The Newchurch Prototype
This orthodox tradition did, in fact, continue until January 1989. At this time, Monsignor O’Reilly retired and he had no sooner packed his bags and waved goodbye to his parish family of eighteen years than the storm hit Benalla in the form of three priests who constituted what was referred to as Team Ministry, a three year pastoral experiment sanctioned by the Bishop at the time. The first act in their mission to bring St. Joseph’s into the “modern” world was to dub the presbytery “The Parish House” — a change as fatuous as it was trivial but one which set the scene the Team’s appointed Moderator [i.e. leader], to warn parishioners within a week of his arrival: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” 4
Although puzzled by this warning, most parishioners were as blissfully unaware of Father’s real meaning as they were of the origins of the group he had been appointed to lead. And such ignorance was hardly surprising given the total lack of consultation with the Benalla faithful about their being used as guinea pigs in the Team Ministry experiment. The Team simply landed on their doorstep. One parishioner indicated that the first she knew of the priests coming as a Team was on the Wednesday before they arrived, as vague rumors of impending revolution began to emerge from the ranks of a bewildered parish community.
To be quite honest, I couldn’t believe it. I remember about eight of us stood outside the church and somebody commented that Team Ministry hadn’t worked in Melbourne. Someone else said — “But we can’t go on that. We must give this a chance.” I can remember everyone saying — “Oh well, we’ll all give them a chance and see what happens,” and I said “I don’t like the idea of not having a parish priest as head of the church but we’ll give them a chance.”
Monsignor O’Reilly, in his capacity as Dean of the North-Eastern Deanery, had actually delivered a letter to the Bishop advising him not to install a Team Ministry in any Sandhurst parish and especially not in Benalla. At the same time, the Monsignor was aware that his curate had also written to the Bishop supporting the concept. So, unbeknownst to parishioners, the Bishop had duly chosen to ignore the recommendation of their pastor, a priest ordained fifty years.
But what really infuriated the Monsignor was the Bishop’s disregard for those parts of Canon 524 of Church law which both required him to “consult with the vicar forane” (i.e. Monsignor O’Reilly) and encouraged him to consult the laity before making his decision.5
Since meaningful and open consultation on this crucial matter would only have prompted research into the origins of Team Ministry and its disastrous application in the Melbourne parish of Airport West, the Sandhurst ‘establishment’ preferred to adopt a more insular process, as a senior priest of the diocese explained:
The Bishop had been pestered for some time to put a Team Ministry in the place. The Bishop was told by a bishop in Melbourne that Team Ministry in Airport West had been a complete disaster. But in spite of that the Bishop thought they were `entitled to a go’ and so he determined the composition of the Team and chose an available parish.
Thus marked the beginning of ‘pastoral-engineering’ Sandhurst-style, a closedshop approach to decision-making which was to plague the Benalla experiment thereafter.