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Thursday, 14 February 2013
Page: 1536

Mr HAYES (Fowler) (11:58): I am happy to follow my friend and I would hate for him to get in trouble from his mother. As a fellow Catholic, I would also like to express my personal feelings on the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. We have already heard that in Australia there are about five million Catholics, according to the last census. If they all attended mass and contributed to the collection, I am sure that the church and its activities would be even better off. In terms of Catholicism there are 1.2 billion Catholics around the world. I do not know how it affected anybody else, but when I woke up at six o'clock the other day and heard the news on the ABC, and this was the lead item, it certainly woke me out of my slumber. It was something that took me by complete surprise.

When you think of the papacy you tend to look at it very much in the way that we regard royalty, and you see very few kings and queens abdicate because of age or infirmity and they are normally replaced subsequent to death. That has been the case in the Catholic Church, and I must admit that, until I heard the reports, I was not aware that the last resignation that had occurred was some 600 years ago. That was Pope Gregory XII and that was about a schism in the Catholic Church at that time. So that shows that I was not that attentive when I was studying religious history at De La Salle College Revesby and looking at the origins and development of our modern church.

As I say, it did take me surprise and cause me to actually think deeply about it. Cardinal Ratzinger has had the papacy for eight years but, when he became Pope, he was an old man. I think the view amongst most Catholics was that they were putting in a person who might be regarded as a safe pair of hands to continue on for a short period of time until further changes were made.

When you look at what Pope Benedict was able to achieve in those eight years—which is not a long period of time in terms of the general papacy—he has made a remarkable contribution both in an academic and spiritual way through his writings and in continuing the work of the very much loved Pope John Paul II. He has made a remarkable contribution to the life of Catholics around the world and non-Catholics alike. He has taken the papacy in a direction that has looked at some of the issues facing the contemporary world—looking at issues in the Middle East; addressing the issue of terrorism; addressing the issue which, unfortunately, exists in a modern society—the dichotomy between the privilege and poverty not only within society but between nations; and now more recently, of course, addressing, as the church should do, the issue of child sex abuse.

I had the opportunity to talk to a good friend of mine, Bishop Terry Brady, who lives in Liverpool. We were reflecting on the challenges for the modern day church. He said that, clearly, there are many challenges that must be addressed, but you have to remember that, with the Catholic Church, it was not just the spiritual needs of a community on a Sunday that the church attended to. If you look at education in Australia, it was the Irish Catholic base of the church that spearheaded education, well before public education.

The church is also involved in looking after the poor, through organisations such as St Vincent de Paul and there are other areas of society served by CatholicCare. They administer to people on family related matters, including domestic violence. There are a number of things that these organisations get out and do within the community. There is also Caritas, which pursues the worldwide mission, not simply to promote the Catholic faith but also to provide for people in need. I recall vividly the tsunamis in Indonesia. Father Chris Riley and Catholic based organisations went over and built the Islamic school in the western part of Indonesia. These are things that the Catholic Church members, governed by their faith, feel compelled to do.

When I look at the reign of Pope Benedict, it seems to me that he has not only continued the work set out particularly by Pope John Paul II but done so with great vigour within the church. I suppose one of the special things for us here in Australia that he was the pope that canonised Mary MacKillop in 2010, which has been an event celebrated by all Australians. Mary MacKillop founded the Josephite Order, which is one pretty close to my family as we have had relatives in the Josephites for some period of time. In particular, my wife's Aunty Gladys was one of the nuns and we got to spend a lot of time with them and, in particular, back in the old days when nuns wore habits my wife actually made habits for the nuns. It was very interesting hearing from the older nuns—and I hate calling them old nuns but anyway they were old nuns at the time. They would talk about their mission in life and why they committed themselves to go out and do what they did given the hardships they worked through during the Depression—all to deliver upon what they saw as their calling within the Catholic faith.

I attended, along with many thousands of people, World Youth Day in 2008 in Sydney. I saw the pope there and I thought it was an opportunity not to simply showcase in any theatrical style the contemporary Catholic church but a good opportunity to showcase what the church was actually doing in today's community. You could see the amount of young people that came to World Youth Day from across the globe, bringing their hopes and ambitions as to where they saw themselves going and where they would like communities to develop. Again, I think it is something that will continue after the pope gave such inspiration to those at World Youth Day. It was something that we will treasure for a long period of time.

Many of those close to the pope speak of his love for Australia. It has come through in many of his writings. I think he sees us as a people of a new continent, a continent which is very multicultural, a continent which has brought people from all over the globe with a view to developing ourselves as Australians by utilising the skills of people broadly from all quarters of this earth. That is something that has come through if you look at some of the words that the Pope has put down since his visiting Australia.

I have to say that, whilst his resignation for some is going to be a time of grieving, for me it is a remarkable decision. As I said at the start, I always thought the papacy was something like you would equate with royalty, that ordinarily a person would die in office—or that is generally how it has traditionally been the case. I was not aware of the precedents in terms of resignation. Given the fact that people are living longer, I think the pope has made a very courageous decision. I think if he has decided that his frailties are such that he cannot give his all to his calling, it is a very brave thing that he has done, putting the church and its people—its 1.2 billion followers around the world—ahead of the traditional view of the papacy. It is not so much the pope's own view but probably the traditional view of Catholics about the papacy. So I think that is courageous and something that has got to admired in the person. It is something that we have not seen before and I think it shows that the pope as the helm of the Catholic Church certainly does put the wellbeing of his worldwide congregation far above what might be his own personal interests.

The Pope celebrated his final mass on Ash Wednesday, as we enter into Lent, which was attended by many, many thousands of people. Appropriately, he celebrated mass in St Peter's Basilica, the most fantastic basilica in the world and a place of great spiritual importance to all Catholics. The final day in his papacy will be 28 February and from there on a secret conclave will be held in the Sistine Chapel to elect his successor. I pray and wish that the conclave will do well in their decision, as what they decide will have a huge impact on the world not simply for Catholics but for all peoples as the Catholic church takes a significant position of responsibility in helping address the wellbeing of all peoples.

To my Catholic parishes of the Sacred Heart at Cabramatta, Our Lady of Mount Carmel at Mt Pritchard, All Saints at Liverpool, St Theresa's at Cartwright and John the Baptist at Bonnyrigg, I join with them in praying for the wisdom of all those who sit in the conclave to determine the appropriate person to lead our church into the future. We also pray for the wellbeing of Pope Benedict in his retirement years. I think that he has very much demonstrated a humble spirit. He plans to serve the remainder of his life in quiet contemplation—reading, writing and praying—in a small monastery in the Vatican. I think that we all learn much from his life and are all very much inspired by his eight years of leading the Catholic faith.