Father John Carey reflects on the media, the abuse scandal and the Christian message

A remarkable anniversary is being celebrated. The Glen Innes parish priest, Father John Carey, is marking sixty years since he was ordained into the Catholic priesthood.

Much has changed since his ordination ceremony in Rome in December, 1957. He said that he used to conduct mass in Latin in Inverell and Tenterfield before he moved to Glen Inness.

He spoke Latin as fluently as he now speaks English, having prepared for the priesthood for eight years in Rome.

“All the lectures and exams were in Latin,” he told the Glen Innes Examiner. 

In the mid-60s, though, local languages were authorised by the the Second Vatican Council and Father Carey switched to English.

“That was good because it introduced the language of the people and ordinary people became more involved”, he said.

Until then, his congregations in New England were silent during his daily masses (usually held at 7 am). The responses in Latin were made by altar boys.

Now, Father Carey at 83 exudes wisdom and warmth. At the moment, he is reflecting a great deal as he and St Patrick’s Church in Glen Innes celebrate his Diamond Jubilee in the priesthood, a vocation he knew was his from the age of 12 or 13 when he was growing up in Armidale.

He went to the Seminary at Springwood (a boarding school for boys who want to become priests) in the Blue Mountains when he was 14, and then to Rome at the age of 17. When his course finished, he was too young to be a priest so a dispensation had to be obtained from Pope Pius XII.

Sixty years on, he says he was greatly in favour of “Vatican 2” (the changes which attempted to take the Church closer to the people, particularly poor people). “The current Pope is putting it into effect”, he said, “and I approve of it”.

There are also changes which he regrets, in particular the sex-abuse scandal which rocked Catholicism in many countries. “Two per cent of priests were paedophiles but the mud stuck to all of us”, he said.

“It hurt us very much. It damaged the general standing of the Church.”

It hurt the Church by making recruitment more difficult: “We aren’t getting the number of young men coming into the Church to become priests.”

He also thinks the Church was too slow to react to bad news because it took too long to understand the way the media now works: “The Church hasn’t kept up with the use of modern media.”

On the sex-abuse scandal, he said: “All that was played in the media and we didn’t have an answer, we didn’t have a reply.

“That takes time to happen and only now, with the present Pope, is it being put into effect.”

After 60 years as a priest, his experience and intelligence still shine out.

He was ordained a priest in the Chapel of Propaganda Fide College in Rome. He has been an assistant priest in four parishes (St Nicholas East Tamworth, Scared Heart Inverell, St Mary’s Tenterfield and St Francis Xavier Moree). In addition to St Patricks he has also been parish priest at St Nicholas East Tamworth and at St Joseph’s Uralla.

He has also served as chaplain to a correctional service facility.

He has been honoured for his years of service to the Glen Innes community and the Armidale Diocese with the Papal medal known as the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (“For Church and Pope”) medal.

The medal is also known as the Cross of Honour and was first awarded by Pope Leo XIII back in 1888. It is given for distinguished service to the Roman Catholic Church by lay people and clergy.

He feels one thing hasn’t changed about the Catholic Church: “It’s still giving the message of Christ, the message of God.”

This story Sixty years of priesthood | Pictures from a life first appeared on Glen Innes Examiner.