Bishop Peter Ingham
Clemton Park NSW 2206
You will remember that in my last letter to you I indicated my
fear that communication could easily break down with B and I instanced
a letter from him on the 15th April 1997 and my reply 20/4/1997.
He then replied on 6th May 1997, then I to him on 27th May 1997,
copies of which I enclose.
That was the background to the meeting at the Medical Service on
Friday 3rd October. I was grateful for your presence; and reflecting
on that meeting, I must frankly say that it left me soul-seared,
because he manifested an attitude which is not only inadequate in
personability, tact and style, which it certainly was, especially
in his way of dealing with the only aborigine present Mrs Naomi
Mayers, but in missiological terms quite harmful to the cause of
Peter please bear with me as I offer my side of this argument which
has the potential of turning into something very hot and very long.
That Friday ended with my listening to Noel Pearson, giving a brilliant
analysis of the subtle political forces that have been building
up recently against the Aboriginal people. Pauline Hanson is only
the tip of the iceberg. The insidious philosophy of economic rationalism
pre-existed her and remains well entrenched in the policies of the
present government. He warned with some passion and urgency that
Australia has been presented with a Kairos moment that will never
come again. The guilt of 'white' Australia is not about what our
forefathers did in the past, but what we are allowing to happen
Then the bewilderment which I had experienced in the exchange with
B at the morning meeting turned into anger. The penny had dropped.
I became profoundly aware of the perniciousness of economic rationalism,
not only in the fabric of society but also in the Church. That same
obnoxious mentality of economic rationalism has become blatantly
entrenched in the policies of this Archdiocese, and most clearly
depicted in the powerful position taken up by B. I believe that
we are facing not only the inadequacy of bureaucracy which can be
narrow and controlling and bereft of pastoral experience, but the
values being offered at many levels are being assessed and rejected
by a single-value system which is ruthless, self serving and ultimately
dangerous for the life of the Church, because it chokes off key
elements of orthodoxy. I believe that it deserves to be exposed.
For the last few years, observing B's public appearances, I have
been asking myself, as Price Warung did last century,
How was he to understand that never yet did the devil forge so
potent an instrument of evil (save one) as an Englishman's belief
that when he acts from a sense of duty, he must be right? And
that exceptional one was the medieval Spaniard's notion that the
more finished fiend he proved himself, the more pleasure he conferred
upon the Mother of God and the Saints.
Now I see the problem with new eyes, and am determined to sound
the warning long and hard that economic rationalism is no less immoral,
no less socially repugnant when dressed in pious clerical garb or
under the cover of a slick and tricky urbanity, I find nothing short
of spiritual bankruptcy in B's declared position because it is devoid
of the prerequisite awe and reverence due to the poor of the earth.
Economic rationalism is the dogma which insists that markets and
money are the ultimate regulators of life. In the words of Michael
Pusey (the author of "Economic Rationalism in Canberra"):
Forget about history and forget about national identity, culture
and 'society'. These things are obstructions to market forces
and to 'structural' adjustment'. Market prices are the only reliable
way of setting a value on anything.
The trouble is that this dominating mentality operates at a level
which can entice us into an apparent new and freshly found freedom
which allows us unsuspectingly to think what we like, or believe
what we like, or even preach what we like, provided that - and here's
the rub - provided that we don't question or knock the system. When
this mentality is applied to the Church we find the same ruthless
reductionism at work. The economically-geared mind-set spits out
as irrelevant, useless or sentimental, all higher values - the depths
of propheticism, the lessons of Church history, the fresh insights
of liberation theology, the pre-occupation with the language of
prayer and mysticism, the resounding importance of imagination for
the life of the soul, the vital underpinnings of environmental theology
for the life of the world, applied ecclesiology with its insistence
on the participation in decision making starting from the bottom,
all essential realities that belong truly to the inner life of any
faith-community, these are filtered out because they won't pass
through the economic sieve. Talk about these things meets with an
eerie silence that suggests a total deafness.
And if that is true of all the higher cultural values of white
Christians, how on earth can aboriginal values get a hearing?
Aborigines above all still show their dignity and pride by resisting
the powerful tendency to iron them out flat; as if once so flattened
they could then be pushed through an ATM machine, and made to serve
the God Mammon.
