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Honoured advocate says Pope against detaining children

Adelaide Centacare director Dale West, who will receive a papal honour next month, says he believes Pope John Paul II clearly opposes the federal government's policy of mandatory detention of the children of asylum seekers.

"That message is clear," said Mr West, a member of the Uniting Church who is believed to be the only non-Catholic in Australia to receive the Papal honour.

He will receive the Venerable Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice.

"I do see it as support from the Pope for the position which the bishops of Australia took in supporting our work in the face of criticism from a whole range of places," he said. "It's support at the highest level in the Catholic Church for what we're doing.

A media release from Adelaide's Catholic Communications described the award as a "fitting recognition of Mr West's efforts to remove the cloak of secrecy from the harsh conditions and inhumanity of life at the now defunct Woomera Detention Centre".

"Those efforts brought the plight of the detainees into the public arena and gave them a voice for the first time."

Mr West first spoke out in 2000 following information about the cruel conditions and suffering of detainees at Woomera, where 1500 detainees were kept in a detention centre which was hastily designed and built for just 800.

He was instrumental in bringing the Baktiari children to Adelaide last August after they were released from the Baxter detention centre. The children are now enrolled in Catholic schools, where Mr West said they were adjusting well.

"What I can't stand at a personal level is what impact detention is having on children," he said. "If (Prime Minister) John Howard could jump on a plane to Baxter and spend half an hour talking to the children, or come to our place and talk to the Baktiaris' about their experiences, I'm sure it would really change him.

Mr West said he was happy to accept the award on behalf of all those in the Port Pirie diocese who have done an enormous amount of work for detainees at Baxter Detention Centre and previously at Woomera.

"I do see it as support from the Pope for the position which the bishops of Australia took in supporting our work in the face of criticism from a whole range of places," he said.

Port Pirie's Bishop Eugene Hurley will formally present the award at St Mark's Cathedral in Port Pirie on Tuesday April 6th.

Archbishop Philip Wilson has welcomed the news as a great honour for Dale West and the archdiocese. Vicar General Monsignor David Cappo said Mr West's honour was important recognition for his valuable work in responding to the shocking situation faced by asylum seekers.

Asylum seeker advocate honoured by Vatican (The Age/AAP 3/3/04)
Compassionate advocate to get a papal honour (Catholic Communications Adelaide 2/3/04)

Pope honours Australian human rights worker (ABC 2/3/04)
Pope against detention: Honouree (The Age/AAP 2/3/04)
Centacare calls for extension of Regional Visa scheme to asylum seekers (CathNews 14/1/04)
Centacare Adelaide tells why asylum seeker committed suicide (CathNews 10/2/03)
Centacare director pressuring Govt to release detention centre video (CathNews 8/11/02)
Adelaide Centacare slams Govt deaf ears on child detainee report (CathNews 14/5/03)
Adelaide Centacare optimistic about fate of child detainees (CathNews 29/7/03)
Centacare Adelaide
Pope honours Sir William and Lady Deane (CathNews 16/5/03)

3 Mar 2004