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Letter to the Parish Priest

Tuesday 6 April 2004

Dear Father Gerry,

Re: Open Letter re our discussion today

It would seem helpful to record our interaction today and what preceded it. The following letter refers to: Background; Holy Thursday Liturgy; Fr. Dennis' interruptions; the location of the Blessed Sacrament; Church furnishings; your status and that of Fr. Dennis.

BACKGROUND
For some weeks now, I have made attempts to talk personally to you as Parish Priest re a variety of items including communication and liturgy. No doubt you will remember a recent previous occasion when a very much interrupted (by Fr.Dennis) conversation (of a kind) took place. I have consistently, openly, respectfully asked you to discuss the liturgical preparations with our community. Three times I have made this request in relation to Easter.

On the evening of Fri.,19.3.04, I found a copy of the Easter Timetable for Celebrations on the Noticeboard at St.Vincent's Church. To my knowledge this had not been discussed with the community. I spoke to others in the community about it, and together we took down the Pamphlet from the Board, and wrote you a respectful note asking that, before any final edition of the Timetable be presented, you consult with the community. Mary Lou and I delivered this note to you personally about 9pm. You acknowledged having read it.

During the day on Sunday, 21.3, I phoned you at the Redfern Presbytery house; your machine recorded my message that the reason our community requested a change in the proposed Easter Sat.Liturgy time (from 8pm. to 6pm.) was not out of contrariness, but rather that there had been a long tradition of Easter times as 6pm.-3pm.-6pm. at Redfern so as those who come from faraway places regularly at Easter would always know the times of the Liturgical celebrations. To date you have not acknowledged this request.

As I'm sure you will readily agree, I have also repeatedly invited you to phone or meet personally with me and/or others to chat about any needed information / understanding / background in relation to St.Vincent's Liturgy or traditions. As far as I know, you have never done this nor attempted to do so.

TODAY
After this morning's Mass, I went to speak with you about the preparation of the Liturgy for Holy Thursday night, two days hence. I mentioned that I had come not as an individual, but as the spokesperson for a small preparing group, as we have always done at Redfern for the past 30 years. You showed reluctance to speak with me, stating that you had discussed the hymns with Helen. I agreed that Helen was part of our group, and added that there were other "items" to note --eg. that the community would want to follow what you described as the "Roman liturgy" and also only to extend it a little to our own St.Vincent's people.

[MEANWHILE . . .
At this point, we were interrupted by Fr. Dennis who would not allow our conversation to proceed without constant interruption; this seems a very serious matter, so I provide details below.]

We arrived at talking about the Washing of the Feet. When you mentioned you "would only need 12 people", I agreed that our community would, of course, be happy for you to wash feet, but that we also had a tradition of community members washing each others' feet quietly and respectfully after the Gospel, and of a shared Meal after Mass that evening. I also let you know that the group had also planned an Introduction to the whole celebration, and to the Readings, (to which you indicated agreement), and the Offertory Procession of Bread, Wine, Grapes and Wheat. You explained that you would not consider using any homemade unleavened Bread for the occasion, but would only use the "normal hosts." Most importantly, you replied to our cordial invitation to join us by saying that you would not join the community at any shared Passover meal that evening, that you did not want the meal to go ahead, and that there would be Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament immediately after Mass ("probably for about an hour"). Later this afternoon, I have noted that there was a recent particular Email re our Passover meal, to which you seem to have given no response up to now.

At the end of our conversation, you would not answer my request re the location of the Altar of Repose.

FR.DENNIS' REPEATED INTERRUPTIONS
You were alone when I entered the Vestry. When you showed reluctance to speak to me, I followed you to the door of the "inner" room, and expressed great surprize at the appearance of a Tabernacle in the corner.

Fr.Dennis arrived just at this point and physically tried to prevent my entering by quickly pushing the door closed against my person; however, I was standing in the doorway and he did desist. I asked that you speak to me in the role of Parish Priest, and you responded that you wanted Fr.Dennis there. Therefore, I stated openly that I would write down anything he said to me -- since I had been alone in a previous, recent, very difficult conversation with you both ( for which I immediately later wrote a Verbatim). Today, I wrote whenever Fr.Dennis spoke, repeating aloud whatever he had said as I wrote. Finally, I saw you make a hand sign for him to stop his words, seemingly because I was writing them.

