Drunk priest had 'meltdown'
Reverend to apologiseDANIEL ADAMS
A grieving family wants an apology from the Anglican Church after a drunk priest threw their funeral plans into chaos.
Widow Ann Patterson told the Waikato Times she wants the priest - a prominent clergyman who has officiated at the funerals of national figures - sacked, so other families don't endure similar behaviour.
Her son, Rotorua real estate agent Dave Patterson, is still struggling to understand the behaviour of St Faith's Church vicar the Rev Tom Poata after the family asked him to stand in for their usual clergyman upon the death of his father, John.
Mr Patterson and his mother describe ''walking into hell'' at Mr Poata's Ohinemutu vicarage, when they met him the day after Mr Patterson senior's death in late May to discuss the funeral.
Mrs Patterson and her husband were Presbyterian, but their clergyman was unavailable, so the family had contacted Mr Poata.
Mr Patterson said Mr Poata's antics during the meeting were like a Monty Python sketch: ''He'd pull the corner of his mouth right up beside his nose, and then do it the other way, really screwed up.
''We could smell it on his breath. There's no doubt whatsoever he was pissed. I'd swear it on the Bible. When my sisters arrived at the vicarage he disappeared; we think he was tossing water down trying to sober up.'' He said the priest had been pre-occupied with drinking, repeatedly asking whether the family was going for a drink even as the last of them fled.
Mrs Patterson said her daughters were distraught: ''He was drunk. He kept patting my arm saying 'Don't let them bully you'. My daughters, my grand-daughters ran out crying.''
Mr Poata had to repeatedly ask whether her husband was going to be cremated or buried, and who was going to do the eulogy at his service.
When asked if he had contacted the Presbyterian Church as he had said he would as a matter of courtesy, the family said Mr Poata looked blank then yelled ''Those bloody Scots!''
Mr Poata told the Times he was still ''constructing'' a letter of apology to the family, and did not deny they had a legitimate grievance over his behaviour.
However he said there were mitigating circumstances.
''I had a meltdown. A very dear friend of mine, one of my longest-lived friends, had died in Sydney''.
To salve his grief he poured himself a scotch.
''I live alone, so I took a drink, but one wasn't enough. I had another, then another.
''Sadly, during that confusion and emotion, I think I somehow lost myself in my glass. I was very upset. I was drunk and emotional.''
He admitted also being upset that he could not attend his friend's funeral in Australia because he was officiating at Mr Patterson's the same day.
Mr Poata said the family had made plain their disgust at his behaviour.
''And I was disgusted too: that's not my usual behaviour.''
Mrs Patterson said the grieving family had been forced to arrange an alternative service for her husband.
''It was a lovely funeral, a happy ending if a funeral can ever be that. But as far as he goes, I think he should be stripped of the cloth for a start; the church has closed ranks on what happened.''
The family complained to the bishop of the diocese, the Right Rev Ngarahu Katene, but Mr Patterson remains unhappy with the response despite a meeting two weeks ago to discuss the incident with diocese administrator Ron McGough.
Bishop Katene is Bishop of Te Manawa o Te Wheke, one of five dioceses constituting the Maori Anglican Church.
When contacted by the Times, Bishop Katene said he had spoken to Mr Poata about the incident and asked him to apologise to the Pattersons.
He appeared surprised to learn the family had not yet received an apology.
Bishop Katene said he believed an apology was sufficient and refused to discuss the incident further. Mr Poata said he had been ''spoken to very sternly'' by Bishop Katene, and ordered to limit his ministry. ''I take my work very seriously, but we all get caught with our pants down.''
He said his work had not been affected by his drinking before.
''I do have an occasional social drink; this house is always open. If I'm sitting down to a meal I'll have one or two, of course I do, I need that release. It happens to me, too, as much as to anybody else.''
- © Fairfax NZ News
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