Tim Brunero: Catholic Priest, Fr Peter Dresser, from Bathurst, has sparked a storm of controversy over his new book which claims that not only was Jesus Christ was not God but Mary is not a Virgin. He’s on the line. Ah, Father, what do you think of the controversy your book has caused?
Dresser: Well, I’m a little bit sort of dismayed that it has caused controversy, to tell you the truth, because I am a very sincere Catholic, I cherish my Catholic religion very much. Um, what I think has happened is that people have taken comments from my book in isolation, in other words, they’ve taken them out of context, and not understood fully what I was trying to get at. I think this is one of the problems. Ah, this is the main problem, I think.
Brunero: So it’s people being selective about what they—
Dresser: Yeah, and also its their own interpretation of what I’ve said. Ah, so without reading what I’ve said in context, ah, it will lack meaning, quite obviously, you know. I mean my intention was to mediate my Catholic faith and my catholic religion and the teachings of Jesus in a meaningful way for the world that we live in and the scientific world we live in, so that was my intention actually, in putting all of that material together.
Brunero: Can I just give you an example of some of the comments we’re getting on our website. This one says, and this is really interesting: “How can he (meaning you) get through the ordination procedure if he doesn’t accept Catholicism, the Trinity and the Resurrection?”
Dresser: Well I do, I accept the Resurrection, I accept the Resurrection entirely. What I said, and ah, what was said in, in, in, in a newspaper clipping that you’re referring to was that um I didn’t believe in um in a kind of um um you know a literal understanding of resurrection, in the sense of a bodily resuscitation. I think resurrection goes far beyond any kind of bodily resuscitation kind of idea. Um, and I think ah, I think ah this is born out in the New Testament I think that Resurrection means that Jesus was alive and well in the minds and in the community, ah, of his followers. I think that’s what resurrection means. Ah…
Brunero: So, so you say that when Christ was crucified it wasn’t a resurrection – explain, you also said that there wasn’t a virgin birth. Joseph was in fact Jesus’ father?
Dresser: Yeah, well, yeah, when we speak of virgin birth, we’re actually using ah, and this is another problem, I’m finding, I ah, I that a lot of people are misunderstanding what I’m saying because they’re taking literally something that I’ve said that really should be taken in a religious sense. I have no problems with the, with the virgin birth, provided we understand exactly how this concept came about and why it had to come about. Um, this is very theological stuff, and I’m sure a lot of people will find it very difficult going. Um, and I think that, you know, um, one of the problems is that I probably haven’t explained it as clearly and as simply as I, ah, as I probably would have liked to have done for the vast majority of people who would like to read what I have read.
Brunero: Why do you say that it’s necessary for the, um, virgin birth, um, story to, um, to have been promulgated? So what’s the goal then, what actually did happen?
Dresser: Well what happened, of course, was that in the um, um, the Council of Nicea, um, it was basically brought about, um, you know, it was basically brought about because of a political situation which developed. It came about at the Council of Nicea that Jesus was defined as being a divine person with a human and a divine nature. So he was a divine person. And, in order to explain the fact that he was a divine person, something had to be done regarding his birth. Um, you couldn’t say therefore, that he was simply, if you like, um, um, um, somebody, just an ordinary human being, if you like, or a human person when he was born, he had to have some sort of um , divine intervention in, in, in his birth, so there arrived, or there, there came about this doctrine of the, um, virgin birth. Um,…
Brunero: So they sort of spiced it up, they tabloided it up? They– Hullo?
Dresser: They tabloided it up?
Brunero: Well, they sort of spiced up the story to make it a bit more interesting? Is that what happened?
Dresser: In what? In, in, in,
Brunero: In the Council of Nicea?
Dresser: In terms of the virgin birth?
Dresser: Awh, awh no, I think that, um, they came to a conclusion that Jesus was a divine person with a human and divine nature and I think that in order to ah, in order to explain therefore how he came about in the first place there had to be some kind of other explanation than just the birth of a normal human being; there had to be some kind of, um, special presence of God in the um, in the actual um, in the actual um, prebirth and in the birth itself. You know. I think this, this, this is how the idea of the virgin birth came about. Umm…
Brunero: Well, what do you say, Father, what do you say to people who would say that you’re shaking people’s faith?
