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No more secrets
 A homily for Child Protection Sunday at St Joseph’s Newtown Sept 9, 2012

I almost never read a homily but I want to speak on a topic that requires more than my normal confidence to preach without notes.

This is child protection week and I want to say something as a response to the tragedy of the destruction of people’s lives through the sexual abuse, especially of the young, by people representing the church.

I have found this particularly challenging.  Why?  Well priests are seen by society, and indeed by many Catholics, as the problem or a potential danger in this regard and thus the least qualified to speak. I have a real fear of making matters worse.

Priests are supposed to be leaders; spiritual guides and prophets.  I feel like the prophets of old when they claim not to know how to speak.  I am called to proclaim the truth and be prophetic in the light of injustice and oppression but on this occasion I only know that not to speak is no longer an option.  And yet to say something as if I know what to say might just offend further.  My initial response is to say I don’t know what to say or how to say it. 

In thinking about this, I have come to see that as a priest, I am part of the institutionalised structure in which clerical abuse has been able to live and grow unstopped even by those trying to help.  I have to come to realise that the culture of clericalism is responsible for the ongoing tragedy that has left the vulnerable unprotected and unhealed by a leadership too willing to be hoodwinked by the doctrine of a priesthood that places priests above other human beings and what they call “the good of the church” above destruction of lives.  I have come to see that the need to maintain power and control left the vulnerable without a voice – unsupported by the very people who claim gospel authority.  For this - I am sorry.

I have recently had to admit to myself that my failure to speak clearly about this tragic injustice has been because I am confused about what to say and how to say it.  I am somehow caught in the system and I am afraid I will sound phoney and defensive - adding to the problem rather than advancing the healing. It is difficult and confusing – but this is no excuse to stay silent.

Church spokespeople have all too often tried to make sense of the role of the church and its representatives in this crisis only to appear defensive and thus insult those who have been abused because the church and its “good name” remain privileged in the discourse rather than allowing the pain and despair of the victims to be heard and respected and honoured, as it must be, if justice is to be done.  If there is to be healing we must be clear that honesty and justice must come first.  South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commissions may not be perfect but they have succeeded far beyond the church’s efforts which many victims see as defensive and in the church’s interests first. This is one thing that must change.

What is missing for many victims abused in the church is any form of dialogue that might privilege the victim’s stories.  Yet this is the first step in healing and reconciliation. Why is this? I think it is because church representatives are still trying to address this tragic abuse from a position of power – that is to say, maintaining its distance from the problem by the insistence on institutional innocence.  I think it’s time to be more real and recognise that it is primarily an institutional failure: a failure to recognise that unfettered clerical power created a climate in which on-going abuse could go on unabated; a failure to recognise the victims plight; a failure to speak up on behalf of the victims and a failure to act in defence of the victim rather than the institution.  

In the light of this reality, I have been struggling to find an image that might facilitate a genuine dialogue with people so profoundly ignored and left to heal themselves.  I am working with the image of the wounded church offered by Adrian McInerney, Parish Priest of St Alipius parish in Ballarat East. He recently wrote that we might reflect on the Pauline image of the church as the “body of Christ” and begin to accept that none of us is immune from the difficult malaise we are in. We are in it together as a theological imperative and we need to accept that we are a wounded church – that is to say a wounded people.  Then he goes on to say we might find a way of acceptance, not in a passive or defeatist way, but in actively embracing the figure of Jesus who, “like the suffering servant of Isaiah, took our sins upon Himself.  The Passion of Jesus offers us a model of how we might act, for surely we will be stripped of our garments of pride and power and position” (Article to be published in The Swag, Summer 2012). 

And all this without trivialising the woundedness of the victims. Their space often seems to have been taken over by a communal outpouring of a shared grief and loss as if their the victim’s loss can somehow be subsumed into everyone else’s. That shared space must now give way to privilege a space for the victims and their woundedness.  This must be always over and above the larger narrative of a communal woundedness. Our communal shame, our move toward humility must always be in service of the victims of abuse.

Taking on board this attitude might lead to a healthier dialogue.  This approach reminds us we are all complicit by our inaction, we are all involved by our being church and we are all responsible for creating a safe place for the vulnerable.

I recently spoke with a woman who found the touch of a work colleague uncomfortable. She said, “it’s not sexual abuse – I just don’t feel comfortable when he does that”.  I reminded her it was sexual abuse.  Maybe she did not feel in danger of being molested or sexually interfered with but it is sexual – every touch and word comes from who we are and we are sexual beings.  We are responsible for how we interact with others making sure our words and actions are not over-reaching into other’s personal space. This is especially true amongst the young and vulnerable – those who are unsure about themselves or who are still searching out the meaning of their identity in the world.  We are all responsible for this safety everywhere in the world, but especially in church settings where an offensive word or action may leave people whose space has been invaded turning away from themselves, the church and God.      

But if we are to privilege the victims, the last word must be that of the victims and so may I read a poem by a victim and survivor of clerical sexual abuse written for this weekend.

No More Secrets

No Hidden secrets: one, facelessly Breaking Silence
on 'wrong' touch (AND word/s).
About & for ALL Children of God especially young & vulnerable.
One, given just that much voice, saying otherwise
cannot now, know, offer or receive love.
One of us one of you. One abused. A call, "SPEAK OUT"....
loudly, NOW..... on " wrong touch  AND word/s ".
Proclaim, loudly right word & touch.
Can't express ? Love ? No time ? No energy ? No Value ?
No... voice ? Don't touch ? Too much 'risk' ? Can't touch,
too many broken pieces ! 
Too broken, now ?! Lifeless ?
This can be a time to notice continually, choices in words touch & Love.
Daring to care, enough. (Then, of the next " day of remembering ?)
For me, it is to now facelessly break-in to my own, silence.
This, although we have so frequently shared.
This year, season or week or simply this day
we can know closeness and love,
be active witnesses to it and bannish silencing & silence.
Silence, bullying & silencing, clearly the fertile ground for abuse.
Inappropriate touch or word
the sexualizing of unequal or professional / pastoral
or family or therapeutic relating or relationships.
Fertile ground for abuse to occur & grow.... into local culture/s.
Do we approach & question & put & name
Truth, Light & Love where shadows cannot, can NO LONGER, EXIST ?
OUR Love, light & voices, ( here, locally); precious,
to be known, seen, heard, and guarded. Love, touch, speech & closeness never to be hidden but proclaiming & loudly (?) Proclaiming.
& so, yes, loudly we ALL CAN cry out & yell,
naming ALL that does not seem or feel right or true or fair or loving.
NO MORE..... hidden. No more in secret.
I have been privileged to join a group of great adult educators authoring a book just published called Spiritulaity, Mythopoesis & Learning. It is an academic book in the field of adult transformative education edited by Peter Willis et al from the University of South Australia. It is about how people make and remake meaning through imaginative ways of using personal narrative. It explores how this area of education theory intersects with spiritulaity. The book has a number of chapters where authors explore their use of these processes in practice. My chapter explores how personal story and imaginative narrative tools are used with a gospel spirituality of detachment and healing to transform grief and loss after an abortion. This is explored in the context of the Rachel's Vineyard Healing Retreat.
Copies of the book will be available soon from Post Pressed http://www.postpressed.com.au/

Just a small taste of my chapter:
"The retreat uses storytelling and Christian symbols to empower those caught in the trap of grief and guilt. When I was first introduced to the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat in 2000, I was intrigued by the enthusiasm of the participants and the clarity of their healing. As a retreat facilitator, I was struck by the transformative power of storytelling in the retreat process. I remember hearing participants recall on the Saturday the horror of the abortion event, what led to the abortion and its effects, with predictable expressions of hopelessness, pain, low self-esteem, and inability to find healing, forgiveness and love. Through the retreat process there was almost equal certainty that their stories of fear and loss would be transformed into stories that held out hope for change, recognition of the reality of what had happened and a chance for healing from the debilitating grief and loss that had been a constant part of their lives, bearing scars of varying degrees. I became interested in what brought about that change. The storytelling process has the power to help participants see the story again from a new perspective; recognise who is suffering and in need of healing; and rewrite the story in a way that is more truthful and helpful. They now hear themselves describing the event and its effects with greater compassion for themselves and others in their story.

