Melbourne, Australia, Aug 8, 2012 / 04:02 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Melbourne denounced a local newspaper for its story about a breakaway group of “Inclusive Catholics,” led by a renegade priest who allegedly gave Holy Communion to a dog.
“That anyone would feed the Eucharist to a dog is an abomination,” Archbishop Denis J. Hart of Melbourne said in an Aug. 6 statement, issued by the archdiocese in response to a report the same day in The Age newspaper.
The paper, he said, had mocked Catholic beliefs by featuring the incident, which occurred at a service conducted by the “Inclusive Catholics” group. Its leader, Father Greg Reynolds, resigned from the Melbourne archdiocese in 2011 and does not have permission to offer Mass or serve as a priest.
“A first-time visitor arrived late at the Inclusive Catholics service in South Yarra with a large and well-trained German shepherd,” writer Barney Zwartz wrote in his account of the group's Aug. 5 service.
“When the consecrated bread and wine were passed around, the visitor took some bread and fed it to his dog,” Zwartz recounted. “Apart from one stifled gasp, those present showed admirable presence of mind – but the dog was not offered the cup!”
It is unclear, however, whether the “consecrated bread” consumed by the dog was in fact the Holy Eucharist.
The story mentioned that “a woman, Irene Wilson, led the liturgy,” while Fr. Reynolds “played as small a role as he could.” Given Fr. Reynolds' minimal participation in the lay-led service, the “consecrated bread” may not have received a valid Eucharistic consecration at all.
Whether or not the “Mass” was valid, Archbishop Hart told The Age that the events portrayed in the story were a source of grave offense for Catholics.
The article, he told the paper in a letter, was written “in bad faith,” with a tone that showed disrespect to “the most fundamental and defining belief” of the Catholic Church.
While the story acknowledged Fr. Reynolds' theological dissent and the “illicit” nature of the group's services, Archbishop Hart seemed displeased by Zwartz's attempts at cleverness – such as the lead paragraph's riff on the “Inclusive Catholics” welcoming “every man and his dog.”
“That you should choose to report the matter in the way that you did can only be understood as an attempt to hold Catholicism up to ridicule,” the Melbourne church leader wrote in his Aug. 6 letter to the editor of The Age.
“Your integrity in this matter can be judged by asking whether, if something sacred to Judaism or Islam had similarly been desecrated, you would have treated the matter with such flippancy.”