Church Mouse Journal

More morsels from St Vincent's Redfern

Sunday, 25 April 2004


Practical theology

Tom, a Redfern original (in most senses of the word), came from Mittagong for Mass today. He totally eclipsed Fr D's enervated Neocat homily with an impassioned reflection on the practical theology of embracing the outcast that Ted Kennedy practiced and instilled in others. He was thanked with a hearty round of applause.

After Mass he urged the congregation to follow the example of Jesus and Ted and speak out and be critical of those who would lead us down the wrong road.

PS The writing was back on the wall after Mass.

A milestone?

A milestone may have been reached today. For the first time, Frs G and D and the Neocatechumenate members of the congregation stayed for a community activity after Mass, when Jeremy read some of his moving Gallipoli / anti-war poems, with music from Helen.

Friday, 23 April 2004


The writing on the wall

This is about two curiously intertwined examples of the inability of Pell's Neocatechumenates to connect with the community upon which they have been imposed.

The interior of St Vincent's church has for decades been consciously maintained as a stark reminder of its community's connectedness with the poor and the displaced - bare floorboards, peeling paint, devoid of the customary statues and adornments. Anything on the largely empty walls is there for a reason, with its own story.

There used to be, carefully penned in large copperplate script on the wall behind the altar, part of a poem by Jim Considine that struck a resonant chord with the community:

crucified on every city sidewalk the aboriginal Christ should be free in his own church among his own people in Redfern.

When people turned up for Mass on the last Sunday of February, it had been scrubbed off without notice, having been deemed inappropriate by the Neocats. Over Easter the words appeared written in chalk on the outside of the church in Redfern Street.

It was removed again during the week, and reappeared briefly tonight, accompanied by the message "FEED..... FEED..... FOOD...." - prompted by the latest Neocat attack on "Sharing the Meal" and inspired by the coming Sunday's "feed my lambs" Gospel reading.

(The writing on the wall continues to be removed and replaced, C.M. 12 January 2005)

"Sharing the Meal" is a community initiative where a group of hard-working folk open the church at lunch time, every Tuesday and Friday, to anyone who needs a feed or a listening ear. It has been actively discouraged by the Neocat priests - for example:

  1. Access to the church has been made increasingly difficult by regular lock changes.
  2. At Fr G's insistence, a freezer and other items had to be removed on Palm Sunday from the sacristy, which has always been used to store food and equipment for the meals.
  3. When the old St Vincent's urn finally died, there was no support from Fr G or the Archdiocese for a replacement (apparently because of the community's decision to deny the parish priest conventional financial support). Now that a generous donor has provided a new urn, an extra power outlet has been requested.
  4. They have stated on more than one occasion that such community activities are a waste of time, something that "any atheist" might do, and that all the needy require is to "know that Jesus loves them".
  5. Today Fr G declared - "This shouldn't be happening in the church; it should be in a hall."

Sunday, 18 April 2004


Mgr Brian Rayner visits Redfern

There was an impromptu meeting after the 10:00am Mass today with Mgr Brian Rayner, Vicar General and Chancellor of the Sydney Archdiocese, who dropped in for Mass with some friends from South America, and approximately 70 parishioners.

As far as Church Mouse could tell, none of the larger than usual group of Neocatechumenal Wayfarers who attended Mass stayed for the meeting. Fr Gerry Prindiville was present for part of the meeting. He left early declaring: "I don't have to listen to this". The Neocats customarily leave the church quickly after Mass, avoiding any interaction with the St Vincent's community.

This was the first time that any representative from the Sydney Archdiocese has faced the community to hear about the difficulties that it has been experiencing over the past 3 years.

A clear and passionate plea was made to be allowed to maintain and develop the gift to the Church of the ministry of Father Ted Kennedy and his vision of what it is to be a Catholic in the world today, and that Cardinal Pell hear the community's prayer to appoint a priest who, in open dialogue and with trust, can truly join in its journey of faith.

It was argued that if the Archdiocese could only recognise what a rare gem it has in the deeply spiritual and committed people of the St Vincent's community, it would not waste time appointing inappropriate ministers to this flock. Significantly Mgr B stated that he saw no serious irregularities in the community's liturgy; that in fact he was moved by some of its innovations. Fr G on the other hand has on various occasions described the sign of peace as disgusting, the prayers of the faithful as mere political expressions, and the lack(?) of reverence for the Eucharist as a disgrace.

He has also stated that the community is not Christian, and that its members do not really belong to the parish because their homes are outside the church's boundaries. (How many of the Neocats, then, "belong to the parish"?)

It was emphasised that there was no personal attack against Fr G, who has been placed in the same impossible position as the community. He is unable to contribute in any way to Ted's vision, because not only do the Neocatechumenates fail to understand it, they explicitly reject it.

The incompatibility is so stark that to conceive that two such disparate theological models can co-exist in the same space is an illusion. How can it last?

The community has written to Mgr B, thanking him for his attention, acknowledging that the Neocats have a place somewhere - elsewhere - and asking for respect for the Ted Kennedy tradition of catholicism in the modern world. (Read the letters here)

Friday, 9 April 2004


from Mary Lou

Since joining the St Vincent's community over a year ago, I have perceived that two models of church have been endeavoring to operate on the same venue at the same time. For me, this problem was focused on Holy Thursday as I listened to Gerry's reflection on the significance of the liturgy. He claimed that his dogmatic formulations arose with the apostles, but, as claimed by a higher source than me, notably Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger:

"Liturgical forms and custom, dogmatic formulations thought to have arisen with the apostles now appeared as products of complicated processes of growth within the womb of history."