Many events occur in our lives that disorient us. It might be falling in love, a car accident, taking an overseas holiday or losing a loved one. These events can have a transforming effect in our lives or leave us overwhelmed and unable to function, even if only temporarily. In transformative learning theory, these events can be referred to as the ‘disorienting dilemma’ (Mezirow 1991). The disorienting dilemma can be used to help someone grow or it can be a missed opportunity for growth. Many participants on Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats report that they found the abortion experience to be a time of diminishment rather than growth. Those working in this ministry have been privileged to facilitate processes that can turn that around and allow the disorienting dilemma to become a moment of growth.

The learning/healing approach used in the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats is one of mutual nurturing and storytelling. This learning takes place through a series of processes that identify a more connected way of imagining and understanding the story, its veracity, its actors and its aftermath in the participant’s life. This is achieved through mutual respect for the participants’ personal stories and practices, enabling their story to intersect with some key Christian rituals and symbolic practices. These include reading stories from the gospel with a meditation and ritual that help bring the story into the participants’ lives and various imaginative prayer practices including guided meditation, music and song.

We also use the Catholic sacraments of anointing of the sick, reconciliation and Eucharist. Anointing of the sick emphasises healing from grief and loss. The sacrament of reconciliation focuses on healing guilt, not just around the abortion itself, but around the ongoing poor self-image that seems so common among participants. This sacrament invites participants to embrace a God who still loves them no matter what and we then invite them to re-imagine themselves as good, loving and lovable, which we consider a key element in the meaning of this sacrament. It also symbolises a re-connection with the church, which for some is extremely important as they feel alienated from their faith. The Eucharist is also a sign of re-establishing ties with the community from which they feel alienated. In the Catholic symbolic story world, receiving communion is the ultimate sign of acceptance, something they feel they have lost through their past actions." (p230-231)

Re-membering Beauty – a Reflection on Priesthood

Re-membering Beauty – a Reflection on Priesthood in the Year of the Priest. Nov 2009 
Peter Maher

“A priest is not special kind of man; a person is a special kind of priest” noted Tom Bass, the Sydney sculptor, as he reflected on his journey through Christianity some years ago. (Sunday Arts, ABC TV. 19.11.2006)

In the year of the priest this comment reminds me that the primary understanding of priesthood in the Catholic Church begins with that shared by all the baptised. Tom Bass confronts the binaries of doctrinal and theological language that would have us fight over who is the greatest (Mk9/35). Bass encourages us to talk of a deep spirituality born of the imagination, poetry and art as we try to make sense of the mystery of the church and the relationships, ministries, power and status of its members.

I want to explore the notion and place of priesthood as expressed in Lumen Gentium (LG) (Nos 9 - 10), the Second Vatican Council document on the Church. How can we honour the complexity of the two notions of priesthood using a poetic lens? I want to honour the theological notions while situating them in contemporary experience and its consequent questions. I will approach this with a skepticism worthy of our faith and by honouring the mystical nature of the reality these concepts aim to convey. Let’s walk gently and without undue certainty on this sacred ground. My hope is that by exploring this terrain poetically we might address the questions with openness and wonder freeing us to see new ways of understanding the reality of the relationships between the People of God, the priesthood of all believers and the ordained priesthood. Then drawing from my experience, I want to review present trends, signs of hope, some implications and new possibilities.

I want to reflect on ordained priesthood as a way of collaboration for creating a better world rather than a competition for status or a cause for reinstating ordained priesthood as superior or of greater importance.

What is at the heart of the notions of a “common priesthood” and the “ordained priesthood”? The church document notes: “Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ordained or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ” (LG 10). This fails to address the problem faced by those who use and abuse the power of the ordained priesthood over the common priesthood. My approach is to begin with the fears and hopes of the People of God as seen in LG 9: “At all times and in every race God has given welcome to whom so ever fears God and does what is right. God, however, does not make people holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather has it pleased God to bring all together as one people, a people which acknowledges God in truth and serves God in holiness… …calling together a people made up of Jew and gentile, making them one, not according to the flesh but in the Spirit. This was to be the new People of God”.

Despair and Beauty
Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, The Leaden Echo & The Golden Echo, offers a poetic exploration of our common fear and our common hope. He begins by asking us to reflect on the beauty-less landscape with which we are so familiar: “How to keep - is there any any, is there none such, nowhere known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, lace, latch or catch or key to keep Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, ... from vanishing away?” and how this has brought us into the pit of despair: “O there’s none; no no no there’s none: Be beginning to despair, to despair, Despair, despair, despair, despair”. (Hopkins, Gerard Manly, Poems and Prose of Gerard Manly Hopkins, WH Gardner editor, Penguin classics 1953, p52-4)

But there is in our memories a hunger for the beauty only just beyond our reach. Hopkins believes we are capable of recalling this beauty not just as backward memory but as a co-creative project with “the one”: “Spare! There ís one, yes I have one (Hush there!)” This “one” is the key to the undoing of the haze of despair so that we might in some way re-member beauty: “Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver ….. When the thing we freely forfeit is kept with fonder a care, Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept”. Hopkins invites us to dare to look beyond our broken dreams in a courageous journey to find an answer: “Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where. - Yonder. - What high as that! We follow, now we follow. - Yonder, yes yonder, yonder, Yonder”.

This poem expresses the dark despair we might feel as we gaze upon the world of war, desperation, disadvantage, discrimination, poverty, environmental disarray and endless dispossession and vulnerability. Hopkins calls us to be immersed in the futility and helplessness of the decay of beauty, yet to compel us to find energy to act. But there is one, ‘a golden echo’, still hiding in the dark sun. He calls us to sense that echo of a glorious reality bathed in sunlight and deep-blue sky. Hopkins strains to enkindle in us the energy to recall beauty by literally breathing it back into existence in a kind of emergency resuscitation. We can re-member a world of beauty if we try. There is enough breath to clear the air and make a blue sky appear once more. It is the quality of care that gives back beauty when breathed in concert with ‘the one’. Somewhere within the human heart and the universe hunger there is a memory so sacred that it can restore life into a broken despairing world.

