Sunday, May 28, 2017

Anthony Foster RIP

Anthony Foster, talks to the press after abuse survivors met Cardinal George Pell in the Hotel Quirinale, Rome, after Pell gave evidence to the The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Picture by David Mirzoeff /i-ImagesSource:Supplied
Every Catholic parish bulletin should carry this sad news. Anthony Foster was a man of faith, integrity and commitment who called the Church out of dishonesty. His story witnessed to truth telling in a way the George Cardinal Pell failed to grasp.

Anthony Foster called a powerful institution to face its sin in ways that will haunt the hierarchy into the future. His name deserves to be acknowledged in Australian Church History as a voice for the abused, a challenge to clericalism and a witness to the Gospel call to conversion.

Rest in peace good and faithful servant

Tributes may be posted online here.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Churches deplore the shaming and punishment of asylum seekers.

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Media Release

Churches deplore the shaming and punishment of asylum seekers.

22nd May 2017:
The Australian Churches’ Refugee Taskforce calls for a re-instatement of justice and hope for the 7500 asylum seekers yet to apply for protection in Australia.

The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce is dismayed at the recent ‘shaming’ language and hardline decision by the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton in regard to asylum seekers. 

The decision by Minister Dutton yesterday to threaten asylum seekers who have not yet had the opportunity to apply for protection by using language such as ‘fake refugees’ is unjust and unbecoming of a Minister in the Australian Government.

Rev Mark Riessen, Deputy Chair of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce; “It astonishes me that we have held people seeking refuge in our country in limbo for so many years. We have heaped heavy burdens upon them and they have become captive to punitive measures in an unfair ultimatum. The Christian faith calls us to work towards freedom for the captive and advocate for those treated unfairly, not to demonise them and shame them.”

Many of the people Minister Dutton derides did not even have an option to apply for protection for a number of years until the ‘fast track’ processing system passed in 2015.  During this time many of them did not have a right to work and have been living in poverty. 

The process of applying for protection is arduous for those who do not have legal advice, many of whom are waiting for pro bono advice from overstretched legal services.  The 7500 who have not yet applied deserve the same respect as others who have applied before them.

Caz Coleman Acting Executive Officer;
“To draw boundaries that sharply delineate between those who are ‘in’ and to whom justice and fairness applies, and those who are ‘out’ and to whom justice and fairness does not, is to deny justice at all.”

The ACRT supports the need for all 7500 to be processed in order for them to be able to determine their future.  However, the ACRT believes that shaming and punishing people is not the way to encourage engagement. 

The ACRT calls on the Government to provide additional support to this group of people in the form of legal support and positive messaging to resolve the residual caseload.

Rev Riessen “At the core of this process we ask for a reinstatement of hope, and that there will be fairness and justice in this process.”

Media inquiries may be directed to:
Rev Mark Riessen 
Deputy Chair of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce       
0422 115 259 

Caz Coleman                   
Acting Executive Officer     
Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce
0411876226

Monday, May 15, 2017

Reclaiming May in Catholicism

As a young boy I was fully inducted into my privileged state  in the Catholic Church. I was a altar server which meant I had access to the sacred in ways that my revered grandmother would never know.I was taught the ritual language of Latin and dressed in robes that marked me off from others in the Church.

The elite male caste of clericalism is one that can easily trap a young boy with religious interest,imagination and dreams of adventure. Although I had my share of comic book heroes, some of whom were military monsters, I also read of the martyrs and wonder workers of my faith tradition who ranged from the hard working to the eccentric. Few of these stories were of women whether  in comic books or biographies of saints.

I spent a number of years as a young adult within this culture of male clericalism. I learnt much from this  experience. My choices meant that I lived in a  multicultural religious community of men. This nurtured a  new appreciation of cultural diversity that has stayed with me since.It also gave me insights into masculinity that have led me to a new understanding of my sexuality as a gay man.

My passion for social justice led me to an awareness that at the core of my life was a deep injustice both personal and systemic. It was an injustice deeply rooted in  the very culture I had taken on board as my  source of meaning and fulfillment.

Patriarchy is the elephant in the room of Catholicism and much of Christianity.In my younger days I took it for granted that males had rights and privileges.When I was a young altar boy there was one Sunday in the year when girls took centre stage in the Church.

The annual crowning of Our Lady's statue was a high  religious festival in May. It involved  flowers, lyrical songs and young girls dressed in white strewing rose petals on the nave of the Church, There was even a "WHS" factor ignored at the time, when one  special girl in full white wedding gear had to climb a ladder to place a wreath of flowers on the head of the statue. Many observers would see the day as a bit of Goddess worship Catholic style where women had their  15 minutes of religious fame. But after all the processing and drama of the crowning we went back to hearing a male priest tell of the glory of Mary.

In  2012  the NCR has published one of the best pieces of writing I have ever read by Sr Joan Chittester : Silence about the global treatment of women is disquieting. Chittester concludes this item with this call:

From where I stand, it seems to me that male "protection," paternalism and patriarchal theology are not to be trusted anymore because the actions it spawns in both men and women have limited the full humanity of women everywhere, and on purpose.

Isn't it time for us all to really be converted, to say the real Truth about women from our pulpits, from our preachers, from our patriarchs, until both they and we finally believe it ourselves? Then surely the actions that make it real will follow.


I am all for keeping May as a month of "woman awareness". I believe we should rediscover the mythology and person of Mary of Nazareth in our day. My preferred text for such an approach is Marina Warner's "Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary". It speaks with far more religious and feminine insight the Louis de Montfort's True Devotion to Mary.


I have  my own Marian Shrine in the back garden. "Our Lady of the Milk Crate" is a local devotion inspired by the appearances of Mary at Coogee Beach. Readers may be surprised to know that the Virgin Mary had made an earlier visit to Coogee in 1911 to a young woman, Eileen O'Connor who founded Australia's Brown Nurses.

On a practical and pastoral response perhaps our Churches could begin by recognizing May as Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month.No such mention of this basic issue last year  in the May 13 ceremony of the consecration of the Pontificate of Pope Francis.

My many women friends continue to challenge me into the full maturity of my masculinity. I recall with gratitude the women of global influence I have been privileged to meet or know online and through their writings. I honour the work of Dorothy Day, Jean Houston, Helen Prejean, Pauline Coll, Julia Cameron. Marina Warner, Janet McKenzie,   Mirium Therese WinterOdetta, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Maureen Watson, Oodgeroo  Noonuccal  Mirium Rose Ungunmerr Baumann and so many more.