St Vincents Redfern.
The Church Mouse has reported infrequently in recent months on the blatant abuse of clerical authority at St Vincent’s, not because things are settling down between the community and the Neocat clergy, but in the interests of providing a less incendiary space for all concerned.
From time to time the ever present tensions erupt and sometimes the story simply must be told. Last Sunday was such an occasion; it left the community doubting the very validity of Clesio Mendes’ 10am Mass.
The Mass began uneventfully enough after the customary argie-bargie between Clare and Mendes over the height of the vases and/or flowers she had brought for the altar.
Until the sermon.
It went on for some 20 long and tedious minutes, featuring a series of seemingly disconnected statements laden with negativity and numerous reminders of a world made so wicked by its inhabitants, especially, no doubt, members of the congregation. Theologically it commenced with some reference to the charitable response of the Good Samaritan, but then spiralled into a version of high Christology which had less and less to do with doing anything, apart from the love of Christ, that beautiful love, being the only path to redemption.
Some by this stage were displaying signs of exasperation, whereupon Mendes interrupted his protracted ramblings and invited them to leave and to go and find some other church. They replied, "But this is our church." Tom gave expression to his frustration by informing the priest that the sermon was “too long … lots of words, but nothing to say”.
Mendes was obviously discomforted by the interjection, but continued briefly before finishing up and returning to the altar to recite the Creed.
When it came time for the Prayers of the Faithful, Mendes commenced, as is his custom, by launching into a series of prayers “on behalf of the Faithful”. He then paused to allow some prayers from individual members of the congregation, but not before issuing admonitions to keep them short, adding a threat that should there be any further disruptions he would close the Mass.
The second prayer from the congregation came from Sr Mary, petitioning that Mendes might re-instate Ralph as Eucharistic Minister. Mendes took issue with this, arguing that it was political, against him, and not a prayer to God but a statement for the benefit of the people [?].
Kate tried to begin a prayer, but because of the now protracted interchange between Mendes and Sr Mary, she felt obliged to ask “Clesio, is this a time for politics or prayer?”
He then attempted to stifle any further prayers, commanding Helen, the music liturgist, to start the Offertory hymn over the top of the prayers. She remained silent. Mendes subsequently threatened her that any future refusal to comply with such instructions would give him cause to terminate the Mass.
Several other members of the congregation disregarded Mendes and offered prayers to which the majority of those present responded with a heartfelt “Lord, hear my prayer!”
A series of remonstrations between Mendes and various members of the congregation ensued. In the context of this interchange, Mendes reasserted that in the event of further interruptions he was quite prepared to exercise his power of veto on the Mass. Judy reminded him “You know you cannot do that without the permission of the Cardinal.”
To which he retorted “I have the authority”……
What happened next has a history in a long running dispute in which Mendes has for many months refused the opportunity for Ralph, an Aboriginal Minister of the Eucharist, to distribute Communion. When the time came, Mendes again refused Ralph permission, provocatively appointing Mahlia, a Neocat, to the role instead.
Hearing this, Kate approached Mahlia and offered to distribute the Wine instead, in an attempt to maintain the peace; after all, she too was a Minister of the Eucharist. Mendes refused to allow it.
It is important to realise that this action was not in the interests of diversifying the role to persons other than Ralph. It was quite clearly an act of displacement. Mendes’ selection may have been technically a valid one, but there is every reason to believe that under no circumstances would he be agreeable to Ralph resuming any place as a Minister of the Eucharist.
Most of the community felt such distress at this that they could not approach Holy Communion at all.
After Mass Catherine approached Helen and asked her to stop singing, as the community was saddened and could not sing. Helen agreed.
Mendes asked “why no singing?”
Catherine replied “it has been a horrible Mass; for us this is a day of mourning, not unlike Good Friday. We cannot sing.”
As he was leaving the church after Mass with his entourage of falsely smiling acolytes, Mendes stopped to explain to Ralph that his decision was not against him personally, but that he was opposed to the community action. Ralph could not accept that, and said that he did take it personally, since he was the one continually denied recognition as a Eucharistic Minister. According to Mendes, Ralph had been got at by the community. Ralph insisted that he makes up his own mind: “I am 52 years old, Clesio, do you think I cannot think for myself?”
Jack then admonished Mendes for being patronising towards Ralph.
Many members of the congregation were distressed by the sequence of events last Sunday morning. They were particularly dismayed at how readily and often Mendes issued threats to terminate the Mass. Little wonder that so many, both black and white, have left St Vincent’s and cannot bear to return. This scandalous situation and the ever-present tension have been endured by the community now for seven years. What would the Jesus of the gospels have to say?