Baxter poem taken down from Dunedin church foyer

Words from a poem by James K. Baxter have been taken down from the foyer of a Dunedin church after concerns were acknowledged about the poet’s admitted and alleged abuse of some women.

In a July 12 Mercy Parish newsletter, parish priest Fr Gerard Aynsley wrote that the parish pastoral council met earlier that month to discuss the matter.

Newly-appointed Dunedin diocesan safeguarding advisors Maria and Mike Noonan were invited to join the meeting.

In the newsletter, Fr Aynsley wrote: “We were concerned that the quote in our foyer – ‘‘Truth’, he said and ‘love’, he said, but his purest of words was ‘Mercy’’ – comes from a poem by James K. Baxter, who we now know admitted to raping his wife.”

“We understand that there are also allegations that he abused other women.”

Fr Aynsley wrote that, in 2015, when Dunedin South-based Mercy Parish was formed from four previous parishes, it was the Year of Mercy instituted by Pope Francis.

The Baxter quote was seen as speaking to the identity and mission of the parish, “where everyone is welcome, where a person’s brokenness and failings are not a barrier to our acceptance of them as a person and that they know that in this parish God, whose mercy is infinite, welcomes them and loves them deeply”.

But, at the same time, “is evident that we need to be clearer in our condemnation of all forms of oppression, violence and abuse”, Fr Aynsley wrote.

The Parish Pastoral Council recognise that there is a difficult tension to be considered, he added.

At the parish council meeting, Fr Aynsley wrote, “numerous perspectives were raised, and we were left with the uneasy tension of not having a clear-cut answer”.

“With this in mind, we invite all of our parish community to enter into a time of discernment.

“We have removed James K. Baxter’s poem from the wall [of St Patrick’s Basilica foyer] until we have all had the time to reflect and pray.

“Later in the year,  we will have some retreat time, similar to what we had in 2015, so we can revisit the issue and  ask ourselves again what sort of parish we are most deeply called to be and whether this statement remains a fitting statement of the parish’s identity.”


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Michael Otto

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