“We wish to advise you that your services are no longer required.”
It’s a modern Australian euphemism that many people have been on the receiving end of at some point in their lives. In Australian military slang, such people are referred to as “snarlers” (SNLR: Services No Longer Required). Considering his Vietnam-era role as an army chaplain at Puckapunyal, outspoken Catholic priest Father Bob Maguire can be aptly termed the latest snarler, after this week receiving directions from Archbishop Denis Hart that he must retire.
On the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne webpage, Archbishop Hart referred to the Code of Canon law which states that once a parish priest reaches 75 years of age “…he is requested to offer his resignation to the Diocesan Bishop. The Bishop, after considering all of the circumstances of the priest and the parish, can decide whether to accept or defer the resignation.”
The number of Catholic priests in Australia has dropped 21% since Maguire’s stint with the army. There are currently 3085 priests throughout the country. However, the dwindling numbers do not currently appear to persuade the Church to retain influential priests with such a wide appeal as Maguire.
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Instead, writing today in the Herald Sun, the Archbishop further reminded Maguire and other readers of the vow of obedience he took when he was ordained:
Parish life has its joys and challenges, and many priests will tell you it can be very demanding.
Priests, particularly parish priests, are generally available 24 hours a day, often seven days a week.
It can be demanding enough for a 45-year-old priest, let alone a 75-year-old priest. The Church believes it has a great responsibility to its priests throughout their lives.
The feisty Maguire, who turns 75 next week, has come to be regarded by many — regardless of religious belief or lack thereof — as an urban hero. An Order of Australia in 1989 and Centenary Medal in 2003 were an official recognition of Maguire’s work with young people over the years, with the homeless and the drug-addicted.
Maguire — known to most as Father Bob — stands out from the norm. He currently co-hosts Triple J’s Sunday Night Safran with comedian John Safran — a sign of Maguire’s youthful appeal. As listeners would attest Maguire is not one to sit silently. On his blog the tech-savvy Maguire, who also runs The Father Bob Show podcast, wrote of his meeting with Archbishop Hart that sparked the debate:
By the time he left, I was feeling 90 years of age, not 75, the age of statutory senility.
Followers of Maguire’s Twitter page would have been heartened by yesterday’s characteristically witty post:
@FatherBob: Did a funeral today and almost saved the bosses any further worry … light rain made the gravesite damp and I nearly slipped into the grave!
The public response to Maguire’s “snarler” predicament comes only months after the forced retirement of popular St Finbar’s parish priest Father Lou Heroit. The much-loved Father Lou attracted a groundswell of community support — including 662 members of a Facebook petition page in his honour — with supporters asking Archbishop Hart to allow him to stay at the East Brighton parish until 2011 so he could celebrate his diamond jubilee in July.
The Archbishop declined, and instead decided Heriot would retire on January 6, 2010:
In response to Maguire’s current situation 3AW has started a “Save Father Bob Maguire” page, which has attracted 12 pages worth of comments from supporters. There is even a “Father Bob Maguire for Pope!” page on Facebook, which features 555 members expressing their admiration of Father Bob.
Maguire could mount a significant case for being allowed to retain his post. There is a host — pardon the pun — of world leaders who have held office in their twilight years.
US President Ronald Reagan took office just before his 70th birthday and left two weeks before he turned 78. Sir Charles Tupper became Prime Minister of Canada at the age of 74 years and 10 months. Unlike Reagan, Tupper’s tenure lasted only 69 days.
The UK’s oldest Prime Minister to be appointed for the first time was 71-year-old Henry John Temple — and William Ewart Gladstone was appointed for his final of four terms as Prime Minister aged 82 years.
In fact, considering recent form, the Catholic Church would be doing no wrong to heed the wishes of Maguire’s supporters and elect Maguire as Pope. Joseph Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — was 78 years of age when he was elected Pope in 2005. He is now 82 and holds an office that heads the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics. Pope John Paul II was 84 when he died in office after a very public deterioration of his health, including a battle with Parkinson’s disease that left him unable to speak.
Considering his 123 podcasts of The Father Bob Show, speechlessness is an affliction that Father Bob Maguire does not suffer.
Do you know of a priest who’s been sacked before his time? Email us at [email protected].