Saturday, April 04, 2009

An Update on St. Mary's in Brisbane

In January I shared the story of Fr. Peter Kennedy and the Roman Catholic parish of St. Mary’s in South Brisbane, Australia (pictured at left).

St. Mary’s is a community were lay leadership is encouraged, non-clerics often give the homily, and the experiences and insights of women, LGBT persons, and indigenous persons are not only respected and welcomed, but celebrated. (Some have collectively termed such communities the
“emerging church” or the “underground church.”)

Not surprisingly, the community of St. Mary’s is viewed with suspicion by the hierarchical church, so much so that Brisbane Archbishop John Bathersby has recently sacked Fr. Kennedy, saying that he is “harming ecclesiastical communion.”

The parish has relocated to another site where Fr. Kennedy continues to offer Mass, and the community itself, according to Penny Edman’s March 6 National Catholic Reporter article, “continues to declare that it is a strong, healthy Roman Catholic community.” Also in this article, Fr. Kennedy is quoted as saying: “People who are not part of our community will make judgments about us because of our so-called unorthodox behavior, but we can take heart from the words of Jesus, who himself was judged harshly for his unorthodox behavior. ‘By their fruits you will know them.’”

Yesterday I received the following e-mail message from Brisbane resident Carmel Glover. She requested that I post her message as a comment on my original post about St. Mary’s (which I have done), but I also thought it would be appropriate to share it as its own post. And so following is Carmel’s thoughts on the community of St. Mary’s.


Hi Michael,

[In the comments section of your original post] questions were raised about how “welcoming” the St Mary’s community actually is.

Denis said: “Whenever I see signs or comments like ‘everyone, without exception is welcome’ it makes me wonder. What if a priest shows up wearing a Roman collar and preaching the love of Jesus Christ? How many of these supposed welcoming people will shun him?”

Denis uses sweeping generalisations. I wonder how many such communities he has actually visited.

None, would be my answer. The St Mary’s community (mostly middle class conservatively dressing people – of ALL ages, where professionals mix with street people) can handle drunks shouting obscenities without batting an eyelid. (On one such occasion I saw a member of the congregation get up, put her arm around the drunk, and escort him to a seat near her.) So a priest in a Roman collar would present no problem. Of course, they might find it unusual, because it’s not too easy these days to find priests in Brisbane who wear Roman collars.

The other issue was whether there is a Peter Kennedy cult. There certainly isn’t (though the Archbishop and the media have done their utmost to create one). Peter is a very private, reserved man who does his best to fade into the background. Ironically, his very attempt to merge with the rest of the congregation has resulted in his emergence as a charismatic leader. I remember a poem, or song, from childhood which spoke of “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” That’s Peter, until (like Jesus himself) there is just cause for anger (viz. Jesus driving the traders from the temple). The media has focused on Peter Kennedy because he is an excellent spokesperson – calm, unruffled, anything but egotistical, and because “rebel priest” has more draw than “rebel community.” Unlike the Pope, Peter never has a “final veto” on anything. The thing that has angered Peter most, and resulted in his remaining as leader (instead of retiring as he originally intended) is that Archbishop Bathersby, who has never set foot in St Mary’s, refused to communicate with the community, but only with him.

A little about me: I am not a “regular” at St Mary’s. I have attended maybe 4 or 5 times a year over the past 20 years. It has “spoiled” me for other churches, which seem shallow and sterile by comparison (at least those I have experienced). The liturgies are meaningful, the music splendid, the homilies pertinent to the message of the gospel and relevant to the lives of modern people, the atmosphere palpably loving. Numerous people I've spoken to have said that it is the most “Christian” environment they have encountered. [This reminds me of my Mum’s experience of St. Stephen’s in South Minneapolis when I took her and Dad there for Mass during their August 2005 visit to the Twin Cities.]

St. Mary’s is the epitome of what Vatican II aimed for. I lived in Rome shortly after the Council, and knew many Australian seminarians studying at
Propaganda Fide (most of whom left before taking their vows, so scandalised were they by what they encountered in the Vatican). We were so hopeful of the promise of Vatican II. Only in St Mary’s have I seen that promise realised.

