Be true to yourself and true to God: the one follows the other, said former Crown prosecutor Bill Dawe, one of two Catholic lawyers honoured by being appointed life members of the St Thomas More Society at its annual dinner last week.
Fr Brendan Purcell was the celebrant at the preceding Mass in the crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral on Wednesday night, praying to the society’s eponymous patron – the English martyr whom King Henry VIII put to death for treason after he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy (swearing allegiance to the king as Supreme Governor of the Church of England).
Mr Dawe, who prosecuted 70 murders between 1981 and 2007 after leaving the police to study law, was joined in the honour of being made a life member by Michael O’Dea, who has a long history of service on the boards of Catholic schools and charities as well as in local government.
Speaking to The Catholic Weekly, Mr Dawe said that integrity had been the guiding principle throughout his career, something for which he thanked the Christian Brothers who had taught him at St Patrick’s College, Strathfield.
“The Brothers there were such a good example to me so that, as I got a bit older and a little bit more sense, I realised that what they were saying was the right way to go,” Mr Dawe said.
“And I was fortunate enough to meet a young lady who has been my wife for the past 48 years. God has blessed me.”
He said we were all governed by integrity, “whether you are a bricklayer or a judge”, when asked what advice he would give to young, Catholic lawyers.
“Be true to yourself and be true to God, and being true to yourself, generally, leads to you being true to God. There is never an excuse not to be; whether you are defending or prosecuting.”
Mr O’Dea said the accolade was “most unexpected”. He also thanked the teachers who had formed him in his early life.
(Mr O’Dea served on the advisory board of his alma mater, St Ignatius’ College, Riverview, and was the founding chairman of the executive board of Loreto Kirribilli.)
“There’s no doubt about it, that one thing, if nothing else, I received from my Jesuit education at Riverview was the more talents and ability you are given, the more you have to put back,” Mr O’Dea said.
“That doesn’t mean that I have great talents but I do feel a distinct obligation.
“I’ve got a terrific wife, terrific family, terrific health, good economic stability, great parents – everything is pretty good for me … so from that point of view of talents definitely did motivate me.
“But having got involved, every aspect of what I’ve got involved with has been fun. If I look back on all the associations I have had, and still have in many respects, it’s a marvellous set of memories.”
Around 120 diners heard from Justice Stephen Gageler of the High Court who spoke about the Western legal tradition as being one of a fearless commitment to reasonableness – of legal officers being transparent in giving reasons for their decisions.
He spoke about the disjuncture he experienced upon being appointed to Australia’s second highest legal office, Solicitor General, in observing the effects of managerialism which had seen the office tacitly re-visioned as a service provider to government departments; something he sought to rectify.
In his homily during the Mass Fr Brendan quoted Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and the celebrated 20th century convert G K Chesterton, in their assessment that Thomas More was a saint particularly suited to our times.
“Precisely because of the witness which he bore, even at the price of his life, to the primacy of truth over power, St Thomas More is venerated as an imperishable example of moral integrity,” he said, quoting St John Paul II.
“And even outside the Church, particularly among those with responsibility for the destinies of peoples, he is acknowledged as a source of inspiration for a political system which has as its supreme goal the service of the human person.”
Fr Brendan said that the depiction of the saint in the play-turned-film A Man for All Seasons – of a man who died for the sovereignty of personal conscience – was wrong.
“That’s not why he died,” Fr Purcell said. “He died for the sovereignty of Christian truth as taught by the Catholic Church, which he saw as accessible to all.”