Priest pulls up pew in church of wider world

When he walks around the university and the three hospitals near his church, Father Michael Elligate wears casual slacks and a shirt, rather than his priest's robes.

''That drag'', he calls his official vestments. He prefers to be part of the community, rather than separate.

Father Elligate is parish priest at St Carthage's Catholic Church in Parkville and an on-call chaplain at Royal Melbourne, Royal Children's and Royal Women's hospitals.

With the word ''priest'' lately linked with ''paedophile'', he was surprised to be offered the AM.

''I think at a time when priests are justifiably under question for integrity and behaviour, it's good to recognise … a whole range of good guys out there doing fantastic work. In a way I feel like I'm speaking for many of them when I accept this honour.''

St Carthage's is the parish of Melbourne University, and Father Elligate has chaired its ethics committee since the late 1990s.

He is also on the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research human research ethics committee.

The committees confer on issues from the potential psychological harm done to Bosnian rape victims being interviewed for research, to the possible danger to students who want to study dissidents in Syria.

Father Elligate says the challenge for today's church is to accept that it's only one voice in a pluralist society.

''And not to expect privileges. What this present Pope is doing by sheer openness and compassion is breathing fresh air into the life of the church.

''Rather than being on the defensive, it's being with the people to encourage and support them in their own searches in life.''

This story Priest pulls up pew in church of wider world first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.