An interview with the the most Reverend Frank E Venal
ARCHBISHOP OF MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA
Archbishop Frank Venal graduated from Melbourne’s exclusive Shelter School and attended Vanity College at the University of Melbourne where he studied theology and law. He was active in the peace movement as an adviser in non-violent violent confrontation whilst attending university and played part time in a garage grunge band. His doctoral dissertation, a study of the sacred dimension of horse racing ’The Wretched of the Turf’ was awarded the John M. Cuddihy Prize.
A tall distinguished figure with a bounding walk and grey flowing hair, the Archbishop known affectionately as ‘boofhead ‘to his friends’ is a controversial figure who prides himself on being ‘close to his people’ and insists on wearing a boiler suit whilst attending church functions although he is also a great respecter of traditions and will not attend private functions unless he is dressed appropriately. He was awarded Archbishop of the Year for 1999 but returned the award as a matter of principle in protest against the exclusion of lesbian priests.
A tireless reformist he is a well known human rights advocate. A fearless critic of police violence and their lack of understanding of young people he also advises Victoria Police on non-violent approaches to investigating major crime. Archbishop Venal is no died in the wool traditionalist. He has promoted same-sex unions, gender –free language for the liturgy, adoption rights for lesbian clergy and is especially critical of churches which carry portraits of Jesus as a white man. He also pioneered the use of credit cards for collections [Amex only].
He has been described variously as ‘deeply religious;’ ‘the people’s archbishop’ ‘a sinister and dark force’, ‘evil’, ‘compassionate and caring’,’ a churchman’s churchman’ ‘a great churchman’ ‘a fat pious fraud’, a ‘terrorist apologist,’ an ‘unctuous fool’ a ‘claret-soaked hypocrite’, a ‘poseur’,’ a ‘professional atheist’ and a ‘sheep in wolf’s clothing’ but no one can doubt his sincerity and commitment.
Respected by critic and friend alike he has written a number of best-selling books; “Non-Judgemental Ethics’, ‘We Are all Two’ ‘God is not White-He’s Black!’and his best-seller “Dishonest to God’. His latest book” Turn the Other Cheek-While you are still alive’ is published by ABC books and is an irreverent study of terrorism dispelling many myths and argues that terrorism can, in some circumstances, be a deeply religious experience. He appears regularly on the ABC TV show ‘You Have Your Views, I Don’t Have Mine’.
He is a regular contributor to “Taqiyya Today ‘a monthly journal dedicated to Christian –Palestinian dialogue and founder and editor of Anglican –Inter Faith Peace News, a weekly journal devoted to building bridges and dialogue between Christian and Muslims. He is married with three children. His wife is a social worker.
Interviewer: Archbishop Venal, Welcome
Archbishop: Thank you: It’s wonderful to be here. Bless me.
Interviewer: Archbishop, you recently called for dialogue with the Islamic leaders of the Indonesian terrorist group, JI… Some would argue that it is rather hasty given the recent Bali bombing?
Archbishop: No, Not all. One cannot begin dialogue too early. Let me share this with you; I believe that the Bali bombings are a warning.
Interviewer: A warning?
Archbishop: A warning. The Islamists are looking at our culture and finding it wanting. Our secular consumer culture of me, me, me, all play …. Care for a drink?
Interviewer: A little early for me I’m afraid. Archbishop, a columnist in the morning paper claims you should stick to being a churchman. You don’t agree?
Archbishop: Goodness me no! What an old fashioned view! When I was visiting Lebanon where I have many friends, I was urged to continue the work I am doing and that is precisely what I intend to do. I shall not be moved!
Interviewer: So, how do you view terrorism Archbishop?
Archbishop: Frankly … I don’t like the word terrorist. At all. It very divisive and sets up a barrier between people, immediately. It is not inclusive. Worse of all, it prevents developing dialogue and that’s the way we should go forward….
Interviewer: Dialogue, with terrorists?
Archbishop: Terrorists! You will use that word wont you? It really is most inappropriate. We must have a conversation with them. We must address the root causes: injustice, poverty, and marginalisation, the structure of our societies, inequality, and racism…Structural violence….That is why I’m heading the new Inter –faith Inter Committee for Dialogue with Muslims and Christians…
Interviewer: Archbishop, that committee has been criticised. You are aware that two of its members face deportation for firearms offences and providing false documentation to the Government
Archbishop: Yes! How sad! How sad that the government has to resort to such clumsy tactics to stifle dissent! Yes we immediately formed a Committee for Restoration of Rights to Accused. We do not believe those charges have any weight and we have written to the Attorney General and we are having a midnight vigil for peace at the cathedral tonight to overturn the deportation order.
Interviewer: Archbishop: I am puzzled: is Christianity true or are the teachings of Islam true? Hasn’t Islam attacked the West for over fourteen hundred years? Historically speaking? …When I was young I was instructed that there was only one church … indivisible…’
Archbishop: ‘No church has a monopoly on truth my Boy! We all worship the same God. Buddhists, Muslims, Christians….we even have witches attending our services! An open church a broad church for all…As for Islam…I have heard some eloquent Islamic expositors of human rights and human nature from the Koran. Many Muslims make me feel ashamed! How wishy washy we have become! I sometimes think they are more Christian than we are!
Interviewer: And the 911 terrorist attack against the United States, Archbishop? I can’t imagine a group of Christians hijacking four planes, slitting the throats of passengers and crew and smashing the planes into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Can you? I mean. Over three thousand people died….
Archbishop: That is a purely theoretical point, if I may so. I abhor all violence. As Christians we must hate the sin and not the sinner. We must abhor those acts but not those who perpetrate them.
Interviewer: But how do we protect ourselves Archbishop?
Archbishop: No good will is achieved by over reacting in a knee-jerk fashion! Let me share this with you. I was in New York at the time, attending an informal meeting with my old friend Bishop Lazlo Toth of the Christian Peace Conference. As you know he has been severely defamed by the Hungarian government as some sort of agent for the KGB or something as silly as that…but we were able to sort that out very quickly….
Anyway, I was forced to ask myself-as a Christian– not in an exonerating way- why such hatred had come from the terrorists –to use your word- The terrorists may be evil but you have to ask where it came from…I have a feeling they were trying to send a message…..we need to hear that and look very carefully at our culture….I think sections of Islam look at us as a very decadent culture and I think we need to hear that….hear that very carefully….
Interviewer: A message?
Archbishop: Yes a message. Look at the Bali bombing. There’s no doubt that the terrorists were responding to Australia’s outspoken support for the United States and the war against Iraq…No doubt at all.
Interviewer: Do you have a final word for the people of Australia?
Archbishop: My blessings of course and perhaps a gentle reminder –an invitation-if you will- to participate in our programme, the Decade to Overcome War and Violence 2001-2010. That is the Christian answer to the so-called terrorist threat- the American governments War against Terrorism…I am in contact with my friends in Beir…Oh Dear!! .did you hear that noise?
Interviewer: My God! What’s happening? Did you hear that? ….
The ivy-clad presbytery walls shuddered shattering like a broken spider web, the windows in the study shook and glass shreds flew across the floor. A dazed bleeding child runs down the road clutching a doll and scraping shards of glass from her bleeding matted hair screaming for her mother who wrapped against the wheels and tyres of a burning upturned car in the middle of the street.
The Archbishop rushes down the steps leading to the wine collection in the presbytery cellar, clutching his copy of Anglican Inter- Faith Peace News ….