Peter, as I sat in that meeting in that dilapidated, century-old,
clapped out building, comparing it with the old Presbytery at St
Mary's Cathedral which was demolished, (though it was in far better
repair) and with the new Cathedral Presbytery, I felt sick and ashamed.
Then I realised that B was feeling anything but abashed. What he
was prepared to fight for tooth and claw was half an old building.
(The other half had long ago been given back by the Monte Mercy
nuns). He pointed out to Naomi that the Medical Service had struck
it lucky because the Archdiocese had let them be. The next morning,
the Sydney Morning Herald had the story of the sale of the Church
land and the development at St Pat's Church Hill. I just have to
acknowledge that a yawing gulf lies between B's God and mine.
As I sat in that decrepit building in Turner St, I was aware that
we were only a stone's throw from the house in Albert street from
where Caroline Chisholm, in her broken health and embarrassed penury
in May 1859, sent a message across the City that leap-frogged over
the monks at St Benedict's and St Mary's Cathedral to St Augustine's
Balmain, begging the kindly Fr John Joseph Therry, friend of the
poor, for a loan of twenty pounds.
Soon she was to fall further out of favour with St Mary's Cathedral
powers by publicly opposing pew-rents that favoured the silver-tails.
Polding and Gregory, the ever-loyal monk-Friday, were keen to maintain
Governor Bourke's Church and School's Act of 1836. Bourke had hoped
that the people would be 'taught' by their state-supported ministers
to see the government 'as their common protector and friend'. Gregory,
the business man at St Mary's Cathedral, in his high handed way,
set up a witch-hunt in 1861 to find out who were the priests favouring
the abolition of State Aid. Caroline Chisholm publicly aligned herself
with these priests, believing State Aid, as a link with secular
power, was spiritually compromising, the cause of a deep pastoral
malaise in the Sydney Church. It is my hope that when she comes
to be canonised, her spirituality will be clearly seen to be set
in its proper social context.
That point of the foundations of the Sydney Church being inextricably
tied in an alliance with the British Crown itself calls for a humble
acknowledgement that we have a debt to the aboriginal people for
our part in the unfolding of the process of colonization. In Bourke's
Church Act of 1836 the capital expenses on all church buildings
were met by the British Crown.
But once again Peter, I can only register my revulsion at the stony
faced reaction in the denial of truth, the cold imperviousness to
the simplest feelings of human compassion. These I regard as the
minimum elements to be hoped for in any realistic attempt at reconciliation.
Dorothy Day loved to quote Tedor Dostoesky's words: 'Compassion
is the first law of human existence'
Peter as I promised, I will attempt to put down the theological
framework which I see as the necessary background to the role of
the Church in Redfern. Ever since I came to Redfern, 26 years ago,
I have been inspired by the lives of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin
who gave personal hospitality at personal cost to the poor. In our
first faltering steps we really just stumbled on a pastoral method
which turned out to be highly successful. We adopted a language
which all aborigines know and speak to each other-giving personal
welcome to each other. Yet it is a language which in white Church
circles has no currency and is in fact under threat. I am not unaware
of the cynical sneer it meets, and from very high levels in the
Yet at the same time in the early 1970's we were aware of the developing
theory of justice which dove tailed in to our experience. It was
well expressed by the writings of Fr. Pedro Arrupe S.J. and Fr Alfaro
S.J. who wrote the draft on the Synodal Document Justice in the
World. The ground breaking thought that the Bishops signed their
name to in that document was that action on behalf of Justice
is a constitutive element of the preaching of the Gospel. I
have to say sadly that in the present-day Sydney Church, that thought
has no energy or even interest.
Never has the lack of overall spiritual direction been so clearly
manifest than in the failure to provide spiritual leadership in
the crisis within the ranks of the St Vincent de Paul Society. Back
in the early 1970's the words of Fr Alfaro that orthodoxy is tested
by orthopraxis burned their way into official Church teaching. At
that time the Professor of Moral Theology at the Gregorian University
in Rome visited Australia on a lecturing tour, Fr Gordon Hamel S.J.