Maybe some of the difficulty of the theological terrain of priesthood in Lumen Gentium could be overcome if we begin with Gerard Manly Hopkins’ poem. Then we might read Lumen Gentium as a call to work together as a people of the Spirit, purchased by beauty for the purposes of resuscitating beauty by breathing life into the despair on the faces of a broken people. Read in this way the collaboration would include all, not just Jews and gentiles, but Muslims, Buddhists and environmentalists, those protesting war’s futility and pain, those working to bring people out of the slavery of refugee, war and poverty camps, those seeking equality and human rights for Indigenous people, the disabled, the elderly, the sick, gays and lesbians, the unemployed, the disadvantaged and the exploited.

Then in some kind of symbiosis, the priesthood of all believers would work with its co-relative, the ordained priesthood, to enact the renewal of the heart of the world. Only together can these two realities, the second a subset of the first, be a force for engaging Hopkins' ‘the one’, ‘the key’
who partners God’s people in the sacred art of calling humanity back from the brink of despair by gently pointing to the beauty glimpsed by yonder shore. Surely we can together make beauty visible enough, just enough to rekindle a hope, even if still darkly. Any notion of priesthood as power, control or self-claimed authority would break the fragile membrane of a recalled trust, clouding its very beauty and the hope of vulnerable people.

Unmasking the Beauty
The mystical union of Christ and the People of God enables a partnership between humanity and ‘the one’ to continue the task of unmasking the beauty within and without, the divine presence in all things. Only together and as equals can the People of God work towards their calling. Together as one humanity we share Hopkins’ pit of despair. While often frustratingly out of reach, there is only one deep common cause and aching that joins us all. We might therefore seek to enact together a priestly re-membering of beauty.

Let’s have no argument about who is the greatest, who gets called by names of principalities and powers, or more truly, long-dead empires. If our deep Christian tradition is to be honoured we must all be servants and willing to lay down our lives for care and nurture of one another and the earth. Until we are strong enough to lay down titles and honour systems that divide, let’s at least accept that the division of ‘priesthoods’ these create are surely counter to the spirit of unity and service in the gospel. The distinctions within our notions of priesthood must never set us apart and thus cause scandal and cloud the call to beauty, equality, justice and love.

My experience as an ordained priest is littered with examples of honour systems that divide, leaving the People of God in grief and confusion at being cut off from sharing equally in our sacred call to unmask beauty. Poor decisions, negligence, laziness or just having a bad day are human but if this is combined with a deeply ingrained and unhealthy culture of deference to ‘Father’s decision’ members of the ordained priesthood in our present system may deeply fracture the path to beauty.

I recognise that it is not solely the fault of the overworked or stressed ordained priest when we all inhabit an unhealthy culture of ordained priesthood. However, there is a growing awareness and indeed a clarion call from the people of the common priesthood for ordained priests to become aware and take responsibility, indeed co-responsibility, for the sacred trust we all share. It is no longer acceptable for ordained priests to fail to update educationally or ensure appropriate self-care, spiritual direction, consultation and pastoral supervision. These have been seen as essential helps for decades in the helping professions.

All other helping professions require a certain standard of on-going education and self-care. Ordained ministers who lag behind in this betray their partners in the common healing purpose. Human foibles can be forgiven, but not making use of the readily available and proven methods of learning from experience, professional supervision and opportunities to grow holistically must now be considered culpable negligence.

I have had the privilege of many sacred partnerings that express in some ways the common journey of hope. I am deeply aware that in my early months as an ordained priest, sensing the loneliness, the ill-preparedness and dysfunctionality of parish life, I found the parishioners I befriended and with whom I shared personal and professional goals indispensable to a healthy ministry. Together we achieved such things as an ecumenical letterdrop to all homes in the parish; a parish prayer group; a successful partnership in managing the Catholic Youth Organisation, a weekly parish bulletin and a small youth choir, These were real partnerships in gathering the whole People of God in our common sacred co-responsibility.

Another enduring partnership has been in youth ministry . I have enjoyed working with many teachers in the Catholic and State systems. The most enlightening times were when we worked together to create meaningful rituals appropriate to the ages of the children with whom we were working. I also worked for 2 years with the Marist Brothers Retreat Team assisting 15 to 18 year old students to articulate their journey in search of a hope-filled future. It was not just the partnership with the teachers, but also the students that enabled me to reflect on and engage with the reality of our common fear and pain and notice how together we could address their meaning in the search for wonder.

This experience was repeated in a marvellous way at the University of Technology, Sydney where I was chaplain for 14 years. As part of a multifaith team I found the dialogue with ‘every race’ (LG 9) including many creeds a chance to experience the greater call that unites us all in the way of larger service. Partnerships with administration, staff, students and other chaplains proved to be an unmasking of beauty for all involved. It was also a privilege to work cross-culturally with students and chaplains through the International Movement of Catholic Students and the National and Global Chaplains’ Organisations. These stretched my imagination, co-operation and education in the mentoring and journeying-with enquiring and justice-focused minds, hungering hearts and activist bodies.

Rachel’s Vineyard Healing Retreats ease the burden for men and women suffering trauma and pain after an abortion experience. I was encouraged into this ministry by a marvellous woman, Julie Kelly, who has enabled this ministry to spread throughout Australia. It is another example where collaboration has brought tremendous healing and hope to many. The common priesthood of all believers in a dialogue with the ordained ministry is able to reassure these broken people that there is still beauty in our fragile world and they are called to be a part of it.

As I reflected on positive partnerings, I noticed the ministry of parish priest conspicuously missing. This is partly because I have been very privileged to minister in so many diverse and authentic ways other than as parish priest. However it also reflects the danger in the parish/hierarchical system which leaves parish priests more like managers and building/maintenance consultants than engaged in a co-operative ministry of healing and hope. When those in traditional parish leadership are saddled with the vestige of hierarchy and submission these can subvert the co-operative and collaborative sharing in the common priestly mission.

Parishes can be a very unsatisfactory way to live the “People of God” dream poetically and with imagination. Where the system denies equal voice to all who participate in parish ministry, this leaves the parish priest the last resort for every problem and question and when decisions are taken, he routinely becomes the final arbiter. If conflict occurs he may become the fulcrum of complaints and stands in a no man’s land either at the mercy of the people or the bishop. A system that lays all responsibility, and thus power, at the feet of the parish priest can become a recipe for failure as it easily breeds distrust and disunity.

However I don’t believe parish ministry is irredeemable. We should reform the system along collaborative lines including more sustainable, equitable and shared power structures. The inclusion of all, irrespective of gender, race or sexual orientation, in all ministries including ordained ministry is essential. While awaiting these developments, there are ways I have experienced a deep and wonderful co-operation in parish ministry.

In my current appointment at Newtown there is a wonderful growth of compassionate ways to be in ministry together. Women minister communion to the sick regularly and compassionately. There is a series of events that foster a more socially just world and a shared ministry offering educational opportunities. There is a regular support group for gay and lesbian Catholics, their families and friends. A community garden is a shared project between parishioners and local residents. These are just a few examples.

Local parish ministry is by no means discounted as a locus for co-operative ministry but it is hampered by an overly hierarchical system that leaves many priests overly tired, bureaucratically exhausted, emotionally wrought, spiritually dry or organisationally suffocated. And for all the bishop’s words of thanks and support, the priest is only too aware that the next phone call could be the bishop or his office with another form to fill in, some charge to answer or other ‘matter of state’, rather than a real support that acts as a pointer to beauty.

