VICTORIAN of the Year Father Bob Maguire says he is being made to quit his post as parish priest against his will, and that his ejection could unravel his community work.
Father Maguire is due to step down as parish priest at South Melbourne’s Church of St Peter and St Paul on February 1 next year, as he agreed in a letter to the Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, in 2009.
But the celebrity Catholic priest said yesterday that he was ”pressured” into writing the letter and in fact wants to remain in the job beyond that date, as his position as parish priest is integral to the church’s work in the community.
”Why would you go to the trouble of breaking up the relationship when in fact everybody seems to be agreeing that it’s a bloody good thing?” he said.
Father Maguire resisted an attempt by Archbishop Hart two years ago to nudge him into retirement upon his 75th birthday, winning an extension in the role until February 1, 2012.
”In 2009 I was pressured into signing a letter of resignation,” he said. ”I turned 75 and [Archbishop Hart] said ‘look, the custom now is to offer your resignation and if you offer it, I’ll take it’. So I said, ‘I don’t know that I’ll offer it’.”
Father Maguire – best known for his appearances on TV and radio alongside comedian John Safran, but also for his work with the homeless and the poor – said he could not understand why he was being singled out for retirement when many Catholic priests continue to work well beyond the age of 75.
But Archbishop Hart said the move was ”consistent with canon law, which asks a priest who turns 75 to offer his resignation”.
”While there may be older parish priests in Victoria their appointment is dependent on the assessment by the local bishop of the circumstances of the priest, parish and diocese,” the archbishop added.
Now 77 but still committed to his church and community work, Father Maguire questioned whether it was his attention-grabbing style, rather than his age, behind the move.
”Maybe the Roman style currently prevailing in the Catholic Church thinks that I’m a bogan,” he said.
Father Maguire was named Victorian of the Year last week for his community service work.
He dedicated the award to his parishioners, saying they had joined him in reaching out to the local community, especially those living in South Melbourne’s public housing estate.
Archbishop Hart also praised Father Maguire’s community work, saying he had ”thoroughly deserved the Victorian of the Year award”.