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Under the largest headline in the supplement, “Parish Team looks forward to a new era for St. Josephs” the Team related an interesting fictional tale spiced with cliches:

..the priests have been heartened by the way the church community has grown in faith during the past year, chal­lenged to reflect on their role in the church.

… “Ina very strange way, that is what celebrating Mass in the hall has done for people,” Father said. “A lot of people have started to reflect on their faith as adults.”

“The physical design of the hall and the fact that they have been outside the church itself has enabled them to realise that they don’t have to come to church and be silent.” “In the past twelve months people have met a lot of other parishioners with whom they have always gone to Mass, but never known who they are. This is a very positive thing.” Father, the only one of the three priests to have been in Benalla long enough to have a feel for the church before the fire said the atmosphere in St. Joseph’s Hall was totally different.

“There was a staidness in the church which disappeared in the hall and it has given people the chance to acknowledge others in the community they did not know were there,” he said.

“A sense of hospitality has come to the fore … The experi­ences of the past twelve months have had a unifying effect on the Parish Team and within the parish itself, but it has not been without its pains.”

Father said many people had grown in faith as a result of the experiences of the past 12 months.

“I only hope that now we are back in the church, people will continue to be challenged to be better faith people. The lesson for the Church is that what the Church says, teaches and encourages must be taken to the local community by the priests.”

Thus did a newspaper testimonial once more transform an in­version of reality into ‘official truth’, locking it into the public record for unsuspecting posterity.

Rather than suppressing the real story, the Ensign should at least have balanced its coverage with a dose of the widely held sentiments contained in a written statement from a priest supporting the parishioners who were not happy with the changes. It told a markedly different tale. At the time, circumstances prevented the release of this statement but it now serves to highlight the difference between the Ensign’s grand illusion and the hard-edged truth it conveniently ignored:

Parishioners of Benalla, please speak to me about your parish.

More than a year ago, the Bishop set up a Team Ministry to minister to the people of Benalla. Changes were expected. And they certainly came, many and frightening, more than you could cope with. From one end of the diocese to the other … and beyond … we constantly have heard the bad news. What has happened to your Team Ministry, in whom you once confided? After so long, problems are still there bring­ing unhappiness to people. Benalla has always been, and still is, a very united parish where the people live and work together, and pray together. Just at present there is confu­sion. Notable numbers are going elsewhere to Mass. Some are giving up altogether. They are not silent fanatics, but sensible, humble, good Catholics who love their church … the silent majority.

We can hardly believe what we hear. The people are not imagining things. Team Ministry — what are you saying and doing to your people, with quote after quote from over­seas publications — no printed statements from the Aus­tralian Bishops? What is this “new church” you are intro­ducing of which the Pope has never spoken? Surely it’s not true what is being attributed to you?

….in Church doctrine today, nothing is black and white, only shades of grey … The Ten Commandments were given to that old man … they are out now … only for Jews … Jesus is that Jew man … Mary, Mother of God … a Jewish mum … (blasphemy) … Mary got pregnant out of mar­riage… When you have troubles with youth, remember Mary had a runaway child…”

Fr continued:

People say: “Attending Mass is awful, is terrible, the whole atmosphere is really depressing. Celebrants display a distracting lack of reverence and respect for the ‘sacred’. We wonder whether they are sure they represent God; hardly aware they are in a sacred place. Mass is a kind of show to be got over with, and not the highlight and religious climax of the priest’s week … here it is cold and casual … no clear-cut teaching and direction for our daily living … their laid back style is regarded as ridiculous by many youths, who are just leaving the Church. We can’t be sure the creed is said every Sunday. We wonder whether the celebrant believes in all the articles of faith.”

Dear Team Ministry, you are to be pitied and prayed for. I share the same priesthood as yourselves … I don’t abandon you. Think and believe as you wish, to your own peril. But don’t inflict the people with error. Religious justice demands they have a right to hear the true faith, in all its purity. When the true faith is attacked, and played down to fit a pre-conceived notion of some spineless form of religion, this must be resisted. This “new church” being built around Benalla people, is hitting them with confusion. It is spreading throughout the fabric of belief, weakening the Catholic sense in general.

Frustrated parishioners are getting the sense that their shepherds cannot be trusted.. the richness of Catholic tradition recedes and is forgotten. Agonized people are commenting, not unreasonably — ” Why does the Bishop not do something. Would that he had a change of heart, for the common good, for God’s sake. We will understand if he humbly acknowledges he has made a mistake. If only he would restore our sanctuary, as it was. It is not good enough saying ‘We just have to put up with it now’.

“You wish to question me, dear Catholics of Benalla, why am I speaking like this? I give you the same answer as did the Moderator, when you asked him, why did he have to wreck the sanctuary… “I too have a conscience which tells me to speak as I do. ” If even a Bishop or priest is a stumbling block to the eternal salvation of even one soul, then he is unworthy of the onerous office he bears.