I asked if the Blessed Sacrament was actually placed there, and upon your acknowledgement, said clearly that I found it most irregular for the Blessed Sacrament to be placed there hidden away without the knowledge of the community. There has never been any message / announcement about this, nor do the community know how long the Blessed Sacrament has been there, and there is no other Sacramental Bread placed in the traditional Tabernacle of the Church.

At least four times in my presence, Fr. Dennis physically tried to stop you speaking to me by turning you around away from me, pushing you, touching your person and saying you both had to leave, and stating to me that "whether you [Clare] like it or not, [Gerry] has to listen to me [Dennis]." At other times in our conversation, Fr.Dennis interrupted, for instance, by saying to me loudly and rudely in your presence:

* "Who are you? You are nothing! Who put you there? You do not belong to the liturgical organization of this Parish."
* "And you are nobody here to prepare the liturgy"
* "You do crazy stuff in the liturgy"
* "You have to convert"
[A statement he also made to me two weeks ago]
* "You are patronistic! You are patronizing Gerry" [a statement also made to another member of the community last week]
* "It's pointless!" [referring to the value of talking to me]
* "Now are you happy?? -- Go in peace!! [ironically] Drink a cup of tea to calm you down." [At no time did I raise by voice or shout; I maintained and exhibited a sense of calm throughout this whole interchange.]
* "Get lost!" -- 4 times, angrily
* and finally, as I left, "Please leave, please leave" [mockingly] [meanwhile "bowing and scraping" in the manner of an affected Baroque European gentleman using a falsetto voice]

I strongly urge you to question seriously whether these statements listed above, which you yourself heard and allowed to continue, are appropriate from a young priest in our parish Church. I also invite you to consider whether this kind of "conversation" would be accepted currently in any other professional social setting of this country, let alone from a person purporting to be a professional in the spiritual domain.

Just one of the matters that Fr. Dennis seems to overlook is that St.Vincent's Church and Community has been my spiritual home, and that of many others, for approx. 20-30 years; it is a sacred site especially to the Koori people, and also to me for a variety of reasons - not least of which is the fact that Frank and I were married there with Ted and our friends.

To the best of my knowledge, this is an accurate record of what took place when I met you today; I will understand that you agree with this record unless you respond as to its accuracy within 24 hours, and I will personally let you know that it is here on the Email, especially because Holy Thursday is now one day away.

FURNISHINGS OF ST.VINCENT'S CHURCH
A brief comment about these while I am writing to you.

Very shortly after you arrived, without any community discussion, you installed a platform podium, a crucifix of black cross and stark white figure, and your choice of Madonna picture. At the time, if I remember correctly, to your surprize, many in the community said to you that they found these rooted in colonial power. We asked that you at least discuss Church furnishings / painting with the people of this spiritual home (especially the Aboriginal people) before undertaking any further changes. There has been a conscious choice to avoid any ostentatious finery in the Church due to the focus on living and sharing with the poor and marginalized.

Suddenly, without any discussion, there have appeared two "rich" Persian floor rugs, one very large extending under the altar and beyond, the other runner going along up under the podium and Celebrant's chair.

I would like to state openly and categorically that I (and many others) find these an insult/offence to those with whom we meet at the Redfern Church, especially due to the fact that you do not seem to have responded to Community's requests to ask the Archdiocese simply to provide an Urn for the Sharing of the Meal, and to install a ramp for wheelchair access.

YOUR STATUS AS PARISH PRIEST
In answer to my various requests, today you also stated categorically that you are the Parish Priest, up until Easter, and after Easter "for the five more years that the Archbishop has appointed me"; you expressed concern that "lies" were being "put about" re the possible moving of your ministry to another place / Diocese, and stated that "nobody has told [you] that [you're] going anywhere".

You gave no explanation to my question about Fr. Dennis' reported statement to an individual last Saturday night that he was the Parish Priest.

FR.DENNIS' STATUS
It is noted that you formally told the Parish community that Fr. Dennis Sudla's appointment to Redfern began on Feb.1. It is also noted that, while official "entries" of Diocesan appointments have been made into March, there seems to be no official listing of Fr. Dennis' appointment on the Archdiocesan Website. It would not be helpful for Archdiocesan records to be inaccurate.

CONCLUSION OF LETTER
I have now experienced two particular occasions when, while attempting to speak to you, I have been "stood over" and witnessed behaviour which can only be described as impertinent toward both you and me. I doubt I will risk being alone again; I will ask someone to accompany me as witness on any future occasion.

Thankyou for your attention to these matters; I would welcome hearing from you about them.
Yours sincerely,

Clare Maguire

 

 

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