Community response to Fisher’s letter

St Vincent’s Community Redfern
10 June 2005

Most Revd. Anthony Fisher
Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney
341 Old South Head Road
Watson’s Bay. NSW 2030

Dear Bishop Fisher,

Thank you for your kind comments about our late pastor Ted Kennedy. As you rightly say he was a person held in great affection and loved by many people. Members of the Redfern congregation and the wider Catholic community will continue to feel his influence and direction. We believe that it was his special love for Aboriginal people that gave rigour and strength to his theology of the poor as true witness to the Christian faith.
However we must take issue with your comments about interruption of the liturgy at St. Vincent’s Church. They are not based on an accurate report of events that have occurred during the parish service of the Eucharist. We also cannot accept the viewpoint that the parish priests alone are responsible for the form of the liturgy. Finally we are extremely disturbed about the threat to call in the police to deal with any disruptions that you believe may occur at some future time.
Firstly with respect to the charge of interruptions. On occasion members of the community have called out during the homily or when the priests have publicly denied the reception of the sacrament. This is not disruption and was never intended to be such. It was the strong feeling of members that the priests had behaved in unseemly manner or on occasions had made provocative and abusive or defamatory comments. These you must be aware have been the subject of complaints to church bodies. They have not always been followed up to our satisfaction and in some cases there has been no evidence of any action on the part of the diocese. Without reciting the list of complaints from community members it should be observed that behaviour from the pastors of the parish is accountable and the church has the obligation to ensure this.
On a recent occasion Fr. Dennis invited a parishioner to step outside and sort out their dispute in “a man’s way”, accompanied with rolling up his sleeves. On another recent occasion the small table placed in front of the Altar and containing the Aboriginal Cross and other appropriate symbols was kicked at by Fr. Dennis during a Mass. The table was broken and the Cross fell to the ground. This was seen as a deliberate act of rage by those who witnessed it. It showed extraordinary insensitivity to Aboriginal people. Neither Fr. Denis nor any other person has given a public apology for this outrageous act.
If anyone has objections or concerns about behaviour by members of the community then they have always had the opportunity to enter into discussion with either the members or the community as a whole. It should be noted that only rarely have either Fr. Gerry or Fr. Dennis ever initiated such a discussion. They have called out to members during the service or on other occasions have used physical restraint. It should be noted further that in the latter case community members have refrained from going to the police to make a charge of assault, which is what these restraints amounted to. On the occasions of community meetings little has been achieved. The failure of these meetings is a mutual one but the lay members cannot carry the whole blame.
Behind these conflicts has been a history of non-communication. As noted during the time Fr. Gerry has been Parish Priest he has made few efforts to begin communication with the community as a whole or with individual members. The initiatives for any communication have usually come from lay community members.
With respect to your statement that the parish priests are alone responsible for the form of the liturgy we are flabbergasted. The decrees of Vatican II and Papal statements since have emphasised that the church community is a living body in which ordained and laity collaborate. John Paul II promoted communal reality as an antidote to the problem of church bodies that are “mechanisms without a soul” (Novo millennio inuente ). Reality means there is collaboration which is not the case in our parish.
The community contribution to liturgy is always complementary to the order of the Mass. There is no parallel lay celebration. It is an absurd claim and whoever made it should be asked to prove it. Moreover it impugns the devotion and spirituality of the community. The contributions to liturgy in music, commentary on readings and other aides are giving witness to the service of the Eucharist as the Church’s commitment to the poor and dispossessed. The small table placed in front of the altar is one such witness. It holds the Aboriginal Cross and other appropriate symbols. This witness is after all central to the Christian faith in following Jesus.
Your statement about calling in the police is threatening and inappropriate. The only criminal actions have unfortunately been from the priests and some young seminarians. As noted above community members have refrained from calling in the police, having believed it an inappropriate way of handling these events. Members have restricted themselves to pointing out to the priests or seminarians that there is a law on assault. Although at a recent meeting of some of the community, it was agreed that the civil authorities should be invited to intervene if an assault or any criminal behaviour re-occurred. Unless you believe that the community contains people who are liable to act criminally in the church this threat should be withdrawn.
It would we believe be highly inappropriate to contact the police on a trespass charge. This would treat St. Vincent’s Church as if it were a private property of the clergy and that accessibility to parishioners were their decision. This would make a mockery of the church as a community.
In the interests of resolution and reconciliation we invite you to meet with the parish community at a time to be mutually arranged with the purpose of discussing the matters contained in your letter as well as our concerns. For the purpose of arranging such a meeting we ask that you contact one of the above named people on the Letterhead.
We look forward to your reply and remain yours in the peace of Christ.
For and on behalf of St Vincent’s Community Redfern.
Eric Snowball
Mary McMahon
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