A few days after the recent funeral of former Redfern parish priest Ted Kennedy, NSW Deputy Premier Dr Andrew Refshauge paid tribute to the great man in State Parliament. Referring to the "fast track to sainthood" Pope Benedict XVI is using to expedite the cause for his predecessor John Paul II's canonisation, Refshauge stated emphatically: "Father Ted Kennedy should be on it."
Without realising, he went on to give the reasons Kennedy is not on the fast track: "He was ... a pebble in the comfortable boot of the establishment, an untidy prophet and an enemy of cruel blindness and petty pomp."
The context was Pope John Paul II's positioning on the said fast track, almost before he was dead. A holy man no doubt, but one from a different holiness mould to Ted Kennedy. The late Pope's incomparable charisma and his skills as a diplomat and actor, meant he tended not to cause discomfort to the establishment. He came across as safe, and the pompous and cruelly blind were only too willing to be associated with him. If Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush had ever met, it's hard to imagine them saying nice things to each other. Yet it was no problem for John Paul.
Mother Teresa is another holy person on the fast track. She had many of John Paul's qualities, although in different measure. Arguably, she was able to confront the privileged in a more striking manner, at the same time managing to maintain their esteem and patronage. Ted Kennedy shared her devotion to the poor. But prophetic as he was, much of what he said was not conducive to fostering friendship with those in high places. It did not impress those who might put him on the fast track to sainthood.
Cardinal George Pell observed: "He was a man of strong convictions who worked hard to help those on the margins." (That is, he did not please those not on the margins). Cardinal Pell went on to say that he "will be sadly missed by his friends and former parishioners" (but presumably not the pillars of society at large).
Having set himself an impossible task, Ted left much unfinished business. He inspired many people to work for reconciliation in the context of the Christian gospel. He was never going to be an easy act to follow. And, largely because he did not see fit to lobby and build bridges with those in authority, the archdiocese has failed to provide clergy who are willing and able to carry on his work.
He left the archbishop with a stark choice - either to re-commit the Redfern parish to the poor, or administer it in a way that pushes the poor back to the margins. Father Ted was not a man of mediocrity, and the community he left was run in a manner that allows no room for compromise.
Last Friday, Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Fisher was deputed to fax to the parish community what could well become a landmark communication. The definitiveness of the letter was an implicit acknowledgement that there was no possibility of compromise. He said he had directed the priests of the parish to seek assistance from the police to ensure liturgical norms are respected. It was official: the poor were back on the margins.
Bishop Fisher expressed the wish of the archdiocese that Father Ted's legacy be "carried foward". It seems naïve to believe this could occur in a faith community that requires police assistance to maintain order. Several people have recently noted that Father Ted had often had to resolve problems with unruly members of the community, but had never seen fit to call the police. During the Redfern riot in February last year, parish priest Fr Gerry Prindiville was asked what he was going to do in response. Nothing, he said, it was a police matter.
At least Ted doesn't have to worry about encountering the highway police on the fast track to sainthood.
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