Picture the scene. Two cars draw in to a busy parking lot. There is only one space. Tempers rise and angry words are followed by a violent confrontation. One bites hard into the other, tearing off a part of his anatomy. No sooner are they done than the biter tells the bitten to pick up the bloody flesh and put it in his pocket. Once safely back in his apartment he took it out. It was only then he realised that it was his right ear.
You may think this just another sad tale of modern life, just a tale of testosterone-filled young men in a silly territorial dispute, fighting over that which is not worth fighting for. They simply don’t know any better. They don’t know how, it might be said, to turn the other cheek.
There is only one problem with this. The men in question are both Catholic priests. Not just that, they are both in their eighties. Yes, the unholy punch up involved 80 year old Father Thomas Byrne, who is alleged to have bitten off the ear of 81 year old Father Thomas Smith. It wasn’t an eye for an eye or an ear for an ear; just an ear.
The brawl took place at the end of last week in a retirement complex funded by the Catholic Church in the city of Perth in Western Australia. Father Smith had sufficient presence of mind to wrap his ear in a tea towel, driving off to a local medical centre, where the staff called an ambulance and the police.
As surgeons at Perth’s Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital reattached the severed ear the police arrested Father Byrne on a charge of grievous bodily harm. He appeared in court on Friday morning with a black eye, showing that he did not come away from the fight unscathed. No plea was made and the case was adjourned until early December to allow the good Father to take further legal advice.
The police prosecutor said that he had concerns for the safety of Father Smith if bail was granted. After consideration the magistrate granted bail on strict conditions: Father Byrne is not to go within ten yards of Father Smith, difficult in that they both share a home with a third priest. In addition he is not to act in a violent or threatening manner towards his brother in Christ or to communicate with him in any way; so no communion.
I couldn’t help but call to mind some lines from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales when I picked up the details of this story. Perhaps you know the words I refer to? If not they go like this in a modern English translation:
…if gold rust what then shall iron do? For of a priest be foul in whom we trust no wonder that common man should rust…
Gold rusted. Never mind; console yourself with this thought – it was only Australian gold.