Hickey regrets not speaking out
Hickey regrets not speaking out

Perth's retiring Catholic Archbishop, Barry Hickey, has revealed he regrets not having been more outspoken on social issues because of fears grants to the Church could have been cut if it was too critical of government policies.

"In accepting government grants the Church's role as an advocate of the poor can be blunted," he said.

"While I am proud of the broad range of social work in which the Church is involved, I think I should have been more vocal about social issues such as the plight of the homeless, Aboriginals, the disadvantaged and refugees.

"I regret not having been vocal enough because there was the knowledge to do so from Church welfare agencies."

Archbishop Hickey, who has a master's degree in social work, has also called for a review of government policy on asylum seekers, who should be processed in more open, short-term centres where they can mix with the community, as they do in Leonora.

He said asylum seekers should only be confined for health, identity and security checks. They would still report periodically to authorities but any further processing could be carried out while they lived in the general community.

"Arrivals by plane are dealt with in the community," he said. "That should also be the case for those who arrive by boat.

"The Leonora centre is the best I've seen in terms of respecting people's dignity."

While he was not opposed to processing asylum seekers overseas, it should involve the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

While asylum seekers would be taken by Australia, they could also be taken by other countries, too.

Archbishop Hickey agreed with Premier Colin Barnett that any unaccompanied minors arriving by boat should not be sent to Malaysia for processing.

He also said refugees should have the chance to share their stories, which could change the public's perception of asylum seekers and result in them being treated more fairly.

He agreed there was some legitimacy to concerns that while Australian soldiers were fighting in Afghanistan, young, fit Afghan men were seeking refuge in Australia. But there was an obligation to hear their stories as well.

Archbishop Hickey believed many Australians were frightened of an invasion from the north and felt vulnerable. They saw the arrival of asylum seekers as a type of invasion.

But people should not be fearful of asylum seekers and should play a part if there was an international glut of refugees, as Australia had been many years ago with boat people from Vietnam.

As he prepares to stand down, the Archbishop - whose resignation has been accepted by the Pope after he reach the mandatory retirement age of 75 - said he was optimistic about the future of the Church, despite a fall in regular Sunday Mass attendance to just 15 per cent.

He believed that number had now plateaued and there was plenty of life in the parishes, with "lots of young people hanging in there".

The West Australian

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