I have been a priest of the Archdiocese for over 47 years and have had appointments in a great variety of parishes and much pastoral experience; assistant priest in Eastwood, Annandale, Penrith, Liverpool – where I was also ministering as an army chaplain during the Vietnam War and managed the Catechetics for eighty state school classes each week – Castle Hill, Kogarah, St Mary’s Cathedral; I was Director of Students and Bursar at Saint Patrick’s Seminary at Manly, assistant at Malabar and Chaplain to the hospital at Little Bay, Parish Priest of Pyrmont and chaplain to the Seafarers having responsibility for the Stella Maris Seafarers Club in which we ministered to many, many seafarers of different races, colours and creeds, Parish Priest of Avalon where we were the first parish to initiate the RCIA programme in the Archdiocese, of Stanmore and of North Leichhardt. I was also a foundation member of the Council of Priests and a foundation member of the Charitable Works Fund committee. I retired from North Leichhardt and then helped Fr Ted Kennedy when he became ill about six years ago.
I celebrated Mass at Redfern every weekend during that period of time, before the arrival of Fr Peter Carroll and then Fr Prindiville and lately, Fr Sudla. To my knowledge I have never had any problems nor complaints against me in ministering to people during that whole period of 47 years including my time spent with the community at Redfern, where, since the arrival of the above priests, I have attended Mass on many, many occasions. I mention these things only that you might at least understand a little about where I am coming from and to appreciate the fact that I do not have any agendas other than to proclaim what I believe to be true, just and fair.
I was therefore absolutely astounded when I became aware of the letter you wrote and caused to be read by Fr Sudla before Mass last Sunday, especially since you have not spoken with any members of the community who attend Mass there – unless it has been to Neo-catechumens – many for years and years, highly regarded people who have been supportive of Father Kennedy for long periods of time. I know that his sister, Sr Marnie Kennedy, received no answer from you though she did invite you to come to speak with and listen to the people. On your part, it has been a very one-sided affair, because you have only listened to the priests and not your people. Many of the matters raised in your letter are neither true, which you may not have known, or else not factual and without foundation because the community was not consulted. This simply amazes me and is beyond my comprehension. Without specifically refuting the matters you speak about in your letter, I believe that if you had come to visit the people and listened to them you would have perhaps arrived at a different point of view. I am reminded of your coat of arms which has as your motto “Speaking the Truth in Love” because your letter was neither the Truth, perhaps inadvertently, nor in Love because your people had no chance to defend themselves from your accusations thereby being treated without Love.
I personally support the people of the community in their endeavours to carry on the great traditions of the saintly Fr Kennedy which were to bring truth, justice and care for the marginalised to a church which prides itself on such virtues, as well as to bring about reconciliation with the original people of this land and perhaps, as a sign of the good will of our Church to give back some of their land for the consolidation of the Aboriginal Medical Centre here at Redfern. This tradition was spoken about with great feeling by numbers of highly respectable citizens at his funeral just a couple of weeks ago.
I have no idea about your attitudes to the Neocatechumenate Way but the priests currently at Redfern profess such a Way and it is absolutely incompatible with the ideals which have been proclaimed there by the community for many years before and since the death of Fr Kennedy. I also would mention that when Cardinal Pell visited on the occasion of Fr Kennedy’s retirement, which the Cardinal accepted, he promised to appoint a suitable Priest to carry on his work. I do not think the Neocatechumenate priests can do this. It is interesting to note that Fr Prindiville stated that they had not come to establish a Neocatechumenate Parish at Redfern yet at the Sunday Mass last week there were fifty eight people who followed that Way together with the seminarians who attend from their seminary.
In conclusion, I believe that you owe the community an apology for the letter you have written and caused to be read out. There is indeed a need to come and hear the people you should be ministering to and to say sorry.
I would appreciate, at your convenience, an acknowledgement that you have received this letter.
Father John Ford
Leichhardt N.S.W. Australia