Online Catholics Issue 3, 9 June 2004
A plea for intervention by Cardinal Pell in the increasingly fraught situation in the Aboriginal parish of St Vincent’s, Redfern, was apparently withheld from him for two months.
Br Michael Gravener, a St John of God Brother and a social worker at the Block, wrote to the Cardinal in April. Br Gravener believes that Aboriginal people are being denied basic justice by a model of ministry offered by the Diocesan Neo-Catechumenate priests. "There is a failure to acknowledge Aboriginal spirituality by our current parish priests, and a lack of understanding that to Aboriginal people, St Vincent’s Catholic Church is itself is a sacred place. This is so because of St Vincent’s was where many of the Stolen Generation came from the missions to find their families. Many of them also died here – some literally in the Church buildings where they stayed when they had no where else to go."
Br Gravener eventually received a response from the Cardinal’s private secretary, Dr Michel Casey. Dr Casey indicated that the view of the Archdiocese was that constructive dialogue must include the current reality of the incumbent priests at Redfern. Dr Casey also indicated that Br Gravener’s Superior, Br Peter Burke, would be asked to counsel Br Gravener over the matter.
Br Gravener told Online Catholics that the tensions at Redfern show the truth of Pope John Paul II’s observations about the Catholic Church in Australia. Back in 1986, in an address to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Alice Springs, the Holy Father said:
You are part of Australia and Australia is part of you. And the Church herself in Australia will not be fully the Church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been joyfully received by others.
Br Gravener said, "there is a lot of criticism over our attempt to continue the work of Fr Ted Kennedy. Some people say that we should just get over that ‘Ted Kennedy theology’. But Ted’s real legacy is to Gospel values: ‘whatever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do to me.’ The way the Catholic Church in Australia responds to Aboriginality will reveal the depth of our commitment to those same values."
Just before going to press, Online Catholics was contacted by Michael Casey. He reports that the Cardinal is well aware of the letters from Br Gravener, which are regarded as "vexatious". The Cardinal, he says, is involved in the efforts to bring peace to Redfern, a situation that is "improving".
What these efforts are, and what improvements have resulted, are not known.