Church Mouse Journal
More morsels from St Vincent's Redfern
Wednesday, 27 September 2006
Are we for real?
Can the Church love enough to listen? In listening, can it dialogue? And if it dialogues, will it change?
Whether by coincidence or serendipity I attended two talks in one week that were by fact destined to be related.
The first was the launch of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ statement for Social Justice Sunday titled: The Heart of the Country – Dignity and Justice for our Indigenous sisters and brothers; the second was a talk by Fr John Prior SVD which focused on the importance of dialogue in Asia as way of engaging local culture and people in a Church that faces extinction. It was titled Mission as Dialogue: Compromise or Confidence.
The common ground for the discussion struck me as the need for the Church to openly engage in dialogue to address the past pain and trauma, to bring reconciliation and to create a realistic vision of the Church’s mission. While these goals were reiterated by John Prior, the complexity and prerequisites for this process must be fully investigated if they are to be achieved.
One extract from the Social Justice statement succinctly makes the point. It quotes Pope John Paul II from 2001, “it is the Churches' task to help Indigenous cultures preserve their identity and maintain their traditions”. Another continues: “The Churches' dialogue with cultures of our time (is) a vital area, one in which the destiny of the world… is at stake.” These themes were echoed and expanded by John Prior giving reference to the work of the FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops Conference).
Two questions the Social Justice Sunday statement raise for all of us are:
What has changed since the Pope spoke in Alice Springs 20 years ago?
Why are the circumstances that Indigenous Australians live in still so poor and embarrassing?
Any answers are determined by the lens through which you view the questions. It depends on the focus you choose to consider, whether it be health or land rights or justice.
The lens which I was forced to consider while sitting listening to John Prior was the role of the Church. How does the Church, which includes you and me, reflect its commitment to Indigenous people in the way it operates, organises itself and celebrates liturgy?
It is important for me to clarify what I mean by the word, Church. For me Church represents my experience as a lay parishioner who participates in liturgy in a local parish. The Church is often understood as the congregation that celebrates the liturgy together. However, power and decision making in the Church are not shared by this group. There are Parish Councils which make recommendations, but my experience of councils is that recommendations can be, and have been, overturned by local priests. I acknowledge that there are a variety of interpretations and meanings given to the word but I think I would be accurate in assuming my experience is the quite common.
The recent events in Redfern -- surrounding the painting on the church wall of a mural quoting the Pope in Alice Springs 20 years ago, and the subsequent media coverage with comments by the local Parish Priest in which he called the mural vandalism -- remind us that the Church is not one voice or even the voice of the congregation. It reminds us that the conversation is not equal; that the parties do not share power and there can be pressure on Indigenous people to join a non-Indigenous conversation and agree to participate in a celebration of Jesus that was not developed to respond or incorporate their culture.
A week after the mural event, a most serious outcome was described in a letter to the Parish Priest of St Vincent’s Redfern, August 24, on behalf of the parishioners:
“Fr Gerry, last Sunday during the celebration of the 10am Mass, you left the altar at the Offertory, for your stated reason that you regarded the words of the Offertory Song as ‘political’.
“Your action, of walking out and thereby terminating the celebration of Mass, deprived us of our Sunday Eucharistic celebration and of our bread of life for the week’s journey. This is a violation of the community and of your own priesthood of the Jesus who came to serve. It was a violation of ‘the norms and traditions of the Church’ that you say in your letter ‘must be respected by all’.
“The community remains deeply grieved that as the parish priest charged with the pastoral care of our parish you would act in a way so violative of your duties.”
To be marginalised is one thing; to be different another; but to be refused the Eucharist represents a very serious choice by the Church which is first called to act as Jesus on earth.
John Prior pointed out that the Asian Bishops Conference has been motivated to begin dialogue in response to a similar circumstance that has led to the local communities feeling excluded, their culture itself being denied.
In Australia the Church has also found herself responsible for behaviours, policies and practices that have hurt Indigenous people and one wonders whether Redfern is an instance of this.
