WHO IS WORTHY?
Ted Kennedy (Preface by Prof Tony
Coady), Sydney: Pluto Press, 2000, pb, 152pp,
ISBN: 1864030879, $24.95 (Available at a discount
if ordered through Pluto Press: http://media.socialchange.net.au/pluto/).
Reviewed by Joseph CASTLEY
Those like me who have admired Fr Ted Kennedy
for years have keenly awaited this book. The fruit
of many years in his double role as Parish Priest
working amongst Aborigines in Redfern and as support
and guide to educated laity gravitating to his
Masses there, it draws together ideas that have
informed his thinking and marked his preaching
for a long time.
Ted's chief charism, it seems to me, has been
the ability to take a fresh look at anything,
no matter how familiar it may be or how settled
our thinking on it may seem to be. His sermons
are marked by a theological probing backed up
by wide reading; by a supple handling of Scripture;
by a strong historical sense and feel for literature;
by a tender pastoral concern; by a passion for
genuine freedom of spirit, and consequently, by
an ever critical sense of the way the pronouncements
of churchmen either square with the Gospels or
else, like the Pharisees, impose intolerable burdens
on the faithful.
These qualities also mark the book - the pity
being, perhaps, that it is not longer. Its relative
brevity, however, is explained by the sharpness
of its focus - the warning that the way of thinking
of Melbourne's Roman Catholic Archbishop Pell
threatens to return that Church to a dead, hard
state that the Second Vatican Council seemed to
have led it out of. "I have passed through this
country before," says Ted, "and it makes me want
to shout danger."
It is a book that will shock, perhaps, because,
born out of such intense distress, it launches
so strong an attack on Pell. This is on two fronts,
both involving his response to oppressed marginal
The first is the Rainbow Sash people, the homosexual
Catholics to whom the Archbishop refused the Eucharist
recently; the second, Victoria's Aboriginal people
about whom and whose history he seems almost totally
The second section will, I think, cause less
commotion. The facts that Kennedy sets out not
only allow of no dispute, but will be recognised
by anyone of goodwill as an important contribution
to the subject of Aboriginal Reconciliation.
" … we don't have a big number of aborigines
in this State," says Pell, and "I am neither a
frequent nor an outspoken supporter of Aboriginal
issues." "Why not?" shouts Kennedy, quoting as
an instance the editor of The Hampden Guardian,
who wrote on 12 September 1876 that the history
of the Western Districts could never be written
"for it would be such a long record of oppression,
outrage, wrong and cold-blooded murder on the
part of 'the Superior Race' that it dare not and
therefore never will be written." (The facts,
of course, indict, not only Pell, but also all
of us who have informed ourselves so little on
the history of white cruelty and injustice to
And the facts indict, too, almost the whole line
of Australian Bishops who, Kennedy shows, hardly
ever spoke with pastoral care for the Aborigines
unless prodded into it by Rome. Even Polding's
now famous condemnation of white cruelty and injustice
(1846) turns out to have been made "behind closed
It is the first section of the book that is likely
to cause commotion, not just because a priest
speaks so fearlessly to an Archbishop, but because
he speaks with such theological daring. "Some
time ago I suffered a stroke," says Kennedy,"
which triggered in me a decision to live as if
I were dead, to state things without fear or compromise."
The bullying that Michael Morwood suffered at
the hands of Pell recently because of his splendid
Tomorrow's Catholic is something that Kennedy
does not have to face, but one fears what he may
suffer at other hands.
That Pell thinks wrongly and acted wrongly Kennedy
argues from a wide range of authorities, principally
from Newman on conscience, but also from Rahner,
Häring, Jungmann, Durrwell, Merton and others.
It is a rich and complex argument involving the
claim that during sixteen centuries the church's
thought diverged from that of its first four centuries
- thus minimising Paul's central insight that
Christ dwells amongst us; making God more distant
and formidable; downgrading the place of the Eucharist
in Christian life and exalting the role of Confession;
changing the emphasis on what was serious sin;
underplaying the importance of individual conscience;
and distorting the nature of Church authority
and pastoral care.
Vatican II challenged all these things and every
strand of its reformed thinking indicts Pell's
treatment of the Rainbow Sash people.
The brave, the prophetic Kennedy deserves our
Joseph CASTLEY has taught English in a church
school in Sydney for many years.