Letters from Neocats
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  Church Mouse
From "The Parish Priest"
Email, 18 December 2004

Subject: Sad News

Dear small voice of Redfern parishioners,

I have been receiving your emails all year. To be frank they have made me concerned and at times wondering what was going on at St Vincent's. I have met and spoken to the priests at Redfern and so I have both stories. Yet I cannot help but be disappointed by the angry tone of your emails. All you do it would seem to me is complain about how bad you've got it. How you hate change and how you hunger for the past. May I suggest respectfully, move on.

Despite your differences I'm sure there are many good things to celebrate about your faith community. I know as a priest I value those parishioners who support me even though they differ in option. Please accept this email as a challenge.

with every good wish for Christmas,

Fr Paul Smithers, O.M.I.

Response from the community
Email, 19 December 2004

Dear Fr Paul,

I do think you miss the point. You would be aware that the Redfern area is one of two centres of Aboriginal life in Sydney. For a priest to be located there and to not be both learning from their wisdom and seeking to deal in whatever way possible with their disadvantage is a failure of christianity as taught by Jesus.

Janice Gentle

Dear Father Paul,

Redfern has been recognised for over thirty years as a place of worship where the living gospel was practiced thorugh aligning with the poor and the oppressed and where the Eucharist is central to that journey.

I do not hanker for the past but what I do want is to continue in my faith with priests who share this belief. Sadly this is not practiced at Redfern. Aboriginal people have expressed their feelings in that they feel they are treated like lepers by Fr Gerry and Fr Dennis.Many in the community have suffered personbal abuse from both priests.

I hope in your ministry that you communicate with your community, where you do not abuse them verbally, where you do not deny the Holy Rites of the Sacraments to your flock and where you embrace their journey thorugh their pain and celebration, because that is what is not happening at Redfern.

The imposition of the Neo-cat philosophy is alien to us and to many in the church today. It is not a theology of sin, damnation and oppression, their is no hint of the liberated Christ in the teachings. My understanding of the New Testament was to bring the Good News to us all. To tell us God is love and the He loves us.

You may have heard two versions of what is happening but to many who visit Redfern including many priests they are appalled at the behaviour of the priests at Redfern. With respect Fr Gerry has not conveyed to us what his version is and refuses to discuss with us his concerns. The gospel calls us to live justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God. We in the community try to live this out and in acting justly we express justified anger as Jesus did when he saw suffering and abuse of power.

Interesting that when Fr Rayner visited un-beknown to us who he was or where he had come from he commented that he saw us as a positive community. The challenge for us is to live out our faith bedded in the radical gospel. We do not pretend to be perfect but we are good people who will continue in the struggle for justice whatever the cost.

Rhonda Ansiewicz
Redfern Community

From Sts. Joseph & Michael Parish, NJ
Email, 7 October 2004

Dear Mouse,

My name is Monica and I am a NeoCat as you call the way. I've read some of the articles which are posted on the site and I can't tell you how disturbed I am that this movement within our Church is the cause of much division in certain parishes. I am a revert to the Church and I belong to a wonderful little parish in NJ which just introduced the Way about 4 months ago. Being a CCD teacher I have learned much about Church's teaching and have fallen in love with the truth. I stay as far away as possible of anything that goes against Church's teaching. Moreover, if given the chance, I defend the Holy Mother Church and her teachings. I am sure that this email will not be posted, but in any case I'd like to address one of the points listed in Pam Aitkins and Clive Maher against the priest in her parish.

1. The priest said that the church is only bricks.

There is a big difference between the church and the Church. I am afraid that the priest's words were horribly misinterpreted. I am sure that he was referring to the building itself which we all tend to call "church". Even a malformed priest knows that the Holy Catholic Church is not made up of bricks - each of us make up the body of the Church. Those of us who walk this earth are part of the Church Militant, those who have gone before us and are in Purgatory are members of the Church Suffering, and the saints and Martyrs who are in Heaven are members of the Church Triumphant, the head of the Church being Christ Himself. It is the Holy Spirit who unites and binds us together as one entity. This is basic Catholicism 101 - any child in my parish's CCD program knows that we are the Church, not the building in which we celebrate the Holy Mass; that church is made up of bricks.

