Church's Voice Moving on

By Eugene Bingham
New Zealand Herald

December 19, 2008

The long-time voice of the Catholic Church has been ousted from her job, a move she believes is in part linked to internal politics.

Lyndsay Freer left yesterday after 23 years' service to the church, surprised to be told that her role as national director of the Catholic Communications office was no longer required.

She was one of three people made redundant as part of a restructuring within the church hierarchy. Her work for the church will continue in a part-time role with the Auckland diocese.

Lyndsay Freer says some in the church did not like the opinions she offered.
Photo by Greg Bowker

` Mrs Freer said this week she felt there were some in the church who had not appreciated the positions she took when she commented on Catholic issues to the media.

"The bishops trusted me to present faithfully the church's position on moral and ethical and doctrinal issues but there are some people in the church who didn't agree with that perspective," she said.

"I do think that church politics had something to do with my redundancy - it was a small group which made the decision."

But the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, the Most Rev Denis Browne, said yesterday the bishops had the utmost confidence in Mrs Freer and that politics did not play any part in the decision.

Mrs Freer spent 13 years as adviser to the Auckland diocese before becoming the first lay person appointed to head Catholic Communications in 1998.

In August, a working party undertook a review of the Catholic Bishops' Conference which oversaw the office. The group recommended the establishment of new offices for liturgy and young people to better fulfil the church's pastoral priorities, and the creation of a secretariat to take over the bishops' financial, communications and research responsibilities.

A new communications advisory job within the secretariat was advertised but Mrs Freer did not apply because she believed the position had less emphasis on engagement with the media and "I was not entirely happy with that model".

Mrs Freer said she had not felt it was her role to be the face of the church, believing that it was the bishops and other church leaders who should be available to the media.

"But the fact is that they are not always available and so I have seen it as my role to be available when they aren't so the opportunity to present our perspective is not lost.

"I have tried always to be faithful to what the bishops would want me to say and sometimes that has not always been palatable with some people, people sometimes who perhaps are more on the wider edges."

Bishop Browne said the bishops were bitterly disappointed Mrs Freer had not applied for the new position.

The Bishop of Auckland, the Most Rev Patrick Dunn, described her as "the consummate professional".

Life on the front line

A career of more than two decades on the front line for the Catholic Church has left Lyndsay Freer with several highlights - and one major lowpoint.

She was given a baptism of fire in her new role as a church spokesperson in 1986 when she had to cope with the visit to this country of Pope John Paul II, an event which attracted unprecedented interest.

She was in Rome at the time of the death of Pope John Paul in 2005. She returned for the Papal conclave when Pope Benedict XVI was elected.

A more poignant moment was becoming a Papal Dame in 1995.

The honour was bestowed upon Mrs Freer just weeks before her husband, Ken, died of cancer but she was able to share the special moment with him.

Asked for a lowpoint, Mrs Freer did not hesitate - the emergence of sexual abuse cases which rocked the church from the late 1990s.

She was looking forward to spending more time singing, having been trained by famous voice coach Dame Sister Mary Leo.


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