He told us how the traditional Seminary Tract on Justice had been
jettisoned in favour of a biblically based concept of Justice. It
had once accepted unquestioningly the tenets of the Napoleonic Law
which respected the rights and responsibilities between those who
have - in a quid pro quo relationship. But Biblical Justice insists
on the rights and responsibilities of those who have and those who
have not - where there is no quid at all on the one side of the
Here were seminal theological thoughts which provided me with a
more than sufficient charter for throwing myself into the aboriginal
struggle. It meant abandoning the 'clerical compromise' which has
the power to tie your hands but also your heart and your very mind.
(It also promised a deep and dark loneliness).
On the 16th October 1970, the new black President of Tanzania,
Julius Nyerere seemed to set the tone for the new self acknowledged
face of the Church in his address to the Congress of Maryknoll Sisters
in New York:
Representatives of the Church and the Church's organisations,
frequently act as if man's development is a personal and 'internal'
matter, which can be divorced from the society and economy in
which he lives and earns his daily bread. They preach resignation;
very often they appear to accept as immutable the social, economic
and political framework of the present day world. They seek to
ameliorate intolerable conditions through acts of love and kindness
where the beneficiary of this love and kindness remains an object.
But when the victims of poverty and oppression begin to behave
like men and try to change those conditions, the representatives
of the Church stand aside.
Unless the Church, its members and its organisations express
God's love for man by involvement and leadership in constructive
protest against the present conditions of man, then it will become
identified with injustice and persecution. If this happens it
will die - and, humanly speaking, deserve to die - because it
will then serve no purpose comprehensible to modern man.
It is important that we should stress the working with, not the
working for ... only by sharing work, hardships, knowledge, persecution
and progress, can the Church contribute to our growth. For if
the Church is not part of our poverty, and part of our struggle
against poverty and injustice, then it is not part of us.
In 1974, with what I saw then as justifiable confidence, I reported
to Cardinal Freeman on behalf of the Redfern Community:
I like to think hopefully of our Bishops standing at an intersection
where two roads meet - the road of expressed misery, poverty and
oppression, and the road of the Church's magisterial teaching.
It is only here that orthodoxy turns into orthopraxis. I know
that the circles in which Bishops often move are not their self-chosen
ones, but inherited and shaped by various expectations. But until
they become mouth-pieces for the hot breath of the poor to blow
long and hard into the life of the Church, even if it means sending
the rich away empty, the Aboriginal people will despair of obtaining
support from a source from which they can make lawful claim.
On 20th November 1981 I replied to a letter of Bede Heather when
he was still an Auxiliary Bishop in Sydney, outlining a theological
framework for work in Redfern.
I allow myself to think that my convictions have been formed
out of a painful persistent process of prayerful reflection, together
with the poor and those who share our work here. I allow myself
to think that we have found a radical and enduring master-thought,
generally coherent, and consistent with the present magisterial
teaching and with the Gospel.
It all gets down to the point which we either reject or accept.
Our total Christian and priestly ministry is judged effective
by the way the poor of the earth find us personally to be signs
of faith, hope and love. Is their human spirit uplifted by our
lives, so that they experience from us a fidelity to them, a hope
for them, and love for them? I am speaking here of the unambiguous
poor - the people whom Jesus called blessed, not the spiritually
deprived rich in need of blessing.
These unambiguous poor find that some of us white Christians
belong with them, though ambiguously. But most of us belong unambiguously
with the unambiguous rich. As I understand the Church's teachings
now, orthodoxy is tested by orthopraxis. So that the second group
are not just falling down in some moral duty while retaining the
faith. They are actually denying the faith. If the poor witness
both Christian groups sharing ambiguous language without an earnest
effort to resolve and define, then neither they nor the interests
of orthodoxy are being served.
Not long ago I made a resolution that, whenever I communicated
with my Bishop (and your letter comes to me on his behalf), I
would appeal for a mutually acceptable ecclesiology within which
we would talk.
I do not accept the role of having special ministry to the poor,
while others might be called to a ministry in other areas. I believe
that my Bishop has the same degree of personal accountability
to the poorest of the earth as I have - no more, no less. I believe
that we all, as Christians together, must accept that the most
important people in our life are actual poor people - that a Christian
community comes into existence only when individual followers
of Jesus, accepting the burden of alienation along with the poorest,
decide to form a community to support each other in their shared
alienation and to forgive the alienator.
