Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven has made what appears to have been a hasty announcement. He said last week that the university will fully-fund scholarships for two Indonesian students.

The scholarships will be named in ‘honour’ of the two Australian drug traffickers who were executed in Indonesia recently. Even Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the decision was ‘odd’.

Vice-chancellor Greg Craven - Australian Catholic University
Vice-chancellor Greg Craven – Australian Catholic University

The scholarships will each be for four years of undergraduate study. Students will be chosen on the basis of academic achievements and the cynical exercise of writing an essay about ‘the sanctity of life’. We can only hope the essays will be free of plagiarism. (See News Report here.)

The executed drug dealers may have been rehabilitated. People talk about their redemption through their actions. Their deaths by state-sanctioned execution was horrific and inexcusable murder. Some say they were ‘noble’ in face of impending death.

But they were not martyrs. A martyrs are put to death rather than denounce their beliefs or important principles.

The men knew what they were doing when they trafficked drugs for profit. They knew the possibility of the death penalty for people caught with illegal drugs in Indonesia. Warning notices in Bali airport are hard to miss! They would also have known the havoc that illegal drugs cause in families and communities.

Decision to fund scholarships seems somewhat cynical
Decision to fund scholarships seems somewhat cynical

I’m a Catholic. Sometimes I’m  embarrassed to admit it. I’m also ashamed say I’m Australian. I sit in a pew in my Catholic parish church at least once a week. I try to pray for forgiveness and mercy, peace and justice in the world.

The abuse of children by Catholic clergy and institutions makes me angry. Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers is a total disgrace. The announcement by the Australian Catholic University makes me mad. Hopping mad!

The Australian Catholic University has again called into question the sanity of those of us who profess our Catholic faith.

How can the university not understand that illegal drugs kill people? How can it be so insensitive to the suffering of countless families whose sons and daughters have died in back alleys and dingy rooms? What about the Anawim – the little people – who suffer because of addictions?


Some drug-related deaths are inadvertent – accidental overdoses or a ‘bad batch’. Often they are deliberate suicides. The drug traffickers were arrested in Bali in 2005. with 8.3 kilograms of heroin. I don’t know how that translates to individual doses. In the same year, 1838 people in Australia died as the result of the abuse of drugs.

Drug abuse can cause severe mental illness including psychosis. Men and women under the influence of drugs often behave badly. They break into homes and rob people to fund their habit. They bash people who get in their way. Some prostitute themselves. Violence in homes and in the street occurs because of drug-fueled rage. Health professionals and police are regularly abused and attacked.  Families are torn apart. Everyone suffers.

Is it only people like me and families like mine that actually get that illegal drugs cause chaos and tragedy? Perhaps those of us affected don’t talk about it enough. Maybe we’re ashamed to admit that illegal drugs have devastated our families.

Why I am so angry about the decision of the Australian Catholic University

  • We live in fear that someone we love  will overdose or suicide
  • We must standby, helpless, and watch the suffering of those we love
  • People we love suffer from severe mental illnesses
  • They will now never reach their full potential
  • Our children are homeless or ‘couch-surf’
  • Our families have been torn apart – mother from child, father from children, siblings from siblings
  • We have lost precious grandchildren – ties have been severed through the Courts
  • Babies have been taken from their mothers by public servants
  • We have been hit and abused in emergency rooms of  public hospitals by grandchild under the influence of illegal drugs
  • We’ve seen arms and legs,  chubby limbs we once kissed and bathed, now cut and bleeding.
  • We never want to see the inside of a Court again. Never, never, never.
Addiction cutting
Addiction cutting

The Australian Catholic University certainly doesn’t seem to have got the concept that drugs are evil. Families like mine don’t want to see the names of drug traffickers perpetuated through Australian Catholic University scholarships.


In case of a life-threatening event, call 000.

To talk about your own or someone else’s addiction, phone LIFELINE on                13 11 14 24-hours a day.

14 replies on “Australian Catholic University gone mad?”