It took me a long time for me to become convinced that the Catholic Church is the one true Church founded by our Lord; anything that she teaches through her ministers comes from the fullness of faith which was entrusted to her by Jesus Himself; and so I subject myself to her authority. If the bishop of Rome approved "The Way", who am I to question it? Unfortunately, through out Church's history it is her own members, laity and clergy alike, that tear at her and cause disharmony by trying to impose our own point of view instead of accepting the Church's authority to rule us in matters of faith and morals. That's how the Protestant reformation began with Martin Luther. In His wisdom the Lord knew that if left to us His Bride, the Holy Mother Church would be torn to shreds by our fallen nature. It is only because the Holy Spirit lives within Her that the Church has survived our wrong doings for over 2000 year and will continue to do so until the Lord's second coming as Jesus promised. Personally I would not be so quick to bite the hands that feed, give my soul my Lord's body, blood, soul and divinity - specially when all the facts are unknown. In order to find out if all these allegations are true or not your parish members have the opportunity to walk in "The Way". To continue to take a stand against "The Way" without getting all the facts is pure ignorance and plain disregard of the Church's authority to rule and guide the flock. Thank you for taking the time to read this email; may God bless you and cause His face to shine upon you.

Sts. Joseph & Michael Parish Co-Responsible
3rd Neo-Catechumen Community Fruits of The Way

Out of 31 men who were ordained priest by the Holy Father on April 25th, 15 were Neo-Catechumens.

Response from Clive Maher
Email, 9 October 2004

od Bless Monica

Unfortunately, she is not in the Kelmscott parish to witness this wonderful way. What can one say - she is entitled to her opininons and that's a basic for most humans in the world. What constantly amazes me is how people such as Monica jump to conclusions, become authorities on matters they think they understand and then go on to assume that others are lacking the intelligence to comprehend statements.

Forgive me, but was Monica present to listen to what else the parish priest has said? Was she there when he slapped the bricks and said that everything was in people's minds? Was she there when we were told that to refuse the invitation to join the way would result in people going to hell? Obviously NOT. We cannot state everything so I beg for one thing. Listen and understand, get all the facts and then comment. Jumping to conclusions and responding in this manner seems a typical attribute of these people.

Does she know what has happened to our Parish?

Maria and John di Venuto
Email, 7 July 2004

A friend recommended we take a look at the Church Mouse website. We have read the information it presents carefully and thoroughly. We are regrettably left with the conclusion that you are behaving like spoilt little children who aren't getting their own way.

Where we live our priest, close to retiring age and in average health, is looking after two fairly large parishes singlehandedly. In our diocese one priest is responsible for three parishes. In our country there are people who might get Mass once a month, or even longer. Friends in far west Queensland see their PP once every three months.

And here you are, a small parish community with two priests, a small parish community surrounded by other Catholic parishes and priests. But you don't have the priest who suits you and the way you like the parish to operate, so you kick up a stink and carry on. Has it ever occurred to you all to stop and think just how blessed you are to have resident clergy, to have daily Mass, to have the sacraments and priestly pastoral care on hand?

Might we suggest the time you spend whingeing, writing to the Cardinal, gossiping and note taking be instead spent praying for two things: (1) a sense of unity and charity within your community (priests and people) and (2) praying for vocations so that a few more of us might have the privilege of resident priests. That would be a far more useful and Christian way of using your time.

Response from the community
Email, July 2004

Dear Maria and John,

I accept that your situation is distressing because of the obvious deprivations of distance and isolation. This in the general context of a priest shortage crisis. Our crisis is not about numbers obviously and you are necessarily imagining our situation in a way which misses the mark.

