Catholic faithful dig in for new battle
THE faithful of St Vincent’s Catholic Church, Redfern look set to outlast another conservative priest – but they are still waiting to have their prayers answered.
A group of long-time parishioners at the inner-city church have again come into conflict with its clergy, this time over a spontaneous approach to the prayers offered in Mass.
The approach is in keeping with the more vernacular and inclusive style of worship celebrated at the urban indigenous parish since the leadership of late Father Ted Kennedy, a champion of Aboriginal rights. But it has been a source of tension with the successive conservative priests installed by the Sydney Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, since 2002.
Known as the "prayers of the faithful", the offerings at St Vincent’s can be unscripted critiques of politics, the church or occasionally the presiding priest.
Last week, Father Clesio Mendes, a missionary of the Neocatechumenal Way, said all prayers were to be submitted to the priests before Mass. The directive prompted some parishoners to protest after the service by reciting prayers they had not been able to deliver.
The dispute is the latest in almost a decade of clashes between those who wish to preserve Father Kennedy’s legacy and those determined to undo it.
Battles have focused on baptismal fonts, murals, the refusal of communion, and priests convicted of defamation.
An Aboriginal parishioner, Ralph Townsend, whose recent prayer of the faithful was for a "fair go", was among those upset by Father Mendes’s decision. "That’s all we want in our church – a fair go. To be listened to, to give a little and take a little," he said.
But Father Mendes said he aimed to return the church to how it was before Father Kennedy, whom he said had been turned into an icon.
"Many things they have done – disrespecting the liturgy, the priest during the liturgy, disrespecting the communion, all these are not Catholic," he said.
"Ted Kennedy he did a lot of good works but also opened the door for these people to come, and these people you see are very hard to control."
Father Mendes confirmed he would soon leave for a rural Victorian parish, but said he had not been pushed out: "The Cardinal, he will never send a priest here to allow these people to continue doing what they do."
Cardinal Pell’s spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
Bold text by Church Mouse
It appears that Mendes has let slip that the true mission of the Neocatechumenal Way is all about control. And when the community refuses to align with this distorted, fundamentalist form of Catholicism, he condemns disagreement as disrespect.
To the community it seems that since the news of Mendes’ impending departure was made public, there has been a desperate burst of last minute attempts to assert some new form of control over the community. From having the police called to intimidate 78 year old parishioner J, to denying the community their customary spontaneous Prayers of the Faithful, to shouting and gesticulating at people to drive them out of the church after Mass.
Then there’s the spectre of the far more sinister, sect-like phenomenon of latching onto psychologically vulnerable individuals and twisting them against the community. Several days ago a young fellow, who used to dote on one or two members of the community, gloated to a nun that "Mad J" was not allowed in the Church any more; who put him up to this behaviour? (A far more disturbing example, from 2008, is covered in Police at Mass and Violence at St Vincent’s.)
And that’s being Catholic?