Possibilities and Dreams
How might we move forward in these times when imagination and creativity seem swamped by an unhealthy demand for an orthodoxy of enthusiasm which is no orthodoxy at all? How might priestly ministry in its wide meaning negotiate the fragile patterns of relationship in creation? How can we together become facilitators, leaders, co-operators and signs counter-cultural to war, greed, power and destruction maintained by the principalities of the world? How might we better reflect and live the gospel values as an invitation to the world that another way is possible, rather than regurgitate its words packaged in empty lofty worn-out church speak, pietism and dry doctrine?

I find the pre-conscious, intuitive insight and skepticism of youth inspire me and invite me to seek another paradigm in which to engage with the sacred trust of all believers. It is a courage and lightness of being that calls us to be beacons of hope in a despairing world and to seek ways that empower the voiceless and lost to recall and re-member the “beauty-in-the-ghost, deliver it, early now, long before death Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver. (Hopkins, The Golden Echo)

What some see as signs of fear in our church, I see as signs of hope. The refusal to submit to uninspiring and un-poetic liturgy, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is really a hopeful resistance to a monochrome and deadly view of ritual. The utilitarian approach to church attendance reminds us to take a collaborative approach to ritual that reflects the real issues of people’s lives and the need to imaginatively create ritual space in which people can integrate their questions into their lives. The passion for justice and fairness without reference to stifling Catholic guilt is a hopeful sign where people consider the oppressions and hurtful relationships in the world and take time to address, analyze and consider action.

The refusal to enter priesthood and religious life, especially by the young, when the church refuses to question its understanding of equality, authority, sexuality and gender remains an open challenge to the deeper and broadest nature of priesthood. These questions confront the notion and exercise of authority and hierarchical power that is alien to our world and, many would argue, the gospel. Many are scandalised by these gaping wounds and either completely reject the institutionalised Church, move aside or silently wait in the pews for a more enlightened time when their ‘common priesthood’ is more respected. Meanwhile they maintain their baptismal right to the Sacraments which they hold deeply sacred. I find amongst those who have abandoned the institutional Church because it is too manipulative for their spiritual health, the celebration of the Sacraments are often deeply missed. This is clear when working openly in public institutions as was my experience in university ministry.

Many people across all age groups, cultural backgrounds and sexualities are reassessing their relationship with the institutional Church, but the most healthy hopeful sign is among the youth who do this without regard to destructive Catholic guilt and its authoritarian culture.

Sin, Power and Authority
Some Church leaders like to talk about a ‘return to an appreciation of sin’ as an answer to the disaffected. By this they mean that priestly authority and status might be restored where ‘the sense of sin’ requires ordained priestly forgiveness. They believe that maybe a healthy round of Catholic guilt might kick start a return to traditional church. However I believe that re-membering beauty is precisely in rediscovering a way of seeing sin as the dysfunction of beauty and love. This may be done by pointing, now and then, to the signs of hope enacted by the common human struggle for justice and love rather than a disembodied doctrine that is so disconnected to the reality of people’s lives that they either rile against it or ignore it. It is the manner of communication, the superior tone and the language used that leaves church-speak languishing, rather than the underlying curiosity around the values they seek to address.

Today Catholics tend to refuse to be scolded back into the shopping list of sin and generally ignore any form of the Sacrament of Reconciliation that requires such thinking. Catholic thinking today is more like the reflection of Rodrigues, the Portuguese priest detained under the Japanese persecution of the Christians in the 1590’s in Endo’s novel. “Sin, he reflected, is not what it is usually thought to be; it is not to steal and tell lies. Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind. And then for the first time a real prayer rose up in his heart.” (Endo, Shusaku, Silence, translated by William Johnston, Taplinga Publishing New Jersey 1969, p86)

In these times of brutal war crimes of mass murder of women and children in Iraq and Afghanistan by both sides, suicide bombing and “collateral damage”, it is not surprising that ordinary Catholics are far more in tune with Endo’s chilling definition of sin than the pietistic antiseptic form in the return to Confession. Jesus reference to forgiving a brother seventy seven times (Mat. 18/22) seems more in tune with a notion of sin that is about being unaware, than a list of minor transgressions. The seventy seven times is more likely to reflect a lack of awareness of the ways we could invest in restoring beauty. It turns our attention to the strategies of denial and distraction that keep us from owning up to the signs in our physical world and our bodies that are calling us to act justly and compassionately rather than with the apathy of sinful silence. Examples include a refusal to notice our role in wars, global warming, poverty or injustice. It is either beyond our small vision, too painful to include, too time consuming to consider or excluded from our spiritual search.

That many Catholics reject the shopping list notion of sin and the mechanistic forms of Confession and embrace the larger notion explored here might be viewed as a positive call to change and indeed to restore the social forms of the Sacrament. Then this important priestly task would become a collaborative effort to speak bravely to ourselves and our world in a Sacrament of healing and mercy. At the moment it can sometimes more resemble the brutality that is ‘quite oblivious of the wounds … left behind’ (Endo).

Here again we can be mired in a tangle of power relations of the who and when of forgiveness. We might turn our attention to pointing directly to the source of shadowy despair while recognising that lack of awareness of the brutality is at the heart of sin. All are called to share equally in the process, method, ministry, responsibility and sheer joy of being shepherds of liberation. This task is for all to share because it is too much for only a small elite, no matter how much power is unfairly thrust upon them.

This brings us to what continues to bedevil the chance of true collaborative ministry. In the Catholic church’s hierarchical model that is born of the Roman Imperial system and has forgotten its gospel roots we still see power and control enacted by “ordained” edict. Parishioners to this day are told to obey the priest because the Church says so. Even when the priest is ‘right’ this is blatant spiritual abuse. Generally, such manipulative attempts are ignored. Although where a culture of fear and power still exist some parishioners are still unable to act authentically with horrible consequences. If we must retain this language, is there a way to redeem its meaning? How do we stop the toxic mix of obedience and authority being little more than “kings lording it over those beneath them and those who have authority being given names of honour”? (Lk 22/25) We must discover the way of authority and obedience where the chief is like the servant (Lk 22/26) not by sophistry where the reality of domination does not change, but by an honesty that is transparent and promotes genuine collaboration at every level of church life.

Pope Gregory the Great, the patron saint of musicians, singers, students and teachers and prolific writer and liturgical reformer of the sixth century was the Barack Obama of his time. He was known as Gregory the Dialogist for his commitment to dialogue. In his Homilies on Ezechiel he noted: “In Holy Church everybody supports the other and is supported by the other” (Hez II, 1.5(1311). 76,938d – 939c); while in his Commentary on the Book of Job he noted: “Since the Church is founded on a solid platform of humility, she can point out the right path. But to do that she does not use her authority, but rather persuades with reasons, as if to say: tell me whether I am wrong. As if she openly says: do not let authority be the basis of your belief in my words, but let your own reason tell you whether my words are true. Even when she says that human reason must not enquire into what cannot be understood, she uses rational arguments. But when heretics argue, they often become embroiled in fights”. (Mor. 8:2,3 (242), 75, 803cd)

It seems he understood that the practice of authority must be civil and reasoned discourse where the one with power listens and gives reasons for their choices of words that enact their decisions. This is done as a way of mutual support for all and by all. He could have added for future generations that this awareness needs to be multiplied by the extent to which one holds power, an imbalance felt deeply by many, especially women, in the church structures we experience today.

