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Court trial continuing for Catholic men charged with wilful damage of Toowong war memorial cross

Jim Dowling damage charges

Facing charges: Catholic Worker Movement member Jim Dowling talks to reporters after his appearance in Brisbane Magistrates Court on July 19. Photo: Mark Bowling

FOUR men charged with wilful damage in relation to the removal of a sword from an historic war memorial cross at the Toowong Cemetery have appeared in Brisbane Magistrates Court this week.

The four men – Jim Dowling, 61, his son Franz Dowling, Andrew Paine and Tim Webb – are accused of tearing down a sword from the “Cross of Sacrifice” and hammering it into a hoe with a homemade anvil, on Ash Wednesday, March 1, this year.

At a Brisbane Magistrates Court hearing on July 19, dozens of supporters, including members of the Catholic Worker movement, squeezed into Court 18 to hear the case, before Chief Magistrate Ray Rinaudo decided to move to a larger courtroom.

In court, Jim Dowling said he was compelled to carry out the action by a call from God.

A series of video clips and photos tendered as evidence show Dowling scaling the memorial cross.

He tried to lever the brass sword from the cross with a crowbar but when he couldn’t loosen the sword’s hilt, he removed the 1.8m blade.

Next, Webb used the mallet and anvil to hammer the sword into the shape of a garden hoe, the court heard.

The Catholic group then assembled near the memorial, to celebrate Mass with a visiting priest.

In a police interview the day after the incident, Jim Dowling admitted to removing the sword, and when asked whether he was authorised to do so he cited a “higher permission”.

He said it was blasphemy for a sword to be attached to a cross, and he felt compelled to remove it.

“Our consciences called us to resist war-making and especially Christian war-making,” he said.

“We felt called by God to do something, make a strong statement.

“We saw that blasphemous sword on the cross, and were called by God to get rid of that.”

In a second police video, Tim Webb said he was taking action over the Church’s complicity in wars and its violent history.

The two men – as well as Dowling’s son Franz and Andrew Paine – have pleaded not guilty to wilful damage.

Also played in court as evidence was an ABC Religion and Ethics report in which Jim Dowling defended his decision to dismantle the sword from the memorial cross.

“We decided a sword on a cross was a blasphemous thing and it was a shocking thing when we first saw it,” Dowling told ABC religion specialist journalist Andrew West.

“I was just so shocked that Christians could so betray the non-violent message of Jesus.”

Dowling has referred to the Book of Isaiah to defend his action: “And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4)

During their trial, Franz Dowling and Paine said there was no evidence they were involved in removing the cross.

Franz Dowling said his only involvement was playing a guitar and praying.

Chief Magistrate Rinaudo consulted the Queensland Criminal Code then said evidence showed Franz Dowling and Paine were willing participants in the action.

The trial is expected to continue on Monday, July 24.

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