I am not Indigenous. I am however female. So, like Indigenous people, I am participating in rituals and ceremony that have been designed by men and, in my view, have not incorporated the ways and culture of women in their deliberations and decisions, let alone ceremony.
At a practical level I am in the 12th year of being banished to a crying room, where they exist, with toddlers; a solution suggested to me by my parish priest. Other options included leaving the children at home, my husband and I attending separately, and if we insisted attending Church as a family, only attending mass when a children’s liturgy was available.
The humiliation of the visit -- in 2003 not 1903 -- with its subsequent suggestions was enough to send me, if not to the crying room, out the back of the Church. So it is with much seriousness that I wonder how honest and serious we are as a Church when we propose communion with Indigenous people or the people of Asia.
Dialogue, it is true, is the key to any movement together but as we all know no other interaction is so fraught as a conversation.
The truth is that the primary prerequisite for any dialogue is a talker and a listener. The talker is never hard to find; the listener is often elusive.
When I began to consider how the Church prepares herself in order to listen, I began to consider the qualities and prerequisites that facilitate the same skill in me. If I were to list the prerequisites for active listening in myself they would include respect for the other party; to have time; to have a goal for the dialogue (conversation); but most importantly, a quality that I am too slowly developing with age and experience, self assuredness, peace or self confidence which often comes from healing that allows me to listen openly, without needing to defend a notion or position, with a view to knowing more or becoming more.
The question then becomes: How does a Church become self confident, peaceful, and self assured in order to listen to other ideas, ways, thoughts and behaviours?
One answer is through healing, by offering forgiveness and being forgiven.
Another answer may be by modelling inclusive behaviours. For women, changes in language from male-oriented words to neutral expressions have marked a symbolic but crucial change. Another may be by being realistic about what we want and expect from the dialogue knowing what can change and what we can’t and being honest and open about that.
Fundamentally, we must find the common ground, which can be simply stated as a universal belief: love is good.
The fact remains that the Church, which includes you and me, can only enter a dialogue if we are truly open to the possibility of hearing new things, listening and not defending, celebrating difference and doing things differently.
One other feature of dialogue that I have been drawn to again in my experience as a woman is the capacity I have to influence the decisions that are made in response to the conversation. Women are very familiar with discussions that are held and then referred to a group for a final decision that largely excludes their voice; parliament may be a ready example.
The worst outcome of this process results in cynicism, rejection and anger. In the Church Mouse, St Vincent’s Parish, Redfern, we find the words posted:
“As usual, whenever we as a community or as individuals try to engage you or your fellow priests in dialogue, our efforts are met with stony refusals to engage. Rather, you choose to assert your authority as priest as if that should be the end of it.” August 27.
Therefore, if the Church begins a dialogue it needs to consider its own position in order to avoid tokenism, or time wasting.
In the launch of the Social Justice Sunday statement Fr Brian McCoy told us we must look back to look forward.
When I look back over the last 20 years I wonder:
What has changed in local parishes and how will things change in response to the statement now?
Do local parishes acknowledge the Indigenous people as the custodians of the land on which their churches stand?
Is there evidence of Indigenous culture, art, ritual in our local parishes? Is there the opportunity for dialogue?
My mother always said: “Don’t tell me you love me, show me.” I think we should do both. Certainly, words are not enough.
Recent developments in psychology and social work show that while looking back is important, we also need to identify resilience and strengths, acknowledging that victims are strong by the fact they have survived.
We could ask ourselves: What are the positive stories we tell, promote or publicise of Indigenous peoples’ resilience and strength and achievements? In Hebrews 11 we are reminded that: "To have faith is to be sure of what we hope for, to be certain of things we cannot see."
With this in mind I take the risk of hoping and dreaming:
Dreaming of a Church that is confident enough for liturgy to be celebrated in culturally appropriate ways;
Confident enough to invite women and men, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, into decision-making fora that plan for the future of the Church;
And that this Church is loving enough to have disabled access and a ceremony that appeals to children; a Church that seeks to love first in all its activities and to put that above history, tradition and power.
