Tablet article – lazy journalism

The following item, which appeared in the Tablet earlier this month, is nowhere near the normal standard of articles published in that venerable journal. It is riddled with errors and misinformation, which could readily have been avoided had an attempt been made to look at both sides of the story.

Police called to Aboriginal church demonstration.

Police have been called to a Sydney church that was at the centre of an innovative ministry to Aboriginal people only days after a bishop warned parishioners against disrupting the liturgy.

Parish clergy who are members of the Neocatechumenal Way called the police after a disturbance at Mass on 5 June[1], only two days after the Sydney auxiliary bishop Anthony Fisher had written to parishioners of St Vincent de Paul in the inner-city suburb of Redfernasking them to support their clergy.

Last month, parishioners mourned their former parish priest, Fr Ted Kennedy, who had helped establish a team ministry with a heavy social-justice emphasis for more than 30 years until ill-health forced his retirement in 2002 (The Tablet, 28 May). Bishop Fisher, in his letter, first acknowledged how deeply loved Fr Kennedy was by his community. “I know that you will want to carry forward his legacy by ensuring that there is a vibrant and holy Catholic community in Redfern for many years to come,” the bishop wrote. He then appealed for cooperation with the appointed clergy, led by the parish priest Fr Gerry Prindiville, and said he was aware of disruptions to liturgy outside the rites of the Church[2] and without the permission of the clergy. “I know that there are strong views and emotions around some of these matters,” Bishop Fisher wrote. “The Liturgy is not, however, the place to express such differences of opinion by defying the appointed celebrant of the Mass or the liturgical rites of the Church. If there are further disruptions of the Mass I have directed Fr Gerry and Fr Denis [Sudla] to contact the police and seek their assistance.”

The current conflict centres on a small table, topped by a red, black and gold cross (the colours of the Aboriginal flag) that was placed in the church by some supporters of Fr Kennedy[3] and then allegedly damaged.Fr Sudla is believed to have objected to the use of the small table, known as the Aboriginal altar, which customarily had been brought up to the main altar at the Prayers of the Faithful[4] as a memorial to honour the Aboriginal people who had suffered or died as a result of European settlement. He is alleged to have kicked the table during Mass on 5 June. A parishioner remonstrated with him after Mass, a heated exchange is believed to have followed and police were called.

Fr Prindiville told The Tablet he was away from the parish when the incident occurred and that there had been no problem last Sunday. He described the situation with the protesters[5] as “extremely difficult, you can’t discuss anything with them[6]”. The protesters had very little to do with the Aboriginal community[7], he said, but were “disciples” of Fr Kennedy from his days as a university chaplain[8].

Mark Brolly, Melbourne The Tablet – World Church News – 18 June 2005

[1] The incident referred to actually happened after the 6pm Mass on Sunday 29 May, several days before Fisher wrote his letter.

[2]The St Vincent’s community is exercising its right under Church law to worship in the manner that is traditional to the parish. In particular: acknowledgement of country (recognition that we stand on Aboriginal land) and the offering of Prayers of the Faithful by individuals.

[3] Ted no longer needs our support – he has achieved his eternal reward. Quite the contrary – we now need his support, and pray for his intercession.

[4] The table is normally positioned in front of the main altar before Mass begins. It was introduced to provide a place for symbols relevant to the liturgy when Prindiville refused to allow anything to be placed on the main altar.

[5] Members of the community who refuse to obey Prindiville’s edicts have been called “protesters” and “protestants”. They have also been told in no uncertain terms and on numerous ocassions that they are not Catholics.

[6] Prindiville has been approached many times, both formally and informally, to engage in dialogue. His interpretation of discussion can best be summarised as “shut up and do as I say – I am the parish priest”.

[7] Prindiville and Sudla, of whom the local Aboriginal community has said “they treat us like lepers”, only seem to engage with Aboriginals long enough to brush them aside. They have no inkling of the St Vincent’s community involvement with the Aboriginal people because they refuse to talk to them.

[8] A small number of St Vincent’s community members knew Ted when he was chaplain at Sydney University. Most, however, (including Prindiville’s so-called protesters) have not had the privilege of his friendship for that long a time.

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