Poor Church
ABC radio program on St Vincent's
 
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The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Radio National Encounter program visits St Vincent's
 
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Encounter

Encounter is a radio program that may be heard on Sundays at 7.10am (repeated Wednesday at 7.10pm) on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Radio National network.

This highly acclaimed series, co-ordinated by Florence Spurling, explores the connections between religion and life.

With an emphasis on a high standard of creative production, Encounter invites the listener to make connections intellectually, emotionally and intuitively across a broad spectrum of topics.

The program regularly reflects on the religious experience of multicultural Australia. This includes small, lesser-known groups and gives access to voices and experiences that are not often heard in the mainstream media.

Encounter has won local and international awards.

Poor Church

On Sunday 25 July 2004 Encounter's David Rutledge presented a program on St Vincent's Redfern, entitled Poor Church.

Summary

St Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Sydney's Redfern has been a wellspring of social justice ministry for the past 35 years - but now that looks to be under threat.
New priests have been installed in the parish, and neither the priests, the congregation nor the local Aboriginal community are happy.

A transcript of the program may be found here on the ABC website or here on this site.

Support from the National Council of Priests in Australia

Community member Fr John Ford wrote the NCP a note expressing thanks for their motion of
support during their meeting in Queensland last week. Here is their reply:

From: "Peter Fitzgerald" <goodshepherd@atu.com.au>
Date: Fri, 8 Oct 2004 13:46:26 +1000
Subject: Redfern

Dear Fordy,

The NCP Executive met yesterday and your email was tabled. The committee has asked me to pass on our appreciation of your words of thanks. We are conscious of the implications of what's happening at Redfern for all parishes, and for Indigenous people throughout Australia.

Your message will be posted on our web site and appear in the Members' Bulletin, which is due to be sent out soon.

Congratulation on continuing Sharing the Meal. It is a most important and effective outreach of the community. It's sad that it doesn't have the support of the Archdiocese, let alone the resident priests.

Be assured of our ongoing support. If there is any way the NCP can help please let us know.

fraternally

Peter Fitzgerald
NCP Secretary
21 Twentieth Ave
Hoxton Park 2171

Thanks Dr Mick Asher!

Father Gerry Prindiville's opposition to the community holding its twice-weekly Sharing of the Meal inside the church has been aired elsewhere on this web site. It seems that the the Cathedral has a similar view, for, as revealed on the Encounter program, the Sydney Archdiocese Charitable Works Fund has withdrawn its meagre funding.

Dr Mick Asher, however, is adamant that the Sharing of The Meal must continue. Upon hearing the program he came to St Vincent's and gave a $1000 cheque to the organisers after the 10:00am Sunday mass. Mick Asher is well known for his work in the area, and was Mum Shirl's doctor. He is not a Catholic.

Record numbers of visitors

Hundreds of people have visited the Church Mouse in the 36 hours since the program was first broadcast. Here are some excerpts from what a couple of them had to say.

Having listened to the Encounter programme on Radio National this morning at 7am, I am most interested in the fate of the bi-weekly luncheons since the withdrawal of finacial support. Is there a plan for raising the necessary funds to support the lunch and if so, how does one contribute?

Helen B.

Dear church mouse

I have just listened to poor church on the ABC.

It has saddened me deeply to hear of what is happening to your community. I was fortunate to experience the St Vincents community when I lived in Sydney in 1987 and attended Mass with Father Ted and Mum Shirl and felt the true inclusion of my 3 yr old son in the proceedings not the usual experience for mothers of lively toddlers at Mass.

I learned volumes from Fr Ted as a role model and from the community about reconciliation. And I do remember the bare boards and everyone on the same level!! I also remember one week when ?Fabian from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence talked to the congregation about his experiences of growing up gay and Catholic. This church is really about all people I felt. I had never felt that before.

I want to offer my support to your community at this really trying time - what is the best way for me to contribute to fundraising to sustain the twice weekly lunches?

Brigid C.

See Sharing the Meal regarding donations

Dear people of St Vincent's, Redfern,

Pax Christi. I empathasise with you after listening to the programme. I have taken the trouble to quickly read something about the Neocatechumenat Community which can only be called a sect, and as dangerous to the 21st century Church as some of the mediaeval and reformation movements were.

Unfortunately, the Catholic Church in Australia is heading post haste for a bottomless pit. We are a population in which one third is nominally Catholic.

... yet the church is dead. Who to blame? None other than the hierarchy and a traditional priesthood that has been ruined by the generosity of Catholics. The Irish in particular have always spoilt their priests who have been regarded as one step below God.

