The Religion Report Transcript

The Religion Report: 28 July 2004 – St Vincent’s Redfern

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National Religion Report is a guide to religious affairs in Australia and around the world. This weekly half-hour program offers analysis of events shaping the world of religion and the religious events that increasingly seem to be shaping our world.

Wednesdays at 8.30am, repeated at 8 pm

Presented by Stephen Crittenden

Stephen Crittenden: Welcome to the program.

This week we’re looking at tensions in the inner Sydney Catholic parish of St Vincent’s Redfern;

The Catholic parish of St Vincent’s Redfern, sits bang in the Aboriginal heartland of inner Sydney. There, over more than 20 years, former priest, Father Ted Kennedy, created an extraordinary, freewheeling community that brought together Sydney’s most marginalised, with the well-heeled. In 2002, Father Ted retired, owing to serious ill health, and it seems things haven’t been quite the same ever since, and particularly since Cardinal Pell appointed two priests from the conservative, neo-Catechumenal way to take over the parish. There have been heated arguments; funerals and Holy Communion have been denied to residents of the parish, and one priest even got hosed down. With a garden hose, that is.

Well Jeremy Hartcher is a communications student from the University of Technology in Sydney. He made his first communion at St Vincent’s Redfern, and managed to get back inside his old parish church to find out what was going on. He even managed to do what we haven’t done so far, and that is, get an interview with the current parish clergy.


Ted Kennedy: But gradually the Aboriginal people who are undoubtedly the most dispossessed in Sydney, found it became their home, and I think I see now that this place, the old Presbytery is much more the home of the Aboriginal people than it is mine. I like to think of myself more as their loving friend, their guest.

Jeremy Hartcher : Father Ted Kennedy, speaking to the ABC in 1982.

In 2002, illness got the better of him, and Ted was forced to retire. Michael Gravener, a brother of St John of God, has been a member of St Vincent’s parish for over five years. He lives and works closely with the people of Redfern, and runs a support house down by the Aboriginal housing estate, known as “The Block”.

I asked him what had happened to the St Vincent’s community after Ted’s retirement.

Michael Gravener: What happened, we had priests who came in and virtually want to whitewash the history of Ted and the history of the people and the history of the community that still exists there. And the consequences of that was, you have a – it’s a bit like Captain Cook coming back into this country and just walking into an environment which the Aboriginal people of Redfern find very sacred.

upsot: Fr Dennis Sudla preaching at Sunday Mass in St Vincent’s

Jeremy Hartcher: The new priests at Redfern belong to an order called the Neo-Catechumenate. According to parishioners, they were imposed on St Vincent’s by Cardinal George Pell, without consultation. Cardinal Pell had previously vowed to uphold Ted Kennedy’s legacy, but many believe the arrival of the Neo-Cats has destroyed any hope of that. The group is led by an Australian priest, Father Jerry Prindiville , who had been working as a missionary in the West Indies. Before coming to Redfern, he’d had no experience with urban Aborigines, and has struggled to gain their support.

So what would you say to people who think that your way of teaching is damaging the relationship with the church and Aboriginal people?

Jerry Prindiville : Well first of all, very, very few come to church. I mean you’d probably get about five or six Aboriginals that have ever come to church there, even before I came there were very few Aboriginals coming to this church, even though it has a reputation of being a church for the Aboriginals, they are not churchgoers in this parish.

Jeremy Hartcher: So how would you like the church and the things that you do, how would you like to run that if the other people weren’t so influential?

Jerry Prindiville : Well like a normal parish, where the priest is there, with the co-operation of the parishioners, working together to preach the Gospel, to catechise the children, to administer the sacraments. And just be able to work together. The priest can’t do everything by himself and the people can’t do anything without the priest. So together we have to work together.

Jeremy Hartcher: Father Jerry Prindiville .

In Father Ted’s day, the Presbytery was open all hours. Now, Margaret is told to come back next Sunday.

UPSOT Fr Dennis Sudla (assistant priest at Redfern) speaking with Margaret

Jeremy Hartcher: Father Dennis Sudla is the other Neo-Catechumenate priest at St Vincent’s, and he also describes Redfern as a normal parish.

Dennis Sudla: Our task and mission here is nothing but normal, it’s normal as in what would you do in a normal parish.

Jeremy Hartcher: What’s Brother Michael Gravener think of the idea that Redfern is a normal parish?

Michael Gravener: I don’t really understand what they mean by normal. If normal means allowing people into a church to fulfil their sacramental duties and then walk out and continue life as is, well that we could say was the normal parish environment. But the situation at Redfern is much different. It is an area which is focused for Aboriginal people as very important to them in the status of Aboriginal people in Australia. It’s a place where a lot of things have grown from this environment. Father Ted was very much a support towards the Aboriginal Medical Centre, you had people like Naomi Mayes, who’s the head of the Aboriginal Medical Centre, the Blair family, who are very instigating in the Aboriginal Housing Company, all that came from a lot of talk and a lot of advocacy from the church environment here. So it’s really important space. So it’s not a normal parish in that sense, but it’s very much part of the Catholic church and part of the tradition, and we very much follow the Catholic church and honour our faith and our baptismal rights.

Jeremy Hartcher: Marnie Kennedy is Ted Kennedy’s sister. She says that although their intentions may be good, the Neo-Catechumenate approach is too conservative for a place like Redfern.

Marnie Kennedy : The sort of god that is projected by them is severe, there’s a lot of emphasis on sin and guilt and shame. Well that’s no help.

Jeremy Hartcher : Have there been any specific incidences of confrontation with the Aboriginal community and the Neo-Catechumens?

Marnie Kennedy : Oh yes. We have had hundreds and hundreds of funerals through the years. Ted has buried hundreds of Aboriginal people. He has never questioned whether they’re Catholic or not, so a few weeks ago, one of the elders died, Aunty Betty. So her daughters came and asked if she could be buried there, because her son had been buried, I remember her son was shot dead, he was buried from Redfern, and we supported them through their tragedy. So she wanted to be buried in that same church. But they had to go round to the priest’s place to ask for permission to use the church.

Jeremy Hartcher : This is Jerry?

Michael Gravener: Jerry. And so he didn’t express any condolence, he said to them, ‘Are you Catholic? Is your mother a Catholic? If not, how could she be buried in the church.’ And so that sort of thing goes round the Aboriginal community like fire. They have an enormous underground communication, so they pass on to each other that this is not the place to come.


Stephen Crittenden: That story produced by UTS communications student, Jeremy Hartcher. And tonight on Encounter at 10 past 7, you can hear a feature on St Vincent’s Redfern, produced by David Rutledge.

Guests on this program:

Michael Gravener O.H.
Parishioner of St Vincent’s Redfern, brother of the order of St. John of God
Marnie Kennedy R.S.C.J.

Parishioner at St Vincent’s Redfern, and religious sister of the Society of the Sacred Heart
Jerry Prindiville

Parish Priest of Redfern

Further information:

An unofficial website reporting news on St Vincent’s Redfern

The Neo-Catechumenate

Presenter: Stephen Crittenden
Producer: Noel de Bien

© 2004 Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Copyright information:
Privacy information:

Source: Extract from

Report on

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply