Joint Pastoral Letter

JOINT PASTORAL LETTER of the Archbishops and Bishops of the Fourth Plenary Council of Australia and New Zealand Held in Sydney, September, 1937

Very Rev. and Rev. Fathers and dear Brethren in Jesus Christ,

MINDFUL of the deposit of the Catholic Faith of which they are the chief guardians in these southern lands, and of the Apostolic admonition, “Take heed to yourselves and to the whole flock wherein the Holy Ghost has placed you Bishops to rule the Church of God” (Acts xx., 28), the Archbishops and Bishops of Australia and New Zealand, under the presidency of his Excellency the Most Rev. John Panico, Apostolic Delegate and Legate to his Holiness Pope Pius XI., in these days past, met in Plenary Council in the city of Sydney to legislate for the needs of the Church and the faithful under their care, according to the provisions of the Canon Law and the peculiar conditions of the time and circumstances in which we live. This Fourth Council was fittingly inaugurated with Solemn Mass in St. Mary’s Cathedral on Sunday, September 5, when the guidance of the Holy Spirit was invoked on the deliberations of the Fathers, whose ~first act on assembling was to turn their minds and hearts to the aged and intrepid Pontiff who had called them together and to send him a cordial message of loyalty and affection—a message which brought back from his paternal heart the Apostolic Blessing and words of hope and encouragement for the work of the Council.

Notable Progress of the Church Since Last Council

In the 32 years that had elapsed since the holding of the last Plenary Council vast changes had taken place. With one exception—that of the venerable Archbishop of Sydney—the Fathers of that Council had been called to their eternal reward, and only a few of the priests who took part in it were still living. But the hearts of the assembled Archbishops and Bishops were filled with joy at the rich spiritual harvest reaped in the intervening years. This was evidenced net only in the greatly increased number of faithful, but in the growth of new dioceses and parishes, in the multiplying of institutions of Christian education and charity, and in the permanent shape and character in which the work of the Church generally had been organised. The period was also marked by two events of outstanding importance—namely, the coming of a personal representative of the Sovereign Pontiff, to be, as Apostolic Delegate, a close and permanent link between the Holy See and the young Church in this far distant outpost, and the holding for the first time on these shores of an International Eucharistic Congress which, under the presidency of his Eminence the late Bonaventure Cardinal Cerretti, as Legate of his Holiness, took place in Sydney in the year 1928, and was regarded as one of the most remarkable manifestations of faith ever witnessed in any part of the world in connection with such assemblies. A notable event in connection with the Congress was the opening of the completed St. Mary’s Cathedral, the mother-church of Australia and the cradle of the Catholic Faith in this continent. Six years later the first National Eucharistic Congress held in Australia took place in Melbourne. It was the contribution of the Catholic citizens to the Centenary celebrations of the Victorian capital. The Congress was presided over by the present illustrious successor of St. Patrick in the See of Armagh—his Eminence Joseph Cardinal MacRory—specially appointed as Papal Legate for the occasion. It brought together a great multitude of Catholics from all parts of the Commonwealth and New Zealand, as well as visitors from overseas, who united in unprecedented demonstrations of faith and devotion, culminating in a magnificent Eucharistic procession through the main thoroughfares of the city.

Gratitude to the Pioneers

The hearts of the Fathers were filled with gratitude to the great pioneer Bishops and priests and the generous and devoted laity whose united labours and sacrifices had laid so securely the foundations on which we are now privileged to build. Monuments of their zeal and precious remembrances of their faith and generosity abound everywhere, and their names are assuredly written in the Book of Life.

Among the most encouraging marks and signs of the growth and vitality of the Church in these regions is the development of seminaries and the increase of religious and priestly vocations among the native born. May such vocations multiply, not only as an aid to the expansion of the Kingdom of Christ within our own shores, but in the large mission fields beyond them.

Changed Conditions of Our Time

While fervently thanking Divine Providence for the graces and blessings that have marked the life of the Church in the first century of her existence here, the Fathers of this Fourth Plenary Council feel they cannot disperse without impressing on the minds of the faithful the changed conditions of our times compared with those in which our predecessors lived, and solemnly warning them against the grave dangers to Christian faith and morals which some of. those changed conditions involve. In issuing such warning, and suggesting the means to be applied to combat the ever-increasing dangers to Christian faith and virtue, the Archbishops and Bishops feel they cannot do better than recall to the minds of the people the wise counsels of the present Holy Father, who, in his memorable Encyclical Letters, has, with a master-mind, exposed the fallacies and wickedness of those modern movements that would alienate the people from. God, deny His rights and enslave and destroy His Church—the supreme guardian of Christian faith and morals and the strongest bulwark against the total subversion of our Christian civilisation.

