Does the Vatican listen?

Several months ago the community wrote to a selection of cardinals in the Vatican in an attempt to inform them about the appalling behaviour of the Neocats in Redfern. There was an infinitesimally small hope, but no delusion, that the letters might have had some influence on the recent Vatican review of The Way’s status.

Each letter was copied to the Australian Apostolic Nuncio, the Most Reverend Ambrose de Paoli, and finished with the following postscript:

  • Please visit our website, http://church-mouse.net for extensive supporting documentation. The findings of the Tribunal of the Catholic Church of NSW and the ACT will not be found there, so a copy is enclosed for your information.
  • This letter will be published on the website 4 weeks after it is sent.

Not one of the 3 letters – each accompanied by a list of the names and addresses of over 160 supporters – received any response.

A more detailed report on the Community’s experiences – Cross Ways at St Vincent’s Redfern – was also sent to Rome. It was at least acknowledged, although the Vatican’s response strongly suggests that little more than the covering letter was actually read.

Copies of the report are available on request.

The letters are reproduced below.

18 May 2007

S.E. Cardinal William Levada
Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede
Piazza del S. Uffizio, 11
00193 Roma. Italia.

Your Eminence,

We understand that there is to be a review of the Neocatechumenal Way (The Way) in 2007. Although there has been no call for submissions from the laity, we are motivated to write to you from the depths of the anguish which has ever more steadily engulfed us since July 2003, when Cardinal George Pell appointed priests of The Way to our parish of St Vincent’s Redfern, Sydney. We find ourselves struggling to maintain our faith lives, practices and community, developed over more than 30 years and now under threat from the incompatible, alien, autocratic, Jansenistic and often abusive practices of The Way which not only neither sustain nor spiritually nourish our community but have had an extremely detrimental impact on the psyche of numerous individuals within it.

In 1971, the arrival at St. Vincent’s of the late Father Ted Kennedy heralded the dawn of an epoch of spiritual renewal, evidenced by a spirit of inclusiveness: all were given welcome, prejudices challenged and faith nourished and developed by the faith-filled practice of Fr. Kennedy. His was indeed a faith based on justice and we were challenged to find Christ in the eyes of the dispossessed, most particularly in those of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. We went to Redfern to be renewed, empowered and strengthened to go from there to endeavour to practice the gospel values in our daily lives, works and struggles. Those, mostly black, but also white men, women and children who had struggled to survive in the face of hopelessness, despair, exclusion and abuse by clergy and religious, were able to hold their heads high at St Vincent’s and to know that at least in this space, they would at last be afforded the dignity that befitted their humanity. Such survivors of clerical and state abuse swelled the ranks of our community to be healed by the love and compassion afforded them by Fr. Kennedy and the community.

For many years Redfern has been the urban heart of Aboriginal Australia. There were few, if any, Aboriginal residents who did not know and love “Father Ted”, and know that they were loved by him. Many others would come to Redfern to visit or to bury their relatives, and they too developed a personal connection with St. Vincent’s through the innumerable funeral services that Fr. Kennedy conducted there and they recognised it as a place of welcome where the spirit of the Gospel shone like a beacon in him. All knew that the St. Vincent’s community was committed to engendering hope by striving to respect Aboriginal culture and spirituality, by standing together in solidarity in the struggle for self-determination and justice and by pastoral care of the most needy. For countless Aboriginal people across Australia, St Vincent’s Church became, and remains today, a sacred place.

In October, 2006, the Catholic Church in Australia celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the visit to Alice Springs of the late Pope John Paul 11. There he delivered to the Aboriginal people a message of great hope:

The church herself in Australia will not be fully the Church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution to her life has been joyfully received by others.

Sadly, the late Pope’s hopeful message has not borne evident fruit. In Redfern it is in danger of withering on the vine.