The appointment of the Neocatechumenate priests was, in my view (and I am not alone) a vexatious contrast of ecclesiologies which was by no means the only option available. It is a situation where the life of the community which, is by a tradition inititiated over thirty years ago, focussed on being open to the urban Aboriginal presence in Redfern. The people who gather there believe that living the Gospel means being challenged to have a church which retains the capacity to give welcome to the unambiguous poor. It isn't that we achieve a lot. But over the years we have tried not to turn our backs on the disquieting presence of those of whom Christ said :" whatsoever you do to do unto Me". The Neocatechumenate priests are not supportive of this Gospel challenge. It would be easier and tidier and cleaner and less distressing to be self enclosed Catholics whose preoccupation is their own religion. St Vincents has always tried to expose itself to Christ who is crucified this very day. Making our church a place where no urban Aboriginal would feel comfortable is not the Church we wish to call Catholic.

Best wishes, Peter Griffin
9 July 2004

Dear Maria and John,

I was saddened to read your letter. Your respose, using words which are belittling to a group of people, "behaving like small children who can't get their own way" usually means there is a lack of understanding of a situation. Over the years I have often found this, especially when people are speaking about justice, e.g. Inclusive language, Aboriginal rights, the Environment and of course you will remember Philip Ruddock's "bleeding hearts" comment to anyone who spoke up for the plight of Asylum Seekers. Also, this situation has grown out of particular circumstances and does not just impinge on Redfern Parish but on what is happening in our Diocese and in Australia.It may seem like a small group of people to you but actually we are speaking to a situation which is affecting the Church in Australia and takes us on a backward journey.

The last point I would like to make is that St Vincent's Church Community's standing with Aboriginal people in their struggle for Respect for Culture and Justice is a heritage we give priority to. It is hard to comprehend that priests who belong to a movement who do not believe in encultration would be appointed to a parish such as St Vincents Redfern.

I hope that you may have an opportunity to visit us at St Vincents, Redfern and see what this community of strong faith is about.

Sr Sheila PVBM
9 July 2004

Thank you for giving us feed back on our website. I was struck by the gulf between your " conclusions", what you THINK about us, and your ACTIONS of reading "the information....carefully and thoroughly". Our community has welcomed the priests as priests (not as Neo Catecumenates) into our community and asked them to introduce to us their particular theology and ideas, so we could make an informed decision about the movement, beyond heresay. They told us nothing about their theology, so we researched to the best of our ability the position of the movement itself and their critics in order to understand what they THINK. We put this on the web for the purpose of easy access in educating our community. Some of our website chronicles what they DO. If their behaviours are outcomes of their ideas then they would appear to sanction ungracious, discourteous, rude and plain bullying behaviours directed to aborigines, the elderly, women, and children. In civil society these unacceptable behaviours are labelled discriminatory and racist. If the behaviours, witnessed by many, were acknowledged by them to be aberrant, then we would expect an apology, removal of the offending person/s, and an explanation of how those behaviours fall short of their own moral framework. They have done none of these.

Our community never asked for two priests. Indeed some years ago when our long-term parish administrator was saying mass less frequently, we as a community were mature enough to begin discussing the hard issues of a viable community in a context of reduced priesthood, fewer masses, etc. What we got were two priests for a parish that is about one square mile. It is spoilt, isn’t it? Perhaps you could investigate the possibility of sending one of them to your part of the world that appears to so desperately require priestly assistance. 

If you are in Sydney, please come to our church. The sacramental life of the church is almost non-existent: we have not been informed of any baptisms, confirmations, marriages (or I think funerals) since the NeoCatecumenate priests arrived. Communion is almost on that list having been disgorged so to speak at the alter itself. On paper it all sounds a little sterile, but you will discover a community that is distinctively vibrant. 

