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The Catholic Leader’s most prolific letter writers have their say on why they write

Writers: Vince Hodge, Richard Tiainen, Frank Pulsford.

Among the many changes The Catholic Leader has implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic with its necessary restrictions has been the suspension of producing a printed edition and to continue publishing a weekly digital edition offered free of charge to readers. Letters to the Editor have not been published with the digital edition, which meant some familiar names have been missing from our pages. Some of our regular contributors let us know what’s been on their mind and why they write letters

THEIR names have appeared in The Catholic Leader almost as often as the Pope’s.

They’re the writers of countless Letters to the Editor – Frank Pulsford, Vince Hodge, Genevieve Caffery and Richard Tiainen among the most regular contributors.

But what has been on their minds in recent weeks, what motivates them to write so often and what have they done without one of their outlets for expressing their opinions?

Mr Pulsford, of Aspley, never holds back from sharing an opinion; he sees it as a form of evangelism.

He was encouraged along this path by the late Jesuit Father Gregory Jordan at the funeral of another legendary letter-writer Frank Bellet.

“At Frank Bellet’s funeral, Fr Jordan explained the importance of writing Letters to the Editor, and he singled out Richard Congram and myself (who were there), and said it’s a form of evangelism,” Mr Pulsford said.

“It’s keeping the truth out there.”

A regular writer to The Australian as well, Mr Pulsford takes a lot of time over his letters.

“I write them, I leave them, I come back, I modify them, I edit them, I delete …,” he said.

“A letter to the editor is, by nature, constricted. You don’t really have time to develop a theme.

“You get a few punch lines and that’s about it.

“That’s why it takes me so long to write a letter. You’ve got to edit, you’ve got to distill it, you’ve got to refine it, you’ve got to cut most of it out so there’s no room for subtlety and nuance.”

There was no subtlety when he spoke of what he would have written about to the Leader in recent weeks.

“The first thing and the most immediate thing that came to my mind was the lack of vigour in our bishops in defending our right to attend the Holy Mass (during the COVID-19 pandemic),” he said.

“Secondly, (I would’ve written about) the illogicality of the response to the coronavirus. It engenders a scepticism about the seriousness of it.

“If it were as serious as we have been led to believe, the justification for the response to it would’ve been sensible, proportionate and logical.

“The response we’re getting to it now is not sensible, it’s not proportionate and it’s not logical.”

As a regular critic of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ – On Care for Our Common Home, it would be no surprise what Mr Pulsford would’ve written about the recent celebration of the fifth anniversary of the document.

“The fifth anniversary of Laudato Si’ is nothing to celebrate,” he said.

“Laudato Si’ should be just passed over in embarrassed silence …”

Mr Hodge, of Paddington, said he probably would’ve written about Plenary Council 2020 following news that new dates for assemblies had been set for October 2021 and April 2022 because of disruption due to COVID-19.

“I would hope that the 12 months extra that we’ve got, that there will be more opportunities for lay people to give opinions but also maybe (to have) a bit more formation,” he said.

He said more information for lay people would result in better responses.

“For instance, it would be better if there were three models of Church that were given to lay people and they were asked, ‘Which one do you prefer?’, rather than saying, ‘What’s your model of the Church; how do you see the Church of the future?’”

Mr Hodge said some of his letters may give the impression he was “lecturing people” but that was “because in 300 words, you can’t be nice with your language; you can’t be too nuanced”.

“I make rather direct statements, hoping that other people would agree or disagree,” he said.

“I’ve always written letters hoping that three or four people would write in and disagree with me and get a discussion going, and that’s rarely happened.”

Ms Caffery, of Greenslopes, has written a letter advocating support for the most vulnerable people in Australia during the pandemic, including refugees and people seeking asylum.

She said over the years she had mainly written on social justice, often about refugees but sometimes Indigenous issues.

“I’m sort of retired now, but I have worked with refugees over a long period of time, so that’s why I’m interested in them …,” she said.

She is particularly concerned for those who had been detained off-shore for more than seven years.

“Some have gone to America but some are still stuck up there in Papua New Guinea and on Nauru,” she said.

“And others are here in the community who really don’t have much means of support, and they haven’t been included in any of the financial support that the Government has given out since COVID struck.”

Ms Caffery said she found she had a talent for letter-writing and “it’s a good way to remain in the field”.

“I’ve had letters published in The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Saturday Paper, The Catholic Leader, Quest Newspapers and so on,” she said.

Mr Tiainen, of Holland Park West, is another who has letters published by many newspapers.

“I’ve written 578 letters to various people since 2006,” he said.

“If I don’t get published occasionally, people ring me up and say, ‘Is everything alright?’”

The Courier-Mail recently published one of his letters about euthanasia, and he’d written to The Catholic Leader about the benefits of live-streamed Masses during the pandemic.

Mr Tiainen said he tended to ask a lot of questions of readers.

“I don’t provide too many answers because it’s not for me to tell people how to run their life or how to value what goes on, but I do like to ask the question why and how and when, and all the rest of that sort of stuff,” he said.

“I’m not as theologically based as one or two guys who write to The Catholic Leader but, then again, people have said to me that I write in a way that is fairly folksy.

“I think that means fairly easy to read and fairly straight to the point.”

He said he would sometimes temper his opinion after reading someone else’s letters, rather than change his opinion.

“I do try to appreciate the other person’s point of view,” he said.

“Everybody’s entitled to an opinion …

“I’m pretty confident in my own opinions, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing them but I can accept the fact that there are all sorts of circumstances affecting other people’s perspectives, and I’ve got to respect that.”

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