The christian priesthood system continues to need reform in every age. Here I have tried to point towards some places we might begin a conversation about how to be more true to our tradition. I have explored themes using a poetic reading of texts that they might offer a way forward more consistent with the gospel. In this year of the priest may ordained ministry become more married to the hopes and struggles of the people so that we move closer to the collaboration dreamed of by some at Vatican II over 40 years ago and that which Jesus hoped for over 2,000 years ago.

Peter's Farewell speech at UTS

Peter Maher, Catholic chaplain at UTS 1995 - 2009
Friends - thank you for being here today - I am most grateful to you and the university for honouring me this way
I would like to begin by recognising the Cadigal and Kuring-gai peoples - the traditional owners of the land on which the university stands.
In July 1995, I was appointed Catholic chaplain at UTS in the new Visiting Chaplaincy established by the university. Margaret Edmonds was the Director of Student Services. She had seen the value of a multifaith approach to university chaplaincy during her time at Sydney University working with Robyn Johnson who was Catholic chaplain there at the time. Margaret had a vision of a team that served the university following the best practice of Australian and overseas universities. This involved a partnership between the churches and faiths, and the university. This arrangement included a formal agreement whereby the university invited church and faith bodies to nominate chaplains who were appointed by the Vice-Chancellor to assist the university in making available to all staff and students pastoral and personal support.
UTS began a modest but professional Visiting Chaplaincy under the direction of the then Head, University Counselling Service, Chris Hepperlin. Adapting the excellent guidelines of the University of Newcastle, the UTS Visiting Chaplaincy soon took shape as the UTS Multifaith Chaplaincy Service which was located on level 19 of Building one. I was privileged to work with Chris and the other chaplains until the UTS guidelines were produced. I became the first Chaplains' Representative of the UTS Multifaith Chaplaincy and I remained in that position till concluding my time at UTS in February this year.
The multifaith chaplains began to contribute to the university community through regular forums and events that opened up spaces for thoughtful reflection on issues and values that may assist staff and students in their lives and work. We began to work with Student Services to address current issues or respond to critical events on campus so that holistic care was available to students and staff. As all the UTS chaplains are part-time, these have been modest but important contributions to the university community.
I will remember with greatest pride the times I have been able to be present with students and staff who appreciated a listening ear and a few words of encouragement without reference to sectarian interests. This is the day to day work of chaplains in a secular institution. Those chats, formal and informal, offer an independent caring face within the university. I also remember the times I was able to support students seeking a voice on social and ethical issues such as freedom from discrimination on the grounds of ethnic, racial, cultural or religious background or on the basis of gender, disability or sexual orientation. I am proud to have been associated with student campaigns opposing war and discrimination, and also campaigning for better student conditions. I am particularly proud of the close association I have had with Student Services, the Equity and Diversity Unit, the UTS Union and the UTS Students' Association.
On October 14, 2004 the new Multifaith Centre opened on Level 3 of the Tower providing much improved facilities for chaplains and those using the Multifaith spaces. There was special attention paid to the requirements for Muslim students. This centre provides adequately for the spiritual and pastoral needs of students and staff.
I would like to recall some moments that have been special to me over my years at UTS. I was privileged to be on committee of the Equity and Diversity Unit called the Cultural Diversity Network which contributed greatly to the recognition and celebration of difference at UTS. When the Queer space provided by the Students' Association was found to be marked with graffiti that seemed to come from Christians, I was proud to be a signatory on a letter written by Mike Paget, the Anglican chaplain, that noted how unchristian that activity was. This letter was posted on the wall of the queer space. Other notable contributions of the Chaplaincy have been the response to the Bali bombings and the pastoral and ritual assistance after a suicide on campus.
As the Catholic chaplain I was privileged to work with the International Movement of Catholic Students, Australia and its affiliate bodies in the Asia Pacific and internationally. On campus, the UTS Catholic Student Movement actively engaged with the Asia Pacific region. The UTS Catholic Asian Student Association has also been a part of my work here at UTS. May I mention some student leaders including Niko Winata, Rachel Galea, Minh Nguyen, Aaron Tang, Robert Day and Michael Ormerod who have been especially influential in facilitating my ministry with the UTS Catholic Student Movement and the UTS Catholic Asian Student Society over the last 13 years. These networks combined with the Tertiary Campus Ministers Association of Australia, the national professional body for Multifaith chaplains, and its international links, have been the backbone of my professional training and support. I am still the Vice-President of the Tertiary Campus Ministers Association of Australia.
I am particularly proud of the Catholic Mass that has been celebrated each week, except in January, throughout my time at UTS and was begun by staff over 30 years ago. This could not have been done effectively without the support of many staff, students and priests but Susanna Gorman, Joe McMahon, Fr Patrick Sharpe and Michael Ormerod have been particularly important in providing this ministry to the Catholic community at UTS.
At a personal level, there has been an enormous growth in my appreciation and understanding of how the church might enter into dialogue with secular institutions to work toward civil society. Chaplaincy in a secular institution is a partnership that creates space for people to grow and explore their potential through the prism of their faith and/or spirituality. This aspect of education for life has been embraced by the university. As UTS Catholic chaplain and UTS Chaplains' Representative I have learned much through practice, and reflection on practice. This has been helped by my fellow chaplains here at UTS, and in other universities around the world where I have fostered professional networks. The students are also great teachers. Much of what I have learned about living the gospel, applying gospel values to students' lives, engaging with the civilising forces of the world and working at the margins of society and church has been discovered in partnership with students' concerns, and their methods of reflection and direct action. Pastoral supervision, consultation and professional appraisal, along with spiritual direction, have been constant companions in the process of learning effective ministry in chaplaincy and maintaining professionalism.
Being at UTS has also offered me opportunities for formal learning. I have been privileged to experience the best of UTS formal education graduating with a Masters in Adult Education in 2001. Through teachers skilled in experiential, community and work-based learning such as Mike Newman, Sue Knights, Alex Nelson, Griff Foley and Jane Sampson, I engaged in the kind of learning that has informed my chaplaincy work, my ministry as a priest and my life. There have been numerous opportunities for formal and informal learning over these 14 years. However the Masters Degree in Adult Education and being honoured with a Human Rights Award last year, the Ally Award Celebrating and Supporting Sexual and Gender Diversity, will stand forever as two concrete symbols of everything that UTS has meant to me for my life and work. Together they represent how theory and practice work together to offer hope and support to the people with whom I shared stories, fears and dreams as chaplain at UTS.
But of course none of this would have been possible without the vision and commitment of the University itself. Today every university has a chaplaincy service. I have worked with chaplains from Australia, Asia and many parts of the world. I have been privileged to host two national conferences of the Tertiary Campus Ministers Association of Australia and I have attended three International Conferences while being a committee member for the International Conference in Brisbane in 2004. I say this only to add credibility to my claim that the commitment of the UTS Executive to the UTS Multifaith Chaplaincy and Centre is the envy of many chaplains I have spoken to from around the world. UTS does not have the biggest space, the largest number of chaplains or the most expansive program but it does have a practical commitment to best practice, practical and personal support for chaplains, and it provides adequate resources for the chaplains and their programs and student and staff needs.
As Chaplains' Representative I have been the beneficiary of this commitment and I have gained much from the UTS professional approach. The people I most wish to thank in this respect are Chris Hepperlin and Brett Smout and their staff at Student Services. The most important thing they offer is a professional commitment to the partnership ideal. There have been very few chaplains' meetings in my 14 years of the chaplaincy at UTS without Chris or Brett present to assist us. This is the envy of chaplaincies everywhere. But that would not happen without the commitment of the UTS Executive. Over these 14 years we have had the support of Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors. The present Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Ross Milbourne and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Teaching, Learning & Equity), Professor Shirley Alexander are active supporters of the Multifaith Centre. I know past members of the executive have been very influential in the development of the Centre. I won't mention them all, but I must thank two great supporters of the UTS chaplaincy, and of me personally, and that is the previous Chancellor, Sir Gerard Brennan and the recently retired Registrar, Dr Jeff FitzGerald.
May I thank my colleagues of all faiths and denominations who have assisted as multifaith chaplains here at UTS. It has been a very rewarding experience to be a co-worker and facilitator of the group. Only one chaplain remains from the original group - John Hirt, the Uniting Church chaplain. Other serving Christian chaplains I have been privileged to work with include Colin Scott, recently resigned; Stephen Tanuwijaya; Mike Paget and Rhombus Ning. It has been a great privilege to work with Buddhist chaplains, Brian White and Venerable Mahinda; Jewish chaplain, Shmuel Markovits and recent Bahai chaplains Sue Thomas, Nazrin Adel and Leo Newport. There have been Muslim chaplains at UTS although there is no Muslim serving on the Multifaith team at the moment.
There are so many others I wish to thank for their support during my time at UTS. They are too numerous to mention by name but they include members of the UTS Administration, Equity and Diversity Unit, UTS Union, The Students' Association, Security, Room bookings, Faculty members, UTS Library, Research and Innovation Office, Human Resources and the UTS Gallery.
Finally I wish to thank my family. In different ways they have been associated with UTS over these years. My niece, Lisa is a graduate of UTS in my time here; Chris, my brother, has mentored UTS accountancy students at AMP and others have attended various events here. They are a great support in my life and work and I am so pleased some family members are here today to celebrate 14 wonderful years at UTS.
I will greatly miss UTS students, staff and the learning community but I hope I will still participate in this great learning and teaching community as an alumnus and through many UTS colleagues and friends. Thank you all.
Peter Maher
See UTS website for picture

