at St Vincentís church in Redfern have been refused permission
to hold an inter-faith service. [see also Is
this an ecumenical Church?]
Organisers say assistant parish priest,
Father Dennis Sudla, told them the service is inappropriate
for the church - although the inter-faith event has been
held at St Vincentís on two previous occasions.
"Dennis told us that St Vincentís
is not an ecumenical church and that such a service would
be inappropriate," said Mary McMahon who organised
the first service in 2001. Father Sudla did not respond
to requests for comment.
St Vincentís new priests belong to a conservative,
tradition-based movement within the Catholic Church, called
the Neocatechumenal Way (abbreviated to Neocats)
The inter-faith event is called a Mass
of Compassion and brings together Muslims, Jews, Sikhs as
well as other Christian denominations to celebrate humanity
This recent commotion over the use of
the church building is the latest confrontation in a series
that have taken place since the former parish priest, 74-year-old
Father Ted Kennedy, resigned in late 2002 due to ill health.
Father Kennedy, an iconic figure in Australian Catholicism,
presided at the Redfern church for 30 years. His liberation
theology approach to ministry often put him at odds with
Church authority but it endeared him to the Aboriginal people
Liberation theology, which developed among
South American clergy in the 1960s and 70s opts to put church
resources into liberating people from poverty and oppression.
Ted Kennedy's sister, Marnie Kennedy,
a Sacred Heart nun said her brother's approach to ministry
was effective. "A little while back, before he got
really sick, Ted came to visit the parish. It was amazing,
the church was packed, mothers everywhere were bringing
in their kids to meet Ted. And people were hugging him and
telling him how much they loved him and that they missed
him", she said.
In 2002, the ailing priest received a
commendation from Pope John Paul II in recognition of his
work for Australia's Indigenous community. After multiple
strokes later that year, Father Kennedy retired.
His replacement, Father Peter Carroll,
resigned after a brief eight month stint. When Father Carroll
left, the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell appointed
Neocats, first Father Gerry Prindiville, and later, Father
Dennis Sudla to run the parish. Some parishioners complain
about not being consulted before the appointments.
In an interview
for UTS NewsDay in September, Dr Pell said, he believed
stronger leadership was needed to stabilise the Redfern
parish. The Cardinal blames the congregation at St Vincentís
for Father Carroll's resignation and says the appointment
of two traditionalist priests was needed because of the
existing conflict. "I appointed Father Peter Carroll,
a gentle man, and these people [parishioners] ran him out
of the parish.Ē
This is strongly denied by a number of
people at the church. One spokesman said Fr Carroll did
not engage with the community.
on continued tensions at St Vincentís Dr Pell said: "I
don't think Redfern needs handouts, the place is full of
people trying to do good, with handouts and that. What they
need is gospel preached to them. What the locals need is
some sort of personal sense of identity or sense of integration
that'll help get their life together. And for the long run
the Neocatechumenal people are better equipped to do that
than most because if you send in an isolated individual
priest there, with no lay support - he would've just been
crucified too", he said.
When asked about complaints from members
of the congregation on the lack of consultation, Dr Pell
said, "Well I would say they should start to practice
what they preach. In other words, practice regularly basic
Christianity and basic courtesy".
Arguments over the use of the church building
happen regularly at St Vincentís. The arguments highlight
the differences between Father Kennedy's approach and that
of the new priests. Many Aboriginal people, who are not
churchgoers, use the premises as a gathering place and were
encouraged to do so by Ted Kennedy.
While Kennedy was there St Vincentís did
not display the typical adornments of a traditional Catholic
church. An Aboriginal flag and a picture of a much loved
Aboriginal elder, Mum Shirl adorn the walls where the Stations
of the Cross would normally hang. Mum Shirl died a few years
ago. The new priests have installed a rectangle of carpet
and a low dais.
The changes caused St Vincentís regular,
Michael Gravener to describe it as a new form of colonisation.
"It's a bit like Captain Cook coming back into this
country and just walking into an environment which the Aboriginal
people of Redfern find very sacred", he said.
Dr Pell has said that both Father Prindiville
and Father Sudla have had experience with indigenous people
living in urban communities. Father Prindiville, an Australian,
was brought from the US after a stint as a missionary in
the West Indies and Father Sudla came from his home in the
But Marnie Kennedy says the Neocatechumenal
approach is simply too conservative for a place like Redfern.
She believes the priests have alienated Redfern's Indigenous
community and told ABC's Radio National a request by an
Aboriginal family to use the church for a funeral was rejected.
"We have had hundreds and hundreds of Aboriginal funerals
over the years. Ted never questioned whether they were Catholic
or not. But a few weeks ago one of the elders died - Aunty
Betty. Her family had to go around to the priests' place,
to ask permission to use the Church. But Gerry (Prindiville)
didn't give them any condolence. He said, 'are you Catholic?
Is your mother a Catholic? If not how could she be buried
in the church?'" Sister Kennedy said on the Religion
Report in July. [more here]
Aunty Betty's son had been shot dead several
years ago and the St Vincentís community helped her through
the tragedy and it was her wish to be buried there, Sister
Kennedy said. She had a strong connection to the church
but Father Prindiville's abruptness and lack of compassion
denied her that request, she said. "So that sort of
thing goes round the Aboriginal community like fire. They
have an enormous underground communication. So they pass
on to each other that this is not the place to come,"
said Sister Kennedy.
The new priests at St Vincentís say their
desired direction for the church is not radical. "We
want to run it like a normal parish where the priest is
there, with the co-operation of the parishioners, working
together to preach the gospel, to catechise the children
and to administer the sacraments", Father Prindiville
said on Radio National.
Michael Gravener believes the church is
more than an ordinary, normal parish. Mr Gravener wants
the church to continue to act as open and welcoming place
for the local community, churchgoers or not.
And Ms McMahon agrees which is why she
sees the church as an ideal location for the traditional
inter-faith service. Father Prindiville who supported the
last inter-faith service in 2002, told Southside News that
it would be inappropriate to hold the service this year
because of "internal problems" at the parish.
Mary McMahon said: "We see St Vincentís as a neutral
ground to celebrate our humanity and to hold out hands of
togetherness. It worked before and we want it to happen
again," she said.