Bishop Christopher Saunders, Bishop of Broome, has described racism as having “scarred the psyche of the nation” in a powerful keynote speech given at the Australasian Catholic Press Association (ACPA) annual conference.
Bishop Saunders, also member of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, explained that a life devoid of social justice is “tantamount to spitting in the Face of Christ”.
In his speech, he reflected on the history of the church in the Kimberley region and said “the Church had a remarkable record in correcting the abuses spurred by racism and greed”.
He referenced the life of Bishop Matthew Gibney, Bishop of Perth (1886- 1910) as a champion for the treatment of Australian indigenous people. Bishop Gibney established a protectorate mission for Aboriginal people and was “brazen in his resolve in opposition to the exploitation of Aboriginal people”.
He said that he could not find a better banner or manifest (with the exception of the Gospel) to mount a concerted effort against racism and all policies of racist attitudes than Bishop Gibney’s own words, “So long as I consider (Aboriginals) as being cruelly treated under the sacred name of justice, I shall not cease to raise my voice.”
Bishop Saunders was grateful for the role of Catholic media in Australia, saying that it was Catholic publications that “gave oxygen” when the secular media and press had ignored him and the social justice council on key social justice issues.
He said that Catholic schools and communities in the region had developed leaders who could stand their ground against forces of tyranny. “The Church is called to stand in solidarity alongside these leaders, to be with the marginalised and the oppressed, and to do so while proclaiming the mantle of Christ’s love.”
He believes that the Church in Australia is called to be bold in its part in the service of Australian society. “We share a unique moment in the pages of our country’s history, and we are being well prepared as we learn humility, which we know is the foundation of all Christian endeavour.
“During these days of the Royal Commission, our Church is being scrubbed clean of the soot and grime that comes from arrogance, power and a twisted sense of vocation.”
He ended the speech calling on the Catholic media to play a role in the Church in Australia that is “devoid of racism” and “promotes the fundamental option for the poor”.