Bishops fail to respect Aboriginal culture, spirituality

Online Catholics Issue 1, 26 May 2004

Australian Bishops have failed to show regard for Aboriginal people by refusing a request to draft Guidelines for Clergy who work with indigenous Australians, according to Sr Marnie Kennedy, rscj.

Marnie Kennedy is the sister of the now ailing Fr Ted Kennedy, who was parish priest at St Vincent’s Catholic Church in Redfern, Sydney, for 30 years. Her statement comes as a response to the decision by the recent Bishops’ Conference to turn down a request from that parish, which was directed to the Secretary of the Bishops’ Committee for Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders, Bishop Brian Heenan.

In a letter dated 14 March 2004, the Redfern community asked Bishop Heenan if the Committee would consider introducing Guidelines for Clergy who work with indigenous people. There have been national Guidelines for Religious who work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people since 1999. The letter to Bishop Heenan says, in part: " would seem opportune for the bishops to advance similar Guidelines for Priests in Ministry with Indigenous peoples, especially given the current new situation where many priests are beginning to arrive from overseas countries to work in Australia."

It is understood that Bishop Heenan’s committee did put the request to the Bishops’ Conference, but that at the plenary session it was decided to turn down the proposal. Each diocese would be left to deal with issues between indigenous people and priests individually. Neither Bishop Heenan nor fellow Committee member, Broome’s Bishop Saunders, were available to speak with Online Catholics following the Conference.

Speaking exclusively to Online Catholics, Sr Marnie said: "I would like to pose this question to the Bishops, and indeed the whole Catholic community. Why has there been no Aboriginal priest ordained since Pat Dodson left ordained ministry some 20 years ago? Every other major denomination has ministers of an indigenous background, but not the Catholic Church."

Tensions at Redfern have been high, particularly since the appointment of the second Neo-catechumenate priest, Fr Dennis Sudla, to work along side parish priest Fr Gerry Prindiville. "Any priest sent to minister to Aboriginal people should be open to their culture and spirituality, rather than imposing a western pattern of Christianity," Sr Marnie said. "This calls for growing trust through friendship, willingness to undertake Aboriginal studies, guidance from the elders and a genuine desire to learn from them."

At stake is the whole question of inculturation, which is to do with ensuring the Gospel may be explored within particular cultural experiences. "Unless there is a commitment from every Diocese in Australia to the Gospel imperative of inculturation, there will be no Aboriginal Catholic Clergy.

"It is most unfortunate that the Bishops have failed to take this opportunity to establish a proper framework in the best interests of both Aboriginal people and Roman Catholic clergy." Sr Marnie said.

Note from the Church Mouse:

The St Vincent’s community made available copies of the following documents to the Bishops’ Committee for Indigenous Affairs prior to their National Conference in Sydney in May, 2004.

{rdlc id=357&alt=AKEHURST, Douglas D.(c.m.): Redfern. A Prophetic Community?}
A Research Project Towards a Graduate Diploma in Theology
United Theological Institute: Nov., 1989

{rdlc id=499&alt=ANDERSON, Karen: Open Letter to the local NeoCatechumenate Communities}
(at St.Nicholas of Tolentino, Bristol, England. Spring, 1992)

{rdlc id=500&alt=ARBUCKLE, Gerald A.(sm): Is the Neo-Catechumenate Way Compatible with Religious Life?}
Religious Life Review. Dublin: Jan-Feb., 1994
Reviewed and reprinted, 2004

{rdlc id=501&alt=COONEY, Paul (Fr.) (sm): NeoCatechumenate Community}
Archdiocese of Melbourne, Report of Activity in one parish

{rdlc id=364&alt=MAHER, Peter (Fr.): Cross Currents at Redfern}
The Swag. March, 2004

{rdlc id=362&alt=Reclaiming our Right to Wholeness. A Statement}
[From the Conference of the Women from Indigenous Communities in Asia and the Pacific; Chiang Mai, Thailand. Sep., 2003]

{rdlc id=359&alt=Guidelines for Appointment of Religious to Ministry with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People} prepared by a Sub-committee of the Founding Forum in consultation with ACLRI Aboriginal Issues Task Force, 1999

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