Communism Condemned

Of all the evils of our time, atheistic communism is the most deadly. Against this insidious anti-Christian movement, that has already spread like cancer through a large portion of he body of society, his Holiness has issued a salutary warning and indicated clearly the precautions to be taken by pastors of souls and the faithful in general. As a fundamental remedy he calls for “a sincere renewal of private nd public life according to the principles of the Gospel by all those who belong to the fold of Christ that they may be in truth the salt of the earth to preserve human society from total corruption.” While rejoicing over the spiritual renewal happily apparent in the lives of so many of the faithful and in those singularly chosen souls who in our day have been elevated to the honours of the altar, the great Pontiff expresses deep sorrow over those who remain cold and indifferent.

“There are,” he says, “too many who fulfil more or less faithfully the more essential obligations of the religion they boast to profess; but have no desire of knowing it better, of deepening their inward convictions, and still less of bringing into conformity with external gloss the inner splendour of a right and unsullied conscience that recognises and performs all its duties under the eye of God.” With still greater emphasis on this phase of life, his Holiness continues: “The Catholic who does not live really and sincerely according to the faith he professes will not long be master of himself in these days when the winds of strife and persecution blow so fiercely, but will be swept away defenceless in the new deluge which threatens the world.” (Encyclical, “Divini Redemptoris.”)

That Communism strikes at the very foundations of society is clearly evident from its history in those countries in which it has prevailed or got a foothold. It aims at the overthrow of religion and refuses to human life any sacred or spiritual character, robbing human personality of all its dignity and making man a mere cogwheel in its system. It denies to parents the right to educate their children according to the dictates of their conscience, and, in turn, denies to the children any right to a knowledge of God and the end for which they were created.

Communist Propaganda in Australia and New Zealand

It may be said that in these southern countries we as yet see no such effects of the Communistic movement. That, however, is no guarantee that if it prevailed here it would be any different from what it is in Russia, Mexico, or Spain, where it has used every means to destroy Christian civilisation and banish the Christian religion, Its diabolical hatred of both has been evidenced in Spain in recent months in the slaughter of thousands of priests and nuns and in the ruthless destruction of churches, monasteries and the priceless works of art of which they were the repositories. It has well been said that the persecutions of the Roman Emperors who sought to eradicate the infant Church pale before the savage and relentless onslaught of the “Reds” in Spain against everybody and everything that stands for God and religion. We warn our people, more particularly the youth and working men, to be on their guard against the crafty methods by which this movement is being propagated. The literature that constitutes a large portion of the Communistic propaganda in Australia, and much of which comes from overseas, is unblushingly atheistic, scoffing at God and everything that is dear to the Christian heart. Meanwhile Governments assume a passive attitude, and the daily press issues no warning against this growing evil. The Catholic Church is left to face practically single-handed this menace to Christian civilisation, as she was left alone to combat the twin evils of divorce and race suicide, which have assumed proportions so alarming as to threaten several countries with national decay through the decline both of population and the stability of family life.

Christian Education

For no portion of the flock is the Church more solicitous than for the tender souls of whom Christ said: “Suffer the little children to come unto Me and forbid them not.” (Matt, xix., 14.) “Take the child and bring it up for Me” (Exodus ii., 9) is God’s charge to His Church, and to that charge, thank heaven, she has never been unfaithful.

When the Fathers of the First Plenary Council met in Sydney fifty-two years ago they left on record their determination to maintain their Catholic schools. The State grants had been taken away several years before, and many had predicted that the Catholic schools, like those of other religious bodies, would disappear. The contrary, however, occurred, and speaking of the blessings of Divine Providence on their struggle to maintain religious education, the Fathers said, “God has been largely helpful of His Church during her present struggle. . . . Truly at this moment does this Catholic Church of Australia, especially in the matter of Christian schools, stand alone in this southern world.” Since these words were written Catholic schools and teachers in Australia and New Zealand have increased fourfold, so that if half a century ago one of the outstanding features of the life of the Church in Australia and New Zealand was her fidelity to Christian education, it is much more so today.

We believe as firmly as did the Catholic Bishops of fifty years ago that in maintaining our religious schools we are doing the best service to our people and to the nation, but like them we regret the deep prejudice that perpetuates injustice to our people by denying them, for the education of their children, any share in the public funds to which they as taxpayers contribute. We feel that fair-minded men in public and in private life will yet recognise the justice of our claim. But whatever the future may bring, we know that our schools will continue and that their numbers, efficiency and Christian character will make them growing factors for good in the life of the nation.

The Work of Our Catholic Teachers

And here we desire to place on record our deep appreciation, of the splendid work of the priests, religious Brothers, and Sisters of the various teaching Orders who have so devotedly carried on the work of Christian education in these southern lands, proving themselves equal to every new demand made on them, and reaching a high standard of efficiency, thus placing our Catholic schools and colleges in an unassailable position.