Cardinal Pell appointed the priests of The Way to Redfern Parish in 2003 after the retirement of Fr. Kennedy, who died in 2005. Fr Gerry Prindiville was appointed parish priest. His assistant, Fr Dennis Sudla, was replaced in January 2006 by Fr Clesio Mendes. Recently, on 29 April 2007, parishioners were notified of Fr Prindiville’s departure, of the appointment of Fr Mendes as parish priest, and of another cleric of the Way, Fr Joe Pelle, as his assistant. Each has yet to exhibit either sensitivity or respect for Aboriginal culture and spirituality. When our community liturgies acknowledge and incorporate aspects of Aboriginal cultural traditions, our priests have been seen standing together and snickering. At other times these liturgies are ignored by them in silent hostility or greeted with displays of violence, anger or ignorance. “These priests treat us like lepers”, Aborigines have said, and “Why does he [the assistant priest] call us heathens?”

The priests and lay missionaries of The Way have imposed an alien and hostile form of religion and liturgical worship that had long been foreign at St. Vincent’s. We are subjected to shouted instructions and pronouncements of regulations. Bullying and verbal abuse of parishioners have become common place and physical assaults have occurred. Victims of these sorts of abuses are mostly female and include several older nuns who have lived and worked in the parish community for many years.

The priests have consistently refused to discuss the issues, problems and unresolved tensions that envelop us. Shortly after his arrival, Fr Prindiville twice agreed to attend meetings after Mass. On each occasion he was present only long enough to make it clear to the community that he was not there to dialogue but rather to inform us that he was the parish priest and that he would tell us what to do. Subsequent invitations, written or verbal, to dialogue about parish difficulties have been ignored or refused by the priests in the parish. It is not possible to talk with them on an informal basis as they never mingle with or greet parishioners after Mass. It appears that they do not know the names of most of us and are not interested in our lives, activities or welfare.

Since arriving at Redfern, our priests have, on many occasions, seen fit to deprive the community of the most integral aspects of our faith lives. They have refused communion to people who stood ready to receive it. This exclusion from the Sacrament and public humiliation has been suffered mostly by indigenous members of our community but it has also been experienced by white people. Fr Prindiville has publicly questioned Aboriginal people about their suitability to receive communion and then refused them. In this atmosphere of hostility, baptisms, weddings and Aboriginal funerals are no longer celebrated at Redfern.

The tabernacle has been removed from the church to the sacristy, thus denying access to it. Saturday Vigil Mass has not been celebrated in the church for more than two years. The parish priests continue to refuse permission for priests who are friends of our community to celebrate it for us in our church. There is a Saturday evening Mass said in the presbytery but it is quite obvious that the community is not welcome. It is difficult, and indeed traumatic for some to approach the presbytery because one never knows when one might be subjected to abuse. On at least three occasions the priest has walked off the altar in the parish church and refused to continue Mass.

The hostile and distrustful atmosphere in which we have worshipped for almost four years, was soon evidenced when shortly after his arrival, Fr Prindiville changed the door locks and refused to give keys to any community members. This causes great inconvenience to those responsible for the extensive preparations of our twice weekly meal which is served at the back of the Church and feeds hundreds of local people. Several nuns and a retired priest are amongst those who spend countless hours working for our sharing of these meals. No members of The Way participate and the former parish priest has told us that we are merely doing what any atheist could do.

By their own admission these priests have determined to punish us, an idiosyncrasy that found form in the recent Lenten season. For more than 30 years, our community has held a weekly gospel discussion and reflection group which has, for the last three years, been preceded by a Christian meditation in the Benedictine tradition. There are no Neocatechumenate participants in either of these groups although other priests and nuns are amongst our members. The parish priest denied us access to the Church for these meetings, informing us that we “need to be punished”. Several weeks later we were told by a local newspaper reporter that we were to be allowed into our church again.

Whilst the priests have shown no regard for members of the original congregation and are liberal in denigration and verbal abuse, the first assistant priest was overtly and indiscriminately abusive of parishioners, including one of our elders who, as a nun, has given devoted service to others for more than 55 years. Over a period of two years, the assistant exhibited a pattern of grossly inappropriate behaviour which never drew admonition from the parish priest. Letters of complaint from a number of individuals brought no change and the abuse continued.

