Study documents mixed Catholic record on Aborigines

A Brisbane scholar has argued that while nuns and missionaries demonstrated concern for Indigenous Australians, the hierarchy "failed Aborigines by paying lipservice to their plight".

Dr Stefano Girola received his University of Queensland PhD for a study that claimed early Catholic bishops did not provide enough resources to help Aborigines. He examined the policies and attitudes of the Catholic hierarchy to Indigenous people from 1885 until 1967.

"I stress the Catholic hierarchy because there were always nuns and missionaries who really were concerned with the plight of Aborigines and also tried to lobby politicians to do something about it," Dr Girola said.

Dr Girola said the early Catholic hierarchy, with some exceptions such as Perth Bishop Matthew Gibney and Melbourne Archbishop Daniel Mannix, failed in its lack of social policy and in its prophetic role to work against social injustice.

"Most early bishops mirrored the then widespread community attitudes to Aboriginal issues," he said.

"The Catholic hierarchy were full of public rhetoric and support for Aborigines since 1885 but there was "no real interest" in Aborigines until the 1960s."

His research found that the Church's Home Mission Fund, created in the 1920s to support Aboriginal missions, was often used for other purposes that didn't have anything to do with Aboriginal evangelisation or Aboriginal welfare.

For his research, Dr Girola searched through Catholic archives, private collections and letters between bishops and the Vatican, bishops' diaries and personal interviews with bishops, priests and Indigenous people.

He said outreach to Aborigines is a "very low" Church priority, based on the minutes of bishops' meetings between the 1920s and 1960s.

Early Catholic leaders failed Aborigines (University of Queensland 26/11/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
University of Queensland School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics

28 Nov 2007