation of those two related projects, my main interests are in ecclesiology in general, and the question of belonging and truth in a pluralist context in which the traditional form of authority and belonging are being challenged. I am also interested in pastoral issues, ethics, ecumenism and the theological insights of experience.

All those questions are rooted in my daily practice of faith, as Christian in general, and Roman Catholic in particular. The CCS, through friendships and benevolent mentors has indubitably contributed to enabling me to transform (or enlarge) my way of seeing and approaching God as that of belonging to the church and being in the world. Thanks to the CCS and the study of theology I feel more Catholic, that is to say more confident to engage in a genuine dialogue with diversity in faith, hope and love. The gift of the Louis Lafosse Scholarship, of which I am in receipt, enables me to focus serenely of those issues. For this I thank God and I thank the Institute of Christian Education. Merci.

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