St Vincent de Paul election to proceed this weekend

Although a former State President is appealing the decision to stand him down, the Society of St Vincent de Paul is proceeding with an election for a replacement this weekend

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Clothes hang on display in a Society of St Vincent de Paul shop. The NSW branch of the Society is proceeding with an election for its state presidency as a former state president appeals the decision to stand him down.

St Vincent de Paul Society plans to proceed with elections this weekend to replace 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 State Council President is elected by the presidents of regional councils, who are themselves elected by local member conferences.

‘Shroud of secrecy’

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 not 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.

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 this week that McNamara was stood down “under a shroud of secrecy” and had been given little support by the Society to defend himself.

Report distributed

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.

Uncertainty if appeal succeeds

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”.

“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.

The NSW State Council will proceed to a new election on the morning of 19 February, with the choice between Paul Burton, Armidale Central Council President, and Peter Houweling, Wollongong Central Council President.

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