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Two faces of the Catholic Church

  • 24 November 2011

Last week two events disclosed different faces of the Catholic Church. The first was the funeral for Monsignor John Murphy, who for most of his working life was concerned with immigration. The second was the Vatican appointment of Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett as Apostolic Administrator of the Brisbane Archdiocese. It follows the acceptance of Archbishop John Bathersby's resignation on the grounds of age.

I came to know Father Murphy when I was helping to establish small Catholic communities of recently arrived Cambodian and Laotian refugees.

Refugees were often seen as a problem either to be deplored or to be solved from above. John, who was Director of the Melbourne Catholic Immigration Office saw them as people, and trusted them to shape their own community life.

He always accepted their hospitality when invited, listened and encouraged them. His style can be seen in the photograph above. He stands comfortably at the right of the group, is part of it but not central to it and is clearly a representative of the wider church. He enjoys the occasion and encourages the families and the Vinnies who support them to be at home both in their Cambodian community and in the wider Australian church.

Anyone who approached John for help knew instinctively that he would not see their request as a problem but as a simple expression of human need.

I realised this when attending a celebration of the 25th anniversary of his ordination. I had cycled across to the church unprepared for the steady rain which fell during my ride. Arriving cold and dripping, I instinctively went to the presbytery to ask if I could borrow an old pair of John's trousers for the celebration. With John, that was what anyone would naturally do. So I was momentarily taken aback to find that the housekeeper saw me and my bedraggled state as a problem rather than as a person in need. But John soon arrived and I was fixed up.

A few years later I took over from him in visiting the Immigration Detention Centre. There I heard many stories of how he had visited former detainees and immigrants when they were sick, and had occasionally spent all night