Wellington Cardinal John Dew has said he does not support the placement of a controversial “all lives matter” sign at St Patrick’s church in Masterton.
The sign attracted media coverage after it was noticed in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in New Zealand and throughout the world.
In a statement, Cardinal Dew said the sign was put up without the knowledge of the parish priest, Fr Bruce England, while he (Fr England) was away on leave.
“As Archbishop for the diocese, I do not support the placement of that sign. It should not have been put there,” Cardinal Dew said.
“A church should not be politicised this way. A church should be a safe space for everyone, a place where everyone feels welcome without being confronted with politicised material that some could find unwelcoming or offensive.”
Te Kupenga – Catholic Leadership Institute chief executive Dr Areti Metuamate said putting up the sign was an “unwise decision”.
“I would be happy to run a seminar through Te Kupenga on the issues behind Black Lives Matters and the role Catholics are called to play in response to racism if there was enough interest. But to be honest, there is no shortage of commentary on the issues that brought about the Black Lives Matters movement online, where people could better inform themselves and those around them,” Dr Metuamate said.
Dr Metuamate noted that it was odd that the sign was put up.
“I do not know the person’s intentions when they put that sign up, but it was an unwise decision that showed a significant level of ignorance at best. I only hope it wasn’t a deliberate provocative action because that would tell me we have a clear racism problem in the Church that needs to be addressed,” he said.
On one level, he said, everybody knows all lives matter.
“At another level, the sign was clearly put up at a time when a major movement is happening around the world that concerns the safety of black/brown/coloured people,” he said. “The statistics speak for themselves. And while it was in the US where this current movement gained traction, it is an issue here too.”
He said a Catholic church should be welcoming, but in the current Black Lives Matter movement, the sign was “inappropriate and inflammatory”.
Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said it would be “provocative” to post the phrase on a public noticeboard.
“The statement is politically loaded and has been used to justify ignoring racial disparities, such as the over-representation of African American communities in police shootings. The phrase is therefore associated with racial division and intolerance,” Mr Foon told Radio New Zealand.
“People have the right to freedom of expression. However, it is equally important for people to be thoughtful about how they express themselves, including how their expression impacts others.”
The mayor of Masterton, Lyn Patterson, reportedly said she had spoken to the church and that the people spoken to did not seem to have been aware of the controversy surrounding the “all lives matter” slogan.
Ms Patterson said the church told her that the sign was linked to the feast of Corpus Christi.
It was reported that the sign appeared to have been vandalised.