Ratzinger wrote in 1966 that this insight was one of the theological highlights of Vatican II.

I think that complicated process that resulted in the priesthood as we now have it must be accepted as given. How else can we explore such important issues as 'the priesthood of the People of God' or, for example, 'what should be the criteria for ordination?' Matters that matter in our church!

Thursday, 8 April 2004


Holy Thursday at St Vincent's

Mercifully, the Holy Thursday evening ceremony was peaceful and respectful, although the atmosphere was charged with tension after the events of the past week.

Fr Eric Skruzny, rector of the Neocatechumaenate Redemptoris Mater seminary and Fr Dennis co-celebrated with Gerry. The congregation included a larger than usual contingent of Neocat seminarians. The community participated with the usual high level of creative and reflective input.

In his homily, Gerry told us that the priesthood was a service: it was not about power and authority. He also floated the theologically and historically challenged line that Jesus came to invent the priesthood so that we could have the Eucharist - or perhaps it was the other way around, it really wasn't all that clear.

After Mass the community held its traditional Passover meal in the rear of the church, ignored by the Neocats who immediately withdrew into the sacristy for a private exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

Wednesday, 7 April 2004


from H.B.

I was deeply shocked to read of the events at Redfern Church this week. Since Ted’s retirement we have had troubled personalities inflicted on us. These personalities have been empowered to perform “priestly duties”. Regrettably they have been totally inept in performing any function that bears a resemblance to the gospel values. So inept in fact have they been that the community has found it necessary to provide its own liturgy and to minister to each other.

It was Ted who understood the true interpretation of the gospels and was instrumental in the emergence of a faith community based on this “liberation theology”. The conduct of these poor priestly souls would be considered “criminal” had it been manifest in any institution other than the church.

Their conduct has insulted the integrity and faith of every member of St Vincent’s community. Further it has been injurious to the health of many members of the community. Despite all of this the community has exercised inexplicable tolerance. I have never understood the incredible patience of Aboriginal people. I am deeply moved by the faith, commitment and courage of Pruney. Her gesture is extremely symbolic. A hose is a very powerful way of physically restraining others. It also washes away stains. It is time for us to also hose them out.

I suggest that all of us pick up pen and paper and write our own account of what has happened and continues to happen at Redfern and our perception of the impact that it has had upon the community and upon us personally. These articles when edited and compiled for publication should be a considerable tome.

Once published the truth is there for all to see. It will shock “Pontius Pilate” and hopefully provide support for other communities that are being disempowered and abused in a similar way.

I believe that it is timely to publish. We have fought hard to preserve the work of Ted and the history and legacy of the Aboriginal people who have lived and died at Redfern. By publishing we can immortalise this legacy. I am not thinking of our previous tributes to Ted but a much deeper analysis of, and reflection on, the suffering that has been inflicted on the Redfern community and on troubled “priestly” souls for the greater good of power, prestige and ignorance.

Sunday, 4 April 2004


Palm Sunday at St Vincent's

New carpet The first thing to strike worshippers as they entered St Vincent's for Mass yesterday was the tawdry "Persian" carpet freshly installed under the altar and up the podium. Designed and crafted by Tom Bass, the altar was presented to Ted Kennedy by the artist decades ago - one of many expressions of love and appreciation for Ted by artists over the years. Gerry might have been aware of this if only he engaged with the community sometimes: someone would have been able to explain the significance of the altar, the bare floorboards on which it stands, and the inappropriateness of this attempt to beautify the church.

The real Eucharist As the Mass progressed, young Charitha spontaneously moved about the congregation with a bag, from which he took biscuits and pressed them into hands, regardless of whether their owners were black or white, young or old, Neocat or mere mortal. The poignancy of this child's innocent gesture was in stark contrast to what has been served up for months by the Neocatechumenate priests at St Vincent's - a discriminating ritual that regularly excludes Aboriginal members of the community, and anyone else deemed unworthy. It was a spark of hope in a numbingly awful Palm Sunday mass.

Pruney returns Following her exchange with Dennis on Saturday evening, Pruney returned to tackle Gerry about the cleaning. Clearly distressed, she confronted him just before the final blessing, and announced that she was going to hose out the church. Gerry's distrust of the community - regularly changing padlocks and withholding keys - has restricted her access to the point where she has been unable to clean the place for several weeks.

As the priests left the altar, Pruney opened the side door, dragged a hose in from the Aboriginal Medical Service building site, and proceeded to hose down the church floor as the congregation moved out. Several people headed for the sacristy in an attempt to reconcile the warring parties. Minor scuffles broke out between Pruney and the Neocat priests, as others strove to maintain order, and called for dialogue and rational discussion. "Some issues can't be resolved!" stated Fr Dennis as he stormed off. Further down the aisle he exchanged unpleasantries with John, who was jostled and manhandled by the young priest and the Neocat seminarian who had assisted at Mass. When Len recognized him as the seminarian who had assaulted Jack last September, he responded "but I was forgiven".

Three members of the community subsequently followed Gerry to his residence to try and explain Pruney's need to be trusted. They left feeling that they may have facilitated a little understanding.

Sharing of the meal As the stunned congregation left the sodden church, they had to be careful to avoid Michael and Alan removing a freezer and other items from the sacristy, which has always been used to store the makings for the regular "Sharing of the Meal" on Tuesdays and Fridays. Gerry had insisted that it go. The logistics of feeding the crowd that usually turns up have been made increasingly difficult by his restrictions on the use of and access to the church. How long before he tries to put a complete stop to it?

Eileen not well The stress of this situation is getting to the entire community. Eileen, who is almost 92, witnessed the Palm Sunday debacle. Her heart played up for days afterwards.

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