The Reality: Kiko and Screaming in Kelmscott
Mr Ernie Samuels, of the Good Shepherd Church in Kelmscott, West Australia, has written to Archbishop Barry Hickey alleging abusive behaviour by the assistant priest, Fr Richard Tomelty.
Mr Samuels claims that a meeting the attended for the purpose of discussing the use of the parish hall was diverted into a series of questions about allegedly disgruntled parishioners. Good Shepherd Kelmcott has had two Neo Catechumenate clergy since 2001.
“I felt threatened and vulnerable, being alone and having to confront two priests who were very visibly agitated and out of control,” Mr Samuels wrote to Archbishop Hickey. “The arrogance, bullying and provocative manner is fast reaching a point where (our) tolerance is becoming more and more difficult.”
Another parishioner, Clive Maher, told Online Catholics that there was widespread concern that the Church property and hall were being used to recruit people to the Neo Catechumenate Way. The recruitment material supplied show an invitation to Catholic and non Catholic adults for catechesis. It does not refer to the Neo Catechumenate Way.
In another letter to the Perth Vicar General, Fr O’Loughlin, yet another parishioner pleads for intervention by authorities to resolve divisions in what is now ‘a parish within a parish’. Maurice Hirjee writes: “We were asked to participate in an Adult Catechesis… We thought this was more about building on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a strengthening of our faith. The sessions were introduced as if though the Catechists were in fact sent by the Bishop to the parish. We believed and attended. No questions were allowed and no note-taking permitted. We were betrayed when we eventually discovered that this was in fact a recruitment process for the Neocatechumenal Way…”
Founded by a Spanish painter Kiko Arguello, the Neocatechumenate Way began in Italy in 1964, where it became very strong amongst conservative youth. Essentially anti-democratic, anti-intellectual and anti-communist, the Way sees itself as offering ‘post baptismal catechesis’.
The Way’s growth has been phenomenal, and it operates in 1,500 Roman Catholic dioceses in over 180 countries. There are 46 “Redemptoris Mater” missionary diocesan seminaries which include one in Perth and one in Sydney. Young men self-select to go on a special retreat to Rome. After this they may be sent to a Redemptoris Mater seminary somewhere in the world, for a period of up to seven years. The ordained Neo Catechumenate priests are then sent on to yet other location in the world to minister in parishes. The Australian Catholic bishops sponsored 160 religious workers from overseas in the 12 months until last September. They came predominantly from Asia, Latin America and Africa. It is not known how many are of the Way.
In a related development, a Catholic priest in Tasmania has written to the troubled Aboriginal parish at Redfern, which also has Neo Catechumenate Way priests. Fr John Girdauskas of Queenstown, Tasmania, has written of his experiences of the Neo Catechumenate Way from the point of view of a non ‘Neo Cat’ parish priest in Melbourne:
“As a priest, I worked from the beginning of 1994 to the end of 1996 in a parish in western Melbourne, where the Neo-Catechumenate had been asked to leave my predecessor because of a whole range of painful issues… there was much pressure and persistence to ‘get back’ into the parish… There is so much that shows us, through local experiences (Australia) and overseas (UK and Wales), that sadly the Neo-catechumenate movement has caused more pain and division than unity or peace. They also seem answerable to no one, think of themselves as “the only way” and have no regard for the local parish community, let alone the local parish priest.”
However the President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the US Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, believes that the Neocatechumenate Way is an answer to a crisis in parish life worldwide. In 2003 Cardinal Stafford was reported in the Boston Archdiocesan paper, The Pilot: “Many of the problems that we are experiencing in the priesthood, especially the sexual abuse, are due to a crisis, not just an acute crisis, but a long-term crisis in the parish,” the cardinal said. Cardinal Pell, who is known to be close to Cardinal Stafford, believes that ecclesial renewal movements such as Focolare and the Way offer “a clear sense of direction and support” in parish life.
Kelmcott’s Ernie Samuels is not convinced. “I am now aware that I will never allow myself to be ambushed again by seeing these priests alone,” he says.
It is understood that Archbishop Hickey has not replied to any recent letters from parishioners at Kelmcott.