Incident at St Vincent’s Church

REDFERN, NSW – Sunday, 22nd October 2006

Today I attended mass at St. Vincent’s Redfern. I went to communion and the parish priest initially refused to give me the host and waited for me to open my mouth to receive it. When I persisted and stood with my hands open, he eventually placed the host in my hand. I then walked down the aisle of the church where I broke the host to give half to a parishioner who has been too traumatized to receive communion from the Neocatechumenate priest. The priest chased me down the church aisle and demanded that I return the host. I refused and gave half the host to the parishioner.

Might I add that there are a number of people who feel that they cannot receive communion from this priest because of his attitude towards those who do not follow the Neocatechumenate Way. People come from distances to share in the Eucharistic meal and see themselves as denied or cast aside. This is the story of the Redfern parish.

But it goes much further than this. The actions and the position of the priests of the parish have been endorsed by the Archbishop of the Sydney Archdiocese who has referred to many of us as the Rump of Redfern. He also infers that we are only glorified social workers handing out condoms and syringes. Such an inference is a fabrication of the truth and a means used by the Archbishop to attempt to discredit and even vilify those who seek to live and understand the integrity of the Gospel message.

This is somewhat ironic if we reflect on the readings for yesterday’s Eucharist. Isaiah talks about the suffering of the lowly Human One. The Book of Hebrews endorses and strengthens those on the journey of faith by exhorting to "Never to let go of the faith professed". That was to prepare for Mark’s Gospel message where Jesus, after renouncing social power, is weary of explaining to the disciples what his message is all about. It was not for them to jockey for the first and second position in what they perceived as his political cabinet. What was asked of them was whether they were willing to undergo what he was undergoing.

That is where we, the supposed Rump of Redfern are at. We feel that we have been betrayed and lied to. We are saddened by the dismissive attitude of so much of the official Church towards fair and honest criticism. For over three years we have waited for the Archbishop to dialogue with us and understand our position. He has consistently refused to do so. Instead he called on a junior bishop to step in and all he did was to sanction calling the local police. The police in turn said that it was a matter for the parties concerned to work out a solution for all concerned. A solution seems light years away because of the totally dismissive attitude of the church authorities.

The Church Regional Tribunal for New South Wales has found a priest of the Neocatechumenate movement guilty of defaming a long time parishioner. The Tribunal’s definitive judgment was that the priest had defamed the parishioner by publicly insulting and denigrating her. Such defaming continued for some eighteen months. The priest did not exercise the right to appeal the decision of the Regional Tribunal. The officials of the Sydney Archdiocese have remained silent. Continually, the message from the pulpit is conformity to their ways. They are right they say because they have the full backing of the Cardinal.

In many ways one feels this is almost surreal, as though we are living out the story of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoyevski’s ‘The Brothers Karamazov’. The Inquisitor told Jesus when He returned to earth in Seville that there was a fundamental error in the Gospel message. Jesus had preached that humans should freely give up the flesh and follow Him. This was an error in the eyes of the Cardinal Inquisitor. For him only a very few have the strength to follow the radical teaching of Jesus. The ordinary folk cannot make their own way and can only find happiness by forsaking their freedom and turning their affairs over to the church. It is then that they will find happiness. The end result was that Jesus had to die again for the safety of the Inquisitor’s church and his authority.

This seems to be the situation in our church in Redfern. Where to from here? I doubt whether becoming the Catholic Hillsong brigade will ever bring us closer to the Gospel message. But that seems to be the aspiration of the leaders of the church in Sydney. All that we ask for is that we will be listened to and that we will not suffer the indignity of being treated as the Rump of Redfern.

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