The Journey So Far
A Letter to the People of the Archdiocese of Perth from Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Having been Archbishop here in Perth for six months I would like to take this opportunity to write to you and share some reflections with you on the journey so far. Rather than write a formal pastoral letter I simply want to offer you these simple thoughts.
It has been a busy and in some ways rather overwhelming period, but it has also been a time in which I have experienced the hospitality, generosity, understanding and kindness of so many people. To all of you – laity, religious and clergy – who have made me so welcome, I would like to say a very sincere “thank you”.
There have certainly been some challenges and difficult moments, but they are far outweighed by many wonderful experiences of faith and hope. Some important decisions have been made and I have benefitted from the wise advice of many people.
I am very grateful that, in God’s providence, I have taken up the role of Archbishop during the Year of Grace. In spite of all the challenges and difficulties we face today as a Church I have no doubt that if we accept the invitation to “contemplate the face of Christ” and “start afresh from him” then he will lead us forward and help us to be, together, the living sign of his ongoing presence in our world and in our time. In that spirit I would like to repeat the statement I made at my installation. The greatest challenge we face today is the challenge of returning the Church to Christ and returning Christ to the Church. As I said six months ago this is not a call to be something other than we are: rather it is a call to be more fully what we already are.
One of the great strengths of our Archdiocese, and one of our greatest blessings, is the presence of our two seminaries. As I write this letter we have fifteen students in residence at Saint Charles’ Seminary in Guildford with another seven students studying interstate or overseas. At the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Morley there are another fourteen students following the spirituality of the Neo-catechumenal Way, with three more awaiting their visa approvals. These two seminaries are an extraordinary sign of hope for us. As I reflect on this wonderful gift I am led to ask everyone in the Archdiocese to pray for our seminarians and to encourage more young (and perhaps not so young) men to ask if God is perhaps calling them to the same vocation. Keep your eyes open for men who might make good priests and don’t be afraid to make the suggestion to them! Sometimes they are only waiting to be asked.
In July we were able to announce the appointment of Dr Tim McDonald as the new Director of Catholic Education in Western Australia. He will replace Mr Ron Dullard who will retire at the end of this year after many years of generous, faithful and committed service to the Church. New beginnings are always a time of hope and indeed we have every reason to be hopeful. In many ways our Catholic education system in Western Australia is one of the “jewels in the crown” of our Archdiocese and our state. In spite of the challenges which undoubtedly exist our Catholic schools provide us with an extraordinary opportunity to help our young people grow in their faith and welcome Christ into their lives. Already after six months I realize how proud we should all be of the army of wonderful people who work in and support our schools. They deserve our gratitude and our encouragement. They also need our prayers.
One of the very obvious features of our Catholic schools is their multi-cultural character. This mirrors the multi-cultural nature of our parishes and, indeed, of our society generally. This is a great richness both for our society and for our Church. We are fortunate, then, to also have a very multi-cultural clergy. It could hardly be otherwise. In fact it would be rather odd if our clergy did not mirror the communities they seek to serve. Having lived in a foreign country myself for a couple of years I am full of admiration for the priests, and the religious, who have sought to make our Archdiocese their home and the place where they seek to serve God and his Church. Difficulties of language, culture, traditions, expectations and even diet will always be there but in the spirit of the gospel we are called, as Saint Paul would say, “to bear one another’s burdens” and to “make hospitality our special care.”
We are of course about to enter the “Year of Faith” proclaimed by Pope Benedict. It will run concurrently for the first six months or so with our own Year of Grace. We will also soon be celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. It is often said that at the heart of the Council there was a recovery of the understanding of the importance of “communion” in the life of the Church. Pope John Paul 11 in fact spoke about the “spirituality of communion” as being essential to the life and mission of the Church today. Among other things the Pope remarked that a spirituality of communion implies the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: not only as a gift for the brother or sister who has received it directly, but also as a "gift for me". We are called, in other words, to a largeness of heart and a largeness of vision which helps us to recognize that there are many pathways to God and many spiritualties within our Catholic tradition. Not all of them will be our pathway or our spirituality but if they are a faithful expression of our rich Catholic faith then we are called to accept them with joy and recognize them as gifts of God’s Spirit to his Church.
Among the many significant moments which have marked this first six months, the farewells to four priests who gave their lives to the service of the Church stand out in my mind. We continue to pray for Fr Brian Harris, Fr Dan Foley, Fr Finbarr Walsh and Fr Joseph Kelly OCD. May the Lord give them eternal rest and let his light shine upon them.