Mary Bryant is the mother of six children aged 3 - 12 years. She is a social worker who is particularly interested in the intersection between spirituality and social work practise. This includes writing and researching ways in which we can weave the values of Catholic social teaching into the work we do and the way we do it including policies and procedures of not-for-profit agencies. She is particularly interested in women's issues and her experience as a working mother have only heightened her passion for equality and structural change that assist women to combine both vocations.
Monday, 25 September 2006
The Tree upon the Wall
The Church Mouse has received several requests for the words of the Offertory hymn that was so political that the Mass on Sunday 20 August 2006 had to be aborted and the congregation denied the Eucharist. The hymn has been sung pretty much every Sunday since that unfortunate day without consequence.
THE TREE UPON THE WALL
Dear Redfern folks
Dear Redfern folks,
We heard of your problems and I finally found you on the Web to get your address. We would like to offer you our support.
My wife and I were Father Ted supporters and he had a cottage up here near Robertson. His brother I knew at Marrickville where I practised about 50 years ago.
We were able to read most of the story on the Computer, which only confirmed what we had heard. We also read of it in the S.M.H. I am actually not a Cardinal Pell supporter and luckily live in the Wollongong Diocese - Wasn't Melbourne lucky! They are still laughing.
Our parish has had an Opus Dei "Takeover" as I call it - where "only the Saved will be saved".
My wife and I were called before the liturgy committee here and given a "lecture" by 3 Opus Dei members on the "Mass", as I had complained in writing about the old hymns the choir were directed to sing.
We would like to get a copy of the Offertory Hymn you were not allowed to sing. Have you a spare copy?
We are S.I.P.S members - 0ur chairman is a "wasted ex-priest" - what a waste!
God bless you and you have our support.
John and Kathy Roche.
Friday, 8 September 2006
New regime sparks unholy row at Aboriginal church
From The Independent in London, Published: 08 September 2006
By Kathy Marks in Sydney
A thinly attended Friday morning mass has just ended at St Vincent's Catholic church in Redfern, a deprived inner-city neighbourhood of Sydney. As the priest, Father Gerry Prindiville, hurries out, the front door opens to a colourful wave of humanity.
These are the parish's most needy: the homeless, the mentally ill, the down-and-outs, many from Redfern's sizeable Aboriginal community. Some used to attend mass, but now they come just for the free meals provided twice a week.
For 30 years, under Father Prindiville's predecessor, Ted Kennedy, St Vincent's was a refuge for broken people. Father Ted, as he was known, was passionate about social justice. He helped to set up Aboriginal housing and medical services in Redfern, where he is still revered.
But he also made himself unpopular with the Catholic hierarchy, particularly the present Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, an ultra- conservative. After Father Ted fell sick and died last year, Cardinal Pell replaced him with priests from the Neocatechumenal Way, a Spanish missionary movement committed to saving souls rather than changing society.
The move, which some denounced as provocative, has caused a rift between clergy and parishioners. The latter, who include a substantial number of middle-class Catholics drawn to Redfern because of Father Ted, say the "Neocats" have no interest in the area or its problems. The priests have been accused of showing disrespect to Aboriginal people and their traditions.
Now the faithful are fighting back. A few Sundays ago, Father Prindiville found a huge mural had appeared in the church overnight. Framed by indigenous totems including an emu and goanna, it reproduced a speech by Pope John Paul II in Alice Springs in 1986, in which he paid tribute to Aboriginal spirituality. The Pope told Aborigines: "Your dreaming is your own way to touching the mystery of God's spirit in you and in creation." Father Prindiville was furious. He called the mural vandalism.
Since then, relations have deteriorated. Father Prindiville scandalised worshippers by storming out half-way through one Sunday mass, calling it "too political". Prayers had been offered for Vietnam War veterans, and for Aboriginal stockmen who fought for land rights. After last Sunday's mass, a parishioner, Len De Lorenzo, stood to read a conciliatory letter. The priests walked out, with one seminarian making a two-fingered gesture.