The only point of having AUTHORITY within the Christian community
is that the person who holds it, accepting his personal responsibility
to encourage and support his subordinates in their final accountability
to the really poor. If my Bishop does not accept those somewhat
exact terms of reference I must say that I can no longer call
him Father, (as St. Francis of Assisi said to his own father).
I believe that these clearly recognizable people, the poor, must
be the constant and final reference point around which any Christian's
spiritual life must resolve; that, if I am unpoor, uncoloured
and unoppressed, then for my salvation I must go and kneel before
them, to receive a blessing from their hands. If I have money,
I must give it to them, not anonymously but personally, so that
I make them personal friends. Then they, who possess ipso facto
a guaranteed first class ticket to the everlasting tents, will
receive me into them. I believe that the quality of this personal
relationship with the poor must remain anonymous to all the other
unpoor people who so often invert the proper areas of anonymity
and publicity ('let your light shine before men', refers for them,
to their peers. 'Do not parade your good works before men' becomes
a reference to the poor. Now these inverted priorities have become
institutionalised in the St Vincent de Paul Society).
Most of the problem lies with the verbs which we choose to place
in between ourselves and poor people. If we confine ourselves
to the Gospel term 'give welcome to', with its two-way connotations,
the problem disappears. But pretty well every transitive verb
which we use to replace that term lands us outside the Gospel
frame of reference. And so I feel that I must abandon the 'transportation'
model of despatching resources, whether spiritual, material, psychological
or muscular across an ever widening gulf. Then I find myself in
conflict with the dominant prevailing assumptions.
There are three official documents which have been issued on behalf
of the Australian Catholic Hierarchy, the first of these is The
Social Justice Statement on Aborigines in 1978 which states
The challenge presented by the just demands of Aborigines for
Land Rights, for restitution of and compensation for land, is
crucial both for Aborigines and for the rest of the Australian
community. In a special way, the response of Christians will be
a test of their integrity, and the authenticity of their faith.
The process of restoring further land, and of making restitution
and compensation will not be easy, but this is no excuse for the
perpetuation of injustice. The efforts of the Canadian and New
Zealand Government to make restitution to their indigenous populations
show that the task is not impossible.
It is possible and indeed desirable, that individuals and groups
give a lead here by taking the initiative to restore some lands
to the Aboriginal community. Christians and Church bodies - dioceses,
religious communities, parishes, organisations of the laity -
should be especially responsive to such an appeal. By such action
they could acknowledge the injustice, and the complicity of their
organisations in it. It would require consultation and dialogue
at the local level, and Aborigines may need additional assistance
to ensure that they can use the land as they wish. It would challenge
the acquisitiveness, covetousness and materialism of our society,
which made the dispossession possible, and has for so long delayed
compensation. It would set an example of a willingness to dialogue
with local Aboriginal groups, and to make the sort of sacrifice
required of the white Australian community in natural justice.
Aborigines: A Statement of Concern, Social Justice
In September 1992, the Bishops issued the second official Church
statement the Common Wealth for the Common Good. At the time, I
acknowledged that the Bishops did incorporate one single contribution
from the poor Church - the concept of 'preferential option for the
In trying to come to terms with this phrase, I wrote:
The Bishops never get past the conception of a Church for the
poor to a Church of the poor. They do not betray any inkling that
it must involve prioritising the spiritual initiative which lies
in the hands of the poor, from which the rich are called to receive.
They still fall back on the image of a one-way street whereby
material and spiritual resources are dispatched in the direction
of the poor. One might have hoped that such an image of throwing
goods at the poor would have been finally dismissed by the Apostle
Paul as in itself profitless as early as the year 54.
Aboriginal people feel particularly let down because the Bishops
make no reference whatsoever to the crux of all aboriginal pauperization
- the question of land. No wonder that the poorest of the poor
consistently find that such attempts to represent them end up
severely unnuanced and suffering from an unbelievable radical
omission. Aboriginal people feel particularly let down.
Have you looked at your face
Like mine that is mirrored in land? Yours reflects only on pools.
