Dean Lindsay Howie stands at an altar in St Paul’s Cathedral and a cross a vandal used to cause damage in the building.
Dean Lindsay Howie stands at an altar in St Paul’s Cathedral and a cross a vandal used to cause damage in the building. Allan Reinikka

Nightmare behind church doors

LIVING next door to Rockhampton's St Paul's Cathedral can be a nightmare on Friday and Saturday nights.

Just ask the cathedral's Dean, Lindsay Howie.

Father Howie spoke out yesterday about the increasingly violent and abusive nature of a changing Rockhampton community.

He was responding to The Morning Bulletin about the concerns of a resident who has questioned Father Howie's decision to keep the cathedral closed for most of the week, outside services and special occasions.

John Brigg said he didn't agree that "battening down the hatches" was the right approach for the modern-day church.

"For a start, the disadvantaged and dispossessed are part of the flock to whom the church should be reaching out, not recoiling in fear," Mr Brigg said.

However, Father Howie said St Paul's wasn't alone.

In a week when a couple of churches on the Capricorn Coast were broken into, he said the cathedral's leaders had been left with little option following advice last year the building's insurance coverage would be void if anything happened when no-one was there to supervise.

Also last year the fire service inspected the cathedral and gave advice on how to protect the building.

Church authorities face legitimate safety concerns.

In the past year they have had to deal with increasing incidents of violence, vandalism and a bizarre incident of fire at St Paul's.

This involved a fire which was started at the cathedral's doors, in which the offenders left crows feathers and bird skulls on site.

Father Howie said the church couldn't afford to lose the cathedral and had a duty of care to protect volunteer parishioners from the firing line and growing number of violent people wanting to utilise support.

Last year a female parishioner was attacked inside the cathedral by a woman who was using one of the cathedral's large golden crosses to cause damage.

He showed several areas in the cathedral yesterday where vandals, thieves and violent intruders had left their mark.

"We would love to leave the old girl open, we know it's a beautiful place and everyone should be able to enjoy it," Father Howie said.

"But the reality is this is a different world.

"We don't live in the world our grandparents did ... we are dealing with a different set of social problems."

He said once upon a time people would be reasonably polite when seeking support.

Unfortunately that's not the case these days with Father Howie suspecting increased drug use a contributor to the change.

While he's certainly no wowser, he does fear substance abuse is pushing people into more menacing and aggressive behaviour.

"Now we have people who are more demanding ... they will stand over you and scream at you," Father Howie said.

"They make their demands with menace.

"I have had people who will pull out a packet of cigarettes, put one in their mouth, throw the wrapper on the floor and then demand money from the church."

He said security measures had been increased in the cathedral vicinity.

"I don't remember the last time we got a good night's sleep on a Friday or Saturday night," said Father Howie, who lives next to the cathedral.

They've had people trespassing in their yard, damage the fence and are frequently woken by loud, drunken and aggressive revellers.

"It would be a rare weekend when a glass bottle wasn't thrown at a cathedral window," Father Howie said.

"I applaud the police for what they have done and the job they do every Friday and Saturday night, but this is the world we live in."

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