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The SJ Around the Bay submission to the Plenary Council

SJ Around the Bay is a network of Parish Social Justice Groups in the Catholic Diocese of Broken Bay addressing the question:

“What do you think God is asking of us in Australia today?”

Broadly speaking, we think God is asking us to “listen to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the Poor” as presented to us by Pope Francis and his predecessors and through the realities as they present themselves in the world today.

According we believe:

  1. That as the Catholic Church in Australia, broadly speaking, we should be responding far more positively to these needs than we have so far. In particular we recommend that:
    1. Bishops encourage the formation of Parish Social Justice Groups (or Laudato Si Groups), in each parish in each Australian Diocese,
    2. Parish Social Justice Groups form a network within dioceses to share concerns, information and to support each other,
    3. Parish Social Justice Groups provide the leadership for action on social justice and environmental issues within their parishes,
    4. The Parish Social Justice Groups work closely with a Diocesan Social Justice Coordinator.
    5. The staff of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACAJC) be expanded to facilitate a more positive response from parishioners throughout Australia. The expanded role would be to:
      1. Liaise with Catholic Earthcare, The Global Catholic Climate Movement, Jubilee Australia, the Tax Justice Network Australia, Publish What You Pay Australia, Right to Life Australia, Religious Response to Climate Change and other faith based advocate groups and the many secular activist groups such as the Nature Conservation Council, Lock the Gate, that are not in conflict with Catholic Social Teaching,
      2. Thereby enabling them to produce a simple 1 or 2 page weekly social justice/environment bulletin that could be included with the weekly parish bulletin. Such a SJ bulletin could provide prayer resources, event dates, campaign initiatives (such as petitions) as well as updates, appropriate quotes from the Pope and the local Bishop (helping to propagate Catholic Social Teachings), links to relevant resources on the Internet, etc.
      3. Such a medium would allow leadership within the Church to be more effective, i.e. it would go beyond the issuing of the annual Social Justice Statement and Papal encyclicals

(SJ Around the Bay makes these recommendations after 10 years of work in this area of the Churches’ Mission. The strategy adopted by SJ Around the Bay has been described as “Diocesan best practice” by an external observer).

  1. That support be provided for our Parish Priests through professional development courses (perhaps during the Priests’ Retreat) so that they are more familiar with the implications and relevance of the Social Teachings of the Church and of the structural causes of poverty. Often what are referred to as structural injustice is not clear, however, it is given very strong emphasis by Pope Francis.

“The need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed, not only for the pragmatic reason of its urgency for the good order of society, but because society needs to be cured of a sickness which is weakening and frustrating it, and which can only lead to new crises. Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses. As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills”. #202 Evangelii Gaudium

Similarly, support needs to be provided to ensure that the distinction between welfare projects (i.e. charitable works) and action for social justice (i.e. changing unjust social structures) is well understood by both priest and laity.

Both bishops and priest should encourage the laity to be involved in the politics necessary to bring about the changes in social and economic structures required for responding effectively to the “cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”. Again, Pope Francis point out: “The authentic face of politics and its reason for being, an invaluable service to the good of the whole community. And that is why the Church’s social doctrine regards it as a noble form of charity.” “I invite you to consider the nobility of political action in the name and favour of the people.” www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/you-cant-change-politics-watching-from-a-balcony-pope-francis-says-72926 

3……the Australian Bishops Conference follow the lead provided by Bishops’ Conferences in other countries in expressing concern over that lack of effective action on Climate Change as well as divestment from the fossil fuel industry.

4……students in Catholic high school be encouraged to take part in political action as well as personal lifestyle change in the response to the Climate Change Emergency and that this be acknowledged as an expression of their Catholic faith. School principals of Catholic high schools should facilitate participation of their staff and students in the rallies currently being organised by Australian youth. Attendance at such rallies by students in Catholic Schools should be seen as a form of witness to our faith. Pope Francis point out, Christian witness” is “salt and light.” Noting that light is meant to illuminate, the Pope stressed that, “anyone who hides the light gives counter-testimony.” https://zenit.org/articles/what-is-christian-witness-being-salt-light-says-pope/ 

5……that the Church in Australia should respond actively to the powerful Kiaros 2009 document, A Moment of Truth – A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian Suffering, in which the Christian leaders in Palestine plead for help from the rest of the world. In responding actively, the Bishops could call on the Australian Government to recognise Palestine as a state, (as the Vatican has done). The BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) campaign could also be supported as pleaded for in the Kiaros 2009 document. (The day to day persecution experienced by Palestinians seldom gets publicity but their cry cannot be ignored.  To do so is simply immoral).

