Rome Pulls the Trigger

A push by parishioners of Father Bob Maguire to have his retirement delayed a second time has failed. The Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart has written to the popular priest that his successor has been appointed to take up tenure in February at the South Melbourne parish church of Saints Peter and Paul, where the 77 year-old has been parish priest for 34 years. Father Bob, as he is widely known, has accepted the Church’s decision with fatalism, telling the The Age, “The Romans are pretty ruthless”.

Father Bob is the presenter, alongside Jon Safran, of a long-running Sunday evening radio show on the ABC youth network JJJ examining matters of faith. As canny as he is colourful, he has long perfected the art of sailing close to the wind in doctrinal matters without incurring the wrath of the Church. He describes himself as doctrinally orthodox but unconventional. The former beekeeper was awarded an Order of Australia in 1989 and is this year’s Victorian of the Year.

A Wheeler Centre staff member remembers attending a wedding officiated by Father Bob at his South Melbourne parish church several years ago. A conventional Catholic wedding liturgy was printed in the booklets handed out to all the wedding guests as they entered the church, but over the course of the ceremony it became clear that Father Bob had his own liturgy in mind. He would substitute the usual well-worn keywords of the Catholic liturgy with synonyms of his own devising. In so doing, he transformed the ceremony from doctrinal recitative to an act of love and kinship on a scale as human as it was divine. Yet - perhaps in an allusion to the fate of colleagues such as Father Peter Kennedy - on several occasions he interrupted himself, placed an index finger on his lips and said, “Loose lips sink ships.”

Father Bob Maguire is considering continuing his work by setting up a “parish without borders”.

The Wheeler Centre hosts the last Intelligence Squared debate of 2011 on Tuesday 15 November. Speaking for the proposition, ‘The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world’ will be Helen Coonan, Julian McMahon and Sister Libby Rogerson. Speaking against the proposition will be Father Peter Kennedy, Anne Summers and David Marr.

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