Ted Kennedy Priest of Redfern Book Launch

They came to praise Father Ted Kennedy yesterday, the revered parish priest of Redfern.
And praise him, they did.
The occasion was the launch of Father Ed Campion’s book, Ted Kennedy Priest of Redfern.
It opened with a Mass concelebrated by Bishop David Cremin and priests who knew or who had worked with Father Kennedy, including Jesuit human rights advocate, Father Frank Brennan.
After mass, speakers lined up to tell their stories about the man who had been Redfern PP for more than 30 years and had given his life to the Aborigines.
Close friend and collaborator Danny Gilbert, who launched the book, said it was not just an account of “Ted’s providential life” but also a book about the Catholic Church in Australia.
“And it is a book about the attitudes and tone of the Archdiocese of Sydney – certainly as Ted saw it,” Gilbert said.
“Ted’s essential humanity is deeply present throughout the book - his greatest strength according to Ed Campion.
“His weaknesses are there too. But they don’t count for much in the sum of the man.”
As a young priest, Ted’s homilies started to ignite spark plugs all over Catholic Sydney.
“People were hungry to hear the gospel preached in a way that made sense to them,” he said
He talked about the importance of following one’s conscience, at a time when people were anxious about the Vietnam War and birth control.
Gilbert said: “People were hungry for a new church, a less judgmental church, a church more in sympathy with the complexities of modernity and what it is to be a human being.
“The zeitgeist was alive with the hope of a church which might become unshackled from the constraints of petty rules, a church more open to the influences of an educated and sophisticated laity, a church that would embrace literature and the arts.”
He said Ted Kennedy inspired and gave hope to so many.
In 1971 Ted Kennedy and two other priests, John Butcher and Fergus Breslan, moved into St Vincent’s presbytery in Redfern to try something new.
Gilbert said: “It was in this place, where we are now, that Ted began his long and deeply spiritual life with Aboriginal people. They were the poorest of the poor and to Ted they were embodiments of Christ himself.
“How often did we hear Ted say with respect to the poor and the fringe dwellers, ‘They have the lens through which we can see God?’

Ted Kennedy Priest of Redfern by Edmund Campion, David Lovell Publishing, Melbourne

