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.
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
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
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
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.
Sts. Joseph &
Michael Parish, NJ
Email, 7 October 2004
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
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. http://www.zenit.org/english/archive/9904/ZE990425.html#item1
from Clive Maher
Email, 9 October 2004
God 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
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?
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
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.
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 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 these...you 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.
13 July 2004
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
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
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
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
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:
- "They have little time for the inverted sense
of mission that Redfern parishioners have lived and
breathed for thirty years." And
- "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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.