Dear Father Ford,
Thank-you for recounting your own extraordinary pastoral history and, more importantly, for the contribution it represents to the life of God’s people for half a century now.
You say in your letter that you were ‘absolutely astounded’ that I wrote to the Parish of St Vincent de Paul, Redfern, in the terms I did on 3 June 2006. You accuse me of one-sidedness in supporting the priests and not the people of the parish. I agree that I have spoken with very few people who attend Mass at Redfern. The reason for this is simple. More than a year ago it was decided that rather than have “too many cooks” trying to resolve matters in Redfern, they would be handled by the Chancery of the Archdiocese, not by me. So the then-Chancellor, Monsignor Brian Rayner, visited the parish on behalf of the Archbishop and listened to the grievances. I know this occurred not only from Monsignor Rayner’s reports but also from a letter from Sr Marnie who praised the visit to me. I know that there was considerable further communication of complaints of one kind or another, against both Fr Gerry Prindiville (as there was against his predecessor Fr Peter Carroll and later against his assistant Fr Denis Sudla), to the Archbishop or the Chancery, or to and through the Council of Priests, the internet and other forums. It is simply not the case, then, that only the priests were heard. I referred any correspondence I received regarding Redfern to Monsignor Rayner to deal with, including the letter to which you refer from Sr Marnie; I will pass your own letter on to his successor.
Though recent online reports suggest Sr Marnie still thinks that I am “the designated authority to pastor to the community at Redfern” (and by implication in your letter you think so too) I can only repeat: the Chief Pastor of the Archdiocese of Sydney is, of course, Cardinal Pell; the local Pastor of St Vincent de Paul Parish is Father Prindiville; as an auxiliary bishop I do what I can to help both, within the limits of the responsibility and directions given to me. We do not have ‘regional bishops’ here in Sydney in the sense that Sydney may once have had or some other Archdioceses may have today. My continuing responsibility in Redfern is one of pastoral care for the priests there (and Confirmation or Visitation when necessary, if delegated by the Cardinal).
I well realize that supporting priests does not mean accepting and affirming everything they say and do. I must exercise judgment and communicate it. But I have every indication that the current clergy of Redfern have for two years been labouring under extraordinary pressure from those disgruntled by their appointment and/or their membership of a particular ecclesial movement and/or their pastoral and liturgical style. They have experienced escalating harassment and calumny. Priests sometimes complain that they are insufficiently supported in their work by their bishops: I will continue to do my best to support the appointed pastors in my area.
My letter to the Parish was written after many reports of disruption of the Mass at St Vincent’s over several years and more recent escalation. All I asked was that the Liturgy not be disrupted and that the responsibility of the parish clergy to determine liturgical style, furnishings, assistants etc., be respected, in accordance with the liturgical norms. I understand that at times Mass there has become so chaotic the church has had to be abandoned and the Mass transferred to the priests’ house. If this is not the case-if in fact the rites of the Church and the responsibility of the clergy are being respected-then those to whom my letter was read will be unchallenged. But just as proper authority of Fr Kennedy over the liturgy was respected by others, so too I think that of his successors should be.
I am always been willing to hear any church-going Redfern Catholics, including Aboriginal Catholics, who want to express concerns to me, though I do not think a public meeting would be very productive in the circumstances. If I have done anyone an injustice by my actions or inactions I am genuinely sorry. Pastoral life today is in many ways harder than it was when you began your long and generous ministry. Parish Priests need the support of the laity even as they seek to serve them; they also deserve the care of their bishops and any clergy and religious around them. Please pray with me that the clergy and all those they serve in Redfern may continue to grow in the grace and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ and to be built up as the household of God.