THE stabbing of a Melbourne parish priest was “disturbing and surprising”, Brisbane’s St Stephen’s Cathedral dean Fr David Pascoe said.
“We see it overseas, we don’t expect it here, so when it does happen here we are taken aback,” said Fr Pascoe, who has seen security beefed up around Brisbane’s cathedral precinct in the past six months, and in the wake of this latest attack intends to raise security issues with his fellow Brisbane deans.
Fr Tomy Kalathoor Mathew, 48, was slashed in the neck with a knife in front of 100 worshippers in St Matthew’s Church, North Fawkner, moments before he was due to celebrate the 11am Italian-language Mass last Sunday (March 19).
Parishioners reported shouts at the back of the church, and then Fr Mathew waved for help.
Fr Mathew was released from Melbourne’s Northern Hospital the following evening after being treated for a stab wound to the neck.
A 72-year-old Fawkner man was charged with intentionally and recklessly causing injury and is due to appear in a Melbourne court in June.
The attack was described as “appalling” by the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.
“This fellow is doing wonderful work for his parishioners and this is really a blight on the great work that many, many Catholic priests are doing,” the archdiocese’s spokesman Shane Healy said.
Acknowledging the Melbourne attack, Fr Pascoe described “a heightened incidence of violence within society”.
“The violence of that attack, that’s disturbing and surprising,” he said.
Fr Pascoe said security had been stepped up around St Stephen’s Cathedral during the past six months.
“Police walk through the cathedral precinct three or four times a day,” he said.
“Particularly on weekends we have a security guard at all Masses, just to be a presence in the precinct in case there are any incidents.”
Fr Pascoe said he was “alert to the risks”, particularly since “we have lots of visitors and lots of people walking through”.
During the last three weeks of the Royal Commission hearings when the Catholic Church was under particular scrutiny, heightened security was ordered around the St Stephen’s Cathedral precinct.
“We had security guards in the background throughout the days, just to be aware of the heightened emotions and responses,” Fr Pascoe said.
“We didn’t have any incidents during that time.”
Fr Pascoe said he would raise the issue of security at the next meeting of Brisbane archdiocese’s deans.
St Matthew’s parishioners took to social media to express their support for Fr Mathew, who is from the Indian state of Kerala.
“We understand what has happened … has been shocking to our parish community,” a statement on the St Matthew’s Parish Facebook page said.
“Fr Tomy would like to say that he is recovering well and is in good spirits.
“His first thoughts have been for the parishioners and the school community. To all of you, thank you so much for your prayers and thoughts.”