Father Leslie ‘was dedicated to the old ways’

2009-01-22 00:00

According to Father Allan Moss, the new Parish Priest of St Mary’s Catholic Church in the city, Father Eldred Leslie “believed in the old ways of doing things that we were brought up with. He faithfully stuck to traditional clerical dress and you hardly ever saw him in anything else.” Both priests were ordained in 1970, but not at the same time, and then served at Holy Trinity Church in Durban together.

Father Leslie’s traditional approach extended to his beliefs and practices, which is how he came to be a Traditional Catholic priest. According to Wikipedia, Traditional Catholics believe that the church should restore many or all of the forms or worship and individual practices that existed before the Second Vatican Council in 1962 to 1965 (Vatican II).

“I had long theological arguments with him, but it was unfortunate that he could not change. He had a personal problem with the changes introduced by Vatican II. In particular, he wanted to stick to the traditional or Tridentine Mass said in Latin that went back to the Council of Trent in 1550. Vatican II introduced Mass said in vernacular languages, but he did not appreciate that. He also thought the private practices that became optional should stay compulsory, like not eating meat on Fridays.”

Father Leslie served as parish priest at Our Lady of Fatima in Durban North and then in Pinetown, where matters came to a head in 1989. “He and Archbishop Dennis Hurley were no longer able to walk a common road together and the Archbishop ‘withdrew his faculties’, which was like taking away his licence so he was no longer allowed to celebrate Mass in a Catholic Church. I know it pained the Archbishop to do that as he had ordained Father Leslie, so it was like contradicting himself.”

For many years, Father Leslie served a Traditional Catholic Church on the Berea in Durban.

Father Moss said the church had a very small minority following: “A generous estimate is a couple of thousand. I have fond memories of him, he was a good socialiser. When we served together in Durban we would go out and I was amazed by how many people he knew. He would move from table to table in a restaurant greeting people. I have had only occasional contact with him in recent years.”

Monsignor Paul Nadal of Durban said Father Leslie belonged to the international Traditional Catholic organisation, the Society of St Pius X. “He had always been conservative and seemed to become more so over the years. He was at seminary when I was there in the 1950s, but he left and went back to work. He eventually trained at Beda College in Rome, which is for older candidates. He was politically conservative and a great monarchist — he loved the royal family. In my experience, if you are conservative in one area of life, you are in others too. He was a very good and kind person, always fighting for the underdog. I will be at his funeral.”

Condolences poured in for Father Eldred Leslie yesterday.

A relative of Father Leslie’s who has emigrated to New Zealand to escape crime, Jeanine Wright, said the news of his murder came as a “huge shock”.

“He was a wonderful man and I hoped that one day when our daughter was old enough to remember that we could take her back to SA to meet him. He is the type of person that once met you will never forget. It’s hard to understand why a man who did so much good has had his life taken this way, it is just not fair.”

On the Traditional Catholicism website, an unnamed writer paid tribute to Leslie.

“I am from SA, and will cherish wonderful memories of this valiant priest! He was the quintessential old school priest: a gentle, holy, kindly, grandfatherly figure, deeply devoted to the Traditional Latin Mass … The shock is reverberating around our small traditional community here. May his dear soul rest in peace.”

Another wrote, “Would that we had many more priests in the church with such devotion and love of Christ”.

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