Welcome to St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral for the 2017 National Police Remembrance Day Service.
I think it would be agreed that loyalty, discipline and courage are virtues that are required in you who are Police officers who take your profession seriously. Loyalty to the law that you are sworn to uphold; loyalty to the oath that you took at your graduation; loyalty to the Police Force of which you are a member. There would be something fundamentally wrong with a Police Force that did not command the respect of its members, or in which the members saw things which they felt did not deserve their loyalty – things like irregularity, discrimination or injustice. And if there is disloyalty in the Force, the Force itself is weakened and the community suffers. I mention the community because whether we realise it or not, we the citizens of NSW, are vitally dependent upon you the Police not only for our protection, but even for our survival. Remove the Police Force or weaken it, or corrupt it and you have chaos in the community.
After loyalty there is discipline. Take an army without discipline, and you have a rabble. The same could be said of a Police Force. Conversely, where you have discipline you have order and when you have order, you have efficiency. But then discipline in the Police Force requires self-discipline in the members who compose it. Every profession has its own peculiar temptations and the Police Force, like the Church, is no exception. Temptations to break the law while pretending to uphold it; temptations to use one’s status to enrich one’s self; temptations to lower the dignity and the prestige of the Force by undignified or questionable behaviour. You Police are not private individuals working privately. You are public officials, subject to public scrutiny and, rightly or wrongly, subject to public criticism. You require more than usual self-control.
Then, after loyalty and discipline, there is the question of courage. I believe that these days the fact that a person is a member of the Police Force at all, indicates that you are people of courage. We live at a time when violence and callous indifference to human suffering are widespread and it requires courage to belong to a body that is expected to face these things and subdue them.
We seek the help of our religious faith in order to honour colleagues who have died on duty or through natural causes. May they rest in peace and enjoy the reward of their goodness. We call on our faith in God in order to meet the responsibilities that are imposed upon us. We all need the help of Almighty God and no one should be ashamed to ask for it.
In all walks of life there are times when the call of duty is so exacting and the temptation to default so attractive that we need the help of God to maintain our balance. Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said that there were times when he fell on his knees because there was nowhere else to go. His is not an isolated case.
You are members of a body that, in the ordinary course of events, can be taken for granted and the significance of what you do can be forgotten. Yet without you, law and order would be impossible, life and property would be endangered and the freedom of the ordinary citizen would be imperilled. For that matter, your own families would be threatened. So much depends on you that you are required individually to be men and woman of real efficiency and genuine integrity because, if you fail, the whole fabric of society is undermined.
And yet you are human and the situations you have to confront, the tragedies that you have to be involved in, the carnage you have to witness at times can, and does, have a psychological and emotional and spiritual impact on you and your families. That’s why you need to debrief, seek counselling and strengthen your spirit with reliance on a power greater than yourselves. Faith is a bit like electricity – you can’t see it but you can see the light that faith produces in the lives of those who believe.
In every profession, whatever its nature, there will always be some who fail to live up to their ideals and in so doing bring disgrace on themselves and criticism on their colleagues. The Police Force is no exception. For your own good, then, and for that of the Force, the genuine Police Officer has to avoid corruption. While being ambitious, he or she has to avoid unhealthy rivalries; while being resolute he or she has to avoid being over-zealous to the point of arrogance. In other words, the Police Force demands self-discipline in its members.
The work of a police officer is much more than a job, a means of making a living, it is a profession that is full of difficulty, temptation and danger. Yet you are necessary for the stability of society, and for the protection of our citizens, your own family included. You are seldom helped and often despised by the people you are sworn to protect. Yet you are vitally necessary and, without you, society would disintegrate.
The Police Officer who has faith realises the need for the grace of God to be really efficient, to preserve your integrity, to be worthy of your badge. For this you pray and try to be worthy. May God guide and strengthen you in your daily lives and in your important work. May those with whom you come in contact see in you a person above reproach and respect you as such.
In today’s Remembrance Service, we gratefully remember before God those serving and retired members and staff who have died since last year, and we honour the service, courage and integrity with which they served. May they rest in peace.
Most Rev Peter W Ingham DD
Bishop of Wollongong
29 September 2017