Bishop Geoffrey Robinson PhL STL DCL
Born: 10 August 1937 Died: 29 December 2020
Ordained Priest: 21 December 1960 Ordained Bishop: 8 March 1984
Having commenced his philosophical studies at St Columba’s College Springwood in New South Wales, Geoff Robinson went to Rome where he completed his theological studies at the Collegio de Propaganda Fide in 1961. He then commenced canonical studies at the Pontifical Urban University of Propaganda Fide obtaining the doctorate in canon law in 1965.
On his return to the Archdiocese of Sydney Geoff Robinson was appointed as an assistant priest. In 1967 he became the lecturer in Canon Law at St Patrick’s College, Manly, accepting the challenge of teaching law to seminarians during the years of revision and renewal of Church law. Although he completed this assignment in 1983, Geoff continued to be an educator in Canon Law.
On 20 June 1967, Geoff Robinson was one of forty-six priests who attended a meeting at New Farm in Brisbane who voted unanimously that: “the Canon Law Society of Australia be formed”. It became known as the Canon Law Society of Australia and New Zealand in 1974. Geoff served the Society for fourteen consecutive years as a member of the Executive Committee. He was the Secretary of the Society 1969-1974, the Australian Co-ordinator 1974-1976 (a position now abolished), and the second President of the CLSANZ 1976-1983.
When Geoff became President of the Society in November 1976, the Church was about to embark on a challenging and exciting journey as the draft texts (schemata) of the seven books of the revised Code of Canon Law began to be distributed for consultation. The Australian Episcopal Conference requested the assistance of the Canon Law Society in providing comments on the draft texts, proposing suggestions for amendments and drafting new canons to be submitted to the Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law. Geoff was the convenor, organiser, coordinator and leader of this endeavour, inspirational in his capacity for work and his ability to take others with him.
Two inter-Episcopal Conference meetings were held, one in Dublin in August 1977 to focus on the Schema De Processibus and the other in Ottawa in August 1978 to critique the Schema De Populo Dei. Geoff Robinson and four colleagues – Fr Frank Harman Melbourne, Monsignor Ralph Brown Westminster, Monsignor Gerard Sheehy Dublin and Fr Frank Morrisey OMI Ottawa, all Honorary Life Members of CLSANZ and all now deceased – formed an outstanding core group of canonical advisers who contributed most positively to the shape of the new Code.
In 1967 Geoff Robinson was appointed to the tribunal ministry. In 1953 five interdiocesan tribunals of first instance were established across Australia only for judicial cases of nullity of marriage. Hence, every diocese retained its own tribunal for other cases regarding rights and criminal cases. Geoff played a significant role in bringing about two subsequent decisions. The first was the establishment in 1974 of the National Tribunal of Appeal, and the second in 1975 was the extension of the competency of the five Interdiocesan Tribunals of first instance to all cases, including cases of rights and criminal cases.
It was Geoff who conceived the idea of an Institute of Tribunal Practice; he was the architect of its structure and content and organised the lecturers. The Institute combined formal study and practical supervised work. The first Institute was held in 1978 and was conducted by the National Tribunal of Appeal and this remained so until 2011. With the suppression of the Tribunal of Appeal, the Canon Law Society undertook responsibility for the Institute. The Institute continues as a service not only to the particular Churches of Australia and New Zealand, but also Papua-New Guinea, the Pacific Islands and South-East Asia. True to Geoff’s vision, the Catholic Institute of Sydney and the Canon Law Society, since 2011, grant a Certificate of Achievement to students who successfully complete the Institute. One of Geoff’s significant contributions to the tribunal ministry of the Church was the publication in 1984 of his book Marriage, Divorce and Nullity – A Guide to the Annulment Process in the Catholic Church. It was revised and reprinted in 2000 and has been translated into other languages.
In 2003 Geoff was honoured with Life Membership of the Canon Law Society of Australia and New Zealand. In memory of the Founding President, the Canon Law Society instituted in 1994 the Owen Oxenham Memorial Award, to be presented to a member in recognition of outstanding service to the Society. Geoff Robinson was the recipient of this Award at the 42nd Annual Conference in 2008. On that occasion the President of the Society, Professor Ian Waters, noted that “Geoff’s superb intellect, his generosity and his availability have resulted in significant contributions in the arenas of Sacred Scripture, Catholic Education, Ecumenism, Spirituality and Professional Standards”. Geoff’s preference was to study Scripture, but Cardinal Gilroy asked him to study Canon Law. Canon Law is the richer for his scholarship. The Australian Church is immensely in Geoff’s debt for his prophetic contribution in the sexual abuse crisis. His was the authentic voice of the Church with the media. His authenticity lay in his complete honesty. Members of the Canon Law Society have been greatly enriched by the presence of Geoffrey Robinson among us over five decades.
At his ordination as a bishop Geoff said that the most important day of his life was the day of his baptism. In the waters of baptism Geoff died with Christ and rose with him to new life. May Geoff now share with him eternal glory.
Requiescat in pace.
Rodger J Austin
29 December 2020