Elisabeth Burke
13 July 2004

Closing (?) remarks

Thank you for posting our message. We don't want to drag out the discussion and keep going over and over things, but we do want to thank those who took the time to respond. We’d also like to correct a few misconceptions.

Firstly, Bintu tells us we are ‘unenlightened’ because we have not experienced St Vincent’s, Redfern and have not come to ‘an enlightened understanding of what a Christian community is’. St Vincent’s is not the only Christian community. The parish of which we are a part is a wonderfully human and faith filled community that seeks to live out the Gospel, often in simple, hidden ways, but in the ways of Christ: visiting the lonely, offering shelter to the poor, providing food to the hungry, caring for those who are sick, reaching out to those in need. The Gospel is lived out daily in many hundreds of ways by many people in many Christian communities throughout Australia and the world. It is simply ridiculous to suggest St Vincent’s is the only enlightened or Christian community.

Bintu invites us to St Vincent’s to experience the legacy of a prophet rather than a priest. We’re not sure what Bintu means by this, but we experience the ‘legacy’ of God through word and sacrament in our own parish.

Sr Sheila suggests we may lack understanding and also invites us to St Vincent’s. For the record, I (Maria) went to Mass at St Vincent’s probably about 10 times whilst studying in Sydney in the early 90s, and John and the children have been about 3 or 4 times. So we do not claim to be experts about your parish and its ministry, but nor have we never experienced it. Equally we want to make it clear that we admire the ministry of the parish to work and live in solidarity with those on the fringes of society, particularly indigenous people. We enjoyed the time we spent in worship and conversation with people at St Vincent's. Our original message made no adverse comment on that point. Indeed, we equally admire other parishes and communities that are committed to ministry with other ‘outsiders’.

We can also assure Sr Sheila that we take seriously issues of social justice, the environment, the distribution of wealth, as should anyone who calls themselves Catholic or Christian.

And to Peter, we appreciate the prevailing view that the appointment of Neocatechumenal clergy was considered an unnecessarily ‘vexatious contrast of ecclesiologies’ by many (if not all) at Redfern. But the main thrust of our original message was that, though these priests may not be ‘ideal’, your community is a lot better off than many throughout Australia, and that your perceived ingratitude is severely grating to those of us not so blessed with resident clergy.

Elisabeth, thank you also for your invitation to attend the parish. As we noted above, we have joined the St Vincent’s community on several occasions. With respect to your comments, we are not seeking to defend the two priests. We do not know them and quite frankly from reading the website we are quite concerned by some of their actions and statements. The issue in our email was the fact you have priests. We would welcome two clergy into our diocese or our parish we are so short of them but, regrettably, our bishop doesn’t think priests from outside the diocese will ‘fit in’. Apparently it seems our diocesan culture is so particular and specialised that no one outside the border can ever be allowed in!

Can it not be that one day (perhaps far) down the track you will have educated these priests to move beyond their narrow ecclesiology. Perhaps that’s pie in the sky, but given your reality isn’t it a good challenge to set your community? Is anyone seriously thinking the Cardinal will roll over, remove the Neocatechumenate priests and install a pastor more to your liking? Of course he won’t. So our point is why not stop, think yourselves lucky to at least have priests, and decide to try to work with them and educate them (though we concede that might be very difficult at times), remembering always that we are called to speak the truth in charity. We think of Mary MacKillop: she didn't have the easiest bunch of men to deal with, but she put her hand to the plough and relied on constant prayer and good works to ultimately win them over. Invoke her intercession: Redfern could be the second miracle!

Anyway, thank you for responding to our original message. If nothing else, this communication reminds us that our country has many lively committed Christian communities standing in solidarity with the little ones of the Gospel, and praise God for that. We wish you well, and will pray for your community. Please pray for ours.

