Friday, August 03, 2007

Retaliation of the Priest

An interesting story has been doing the rounds about the behaviour of a prominent Melbourne priest who retaliated against a group of boys who trespessed onto church property to skateboard on the premises. This retaliation involved a flurry of swearing, a few racist slurs and even some physical abuse by the priest. I had wanted offer my thoughts on the subject since I became aware of the issue a few days ago, but was concerned that I would unleash a torrent of unjustified anti-Catholic sentiment by raising the issue. That said, now that the video has circulated itself widely throughout both the media and the Christian community, I see no point in holding back from providing my commentary. Before I do so however, here is the video of the incident, which I would suggest you watch before proceeding to read the rest of my article. Just to offer the standard cliched disclaimer, some viewers may find the following footage distressing. Having said that, I have all but guaranteed that the vast majority of people who come across this post will now watch the video:



The first thing I think I need to say is that I have no right to take the moral highground. Of course, this is a cue to make a confession. Late last year, at a time when my pacifistic stance was only just taking shape but nonetheless existed, I took umbrage against a man who quite deliberately shoved me out of the way to get on a train. I shoved him back forcefully enough to let him know that I was annoyed. This wasn't a particularly wise thing to do, since he shoved me back, this time with much more aggression. This would have been fine, but for the fact that I was holding a yoghurt that I had recently bought at the time. I ended up second-best with the yoghurt spilt all over my suit. Very angry at the time, I was actually quite tempted to throw the remains of my yoghurt through the open train door at his face. Quite possibly because I will soon be seeking admission as a solicitor and that fact the Law Society of New South Wales does not look kindly on such behaviour, I held back. That and the fact that given the temperament of the man, further annoying him may have encouraged him to lash out in even more serious violence. It seems like a self-evident response, but refraining from retaliating for the second time was the wisest thing I did all day.

Having acknowledged my profound wrongdoing so that there are no real skeletons in the closet concerning my own behaviour, I have to say that I completely understand the response of the priest. He was mercilessly taunted by the boys and to respond as he did was perfectly natural. This said, I was also disgusted by his behaviour, especially his physical abuse and his racism. Especially as a man of the cloth, the priest should know that his behaviour serves as a witness both to the Church and to Jesus. By acting as he did, he has brought both the Church and Jesus into disrepute. When Jesus tells us to "turn the other cheek" when we are struck, be it literally or metaphorically, he truly means it - he is not speaking in hyperbole. I should point out that to his credit the priest has since shown deep contrition for his behaviour, for which I must commend him, although it is strange that his apology has only occurred since the issue has become public.

As a pacifist, this incident raises many interesting questions for which I have no easy answers. Here are my questions, for which I would also be interested in seeing how others respond:

(1) How would I have responded to the belligerence of the skateboarders?
Unfortunately, as much I might like to, I can't guarantee that I would not have retaliated - though I am almost certain that I would not have made racist slurs and fairly certain that I would not have physically struck out.

(2) How should one act in such situations?
It is important to recognise that pacifism should not be equated with "passivism". We are to turn the other cheek and refuse to respond to violence with violence, but this does not mean that our non-violence response cannot serve to deeply shame our attackers. I am sure that Jesus would have been able to come up with a response that would have stopped the cocky skateboarders in their tracks, but unfortunately, I can't. I certainly wouldn't have been able to come up with a calm and collected response that shamed these skateboarders in the heat of the moment.

(3) What is the logical conclusion of my pacifism?
It has recently dawned on me that if I say I am a pacifist, not only must I refuse to respond with violence myself, but I must refuse to take advantage of any resort I may have to address the situation through violence means, even if by proxy. As a pacifist, does this mean that I should not take advantage of the police force, since to do so would not be to act non-violently, but simply to delegate my violent response to another party, who indeed can retaliate far more effectively than I could in the first place? And yet this may be precisely what Jesus calls us to do.

So many questions ... so few answers

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

This may not mean much to you as you seem to look down on "conservative evangelicals", but many years ago EU, Sydney Uni's evangelical campus group, had their public meeting agressively disrupted by athiest protestors. Later on the protestors were arrested by the police.

EU's response?

They paid the fines for each of the protestors.

David Castor said...

Hey Anonymous,

No, examples like that mean a lot to me - whoever undertakes them. I'm certainly happy to commend EU for this action. Just out of interest though, how did this event find its way before the courts in the first place? Who called the police in the first place - EU or campus security? And who decided to press charges?

Gareth said...

maybe the EU guys should have put them in headlocks until they passed out? :)

David said...

hey dave. your site design is looking better than the last time i clicked out to it.

cool response from EU folk.




As a pacifist, does this mean that I should not take advantage of the police force, since to do so would not be to act non-violently, but simply to delegate my violent response to another party, who indeed can retaliate far more effectively than I could in the first place? And yet this may be precisely what Jesus calls us to do.

i don't think pacifism is at odds with justice. i don't think Jesus is at odds with justice.

what form of violence will your proxy use? cops don't necessarily need to use violence to enforce the law. but if they use measured violence correspondent to the issue they're dealing with - does a pacifist have a problem with that?

Frosty said...

Personally I prefer the Elisha response: curse them and wait for the bears to come out of the woods an eat the skateboarders! There's a distinct lack of bears in Melbourne's CBD nowadays though.

Dr. Chaotica said...

"There's a distinct lack of bears in Melbourne's CBD nowadays though."
Depends on your definition of bear ;-)

Although the intentions of the other kind of bear would be more inline with those of the stereotypical catholic priest....

David Castor said...

Thank you to all of you for visiting and thank you even more so for contributing. Just thought I might check in to respond to David's questions:

i don't think pacifism is at odds with justice. i don't think Jesus is at odds with justice.

Justice tends to be a fairly loaded term in orthodox Christian circles because it is juxtaposed against mercy. Justice is something that we wish to avoid and mercy is something we wish to receive. However, as Marcus Borg explains, the opposite of mercy is not justice, but human injustice. As humans we should seek justice, but this justice does not simply equate to punishment. It should be remembered however that ultimately it is only God who can deliver true justice and that the human attempts to punish quite often turn out to be quite injust.

what form of violence will your proxy use? cops don't necessarily need to use violence to enforce the law

Personally, I'd understand violence in the broadest sense of the word. Violence isn't merely physical, but can be verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual, institutional, etc. I would suggest that any kind of enforcement is violence, because the threat of violence underlies the request to comply quietly. If you don't obey the police, they will use violence to compel obedience. It is not merely the gunshot that is violence - it is also the gun to the head.

but if they use measured violence correspondent to the issue they're dealing with - does a pacifist have a problem with that?

I've been struggling with this issue to some extent. I asked some people over on a Quaker forum what they think. I've received one response so far to the effect that the poster had no problem with making use of the police force if necessary.

What you're suggesting is the age old debate between just war theory and pacifism. To grossly simplify the positions, just war theory would suggest that violence is reasonable if it is used to prevent more drastic violence in future, while pacifism would suggest that violence is never the answer because violence never quells violence but merely begets violence. It should also be noted that generally a just war theorist would like to avoid war if possible, but merely believes it to be necessary in some circumstances. However, in the world of realpolitik, just war theory has often been invoked to promote war that were incredibly unjust.

So to answer your question, I'd suggest that in practice most pacifists probably wouldn't have a problem with the police force and would focus their energies on protesting war on an international scale. However the most extreme pacifists like Leo Tolstoy would promote the destruction of the state because it is primarily a coercive and violent mechanism, a position known as Christian Anarchism.