Catholic News - Catholic Telecommunications, a devision of Catholic Resources





Bishops challenged on Indigenous Guidelines

A senior religious has criticised Australia's bishops for turning down a request to draft Guidelines for Clergy who work with Indigenous Australians.

In an exclusive interview with the new Online Catholics journal, Sr Marnie Kennedy rscj voiced her concern that the lack of such guidelines allows clergy to adopt paternalistic or culturally insensitive styles of ministry to Aboriginal Catholics.

Sr Kennedy pointed out that such guidelines apply to members of religious orders working with Indigenous Australians, but not to diocesan clergy.

The Catholic Bishops Conference decided against the Guidelines at a recent Plenary, following a letter written in March by concerned Catholics from St Vincent's Parish, Redfern, in Sydney.

Sr Kennedy's brother, the now ailing Fr Ted Kennedy, is the former parish priest. The request to the Bishops was prompted by alleged lack of cultural sensitivity on the part of current clergy in the parish unfamiliar with the Australian pastoral context.

She told Online Catholics: "It would seem opportune for the bishops to advance ... Guidelines for Priests in Ministry with Indigenous peoples, especially given the current new situation where many priests are beginning to arrive from overseas countries to work in Australia."

Meanwhile Brisbane's Catholic Justice and Peace Commission has urged Catholics to pressure Australia's political leaders to deal with the widening gap in health standards between Indigenous and other Australians.

The call was made at the beginning of National Reconciliation Week, which begins tomorrow, following today's observance of National Sorry Day.

Commission Executive Officer Peter Arndt said: "The life expectancy gap is in fact widening and this should not be accepted."

"The Australian Medical Association has pointed out that Australia's performance is at odds with that of New Zealand, Canada and the USA where the life expectancy gap has been reduced to around 5 years," he said.

Caritas Australia has also issued a Sorry Day statement to stress its commitment to funding projects to help control diabetes in Aboriginal communities.

"As Australia reflects on National Sorry Day, we hope to build on this small but real contribution to reconciliation," said National Director Jack de Groot.

Diabetes results in blindness, nerve disease, chronic kidney failure and early death and has been described as a 'silent killer' of Aboriginal people. The disease causes damage years before any symptoms show and Aboriginal Australians have among the highest incidence of diabetes in the world.

This year Caritas Australia has contributed $50,000 towards funding the Unity of First People of Australia's, (UFPA's) Diabetic and Management Care Program at the Looma Community in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia.

In last night's inaugural Eddie Koiki Mabo Lecture at Townsville's James Cook University, Jesuit human rights advocate Fr Frank Brennan observed that the Australian community has firmly accepted the social justice principles behind native title legislation, twelve years after the landmark Mabo decision that recognised native title for the first time.

He said the decision "has withstood the test of time because it is in accordance with contemporary Australian values".

"This groundbreaking decision was the cause of much public debate a decade ago," he said. "Now it is simply accepted as part of the nation's legal landscape though it did change the fundamental law of the land, discarding the two hundred year old terra nullius mindset."

Bishops fail to respect Aboriginal culture, spirituality (Online Catholics 26/5/04)
Appalling Indigenous Health Standards Must Be Addressed (Catholic Justice & Peace Commission, Archdiocese of Brisbane 24/5/04)
Caritas contributes to improving Aboriginal Health (Caritas Australia 25/5/04)
A fair go in an age of terror: Countering the terrorist threat to human rights and the Australian identity (Fr Frank Brennan SJ, Inaugural Eddie Koiki Mabo Lecture, James Cook University, Townsville 25/5/04)

26 May 2004