So, of course, it must be crushed.

People who hanker after the old conservative, dogmatic form of Catholicism, of course would see things differently. But which do you think Christ would prefer if he were to return in person – a place where his simple commandment to love God and love one another is observed fully, with little concern for doctrinal “correctness,” or the Archbishop’s mansion where the rules are followed?

I support your suggestion, Michael, that the church should be big enough to cater for a diversity of approaches. Alas, this is something the hierarchy strongly resists.

Perhaps the stand taken by the people of St Mary’s (and, it would seem, St Stephen’s) will encourage others to do the same, and one day maybe Christians will take back their church from the grasp of a hierarchy interested only in power and conformity.

A week ago, after the final directive by the Archbishop that Peter Kennedy must leave St Mary’s, I decided that I no longer wanted to be called a Catholic. I will, however, be proud to become a member of St Mary’s in exile, and I intend to take a much more active part than I did at St Mary’s.

These are interesting times.



See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A “Catholic Moment” in Brisbane
A Catholic “Crisis and Opportunity” in South Minneapolis
Of Mustard Seeds and Walled Gardens
Dispatches from the Periphery
“The Real Battle”
Benedict’s Understanding of the Church
A Church That Can and Cannot Change
A Declaration of Reform and Renewal
What It Means to Be Catholic

See also the Wild Reed’s ongoing series, The Journal of James Curtis:
Part 1: A “Bells and Smells” Kind of Guy
Part 2: A Quiet Visit and an Exhausting Conversation

Recommended Off-site Links:
Archbishop Breaks Silence Over St. Mary’s - Melissa Singer (Brisbane Times, February 8, 2009).
Priest Sacking Will “Alienate Catholics” - Miarissa Calligeros (Brisbane Times, February 19, 2009).
In What Sense Are We Progressive Catholics? - Progressive Catholic Voice, February 10, 2009.


The Gay Species said...

Interesting. A priest without authority of a bishop cannot exercise any sacerdotal rites, ceremonies, or acts validly.

He may perform the rites, those rites may appear like usual, but without explicit approval and jurisdiction of the bishop, or "ordinary," the rites are invalid.

This aspect of canon law dates to the second century and to Ignatius of Antioch, Tertullian, and Ireneaus. Only the bishop is consecrated with authority, some of which he may delegate to presbyters and deacons.

The rite of baptism "in extremis" may be performed by any baptized Christian, but only under exigent circumstances, lest the "covenant" not be incorporated, and the recipient invalidate the action.

Playing "your own church" is what the Reformers did in the 15th century and were properly excommunicated. As a matter of canon law, any individual who knowingly partakes in an "illict" rite, ceremony, or sacrament is excommunicated by his own actions.

Michael J. Bayly said...

So who gets to decide who's "playing church" and when?

Could it be that those who drafted the canon laws you cite were "playing church" in order to safeguard their particular understanding of church - one that gave them much earthly power and prestige?

I must admit I'm surprised, Gay Species, at how rigid and dogmatic you often sound when discussing these matters. It reminds me of Doris Lessing's contention that atheism is itself, more often than not, a type of religion. (Then again, I sometimes wonder if deep down you're not somewhat of a closeted "traditionalist" Roman Catholic! You can certainly sound like one.)

Also, I find it difficult to take seriously anyone who relies on 500-year old church laws to address contemporary issues/problems in the church. I'm sorry, but that's not a sign of a living tradition. Yes, I know it's a dirty word for so-called "traditonalists" (Catholic or atheist, it would seem), but all such laws are "relative" to their time and place in church history. Things can and do change - including the people of God's understanding of church and of God's presence and action in our lives - individually and communally.



Anonymous said...

HI Michael
I am a producer making a documentary on St Mary's. I would very much like to speak to Carmel Glover who wrote to you recently, could you please pass on my interest in speaking to her in relation to her views and experiences of St Mary's. Thankyou.