This letter from a priest supporting the parishioners of Benalla dated 2nd October 1989 was addressed to the Secretary of the Sandhurst Council of Priests:
Reverend and Dear Father,
Subsequent to the conclusion of events at the Dookie In-Service on the 21st July last, there was a stunned puzzlement among the priests. When news was communicated next day, a groundswell of irate resentment was expressed through the diocese — the motion should not have been considered.
Is it within the ability of the Council of Priests to satisfactorily answer my questions — why was the diocese not told beforehand, that a motion was to be put, supporting the Benalla Team ministry and the Bishop of the Diocese? Courtesy at least demanded this.
Never before has such a motion been proposed here or elsewhere. Why not? Simply because the Catholic Church does not provide for such a thing. It is just presumed the Pastor and Bishop have support, until it is shown by their actions that they no longer merit that support. It is not for the priests to question the Bishop’s authority, least of all for the Vicar-General to question it. Remember, the Church is not a democracy. It is a hierarchical monarchy. Were the concerned clergy unsure of themselves, and their actions? Hence the motion? If the Bishop wanted this motion of support, why did he not ask for it himself?
It appeared that the unhappy fiasco was the brain-child of certain members of the Council of Priests. Am I to be condemned for posing the question — who is running the diocese — the Bishop or the Council? Singularly quiet was the Bishop during the motion discussion, which was done with undue haste, the assembled priests being somewhat gagged. And all this straight after a session on “counselling”.
Further, it also appeared, that certain matters discussed at the Wednesday Council were passed on to the Benalla priests, and not to everyone. We had to wait until the minutes were received in the mail to find out. Why this discrimination? Is this fair? What steps were taken to record and have minutes of the strange proceedings? Did the assembled priests have a say in choosing scrutineers? The Vicar-General has no authority to demand a vote from me, on the competence of the Bishop, and so embarrass us both.
The parishioners of Benalla have made complaints. Why were they not represented, so we could hear them for ourselves? We had to be satisfied with second-hand information. Don’t forget that we were asked to make a judgement on them also, and vote accordingly.
Since the Benalla scandal is still alive, would I be allowed by the Council to give notice that at the next general conference of priests (should there ever be one) I wish to move a motion of no-confidence in the Bishop and the Team Ministry over their handling of the Benalla issue?
What has been achieved by the motion? — Nothing.
I come to the point — that the priests who devised this impropriety, and so divided us, should be required to offer their resignations from Council. Unwelcome and misguided influences on the governance of the diocese must not be tolerated any longer. Apologies are due from some people. We are all priests of the diocese, and we should know what is going on.
What is the policy of the Council of Priests on these matters:‑
1. That all priests should wear vestments at the in-Service Concelebrated Mass. It is on the programme, just as the conferences are. I was told that priests were free not to concelebrate, and so some were not wearing vestments. Does that mean I am equally free to exempt myself from attending the conferences on the programme? What is more in harmony with the spirit promoted on Holy Thursday?
2. I demand that a copy of the “Dookie Motion” and the voting results be supplied to every priest. These items I place before you, Reverend Father, for consideration at the meeting on the 25th of October of the Council, which I trust and pray will work for the good and restored unity within Sandhurst Diocese.
Father’s requests were ignored. But this did not deter him. He was convinced of the seriousness of the situation and his opinion was confirmed after listening to the experiences of a number parishioners during a small gathering in Benalla not long after Christmas. On that occasion, he made the following observations to those in attendance, choosing his words carefully:
A bishop, priest or layman would be a fool to say there is no problem in Benalla. In the Minutes of the meeting of the Council of Priests my two letters were discussed at length and the Council decided to take no action on the matter, which shows how strong the opposition is.
The division is in the diocese. The motion at Dookie was unjust because we were being made to make a judgement on the people of Benalla who were not present to defend themselves.
We must reunite the parish. This is a wonderful parish. This is a steep hurdle, but it can be overcome.
The opening of St. Joseph’s was to provide a further opportunity for Father to defend the truth and he embraced it gallantly, despite personal ridicule and abuse from clerics.