Society Elects new President

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Giving up their time for others … volunteers at the Baulkham Hills Vinnies store Katherine Baker (left) her sister Anna and Madeleine Menasse. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Giving up their time for others … volunteers at the Baulkham Hills Vinnies store Katherine Baker (left) her sister Anna and Madeleine Menasse. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

The St Vincent de Paul Society has elected a replacement for its suspended NSW State Council President, Peter McNamara, despite an active appeal and concerns by members about the manner of his suspension.

In August 2021 former NSW State Council President, Peter McNamara, was suspended as a member of the Society by National President Claire Victory. His election was subsequently annulled in late 2021.

The Catholic Weekly understands the annulment of McNamara’s election followed an investigation into internal complaints which were not of a financial nature.

The full substance of the complaints have been made available to members, who in the lead up to this weekend’s election feel they are in the dark about why McNamara was stood down last year.

“Society members have received updates regarding matters in relation to former State Council President, Mr McNamara as well as the State Council President election process.”

Tony Cranney, who as president of the Sydney Archdiocese Central Council represents around a quarter of all NSW members, wrote in a Catholic Weekly op-ed that McNamara was stood down “under a shroud of secrecy” and had been given little support by the Society to defend himself. Members are “concerned about the over-corporatisation of our organisation”, Cranney wrote.

Speaking on behalf of the Society, NSW Provisional President Denis Walsh said in a short statement that “Society members have received updates regarding matters in relation to former State Council President, Mr McNamara as well as the State Council President election process”.

“In addition, all State Council members have received a confidential summary of a report regarding Mr McNamara.”

Under the Society’s rule a member whose election is annulled can appeal to the National Council, and then to the President General of the Society, based in France.

In a widely-circulated open letter to members in August 2021 after the suspension, Cranney wrote that he “strongly requested” the annulment of McNamara’s election to be “handled differently”. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
In a widely-circulated open letter to members in August 2021 after the suspension, Cranney wrote that he “strongly requested” the annulment of McNamara’s election to be “handled differently”. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

When approached by The Catholic Weekly McNamara confirmed he had lodged his appeal, which was yet to run its course, but otherwise did not wish to comment.

Walsh also declined to comment on the appeal, saying “In regard to the appeal process, the Society will not comment on any internal appeal process that is currently underway.”

Neither Walsh nor Victory answered The Catholic Weekly’s inquiry as to whether McNamara would be reinstated as NSW State Council President were his appeal to succeed, given the position will shortly be filled.

In a widely-circulated open letter to members in August 2021 after the suspension, Cranney wrote that he “strongly requested” the annulment of McNamara’s election to be “handled differently”.

“I believe that effective governance can only be achieved and maintained by an uncompromising commitment to the right balance between the spiritual and corporate excellence of the culture of our faith-based organisation.”

“The recent events and treatment of Peter has had an enormous impact on Peter’s physical and mental health, not to mention the financial burden,” Cranney wrote.

A new poll, held on the morning of 19 February saw Paul Burton, Armidale Central Council President win the NSW presidency over Peter Houweling, Wollongong Central Council President.

Burton has been a member of the Society for more than 35 years and promised to serve “with humility, respect and a true sense of Vincentian spirit”.

“I believe that effective governance can only be achieved and maintained by an uncompromising commitment to the right balance between the spiritual and corporate excellence of the culture of our faith-based organisation,” Burton said in a statement following his election.