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Bishops paper revises view on role of migrant chaplains

Migrant chaplains are largely responsible for bringing Australian Catholics together into cohesive parish communities according to a discussion paper published yesterday on the Bishops Conference website.

The paper was written by migrant studies specialist Professor Desmond Cahill, of RMIT University in Melbourne, together with Sandhurst Diocese Bishop Joseph Grech (pictured), who chairs the Bishops' Committee for Migrants and Refugees.

It recognises tensions that previously existed between the chaplains and local parish priests, who "expected assimilation to occur almost immediately".

The chaplains were previously criticised for appearing to ignore parish structures in their work to build communities within particular ethnic grouips. The paper recognises their vital role assisting in "healing ancient and recent wounds of war and division".

"Many bishops of previous generations also had the same expectation," the paper says. "This friction has gradually dissipated, and the role of the migrant chaplain since the sixties has become more accepted."

It continued: "They certainly did provide spiritual support in the difficult task of coping with a new socio-cultural environment, but they also assisted in the other tasks such as interpreting for them, assisting them in court proceedings, filling out their taxation forms and counselling them when they were homesick or depressed or unemployed."

The paper said the chaplains' presence at family baptisms, weddings and funerals "made the immigrants feel more at home in the Australian environment".

It concludes with the assessment that the role of the Church in fostering multiculturalism "has not been a perfect record, but it is a record of which the Church can be proud".

Joseph Grech and Desmond Cahill: The Catholic Church and the Australian nation - monolithic or multicultural?

Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
Professor Desmond Cahill (RMIT University)
Centre for Multicultural Pastoral Care, Archdiocese of Brisbane

2 Mar 2005