Skip to content

Controversies and Scandals

The catholic church is an organisation based on the principle of love as the highest virtue. It has always worked towards unity in all that it does. However, like all organisations made up of people, it has had its share of controversies, scandals, ructions, and splits. There have been conflicts both internal and external, and no matter how many times the official policy enjoins the avoidance of scandal, it still happens.

Fr O’Flynn and Macquarie

When Fr Jeremiah O’Flynn landed in Sydney in 1817, there were no Catholic priests in Australia.  He claimed that he had been appointed the priest for Australia and documents proving this will come later. This turned out to be false, and when it was discovered that he had no such permission, the Governor deported him. While some Australian catholic consider this to be a case of religious persecution, it is now generally agreed that it wasn’t.

The Irish and the Benedictines

In 1920, Fr John Therry and Fr Philip Conolly arrived in Australia as its first chaplains to be approved officially. But the government policy by the 1830s referred to an English-led church. The first two Archbishops of Sydney were English Benedictines, and this led to tension between Irish clergy and English leaders and the people. In 1883, the death of Archbishop Vaughan ended the ascendancy of English Benedictine. From then till 1940, the Australian Catholic Church was Irish-led.

By the time Archbishop Vaughan died, the Vatican policy for Anglophone countries was handled by Cardinal Cullen, and he appointed his nephew who would later become Cardinal Moran to be the Archbishop of Sydney.

Excommunication of Mary MacKillop

While Mary MacKillop might have been a saint after her death, she had her share of conflicts when alive. In 1871, she was excommunicated because of insubordination.  However, the decision was reversed a year after. Conflict continued among bishops as to control the nuns, whether it was the local Bishop or the superior of the other. She travelled to Rome and obtained a qualified approval that allowed her to set up a central government. The Bishop of Bathurst was not happy with this and requested control in his diocese, which led to a split.

The decision of the Vatican also enforced more lenient poverty than what MacKillop wished for, and this was considered to be a battery of the vision by Julian Tenison Woods, the co-founder of the order, causing a disagreement that was never ultimately settled.

The Bishop of Adelaide also asked MacKillop to leave in 1883, which she refused. Thus, Cardinal Moran informed her in 1885 that her reflection to be a superior general was invalid.

Catholic-Protestants Sectarian Division

Irish Catholics came with resentment from persecution in Ireland while British Protestants who migrated to Australia also came with suspiciousness of Catholicism that originated from the reformation and this caused a serious rift between the two groups.

© 2020 ACSWC