Another one bites the dust
The Catholic hierarchy so often reminds me of what was said about Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat – they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
The latest opportunity bungled – at least in my view – was the way the decision was made to install the Capuchin priests at the South Melbourne parish in place of the popular and high-profile priest Father Bob Maguire, as I reported last week. The Capuchins may be an excellent fit, but what offends is the process, without a word to anyone at South Melbourne who are the ones most intimately affected.
This led to humiliation for the South Melbourne parish council, which met Capuchin representatives to hold what it thought were preliminary discussions about a possible carefully timed transition, only for it to emerge during the conversation that the Capuchin order had already signed a 10-year contract to run the parish.
Parish Council chairman Tony Long called it contemptible, tawdry and distressing, and it’s hard to disagree. There are aspects to Father Bob’s heterodox style and personality that may distress the hierarchy, but the current Victorian of the Year is popular in his parish, and they were about to ask for him to stay on through a staged transition.
No one doubts that, according to the Catholic system of canon law, the Archbishop has the right to determine who the parish priests at South Melbourne should be. Nor that Archbishop Denis Hart has the right to insist that Father Bob, 77, abide by the agreement they signed in 2009 when matters last blew up that he would retire next February.
It’s the secretive, authoritarian way it was done, without a word to those affected. It seems to indicate where parishioners stand in the life of the church – a distant last, a nuisance, an irrelevancy.
It is possible there are other factors or motivations, but I cannot tell you because the automatic response of the archdiocese is “no comment”. Sadly, that was the response of the Capuchin provincial (Australian head) too, who didn’t even want to discuss such harmless matters as the size of the order in Australia.
I don’t say he has a responsibility to speak to the media. But a sullen and suspicious silence sends its own message, and it’s not a positive one. This is a first impression for the parish of how the order will handle matters. How much better than “no comment” it would have been to say that yes, the order will be providing four priests from February, that it is looking forward to working with the parishioners, that it shares the South Melbourne tradition of working with the poor. Something that suggests the order has some sort of interest in the faithful - which I am sure it does.
It’s my theological understanding that the clergy are there to serve the parishioners. Whatever the Catholic Church teaches in theory, it certainly doesn’t seem to be their understanding in practice. If anything, it’s the reverse.
Of course, it must be frustrating for the church that its good news stories – and there are plenty – don’t get the same attention. But in response they seem to have studied the worst of corporate practice, with its spin-doctor, PR professional, never say anything on principle unless it is carefully massaged public relations culture.
They remind me of the Yes Minister episode, which had a perfectly functioning hospital, fully staffed, shiny and clean – and no patients. After all, it’s so messy having to deal with the people.
I see fellow blogger Dick Gross has been motivated by the same issue. There’s an encouraging unanimity here, but we are concerned about slightly different aspects. What are you concerned about?
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