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During the Bowling Club meeting of 25 October 1989, con­cerned parents had challenged Father about the lack of meaningful, orthodox religious instruction in Catholic class­rooms and they too, like many others had been shocked and bewildered by his response. And yet, as his Team set about refashioning not only St. Joseph’s church but the rem­nant parish family itself, Father’s approach to catechetics was hardly surprising. After all, freeing Catholic youth from the “re­pressive” influence of pope and magisterium, by emptying their hearts and minds of orthodox notions, is crucial to the future viability of the new church. Clearly, its ultimate objective —doctrinal and moral autonomy for each member of each “local community,” along Protestant lines — cannot be realized with­out the co-operation of the next generation. It thus pursues its agenda in the field of Catholic education with a single-minded ferocity, as one bitterly disappointed parishioner discovered:

I had taught Religious Instruction in State schools since 1981 but on 30 January 1990 Father told me that unless I changed my position I could no longer represent the parish as a catechist. I told him that I believed all that the Catholic Church believes and that I was a good teacher, yet I still got the sack.

In his response to the parental concerns put to him at the Benalla Bowling Club, Father shed considerable light on both the reason for the sacking of the catechist and the far reaching implications of his ‘progressive’ ideas.

Catechetics newchurch-style

From the outset, the enormous gap between Father’s life-experience theory and the dire concerns generated by the ac­tual experience of Catholic parents was quickly dismissed by the priest as nothing more than the imaginings of “very, very frightened” people who were afraid of change

This assessment was, of course, dreadfully wrong. In fact, the parents correctly understood that experiential catechesis had not provided the Catholic life-buoy so urgently needed to save their children from drowning in the secular sea of a decadent age. But Father would have none of it, simply choosing to ignore statements that revealed the practical outcome of a dangerous overemphasis on feelings and experience at the ex­pense of doctrine.

My children are taught a lot of rubbish at St. Joseph’s school,” claimed one mother. “The teacher told them that God wouldn’t know what they would be doing next week. Well, if God doesn’t know, God help us!

Such real-life experience did not deter Father from pursuing newchurch theory. It went like this:

Who made the world. God made the world. O.K. But what they try to do is say, what have you experienced about God through mum and dad and love; what have you experienced about God through your friends; what have you experienced about God through your birthday parties, etc, etc. And gradually get the child to come to realise that this God is a loving God and a God who could create, rather than say “Yes, God made the world” — where next to the query is the answer. So you’re coming at the same thing but you’re trying to get them, as young as they might be, to reflect on the love they’ve already experienced … Trying to get them to see how God speaks to them through sport, through flowers and all sorts of things . ..

It might well be argued that Father could not cover all points at all times, yet it was telling that he not once mentioned or even alluded to the ultimate experience, the lives of the saints — the very people who live the Gospel heroically well.