  1. One member of our network stresses is a need for the Church to address the role of contraception in the reduction of human population growth. Clearer guidelines are needed.

While Australian Catholics can’t solve “all the problems of the world”, we are at least expected to be light for the world as the reference to Pope Francis points out above.”

  • The Catholic Church in Australia should be a prophetic voice condemning the manifest injustices of the Australian Government’s policies towards refugees and asylum seekers who have come to Australia by ‘irregular’ means.
  • Further, the Church should do all in its power to ensure that all believers and people of good will are aware of and are provided with the means to respond to Pope Francis’ affirmation on behalf of migrants and refugees

Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age (Matthew 25:35-43). The Lord entrusts to the Church’s motherly love every person forced to leave their homeland in search of a better future. This solidarity must be concretely expressed at every stage of the migratory experience – from departure through journey to arrival and return. This is a great responsibility, which the Church intends to share with all believers and men and women of good will, who are called to respond to the many challenges of contemporary migration with generosity, promptness, wisdom and foresight, each according to their own abilities.

In this regard, we wish to reaffirm that “our shared response may be articulated by four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate”.

Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2018, 14 January 2018, http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/migration/documents/papa-francesco_20170815_world-migrants-day-2018.html accessed 8 Dec 2018


Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees who have come to Australia by boat – the irregular maritime arrivals – is manifestly unjust. Whilst the long-term detention of men, women and children on Nauru and Manus Island has been publicly opposed by many and has had significant publicity, the government continually fails to respond adequately. The behaviour of the parliament in the last sittings of 2018 in response to a cross-bench Bill targeted at allowing sick children to be brought to Australia for treatment was shameful. Political gamesmanship again has over-ridden the well-being, the human rights and personal dignity of the detainees.

Largely unknown to the Australian community are the injustices inflicted by the government upon irregular arrivals living within the community or in onshore detention. There are many thousands suffering these injustices which seem to have been carefully structured to make their lives extremely difficult. It must be assumed that the government’s objective is to discourage others who might be tempted to come to Australia by irregular means and/or force those irregular arrivals already here into despair for their and their family’s futures so they return to their countries of origin – whatever risks that might entail.

Attached is a list of government injustices towards refugees and asylum seekers. This list was presented to John Alexander MP, the Member for Bennelong on 14th June 2018 by an interfaith delegation from the electorate seeking his agreement to work within the government for a more humane response. The meeting was orchestrated by the Uniting Church’s Social Justice Forum. Whilst the detail of some of the items on the list have changed, the injustices largely remain in place. Mr Alexander seemed unaware of these issues, was sympathetic and committed to raise the document with the appropriate ministers. To date there has been no response.

On December 5th 2018 Caritas Australia reported that the Australian Government has decided to withdraw from the Global Migration Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. This ‘historic multilateral agreement’ is ‘…… expected to be the first, internationally negotiated agreement, prepared under the guidance of the United Nations, to cover all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner. Over 190 countries have signed up to the agreement.’

Caritas Australia urges government to adopt global migration compact 5 Dec 2018 https://www.caritas.org.au/learn/newsroom/news-detail/caritas-australia-urges-government-to-adopt-global-migration-compact accessed 8th December 2018

It is clear that there will be no change in government policy until enough people tell the government it must change. Bishops, clergy and laity should be fully educated in the injustices that we, as a nation, are inflicting on these people and all the faithful should be encouraged to let politicians know that we Catholics demand a more humane response.

It is incongruous that we are prepared to use political power to obtain increased funding for Catholic schools but remain mute whilst our brothers and sisters are used as political pawns.

Throughout human history the Catholic Church has responded to human needs, sometimes the very basics, at other times at a more social level such as schools and hospitals. Today, there are new needs. With the love of Christ in our hearts we can respond to them with vitality.

Phil Jones

Convenor SJ Around the Bay.

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