Catholic Church in NZ striving to be fully bi-cultural

Dunedin diocesan staff, priests and members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council have heard Dr Michael Stevens, a local Kai Tahu historian and former student of St Theresa’s in Bluff, give a presentation of the early history of settlement by Māori in the South Island, the history of Aotearoa leading up to the treaty, and British and European history of that same period and how the two histories interacted.  

According to a Dunedin diocese e-newsletter, Dr Stevens’s presentation took place during a gathering at Holy Cross Centre in Mosgiel on September 19. 

The e-newsletter stated that, while “our Christian forebears were not always honourable in their dealings with Māori, [Dr Stevens] described some of the positive impact Christianity had at the time of the signing of Te Tiriti.  

“Michael spoke of how figures like [Bishop] Pompallier learnt Māori tikanga and te reo Māori, and of the influence of Evangelical Christians and Quakers in [the] British Parliament [who], in the years prior to the signing of the Te Tiriti, were instrumental in challenging aspects of colonisation and so influenced the tone of the Treaty of Waitangi.” 

After the presentation, the e-newsletter item continued, those present split into groups to discuss what implications there are from what they had heard for Dunedin diocese.  

“In particular, participants spoke of how it was important to hear our local stories. It was noted that this is part of our synodal approach of listening to the stories of our land and people, especially when there have been injustices. 

“We also discussed how we have a special role as a people of faith in acknowledging past injustices, and challenging the status quo. The DPC and Priests Council will continue to reflect on how te ao Catholic and te ao Māori are integrated.” 

Another item in the e-newsletter encouraged the use of Te Reo Māori responses at Masses in the diocese. 

“. . . [I]T is important that, when a person steps into our churches, that they feel immediately that they belong here,” the e-newsletter stated. 

The hope was expressed that, with “regular inclusion of te reo Māori”, parishioners in Dunedin diocese who identify as Māori (approximately 15 per cent of the diocese) hear their language in prayer, and are assured that they belong. 

“It is a sad fact of our history that the Māori language was suppressed,” the e-newsletter item also stated.  

“Considering that this meant suppressing the ability of Māori to express what is most important, and suppressing the words used to address God in prayer, this is certainly a grave injustice. That is the first and primary reason why we have a special duty as a faith community to be part of the revival of the Māori language.” 


In one of the opening statements on behalf of Te Rōpū Tautoko for the Faith-based Institutional Response Hearing at the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care on October 17, it was stated that “commitment to Māori as tangata whenua was a founding idea of the Catholic faith in New Zealand”. 

Te Rōpū Tautoko is the body that co-ordinates and manages engagement between the royal commission and the Catholic Church in Aotearoa, represented by the Catholic bishops and congregational leaders of Aotearoa New Zealand. The royal commission had asked that the evidence given by the Catholic Church to that hearing reflect on the commitment of Catholic entities to Māori, Te Tiriti and tangata whenua. 

The work of early Catholic missionaries and their learning of Te Reo Māori was also mentioned, as was the presence of Bishop Pompallier at the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and his request that religious faith be protected. This pledge is referred to as the unwritten “fourth article” of the Treaty, the statement continued, and is said to protect and recognise, not only major western religions, but also Māori custom. 

The opening statement noted that “The Te Tiriti relationship has been re-emphasised and formally acknowledged. In 1995, the New Zealand Bishops Conference re-affirmed that Te Tiriti established Aotearoa New Zealand as a bi-cultural state. Catholic entities are not specifically Treaty partners, but acknowledge that the Treaty is a covenant and a taonga. The bishops’ conference recognised their bi-cultural commitment, and acknowledged that this requires all Church entities to engage in partnership with Māori, and to fully support Māori in their right to cultural identity in the Church”. 

“Te Reo Māori and liturgy is actively promoted by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference to be used throughout the country,” the statement added.  

“To achieve a fully bi-cultural Church, there is more to be done,” the statement continued, having touched on work going on in this area in education and several other aspects of Church life.   

Cardinal Dew’s evidence to the hearing set out his thoughts on how to enhance the bicultural Church, including through the inclusion of the Māori voice at governance level, the inclusion of Māori perspectives, and Māori participation at all levels of Church life. 





Posted in

Michael Otto

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *