Fisher’s response to Peter Maher – more truth spoken in love

Speaking the truth in love
Eph 4:15
13 June 2006

Rev Peter Maher

Dear Peter,

I refer to your letter of 9 June 2006. I did try twice on the Tuesday to ring you and the phone rang out without going to any answering machine.

You say that many Redfern parishioners have written many letters to me about the situation there over the past two years: in fact only one parishioner has done so, Sr Marnie Kennedy. You say that a group of people “have been begging a bishop or representative to speak to them about the escalating hostility” but that this has been denied them. This too is untrue. 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.

Thereafter I referred the only correspondence I received regarding Redfern – from Sr Marnie – to him to deal with; I will do the same with your letter to his successor. When Sr Marnie contacted me again, implying she still thought I should be dealing with these matters, I wrote to her to explain this was not the case. 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. Your letter alleges that the clergy of Redfern have terrorized their parishioners, been insulting, humiliating and violent towards them, refused them communion because they are black etc. These are very serious allegations which I will of course refer them to the Archbishop. But I must say that I have had every indication that the clergy of Redfern have for the past 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, especially when they ask for my help.

You accuse me of a ‘shocking’, ‘biased’ and ‘unreasonable’ response in writing to the parishioners of Redfern in the terms I did on 3 June 2006. 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 and have 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. I am also willing to hear you out as you remind me I have promised previously. 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 35 years of 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.

Yours fraternally in Christ

(Most Rev) Anthony Fisher OP
Most Reverend Anthony Fisher OP, DD BA LIB BTheol DPhil
Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney
‘Buruni’, 341 Old South Head Road, Watson’s Bay NSW 2030, AUSTRALIA
. Tel: (+61 2) 9337 2033 . Fax: (+61 2) 9337 2933 .
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