In May, 2005, the former assistant priest angrily threw our cross painted in the Aboriginal colours and kicked to pieces a small table used to hold liturgical items because the parish priest would not allow us to place them on the altar. After Mass a male parishioner approached him in the sacristy to question his violent behaviour, whereupon the priest pushed the parishioner away and called three Neocatechumenate seminarians who forcibly held him in a headlock. On another occasion, another of their number, a young male with an intellectual disability, bashed the same parishioner with the Aboriginal cross. After the first incident, the priest called the police and made false allegations to them about the parishioner. The following week a letter was received from the Junior Auxiliary Bishop, Anthony Fisher, in which he informed the community that “If there are further disruptions of the Mass, I have directed Fr Gerry and Fr Denis to contact the Police and seek their assistance”. This was the sole response from the church hierarchy to our written complaint about this unseemly incident and was written in a letter which also purported to offer the Auxiliary Bishop’s condolences on the death of Fr Kennedy.

Some of the long term members of our St Vincent’s community, no strangers to abuse, have re-experienced the traumatic sequelae of earlier abuses so that they are once more cloaked in a strong sense of their inherent unworthiness. Again afforded no solace in the practice of their religion, some are unable to continue to come to Mass. Others, more fortunate in earlier years, are nevertheless bewildered and distressed after so many years in which their Catholicism and the living of the gospel imperative has been integral to their sense of self, to be told repeatedly that they are “not Catholic”, not “the Church”, and that they are not welcome at St Vincent’s Redfern.

After approximately eighteen months of documented snide remarks, verbal abuse, vicious comments, illegal threats, intimidation, physical violence and malicious damage to property, one of our women parishioners who had borne the brunt of some particularly nasty, public and defamatory verbal abuse, submitted a case of defamation against the assistant priest to the Tribunal of the Catholic Church of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. The judgement found in favour of the parishioner (Maguire-Sudla: 200 05 165: 19 May 2006). While no explanation has been offered, the priest in question has not been seen in the parish since the issuing of the first notice. His successor is similarly unenculturated, hostile, and contemptuous of the community’s long term liturgical practices and pastoral concerns.

After ill health forced the retirement of Fr. Kennedy, Cardinal Pell promised to continue his legacy at Redfern. He is aware of the unhappy situation but continues not to honour his promise, choosing instead to give the priests his unreserved endorsement, make thoroughly uninformed comments about the situation and to vilify the community.

Both individually and collectively, we have tried many times without success to ask the Cardinal to appoint to Redfern a priest who will respect Aboriginal people and honour their culture and spirituality. In addition, we have repeatedly communicated to him our distress at the continuous exclusion and abuse of Aboriginal members of our community and the many instances of abuse of the white community by the appointed priests. Our communications are either ignored or responses are received which ignore the issues raised by us and instead, denigrate the community. Friends of our community and infrequent visitors to it, having become aware of our plight, have written to the Cardinal to convey their concern for us and have themselves received replies from the Cathedral that are either cynical in the extreme or quite openly express the Cardinal’s antipathy towards us. It is our sad conclusion, in light of the lack of response to our concerns and the abusive replies that we have received from him, and in particular through one of his press releases, that Cardinal Pell has actively attempted to harm us with slurs, untruths and the propagation of misinformation about us. We feel that he has failed our community in his duty of care towards us. A copy of our last letter to His Eminence, dated May 2006, to which we have had neither acknowledgement nor reply, was signed by more than 120 parishioners, both black and white, parishioners to whom the Cardinal has disparagingly referred as “the rump“. The Tribunal judgement of 2006 elicited no response from the Cardinal.

Your Eminence, we ask that you bring these matters to the attention of Pope Benedict XV1 and ask his Holiness to take up the matter with Cardinal Pell.

Yours sincerely,

Anne Webb
On behalf of members of the St Vincent’s Redfern Community.

18 May 2007

S.E. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re
Congregazione per I Vescovi
Palazzo delle Congregazioni
Piazza Pio XII, 10
00193 Roma Italia.