  1. What a bloody stupid idea to immortalise drug traffickers who knew the consequences of their actions but were banking on selling their poisons to destroy other’s lives. Shame on the Catholic university. Good on you Maureen for exposing the foolishness. Jenny

      1. I was sure you’d approve of my angry rant, Rosemary. We have suffered enough as members of an institutional church that is supposed to care for the poor and the oppressed, the sick and the lame, the homeless and impoverished. We the Church need to take responsibility to show our displeasure when a university takes or makes opportunities to get more students into their institutions, more acclaim for their actions.

    1. Thanks Jenny. I am really angry. Obviously. How bloody dare they?

  2. Thank you for being brave enough to say all that. I think alcohol is not much different in its effect but it is legal. It’s a sad, sad world that we let this happen to each other. I think we all need to do what you are doing and scream very loudly about it.

    1. Thanks for your comment Peter and for recognising it was a brave thing to write and publish about not having a perfect family. We all want to look as if we have it worked out. But we don’t. I thought about it pretty hard before I ‘came out’ as the matriarch of a family with some serious drug problems. But in the end, it felt right. If we don’t start saying how it is for us about all sorts of social issues, who will ever know what it feels like? And alcohol!! Don’t even get me started on that!

  3. Absolute stupidity ! Honouring criminals in this way. Shame on the ACU for even entertaining the thought let alone going ahead with their idea.
    I am so angry with all this hype. Yes any death penalty is barbaric, but so is death and destruction caused by drugs and alcohol.
    For thirty years I was close to the enforcement side of these criminals
    so have seen and heard another side of the damage they cause to innocent people!!
    Great post Maureen. Xx

    1. Thanks for your support, Elizabeth. Everyone I speak to or hear from seems to be against the state-imposed death penalty under any circumstances. Not everyone feels as strongly as us about drug-related deaths and destruction. I remember wandering around in the Klong Toey slums in Bangkok with you and seeing all those people under the influence of drugs. That Redemptorist priest we were with (can’t remember his name) was the first priest I’d ever heard so angry about anything.

  4. I’ll say at the outset that this isn’t going to be the response you were hoping for from your readers, Maureen. I’ll also say that I understand your feelings of anger at this decision. The effects of drug-addiction on a person and their family are horrendous. I’ve seen it first-hand, too. It’s incredibly frustrating, time-consuming, and just plain horrible. You feel dragged into a sordid world you want no part of. And you can’t make the person stop doing something that is so self-destructive and hurts so many people. In the end, I stepped away from that family member and let them self-destruct—they’d refused my help or to help themselves. It was devastating to desert them, but the choice was either that or keep standing by and watch the train crash while continually yelling out unheeded warnings to the driver …

    I say all of this to let you know I’ve seen and know the pain drugs and addiction cause. I’ve also seen first-hand the pain of alcohol and gambling, a legal drug and activity. Everyday, too, my husband deals with the effects of cigarettes—another legal drug of addiction—on people’s health. He has to tell fathers, often in the presence of their wives and sometimes their young children, that they have lung cancer and won’t see their children grow up.

    However, I welcomed this decision by the Australian Catholic University. I was brought up Catholic, too, and like you, I don’t agree with all of its decisions or all of its rules and at times, I’ve felt utterly ashamed by its hypocrisy. For me, though, one of the fundamental values of this fallible Church is its belief in social justice and the welcome hand it extends not just to victims, but to criminals, too. I remember my Year One teacher, Sister Ambrose, reading the story of Zaccheus, the tax collector, climbing the fig tree to see Jesus, who then stopped and asked to dine with Zaccheus when everyone else shunned him. I remember drawing a picture in my exercise book of Zaccheus up the fig tree and Jesus underneath, beckoning him down.

    For me, this is what sets the Catholic Church apart from other religions—its forgiveness of the sinner. It was probably the biggest influence and source of comfort for me as a child, and even more so in adulthood. God knows, I’ve needed forgiveness too many times to count. The Catholic Church has many faults, but this, I believe, is one of its assets.

    For many years I’ve complained about the ‘Right to Lifers’ who get on the bandwagon about abortion and but ignore the right to life of people on death row. I’ve long admired Sister Helen Prejean (of ‘Dead Man Walking’ fame) and her activism, but she hasn’t had a lot of support, even from the Church. People on death row have often committed heinous crimes, and most of society don’t care if they lose their life, many even welcome it. But to me, a life is not for anyone to take and capital punishment is still murder.

