PRIVATE VICE and PUBLIC VIRTUE
In recent years dissenting clergy and religious have achieved hero status in the pages of official diocesan newspapers throughout the nation. And so, true to form, it was Melbourne’s Catholic weekly, the now defunct Advocate (an inevitable casualty of its own newchurch propaganda)’ that lead the way in canonising the Team. In late 1989, despite the nation-wide notoriety of the Benalla crisis, it produced a story under the laughable headline: The Parish That Grows Together. The brief article informed readers that the Team was “thrilled by the wonderful spirit of co-operation and friendship displayed by all” at an inaugural parish Mass on 27 August 1989. This event, the report continued, brought together parishioners from the various surrounding country districts under the banner: “Travelling Together in Christian Faith and Harmony.” But the reporter’s nose surely grew an extra metre as the fairytale reached its climax and the little white lies gave way to this whopper —the parish, it seemed, had “gathered together to celebrate its unity”!!’
This type of cover-up would matter little if confined to the pitifully small readership of the ‘Catholic’ press. In this lopsided forum, back-slapping dialogue between dissenting ecclesiastics and their journalistic ‘groupies’ is simply ignored by the great majority of Catholics who abhor the tedium of it all. Unfortunately, however, newchurch clergy also enjoy a sweetheart relationship with the secular press, a far more influential ‘broker’ that shares with the new church a disdain for things immutable, a frenetic pre-occupation with “change” and an “everything is grey” morality. On Wednesday, 21 February 1990 the Benalla Ensign took this partnership to new heights. It ran a four page lift-out feature on St. Joseph’s together with a large front-page photo of a specially arranged wedding ceremony conducted in the re-modelled church on the weekend prior to the opening. Coincidentally, the groom just happened to be the editor of the Ensign!
The predictable outcome of this unholy alliance was soft-option journalism, a report that maintained the status-quo and ignored the biggest story to hit Benalla for decades. The real-life drama of Catholic revolt and counter-revolt, with all its attendant journalistic ‘angles’, was rejected in favour of a supplement filled with the Team’s mellifluous party-line.
Some of the headlines were enough to make anyone familiar with the real story laugh or weep or both. “$1.1m spent to restore church to all its glory” enthused one.
This type of media make-believe maintains the virtuous public face of the new church which, at worst, is portrayed as more sinned against than sinning. Orthodox objections rarely get an accurate or impartial mention and more often than not are totally ignored.
So, given this rare opportunity to set the record straight, it is worth contrasting a few representative samples of the Ensign’s coverage with the kind of truly Catholic perspective it chose to disregard.