Your Eminence,

We write from St Vincent’s Parish in Redfern, Sydney, to ask you to inform His Holiness of our plight and to intervene with our Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, on our behalf. We understand the Vatican is to conduct a review of the Neocatechumenal Way (The Way), and feel compelled to express the pain and anguish we have been experiencing since clergy of The Way were appointed to our parish in July 2003. Our community has been traumatised by their abusive and divisive practices, and by their disregard for our faith practices in the church with which we have been identified for more than three decades. All this has happened despite the Cardinal’s assurance (affirmed by the parish priest) that St Vincent’s was not to be a Neocatechumenate parish.

Our history dates from Fr. Ted Kennedy’s appointment as parish priest in 1971. Under his stewardship the church was transformed into a place of welcome, friendship and liturgical inclusiveness of marginalised people, especially the Aboriginal community. Fr. Kennedy gave us a sense of our Catholic faith in a pastoral and theological way. For over thirty-five years our community has attempted to live out the Gospel imperative of giving welcome to the marginalised regardless of colour or creed. We have chosen to be challenged by the presence of God “in the least”, with whom Jesus so clearly identified, both in his earthly life and as the Risen Lord of the Gospels. We learnt that the final revelation of Jesus is not about knowing, but about loving. We have a deep and abiding love of our faith and have taken to heart the words of Pope Benedict XVI who, in an interview in August 2006 in Germany, said “We have to rediscover God, not just any God, but the God that has a human face”. That was the ideal for which we strove with Fr. Kennedy.

When a sick and frail Fr Kennedy retired in 2002, Archbishop Cardinal George Pell promised him that he would respect the special place that St Vincent’s had become and ensure that his legacy would continue. Instead, the Cardinal sent clergy with a very different agenda to Redfern, culminating in the extraordinary appointment, in July 2003, of Fr Gerry Prindiville of the Neocatechumenal Way. Furthermore, despite the serious shortage of priests, an assistant, Fr Dennis Sudla, was lavished on our geographically small parish. In January 2006 Fr Sudla was replaced by Fr Clesio Mendes. Recently, on 29 April 2007, parishioners were notified of Fr Prindiville’s departure, of the appointment of Fr Mendes as parish priest, and of another cleric of the Way, Fr Joe Pelle, as his assistant.

One by one our parish traditions and practices are being dismantled by the priests of The Way. The tabernacle has been removed from the main part of the church to a tiny locked room in the sacristy where it can only be venerated by a chosen few. Our Saturday Vigil Mass has not been celebrated in the church for some two years. It has been replaced by one held in the presbytery where we feel most unwelcome.

Over the last three years or more these priests from time to time deny members of our community Holy Communion or verbally and physically abuse them at the altar, so that many feel unable to receive the host from them. Aborigines often bear the brunt of this behaviour, leaving them no choice but to leave the altar (and often the church) confused and humiliated after being publicly challenged about their state of sacramental preparedness at the very point of receiving Communion. Instead of providing spiritual sustenance, our Masses have become a source of tension, laden with anxiety that the priests might yet again deny someone the Eucharist. Nothing, however, could have prepared us for the reality of the parish priest terminating Masses he was celebrating, leaving the entire congregation without the consolation of the Eucharist.

Any request for dialogue is rejected. We have been offended by racist comments and a lack of engagement with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. In the past, the Aborigines found a home in the parish; now many feel totally rejected. Because the priests of The Way deny the existence of Aborigines in the parish, they refuse to be enculturated. They disregard Aboriginal culture and spirituality. Consequently, during the almost four years since their appointment, the priests have not presided over any Aboriginal funerals, or confirmations, weddings and First Holy Communions for parishioners. Indeed, over their long tenure there has been only one public baptism – and that in a Neocatechumenate family.

