Australian Priests Go on the Offensive

Form Group to Counter Attacks Against the Church

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MELBOURNE, Australia, DEC. 17, 2000 (
Two Melbourne Catholic priests have formed a group to combat attacks on the Church that they have branded the new anti-Semitism, The Age newspaper reported today.

The priests claim the faith has come under increasing attack from fundamentalists and the media, the paper said. They cite as an example the continued criticism of the Catholic Church for sexual assaults by priests and Catholic laity, when the Church, they say, has already taken remedial action.

Father Michael Shadbolt, parish priest of Holy Family, Doveton, and Father Herman Hengel, parish priest of St. Agatha´s, Cranbourne, have formed the Catholic Priests´ Anti-Defamation League to combat the attacks. They say Catholics are outraged by anti-Catholic scenes in the television show «South Park» aired recently on SBS.

They say scenes depicting Pope John Paul II dribbling incoherently and a priest fornicating in a confession box are part of a savage anti-Catholic campaign they call the new anti-Semitism, The Age noted.

The vicar general of the Melbourne Archdiocese, Bishop Denis Hart, would not support the new anti-Semitism claim, but agreed it was now «very fashionable to knock the Church,» the newspaper reported.

«I want to emphasize that these priests have taken matters into their own hands and are acting as individuals,» he was quoted by The Age as saying. «But I understand why this group has been set up. There has been a tremendous amount of attention given to some of the scandals in the Church. I´m not sure that that attention has been completely fair. … But I´m confident that in time some balance will return to the debate.»

Melbourne´s B´nai B´rith Anti-Defamation Commission executive director, Danny Ben-Moshe, said that while his group had recorded a rise in Australian-based anti-Catholic Web sites, the claim that anti-Catholicism was the new anti-Semitism was «highly inappropriate and insensitive.»

Father Shadbolt, a priest for 30 years, said his group had support from many of Victoria´s estimated 600 Catholic priests. He hopes to take legal action against those who unfairly attack the Church, according to The Age. SBS said it had received two general complaints and one call for the show to be repeated.

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