Dear Archbishop Costelloe,
I write to you in your capacity as President of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference. I am a Canberra mother, grandmother and great grandmother and throughout my life have been active in Church affairs and in movements of Christian inspiration in the broader community. At present, I am the President of the ACT Right to Life Association.
The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference has released, two official documents bearing on the current debate over the Voice referendum. The first was a direct call for support for the Voice by the ACBC, issued on May 11. The second was this year’s Social Justice Statement, “Listen, Learn, Love”, released on August 27.
I am afraid I must express my strong objections to both documents. I consider them to be abuses of episcopal power, and violations of the rights of ordinary Australian Catholics to have their bishops act in accordance with their proper sacred responsibilities and sacred priorities.
Even if it is allowed that it is appropriate for the Australian bishops to issue official statements on the Voice, those statements should transcend the political fray and have a perspective which reasonable people on both sides of the debate will recognise as wise, rational, appreciative of the complexities involved, and rooted in a deeply Catholic understanding of human nature and human destiny. Unfortunately, the two documents are sorely deficient in these regards.
Space does not permit me to give a detailed critique of the documents and so I will confine myself to the following points.
Both documents are pervasively politically partisan; they are one-eyed propaganda of the most derivative, facile, ignorant, and inept kind. They offend not merely because they are partisan, but because they are so simplistically partisan. It is in no exaggeration to say that in the level of analytical thought, stylistic skill, and argumentative persuasiveness, the documents are far below the standard the faithful and the general public may expect of the ACBC.
From start to finish, both documents are tedious exercises in sloganeering, with the slogans being parroted from the stock repertoire devised by the politicians and activists behind the “Yes” campaign.
Traditional Australian Aboriginal culture is presented in an absurdly romanticised and sanitised fashion, in keeping with the tactics of the “Yes” master-manipulators. European settlement of this continent is represented as intrinsically unjust and unjustified, and as having engendered never-ending oppression of Aboriginal people, with perpetual atonement and compensation for this being morally required.
There is no acknowledgment of the vast benefits that Australian Aboriginal people have accrued from European settlement; and above all from the exertions of very many great and good people who dedicated themselves to Aboriginal welfare. Especially deplorable is the absence from either statement of any acknowledgment or honouring of the Catholic Aboriginal missions of the past, and the considerable number of priests, brothers and nuns who selflessly gave their lives to advancing the spiritual and material welfare of the Aboriginal people.
Equally deplorable is the absence of any acknowledgment that a major reason for the crime, lawlessness, drunkenness, unemployment, despair, ill-health and violence against women which characterise very many Aboriginal communities today has been the collapse of Catholic and other Christian educational, spiritual and cultural influences and enterprises, and their replacement by secularist welfarism which has proved disastrously counter-productive. Aboriginal communities have utterly lost their moral and ethical moorings, and are learning by catastrophic experience the truth of Dostoyevsky’s observation: “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.”
To be more specific: Ever since most Christian churches which were involved in missionary activities among the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders have left or been forced to leave, the conditions for Aborigines in the communities in which they worked have invariably declined, often drastically. An exacerbating factor was the granting of full welfare benefits to all members of the communities, with little or no scrutiny of the consequences. We now see risible efforts to fill the gap left by the receding of Christianity in the form of attempted revivals of Rainbow Serpent mythology and rituals, and various other quaint and colourful myths and practices. Some of these might genuinely have their roots in traditional Aboriginal culture, but some are modern concoctions — for instance, Welcome to Country ceremonies were invented by Ernie Dingo, a TV presenter!
As regards the “No” side of the Voice debate, total absent from both episcopal documents is any account of the arguments and evidence which the leading proponents of a “No” vote have advanced, let alone any acknowledgment that these arguments are founded on good-will towards Aboriginal Australians, and are worthy of consideration and respect.
On a more personal note — the wedding celebrations following my husband’s and my marriage in 1968 in Cairns included an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island dance band. I played sport and worked with Aborigines and Islanders who benefited greatly from the work of the Christian churches, and were a fully accepted part of the local community. However, now my relations and friends in the North have to be perpetually wary of Aboriginal youths who are not working nor seeking work, and who cause continuous problems -for instance, burglary, fighting, car theft, and gratuitous car destruction. Problems with school attendance, although not new, have escalated greatly. Tradesmen tell of the measures they have to take to ensure their own safety; the safety of young Aborigines whom they continually try to take on to give them work experience and training; and the safety from theft and vandalism of their sites and equipment.
Government and private financial assistance intended for Aboriginal welfare very often does not filter down to those in need -a situation which appals and scandalises not merely whites but ordinary aborigines. The high-profile “elders” who control the allocation of the finances have often become fabulously wealthy; and their relatives and friends are given highly-paid positions for which they are poorly qualified and other perks.
Will the establishment of a constitutionally-mandated Voice result in improvements to this situation — or simply in an expansion and exacerbation of the rackets and rorts which have caused the situation? This is a key consideration of those who have decided that the proposed Voice would not be in the interests of the Australian community. It is a consideration which should have been recognised, and acknowledged as reasonable, in the two ACBC documents, instead of being totally ignored.
I respectfully ask you to give consideration to what I have said.
(Mrs) Bev Cains