Pope Benedict in his August 2006 interview spoke of “The new polyphony of cultures”’ and that “We must keep learning about this fusion of the different components”. Yet we had an incident where one Neocatechumenate priest, Fr. Dennis Sudla, hurled a cross painted in Aboriginal colours across the church and kicked some furniture to pieces in front of the altar. He then took the unprecedented step of calling Police to remove community members from the church, and recorded a statement with them that was at variance with the facts. We were deeply hurt and dismayed at the lack of pastoral sensitivity when these actions were endorsed in writing by the junior Auxiliary Bishop Fisher. Fr Sudla was subsequently removed from the parish following allegations of defamation brought before the Tribunal of the Catholic Church of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. He was found guilty (Maguire-Sudla: 200 05 165: 19 May 2006) and ordered to apologise and pay monetary compensation. We felt deeply pained when our Archbishop Cardinal Pell afforded us no pastoral care or concern by not speaking to us or in any way acknowledging these events.

In our experience the Neocatechumenal Way is divisive and harmful. The Church is not enriched by their fundamentalist, sect-like practices. Quantity (more priests at the altar or increased numbers of seminarians) never replaces quality. The appointment of men whose pastoral interest and theological and missiological training seem to be woefully inadequate, and who appear not to have been assessed for their leadership qualities, can only bring heartache to a parish and stress to the individual priests. Such poor formation can only besmirch Catholics everywhere.

“The Christian faith”, said the Holy Father, “is … a bridge for dialogue with other worlds”. How can this happen at Redfern when there is not even dialogue between priest and flock? The Way’s theological frame of reference suggests no need for any kind of dialogue and to that extent appears out of harmony with the Jesus of the Gospels. We believe Fr. Kennedy’s rich legacy of living the Gospel imperative in our daily lives is disregarded by priests who offer no pastoral care (they still don’t know most of our names or who we are) and actively thwart our efforts to maintain ecumenical links with those of other faiths.

We have written to our junior Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Fisher, the Chancellor of the Archdiocese and Archbishop Cardinal George Pell to ask for their help, and sought advice from the Australian Bishops’ Council, amongst others, in dealing with the intolerance and abuse to which those of us who cannot accept The Way have been subjected. Our pleas have been to no avail. We are deeply concerned that a form of Jansenism is being inflicted on the parish. We are continually reminded of our sinfulness, rarely of God’s redeeming grace. Many who had initially found their spiritual home in the parish have with deep sorrow moved elsewhere or given up the practice of their faith entirely since the imposition of The Way.

Your Eminence, we ask that you will listen to our cry for understanding and trust that you will assist us in our plight by raising these issues when the status of the Neocatechumenal Way is reviewed.

Yours sincerely,

John Hill, Elisabeth Burke
On behalf of the St Vincent’s Redfern Community.

18 May 2007

S.E. Cardinal Franc Rode, CM
Congregazione per gli Istituti di Vita Consacrata e le Societa di Vita Apostolica
Palazzo delle Congregazioni
Piazza Pio XII, 3
00193 Roma. Italia.

Your Eminence,

We are writing to you as Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which we understand deals with groups like the Neocatechumenal Way, to inform you of our experience and suffering under priests of the Way in our parish of St Vincent’s Redfern, Sydney, Australia, and to ask you to intervene with our archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, on our behalf.

Our history with the parish dates from 1971 when Father Ted Kennedy was appointed parish priest and set about transforming the Church into a place of welcome, friendship, and liturgical inclusiveness. Under his stewardship St Vincent’s became the Catholic Church for the Aboriginal Community in Australia. For over thirty-five years our community has attempted to live out the Gospel imperative of giving welcome to the marginalised regardless of colour or creed. We have chosen to be challenged by the presence of God “in the least”, with whom Jesus so clearly identified, both in his earthly life and as the Risen Lord of the Gospels. We learnt that the final revelation of Jesus is not about knowing, but about loving.

