Letter to the
Cardinal 12 April 2004
Dear Cardinal George,
Easter Greetings of Joy to you and yours!
Re: Difficulties at Redfern: Refusal of Holy Communion, et al.
I am writing to you in your capacity as Bishop and Pastor of our
diocese (Archdiocese), and as national Catholic leader in our country.
I wish to record formally that, on April 7, the Wednesday of Holy
Week, at the 9am.Mass at St Vincent's, Redfern, I was refused Holy
Communion by the Parish Priest, Fr. Gerry Prindiville, and publicly
addressed in what can only be described as an inquisitorial manner
by another young priest, Fr. Dennis Sudla, who was celebrating Mass
that day. It is noted that this was Holy Week, the week remembering
the most sacred and extraordinary events in the traditions and history
of the Catholic Church.
I would like to record briefly an outline of this Refusal and what
Background of Refusal
On the previous day, Tuesday, April 6, I had attempted to meet with
the Parish Priest re the Holy Thursday liturgy, to take place two
days later. I attach an open letter (6.4.04) to Fr. Gerry which
resulted from the (now second) very difficult situation of that
"meeting". That Open Letter was sent by email at approximately
8am.on Wednesday morning.
Because Fr. Gerry would not answer my request regarding the location
of the Altar of Repose, (necessary for the preparing group to know
for the setting-up of flowers, musical instruments etc., I had said
to him that I would return to 9am Mass on Wednesday (7.4.04) to
see if he had made a decision.
Refusal: Record of Wed. 7.4.04
I am now writing this record from notes I took in the Church at
about 9:30am, observed by Frs. Gerry and Dennis, and still to hand.
When I entered St Vincent's, Mass had already begun. A young priest,
Fr. Dennis Sudla, was the Celebrant; the Parish Priest, Fr. Gerry,
was seated in the middle of the front pew. There were two other
women at Mass, seated one on either side of Fr. Gerry. I sat down
directly behind Fr. Gerry, in the second pew, and both focused and
participated concentratedly on the Sacred Event taking place.
When the time for Holy Communion arrived, the other two women stepped
forward to take a Host. Despite my desire to receive the Sacred
Bread, and due particularly to what had occurred in the Church on
the previous day with these priests (see open letter, 6.4.04, already
mentioned), my (physical) person recoiled from approaching Fr. Dennis
who was distributing the Hosts.
I stepped forward to take the Sacred Wine from Fr. Gerry, standing
to the other side of the Altar.
As I stepped forward, Fr. Gerry, nodded his head to his left where
Fr. Dennis was standing, at the same time stating, "You have
to take the Bread first." He did not offer me the Chalice.
I stood still and said nothing at that time, then stepped back so
as to allow the other women to come forward to the Chalice. Then
I again stepped forward to receive the Chalice. Fr. Gerry made no
move toward me; then he took a step backwards. I quietly but clearly
then said words very close to the following: "Are you not going
to offer the Sacred Wine to me, Gerry", and he said, "No!"
stepped back and replaced the Chalice on the Altar.
I stood still to collect myself. Then I calmly but clearly and respectfully
(to the Blessed Sacrament) stated that I regretted the need to speak
at this sacred moment of the Holy Mass, that I found this matter
very serious, that I had never been refused Holy Communion in my
life, and that I would be following up the matter. I returned to
As I was seating myself, from the Altar where he was in train of
"cleaning" the Chalice with the altar cloth, Fr. Dennis
publicly stated: "It's a matter of your intention!"
Therefore, I said that I found this so serious a matter that I must
speak again; that (as far as I knew) there was no regulation insisting
one must take the Host; that Dennis had no right to make any comment
upon, nor to question, my private conscience to which he had no
access, most especially outside Confession (and, I now add, most
especially in a public way); and that I would formally contact the
Archdiocese, (the latter a comment I repeated to Fr. Gerry after
I wrote a short record of these quoted words, observed by both priests).
It still seems to me that, if either priest had any difficulty
with perceived so-called "intentions", with my sending
an open letter via email the previous day, or with any other matter
relating to me, as "pastors" they should have phoned me
(as I have often requested, to no avail), arranged to meet me, or
spoken to me, firstly, outside the Holy Mass, rather than refuse
Communion and then publicly speak in what can only, surely, be seen
as a derogatory and degrading way.
At no time during this incident was my voice raised, nor did I
lose my calm, nor was I provocative in any way.
I find the behaviour of Fr. Gerry and Fr. Dennis to be unprofessional
in the extreme.
