Letter to the local Bishops

Arch Bishop Barry Hickey & Bishop Don Sproxton
St Mary’s Cathedral,
17 Victoria Square
Perth, Western Australia 6000

Your Excellencies

We are writing to you with the intention of bringing to your attention the situation that exists in the Good Shepherd Parish at Kelmscott and to hopefully initiate the necessary actions that will remedy the same.

There is probably an assumption that some ‘Traditional’ parishioners are against the Neo-Catechumen presence in the parish because they do not understand the purpose of the Way. This has been rather disconcerting and frustrating as this is not the case. The understanding that the parishioners have is as follows:

The Neo-catechumen way is primarily an avenue to evangelise with a view to encouraging and reaching out in the main to ‘Lapsed Catholics’, non-believers and those who may wish to increase their faith. Small communities are initially assembled, from whom some members will go on to catechise to others.

We have no qualms about the aforementioned. What we are concerned and annoyed about is the Methodology, some of the content of the talks themselves, doctrinal uncertainty and the manner of the parish priest in particular.

METHODOLOGY

The catechists along with the parish priest begin by announcing to parishioners that the Pope and Bishop have sent them to give an ‘Adult Catechesis’. This gives a false perception that they have been deliberately sent by the Bishop to Kelmscott to deliver this catechesis.

The introductory invitation to come and listen is projected as a life-changing experience, with a transformation in relation to one’s faith and the overall handling of modern day living.

At no time were parishioners told that this was in fact a means of ‘recruiting’ people to walk in the Neo-catechumen Way and the intended plan to form Communities within the parish. So, under the guise of evangelizing this was actually a recruitment strategy for the Neo-catechumen way.

People turned up (almost 100) but gradually, the numbers dwindled as the original claims made were not proving to be so.

No questions were permitted and no note taking either.

Attendees were told …”You have been chosen by the Holy Spirit and are not here of your own accord” .The insinuation being that those not attending have been overlooked by God. What was more disconcerting was the mention to people that they should be prepared for criticism from “Those people (pointing to the church) will criticize you and as such you will need to make a decision”.

Alarmingly, the following is also told: “You have been invited by Jesus Christ to walk in this Neo-catechumen way and if you refuse YOU ARE GOING TO HELL.”

The complete secrecy along with the inability to ask questions or take notes further amplifies the major perception that this is a deliberate strategy and is received as being deceitful and cunning. This lack of integrity and openness sets the scene for distrust, annoyance and concern.

Even the election of Responsibles raised eyebrows when some of the people ‘elected’ were already approached prior to the weekend and then the Catechists (unknown to the assembled people) took part in the so called election. Co-incidentally, the same people whom the parish priest had chosen as Responsibles were ‘elected’. Later it became known that the parish priest had in fact visited and persuaded at least one couple to agree to be Responsibles, prior to this election.

It should be noted that until today the people attending the Neo-catechumen services are unaware about the future of their walk in this way. When some stop attending, it is customary for them to be contacted by the parish priest, the responsibles, or a catechist. A familiar line used is that Satan has got them to stop.

DOCTRINE

The most alarming concern is that of the Catholic Doctrine as we understand it to be.

Some of what we are told includes the following:

– The church is simply brick
– The Eucharist is not a sacrifice but only a celebration
– You cannot offend God (We understand Sin as being an offence against God).
– We need enemies or else we won’t be able to forgive.
– Children and spouses are idols.

During the talks ‘traditional’ parishioners are ridiculed for bowing before the tabernacle, as well as for the lighting of candles and other such devotions. ”These people are full of religiosity but very little faith.”

PARISH PRIEST

Here lies the possible root cause of the disharmony, mistrust and division that prevails.The parish priest appears to strut around and is known to refer to himself as the Parish priest and as such does not have to discuss with parishioners what he considers to be appropriate. He is noticeably very energetic and enthused when Neo-catechumen matters arise but is found to be less so with regard to the parish. So be it. The most annoying trait though is the gradual restrictions enforced. Some of these include:

– Our Lady’s light turned off during Mass
– Thanksgiving to the Sacred Heart not permitted
– Requests for the formation of a Youth Group denied
– When some youth formed a prayer group where they assembled once a week in each others house, they were reprimanded and in fact accused of trying to boost their egos. They were told that this initiative would be discouraged.
– First Communicants not allowed to bring up lit candles to the altar at the beginning of the Mass.
– Photographs of children preparing for their First Communion ripped down in annoyance.

