Church justice – a little never too late

Cardinal Pell says he is willing to go to Redfern to sort out the problem, but months of negotiations have gotten nowhere. “The parish clergy continue to have my full support,” he said. “They have been subject to regular abuse, harassment and provocation, often during the mass itself.” The Australian, August 05, 2006

Over the last 30 months or so, members of the St Vincent’s community, as a group and individually, have been trying to establish a dialogue with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church regarding the untenable appointment of proponents of the Neocatechumenal Way to the Redfern parish, and their unacceptable behaviour.

Letters were written; meetings were held. Inevitably, it seemed, each attempt met with rejection – a rebuke for being so impertinent as to criticise the clergy, a “misunderstanding” or outright denial of the issues raised, a “go and talk to the Cardinal” fob-off, or most often, no response at all.

With each rejection, the point of contact moved up and about the hierarchy, starting, of course with the parish priest Fr Gerry Prindiville, followed by the likes of Mgr. Vince Redden – then Archdiocesan Vicar for Clergy, a Canon lawyer, Mgr. Brian Rayner – then Archdiocesan Vicar-General/Chancellor, Cardinal Pell Archbishop of the Sydney Diocese, Archbishop Hickey of the Perth Archdiocese, the local Church Professional Standards Committee, the National Committee for Professional Standards, and last but not least, Archbishop Carroll – then President of the Australian Bishops’ Conference.

All these avenues were exhausted well over a year ago.

Because of some specific behaviour over a period of time by the assistant priest Fr Dennis Sudla towards one of the members of the community, Clare Maguire, canonical advice was sought from Dr Rodger Austin as to how this matter might be addressed.

As Sudla was unwilling to attempt to resolve the matter through a process of mutual consultation, Clare Maguire lodged a petition before the Ecclesiastical Regional Tribunal for New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, claiming that her right to the good reputation which she enjoys had been violated by Sudla.

The Tribunal is a Church court which is essentially about rendering justice while applying the Church’s Canon Law. In other words, the Tribunal is a judicial body and a pastoral ministry of the Church, which deals with issues involving injustices and any cases that might need the interpretation of the Church’s own Law. Most of its business is in marriage annulments; defamation cases are quite unusual.

The Regional Tribunal has issued a definitive judgement in response to Clare’s petition in which the Judge determined that Fr Sudla had defamed her. Sudla did not exercise his right to appeal and the case is now completed.

In fact, the former assistant PP has not been sighted in Redfern since shortly after the petition was lodged. He was last mentioned in an October 2005 church bulletin as being “in the Philippines doing missionary work and … near his family who need his help”.

The final step in the process is the execution of the judgement which is expected to occur shortly.

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