Monsignor O’Reilly later amended this statement to say he is “upset” by what is happening. He quotes a Lutheran Pastor W.N. Grace to express his feelings: “A church that forgets its history is like a man who loses his memory.”
Father O’Reilly says the church building was insured for $1.2 million and the insurance company was happy to pay for the restoration no matter what it cost. The townsfolk raised $32,000 to aid the restoration. Even the neighboring Anglicans contributed $1150.
One of the leading opponents of the team claims that Sunday congregations have dropped from 1800 to 500. “There are about 1200 families in the parish. About 200 support the changes, another 200 are fighting against them and the rest are less active but probably oppose them. Our priests are a shame on us, one of them even turned up wearing shorts to a meeting of women.
“People have been told that if they don’t like the changes, they can go somewhere elsewhere. Where can we go? Maybe we should go to the Anglicans, their priests are more the way ours should be. They dress like priests, they are a blessing to them. Father W says the side altars have been moved because church law states there should be only one altar in the body of the church. What church law? There are five altars in the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Bendigo and I don’t know how many altars are in St. Patrick’s in Melbourne.”
What was the Team’s reaction to all this? The report continued:
One of the team priests said the changes were being made to suit the “liturgical situation of today.”
He said that the protest came from a small group. “Basically it is about the relationship between the people and the clergy. They believe that it is only through the priest that they can get to God. It is different now. We see the role of priest as that of presider.”
Again the view of the priest as “presider” merely confirmed the peculiar theology of the Benalla priests as expressed in their form of worship and the environment in which they acted it out. Fr was indicating that he was merely the ecclesial leader of the social group in a new church where power flows from below upwards, unlike the organization of the Catholic Church where power descends from above downwards.
Further, Father’s explanation that the furore was really “about the relationship between the people and the clergy” was ludicrous — akin to suggesting that liturgical changes and the destruction of Catholic churches in sixteenth century England were mere byproducts of a relational problem between the local clergy and their parishioner’s! As in that tragic era, the Benalla tragedy of the latter twentieth century was essentially a crisis of truth, at the root of which lay a bishop’s acquiescence in the behavior of priests who had radically reinterpreted their own ‘relationship” with Rome.
It was, in fact, the Reformation revisited.