Sir Bob Jones
Commentary on issues of the day from the property tycoon, author and former politician

Bob Jones: Did you hear the one about the bishop ... ?

The Anglican Bishop of Wellington Justin Duckworth. Photo / Chris Gorman
The Anglican Bishop of Wellington Justin Duckworth. Photo / Chris Gorman

Recently, to much mirth, the capital's new Anglican Bishop despoiled his lovely cathedral's entrance by residing there in a wooden crate - mocked up as a prison cell - for a week's baying at the sky.

This, apparently, was to urge God's intervention to facilitate prison reform. Despite his criminal class sympathies, however, the bishop took no chances and wisely ensured his crate was protected by a high-security steel fence.

In the event, preoccupied delivering typhoons, earthquakes and other earthly interventions that week, God ignored His Grace's pleadings for no heavenly smiting of prison walls ensued. Not so, though, another befrocked minister, namely Justice Minister Collins, who snapped that this sort of display is why people are leaving the Anglican Church in droves.

She may be right but this sort of display has characterised the Anglican clergy to everyone's delight for yonks.

This zaniness is understandable as endless cups of tea with old ladies and delivering weekly platitudinous sermons would drive anyone mad, a point made a few years ago by the head banana of the Australian Uniting Church, this a union of Presbyterians, Methodists and others.

Following the revelation that one of their clergy had been having it off with an impressive array of parishioners' wives he told the media, "You must remember, all parsons are mildly deranged".

The new Bishop of Wellington is named Justin Duckworth, wears long dreadlocks, and trots about barefooted wielding the ultimate cliche of a Maori motif-carved bishop's staff. He was plucked from a commune in which his forte was kindness to derelicts, this following a scandal involving his predecessor having it off with the chaplain of Wellington's top private girls school.

What next, one wonders expectantly; flagellation, self-immolation - time will tell. Rejected by heaven and state on this occasion, in time-honoured Anglican clergy fashion there will inevitably be a new stunt, perhaps unicycling to Auckland for a fresh cause; a cunning ploy given the Justice Minister's own renowned prowess at this activity.

There's a Circumcellion whiff about Justin and one suspects in another age he would crave the martyr's stake or perhaps a beheading, as with his original namesake.

Anglican clerics have always been a source of fun for cartoonists, with their regular mini-scandals involving parishioners' wives or other embarrassments such as Justin-type antics, taking up line dancing and suchlike.

The Dominion's cartoonist Tom Scott has often portrayed them chained to a wall clad only in saggy underpants and a dog collar, being flogged by leather-clad dominatrices for which activity in Britain they certainly have form. Given polls there showing most of them don't believe in God, an afterlife and all the other absurdities of their trade, these diversions are explicable. They even extend to their wives.

A former Australian cricket captain told me of a 1970s tradition when playing in a certain major city. They would wholeheartedly welcome in their midst a gullible local Anglican parson of the tweed-jacket, ale-quaffing, pipe-smoking, one-of-the-chaps ilk. Meanwhile, unknown to him, his wife would service the team during the duration of the test, an excellent example of applied Christian charity for, in the years she was on the job, they never lost there.

Talking of Australia reminds me of the 2003 Rugby World Cup and an ABC radio discussion (as occurred here prior to hosting it) on the over-hyped economic benefits that would flow. One commentator, the president of the Victorian Brothel Owners' organisation, was sceptical, claiming conferences and other such events saw no boost in trade. But suddenly he became excited, saying there was an outstanding exception, namely when the city hosted the Anglican Synod, following which they had to close for a time to allow the girls to recover.

But back to Justin's protest about prison reform. Most people in prison are decent and useful citizens who had a single lapse. They do their time and resume useful lives. Others waste their lives in and out of prison for which the bishop blames the prisons, saying this shows they don't work. In fact, they work superbly in keeping recidivists out of action in their unrelenting war on society.

It's no secret current Justice Minister Collins is probably the toughest we've had when it comes to criminals, for which I commend her. Nevertheless, as Corrections Minister, she increased prison work programmes and introduced alcohol and drug treatments. She's certainly a damn sight more knowledgeable than the bishop about the true nature of recidivist criminals.

A friend of mine gets angry at Justin-type waffle. He was a jail doctor for years, acknowledges the presence there of single lapsing, basically good people but is realistic about the hardened psychopathic recidivists who, he says, are simply bad. God certainly got this one right for a change when he gave Justin the finger.

- NZ Herald

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