Archbishop faces questions on Stolen Generations

The newly appointed chairman of the Bishops Commission for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders has defended the role of church missions involved in the Stolen Generation and says recent suggestions that Aboriginal children in danger should again be taken from their communities must consider lessons from past mistakes.

Speaking last night on ABC Lateline, Perth's Archbishop Barry Hickey endorsed comments by Liberal MP Wilson Tuckey who claimed yesterday that an apology is owed to nuns who have been "blackguarded" for their role in the Stolen Generation.

"The sisters and the priests and the brothers didn't steal any children," the Archbishop said. "They opened their doors to accept children because they believed that they had nowhere to go."

"The government made them all wards of the state and they shouldn't have done that, but they did, they're still doing it, and they asked their missions to take the children in, which they did, in a spirit of compassion."

When asked whether he feels "somewhat nostalgic" for the times when churches controlled remote Indigenous communities, Archbishop Hickey said he feels a sense of nostalgic "for the presence of people with compassion and hope".

"All around Australia, when the missions were closed, as missions, and other groups took over, particularly government policies followed, disasters occurred. Whatever the faults of the missions, the communities were well fed, the children were educated, medical care was provided," he said.

On the suggestion that Aboriginal children in danger should once again be taken from their communities, Archbishop Hickey said that in the past children were removed from their parents and family, sometimes for a lifetime.

"They shouldn't be taken without the consent of the parents or the extended family, and contact must be maintained with that family," he said. "There are cases where children should be protected from the violence happening around them, but the [family and community] links must be maintained whatever the solution."

Archbishop Hickey also commented on Pope Benedict's address last Thursday to the new Australian ambassador to the Holy See, Anne Maree Plunkett, in which the Pope said the social situation of Aboriginal people "is cause for much pain" and that the government should "address with compassion and determination the deep underlying causes of their plight".

Archbishop Hickey says deep underlying causes of the plight of Indigenous people have not been addressed "neither [with] compassion nor determination" by the Government.

"I think the Pope was talking about reconciliation, where one group apologises and says 'Will you please forgive us for the mistakes of the past and perhaps of the present?', and the Aboriginal people are invited to accept that - to grant that forgiveness. That's the beginning of the resolution of any conflict," he said.

"I don't think there's much determination. Plenty of words, millions of dollars of money, and yet, we hear that there's not enough money, as if money is going to solve it."

Archbishop discusses Pope's Indigenous comments (ABC TV Lateline 23/5/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council

Pope calls for an apology to Indigenous Australians (CathNews 23/5/06)

Archbishop backs Pope on Indigenous plight (ABC Message Stick 23/5/06)
Plight of Australia's Aborigines 'world-wide scandal': archbishop (ABC Asia-Pacific 23/5/06)
Caritas Australia shows support for National Sorry Day (Caritas Australia 23/5/06)
Pope Benedict keeps apology and reconciliation on the national agenda (Office of Justice, Peace and Ecology - Diocese of Broome 23/5/06)
The Catholic Church in Australia has called for more assistance for Aboriginal communities particularly victims of abuse (Fides 22/5/06)
Aboriginal forgiveness needed: Pope (The Advertiser/Australian Associated Press 23/5/06)
Pope makes plea for Aborigines (The Australian 24/5/06)
Customary law 'not applicable' (SBS 23/5/06)

24 May 2006