Archbishop’s letter weighs into Folau saga

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney gives his blessing as he concelebrates Mass with other Australian bishops at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome June 25, 2019. The bishops were making their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring)

Australia’s bishops have concluded an ‘audit’ of the Church in Rome with “real cause for hope” despite grave challenges and threats to the teaching and expression of the faith back home said Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP.

In an open letter to the people and pastors of Sydney after the bishops’ Ad Limina to the Vatican, Archbishop Fisher also made his first public comments on the Israel Folau saga.  The archbishop said that the “heavy-handed treatment” of Israel and his wife Maria illustrates some of the concerns and challenges faced by all people of faith.

On a positive note, he also announced that the official cause for the canonisation of Eileen O’Connor will be launched later this year.

Portrait of Eileen O’Connor by Norman Carter, 1920

The ‘Ad Limina Apostolorum’ visit from June 23-29 was prefaced with a retreat outside of Rome and ended with Melbourne’s Archbishop Peter A Comensoli receiving the pallium from Pope Francis.

Under canon law such a pilgrimage is required every five years to the tombs of the apostles, and to meet the Holy Father and officials at the Vatican departments.

The two-and-a-half-hour meeting of the 38 bishops with the Pope at the apostolic palace was “deeply moving and very encouraging and underlined for me the importance of the Petrine ministry” Archbishop Fisher said.

“The Holy Father clearly understood our situation in Australia, taught, advised, challenged and encouraged us.

“This encounter was a real moment of grace.”

In the letter to all Sydney Catholics, the archbishop slammed corporates who use their power to narrow the space for freedom of belief and speech.

“No one should have to raise millions to vindicate their rights against such corporate power,” he said. “It seems to me that there has been a very heavy-handed targeting of Israel and Maria Folau for daring to express unfashionable religious views.

“In the background is a relentless campaign from some quarters to push religious beliefs and believers to the margins of society, and to confine faith to an ever-narrowing field of private life.”

Israel Folau

While one did not have to agree with all Mr Folau says or the way he says it, the determination of some to destroy him and his family was “troubling”, the archbishop said.

His comments came as women’s netball sponsors ANZ bank and health insurance company HCF came out against Mrs Folau, who plays for New Zealand, for supporting her husband.

As part of the Ad Limina the bishops met with varying Vatican dicasteries. At the Congregation for Catholic Education the Archbishop Fisher updated officials about Australia’s Catholic education system, its achievements and current threats to the freedom of our schools to continue to enrol, employ and teach according to our Catholic approach.

The conversation at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith focussed on child safeguarding, the push to legalise euthanasia throughout the country and government intrusion into the sacramental life of the Church, for example by removing the seal of confession exemption in mandatory reporting of abuse.

Sydney bishop Tony Randazzo shares a joke with Pope Francis and receives a gift from him during the ad limina meeting. PHOTO: L’osservatore Romano

The Congregation for Saints was “very encouraging” regarding the cause of founder of Little Nurses for the Poor Eileen O’Connor, the archbishop said, while at several congregations the bishops’ received “encouragement and helpful advice” regarding the Plenary Council for Australia.

“Overall, the Bishops of Australia had a very good experience of this ‘audit’ of Church life in our country, of the pilgrimage to the holy places, and of communion with the Pope and his collaborators,” he wrote.

“For all the negativity around the Church at present it gave us real cause for hope. We are grateful for your prayers for us and we have had you all in our thoughts and prayers throughout.”

Read the whole letter here.

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