Redfern and keeping the Peace

Perhaps it was the sheer numbers who came for Fr Ted Kennedy’s funeral. Perhaps a riot was brewing. Whatever it was, the Sydney Archdiocese has authorised the pp to call the police on his community.

A few days after last month’s funeral of former Redfern parish priest Ted Kennedy, NSW Deputy Premier Dr Andrew Refshauge paid tribute to the great man in State Parliament. Referring to the “fast track to sainthood” that Pope Benedict XVI is using to expedite the cause for the canonisation of his predecessor John Paul II, Refshauge suggested emphatically: “Father Ted Kennedy should be on it.”

Without realising, he then went on to state the reasons Kennedy is not on the fast track: “He was… a pebble in the comfortable boot of the establishment, an untidy prophet and an enemy of cruel blindness and petty pomp.”

The context was Pope John Paul II’s positioning on the said fast track, which occurred almost before he was dead and buried. A holy man no doubt, but from a different holiness mould to Ted Kennedy. The late Pope’s incomparable charisma, not to mention his skills as a diplomat and an actor, meant he tended not to cause discomfort to the establishment. He came across as tidy, and the pompous and cruelly blind were only too willing to be associated with him. If Ted Kennedy and George Bush had ever met, it’s hard to imagine them saying nice things to each other. Yet it was no problem for John Paul.

Mother Teresa is another holy person on the fast track. She had many of the qualities of John Paul, although in different measure. It could be said that she was able to confront the privileged in a more striking manner, but at the same time managed to maintain their esteem and patronage. Ted Kennedy shared her devotion to the poor. But prophetic as he was, much of what he said was not conducive to the fostering of friendship with those in high places. It did not impress those who might put him on the fast track to sainthood.

Cardinal George Pell observed: “He was a man of strong convictions who worked hard to help those on the margins”. (In other words, he did not please those not on the margins). Cardinal Pell went on to say that he “will be sadly missed by his friends and former parishioners” (but not the pillars of society at large).

Having set himself an impossible task, Ted left much unfinished business. He inspired many people to work for Reconciliation in the context of the Christian Gospel. But he was never going to be an easy act to follow. Indeed, some in his community appear to have learned little from their mentor: there are a few at St Vincent’s who have reduced the issues to personality and preciosuness. Fr Ted would never have made that mistake. For him, the task of reconciliation was the point; it was the work. But because he did not, largely, see fit to lobby and build bridges with those in authority, the Archdiocese failed to provide clergy willing and able to carry on that work.

Moreover, he left the Archbishop with a stark choice – either to re-commit the Redfern parish to the poor, or to administer it in such a way that the poor will be pushed back to the margins. Father Ted was not a man of mediocrity, and he left a community that was run in such a way that there was no room for compromise.

Last Friday, Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Fisher was deputed to fax to the parish community what could well become a landmark communication. The definitiveness of the letter was an implicit acknowledgement that there was no possibility for compromise. He said that he had directed the priests of the parish to seek assistance from the Police to ensure that liturgical norms are respected. It was official, the poor were back on the margins.

Bishop Fisher did express the wish of the Archdiocese for Father Ted’s legacy to be “carried foward”. It seems he naively believes that could occur in a faith community that required police assistance to maintain order. It was noted several times recently that Father Ted had often had to resolve problems with unruly members of the community, but that he had never seen fit to call the Police. When the Redfern riot occurred in February last year, parish priest Fr Gerry Prindiville was asked what he was going to do in response. Nothing, he said, it was a police matter.

At least Ted doesn’t have to worry about encountering the highway patrol while on the fast track to sainthood.

Source: Editorial, Online Catholics Issue 55

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