One of the great challenges we face today is the growing gap between the values we espouse as Catholics and the values which seem to be so widely accepted in society generally. This is a challenge for our own Catholic community, for it is hard to stand out from the crowd or even, sometimes, to understand why we must. It is also a challenge as we see the Church side-lined, attacked and ridiculed for continuing to insist on positions which others do not accept and cannot understand. It is good for us to remember that Jesus alerted his first disciples that this would be the case. Nothing has changed. I am firmly convinced that the Church has a great gift entrusted to her by Christ. It is the gift of our faith. The Lord is calling us to be faithful to this gift even in the face of rejection, hostility and incomprehension. We must be ready to offer the gift in all its richness to all who come seeking.
In this regard perhaps it is helpful for us to remember that, while others would portray us as negative people who are only ever “against” things, in fact we are people who are positive and hopeful – people who are “for” the things that really matter. We are people committed to the beauty and value of human life and for that reason against anything that would diminish human beings. And so we are against abortion and euthanasia, we are against the exploitation which is inherent in prostitution, we are against sexual and other forms of abuse, and against the degradation which is the hallmark of pornography. We are people committed to the family and to the rights of children to be given the best possible environment in which to grow to maturity and so we are against attempts to redefine the nature of marriage and sever the essential link between the commitment of a man and a woman to each other in marriage and the creation and fostering of their family. We are committed to the need for people to be able to live with dignity and respect and so we are against policies and decisions which call this dignity and respect into question. And so we raise questions about the treatment of asylum seekers, about the proliferation of gambling machines, about the rising cost of living, even about such things as Sunday Trading. We are people who recognize and celebrate the beauty and the fragility of our natural world and so express our concerns about the despoiling of nature because of greed or short-sightedness. In all these matters, and in many more, we do not seek to impose our views. Rather we seek to offer the wisdom of our two thousand year old Catholic tradition because we believe that this wisdom can guide our society into a brighter, more truly human future. It is both our right and our duty to continue to offer this wonderful vision of life. I would encourage us all to be immensely proud of our Church’s commitment to these fundamental human values and to be courageous in standing up for them, even in the face of incomprehension or hostility.
One of the reasons why our voice is not heard or respected when we seek to proclaim our beliefs is the shameful reality of sexual abuse by clergy, religious and other Church personnel. As the new Archbishop of Perth I would like to express my own horror of these terrible crimes which have brought so much suffering to so many people. The victims of sexual abuse deserve our compassion, our admiration and our support. On behalf of the whole Archdiocese I would like to express here my unreserved apology to all those people who have suffered this abuse, and all those who in any way have been affected by these unjustifiable and inexcusable actions. I would also like to assure you all that I intend to work closely with my collaborators and advisers to deal fully and compassionately with any instances of abuse and to do all we can to put effective preventive measures in place to minimize the risk of such things ever happening again.
When I first arrived in Perth and was asked about my priorities I indicated that my first priority was to listen and seek to come to know and understand the Archdiocese of Perth. I have sought to do that through many meetings with priests, religious and laity. However, after just six months, there are many people who I know would like to see me but whom I have not yet managed to meet. I can only ask for your patience.
From time to time I will, as Archbishop, have to make decisions that impact on people’s lives. Sometimes those decisions are made on the basis of information I am not able to share with others. I try not to make decisions lightly or too quickly and I seek advice as widely as I can. Every day I ask the Lord to give me his Spirit of wisdom, of compassion and of courage, so that the decisions I make may be a reflection of his will. I would be most grateful if you could pray also that these gifts of the Holy Spirit will be alive in my life.
As I write these words I am preparing to leave for Rome where, together with Bishop Chris Prowse, bishop of Sale, I will represent the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference at the Synod of Bishops convened by Pope Benedict XV1. By the time you read these words I will be already there. The Synod is centred around the theme: The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. There could hardly be a more urgent or important topic for the Church today. In preparing for the Synod I have become very conscious of its connection to our own Year of Grace and the forthcoming Year of Faith. If we are called to contemplate the face of Christ and start afresh from him it is so that we can be credible witnesses of his love and healing presence in our world. If we, through coming to know him, can see with his eyes, listen with his ears, speak with his words and love with his heart, then we will be what the Church is always called to be: a sign and bearer of God’s love for his people. That love is made known in Jesus who as the head works through his body, the Church, to give the gift of life in all its fullness to all who seek it.
As the new Archbishop of Perth I have started a journey of faith, together with you all, into a future which only God knows. Let us support each other in every way we can, and especially through our prayers, that we can all remain faithful to all that God is asking of us as we respond to his call to listen to his word and put it into practice. May Mary, the Mother of the Lord, who was the first to respond to God in faith, support us with her prayers and her presence in our personal lives and in the life of our Church.
Yours sincerely in Christ,
+Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB
Archbishop of Perth.