Executive report: Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, Bill Wright

The truth must be before our eyes daily as we try to be a better church and to do what we can for those who suffered.

I hope that this Year in Review document will be seen by many in the diocese and beyond. Through my working life as a priest, I have struggled to find ways to help people to be aware of the things that go on in their community that are beyond their personal involvements − and it is hard work. On one occasion I was berated by three ladies after Mass for our parish’s lack of a Bible Study group, despite the fact that one had existed for years, was frequently mentioned in the parish bulletin, had a new season beginning that had been advertised for the preceding six weeks and had, in fact, been spoken of in the notices not five minutes before. Until that week, however, the ladies concerned had not ‘needed to know’ and had contrived not to know.

Similarly, in another place, we brought together all the different groups in the parish to speak about what each actually did. We had to take two Sunday afternoons to get through it all and, of course, everyone was astonished by all that went on that they knew nothing about. And these were our most involved and active parishioners! In short, there can never be too much sharing of information about our church community. I hope this annual report makes a good deal available in an accessible form.

This year has had some remarkable features across the diocese. It has been the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis and we actually grabbed some international attention through the activity of our travelling ‘Missionary of Mercy’, Fr Richard Shortall SJ, in his mobile home, doing the rounds of our communities. It has been a ministry of great, but largely immeasurable, importance. Fr Richard has been able to preach and exhibit the mercy of God widely, but he has also had to share and bear the pains of many along the way as he has tried to bring them to some reconciliation and peace. Many individual stories of grace will remain unknown to most of us.

In this diocese, while celebrating the sesquicentenary of Bishop Murray’s arrival as our first resident bishop, we have celebrated the contribution of the religious sisters, brothers and priests who began arriving shortly after the bishop. These have been joyous celebrations because so many people have lovingly seized the opportunity to honour the gifts of faith and humanity that the sisters and brothers gave to them over many years. Of course there was also a good deal of wry humour about the personalities and customs of the past. You can read more about this on page 27.

Not all of our past, however, is worthy of our calling in Christ. Dark chapters were exposed again in the case study of child sexual abuse in the diocese held by the Royal Commission this year. Nothing can erase the harm done to those people who were abused as children and to their families. Nothing can erase the shame that these things happened in our community and happened, all too often, despite the knowledge of our leaders. In fact, we do not wish to erase these memories. The truth must be before our eyes daily as we try to be a better church and to do what we can for those who suffered. I have again apologised to the victims of childhood abuse collectively and to many individually, but our apologies will only be as good as our efforts to ensure the safety of our children today and to support the survivors of past abuse as best we can. These commitments are also reflected in this Year in Review on page 5.

Many new things are happening and many works of the diocese that are ongoing are also reported in these pages. I thank all those who have given of their time and talents throughout the year, in our parishes, schools, social services and pastoral agencies. I hope all readers will find much that is of interest and at least some enlightenment about things they had not heard of before.

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Bishop Bill Wright Image
Bishop Bill Wright

Most Reverend William (Bill) Wright is the eighth Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and is the pastoral leader of more than 150,000 Catholics in the region.