Rise up for a Just Church

Online Catholics, 9 August, 2006

Who really gives a fig about Redfern? If it were East Timor or West Papua the letters would be flying in all directions!
My mail this week revealed the usual clutch of bills and brochures, but the letter that caught my attention was an envelope with “Rise Up for a Just Church” emblazoned across the front.

The contents revealed the latest letter from the American lay activist movement Call to Action, celebrating its 30th year in 2006. Interesting I thought: 30 years of advocacy for the accountability of bishops. Thirty years of asking the hard questions about the place of the laity in Church governance, the future of the priesthood and the thorny issues of sexual orientation, race and the role of women. Thirty years of working for justice and dignity within our Church.

But who really gives a fig about all these issues?

Call to Action obviously does, but what about Australian Catholics?

For most, all this is really a matter of Ho hum, yawn. Let me know when it’s all fixed and I might prise myself out of my comfy parish pew to get involved. And maybe they are right; our parishes today are hardly hotbeds of discontent.

Parish life runs smoothly as long as you have enough people to finance the pastoral needs and the committees are full of willing workers to make it all happen. Church law defines the jurisdictional and public ministries of priests and those employed by the Church, and is a strong deterrent to public utterances of discontent, which can be very risky if you want to keep your job. As a result injustice within the Church is a very controversial topic for public parish dialogue and is generally saved for conversations among trusted friends.

Should Australian Catholics publicly call into question unjust actions within our Church? Our Catholic formation has certainly sensitised us to the consequences of silence and inaction on justice issues.

What becomes of parishes like Redfern if we remain silent? Are they are left to fight the battle on their own?

Do we stand by and watch from our parishes thinking: Thank goodness we don’t have that problem here. Let’s get on with organising our next function. During this week many of us will gather with other parishioners or colleagues at meetings and slip an intention for Redfern into the essential opening prayer. This will probably be followed by the essential exclamations about how dreadful it all is.

Is this really enough?

What would you do if Redfern were your parish?

In Sydney on Pentecost Sunday, I sat beside long-serving parishioners from Redfern and listened to them speak with pain and passion about their community. One could only stand in solidarity with the people of Redfern after hearing their stories of marginalisation.

The article, John Paul’s words a weapon in parish war by Peter Lalor (Weekend Australian, August 5-6, 2006), is surely our very public invitation to express our solidarity. Maybe this time our distractions, parish commitments and fears will not excuse us from taking the risk.

Think about it. If this injustice were happening in, for example, East Timor or Western Papua, our parish social justice groups would be penning letters in many directions to all concerned. So why not apply the principles of Catholic social teaching to Redfern and see, judge and act accordingly?

Write to your Bishops, even the Cardinal, but more importantly let the struggling people of Redfern know that you stand in solidarity with them.

Catholics belong to a very powerful Church whose public voice demands, in the name of Christ, integrity and justice for all creation.

Catholics also belong to a Church that sometimes fails to critically examine its own actions against the tenets of the gospel it proclaims.

So this time – Give a fig! and rise up for a just Church.

by Paula McLeod
Paula McLeod is committed to a just Church. She is interested in the influence of parallel organisations (e.g. Call to Action) in shaping our vision of Church. Paula is currently completing an M.A. (Theology) with a particular focus on women’s formation and conversion in the Catholic Church.
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