My image goes deep in the sand.
Kevin Gilbert. 1990. 'Mister man' The Blackside,
I also added:
In the draft document, the Bishops promised that they would not
resile from an honest self-scrutiny as to the just use of Church
wealth. The final document reveals that they in fact have done
But they did loudly and promptly renew that promise not to resile
from facing the issues and pledged themselves once again to provide
us with a separate document. The ominous silence over these last
five years has become an undeniable source of scandal to many, as
priests like B pass into a mode of total deafness. The implied inference
unmistakably takes us for fools, whereas his blatant arrogance we
find totally objectionable. And out of the resultant morass of cover-ups
and legalistic evasions and Godless economic pragmatisms, now rises
next to the birthplace of Australian Catholicism a forty story tower
of Babel. We do not any longer seem to understand each other's language.
I know that B will offer a glib defence of his position and will
coat it with the most pious of motives, and camouflage it with confounding
rapid-fire legalese. But if you bark like a dog, bite like a dog,
wag your tail like a dog, you are a dog. So, in my book he is an
economic rationalist and must be regarded as such.
The third Episcopal statement is the recently released People
First! Action Plan of October 17, 1997. At first sight the words
look fresh even exciting until one realises that they came locked
in a tired cynical vehicle that renders them still-born. The stench
of stagnancy prevails.
Peter I ask you to ponder over the thoughts of two aboriginal leaders:
In 'white' Australia, the free enterprise system with its attendant
values, attitudes and myths prevails. Any person expressing doubt
in the fundamental tenets of the system is dismissed or marginalised
A free-enterprise system is necessarily a concept alien to 'Aboriginality'
Therefore Koori Australians must be wary of those in our ranks
who promote free-enterprise and capitalism for it's own sake If
you are a person who believes in the free-enterprise system or
its basic tenets like individualism, competition and accumulation
of wealth, then you are by definition not a Koori.
Gary Foley. Sydney Horning Herald July 21, 1993
So is reconciliation possible? The answer is a definite maybe
and only then if the fundamental power relationships within the
nation are overturned. It might be worth it if, as I said, the
indigenous agenda is accepted by non-indigenous Australians. This
means more than mere good-will and a warm inner glow. It will
mean for us a secure land and capital base. For you some economic
sacrifice and a surrender of power by the state, Church and individuals.
On the track record so far it would appear doubtful that non-indigenous
Australians are willing or mature enough to make those sacrifices.
A major step forward would be for non-indigenous Australians
to support the social justice package. And to understand fully
that any package will not be fixed in concrete but will necessarily
be an open ended process that is not capable of resolution in
our lifetimes. A process that will involve non-indigenous Australians
ceding power to Aboriginal and Torres Islander people. This time
let's get it right. Don't leave us with nothing but a badge to
wear over the naked lies on which white Australia has dispossessed
and disempowered us over the last 207 years.
Barbara Flick 'Reconciling Australia' ABC Audio Tapes
When you try to respond to the depths of any aboriginal heart and
try to take seriously aboriginal conditions for reconciliation,
the conditions laid down by B sound fatuous and hollow, because
he seems incapable of understanding that the Church cannot empower
aborigines without itself being willing to surrender power.
I recalled at the meeting how 23 years ago, I was upset when the
Bishop of the Diocese, as the Father of the Poor, made his first
and only contact-with aboriginal Redfern in the form of a Landlord's
letter, no matter how benign. At that point B retaliated "you
say landlordship; I say Stewardship". And in that single sentiment
he revealed what a distorted meaning he draws out of the Gospel
parable. When speaking about the way we should treat the poor, Christ
never endorses a one-way traffic model of consigning welfare packages,
legal leases, worn-out clothing, broken furniture across the ever-widening
gulf between the rich and the poor. The only transitive verbs that
Christ is willing to interpose is welcome, because it is the only
word that avoids the condescendingness but includes the reverence
due to him. Let us not forget the reality-the poor are Jesus.