- Barry Morris

Ted Kennedy Priest of Redfern by Danny Gilbert

I am honoured and pleased to launch Father Ed Campion’s book about Ted Kennedy.
As I thought about this task, I realised how impossible it was to just talk about the book. I simply had no choice but to add bits here and there about my own life with Ted. That means I will talk longer than Ed Campion would like and no doubt some of you. So I apologise in advance and ask for your forbearance.
First I must say that this is a terrific book, intelligent, engaging and multi layered.
It is not, and does not pretend to be, a conventional biography.
The book is about Ted Kennedy, the man and the priest.
Ted didn’t begin his priestly life with a strategic plan. So Ed Campion rolls out before us, to use Marnie’s words, “Ted’s providential life”.
It is also a book about the Catholic Church in Australia. And it is a book about the attitudes and tone of the Archdiocese of Sydney – certainly as Ted saw it.
It touches on the many people who influenced Ted and the many hundreds of people who were so profoundly touched by him. Ted’s essential humanity is deeply present throughout the book - his greatest strength according to Ed Campion.
His weaknesses are there too. But they don’t count for much in the sum of the man.
The many influences on Ted are laid before the reader. Firstly, there were his Catholic parents and their rejection of all that was “churchy”. Ed Campion writes of Ted’s mother, Peg, and “the cold eye through which she looked at priestly failings”.
That eye framed so much of Ted’s own thinking and what he came to call that most egregious of sins - the sin of “clericalism”.
Many others who influenced Ted are also mentioned. To name but a few - Cardinal John Henry Newman, the Jesuit Pedro Arupe, the American Dorothy Day, the Australian Jesuit Jerry Golden, Tony Coady, Roger Pryke and not to leave out of course Cardinal Pell himself – his influence being somewhat distinguishable from the others!
Then there are the numerous poets, including James McAuley, Judith Wright and especially John Shaw Neilsen and Gerard Manley Hopkins.
The book also acknowledges the influence of his bishop and priest friends and many others, too numerous to mention here, including Peter Kearney, with us today, whose songs we’ve sung again this morning.
Tom Bass is also there. This is the altar Tom made for Ted. I should mention that Tom is currently working on a significant sculpture representing the force and partnership that was Ted and Mum Shirl.
Ted was ordained as a young man in July 1953. Ed Campion completely captures the mood and the times:
“Then, on 18 July 1953, he went to St Mary’s Cathedral and was ordained a priest. The choir sang over him, ‘thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’, and friends and family knelt for his blessing. There followed a week of festivities ….. Masses and Benedictions of the Most Blessed Sacrament in parish churches and schools and convents.”
How things have changed.
What you read about Ted as a young priest will surprise. He always wore a black suit, black hat and spoke of a sinful Sydney. He was even censorious about colleagues who did not observe the liturgy.
Little did he imagine the liturgical rigmarole that he would subsequently unleash here, at St Vincent’s Redfern.
And he did not drink.
Kings Cross changes many people and apparently it changed Ted. When he went to St Cannice’s in 1957 he had his first drink. Like all naughty Catholic boys, we are told he said to a friend, “Don’t tell Mum I drink”.
Ted remembered himself in those days as “an overgrown altar boy”, a description he came to apply to many bishops and priests, mostly of course, bishops – present company excluded of course.
Prior to his appointment to Redfern and with the exception of a stint at Sydney University, Ted served as curate in a number of parishes. He didn’t like parish life. He hated it. According to Ed Campion, and we can all hear Ted saying it, he thought parishioners dull, with “damp spark plugs”.
Of course Ted never blamed the laity. He blamed a dull and unimaginative church.
As a young priest, Ted’s homilies were starting to ignite spark plugs all over Catholic Sydney. “People were hungry to hear the gospel preached in a way that made sense to them.”
He talked about the importance of following one’s conscience, at a time when people were anxious about the Vietnam war and birth control. As Ed Campion says, “Week after week, people remembered, and talked about, what Ted had said in his Sunday sermon. The effects could be long lasting” – as indeed they have been.
People were hungry for a new church, a less judgmental church, a church more in sympathy with the complexities of modernity and what it is to be a human being.
The zeitgeist was alive with the hope of a church which might become unshackled from the constraints of petty rules, a church more open to the influences of an educated and sophisticated laity, a church that would embrace literature and the arts.
For Ted and his priest friends, it seemed to herald the opportunity for a different kind of priestly life.
Ted inspired and gave hope to so many. He must have been in his element.
Indeed, Ted as an inspirational figure is a theme throughout the book. I remember an old priest friend of Ted’s, Les Cashen, referring to Ted as that rare breed of Catholic priest, a prophet.
Ted even seems to have been something of a leader and organiser of retreats for priests. This was an astonishing revelation to me. By the time I met Ted in the early 1980s he simply loathed retreats. He loathed the whole concept of “leadership” even more.
One very surprising piece of information was that Ted, with his friend Val Noone, planned a national convention of priests leading to the formation of the National Council of Priests. Who would have thought it? Just as he was capable of forging a signature, he would, if alive today, be capable of denying he had anything to do with the National Council of Priests, let alone its formation.
Ed Campion goes so far to assert, I think with his tongue close to but not entirely in his cheek, an initiating role for Ted in Vatican II. Ted held so much hope for Vatican II.
As to the forged signature, you can read about that in the book.
Ed Campion reminds us of the many people who talk of the impact of Ted on them as young men and women. Some of those people are here today.
He refers to a retreat Ted gave to Queensland seminarians in 1970. A seminarian summed up its impact on him as follows: “In a way that had never come through to me in church circles before, he spoke of the poor, the disadvantaged, the down and out, as his brothers. Previously we had assisted them, looked down at them and forgotten them.”
It seems that what changed Ted most was his appointment as University Chaplain at Sydney University in 1960. Kings Cross had loosened him up and Ted was ready for the University. His appointment was arranged by his friend Roger Pryke, who was buried only last Tuesday. Ted frequently acknowledged his friendship and indebtedness to Roger Pryke.
Ted loved the university life. He loved the opportunity to be intellectually curious and he loved the students. One of them was Rod Coady. Rod is quoted:
“Ted’s guidance was gentle and had depth and for many, these groups provided the foundation of a renewed and deepened faith. He had infinite patience with troubled students and the compassion and wisdom he displayed in helping to solve problems ensured there was a steady stream of students at his door. Perhaps more than anything else though, what I remember is his generosity: there seemed to be literally nothing, if it were in his power, that he would not do to help someone in need.”
And so it was all of his life.
After being effectively removed from the university by Cardinal Gilroy, (Ted had no time for Gilroy), Ted and his friends continued to think about a different kind of priestly life. They made continued requests to Cardinal Gilroy for at least 5 of them to be appointed as a team ministry to serve in a parish as a community rather than a hierarchy. Gilroy refused. Archbishop Freeman was more sympathetic and appointed three priests to Redfern.
Redfern was not their first choice, none of them knew anything about Aboriginal people, and three was not really enough. But in 1971 Ted Kennedy, John Butcher and Fergus Breslan moved into St Vincent’s presbytery in Redfern to try something new.
As you would expect, a good deal of this book is devoted to Ted’s life at Redfern. It was in this place, where we are now, that Ted began his long and deeply spiritual life with Aboriginal people. They were the poorest of the poor and to Ted they were embodiments of Christ himself.
Ted loved these people, he respected them and he gave them welcome. All he did and all he offered, was absolutely unconditional. He expected nothing in return. It must have been the most powerful revelation to Aboriginal people to meet someone in authority who did not judge them.
Ted always used the word “insist”. He was a very insistent man. Ed Campion himself insists that to understand Ted you must understand Ted’s insistence on the absolute and unconditional demand of the gospel that Christians give priority to the poor.
Let me quote this passage: “Ted did not discover the poor in books, he was living among them. Yet when he opened the book of the Bible, they were there too. What the Bible said to him about the poor (and children) was that they were sacramental people because they were powerless: they showed us the need for faith in God, not faith in ourselves.”
How often did we hear Ted say with respect to the poor and the fringe dwellers, “They have the lens through which we can see God”?
The book does not give a lot of detail about Ted’s life at Redfern but we get a strong sense of how hard it was. “Aborigines were flooding into the city from up and down the eastern states and beyond, trying to find their families and seeking new lives.” Between 50 and 100 people were regularly coming and going, living in and around the presbytery. And all those people were fed every day. Imagine the chaos and the sheer discomfort.
