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One Parishioner agreed.

At the end of the October meeting at the Bowling Club I told Father that we regretted the division that the Team brought and said “only you can heal the division.” He didn’t respond. That is hurtful. He shows no inclination to heal divisions. He shows no signs that he is interested in anything but following his way. They didn’t want any remnant of the past left. They even whitewashed the statue of St. Joseph.

And, at the same gathering, another proffered this summa­tion of the Team Ministry phenomenon:

The sort of religion being presented suits the lifestyles of the priest’s supporters. It’s an easy life. All Team Ministry has done is lift the lid on a situation that probably exists in most Australian parishes.

In another era, under more draconian but no less spiritually oppressive circumstances, the Faithful had also gathered to talk and support one another in this way:

For an hour or so, the party sat … and Majorie listened to their talk. It was of that which filled the hearts of all Catholics at this time; of the gathering storm in England … It had been possible almost to this very year to hope that the misery would be a passing one; but the time for hope was gone. It remained only to bear what came, to multiply priests, and, if necessary martyrs, and meantime to take such pains for protection as they could.”

Similarly, the Benalla faithful were left to persevere and protect themselves until the expiration of the Team’s appointment in 1992. But what then?

“All revolutions leave indelible scars,” wrote Bishop Forester, “even after the wounds have healed.” In this case, the “indelible scar” was the alien presence which was bound to linger in Benalla for many years in the form of parishioners who had bought the Team’s ‘line’. A strong, orthodox and holy priest is required to reunite the parish but, even allowing for the Bishop’s co-operation, options are limited. As one senior Sandhurst cleric opined:

Who will take over? Who is it going to be? You can’t put a boy in there. And we have a big gap in our diocese because we had 10 or 12 deaths in eighteen months. Some of those priests could have moved in to Benalla but there is now this large gap from the old fellows down to the young ones. Even some of the younger parish priests are not orthodox so they’re not the blokes to go there.

This brief assessment points to the lengthening newchurch shadow being cast across every diocese in Australia as the sun finally sets on the united Catholic enterprise of yesteryear and the men who oversaw it. With clerical options rapidly dwindling and reports of Benalla-like take-overs commonplace, the only rel­evant questions left for orthodox hold-outs are whether what is left of the Church will collapse quite quickly, whether it will settle down instead to a long dismal dilapidation, or whether, at best, there will be a counter-revolution resulting in a much shrunken Catholic Church.”

This predicament represents the logical end-point of the newchurch revolution that so closely mimicks Reformation I. If, as Cardinal Newman wrote, it was “the high decree of heaven, that the majesty of Catholicism should be blotted out” in Britain, who would dare argue that Reformation II may not produce a similar “decree” in respect of our own tiny back-water of the universal Church?

In effect, a “much shrunken Catholic Church” already exists in a disjointed way — populated by counter-revolutionaries scat­tered around Australia. As we have seen, they closely resemble their Catholic ancestors who refused to compromise their faith during the Protestant Reformation, that “small number [who] were not reconciled to change [and] not attracted by the white­wash and the destruction or by seeing vestments, pyxes, images, copes, altars and censers being sold on the open market.””

In his sermon The Second Spring, Cardinal Newman de­scribed the pitiful state of Catholicism and these remnant Catholics in post- Reformation penal times in England:

The presence of Catholicism was at length removed,— its grace disowned,— its power despised,— its name, except as a matter of history, at length almost unknown… No longer the Catholic Church in the country; nay, no longer, I may say, a Catholic community,— but a few adherents of the Old Religion, moving silently and sorrowfully about, as memo­rials of what had been. ‘The Roman Catholics’;— not a sect, not even an interest as men conceived it … but merely a handful of individuals, who might be counted, like the pebbles and the detritus of the great deluge … found in cor­ners, and alleys, and cellars, and the housetops, or in the recesses of the country; cut off from the populous world around them, and dimly seen as if through a mist or in twi­light, as ghosts flitting to and fro, by the high Protestants, the lords of the earth.

Our present day version of this pathetic scene is rapidly tak­ing shape. To halt its progress, the bishops must disenfranchise their newchurch revolutionaries who have a vested interest in be­lieving that the ruins mean the rebirth of a better Catholicism. If any bishops believed that to be true, or even half-true, I trust that this account of the Benalla experiment has convinced them otherwise. Team Ministry was not a ‘spit and polish’ job; a rejuvenation of the orthodox faith previously guarded by Mon­signor O’Reilly. It represented, as one of the team ministers explained – a “new church” — a regressive experiment always doomed to fail because only authentic things work:

The magnificence of the divine plan shines through authen­tic theology. There is in it a unity, a cohesion … It’s ra­diance is best seen and heard in the lives of the saints, for they are the ones best attuned to the Holy Spirit who in­spires both Scripture and their lives … No wonder that not a single saint in 2000 years has held what contemporary dis­senters hold. No wonder that most people who accept what the dissenters teach simply stop being Catholics, or believ­ing in God altogether. Meanwhile, people are walking out of the arid dissenting churches and looking for truth, unity, and authentic spirituality in their lives. This they can only find in the Church. 14

Like the Church, Catholics cannot choose the times in which they live. Temporarily, the parishioners of St. Joseph’s, Benalla, have had to relinquish things that hitherto spelled security for them. and, in retrospect, that they may have taken for granted. Shepherdless and priestless, they must now trust coley to the shield of faith.

But the demolition of their bastions — the parish church and the sacraments — does not mean that they no longer have anything to defend. Catholics cannot live by forces other than those that brought forth the Church — the blood and water from the pierced side of the crucified Lord. And in this lies our hope:

“In the world you will have trouble, but be brave: I have conquered the world.”

 

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