Through the agency of our religious sisterhoods Catholic education has been carried right to the backblocks of the country, bringing the inestimable blessings of religious training and Christian refinement to the little ones of the “bush.” The children that they are not able to reach are receiving religious instruction through the excellent correspondence courses established for that laudable purpose.

Fruits of Catholic Education

The fruits of Catholic education will become more happily manifest with the passing of the years. They are manifest now in our family life and in our splendid associations of men and women such as the Holy Name Society, the Society of the Sacred Heart, and the Sodality of the Children of Mary, which so frequently edify us by their religious fervour and devotion. It has well been said that “so long as the Christian school exists the path to the Church will never be grass-grown.” It is not the Church alone, however, but society at large, that benefits by the religious school. As Pius XI points out, it is men and women so fashioned that promote in great part the good fortune of the nation, for Catholics, if they faithfully and religiously observe the dictates of Catholic education in peace and in war, make the best kind of citizen. The religion of Catholics has never clashed with their loyalty and allegiance to the laws of the country in which they live, and of that truth Australia herself has had sterling proof.

Working for Peace

We deplore the menaces to the peace of the world that are everywhere visible to-day, and we join with all true lovers of humanity in praying to the God of peace that the scourge of war may be eliminated from the earth. After the experience of the destruction of life and property in the World War, it is extremely sad to see nation after nation arming again on a more colossal scale than ever before. We appeal to all to work in the cause of peace and to pray that the blight of war may never deface our own fair country.


The existence of unemployment to the extent to which it is found even in Australia calls for the attention of all who can in any way contribute to its abatement, for not only is it a serious blot, on our social system, on account of the suffering it entails on the poor, but it supplies a fertile ground for the fostering of spurious remedies more dangerous than the disease. It is the duty of Governments and employers to remove as far as possible the cause of unrest, discontent and revolt among the wage-earners by giving them the fullest measure of justice. Workingmen whose paramount interest is in their homes and families have no desire to become revolutionaries, but they must be treated fairly in all respects. Leo XIII and Pius XI. have cogently reasoned on this great social question and have pointed out the remedies for it, but in vain will appeal be made to the mighty forces struggling for the mastery—capital and labour— so long as both neglect the moral and religious bond without which society cannot hold together. The Church cannot be indifferent to the sufferings of the poor. She cannot witness miserable and degrading destitution without raising her voice against it, for she has been set in the world not only as the exponent of Divine truth, but as the friend of the weak and the defender of moral and social justice.

Bearing in mind the needs of the family, the two Pontiffs named urge that fathers of families receive a wage sufficient to meet adequately ordinary domestic needs. If in the present state of society this is not always feasible, social justice demands that reform be introduced which will not only guarantee such a wage, but make provision against unemployment and increasing family burdens. In this connection we trust that a comprehensive scheme of child endowment will yet be established. Such wise provision would, we are sure, do much to remove the temptation to restrict the births that mean so much to national welfare. Meanwhile, for the- relief of the indigent we warmly commend the work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and we exhort all Catholic men who can do so to become active members of its ranks. We also counsel our men to seek admittance into the excellent Catholic benefit societies that have branches in practically every parish.

Bulwarks of Faith

The circumstances of our time call more urgently than ever for the strengthening of faith and for the making of ourselves efficient co-operators with Christ. To this end we earnestly recommend the work of the Propagation of the Faith, so devotedly sponsored by the present Holy Father, Pius XI, who will go down in history as the “Pope of the Missions.” Membership in this society is within the reach of every Catholic, whatever be his condition in life. We entreat the clergy to make the work of the society known to their people and to lay special emphasis on it on the Sunday in October of each year set aside for this purpose. The distribution of Catholic literature is a most important factor in spreading and defending the Faith. There is one agency of this distribution in Australia and New Zealand which deserves our heartfelt gratitude and our unstinted support. We refer to the Catholic Truth Society. Priests and people alike should join wholeheartedly in promoting the great apostleship of this society, and we earnestly request them to do so. Priests can help very materially by having the publications of the society on sale at the doors of their churches and by frequently calling the attention of the people to them. The work of the society should also be organised in the schools. We have excellent Catholic newspapers, which we regret do not receive the full measure of support they deserve. Here again we call for the co-operation of the clergy, who could render immense assistance to religion by urging that there should be a Catholic newspaper in every Catholic home. Besides the ordinary Catholic newspaper, those excellent penny publications, the “Catholic Worker” and “Our Australian Sunday Visitor,” deserve every encouragement. It is on our religious newspapers that we depend so largely to defend Catholic truth and action, and; correct the many erroneous and even deliberately false accounts of happenings in Catholic countries that appear from time to time in secular newspapers and other publications.

The Catholic Library movement has recently come into existence to fulfil a long-felt need, and we should like to see it supported and extended as much as possible.

