Archbishop Bathersby's concerns over rebel Brisbane parish

Archbishop Bathersby's concerns over rebel Brisbane parish

Michael Gilchrist

For many years, the Catholic parish of St Mary's, South Brisbane, has been notorious for its continued flouting of the Catholic Church's doctrines and liturgy.

In 2004 Archbishop John Bathersby of Brisbane took action over an invalid baptismal formula - 'Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier' instead of 'Father, Son and Holy Spirit' - being regularly used at St Mary's.

Earlier this year matters came to a head when a statue of Buddha was placed in front of the altar at St Mary's, prompting letters of complaint to the Archbishop and to the Vatican.

In August, media reports indicated that Archbishop Bathersby had finally had enough - with some help from the Vatican (see below).

A letter from the Archbishop to the Administrator of St Mary's, Fr Peter Kennedy, dated 22 August 2008, set out a list of reasons why the parish could no longer be considered in communion with the Catholic Church.

The Archbishop wrote: 'The question for me is not so much whether St Mary's should be closed down, but whether St Mary's will close itself down by practices that separate it from communion with the Roman Catholic Church.'

At the time of writing, no resolution has occurred. The Archbishop has set no deadline for the parish to re-align itself doctrinally and liturgically with the Catholic faith or to go its own separate way as a 'new church', and Fr Kennedy has merely referred the matter to his parish community which in turn has set up four 'committees' to consider the Archbishop's concerns.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Bathersby was interviewed by Stephen Crittenden on the ABC's Radio National Religion Report on 27 August. Some of the Archbishop's comments shed further light on this episode:

'Stephen Crittenden: Would it be fair to say that in the past you've been pretty supportive of the parish of South Brisbane, and that up to a point, you've been prepared to allow a fair degree of latitude?

Archbishop Bathersby: Yes, I'd say so. What I was conscious of was certainly the attitude towards the social justice matters over there. But apart from that I didn't really know much about it, and certainly some of the things that came to light with the letters that were written overseas to Rome, certainly were a surprise to me. I did think that there was a certain laxity about the liturgy, but I didn't know to what extent. And that certainly was a revelation to me.

Stephen Crittenden: You've made no secret of the fact that you're coming under pressure from Rome to act. Where precisely is that pressure coming from?

Archbishop Bathersby: The Congregation of the Bishops, the Congregation of the Clergy, and the Congregation for [Divine] Worship.'

In fact, the 'certain laxity about the liturgy' has been starkly evident over a lengthy period in each week's parish bulletin, where the words of the Mass are set out for the congregation to recite. These consist largely of New Age or social action cliches, instead of the Church's officially approved liturgical texts.

Archbishop's letter

In one bulletin, what passes for a Eucharistic Prayer - with regular recitations by the congregation - includes the following: 'We bring wine, made by many people's work, from an unjust world where some have leisure and most struggle to survive'.

The Memorial Acclamation reads as follows:

I am Inner Stillness Deep within I am I am conscious Presence Deep within I am I am Pure Love Deep within I am.

Archbishop Bathersby's above-mentioned letter lists the following reasons why St Mary's has placed itself outside the Catholic Church:

'At St Mary's is Jesus Christ accepted as Lord and Saviour, Son of God, or is Jesus regarded as just another Holy person like Buddha or Mohammed? Certainly in such circumstances the placing of a Buddhist statue in a Christian church is extremely confusing ...

'Ad hoc decisions have been made by St Mary's about liturgy, certainly with the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Marriage, and especially the Sacrament of Eucharist. Regarding Baptism, I am still not certain that even now the valid rite is always used ...

'In the sacrament of Eucharist members of the Congregation seem to recite the words of consecration, which within an orthodox Catholic rite should only be recited by the ordained minister. Eucharistic prayers approved by the Church are completely overlooked in favour of eucharistic prayers selected at random.

'As I said in my letter of 19 July 2004 St Mary's tends to be 'congregational in governance and culture ... The reluctance of its priests to be seen as ordained ministers liturgically different from lay members of their congregation seems to be another indication of its refusal to acknowledge any difference between ordained and non-ordained membership' ...

'In reality St Mary's South Brisbane has taken a Roman Catholic parish and established its own brand of religion ... [I]ts own style of worship and sacramental practice can hardly be described as Roman Catholic. As such it is out of communion with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane and the Universal Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of the Bishop of Rome ...

'My authority as Archbishop in the Archdiocese of Brisbane is scarcely recognised by the parish of St Mary's. This is not unusual considering that criticism at St Mary's has even been directed against Pope John Paul II ...'.

Archbishop Bathersby concludes his letter: 'It is now up to St Mary's itself to make whatever decisions are needed about its future existence ...'.

The situation at St Mary's is one of the most extreme in Australia and has been a source of contention for many years. It remains to be seen what, if anything, will be done about it in the coming weeks.

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