The Catholic Church in Australia has officially endorsed the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which calls for a First Nations voice to Parliament to be enshrined in the Constitution, after a vote by the members of the Plenary Council.
The Church also committed to acknowledging “in a prominent and appropriate manner the Traditional Custodians of the land” in each diocese and eparchy.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander “symbols and rituals” will now be considered for Catholic liturgy, with the Bishops Commission for Liturgy and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC).
“Bishop Charles Gauci of Darwin, Chair of the Bishops Commission for Relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, said he thought the Church was now heading in the right direction.”
The Church also apologised to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for “the part played by the Church in the harms they have suffered” and committed to working towards “recognition, reconciliation and justice”.
Commenting on the discussion on the floor of the Plenary Council on the Indigenous motions, Bishop Charles Gauci of Darwin, Chair of the Bishops Commission for Relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, said he thought the Church was now heading in the right direction.
“It was very much about respect. It’s about acknowledgment. It’s about a journey that’s continuing to unfold,” he told The Catholic Weekly.
“What I brought up myself, specifically on behalf of the Northern Territory Aboriginal Catholic Council: please don’t make one size fit all when it comes to Aboriginal situations.
We’ve got many nationalities, many traditions.” Between a quarter and a third of all Catholics in Bishop Gauci’s diocese are Indigenous.
In his ministry he spends a significant amount of time listening to Aboriginal people and learning about their cultures and sense of spirituality.
In response to concerns from some Catholics about incorporating Indigenous symbolism in liturgical services, Bishop Charles said the Church “has baptised pagan symbols continuously … I remember being in India – my uncle is a Jesuit missionary in India – and it was the feast of Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom,” he said.
“Aboriginal people have no doubt that Christ is God, [or of] the supremacy of Christ …”
“So Christians made a feast, ‘Jesus the wisdom of God’ on that day, who brings it to fulfilment.
“Aboriginal people have no doubt that Christ is God, [or of] the supremacy of Christ, and that Christ brings everything to fulfilment.
“If we use some of their symbols for cleansing, what’s wrong with that?”
John Lochowiak, the Chair of NATSICC said on the Plenary Tracker webcast on 4 July that he was “excited with my role within the Church” and hopes the Church can lead the way on promoting the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
He also said he was “a bit fed up with all people picking on all the churches”.
“The Catholic Church educated my Mum. She wouldn’t have got an education if it wasn’t for Catholic Schools,” he told Plenary Tracker.
“I’ve had nothing but good experiences with the Catholic Church. My best friend’s a Catholic priest.”
“I feel confident that from our meeting today and the support we got as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people are getting onside.”
Mr Lochowiak is an initiated man from South Australia with links to several language groups including the Pitjantjatjara, Kaurna, Ramindjeri and Arrernte, and works with Aboriginal communities in Central Australia and the Diocese of Adelaide.
“I feel confident that from our meeting today and the support we got as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people are getting onside,” he said.
“There’s improvement in the community. When I was growing up, the worst thing to be was Aboriginal.
“But I find today people are wanting to learn about Aboriginal Culture.”