To my knowledge, neither Fr. Gerry nor Dennis has attempted to apologize
or address these matters in any way, to date, despite opportunities
to do so. I have been at each ceremony of the Easter Triduum, putting
away musical instruments, music stands, rearranging the Altar and
flowers etc., for some time afterwards. I also attended Mass this
morning, Easter Monday, and tidied the area of the "old"
Vestry for at least twenty minutes after Mass, and noticed no attempt
Together with others, I previously had occasion to write to the
Archbishop of Perth, Most Rev. Barry Hickey, on 30.9.03, to request
the postponement of the ordination of Deacon Clesio Mendes for inappropriate
behaviour, now seen as redolent of that of Fr. Dennis, so it seems
obvious to ask whether there might be some problems in the ethos
and / or training of the priests of the Neocatechumenal Way. I feel
able to make this last statement because I have lived in Spain,
in Barcelona in particular (which I find extremely relevant, in
that it is a [Catalan] culture quite proudly independent of the
majority population), at the time of Franco, when the Spanish military
were very prominent and the Spanish government extremely authoritarian.
I wrote to Archbishop Hickey because of Deacon, now Fr., Clesio's
words and behaviour. Allow me to record some of Deacon Clesio's
statements from my Verbatim of 6.8.2003, so as to indicate parallels:
* But you are placing yourself outside the Church![meaning,
really, that he was placing me outside the Church]
* You're not accepting the Bishops! [ditto]
* You're outside the Church [an actual statement, not my
interpretation this time]
* Clesio: You really need to consider your position within the
Catholic Church me: What do you mean? Clesio: Well,
'cursers', for instance, they have taken the wrong road, especially
if they die. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, has taught us to love God and
they die cursing . . . they had not accepted the word and love of
God. [I failed to see the relevance of this example, or did
he mean that I was spiritually doomed?]
I phoned Fr. Gerry on Monday (23.2.04), to ask him to meet me personally
on the following day; I recorded that Fr. Gerry, after agreeing
to meet, "opened" our "meeting" by standing
over me (as I was seating myself) and saying to me in a gruff way
with both hands on hips, Well, Clare, what's this all about?
Upon my commenting on his body language, he repeated exactly as
above, but with arms folded above me. It is significant that I had
actually asked for a meeting to discuss and clarify issues related
to the very distracting tensions in communication and at the Liturgy.
After reflecting on the above "meeting", I had a two-hour
interview, on 4.3.2004, with the Archdiocesan Vicar for Clergy,
Monsignor Vince Reddon, who took quite extensive notes. This was
the first occasion of a difficulty (now not with Clesio but with
Fr. Dennis' "stand-over" interruptions) during a meeting
with Fr. Gerry; it caused me again to write a Verbatim immediately.
This Verbatim is still to hand, and records that there elapsed 10-15
min. of my requests to Fr. Dennis to remove his person out of earshot
so that I (as a long-time member of the St Vincent's community)
could speak privately to my Parish Priest. Subsequently, Dennis
"found reasons" to continue to creep forward throughout
the "meeting" so that I had to request him yet again to
move away. Mons. Reddon could give you the details of my conversation
with him, and the tone in which many statements were delivered.
Suffice it here to list some of Dennis' uncalled-for, most unwelcome
and incessant interjections, laughing and challenging me throughout,
and heard by Fr. Gerry:
* Right! You've got three minutes! Begin now![Loudly, to
Fr. Gerry and to me]
* Time is up, Gerry!
* [to me] He [Gerry] has to go . . . he can't stay here all day
and waste his time like this!
* [to me] You can go and tell the Archbishop, if you like
* [to me] What if I told you I was going to be your Parish Priest?
[followed by a smirk]
* Finally, as I was leaving, I said, I'll seek another meeting
with you again, Gerry . . . I'm feeling very upset, actually shocked
at this, Gerry. I'll think about what I need to say and I'll contact
you again; I'm actually shaking inside so I can't do much more right
Dennis immediately interjected: Well, go home and have a cup
Conclusion of Letter
It is noted that the Community of St Vincent's, Redfern, has formally
and openly requested a Meeting with the Parish Priest.
It is also to be noted that the community of St Vincent's, Redfern,
has formally requested the Secretary of the Bishops' Committee for
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Bishop Brian Heenan of Rockhampton,
to list on the Agenda of their next Meeting, due to take place in
May, 2004, that Guidelines / Protocols for Priests working in Ministry
with Indigenous People in Australia be drawn up (as a matter of
I find this matter most serious. I would be very happy to have
a meeting / interview with you, and to provide you with my background
(since I have not had the pleasure of meeting you), and, if necessary,
to provide you with references from respected Catholic priests /
religious / elders of the Church.
Thank you for your kind attention to these matters.
9 June 2004
from Cardinal George Pell