When a sick and frail Fr Kennedy retired in 2002, Archbishop Cardinal George Pell promised him that he would respect the special place that St Vincent’s had become and ensure that his legacy would continue. Instead, the Cardinal sent clergy with a very different agenda to Redfern, culminating in the extraordinary appointment, in July 2003, of Fr Gerry Prindiville of the Neocatechumenal Way. Furthermore, despite the serious shortage of priests, an assistant, Fr Dennis Sudla, was lavished on our geographically small parish. In January 2006 Fr Sudla was replaced by Fr Clesio Mendes. Recently, on 29 April 2007, parishioners were notified of Fr Prindiville’s departure, of the appointment of Fr Mendes as parish priest, and of another cleric of the Way, Fr Joe Pelle, as his assistant.

The priests of the Neocatechumenal Way have withdrawn the Saturday parish vigil Mass and replaced it with one held in their presbytery, where we feel most unwelcome; they removed the tabernacle from the Church to a tiny locked room in the sacristy where it can only be venerated by a chosen few; they regularly deny members of the community the Eucharist; they have verbally and physically assaulted us; they have threatened us and shattered and ignored our traditions and cultures. Fr Prindiville himself on several occasions has walked angrily out of Masses that he was saying, leaving the congregation stranded. And all the while they preach at us about our sinfulness.

The priests behave in a manner that has been, and continues to be, divisive, deceitful, abusive and intolerant. They deny the existence of Aborigines in the parish and refuse to be enculturated, disregarding Aboriginal culture and spirituality.

We are bewildered and deeply disappointed at their racist remarks and lack of engagement with us all, especially Aborigines. Whereas once the parish had a constant stream of Aborigines in the Church, today our indigenous brothers and sisters complain that these priests of the Way treat them like lepers and call them heathens. During the almost four years that the Neocatechumenal Way has been in the parish, they have not presided over any Aboriginal funerals. Furthermore, there have been no confirmations, weddings, First Holy Communions, and only one public baptism – in a Neocatechumenate family.

We are distraught by many aspects of the behaviour of the parish priests, such as their persistent refusal to engage with us as a community or as individuals; their attempts to stifle our liturgies and Prayers of the Faithful; and their regular displays of intense, (literally) foot-stomping anger when we refuse to comply with their bullying commands.

By their actions they appear to despise us and to lack the capacity to recognize the theologically-informed creativity we apply to bring the scriptures alive. At St Vincent’s we have a long tradition of breaking open the word of Scripture so that it may speak to us of today. The image evokes the Eucharist itself. To us, the Incarnation means that we discover the relevance of the Word to real people in real life. This brings real issues – like the often hidden sufferings of Aboriginal people or the desperate plight of asylum seekers – to our liturgy. Our parish priests may dismiss these things as “politics” but to us they are the very cry of the God seeking compassion and justice in this world. We bring issues into our liturgy because we believe that it is only in prayer that we can adequately name them.

The small number of members of the Neocatechumenal Way that attend Sunday Masses avoid our parish activities despite countless invitations to join us. On the other hand, some of their activities, in particular the assault and bullying of people and the destruction of property, would be deemed criminal under our country’s civil law. Their behaviour toward Aboriginal people (including children), the elderly, and to women, would be seen as violating our laws against discrimination.

In one incident Fr Sudla hurled a cross painted in Aboriginal colours across the Church and kicked a piece of furniture to pieces before the altar. He then took the unprecedented step of calling Police to remove community members from the Church, and recorded a statement with the Police that was at variance with the facts. The community was deeply hurt when these actions were endorsed in writing by the junior Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Fisher, who made no attempt to hear both sides of the story. Fr Sudla was subsequently removed from the parish (more details later).

Worst of all is the soul-destroying effect on us all of their ongoing abuse of the Eucharist – the way that they use their control of its distribution almost as a weapon against us. Communion has been denied to Aboriginal members of the community – especially but not exclusively children – who have no choice but to leave the altar (and often the Church) confused and humiliated after being publicly challenged about their state of sacramental preparedness at the very point of receiving the Eucharist. No white child is ever treated like this. On the other hand all of us have been taken aback when “Body of Christ” at Communion is delivered with an accusatory tone, followed by the command “Consume!” — as though the priest had some kind of inspired insight into the recipient’s supposed satanic intentions! This behaviour has made it impossible for many of the faithful to take Communion from them.

