I watched a wonderful documentary last weekend.


The documentary centred around the efforts by the higher-ups in the Catholic Archdiocease of Melbourne to force parish priest and Aussie legend, Father Bob Maguire, into retirement.


Father Bob and an Olympia SM8 (not his)

Until I saw this programme, my only exposure to Father Bob had been his hilarious contributions to the short-lived TV show, John Safran and Father Bob, and the Triple J radio show, Sunday-Night Safran.


It was fascinating then, to learn more about Father Bob the humanitarian, and the work he’s done for his community in helping to establish support networks, food stations and accommodation for Melbourne’s homeless.


Bob’s track record, and the high regard in which he was held by his parishoners, seemed somehow to have been lost on his so-called “superiors”, who were determined to boot him out of his parish, ostensibly because he’d reached his sell-by date in lieu of reaching the age of 75.


Archbishop Denis Hart and ironic halo

The real reason they wanted rid of him, of course, was because of his high media profile and outspokenness on Church matters.


In this first rate documentary, scenes of Father Bob’s day-to-day life as a parish priest are interspersed with scenes of him dressed as a Crusader and playing an existential game of chess with the grim reaper (John Safran).


Father Bob’s antagonistic relationship with the Archbishop reminded me of the relationship between Father Ted and Bishop Brennan (in the classic sit-com).


Father Ted shows the patience of a saint, of course, with his young curate, Dougal McGuire, teaching him, among other things, about the importance of keeping things in perspective …


(Image scanned from a copy of “Father Ted: The Complete Scripts” by Arthur Matthews)

Father Bob showed the patience of a saint too – not to mention a great deal of  tact and sensitivity – when dealing with Kostas, the street kid he’d taken under his wing and given a home.


The kindness and compassion that Bob showed towards Kostas, and his reaction to Kostas’s passing are very moving.


Kostas gets his crucifix checked out


For Bob, it seems that organised religion is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself, and he’s less concerned with ecclesiastical matters and religious dogma, than he is with helping the poor. From my atheistic point of view, this is as good as religion gets.

Of course, the real life problems Father Bob has to face are no laughing matter. Yet he uses humour (and intelligence) to get across his message about hypocrisy, bureaucracy, corruption, and complacency – traits as endemic in the Roman Catholic Church as they are in politics.

Brilliant stuff. My one regret is that Bob didn’t give his holiness the Archbishop a good “kick up the arse”!