For the past 20 years, Archbishop Barry Hickey has led the Archdiocese of Perth, WA. This year, having reached the age of 75, the canonical age of retirement for bishops, he submitted his resignation to the Pope. Since his 1991 appointment to Perth, he has set a very high standard of Church leadership, a few examples of which are noted in this brief appreciation.
The Archdiocese in 1991 had an inordinately large liberal bureaucracy. It was also overburdened with a huge debt incurred by misadventure and had a much criticised liberal religious education system. He was confronted with various Commissions employing full time paid staff and a Pastoral Planning Office. There were demands for "collaborative decision-making" and calls for "inclusion of women." Dire predictions were made of future priestless parishes and there were demands for the ordination women.
Archbishop Hickey responded by announcing that he would reopen the St Charles Seminary at Guildford which had been closed since 1975. He also invited the Neocatechumenal Way to come to Perth. It opened the Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary in Morley with Father Michael Moor SM as Rector. The result of these decisions was that within a few years Perth was ordaining more priests per capita than any other Australian metropolitan diocese.
In 1993, to counter the open dissent from the teaching in Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae he published a Pastoral Letter on the 25th anniversary of the encyclical clearly setting out the Church's teaching against contraception. He also invited Fr Matthew Harbiger OSB of Human Life International to talk to priests, teachers and the general public.
The following year, Archbishop Hickey was chosen by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to launch the English edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church at the National Press Club in Canberra on 22 June.
He then showed great boldness and faith in the Mother of God when he made the decision to complete St Mary's Cathedral, which had languished, starkly unfinished, since 1930. The architects of the assignment were compelled by the Heritage Council to retain parts of the crumbling portions built by the Benedictine brothers in 1865, with hand-made bricks. The end result was a remarkable melding of three differing forms of architecture and culture. The opening and rededication took place on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December 2009. The Architect, Peter Quinn, won awards for Public Architecture and Heritage.
Archbishop Hickey's courage was demonstrated impressively in his pro-life stances in opposition to the secular media and WA Parliament. In regard to abortion, in 1995 he called for the setting up of an independent Catholic organisation to provide counselling and give material assistance to pregnant women in need and appointed Fr Paul Carey SSC as its Chaplain. It has since functioned successfully with his patronage as Pregnancy Assistance Incorporated.
He was later a prominent opponent of the WA Bill to legalise abortion in 1998. Speaking from the steps of the Parliament (the first Archbishop of Perth to do so) he gave a personal guarantee that no woman would be forced to have an abortion because of poverty. The pledge caused the opening of Miriam's House to provide accommodation for pregnant women who were homeless.
He also opposed moves to legalise prostitution and supported Linda Watson, a former brothel madam, who endeavoured to help the tragically damaged women striving to escape the sex industry. He gave her his total support and a house, which successfully functioned as Linda's House of Hope.
When the State Government introduced a Bill to allow the creation of embryos for the extraction of stem cells Archbishop Hickey voiced strong opposition and warned Catholic Members of Parliament that the proposed legislation was contrary to the teaching of the Church. Demands were then made for parliament's privileges committee to examine his comments for allegedly threatening Catholic politicians. Although The West Australian newspaper made a big issue of it the Bill was defeated in the Legislative Council in May 2008.
Throughout 2008, The West Australian appeared to conduct a vendetta against him. In July it published a beat-up series of prominent articles by two journalists, wrongly accusing Archbishop Hickey of some compliance or serious negligence in unsavoury issues that happened in an independent Catholic organisation, the Bethel Community.
Using statements of an academic from the University of Western Australia, the paper on 2 October maliciously published a defamatory article concerning women priests, with a big headline and accompanying cartoon accusing the Archbishop of hypocrisy. This was enough for the humble prelate who, for the first time in his episcopate, took legal action and sued the paper in the Supreme Court for libel. The outcome of this action was that West Australian Newspapers Ltd apologised and settled for an undisclosed amount and paid costs. The amount of settlement was not revealed, but it is reliably assumed it was a gift to Day Dawn an organisation Archbishop Hickey set up for the support of destitute aborigines.
The extent of the legacy that Archbishop Hickey leaves to Perth and Australia may not be fully known or appreciated. Few would be aware of his Fund for people in dire poverty or the J. Hickey Biblical Foundation giving Scholarships for Bible Studies, or the Centre for Evangelisation, a new organisation under his direction to spread the Faith.
These are but a few of the many contributions Archbishop Hickey has made to the spiritual life of the Church and wider community in Western Australia.
Brian Peachey is a prominent Perth Catholic layman who has worked closely with Archbishop Hickey.