Monday, July 30, 2007

Priest's rant sparks security fears

SECURITY has been upgraded at St Patrick's Cathedral after a showdown between a Catholic priest and a gang of skaters.

Hundreds of angry messages attacking the church's dean appeared on internet site YouTube yesterday.

The threats follow the posting of a video of Monsignor Geoff Baron swearing, and making racist and sexual slurs against the gang while trying to evict them from the grounds of the East Melbourne landmark.

The monsignor's foul-mouthed outburst -- and the skateboarders' equally vile reaction -- has been viewed almost 40,000 times.

"Might go skate the church tomozz (sic) and cover the place in wax and grind the steps down and throw some rubbish all over the place," one angry skater posted.

Another threatens to turn the picturesque cathedral into Melbourne's "next skate park".

"I'm gonna round up some bike riders and scooter riders and beat-boxers and . . . have a competition down the stairs there," the post said.

Another wrote: "Let's all go skate St Pat's and see if he's calmed down a bit !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Dozens of other messages suggest skaters should have bashed the priest to "teach him a lesson".
The footage -- taken almost a year ago -- shows Monsignor Baron losing his temper and swearing profusely before slapping one of the teens.

It also shows the priest being spat on, pushed, threatened and baited by the skateboarders, who repeatedly throw things at him.

The church official said skaters had been a problem at the cathedral for some time.

He said the church would investigate the threats but refused to comment further.

Monsignor Baron was not speaking to the media yesterday but offered a public apology on radio.
"The shame that I feel and the embarrassment, I can't really describe," he told 3AW.

"It was outrageous behaviour. I let myself down terribly badly, quite clearly, and I've also brought scandal and shock to other people.

"I wish I could take it back, but I can't. I've got to live with the consequences."

He described the teens as "jackals and hyenas", who had started things by calling him a pedophile and provoking him.

"When you're pushed to the limit, you lose control.

"All that rubbish, that filth which I said, just came to the surface. They were laughing and carrying on, which made me even worse."

Monsignor Baron apologised to the public for his blasphemous outburst, but not to the skaters.

But one of the skaters, who gave his name only as Adrian, said the priest had sworn at them before, on catching them trespassing on church grounds.

He said some of his mates "got a little bit too excited" this time but blamed the monsignor for stirring them up.

"He's notorious," Adrian said. "We shouldn't have been there . . . but he has no right to swear profanities at us.

"It was the furthest thing from our minds, to cause trouble. It's a Catholic priest saying homosexual, racist remarks. Who wouldn't be upset?"

But other YouTube visitors praised the priest.

"The kids should have their butts kicked for provoking and breaking the law in the first place," one person wrote.

Another wrote: "I know this priest and he is the nicest, calmest person -- it freaks me to see him like this."

Monsignor Baron said he would not offer to resign.

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