At times his behaviour borders on the childish and petulant.

He adamantly tells us that the church is simply brick and our manner of worship is questionable.

It would appear that anything that does not have a Neo-catechumen influence about it is discarded or not encouraged. There is a visibly different manner in which the followers of the way are greeted as to those who do not. Parish information is readily made available to the former leaving at times the others to enquire about the same.

Apart from the Neo-catechumen introduction, nothing else of significance has been introduced to the parish, including other means of evangelisation. Co-incidentally, upon the recent visit of Bishop Sproxton there has suddenly been made mention of the setting up of the Legion of Mary and a Youth group.

The most provocative of all is the constant comments and insinuations made during the Homilies or at the end of the Mass, towards those whom he thinks are not supporting the Neo-catechumen Way. This exacerbates an already un-easy environment.

Several attempts have been made to discuss these matters we now bring before you. His response has always been that we not talk with him but instead are defiantly told to go and see the Bishop. This recalcitrant manner has not helped calm the waters but instead has got the backs up of parishioners.

USE OF PARISH HALL

Another matter is the use of the parish hall. Parishioners have put so much energy, effort and fund raising into the building of the hall, with the prime purpose being that they could utilise the same to conduct social get togethers so as to create camaraderie amongst the parishioners.

Now access to the hall on Saturdays and Wednesdays are out of the question because the parish priest has these days reserved for the Neo-catechumen worship.

Do you think this is Christian and fair?

There are about 400 parishioners who attend weekend masses. There are about 20 people who attend the Neo-catechumen way but the hall is unavailable. We are sure you will agree that Saturdays are the most convenient days to have parish gatherings. Furthermore, there is a reasonable assumption that an alternate premises can be found for those days when parishioners request the use of the hall.

CONCLUSION

Obviously, we are unable to present to you all the concerns we have owing to the intention of keeping this as brief as possible yet not omitting facts we feel you need to be kept informed about.

Unfortunately, qualities such as integrity, openness and honesty so synonymous with the Catholic Church has taken a beating. We are always prepared to obey the instructions given by you. We have always been acceptable to change and realise that this is necessary. What we are unable to confirm is whether you are aware of the matters we raise.

As mentioned earlier, we are not against the presence of the Neo-catechumen Way or its intentions. We do however suggest that the manner in which it is rolled out to parishioners be done with openness and honesty. Two years into the presence of the Neo-catechumen way and 95% of parishioners were unaware of their existence. We ask that those who are not followers of the way, not be criticised as this leads to division and animosity and we ask that people not be spiritually black-mailed into believing that they will be going to hell, should they refuse the invitation to walk in the way.

Of critical importance is the ability of parishioners to be able to continue to worship in the manner that was prevalent prior to the arrival of Father Melvin and the Neo-catechumen way.

Why cannot he allow parishioners the opportunity to do as we have been and practise his Neo-catechumen Way when he conducts these services separately? That way, everyone is happy. Almost every thing in the church has a (hidden) Neo-catechumen influence, which discerning parishioners observe and as a consequence become annoyed.

The final straw was the last Easter Vigil where without any communication, the entire Eucharist was conducted in the Neo-catechumen way. We were forced to put away our Missals and listen to Neo-catechumen followers singing throughout the Mass. It should be noted that the attendance at the last Easter Vigil was half that of the previous year.

We consider this an example of simply ruling rough-shod. Especially, when later that night a separate Neo-catechumen service was held in the parish hall.

Despite the good intentions of this Neo-catechumen Way, what we have today is a them and us parish. Several parishioners have simply up and gone to other parishes for their worship. They feel that Father Melvin has his heart and soul in the Neo-catechumen Way and conducts anything else because of an obligation to do so.

We trust that our discussion with you will help alleviate the situation and allow goodwill and harmony to return to the parish.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Yours in Christ
Pam Aitkins and Clive Maher

(on behalf of concerned parishioners at the Good Shepherd Parish Kelmscott.)

[CM October 2012 – After a little over a year, members of the St Vincent’s community have not found Fr Melvin to be their ideal priest, but he is making a consistent and concerted effort to bring harmony to a fractured parish.]

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