Mannix: A Monument to a Leader

Mannix: A Monument to a Leader

Michael Gilchrist

The decision to commission a bronze sculpture of the late Archbishop Mannix (see page 4), to be placed close to the front entrance of St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, will be welcomed not only by the relatively few remaining Australian Catholics who personally recall the great Archbishop, but by all of those who understand that the achievements of a nation - or of a Church - are written more eloquently in the lives of its great leaders, men and women, than through other avenues of communication.

Daniel Mannix was almost fifty years of age when, in response to the long-sustained pressure on the Holy See exerted by his predecessor, Archbishop Carr, he arrived in Melbourne as Coadjutor-Archbishop in April 1913, a position he held until he succeeded Dr Carr following the latter's death in June 1917.

An editorial is not the place to survey in detail the life of so formidable a character. All that it seeks to do is to discuss, however briefly, what his philosophy of leadership actually was.

Mannix was no believer in swimming with the tide. If the tide was pressing inexorably in the direction of the rocks, if destruction was to be averted, what was necessary was to swim against it, however difficult, even impossible, the task might seem to be.

Great conflicts

Mannix could have avoided the great conflicts in which events seemingly compelled him to engage. He understood the costs of engaging in them, not only for himself personally, but for the community which had been entrusted to him.

Daniel Mannix once said:

"I belong to the people I represent. I have made enemies. I am not sorry for it. I have made enemies among those who are enemies of justice ... I have sometimes made things difficult for Catholics in Australia, difficult for the Catholic Church ... But there is a fact that people sometimes forget. Even for them, things must sometimes be made worse in order that they may, at long last, be made better."

That statement was made specifically in relation to the Archbishop's interventions in the field of public affairs. The great issues of the present day concerning the future of the Catholic faith had not arisen in his lifetime, which came to an end in November 1963; but there is no reason to believe that he would have been any less forthright in relation to them, than he was in matters of public policy, or that he would have left his people in the dark concerning their significance.

The question which frequently arises is how he would actually have confronted the life-and-death problems which face the Catholic Church at the end of the second millennium. These are potentially far more dangerous than the divisions in the Church which, left unresolved, led ultimately to the Reformation. It is a question which is, of course, impossible to answer with any certainty. But there is little doubt that he would have met them head-on. He would have sought to clarify the issues, to speak directly to his people, so as to encourage their resistance. He would have done so whether this course of action made him popular or unpopular. He would have persisted regardless of success or failure. That, rightly or wrongly, is how AD2000 'reads' him.

Mannix would have understood the position roughly in these terms: that the Catholic Church is today divided between two groups holding fundamentally antithetical positions. This is not even to imply, let alone to believe, that on the one side there are all the 'goodies', while those who hold the opposite position are, by definition, the 'baddies.' Only God knows the inner dispositions of the souls of those on either side.

The propositions about which the two sides are divided are distinct from the persons who hold to them. It is just possible that both may be wrong. However, it is far more likely that one is basically right and the other basically wrong. But because they are in sharp contradiction, what is not possible is that both are right, to the point that those who hold to either of them can seriously belong to the same Church. Nominally, yes. Seriously, no.

Final arbiter

On one side, there are those who hold that in matters of moral teaching - and to some extent in matters of doctrine - the final arbiter, even for the Catholic, is the person's own conscience. The person must consult the Church's teaching, but, in essence, it is advisory only. That was always understood to be the Protestant position.

On the other side, there are those who hold to the traditional Catholic position that, in matters of doctrine or morals, where the Church chooses to exercise its full authority, through its established organs, whether the Catholic decides to accept what is given, as given by God, is the test of whether he or she is a Catholic. Not merely nominally, but seriously.

We may be wrong: but if Mannix had lived to see this era, we think that that is how he would have defined it - and then focussed on it, until there was once again a foundation firm enough to carry the building to be re-erected on it.

"Sometimes," as he said, "things must be made worse in order that they may, at long last, be made better."

When the bronze representation of Archbishop Mannix finds its place in the grounds of St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, may it serve as a reminder of the values for which he stood.

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