B seemed to stay within the one way model (which is usually self-congratulatory)
when he referred to the Church's Stewardship of the Surry Hills
property. He missed my point completely that the bureaucratic level
of decision making is distant and removed from the grass-roots and
therefore bound to make the wrong options as instanced by the white
controlled Wirimbirra which has been suppressive and competitive
of aboriginal initiative. Who among the blacks invited Sr Oliver
in the first place? Who among the AIDS victims and helpers is now
inviting the nuns of Mother Theresa? The bureaucratic decision makers
should withdraw from the field.
B's understanding of Biblical Stewardship lacks the quality of
modern-day scholarship of, for instance, Ched Myers. The steward
in the Gospel parable is endorsed because he abandoned the role
of stewardship in favour of making friends with the poor who, already
guaranteed salvation, will welcome us into everlasting tents.
Make to yourself friends, using that loathsome thing money so
that those whose debts you remit will receive to into everlasting
It is they who become stewards of our salvation.
There is indeed a Biblical concept of custodianship which remains
a long way from the usurping notion of a high-handed ownership deal
arranged by 'trustees' of an Archdiocese every single member being,
unpoor, uncoloured, unoppressed and therefore decidedly unrepresentative.
There is the right to custodianship of land which aboriginal people
justifiably possess and the transfer of title in this case would
be but a feeble symbol of what any Catholic should believe. It is
out of that belief that the parishioners of Redfern are unanimously
resolved to hand back land to aborigines. In that, they are simply
exercising their right to participate in sharing proper custodianship.
But there remains also the custodianship right of the public, which
in so many cases has been flagrantly disregarded by B. Indeed the
good will which has been quietly built up over decades dissolving
the old sectarianism now seems to be going down the drain. This
is true at Manly College where authoritative voices of protest like
Tim Flannery's, author of 'The Future Eaters' in the 'Save the Bandicoot
Colony' crusade. When historians begged in vain for respectful protection
of the old well used by the early monks at St Mary's Cathedral Monastery,
or the saving of the historic 'Protestant Tree' planted by the Protestant
Town Clerk at the time of the Eucharistic Congress. How can the
dream of Fr. John McEncroe for the use of the land which he bought
in 1862 to add to the Davis gift of St Patrick's Church-site land
be held high.
The Protestant poet Henry Kendall grieved over the passing of John
McEncroe, not least for his openness to the wider community.
His ways were light because he loved
His suffering peers apart from sect:
A silent power by trouble proved
And made elect
In fiery times when Faith is faint,
and Doubt has many words to say
We'll often think how well this saint
Kept fear away
For searching to the core of creeds,
He found the sign that made him strong;
While we who sigh like seaside reeds
Do look and long.
In contrast B, with his Future-eating habits has certainly set
the clock back. His own suggestion was that when a Religious Order
hands back land to aborigines it is but synonymous with giving them
a cash cheque. That reveals so much about his own ignorant lack
of respect for personalism, or symbolism or gesture and aborigines
sacred sense of land. It reveals a mind-set that is as closed and
dead-locked as one of those black steel boxes used to protect title
deeds. Yet strangely, as I have begun to meet him at eye level,
I find in myself no animosity, but only a feeling of sorrow that
important sensibilities were never allowed to grow. In Arthur Miller's
words we are now growing 'closer and closer apart'. B's slogan seems
to be "Ecclesiapre seipsa non pro hominibus" A model which
Vatican 11 sought to collapse. Before Vatican 11 the Catholics of
Dublin had bought a site in the centre of Dublin for a new Catholic
Cathedral to replace St Patrick's Cathedral stolen by the Church
of Ireland but also the substitute Pro-Cathedral. Instead as a symbolic
gesture, they handed over that land for a Public Park to the City
of Dublin, so rendering the land sterile to the aggressiveness of
developers, a truly creative and forgiving act imaginative in the
ways of doing justice.
The words of Vincent Buckley keep sounding in my ears:
Their noisy dying world
Deafens them like the last lapse of blood.
Corpses which, in other days,
Would have greened their crops
Block the city's drains.
Their public speeches dwell on private morals,
Neither hating or approving great evils.
Surprised in attitudes of prayer
They struggle to remember which they chose,
A scorched-earth policy or
The laying on of hands.
Vincent Buckley. (1987) Christian Gentlemen Selected
Poems A & R.
Yours in Christ,