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Archbishop acts to ease Vinnies media report stress

Brisbane's Archbishop John Bathersby has moved to assure non-Catholic St Vincent de Paul volunteers that there is no requirement for them to convert to the Catholic faith in order for them to remain in the organisation.

The Sunday Mail reported this week that Vinnies volunteers in key senior positions in the organisation have been ordered to change their religion or leave the organisation. The paper's headline created the impression that the directive applied to all volunteers, not just those in positions of greater responsibility.

A statement from the Archdiocese yesterday reported that Vinnies "has had to work tirelessly to try and correct the article's inaccuracies and allay the concerns of volunteers and staff".

Archbishop John Bathersby said that the Catholic Church had issued no such "directive" to all volunteers.

"The Catholic Church at no point has made any statement on this matter, nor has it made any statement regarding peoples conversion to Catholicism in relation to the St Vincent de Paul Society," he said.

"The article also made mention of the fact that the Catholic Church administers the St Vincent de Paul Society. This is totally incorrect as the Society has been a private organisation since its inception in 1833," he said.

Vinnies State President Michael McKeown said the Society always welcomes and appreciates volunteers and supporters of all faiths.

"The Society includes many non-Catholics among its members and volunteers and will continue to do so," Mr McKeown said. "We also assist over 250,000 people in Queensland each year without regard to race or creed.

The Sunday Times article centered on the case of a St Vincent de Paul Society local Special Works Conference President and claimed they were given an ultimatum by the Catholic Church to stop practising their current faith and convert to Catholicism or step down.

"This issue only pertains to those who hold leadership roles and comes from our Governance manual whereby a Conference President must be an active Conference Member and bear witness as a practising Catholic.

"It is a clear link to the Catholic nature of the Society, a vision reinforced by our Mission Statement, which states that 'the Mission of the Society of St Vincent de Paul in Australia is to deepen the Catholic faith of its members - to go out into our nation to heighten awareness of Jesus Christ,' he said.

Mr McKeown said he was still hopeful the matter could be resolved by the Conference President making use of the Society's formal grievance procedures and policies.

Archdiocese refutes incorrect newspaper claims over St Vincent de Paul Society (Archdiocese of Brisbane 4/2/04)

Vinnies' ruling on non-Catholics causes tension (CathNews 2/2/04)
Convert or be sacked: Vinnies (Sunday Mail 1/2/04)

St Vincent de Paul Society

5 Feb 2004