Paul Collins, Catholic writer

About Paul Collins

Born in the then very working class suburb of Richmond in the city of Melbourne, Australia on 12 August 1940, Paul Collins is an historian, broadcaster and writer. His parents, Veronica and Michael Collins, ran corner shops that were ‘open all hours’. Educated in Catholic primary schools and at the Christian Brothers College, Victoria Parade, East Melbourne, Collins entered the junior seminary of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in 1956.

Professed as a religious in 1960 and ordained a Catholic priest in 1967, he served first (1968-1969) as a teacher at Downlands College in Toowoomba, Queensland. He then moved to the parish of Moonah in Hobart, Tasmania, where he was an assistant priest from 1970 to 1973. Moving to Sydney in 1974, he was appointed a lecturer (teaching church history and directing pastoral studies) at Saint Pauls National Seminary (1974-1977) in Kensington. From 1977 to1979 he was parish priest of Randwick in Sydney. He then went to Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts as a post graduate student (1979-1981), returning to Australia to work briefly as a research officer for the Catholic Social Welfare Commission (1981). He then returned to the United States as Deputy Director of Weber Center, Adrian, Michigan, where he taught theology, church history and ministry. He also briefly taught theology at Saint Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan.   

In 1984 Collins began full time studies for a Ph.D. in history at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, graduating in 1989. He published his first book Mixed Blessings (Penguin) in 1986 while at the ANU and briefly taught Australian History at the University of Papua New Guinea in 1987. He has a Masters degree in theology (Th.M.) from Harvard University, and a Doctorate in Philosophy (Ph.D) in early Australian history from the ANU, and is a Fellow of Trinity College of Music, London in Speech and Drama.

For almost a decade from January 1988 he worked full-time in varying capacities in TV and radio with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. From 1993 to 1996 he was Specialist Editor Religion for the ABC. He also acted as co-ordinator of Radio National in Melbourne and for a brief period was acting-general manager of Radio National.  For the first three years of the ABC TV program Compass (it began in 1988) Collins acted as a presenter, interviewer and commentator. From 1990 to 1995 he was the presenter of the program Insights on Radio National. He has also presented and participated in many programs on all ABC networks.

Between 2004 and 2006 Collins worked on a contract basis for the ABC presenting Sunday Spectrum on Sunday mornings on ABC TV. Some 150 episodes of this half-hour in-studio interview program were produced covering ethical, religious, faith and spirituality issues.

Since leaving the ABC full-time, he has continued to be called on as a commentator on Catholic affairs, the papacy, the Vatican, as well as environmental and population issues on ABC Radio and TV, SBS television and radio (where he acted as lead commentator on SBS Radio during World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008), the BBC, PBS in the United States, NHK Japan, and Danish and New Zealand TV, Sky TV News, as well as many commercial TV and radio stations in Australia. Collins covered the death of Pope John Paul II in April 2005, and from Rome the election of Benedict XVI as an English-speaking expert for many media outlets across the world.

He has written regularly for most of Australia’s leading newspapers and magazines, as well as for the London Tablet, The National Catholic Reporter in the United States and for several magazines in Germany and Austria.

After leaving full-time work at the ABC he worked as a freelance author and he helped out in parishes. In March 2001 Collins resigned from the active priestly ministry of the Catholic Church after thirty-three years service due to a doctrinal dispute with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith over his book Papal Power (1997). His personal explanation of his reasons for resignation were published by The National Catholic Reporter (9 March 2001) can be read here.

Over the last twenty-five years Collins has published thirteen non-fiction books. Three of them focus on the relationship of Australian Catholicism to social and national affairs, four concentrate on the broader world church and the history of the papacy and the Vatican, and two examine the relationship between theology and ecology in the contemporary world. He has also written on Australian history looking specifically at Tasmanian convict history and the island’s environment in Hell’s Gates (2002), and his history of bushfire in Australia since European settlement Burn (2006) is the first accessible, general book on the social, historical and ecological issues surrounding bushfires. His most recent book The Birth of the West tells the story of so-called ‘Dark Age’ Europe in the tenth century.

This output has made Collins one of Australia’s best-known independent commentators on Catholic, religious and spiritual affairs especially in relationship to public life. His voice is often heard on the ABC, SBS and on commercial radio and TV, as well as in the daily newspapers. He has also established a solid reputation as a commentator in the area of ethics, environmentalism, population and nature, with his 1995 book God’s Earth. Religion as if matter really mattered and his 2010 book Judgment Day. The Struggle for life on Earth. The ABC subsequently made a major TV documentary based on God’s Earth.

He now works as an independent scholar and writer and is deeply committed to ecological and population issues and participates in various organisations that work to renew the Catholic Church in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

Paul is also a proud patron of Sustainable Population Australia along with distinguished palaeobotanist, Dr Mary White, Foreign Minister Bob Carr, Professor Ian Lowe, and former Australian of the Year, Dr Tim Flannery.