Speaking Personally: Paul Donovan

Paul Donovan is a Catholic journalist who has specialised in matters of justice and peace over the past 20 years. He has worked with journalist John Pilger and uncovered arms industry scandals.
He won an award for his work on the living wage. Previously, he wrote columns for the Universe, Irish Post and Morning Star. He now contributes to the Guardian, Independent, Times, Morning Star, Tribune, Tablet, Church Times and British Journalism Review and some trade unions.
Where do you think your commitment to justice and peace comes from?  
It comes to a large extent from a formation in the Church. I left Kent university with a degree in law and industrial relations, going on to work in a bank for a number of years. I then became involved in a justice and peace centred group in the local parish, raising funds and awareness relating to poverty, particularly in the global south. I visited one of the projects being supported in Peru. As a result of these experiences I decided I wanted to get out of banking to work full time on social justice issues. I did a journalism course, then worked on Cambodia (visiting that country) and the landmines issue. The journalism then took me to a variety of places; from covering miscarriages of justice to the campaign for a living wage and detention without trial in the UK today. During this period I also worked for a couple of years for the Morning Star newspaper and had columns on that paper, the Irish Post and Universe. A number of individuals have helped along the way to develop that justice and peace commitment, with the late Kathy Piper and journalist John Pilger playing particularly important roles.
What for you are the most important areas of concern today?
The most important issues today revolve around an unjust capitalist world economic system that sees so many living on very little whilst a small number enjoy an obscene amount of wealth. It is this unjust system of development that spawns so many other problems like poverty, war and environmental degradation. What we need is a more just system that puts concern for the well-being of our fellow human beings first. More people need to realise that it does not have to be this way. A few people do not need to corner all the world’s resources, there is more than enough to go round if some of the basic gospel values are adopted. The rapacious attitude of human beings to the planet they inhabit will in the end destroy it, unless a more gospel based approach is adopted. We need to live more simply and tread more lightly on the earth – this is self-evident and unless people begin to adopt such an approach life is going to get worse on our depleting planet.
What sustains you in your commitment?
People sustain me in my commitment to a more just world. There are people all over the world struggling for a better world. People doing simple acts of kindness to others, whilst others are out campaigning, on marches and challenging the powerful. The will of people to make the world a better place is something to marvel at and continue the struggle for a better world. Any opponent can be overcome, given the will. Internationally known people who have inspired me include Tony Benn, Nelson Mandela, Sylvia Pankhurst, Gareth Peirce and Clement Attlee.
What are your hopes for a Church like ours for the 21st Century?
If our Church is to prosper in the future then it has to get to grips with the male hegemony. It is a disgrace that the Catholic Church can claim to value life yet treat women like second class citizens. To say the church needs to equalitise is an understatement. At present it remains an institution centuries out of date, operating on a male dominated mantra. The present arrangements have no basis in Christ’s teachings. The laity need to seize the levers of power, the clergy are supposed to be our servants not our masters. Pope Francis has been a breath of fresh air. He has begun a process of change, bringing the Church back to its roots as a church of the poor. The Pope has pointed the way speaking out on matters across the social justice spectrum, from war and peace, dignity at work and migration to environmental degradation. He has shown the way to many of his more conservative bishops, particularly in this country. There is though still a long way to go, with many burdens to be overcome. Structural change will be vital as will a proper acknowledgement of the appalling sin of child abuse. An apology to the laity as well as the victims is long overdue from the clergy. I hope also that the Church can reassess its teaching on the environment, accepting that human kind is but one part of God’s creation that must live in harmony with all others, not as a dominating force destroying everything that gets in the way.
This column is taken from NJPN’s Autumn 2014 newsletter.