Early Catholic leaders failed Aborigines

Nov 26, 2007

Australia's early Catholic bishops failed Aborigines by paying lip service to their plight and not providing enough resources to help them, according to a new historical study.

The study, by UQ PhD recipient Stefano Girola, from the School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics, examined the policies and attitudes of the Catholic hierarchy to Indigenous people from 1885 until 1967.

“I stress the Catholic hierarchy because there were always nuns and missionaries who really were concerned with the plight of Aborigines and also tried to lobby politicians to do something about it,” Dr Girola said.

Dr Girola said the early Catholic hierarchy, with some exceptions such as Perth Bishop Matthew Gibney and Melbourne Archbishop Daniel Mannix, failed in its lack of social policy and in its prophetic role to work against social injustice.

Instead of challenging them, most early bishops mirrored the then widespread, community attitudes to Aboriginal issues.

Dr Girola said the Catholic hierarchy (between 25-30 bishops) were full of public rhetoric and support for Aborigines since 1885 but there was “no real interest” in Aborigines until the 1960s.

His research found that the Church's Home Mission Fund, created in the 1920s to support Aboriginal missions, was often redirected.

“Money from this fund was often used for other purposes that didn't have any thing to do with Aboriginal evangelisation or Aboriginal welfare.”

He said the Catholic hierarchy was more interested in keeping the faith of the mainly Irish “flock” and building churches and the Catholic education system.

Between the 1930s-1950s, Catholic leaders were more worried about containing communism than the plight of Aboriginal people.

For his research, Dr Girola searched through Catholic archives, private collections and letters between bishops and the Vatican, bishops' diaries and personal interviews with bishops, priests and Indigenous people.

He said outreach to Aborigines was a “very low” Church priority, based on the minutes of bishops' meetings between the 1920s and 1960s.

He also translated new historical documents in the Vatican about the Catholic Church's work among Aboriginal people around Sydney and in North Queensland.

They were written by a Franciscan friar and a northern Italian missionary.

Dr Girola grew up a Catholic in Milan, but is no longer practising.

The Chapel Hill academic studied at UQ on an International Postgraduate Research Scholarship after studying the history of Christianity at the University of Milan.

He has written two books, one on Italian migrants and religious festivals in North Queensland and a book interview with a Catholic missionary in Africa.

Source: University of Queensland

Explore further: Will rapprochement mean new research collaborations between Cuba and the U.S.?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

People finding their 'waze' to once-hidden streets

11 hours ago

When the people whose houses hug the narrow warren of streets paralleling the busiest urban freeway in America began to see bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling by their homes a year or so ago, they were baffled.

Identity theft victims face months of hassle

12 hours ago

As soon as Mark Kim found out his personal information was compromised in a data breach at Target last year, the 36-year-old tech worker signed up for the retailer's free credit monitoring offer so he would ...

Observers slam 'lackluster' Lima climate deal

12 hours ago

A carbon-curbing deal struck in Lima on Sunday was a watered-down compromise where national intransigence threatened the goal of a pact to save Earth's climate system, green groups said.

Your info has been hacked. Now what do you do?

12 hours ago

Criminals stole personal information from tens of millions of Americans in data breaches this past year. Of those affected, one in three may become victims of identity theft, according to research firm Javelin. ...

New Bond script stolen in Sony hack

12 hours ago

An "early version" of the screenplay for the new James Bond film was the latest victim of a massive hacking attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, its producers said in a statement on their website Sunday.

Ag-tech could change how the world eats

17 hours ago

Investors and entrepreneurs behind some of the world's newest industries have started to put their money and tech talents into farming - the world's oldest industry - with an audacious agenda: to make sure there is enough ...

Recommended for you

Study: Alcatraz inmates could have survived escape

Dec 17, 2014

The three prisoners who escaped from Alcatraz in one of the most famous and elaborate prison breaks in U.S. history could have survived and made it to land, scientists concluded in a recent study.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.