Outlook Book Reviews


Ted Kennedy (Preface by Prof Tony Coady), Sydney: Pluto Press, 2000, pb, 152pp, ISBN: 1864030879, $24.95.

Those like me who have admired Fr Ted Kennedy for years have keenly awaited this book. The fruit of many years in his double role as Parish Priest working amongst Aborigines in Redfern and as support and guide to educated laity gravitating to his Masses there, it draws together ideas that have informed his thinking and marked his preaching for a long time.

Ted’s chief charism, it seems to me, has been the ability to take a fresh look at anything, no matter how familiar it may be or how settled our thinking on it may seem to be. His sermons are marked by a theological probing backed up by wide reading; by a supple handling of Scripture; by a strong historical sense and feel for literature; by a tender pastoral concern; by a passion for genuine freedom of spirit, and consequently, by an ever critical sense of the way the pronouncements of churchmen either square with the Gospels or else, like the Pharisees, impose intolerable burdens on the faithful.

These qualities also mark the book – the pity being, perhaps, that it is not longer. Its relative brevity, however, is explained by the sharpness of its focus – the warning that the way of thinking of Melbourne’s Roman Catholic Archbishop Pell threatens to return that Church to a dead, hard state that the Second Vatican Council seemed to have led it out of. “I have passed through this country before,” says Ted, “and it makes me want to shout danger.”

It is a book that will shock, perhaps, because, born out of such intense distress, it launches so strong an attack on Pell. This is on two fronts, both involving his response to oppressed marginal groups.

The first is the Rainbow Sash people, the homosexual Catholics to whom the Archbishop refused the Eucharist recently; the second, Victoria’s Aboriginal people about whom and whose history he seems almost totally uninformed.

The second section will, I think, cause less commotion. The facts that Kennedy sets out not only allow of no dispute, but will be recognised by anyone of goodwill as an important contribution to the subject of Aboriginal Reconciliation.

” … we don’t have a big number of aborigines in this State,” says Pell, and “I am neither a frequent nor an outspoken supporter of Aboriginal issues.” “Why not?” shouts Kennedy, quoting as an instance the editor of The Hampden Guardian, who wrote on 12 September 1876 that the history of the Western Districts could never be written “for it would be such a long record of oppression, outrage, wrong and cold-blooded murder on the part of ‘the Superior Race’ that it dare not and therefore never will be written.” (The facts, of course, indict, not only Pell, but also all of us who have informed ourselves so little on the history of white cruelty and injustice to Aborigines.)

And the facts indict, too, almost the whole line of Australian Bishops who, Kennedy shows, hardly ever spoke with pastoral care for the Aborigines unless prodded into it by Rome. Even Polding’s now famous condemnation of white cruelty and injustice (1846) turns out to have been made “behind closed doors”.

It is the first section of the book that is likely to cause commotion, not just because a priest speaks so fearlessly to an Archbishop, but because he speaks with such theological daring. “Some time ago I suffered a stroke,” says Kennedy,” which triggered in me a decision to live as if I were dead, to state things without fear or compromise.”

The bullying that Michael Morwood suffered at the hands of Pell recently because of his splendid Tomorrow’s Catholic is something that Kennedy does not have to face, but one fears what he may suffer at other hands.

That Pell thinks wrongly and acted wrongly Kennedy argues from a wide range of authorities, principally from Newman on conscience, but also from Rahner, Häring, Jungmann, Durrwell, Merton and others. It is a rich and complex argument involving the claim that during sixteen centuries the church’s thought diverged from that of its first four centuries – thus minimising Paul’s central insight that Christ dwells amongst us; making God more distant and formidable; downgrading the place of the Eucharist in Christian life and exalting the role of Confession; changing the emphasis on what was serious sin; underplaying the importance of individual conscience; and distorting the nature of Church authority and pastoral care.

Vatican II challenged all these things and every strand of its reformed thinking indicts Pell’s treatment of the Rainbow Sash people.

The brave, the prophetic Kennedy deserves our thanks.

Joseph CASTLEY has taught English in a church school in Sydney for many years.

URL: http://members.ozemail.com.au/~wfnev/may00books.htm

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