So your parish is one that has suffered not only from neglect after the retirement of Father Kennedy but essentially from the autocratic and domineering attitude of Cardinal Pell who should never have been appointed to the position he holds. That such a sect of priests has been appointed to anywhere in Australia is anathema.

I hope that you do not have to bear your cross for too much longer.

This is just to give you some support. I can't help myself when it comes to expressing my views on a Church that I find I cannot see as being Christlike in many of its activities. Perhaps the creator will deal with Pell and his cohorts in his own way!

Best wishes, Philip H., Adelaide


Dear Ted,

Sometime in the early eighties (I think), I attended a concert at the Opera House which featured catholic music writers and their songs and one of the performers was Peter Kearney. Peter came on to the stage like a breath of fresh air and proceeded to talk about a song he was to sing and how, at his church at Redfern, whenever he and the congregation sang the song, an aboriginal man (whose name I cannot remember) would call out at the end of the song "Play it again, Sam!" - the song was 'Where is your song, My Lord' and I vowed at that moment I would go to that church in Redfern as it sounded like something I may enjoy being at.

My husband accompanied me that first time and I stood at the back asking him "are you sure this is the catholic church?" - it was certainly different to any others I had attended!. I came back the next week, and as I reached the Church, I noticed a man sitting in the gutter with two aboriginal men, one on either side of him, arms around each other and chatting. Again I stood down the back and as communion time came around I saw that same man enter the church just in time to receive the eucharist. Now, I had been brought up in a strict Catholic household with a religion based on shame and fear, so can you imagine my thoughts as I witnessed this! I remember thinking how I had been taught the need to be in attendance for ALL of the Mass in order to receive the Eucharist! but that thought was dismissed in favour of a much stronger one - "THIS IS A CHURCH THAT PRACTISES WHAT CHRISTIANITY IS ALL ABOUT!"

I returned many, many times after that and I learned and changed and grew from those experiences. You were, and will always be, an inspiration to me, Ted, through your patience, tolerance and humility. Thank you for assisting me to believe that Christ can be alive and well within the Catholic Church!!

May God bless you ..... Mary B.

Hello - I write to offer encouragement in your struggle. I was baptised by Fr Ted Kennedy in St. Vincent's 29 years ago and although I have not been able to return as often as I would have liked, your parish holds a special place in my heart. I have been very concerned to hear about your problems with imposed priests who do not respect your wonderful community and the sacred space that is the church in Redfern. I urge you to keep up the struggle for the Gospel and know that my prayers are with you.

Peace and blessings, Justin W.

Charitable Works Fund Appeal

I cannot understand the hostile reaction every time I make an appeal for the Charitable Works Fund. Everyone is free to give or not give according to his or her own conscience and resources. If you have made your decision not to give to this appeal in good conscience, what is the problem, why the hostile reaction? It does not matter to me if you give or do not give. This is a matter between you and God.

Fr Gerry (The Saving Word, 15 August 2004)

CWF uncharitable toward Aboriginal People

Also at

The withdrawing of $200 a week from St Vincent's Church, Redfern by the Charitable Works Fund will diminish the 'honourable contribution' of the Catholic Church in Redfern, according to Professor Stephen Leeder, professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at Sydney University.

The Charitable Works Fund targeted specific funds for withdrawal from St Vincent's. The $200 paid for a twice weekly supper for some 300 indigenous people in the area, some of whom are itinerant, and are therefore unable to access other services. The service was begun by the now ailing Fr Ted Kennedy and the community at St Vincent's Catholic Church some years ago.

Professor Leeder told Online Catholics that it was apparent that the moneys had been withdrawn as a consequence of a change in theological position, from that of Fr Kennedy's to that of the current parish priest, Fr Gerry Prindiville, who is a member of the ultra conservative Neo-Catechumate Way.

"It seems to me necessary, for all of us as Christians, to determine what actions should occur arising from Gospel values, such as those described in the parable of the Good Samaritan," Professor Leeder said.

"For me, I am happy to have just spent 18 months at a New York City Church (St Paul's and St Andrew's Uniting Methodist) which operated the largest outreach service in the city.

"My New York church fed the poor, extended mercy to those in need and spent its resources accordingly. It met the basic needs of a severely underprivileged community of homeless and poor people. For myself, this service did not diminish, but rather enriched both the spiritual life and the sense of community connection of my church."

Professor Leeder said that the theological position of the Catholic Church was a matter for it to judge. But he also said that the long history of service at St Vincent's "was among the more honourable responses of our society to the complex needs of our often destitute Indigenous people."