Dresser: No, on the contrary, I’m, I would say that I’m probably sort of asking questions, a lot of people are asking questions similar to the ones that I, er, that I am sort of asking, or suggesting, and, ah, sort of putting forward, um, mainly as discussion points, I don’t think, ah, you know, I don’t think there’s any necessity for people’s faith to be shaken. I think possibly there’s a point at which somebody’s faith will be challenged, I think that could be a good end result of the exercise. You see, my, my whole point is not to disparage, is not to disparage, ah, you know, the tenents of a faith which I, you know, that I hold very dear to me, ah, um, otherwise why would I become an ordained priest? You know, the whole thing is so bizarre, to be a priest belonging to a church that I really love and cherish, and you know, and go against the doctrines and the —
Brunero: Well, thats —
Dresser: What I have done, what I have done is try to explain and to explicate and to try and make meaningful in the world and scientific world that we live in. Now that is not going to be entirely satisfactory all the time because theology and science is two different kinds of differnt methodologies. And also use different data. And so in my attempt to combine or to marry as I like to say, to marry theology and science, there will be, there will be some tension, um, and um, but it’s interesting that, it’s interesting you know that, it is in that tension if you like, that, that people are finding a lot of meaning. Um, it’s very hard to explain. I think, I think, I think many people would probably go along quite happily with their faith and their religion without sort of questioning or without sort of um querying or without trying to sort of make these things meaningful in their lives, um, and I think that’s a bit of a shame actually, to tell you the truth, I think that we could sort of go around and say, well, yes, I believe in the resurrection and yes I believe in the virgin birth, and yes, I believe in this and yes, I believe in that, its all very very much black and white. It’s more beautiful, you know, I think, if we can make it into colour. That’s probably what I was trying to do. Probably a nice way of me trying to put it. Yeah.
Brunero: So you’re trying to start a conversation rather than be a heretic, I mean, let’s face it, I mean, you’re hardly going to try to trash the Church, you’ve had to give up a few things to be a priest, so you’re hardly likely to be going that hard. Look, can I ask you a question? Is there any expectation that you will be punished by your superiors or be excommunicated by the Church, or is this something that you’ve thought about in the last couple of days?
Dresser: No, not at all, not at all. And this brings about another point too regarding my book, or regarding my document “God is big. Real Big.” And it is this, that it is a personal appropriation, a personal appropriation of my faith, in its doctrine and ah dogma, which I personally have found meaningful for me in the scientific world that you know I live in, and in the beautiful universe that I live in, and also many other people have found it meaningful for them as well in their spiritual journey. And it’s because of this reason that I’ve put all these thoughts together and for this reason I am trying to disseminate this stuff to people who are interested in, um, you know, in, in, in, in, in, in kind of exploring their faith a bit more…
Brunero: Starting a discussion? Absolutely.
Dresser: The other point is, that I’d like to make is that I never publishe this book. I never published this book. And to do so would be, I think, would be possibly a bit arrogant, but what I did is I did print copies for people who might in fact be interested in reading it. Now it is my own personal appropriation of the doctrines and dogma of our faith, it is not the Catholic (laughs) mainline or what ever it is, you know. But if you want to go and find out what the decrees are and what the doctrines and dogmas of the Church are, then they can go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ok? It’s a big book and if they want to plough through that, they can, to find out what all these things are. What I have done in 50,000 words is try to make these things colourful and meaningful, um, um, and tangible, to people in their spiritual journey as Catholics in the world that we live in.
Brunero: Absolutely. Well, we now know that there’s no risk of you being defrocked. But can I ask you this question? Do you think that you’re part of a new breed of funky new priests like Fr Bob Maguire who’s on Triple J, who are out there engaging with popular culture?
Dresser: I wouldn’t say I was a funky priest, I’m sixty-five almost and you know, I’m coming to a period now where I wouldn’t sort of you know claim any title such as that. I, ah, I think that, ah, my life’s journey has been a very interesting one, and, ah, um, I’ve had the, I’ve had the glorious opportunity of of not only studying for the priesthood for five years after I left school, but I’ve also had the privilege of living, ah, so many different lifestyles, and enjoying living, you know, in the company of people who shared so many different lifestyles, and also I’ve had the opportunity of working in lots of different occupations, as well, and then, after all this and particularly my involvement with music and um, sport, particularly rugby league ha ha, I then turned to teaching, where I found an immediate raport with young people, then, as a result of all those things, I finally went back into the seminary and did another four years study to get a degree and then ah, was ordained priest. So I’ve had a beautiful life experience, and and beautiful occupations through life, so you know, yeah. So I’ve got a great love for the Catholic Church, I’ve got a great love for all people, and I’d like to see the message of Jesus and, ah, of God, and the compassionate message of Jesus, you know, mediated meaningfully to all the, ah, people, ah, that, yep, wander through this world.
Brunero: So if people want to be a part of this booklet and want to be a part of this, how do they get it? “God is big. Real big” is available on the internet, or is it in some churches around Bathurst for around $20. How do people get it?
Dresser: Well, the churches in Brisbane are selling it, some churches in Brisbane are selling it, or if people desparately wanted to get a copy from me, I guess they could, but I think that ah, its gone, and, yeah the churches in, the churches in Brisbane would probably like be the way to go, um, they’re selling it up there I think for twenty dollars, the book “God is big. Real big.” The names of the churches were in yesterday’s, in yesterday’s Australian newspaper, yeah, they’re St Mary’s in Brisbane, and Woolawind (is it?) and Windsor parish in Brisbane, so, because it’s not published, because it’s not published, um, its not available in ordinary bookstores, you know?
Brunero: All right, Peter, well, we can hear your phone going, we’d better let you go. Thanks for joining us today.
Dresser: Thank you very much for your call.