Crowbar attack "a gift from God": Adelaide priest

Adelaide priest Fr Michael Doherty has described an attack by crowbar wielding robbers at his Assumption Church, Virginia as a "gift from God to bring out and renew the faith that is always in you".

The Southern Cross reports that Fr Doherty said the 30-minute ordeal involving two men carrying a crowbar was an "extraordinary spiritual experience".

He said the moment of enlightenment came when the men decided to leave behind a silver ciborium containing the Eucharist.

He felt an overwhelming sense of relief that the Body of Christ had been spared.

"When you're dealing with the Eucharist day in and day out for the past 50 years, you take it for granted," said Fr Doherty.

"Sometimes you need a gift from God to bring out and renew the faith that is always in you."

Fr Doherty was bound in Virginia's Our Lady of the Assumption Church, north of Adelaide, during the night-time robbery on 8 July. Investigations are continuing into the brazen theft described by police as a "gutless" crime.

Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson said: "It would have been a terrifying ordeal for Fr Doherty."

Speaking publicly for the first time since the attack, Fr Doherty said he felt sad and concerned for his attackers.

"I do not feel any anger or resentment," he said. "On the contrary - I feel great compassion for those men. I forgive them."

Fr Doherty's message to his attackers was one of deep gratitude: "I would like to say to them - 'thank you for not hurting me'."

Fr Doherty recalled a hand covering his eyes while watching television alone in the parish presbytery, just 10m from the church. He was then marched out to the church's sacristy, where the thieves found a gold chalice valued at about $100.

"I can still hear the excitement in their voices: 'Is this gold?' they kept asking me," recalled Fr Doherty.

In search of more golden ornaments, Fr Doherty was forced into the church where the men opened the tabernacle housing the Eucharist.

When the men asked him if the silver container with the consecrated hosts was of any worth, Fr Doherty began to fear they would empty its precious contents onto the floor.

"For me, the Eucharist has been my life and I felt sad for these people who had never been taught this very valuable gift," he said.

"But I was surprised, (because) they just left it there and I think that's a bit of a miracle."

He said he felt God's presence throughout the entire experience: "I was very calm. I had an extraordinary feeling of being protected by the Lord."

Fr Doherty said the men had treated him kindly and repeatedly promised him they meant him no harm. "There was a gentleness there."

He also felt fortunate not to have seen their faces. "I have not been left with a permanent imprint of the experience, so isn't that another blessing from the Lord?" he said.

Fr Doherty has since returned to the Virginia parish. Celebrating his jubilee in December and due to retire in three years, he is adamant the attack was at the hand of divine providence.

"This has been the most extraordinary experience of my 50 years' of priesthood," he said.

"It has brought out in me a renewed conviction of the Eucharist and a tremendous appreciation for the sincere love and affection from the entire community."

Priest reflects on ordeal (Southern Cross, 1/8/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, Adelaide
Adelaide Archdiocese

74-year-old Adelaide priest bound, robbed (CathNews, 11/7/07)
Police seek man over Melbourne priest bashing (CathNews, 10/1/07)
Country priest's kidnap ordeal (CathNews, 11/4/06)
Priest beats up would-be robbers (CathNews, 28/6/04)

1 Aug 2007