Thank you for your letter of August 13, 2006.
It was good to see your letter acknowledge that OUR Parish “has particular characteristics, with its indigenous population and the significant heritage of Fr. Ted Kennedy’s work”. We note with interest and pleasure that this is the first time you have made such an acknowledgement.
We would like to acknowledge your request for cooperation and harmony, and your expression of an earnest desire to fulfil your role in the parish as you see fit.
At the same time we note that since your appointment over three years ago, the Community has remained hopeful of witnessing your “great love and respect for our indigenous brothers and sisters”. We draw your attention to the large number of written and verbal complaints that have been made to you expressing concern over the ongoing disregard for, or unawareness of, Aboriginal culture and spirituality. We are deeply concerned that you and your assistant priests have seen fit to ignore and ridicule lawful customs of our parish. How many Aboriginal funerals have there been here during the last three years? How often have we seen Aboriginal members of this Community publicly challenged about their state of sacramental preparedness at the very point of receiving the Eucharist, and turned away from the altar, confused and humiliated? We are painfully aware that non-Aboriginal people are treated differently. To refuse Holy Communion to any person not prohibited by the Church from receiving the Eucharist is a violation of the norms of the Church you say in your letter “must be respected by all”.
For over thirty-five years this Community has attempted to live out the Gospel imperative of giving welcome to the marginalised regardless of colour or creed. This inevitably translates into a disruptive and demanding invitation to accept individuals who have been born into structural violence. We have chosen to be confronted 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. After all, the final revelation of Jesus is not about knowing but about loving.
Your acknowledgement of the importance of social and justice aspects of Church life begs the question: when and where do you find the “time and place” for them? 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. You may consider 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.
Fr Gerry, last Sunday during the celebration of the 10 am Mass you left the altar at the Offertory, for your stated reason that you regarded the words of the Offertory Song as “political”. Your action of walking out and thereby terminating the celebration of Mass deprived us of our Sunday Eucharistic celebration and of our bread of life for the week’s journey. This is a violation of the community and of your own priesthood of the Jesus who came to serve. It was a violation of “the norms and traditions of the Church” that you say in your letter “must be respected by all”. The Community remains deeply grieved that as the parish priest charged with the pastoral care of our parish you would act in a way so violative of your duties.
We appeal to you to resume your place as the celebrant in our Community. We believe that the Gospel of Jesus requires that both priest and community approach each other in a spirit of honesty and forgiveness for the process of reconciliation to begin.
Mary McMahon, Clare Maguire, Peter Griffin, Len De Lorenzo
For and on behalf of the St Vincent’s community