Bishop says Aborigines living in "cauldron of depravity"

Aboriginal people are "living in a cauldron of depravity", according to Bishop Chris Saunders, the Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council.

The Catholic Weekly reports that Broome's Bishop Saunders was responding to reports of an alarming level of sexual abuse, gang wars and other violent crimes within remote Aboriginal communities.

"Unemployment, third world health standards, a chronic public housing crisis and substance abuse combine to defeat the well-being of families and the promise of peace," he said.

The Bishop, who has been working in Aboriginal communities for 30 years and travels long distances to minister to the 8000 Catholics in his diocese of 773,000 sq km, says society has "no right to be surprised" when these things happen.

"One common denominator among all Aboriginal communities is their poverty and social injustice," he said. "You've marginalised people, you leave them on the outer, you don't nurture them and you don't nourish them; it is no wonder these things are happening."

Bishop Saunders called on the Federal Government to reduce overcrowding in homes, saying it would "increase the protected environment for children".

"In Broome we've got 20 people, eight adults, living in the home which usually has no hot water and filthy, sub-standard living conditions," he said.

"Add to that some of them with alcohol and drug abuse problems and that becomes a dangerous place for children to be. The situation diminishes the chances of a wholesome family life and impacts on each individual's personal health."

He said the Government should aim to boost the economic structure in remote areas so that people aren't disadvantaged.

Poverty isn't "simply being without money", the Bishop said.

"It can mean being without the spiritual riches that help make us human and more than that, poverty can mean putting us in a situation where we've been utterly open to oppression and depravity.

"The poverty and feeling of powerlessness has become a real force and it's in that sort of environment that you get abuse."

Meanwhile Eureka Street editorial consultant Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ told Crikey yesterday that Pope Benedict XVI's remarks on the need to apologise to indigenous Australians this week are refreshing because they indicate that, in speaking to representatives of national governments, he will be willing to address issues that have a political dimension. They also show that he will address them in a distinctive way.

"This Pope has a strong sense of the importance of culture, and the conviction that it must be morally based," he said.

"Behind his reported comments to Australian Ambassador to the Holy See, Anne Maree Plunkett, is the implicit judgement that the plight and history of indigenous Australians indicates that all is not well in Australian culture. The same message was inherent in Pope John Paul II's seminal speech at Alice Springs in 1986."

Aborigines living in a cauldron of depravity (Catholic Weekly 28/5/06)
Pope Benedict: To heal a sick culture you should say sorry to Aborigines (Crikey 24/5/06)

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

Archbishop faces questions on Stolen Generations (CathNews 24/5/06)
Pope calls for an apology to Indigenous Australians (CathNews 23/5/06)

Sorry seems to be the hardest word (ABC Kimberley 25/5/06)
Australian Catholics seek support for Aboriginal people (Ekklesia 24/5/06)
Australian Church calls for more support for Indigenous people (Independent Catholic News 24/5/06)

25 May 2006