Friday, September 2, 2011


CATH NEWS REPORT: Sir Paul Reeves, who has died of cancer aged 78, touched hearts in New Zealand as have few public figures. As Primate and archbishop of New Zealand from 1980, he was a national figure at a time when the churches still counted for rather more than they do now.

He vowed not to speak naively on every conceivable issue, but speak he did, with knowledge and a cutting edge. He was not afraid to say what he believed and his faith put him firmly on the side of the marginalised.

Many wondered whether he had gone too far when he campaigned for the election of a Labour government. In 1983 he flew to South Africa in support of Desmond Tutu, then under investigation, testifying to the Eloff Commission.

In 1985, the prime minister David Lange invited Paul, controversially, to accept the office of governor general, in effect the ceremonial head of state as the Queen's representative. Was this compatible with being the head of a church?

Sir Paul Reeves and his wife, Beverley, brought fresh air to Government House in Wellington. They opened it to the people and as the first Maori incumbent, Paul felt free to turn the ballroom into a place where a hundred of his tribe could bed down for the night. His role, he declared, was still like that of a bishop: "To travel, to stand alongside people and to search for common ground."

Reeves partially solved that problem by resigning the archbishopric, but not his life's vocation as a bishop of the church.

Was he, as was expected, above politics? Not quite. When the government turned to the neo-conservative orthodoxy of the market, Reeves broke ranks and criticised what he saw as "an increasingly stratified society" in which "the spirit of the market steals life from the vulnerable but the spirit of God gives life to all". The prime minister who had appointed him was not amused.

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