Criticism of Downer list of peace pilgrims
Australia will send a religious delegation to Indonesia that includes the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney but not the country's most senior Muslim leader or the National Council of Churches President, who is an expert on Islam.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Cardinal George Pell has been selected by the Federal Government as part of the regional inter-faith delegation to hold talks next month on how to counter extremist Islamic terrorism.
It is the first time the Government has organised such an inter-faith dialogue, which it is co-sponsoring with Indonesia. Titled Dialogue on Interfaith Cooperation, the event takes place in Yogyakarta from 4-9 December.
There is also concern among Christians over the inclusion of Cardinal Pell, who in a speech last month angered Muslims by comparing Islam to communism. Cardinal Pell said the growing rate of conversions of native Westerners to Islam carried "the suggestion that Islam may provide in the 21st century the attraction which communism provided in the 20th".
Fourteen countries have been invited to each send 10 delegates, with Australia sending six Christians plus one representative from the Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu faiths.
The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, who will address the dialogue along with his Indonesian counterpart, Hassan Wirajuda, says the idea behind it is "to empower the moderates in religious communities and encourage them to take more of a lead in addressing regional issues", especially terrorism.
Australia's Muslim delegate is the president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Ameer Ali, who has denied that the Government's failure to consult the mufti is a snub.
"I think [Mr Downer] understands the mufti's English is very poor, so that may be one of the reasons," Dr Ali said.
Another of those left off the list was the president of the National Council of Churches, Rev Professor James Haire, an expert on Islam. A commentary in today's Sydney Morning Herald suggests that while fluent in Indonesian, Haire "does not speak the same language as Downer". Last year he criticised politicians over the Tampa affair, comments that Downer said were "profoundly personally offensive as well as foolish". Cardinal Pell defended the Foreign Minister, insisting that he "had a point" in his criticism of church leaders.
The six Christian delegates also include Dominican sister and prominent Sydney Catholic interfaith advocate, Sr Trish Madigan.
Sr Madigan is also secretary of ACMICA (the Australian Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs), an organisation which has as one of its objectives the promotion of "ecumenical, interfaith and intercivilisational dialogue".
Since 1997, she has been at the forefront of many developments in interfaith relations in Sydney, especially those involving women. She is currently working with the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations and the Commission for Ecumenism, Broken Bay Diocese. She is a member of the Catholic Bishops Advisory Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations.
Feathers ruffled as Pell picked for peace pilgrimage (Sydney Morning Herald 24/11/04)
Prophet motive (Sydney Morning Herald 24/11/04)
ACMICA member joins Government interfaith dialogue delegation (Australian Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs 24/11/04)
Philippines: Muslim-Christian centre opens (Fides/Independent Catholic News 23/11/04)
Asians urged to commit themselves to inter-religious dialogue (Catholic Bishops Conference of India 23/11/04)
24 Nov 2004