* On the night of 7 January 1991, a small modern sculpture of a non-descript female figure was placed in St. Joseph’s. Sporting a Prince Valiant haircut and a body-hugging garment with sleeves rolled up above the elbow, the dark figure of mahogany and bronze apparently reinforced the Team image of the ordinariness of Mary. The Mother of God as mere “Jewish mum” (to use Team parlance), now stands at the edge of that expansive, empty “space” where morning light on marble once illuminated the Holy of Holies. The whereabouts of the much loved statues of Our Lady and the Sacred Heart, as with the displaced marble and crucifix etc., are still unknown, despite repeated requests by parishioners as to their whereabouts.
* During August 1991, local police arrested and charged a young man with having set fire to St. Joseph’s on 6 February 1989.
* About twelve months after its ‘facelift,’ paint on the walls of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel began to blister and a dank and musty smell began to fill the church. While the smell was found to be caused by sections of damp and decaying carpet underlay, the source of the damp itself was a mystery. There had never been any similar problems with the carpet tiles which had previously covered the floor of St. Joseph’s for many years. Significantly, as revealed in photos taken by Marj Ride, one of the initial trouble spots was the desecrated grave of Dean Owen Davy and the rotted underlay covering this area had to be pulled up. While the experts postulated probable causes of the problem, many parishioners saw in it the disapproving hand of a vengeful God (“Reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord”). Who would argue with them.
The rot worsened and the pews were eventually removed from the church to allow all the carpet to be pulled up. In the process, the Team permitted the original aisle of terrazzo tiles to be smashed and replaced with chipboard. In keeping with the Team’s usual temper, this destructive act was undertaken without any prior consultation with the faithful or the Historic Buildings Council (HBC). Outraged parishioners immediately lodged a submission of protest with the HBC and on 22 August 1991, fifteen parishioners, together with a sympathetic priest, attended a Permits Committee meeting at the HBC’s Melbourne headquarters, held to consider the impact of the work on the architectural and historic dimensions of the Church and the possible restoration of the aisle.
With barely concealed disgust, the HBC chairwoman commenced proceedings by reading a curt letter of ‘apology’ from the Team. They admitted that work had commenced without the required (HBC) permit but refused to take responsibility for this negligence, claiming instead that the HBC were to blame for not providing adequate direction!
Speaking in his capacity a Diocesan Historian, informed the Council that the destruction of the original tiles covering the aisle, which linked the entrance and sanctuary areas, would adversely affect the church in its “historical whole.” In his capacity as a building consultant, a parishioner traced the root cause of the dampness to the 418mm of rain which had fallen in Benalla during that lengthy period in 1989 when, inexplicably, the Team had left the roof of the church uncovered. Among other things, he also informed the Committee that official ventilation requirements had not been met in the reconstruction work and that this in turn would adversely affect the structural soundness of the building. Furthermore, the Team had failed to obtain either a building permit or approval from the Benalla City Council to undertake the work.
Members of the HBC were clearly impressed by the orderly presentation of the submission. The chairwoman drew attention to the substantial penalties prescribed for breaching the provisions of the Historic Buildings Act.
In October, parishioners, the Team and Bishop Daly were notified that the Permits Committee had resolved not to grant the Team a ‘retrospective’ permit for the demolition of the aisle. Reasons given by the Committee for refusing the Team’s application included the fact “that there has been extreme denigration of the architectural and historical importance of the building and consequent damage to the fabric of the building.” As a consequence of the resolution, the Bishop was ordered to “return the floor to its original state” and given 28 days to provide “details of the program to achieve this objective.” Substantial fines over and above the restoration are not out of the question.
It goes without saying that the hard-earned cash of the Sandhurst faithful may once again be required to bail out the Bishop’s Team.
* Meanwhile, as the Benalla controversy raged on in the pages of the local press and the Team Ministry experiment limped from crisis to crisis towards its long-awaited end date, the latest victims of newchurch experimentation, St. Joseph’s parish, Cessnock, were already engaged in counter-revolt .2
And so it goes — Airport West, Benalla, Cessnock … … So “watch and pray” … and be prepared.