Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Memory and Reconciliation

In his public apology for the historical faults of Catholic Quebec last week, Cardinal Marc Ouellet cited "indifference to First Nations" -- the province's indigenous people -- among his predecessors' lapses.

Down Under in Australia -- where the plight of its Aboriginal population has been termed a "world-wide scandal" -- a new study finds that its ecclesiastical builders paid similar "lip service" to the community's marginalization, as the church's rank-and-file took up the cause.
The study, by [University of Queensland] PhD recipient Stefano Girola... 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.

Instead of challenging them, most early bishops mirrored the then widespread, community attitudes to Aboriginal issues.

Dr Girola said the Catholic hierarchy (between 25-30 bishops) 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 redirected.

“Money from this fund was often used for other purposes that didn't have any thing to do with Aboriginal evangelisation or Aboriginal welfare.”

He said the Catholic hierarchy was more interested in keeping the faith of the mainly Irish “flock” and building churches and the Catholic education system.

Between the 1930s-1950s, Catholic leaders were more worried about containing communism than the plight of Aboriginal people.
Receiving the credentials of the Australian ambassador to the Holy See in May 2006, Pope Benedict noted that "there is still much to be achieved" in the nation's reconciliation efforts with its first occupants.

"Their social situation is cause for much pain," B16 said, as he encouraged the Aussie government to "continue to address with compassion and determination the deep underlying causes of their plight." The Aboriginal question will likely earn further mention from the pontiff on his scheduled trip to Sydney for World Youth Day next year.

Speaking of Sydney, at their Baltimore plenary earlier this month the US bishops were informed that the nation's dioceses -- a traditional bulwark of World Youth Day attendance -- had only amassed 3,000 registrations to date. WYD organizers had expected an American turnout approaching 50,000 for the July event, while Stateside forecasts tip the final total at closer to 20K.

That estimate, however, came before the formal announcement that the Pope would headline an encounter with young people in New York during his springtime visit to the East Coast. No distribution system for tickets to the grounds of St Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie has yet emerged, but the outdoor event on 19 April is being planned for a crowd of 20,000.