Year of Youth 2018

Where will Relentless Campaigns leave the Most Needy?

Last edited 12th February 2018

Where will Relentless Campaigns leave the Most Needy?

by Archbishop Anthony Fisher

The Catholic Church is far more than its buildings. It is principally our people and their works.

I am proud that our people provide high-quality healthcare, aged care, palliative care, counselling, primary and secondary schooling, tertiary education, community building and pastoral care. Our people provide social welfare services to those living with disability or drug and alcohol dependence, to those fleeing domestic violence or with mental health issues, to the unemployed, homeless, refugees and indigenous, to parents, children and youth.


I am enormously proud our people help millions of Australian families and individuals every year, Catholics and non-Catholics alike.


Taken together this makes us the nation’s largest non-government provider of essential services. Inevitably that means a lot of "assets". But we do all of this as a non-profit organisation. So we have to work those assets hard and manage our money responsibly. Hence the internal church "banks" that assist parishes, schools and others get a start on their projects without crippling charges. Hence the local finance committees and cake stalls in our local parishes. Hence the Vinnies shops and the rest.

To compare this with the corporates like Westfield and Wesfarmers, as the SMH and Age did yesterday, is unreal. So is valuing St Mary’s Cathedral as if it were a potential site for a high rise development. Its value is as spiritual and artistic heritage of the Church, city and nation.

Much of the Church’s patrimony is like that, received on trust by the present generation from past ones and for the future. The Church is not free to dispose of such things at whim. Other "assets" such as schools exist only because they were funded by parishes and parents (and partly by government), for a very specific purpose. And many are owned, not by the local diocese, but a parish (e.g. the local church), religious order (e.g. the local hospital) or a lay organisation (e.g. the local Vinnies). It is misleading to lump these things together as “the wealth of the Church” at the disposal of “the bishops”.

Take St Vincent’s Public Hospital in Darlinghurst, started by the Sisters of Charity 180 years ago. Last year alone it admitted more than 42,000 patients, performed over 8,000 operations, and served 363,726 outpatients. It’s at the forefront of clinical research, medical education and emergency care. And it can’t turn to government to bail it out every time there’s a deficit.

The nuns never guessed what their little hospital would become. But they were determined to serve the needs they saw around them. Happily lay collaborators and eventually governments helped fulfil that dream. Some might look enviously at the "assets", but they are very much the social infrastructure of our city.

Unfortunately, the good works of the Church have been tainted of late by the evil actions of some in our ranks and inaction of some leaders. We realise our good works can never excuse or undo the terrible damage done. That has to be addressed directly.

Which is why the Church was the first to back a national redress scheme, independent of the churches, as recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. And we are committed to paying our share.

For those who choose not to access the redress scheme, we’ll ensure a clear entity to sue with insurance or resources to back any claims. I’m determined there will be no hiding from our responsibilities in this area.

I realise that given our past failings some will believe any evil said of the Church. But to accuse us of lying to the royal commission, hiding our assets from abuse victims, and failing in our obligations to rectify wrongs done is unjust and untrue.

In addition to cooperating with the royal commission, the Archdiocese of Sydney fully complies with current laws and accounting standards. We are thoroughly scrutinised regarding every last cent of government grants we receive. We account for tax deductable donations and other funds as required by law. The days of an institution cloaked in mystery are over.

Our governance and management structures are evolving in response to contemporary expectations. Greater transparency is being actively pursued.

But no matter how we use our resources and how we report on them, the campaign to strip the Church of its assets and influence is relentless. We should be clear-sighted about where this is leading. If the Church is knocked out of the equation, as some would like, who else will do all the good that ordinary Church workers and volunteers do with those working "assets"? Who else will serve the millions of the most needy presently assisted?


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