Marnie Kennedy, Father Ted's sister, says parishioners had tried to talk to the newcomers. "Ted used to reach out to the Aboriginal people. These priests don't even want to meet them. They're only interested in evangelising."
For her, Redfern mirrors a wider struggle between liberals and conservatives in the church, with groups including the Neocats and Opus Dei used to clamp down on troublesome parishes.
For black parishioners, the mural has helped to restore the sense that St Vincent's is theirs. Ralph Townsend said: "It lets the Neocats know we're here, and they're not going to kick us out of our church."
It took weeks to plan the mural, and seven Aboriginal artists were involved. A nun let them into the church on the Saturday afternoon. Her brother, an off-duty policeman, kept watch. Scaffolding was wheeled in. Six hours later, the painting was complete.
The mural dominates the church interior. Behind the altar, are photographs of Father Ted and "Mum Shirl" Smith, an Aboriginal social worker. Father Prindiville took her picture down, but replaced it after angry protests.
The flashpoint was a wooden crucifix painted in the Aboriginal colours of red, black and gold, which local people placed on a small table by the altar. An assistant priest, Dennis Sudla, allegedly threw it across the floor, and smashed the table. Police were summoned.
Father Prindville objects to people calling out during prayers. But, Marnie Kennedy says, "that's the kind of parish we are, it's a place with a lot of suffering and shouting". Some parishioners also complained about a priest, Clesio Mendes, who enacted a crucifixion rite during the Good Friday service, calling out: "Daddy, Daddy, save me!"
Cardinal Pell told The Australian newspaper that he wanted St Vincent's to concentrate on religion rather than social work. "There's no long-term help for anyone in Redfern simply by handing out condoms or syringes or a few bob to clean the church," he said.
The chancellor of the archdiocese, Father John Usher, said Cardinal Pell had made it clear the Neocats would stay. Of the mural, he said: "I understand that it's very beautiful. The difficulty is that it just happened." Father Prindiville has declined to comment.
Friday, 1 September 2006
Standing in solidarity
Many thanks to these good people from Toukley on the New South Wales Central Coast. Not only are they upset by the injustices heaped upon the St Vincent's community, they are standing up and loudly saying so. The following correspondence is reproduced with permission.
From: Peter Meury
28th August 2006
George Cardinal Pell
133 Liverpool Street
SYDNEY NSW 2000
Dear Cardinal Pell,
Social Justice in our Church/The Redern situation
Our small Church Community Group meets every two weeks to study and reflect on the Sunday gospels, to pray, to meditate, and to discuss topical issues of today, especially Social Justice Matters.Prayerfully Yours
We have been greatly concerned about recent articles in The Weekend Australian (5th August 2006) and SMH (31st. July) in regard to the situation of St. Vincent’s Parish in Redfern. The statements attributed to you, the inability of the Church authorities to resolve this terrible situation since the departure of Father Ted Kennedy, and the actions of the present Parish Clergy as described in the newspaper articles are surely not in accordance with Gospel values. Where is the compassion of Christ? How is social work not part of the Christian ethic? What about the spirit of reconciliation?
Do these people need religion or do they simply need an understanding pastor? You are quoted to have said, that you will go to Redfern and sort out the problem. Why has this not happened so far? It appears that Father Gerry Prindiville is unable to solve difficult issues. The local Deacon seems to be of the same opinion.
Even the Ecclesiastical Regional Tribunal for NSW is now involved in what appears a genuine complaint of defamation (SMH of 25th August).
We stand in solidarity with the struggling people of Redfern and implore you to end these injustices without further delay.
On behalf of Small Church Community Toukley
(Maureen Flanagan) (Peter Meury)
Copy to Bishop David Walker, Father Peter d’Souza, Toukley
Redfern Catholic Community
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