    I took Greg Craven’s announcement of the scholarship in the names of these men as a strong statement supporting the sanctity of life and against the death penalty.

    Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran made a decision to commit a crime for financial gain, but they were little more than boys when they made it. They weren’t the king pins behind the drug syndicates. What’s more, they were repentant and I believe they could have gone on to live good and fulfilling lives. As I said, I’ve had so many second chances, and even third chances, and without them, I hate to think where I would have ended up.

    Believe me when I say I understand your anger, I truly do. But I support the Catholic University’s decision to award this scholarship. I see only good that can come from it—I don’t think it makes anyone out to be a martyr, nor do I think it will encourage drug smuggling. But it might help in the abolition of the death penalty around the world. Hopefully, one day it might be awarded to a student from Indonesia, who might take back their research to their home country, and who knows where that may lead …

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful and considered response, Louise. I agree with almost everything you say and I’m pleased that my blog has prompted discussion as well as agreement. With you, I am most emphatic that the death penalty is barbarous murder, which should be abolished everywhere. If the ACU scholarships lead to that end, then good.

      However, I write as a mother and grandmother of people with addictions to illegal drugs. They are people I love dearly. Our family is condemned to watch from the sidelines as their agonising dramas play out. The lives of some of my grandchildren and a great-grandchild will also be forever affected. No one is exempt from living with the effects of drug abuse in a family. We never know what will happen next. It is a cause of deep sorrow and pain for all of us. The the university’s announcement that drug traffickers, even repentant ones, was one further cause of grief.

      Compassion and social justice demand that we must fight for the abolition of the death penalty in every country that still carries out state-sanctioned murder and at the same time work to prevent drug traffickers from plying their deadly poisons that kill and injure untold millions of people each year. Quite a big ask!

  5. I have to say I couldn’t believe what I was hearing when it was announced. These young men were reformed drug dealers …nothing more nothing less …. I would be happier not to hear their names ever mentioned again …and certainly not in connection with anything as noble as a scholarship

    1. Good on you, Rachel. That’s EXACTLY how I feel, as well.

  6. I am a Catholic who believes in the teachings of the Church, and I am saddened by the state sanctioned murder of two rehabilitated drug traffickers.

    I also don’t believe in the careless discarding of unborn babies through abortion for convenience, BUT I find myself wishing I had encouraged my daughter to have an abortion instead of reinforcing our beliefs on the basis of Catholicism. I have now lost my grandson through the courts (taken by public servants who did not appreciate the support our family was willing and able to offer a young mother, who was not using drugs but had a history of drug abuse, and her newborn child). I have since lost my daughter to despair over the loss of her son and illegal drugs.

    I cried (hard) as I read through this blog! I am the mother of a drug addict and the sister of another – I live in constant fear of the phone ringing to tell me that I have lost my daughter. I can empathise with the families of the drug traffickers’ families and friends at the loss of their sons and do not condone their murders by the Indonesian government. I also remember these men were trying to import drugs FOR PROFIT and at the time I lost friends to illegal drugs and worried constantly about my drug addict brother’s health and safety.

    I never wish to hear these men’s names again. I find the announcement by the Australian Catholic University’s vice-chancellor Greg Craven disgusting! I think a much more appropriate use of these scholarship funds would be to offer scholarships to the victims of the illegal drug trade or rehabilitated drug addicts here in Australia. These are the true victims of the traffickers’ actions not Indonesians.

    1. Annie, thank you for your honest, brave comment on my blog. What can I say? I feel for the enormous and ongoing pain you and your daughter have suffered. I imagine your grandson, also, will one day suffer from the loss of his mother and a loving, caring family. I acknowledge your anger at the injustice of the agencies in our society. I didn’t mean to make anyone cry. I was, and am, just so angry that I wanted to tell another side of the story of the destruction of lives caused by drugs, in an effort to counteract the hype about drug traffickers we’ve had pushed at us over the last few months. Like you I never wish to hear or see the drug traffickers names again.

      You make an important point when you say they were importing drugs for profit. They were not themselves addicts. They and their families were spared that agony. Love to you and your daughter.

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