Pope calls for an apology to Indigenous Australians

Benedict XVI last week urged the Australian Government to seek forgiveness from Indigenous Australians and address the "deep underlying causes" of their plight.

The Age reports that he told the new Australian ambassador to the Vatican, Anne Maree Plunkett, that Aborigines' predicament caused much pain. Mrs Plunkett presented her credentials on Thursday.

Some of the contents of the speech were reported in CathNews on Friday, but further details - including the call for an apology - emerged yesterday.

"I encourage you and the Government to continue to address with compassion and determination the deep underlying causes of their plight," the Pope said.

"Commitment to truth opens the way to lasting reconciliation through the healing process of asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness - two indispensable elements for peace."

The Prime Minister has consistently refused to apologise to Indigenous people and has criticised "the black armband view of history". He has also promoted the idea of "practical" reconciliation over "symbolic" reconciliation, saying that the health and welfare of Aborigines are more important than an apology.

Mark Coleridge, a Melbourne auxiliary bishop with long experience at the Vatican, said the Pope understood that the plight of Indigenous people was a running sore at the heart of the nation.

"It's not enough to treat the symptoms," he said. "We know what they are, and they are appalling. It's complex, but until we grapple with it we run the risk of only Band-Aid treatment."

Australia's Catholic bishops published their own apology to Aborigines on National Sorry Day in 1998.

Brisbane's Catholic Justice and Peace Commission Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, said that Pope Benedict's message to Mrs Plunkett "places great importance on reconciliation".

Meanwhile he has called on parishes, schools, Church bodies and agencies to continue to play their part in promoting reconciliation in Australia.

The call came as the Commission launched a kit of resources for National Sorry Day, which is commemorated this Friday, and National Reconciliation Week from 27 May to 3 June.

Mr Arndt said that the Commission is committed to encouraging further efforts to build on work already done within the Archdiocese to promote reconciliation.

"Reconciliation and justice for Indigenous Australians continues to be the Commission's highest priority and it is deeply involved in work to develop stronger relationships with Indigenous communities and organisations," Mr Arndt said.

"Developing relationships of respect with Indigenous people and communities must be at the foundation of our work for reconciliation," he said. "Reconciliation is fostered when we commit ourselves to collaborative relationships instead of imposing ready-made 'solutions'."

He said working for reconciliation requires a long-term commitment.

"A commitment to reconciliation won't happen if we make a fuss about Aboriginal people in Reconciliation Week and on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday, but forget about them for the rest of the year," he said.

"These special times on our calendar develop real meaning and significance if they are celebrations of what we have done together over the year with Indigenous people to live the Gospel message of peace and reconciliation."

Pope calls for an apology (The Age 23/5/06)
CJPC Calls for Continuing Commitment to Reconciliation (Archdiocese of Brisbane 22/5/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Australian Embassy to the Holy See

Pope praises Aussie contribution to peacemaking (CathNews 19/5/06)

Pope calls on Govt to apologise to Aboriginal Australians (ABC Radio The World Today 22/5/06)
Not the Third World, just Australia's first war zone (Sydney Morning Herald 23/5/06)
Call to send army into Territory war zone (The Australian 23/5/06)

23 May 2006