Tony Abbott was last night elected 28th Prime Minister of Australia. He succeeds Kevin Rudd, who was 26th Prime Minister, who succeeded Julia Gillard who was our 27th Prime Minister.

(Maths was never my great strength, but history was. If you can’t make sense of that last paragraph, I guess you’re not a local. I won’t bore you with the details.)

Our next prime minister is a past seminarian, who spoke at an Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy Conference some years back. In a Q&A following his presentation, he was asked what he looked for, as a Catholic layman, in a priest.

I considered reproducing his remarks in the next edition of the ACCC’s newsletter, but I concluded that it may be seen as too partisan for an official publication — especially since some Catholic voters may conscientiously object to some of Abbott’s policies.

A personal blog, however, has no power to officially endorse anything. So I here present our new prime minister’s views on the Catholic priest:

What do you look for in a priest?

The 2001 ACCC Conference opened with a stimulating presentation by Hon Tony Abbott, Minister for Workplace Relations in the Australian Government. His talk was wide-ranging and appealed across the political spectrum of those present. A question from the floor by Fr Gregory Jordan SJ (who had taught the Minister at St Ignatius’ College, Riverview) provoked a most edifying response. Unfortunately, the conference recorder required a tape-change during Mr Abbott’s reply, and only the first third and the closing sentence are transcripted from the conference tape, with the Editor’s notes supplying the remainder — Ed (Fr Paul McGavin).

The first thing I would say is, I look for inspiration.  The priests that it was my pleasure and privilege to know as a young bloke were very inspirational.  They were men who were of high intellect and of exemplary life.  They were ambitious, but ambitious for the higher things.  They were overflowing with desire to help young people to be all that they could be—rather than what they might necessarily have wanted to be.  As I said, I’d put all of this under the broad heading of inspiration, and I think that is what everyone sitting in the pews first wants of a priest.

The next thing that I look for is a high intellect.  By this I do not mean “intellectual” nor necessarily great intellectual capability.  But I look for a mind that lifts-up the listener, a mind that is disciplined, a mind that has thought through the things that God entrusted to His Church.

The next thing that I look for is exemplary life.  I want the example of a life that is well lived, a virtuous life.  And I want a man who lives celibacy well.

Next I want to encounter a man with ambition for God.  Not ambition for himself, but ambition for God, and the things of God.  I want a man who does not settle for mediocrity, but who has high aims for God.

Finally I look for a man who has an ardent desire for the potential of our young people.  The laity want to encounter in our priests not men who support our young people in “what they want to be”, but who support our young people in “what they could be”.  Our wants are often too limited, our potentiality is far greater.  We need priests who support us and youth in what is possible in God’s vision for us.

Overall, in a priest I want to touch something that is better, higher, and graver than ordinary life.  We hope that our priests might help us to reach for that.