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Embracing First Nations voices in the Church

  • 24 February 2020


Pope Francis’ 'Querida Amazonia' (Beloved Amazonia) has been warmly received by many members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic community. The tone of the exhortation is reflective of the position that underpins our vision for the Church in Australia — a Church that is open to the gifts of First Nations Catholics, honest to the past and embracing of a new way of thinking that utilizes the principle of subsidiarity.

It will take some time to digest and fully understand the implications of 'Beloved Amazonia', but the synod and accompanying document are all leading us to a pivotal time in the global Catholic Church and particularly the Australian Catholic Church. The Church in our Great Southern Land is currently undertaking a plenary process that carries the hopes and dreams of the 130,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics.

Many had expected 'Beloved Amazonia' to include a definitive statement on the issue of accepting married men into the priesthood to address the needs of remote Amazonian Indigenous communities, drawing obvious parallels to the needs of our communities in Australia. Instead the Pontiff espoused ‘a specific and courageous response is required of the Church’ to meet the needs of Catholics. Some have seen this statement as an attempt to obviate further difficult discussions, however, those of us involved in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) feel it is reflective of the need to take a wider perspective and consider options and avenues that have not yet been fully explored.

As an aside, a point that is often lost in these discussions is to acknowledge the commitment and dedication of the priests and religious that are currently working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in urban, regional and remote settings. Everyday these priests work tirelessly in communities with very little respite. They are owed a debt of gratitude.

Undoubtably, having Aboriginal clergy would embody Catholic Social Teaching’s Principle of Subsidiarity, a teaching that NATSICC and the Catholic Church subscribes to and strives to bring to life. Subsidiarity advocates that those closest to the community and the issues faced should be empowered to make decisions and become leaders. In doing so we embrace the value and the transcendent worth that comes from God in each and every individual. But it cannot be seen as the only way to empower our people.

This single course of action alone ignores and minimises the