The Charitable Works Fund is chaired by Mgr Kerry Bayada who told Online Catholics that the decision to cut the St Vincent's contribution was due to the fact that there are other services accessible to indigenous people in Redfern. But Kate Gavan of the St Vincent's community responded that many indigenous people are itinerant, which prevents access to many services. She continued: "In any event, the St Vincent's suppers are not just about supplying food, but about giving and receiving friendship and care."

Professor Leeder, who is also Director of the Australian Health Policy Institute, said that those in authority and in positions of responsibility should act with care. "The priest who walked by the injured man got short shrift in the Samaritan story - but the despised foreigner who became involved with him and sought to meet his needs received the endorsement of Jesus."

© Copyright ONLINE CATHOLICS Ltd (ABN 63 107 718 703) Issue 10, 28 July 2004

No positive spin from Pell on wicked Redfern

by Michael Mullins

Perhaps the most telling aspect of this week's Redfern Catholic community Encounter documentary on ABC Radio National was the decision of Cardinal George Pell and parish priest Fr Gerry Prindiville not to participate.

The program featured the voices of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal parishioners who feel disenfranchised by the new style of ministry introduced by Fr Prindiville and other members of The Neocatechumenal Way. The current model represents a radical departure from that which was built under the leadership of Fr Ted Kennedy over 35 years.

The absence of Cardinal Pell and Fr Prindiville from the list of speakers symbolises the detachment of the parish administration from the life of the parish community. It was part of a rich tapestry of symbols depicted in the program.

"The carpet, which none of us likes, is here; we've always had bare boards," said parishioner Mary McMahon. "They've also put a dais there, which we also find inappropriate, as we don't believe the priest should stand up above the rest of us."

We can surmise that that Cardinal Pell and Fr Prindiville didn't want to have anything to do with the program because they felt they wouldn't be given a fair go by what they imagined was the predictable and hostile "left-wing agenda" of the ABC.

In fact that fear was shown to be unfounded by the program's presentation of the experience of Broome's Bishop Chris Saunders, whose contribution amounted to a heartening endorsement of priests of The Neocatechumenal Way whom he's had working in his diocese. Bishop Saunders related the positive experience that overcame his skepticism towards The Way prior to their coming to Broome.

He told producer David Rutledge: "Everything I see about it - the way they love one another, the way they support one another, as a way of helping people to walk more deeply, in a more committed fashion towards Christ."

The placement of these comments of Bishop Saunders could even be construed as suggesting that the communitarian dimension of The Way has the potential to provide an antidote to Fr Kennedy's "awful loneliness" that was alluded to earlier in the program. At the very least, it challenges the contention of some of the other speakers that there's evil at work in the placement of the Neocatechumenal community at Redfern.

Indeed the program's failure to quiz Bishop Saunders about the role of The Way in the disempowering of the poor at Redfern suggests Rutledge is giving them more than a fair go. Saunders is after all also chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, which has a lobbying brief to bring the poor into the mainstream of society.

If Cardinal Pell and Fr Prindiville had participated, they could have explained why the parish administration is attempting to put a stop to the twice-weekly sharing of a meal at the church. It's possible there is a good reason, but we do not know, because they have not made themselves available. As it stands, the program mentions that the Archdiocesan Charitable Works Fund is withdrawing funding for the meal, presumably on direction from Cardinal Pell. On the face of it, this is a travesty, and the faithful from parishes and schools around Sydney should be asking themselves why they should continue to give money to the Fund.

Without Pell and Prindiville, it was left to commentator and former priest Paul Collins to give the ecclesiological analysis. He relates the reluctance of the Neocatechumenate administrators to involve the Redfern parishioners in decisionmaking to a form of Catholic fundamentalism, and the fostering of what he calls "border-protection" - "a closed-shop mentality, indeed a sectarian mentality".

Bishop Saunders had put a strong positive gloss on what Paul Collins sees as the "bunker" style of The Neocatechumenal Way. It's possible that this isolation from the people is in fact the best way for the Redfern administrators to proceed. But we don't know, because we haven't heard the argument. From what we can glean from the available speakers, the Redfern problem is about fear, and not positive pastoral strategy.

Paul Collins' grim prediction is that the refusal of the administrators to engage in dialogue will destroy the community. That, he says, would be "a very wicked thing". In the absence of other views, this stands as the most plausible explanation.

© Copyright ONLINE CATHOLICS Ltd (ABN 63 107 718 703) Issue 10, 28 July 2004

 

 

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