All the while, Ted was hurt and angry that the Sydney Archdiocese failed to support him and failed to extend the friendship of the church to Aboriginal people.
There is no getting away from it. Ted regarded the Archdiocese of Sydney as a menacing presence in the life of the church.
Ed Campion is not so polemical, but he does note with sharpness Ted’s “index of disappointment with the bishops”.
And as we know, it was not a brief index.
There are several references in the book to Ted’s ‘Twenty-five years at Redfern’ speech. Ed Campion is on the mark when he says that one section of that speech
“gets close to [Ted’s] appeal as a human being”.
In that speech, Ted singled out four groups who had been excluded from the public life of the church, and I quote:
 “First of the four groups were the poor, especially of course Kooris.
 Then there were women, starting with those ‘consecrated coolies, religious sisters’.
 Next, homosexual men and women, who had been treated as if their baptism was, to quote Ted, ‘like an inoculation that didn’t take’.
 Finally, there were all the clerical and religious drop-outs, at the mention of whom his words took on a vigour and grace that is reminiscent of (Cardinal) Newman’s sentences.”
Ted then names many of these men and women whom he felt the Archdiocese had failed in Christian love to nurture and support. He finishes with these words:
“I want to say, to all you brave and wonderful drop-outs, so beloved to me, a simple word of admiration and thanks”.
Throughout his life at Redfern, Ted was both assisted and challenged by many big-hearted people, and their part in the story of Redfern is also told.
Special mention is made of some of the many women in Ted’s life. First among them was Shirley Smith, or Mum Shirl as she was better known. Much is said about Shirley and the relationship between the two. Ted described her as the greatest theologian he had ever met. (She was practically illiterate.)
While this is not in the book, I remember Shirley standing alongside Ted (it was hard to tell who was preacher) and declaiming about the world’s most important men. In Shirley’s order of importance they were: Jesus Christ, St Martin de Porres and Father Ted Kennedy – she always referred to Ted as Father. She would say, pointing at Ted, “You see this man here, his name is Father Ted Kennedy (as if we didn’t know). Next to Jesus Christ and St Martin de Porres, he is the greatest man who ever walked this (h)earth.”
Other women receive honourable mentions as well: Sister Ignatius Jenkins of the Sisters of Charity, Maureen Flood of the Blessed Sacrament Sisters and Nora McManus of the Little Sisters of Jesus. All no longer with us.
Not everyone found favour with Ted. There is a delicious piece in the book about his run-in with Mother Theresa. To Ted’s mind, she was seeking to impose her order on Aboriginal people, when what was required was to be invited. He told her, face to face, that until she was invited, she was not welcome in Redfern.
She quickly took the hint.
Ted would be worthy of a book if all he had done was to help Aboriginal people; if all he had done was to play a key role in the establishment of the Aboriginal Medical Service on the old convent site next door and in the creation of The Block.
Yet there was another very significant dimension to the man. He was a wonderfully challenging and energising preacher. Ed Campion would know this better than most. He says of Ted: “He had an Irish ability to strike off phrases that lived. Thus where others who had raged all their lives at the damage done to them in the seminary, he was able to impale the system on one sharp sentence: ‘It was designed to keep us all in short pants’.
Ed Campion goes on: “Speaking of the pettifogging moral teaching of those days, that tortured good folk with scruples and filled the parish confessionals on Saturday afternoons, [Ted] summarised its leading idea as ‘Annoy yourself, for Christ’s sake’”.
There are many of us here today who had the extraordinary privilege of hearing Ted preach. His sermons were peppered with quotes from discomforting theologians, philosophers, writers and poets.
The centrepiece of his teachings was the Kingdom of God here on earth. He would often cite St Ireneus “The glory of God is man fully alive”. He viewed the Gospels in their proper historical context. The trial and crucifixion of Jesus was a murder story. The Roman empire and the Jewish religious hierarchy were in cahoots. They both used their power to trample on the human spirits of the poor.
Ted saw Christ not so much as redeemer, as liberator.
Ted felt that the church had over the centuries soft-pedalled on the gospels. Christ’s words had been reduced to something that was comfortably domesticated. But to Ted’s way of thinking the gospels were radical, raw and uncompromising.
Ted blamed Rome and the church hierarchy for this dumbing down.
Over the years, some people have suggested that Ted failed to approach the Eucharist with the requisite awe and respect. I have to say that is a lie. The contrary was the case.
Whenever Ted presided over the Eucharist it was a most holy and venerable occasion. Ted said the Eucharistic prayers as if it might have been for the first time. Frank Brennan has already referred to some of the words which so often fell from Ted’s lips as he stood behind this altar.
Ed Campion sets the record straight:
“At Redfern the liturgy could be chaotic, which is not to say it was inauthentic. At mass, a crying Aborigine might stumble to the altar, seeking comfort from Ted, who would stop what he was doing, and console the afflicted person before resuming the liturgy; or a girl on roller skates might glide into the church and up to the head of the line for Holy Communion receive Communion and glide off again. Yet Ted seemed to keep a remarkable interiority to his worship as several witnesses attest.”
That is a lovely reflection - Ted’s “remarkable interiority of worship”. The author has nailed it well.
Rather than these being hanging offences, Ed Campion sees them as “evidence of a faithful priest”.
Ted’s masses were extraordinarily beautiful.
Ed Campion is careful not to lionise Ted.
Ted could be very angry, intemperate and highly judgemental. Not only with the Archbishop of the day – that was a given - but also with people he was close to. Some of his views were thinly-based and to my mind sometimes disproportionate. But even then, they were not easily dismissed, and in any event Ted didn’t care. He freely acknowledged this aspect of his character. As we know, he asked his friends not to save him from his “uncircumspect self”.
There is much in the book about his long standing run-ins with the Archdiocese whose consistent rejection of him and his requests inflamed him and wore him down. Particularly of course his request that the old presbytery be gifted to Aboriginal people. A request still denied.
Ed Campion reminds us that like Dorothy Day before him, Ted Kennedy did not think himself saintly, although Ted thought Dorothy Day was.
Ted could recognise his wrong doings. The book contains the most beautiful description of an occasion shortly prior to his death when Ted asked someone for her forgiveness over a wrong-doing of his many years before. It is one of the many high points of this book.
Further evidence of his appeal as a human being.
Ed deals at some length with Ted’s book “Who is Worthy” and of course with that most memorable event in the life of Ted Kennedy – his funeral.
Before I finish there is a personal story about Ted which I must tell. Ted died in May 2005. He was barely conscious for the last 6 months of his life. I saw him regularly during this period and on one occasion I had just been to a Leonard Cohen tribute concert. It was Sydney Festival time. Ted had not acknowledged my presence for the first 10 minutes of my visit except to squeeze my hand. I had no idea that Ted even knew who Leonard Cohen was, but, searching for conversation, I told Ted that Cohen’s song Bird on a Wire so reminded me of him. He replied in a voice that was barely audible, “Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir”, and together we finished the next line - “I have tried in my way to be free”.
That said it all for me. Ted had tried in his unique, difficult, wonderful way to be free. This book is testament to that.
You will understand why I have said at the outset that this is a marvellous book. It very cleverly weaves together the various threads of Ted’s life. Ed Campion’s language is as subtle as it is rich. Like Ted, he has ‘an Irish ability to strike off phrases that live’.
I asked Ed why he wrote this book. He said he wrote it for everyone who loved Ted.
The respect and admiration he had for Ted and the warmth of his friendship and regard, jumps out of almost every page. He wants Ted to be properly remembered for the good bloke and priest that he was.
There are those in the church today who would rather forget that Ted Kennedy ever existed. Ed Campion has put an end to the possibility of that.
To Ed I want to say on behalf of everyone here and everyone who admired or loved Ted, we owe you a great debt. It can’t have been an easy book to pull together. Ted was always untidy and hard to collect. He remains so in death. I am sure it would have been very difficult to know where to draw the finishing line.
You have honoured us all and you have added yet another page to your invaluable canon on the life and times of the Catholic Church in Australia. To my mind, this is an extraordinarily significant page about a splendid and holy man. Perhaps, more accurately, a splendidly unholy man.
I am so pleased you dedicate the book to Marnie. She mourns his loss and she mourns a church that steadfastly refuses to hear her beloved brother. It will renew her faith and her vitality.
So thank you Ed.
And thank you all for listening.
It is my very great pleasure to launch Ted Kennedy Priest of Redfern and to now ask Ed to say a few words.

Danny Gilbert
12 July 2009

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