CHRIS SIDOTI.- Archbishop Anthony saves the day.

I laughed so hard I could hard stop myself from crying. There’s no limit to the wonderful capacity of human beings to produce clowns to make us laugh our way through every crisis.

Sunday and Monday were awful days, A journalist described the coming of the coronavirus as watching a tsunami approaching, visible building on the horizon, getting bigger but not knowing how big it would get or when it would arrive.

On Sunday the tsunami started to hit us. Margaret, my wife, and I visited our two gorgeous grandkids, Jacob 7 and Sophia 5, and tearily kissed them goodbye. For how long? Three months? Six months? Maybe longer. Traumatised, we came home to hear the announcement of the anticipated commencement of the shutdown.

On Monday I went early to the barber, I told him ‘Number 1 all over., As short as you can get it. It’ll be months before I am able to have another haircut.’ Then home just as the restaurants, bars, clubs, cinemas, gyms and churches – all the entertainment venues – closed for as far ahead as we can see. Our grandkids were preparing for school at home.

Awful days made worse by the certain knowledge that far worse is still to come.

Then on Monday night, after dinner, I sat down on the lounge and found and read that day’s ‘Pastoral Letter to the clergy and faithful of the Archdiocese of Sydney’ from the Most Reverend Anthony Fisher OP, DD BA LIB BTheol DPhil (https://www.sydneycatholic.org/casys/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Pastoral-Letter-COVID19-230320.pdf). And I laughed so hard I could hard stop myself from crying. There’s no limit to the wonderful capacity of human beings to produce clowns to make us laugh our way through every crisis.

Let me give you some highlights.

Although called a pastoral letter ‘to the clergy and faithful’, its true audience became apparent immediately after the greeting. ‘As priests bid farewell to parishioners today there have been tears and bewilderment. Please assure your people …’. The ‘you’, the audience, is clearly intended to be the clergy, not the faithful. Ok. That’s fine. We’ve always known just where we stood in the eyes of the hierarchy. It’s nice to have it confirmed, though, ‘in this time of pandemic’, as Anthony calls it.

Then he repeats, from his earlier 18 March pastoral letter, his comparison of the current situation with that in the early days of the British colony. ‘Following the most recent advice from the commonwealth and state governments it may seem that we are again in that situation.’ Really? Today’s health crisis is the same situation as the suppression of Catholicism in 18th century England and New South Wales? The suggestion is so laughable that here my giggles began.

It got better. I found the re-assertion of a hierarchy within the hierarchy. Not only ‘clergy and faithful’ as distinct classes of Christian but also ‘bishops and priests’ as distinct classes within ‘clergy’. ‘Bishops and priests can still say Mass privately, and the NSW government has confirmed that bishops and priests may use their (closed)cathedral or parish church for that purpose and live stream the service.’

The real laughter started when I read ‘all but priests are dispensed from attending Sunday Mass’. Really? First of all, no one is able to attend Sunday Mass anyway. Second, who cares for Anthony’s kind dispensation? Who needs it? We Catholics attend or not as we discern and decide. We don’t need Anthony’s dispensation. It’s like the emperor who had no clothes. He thinks he can impose and dispense and acts like he can but he can’t. It’s just so funny to see this clown thinking he’s the emperor when in fact he’s naked.

There’s much much more of course but let me jump to the point where I could restrain myself no longer, where he discussed weddings being restricted to the immediate family. I read it and said to Margaret, sitting beside me, just listen to this. I was laughing so much she couldn’t understand a word I was reading. ‘Disappointed brides could be promised a larger celebration after the public emergency has passed (e.g. on the first anniversary).’ Really!!! ‘disappointed brides’!!! What happened to the ‘disappointed grooms’? Oh yea, I forgot. Only brides like a big party. Anthony would know from his close engagement with women over the past decades. You can understand why I was laughing so much I cried.

At the end there’s the grand signing off. ‘Most Rev. Anthony Fisher OP, DD BA LIB BTheol DPhil Archbishop of Sydney’.

Honestly. You’ve got to say. These blokes are a riot. For me, Anthony saved the day. The day that was so traumatic ended on a wonderful hilarious high. The message is don’t take yourself too seriously. There are more than enough of us doing that already.

Chris Sidoti was Foundation Secretary of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 1987-1992 and Human Rights Commissioner 1995-2000

He is a consultant on the establishment of human rights institutions in the region. 

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