For my last blog post before Christmas (this blog will now go silent until 3 January 2018), I’d like to share with you a heart-warming tale of financial crime and fatal disease. Honestly, it’s more cheerful than it sounds, as explained by Sister Angela Mary Doyle in her speech to TEDxBrisbane at the beginning of this month.
In the 1980s, Queensland in Australia – like much of the world – was in the grip of an AIDS epidemic. Then-premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson refused to commit public money to curb the spread of the virus among indigenous Australians because he believed it was a (deserved) punishment from God. Sister Angela and her fellow Sisters of Mercy felt that this presented a “serious and divisive community question” to Queensland, and – as she said to her audience – “we Sisters waited, as did many others, for the medical profession, the churches or anyone to speak out against this stance of the government – but nothing happened”. In the face of state government inaction and a growing number of sick people desperate for resources, the Queensland AIDS Council put out a call for help.
At the time, Sister Angela was the administrator of Mater Hospital, and she offered to create a link between the Queensland AIDS Council, the Sisters of Mercy and her hospital. The Mater Hospital provided the Queensland AIDS Council with office space and three houses in South Brisbane where AIDS sufferers could stay free of charge. Sister Angela also arranged to funnel funding from the federal government through the Mater Hospital and on to the Queensland AIDS Council, to conceal the support from Bjelke-Peterson. Sister Angela continued to work in this clandestine fashion with AIDS sufferers for seven years, until a change of government allowed them to deal directly with the government and community. As a result of their secret funding arrangement, the federal health minister at the time, Dr Neal Blewett, later described the Sisters of Mercy as “the most altruistic of money launderers”. Merry Christmas, one and all.