Our requests for dialogue or discussion with these priests and other members of the Way are rejected or ignored; as are any attempts to engage in meaningful dialogue with the hierarchy, in particular Cardinal George Pell, who continues to offer them unqualified support.

We are placing our trust in you because almost all our attempts to be heard by Church authorities have proved futile. The exception was the Tribunal of the Catholic Church of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory which found that we were justified in complaining about certain aspects of Fr Sudla’s behaviour – after the same complaint had been soundly dismissed by the hierarchy. The Tribunal determined that Fr Sudla had intentionally and repeatedly defamed a female parishioner over a period of 18 months (Maguire-Sudla: 200 05 165: 19 May 2006). He was ordered to apologise and pay monetary compensation for his behaviour.

The case took almost 18 months to run its course. Before resorting to the Tribunal, the parishioner had approached nine different agencies within the Church hierarchy over a period of approximately two years. Most efforts were redirected to the Archbishop, where they foundered.

We are grateful that this matter has been brought to a just conclusion through the Tribunal, but dismayed at the personal cost of seeking justice within the Church: at the drain on physical and emotional health.

We are saddened by the dismissive attitude of so much of the Church towards fair and honest criticism. We are bewildered by the fact that our Archbishop has made no effort to listen to and genuinely work with us towards equitable solutions and it is our distress about this situation which has motivated us to write to you. Time and time again we’ve pleaded with Cardinal Pell for help. Time and time again he has dismissed or ignored our complaints about the Neocatechumenate priests. And all the while he has been misrepresenting the situation and vilifying us publicly in the press, and in his letters.

The priests continue to be strongly opposed by a small rump, but they have no problems with the local people, both indigenous and non-indigenous. … the relationship between parishioners and the priests, seminarians, and families of the Neo-catechumenal Way are[sic] basically very good.

Letter signed George Card. Pell, 23 May 2006

Cardinal Pell has never acknowledged the Tribunal findings to us. We understand that he is often overseas and therefore very hard to contact, but we are deeply distressed that he has still not acknowledged a letter, signed by 120 members of the community, which was sent to him in May 2006.

Our powerlessness in the face of the injustices described has driven the community to tell its story to the world via the Church Mouse website, http://church-mouse.net. As a consequence, we have established contact with other communities, both in Australia and elsewhere, that have suffered similarly. For example, concerned members of the Good Shepherd Parish in Kelmscott, and St Gerard’s in Mirrabooka, both in Perth, Western Australia, have asked that their ongoing struggle with the Neocatechumenal Way be mentioned on the website, where their letters may be found. Although very different parishes to St Vincent’s, they too have had their communities turned upside down by what they describe as an “invasive and secretive sect”. At least two of the Neocatechumenate priests involved – Frs Sudla and Mendes – have been involved with both Kelmscott and Redfern.

We fully expect Cardinal Pell to deny our claims and/or vilify us as he has done in the past. At the same time we gain some comfort from the supportive words and actions of many priests and religious around Australia, especially the Sydney priests who celebrated Mass for us during those few years after Fr Kennedy’s first stroke. The only sympathetic senior ear has been that of the Chancellor of the Archdiocese, who openly admits that, like all the others, he has absolutely no power to help us.

It is our experience that the Neocatechumenal Way is harmful and divisive. Its Jansenistic theology and fundamentalist sect-like practices do not enrich the Church; on the contrary they drive more and more people away. The pastoral, theological and missiological training of its priests appears to be sadly lacking. Quantity (more priests at the altar) is no substitute for quality. Moreover, the appointment to the priesthood of men who have not been adequately trained in, or assessed for even basic leadership abilities, can only continue to bring heartache to parishes and besmirch the Catholic fold everywhere.

Your Eminence, we ask that you listen to our cry for understanding and trust that you will assist us in our plight by raising these issues when the status of the Neocatechumenal Way is reviewed.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Catherine De Lorenzo, Len De Lorenzo
On behalf of members of the St Vincent’s Redfern Community.

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