Evils That Cry Out for Reform

We feel we must enter a vigorous protest against two evils that are particularly dangerous to the morals and welfare of the people, and which are a serious blot on the nation. They are the importation and manufacture of contraceptives, which, are openly advertised and sold, and the circulation of base sex literature which is largely used as a means of propaganda for birth control, and which is a powerful factor in corrupting youth. It is useless for statesmen to be deploring the falling birth-rate while they do nothing to eliminate the chief causes of it. While every means is taken to safeguard the bodily health of the young, it is sad to find Governments so utterly indifferent to their moral welfare as to leave them open to corruption through channels which it has the power to close. We uphold the practice of administering the total abstinence pledge to all children at Confirmation and we shall continue it. We desire to encourage the spread of temperance societies and the exclusion of strong drink from Catholic balls and other social functions carried on under the patronage of the Church.

The Home and Personal Sanctity

If Catholic Action in all the important matters which we have enumearted is to be really effective, personal sanctity must be regarded as of paramount importance. “Be ye holy,” said the Lord, “as I the Lord your God am holy.” (Lev. xix., 1, 2.) We therefore counsel the people to cultivate holiness of life by using the God-given means, access to which in our day has been greatly facilitated by the increased number of priests and churches everywhere. Good Catholics will, wherever possible, make frequent Holy Communion and the hearing of daily Mass their rule of life, and the pious family will gather together for prayers in common, particularly for the evening Rosary. Membership in parish sodalities and in associations for the fostering of Catholic social and intellectual life will be a great assistance to our young people in fulfilling their duty to God and the nation, and will help particularly in promoting marriages that will assure the happiness of the young couples themselves and safeguard the faith of their children.

We cannot view without pain and misgiving the reluctance of the young people of our day to settle on the land. Even the number of those reared in happy country homes, built up by the industry and thrift of their parents, who have abandoned the land for the glamour of the city is so appalling as to become a question of grave national concern. Since a good home is one of the surest channels of God’s graces and blessings to men, and since our country homes have always been fruitful in piety and in the service of the Church, we entreat our people who still possess such homes to resist all temptations to part with them.

For the rest, dearly beloved, we exhort you in the words of the Apostle St. Paul, “Whatever things are true, whatever modest, whatever just, whatever holy, whatever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things” (Philippians iv., 8), “and the grace and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”

Very devotedly yours in Christ, The Archbishops, Bishops and prelates of the Fourth Plenary Council of Australia and New Zealand.

+MICHAEL KELLY, Archbishop of Sydney.

+JAMES DUHIG, Archbishop of Brisbane.

+DANIEL MANNIX, Archbishop of Melbourne.

+THOMAS O’SHEA, Archbishop of Wellington.

+ANDREW KILLIAN, Archbishop of Adelaide.

+REDMOND PREND1VILLE, Archbishop of Perth.

+JUSTIN SIMONDS. Archbishop of Hobart.

+NORMAN G1LR0Y, Coadjutor-Archbishop of Sydney.

+JOHN CARROLL, Bishop of Lismore.

+JOHN HEAVEY, Vicar-Apostolic of Cooktown.

+MATTHEW BRODIE, Bishop of Christchurch.

+DANIEL FOLEY, Bishop of Ballarat.

+J0HN MCCARTHY, Bishop of Sandhurst.

+JOSEPH DWYER, Bishop of Wagga Wagga.

+JAMES LISTON, Bishop of Auckland.

+JAMES WHYTE, Bishop of Dunedin.

+RICHARD RYAN, Bishop of Sale.

+JOHN BARRY, Bishop of Goulburn.

+JOHN NORTON, Bishop of Bathurst.

+JAMES BYRNE, Bishop of Toowoomba.

+JOHN COLEMAN, Bishop of Armidale.

+EDMUND GLEESON, Bishop of Maitland.

+JAMES O’COLLINS, Bishop of Geraldton.

+TERENCE McGUIRE, Bishop of Townsville.

+PATRICK FARRELLY, Coadjutor-Bishop of Lismore.

+THOMAS FOX, Bishop of Wilcannia-Forbes.

+ROMUALD HAYES, Bishop of Rockhampton.

+OTTO RAIBLE, Vicar-Apostolic of Kimberley

+FRANCIS HENSCHKE, Auxiliary-Bishop of Wagga Wagga.

+ANSELM CATALAN, O.S.B., Abbot Nullius of New Norcia.

+FRANCIS XAVIER GSELL, M.S.C., Administrator Apostolic of the Northern Territory.

+MICHAEL CLUNE, Vicar-Capitular of the Diocese of Port Augusta.

Sydney, September 13, 1937.


Joint Pastoral Letter (Advocate, Thursday 30 September 1937, page 11)(Trove)