Report: 28 July 2004 - St Vincentís Redfern
[Extract from http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/relrpt/stories/s1163605.htm]
Stephen Crittenden: Welcome to the program.
This week weíre looking at tensions in the inner Sydney Catholic
parish of St Vincentís Redfern;
The Catholic parish of St Vincentís Redfern, sits bang in the
Aboriginal heartland of inner Sydney. There, over more than 20
years, former priest, Father Ted Kennedy, created an extraordinary,
freewheeling community that brought together Sydneyís most marginalised,
with the well-heeled. In 2002, Father Ted retired, owing to serious
ill health, and it seems things havenít been quite the same ever
since, and particularly since Cardinal Pell appointed two priests
from the conservative, neo-Catechumenal way to take over the parish.
There have been heated arguments; funerals and Holy Communion
have been denied to residents of the parish, and one priest even
got hosed down. With a garden hose, that is.
Well Jeremy Hartcher is a communications student from the University
of Technology in Sydney. He made his first communion at St Vincentís
Redfern, and managed to get back inside his old parish church
to find out what was going on. He even managed to do what we havenít
done so far, and that is, get an interview with the current parish
Ted Kennedy: But gradually the Aboriginal people who are
undoubtedly the most dispossessed in Sydney, found it became their
home, and I think I see now that this place, the old Presbytery
is much more the home of the Aboriginal people than it is mine.
I like to think of myself more as their loving friend, their guest.
Jeremy Hartcher : Father Ted Kennedy, speaking to the
ABC in 1982.
In 2002, illness got the better of him, and Ted was forced to
retire. Michael Gravener, a brother of St John of God, has been
a member of St Vincentís parish for over five years. He lives
and works closely with the people of Redfern, and runs a support
house down by the Aboriginal housing estate, known as ďThe BlockĒ.
I asked him what had happened to the St Vincentís community after
Michael Gravener: What happened, we had priests who came
in and virtually want to whitewash the history of Ted and the
history of the people and the history of the community that still
exists there. And the consequences of that was, you have a Ė itís
a bit like Captain Cook coming back into this country and just
walking into an environment which the Aboriginal people of Redfern
find very sacred.
upsot: Fr Dennis Sudler preaching at Sunday Mass in St Vincentís
Jeremy Hartcher : The new priests at Redfern belong to
an order called the Neo-Catechumenate. According to parishioners,
they were imposed on St Vincentís by Cardinal George Pell, without
consultation. Cardinal Pell had previously vowed to uphold Ted
Kennedyís legacy, but many believe the arrival of the Neo-Cats
has destroyed any hope of that. The group is led by an Australian
priest, Father Jerry Prindiville , who had been working as a missionary
in the West Indies. Before coming to Redfern, heíd had no experience
with urban Aborigines, and has struggled to gain their support.
So what would you say to people who think that your way of teaching
is damaging the relationship with the church and Aboriginal people?
Jerry Prindiville : Well first of all, very, very few
come to church. I mean youíd probably get about five or six Aboriginals
that have ever come to church there, even before I came there
were very few Aboriginals coming to this church, even though it
has a reputation of being a church for the Aboriginals, they are
not churchgoers in this parish.
Jeremy Hartcher: So how would you like the church and the
things that you do, how would you like to run that if the other
people werenít so influential?
Jerry Prindiville : Well like a normal parish, where the
priest is there, with the co-operation of the parishioners, working
together to preach the Gospel, to catechise the children, to administer
the sacraments. And just be able to work together. The priest
canít do everything by himself and the people canít do anything
without the priest. So together we have to work together.
Jeremy Hartcher: Father Jerry Prindiville .
In Father Tedís day, the Presbytery was open all hours. Now, Margaret
is told to come back next Sunday.
UPSOT Fr Dennis Sudler (assistant priest at Redfern) speaking
Jeremy Hartcher: Father Dennis Sudler is the other Neo-Catechumenate
priest at St Vincentís, and he also describes Redfern as a normal
Dennis Sudler: Our task and mission here is nothing but
normal, itís normal as in what would you do in a normal parish.
Jeremy Hartcher: Whatís Brother Michael Gravener think
of the idea that Redfern is a normal parish?
Michael Gravener: I donít really understand what they mean
by normal. If normal means allowing people into a church to fulfil
their sacramental duties and then walk out and continue life as
is, well that we could say was the normal parish environment.
But the situation at Redfern is much different. It is an area
which is focused for Aboriginal people as very important to them
in the status of Aboriginal people in Australia. Itís a place
where a lot of things have grown from this environment. Father
Ted was very much a support towards the Aboriginal Medical Centre,
you had people like Naomi Mayes, whoís the head of the Aboriginal
Medical Centre, the Blair family, who are very instigating in
the Aboriginal Housing Company, all that came from a lot of talk
and a lot of advocacy from the church environment here. So itís
really important space. So itís not a normal parish in that sense,
but itís very much part of the Catholic church and part of the
tradition, and we very much follow the Catholic church and honour
our faith and our baptismal rights.
Jeremy Hartcher: Marnie Kennedy is Ted Kennedyís sister.
She says that although their intentions may be good, the Neo-Catechumenate
approach is too conservative for a place like Redfern.
Marnie Kennedy : The sort of god that is projected by
them is severe, thereís a lot of emphasis on sin and guilt and
shame. Well thatís no help.
Jeremy Hartcher : Have there been any specific incidences
of confrontation with the Aboriginal community and the Neo-Catechumens?
Marnie Kennedy : Oh yes. We have had hundreds and hundreds
of funerals through the years. Ted has buried hundreds of Aboriginal
people. He has never questioned whether theyíre Catholic or not,
so a few weeks ago, one of the elders died, Aunty Betty. So her
daughters came and asked if she could be buried there, because
her son had been buried, I remember her son was shot dead, he
was buried from Redfern, and we supported them through their tragedy.
So she wanted to be buried in that same church. But they had to
go round to the priestís place to ask for permission to use the
Jeremy Hartcher : This is Jerry?
Michael Gravener: Jerry. And so he didnít express any condolence,
he said to them, ĎAre you Catholic? Is your mother a Catholic?
If not, how could she be buried in the church.í And so that sort
of thing goes round the Aboriginal community like fire. They have
an enormous underground communication, so they pass on to each
other that this is not the place to come.
Stephen Crittenden: That story produced by UTS communications
student, Jeremy Hartcher. And tonight on Encounter at 10 past
7, you can hear a feature on St Vincentís Redfern, produced by
Guests on this program:
Michael Gravener O.H.
Parishioner of St Vincent's Redfern, brother of the order of St.
John of God
Marnie Kennedy R.S.C.J.
Parishioner at St Vincent's Redfern, and religious sister of the Society of the Sacred Heart
Parish Priest of Redfern
An unofficial website reporting
news on St Vincent's Redfern
Presenter: Stephen Crittenden
Producer: Noel de Bien
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