Maria and John di Venuto
16 July 2004

Complex Redfern Challenge
Letters to the Editor, The Swag, June 2004

I am an Australian priest of the Archdiocese of Agana in Guam, Micronesia. I had already read in the Australian press about what Peter Maher described as the "cultural shenanigans at Redfern with the arrival of the Neocatechumenal Way priests" and so, while I was in Sydney last year, attended Mass at St. Vincent's one Sunday morning.

My recollections were not, however, about any cultural insensitivity on the part of the priest and the deacon who assisted at the liturgy, but more because it was one of the few parishes I encountered where everyone seemed to participate. It was also obvious that there were some who had a personal axe to grind, but these people did not seem to be Aboriginals (very few of whom were in attendance).

The article by Peter Maher in the Autumn issue of The Swag made two accusations against the priests at Redfern:

  1. "They have little time for the inverted sense of mission that Redfern parishioners have lived and breathed for thirty years." And
  2. "They find it hard to appreciate inverse symbolic action as resistance and the indigenous people's rejection of their need to convert them to repentance for their drunkenness and rebel rousing."

Without giving concrete examples of just what these accusations imply, or allowing the Parish Priest an opportunity to reply, I consider the article to be one more example of "accusation by labeling, no further proof required." I also wonder whether the majority of parish priests anywhere in the world are applying or even understand such standards.

It was not mentioned if Peter Maher visited the parish, whether he spoke to a goodly number of parishioners, aboriginal or otherwise, or to the priest and deacon who have taken up "The challenge of Redfern". In the name of all that is fair, I hope and pray that he did!

John Wadeson
Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Seminary
130 Chalan Seminariu
Ylig Bay, Yofia 96915

The views expressed in "Letters to the Editor" are those of the authors of each letter and not necessarily the views of the Swag Editor or the NCP Executive.

Peter Maher

Dear John

In respect of your concerns about my article in the Swag, I would like to note that your prayers have been answered in that I have attended Redfern parish in various capacities regularly for nearly 20 years and I know the parish extremely well and I know many of the parishioners very well. I continue to meet at Redfern church for a weekly gospel discussion group which has been going for thirty years. Since the arrival of the Neo Catechumenate priests they have not attended once even though they used to open the Church for the meeting after changing the locks and refusing to offer a key to the group which is regularly attended by four nuns and two priests.

I am a parish priest in the next parish and so have met the Redfern priests at Deanery meetings and at various Diocesan meeting of priests including the three day meeting last year.

I also have some "refugee" parishioners from Redfern now attending Newtown because they were so shocked and worn down by the complete disregard for the traditions of the parish.

I note you dropped into Mass there once and thus by your own standards you are not qualified to speak on the complexities of Redfern parish. If you wish to know the real pain of long time parishioners who now feel excluded in their own parish you may like to check the website:

An example of what Redfern parishioners have to put up with is the following reported on their website.

The Community was shocked and Outraged Today (26 Sep).
Dennis Sudla's behaviour, especially towards women, is despicable. That he also purports to be a Catholic priest makes it infinitely more so. Today he attacked Sr Marnie Kennedy, one of the most loved and respected members of our community, and sister of Fr Ted Kennedy.

Mamie decided to take Sudla, assistant parish "priest' at St Vincent's to task over his display of "humour" at the expense of the parishioners of Kelmscott, WA: "He said it was nice to see so many females at church ... some pretty, some not so pretty and some ugly" Their conversation went something like this:

Marnie: You know you can't go around saying things like that in this country.
Sudla (twice): I can say what I like!
(and then) Maybe you_should look in a mirror yourself sometime. You are blind and need to be converted. I will pray for you.
Marnie: Thank you, but I don't need your prayers.

Yours in Peace

Fr Peter Maher




Call for Neocatechumenate testimonials

The Church Mouse is compiling a dossier on the activities and impact of the Neocatechumenate movement on ordinary Catholics, in particular (but not exclusively) within Australia.

If you have an experience that you would like to share with others affected by this sect, please email the Church Mouse.



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