Business as usual at South Brisbane's rebel church

Business as usual at South Brisbane's rebel church

Michael Gilchrist

Latest reports concerning the rebel St Mary's church in South Brisbane indicate that its community intends to continue with its liturgical and doctrinal aberrations, while engaging in 'dialogue' with Archbishop Bathersby.

As last month's report in AD2000 indicated, the Archbishop has called on St Mary's, under its Administrator Fr Peter Kennedy, to decide whether it wishes to be a part of the Catholic Church or go its own separate way.

Since the Archbishop seems to have set no deadline for St Mary's to shape up or ship out, the situation could well drag on indefinitely with token concessions here and there.

To judge from the comments cited in media reports and in materials circulated around St Mary's, the bulk of its community wish to retain the label 'Catholic' while flouting the Church's doctrines and liturgy. They believe this approach represents the spirit of Vatican II and is the cutting edge of progressive Catholicism.

In truth the St Mary's situation is just a more extreme and more visible version of what is occurring in many other parishes in the Brisbane Archdiocese and elsewhere in Australia where priests and congregations pick and choose among Catholic beliefs and practices. In Brisbane there have been expressions of solidarity from other parishes for St Mary's following Archbishop Bathersby's letter.

Meanwhile, documentary materials from St Mary's make it clear that its priests and community remain reluctant to relinquish practices that have been established unhindered for over a generation.

St Mary's seems to believe that with a few minor adjustments it can prolong the impasse indefinitely and retain its local identity within the wider Church.

For example, following the first community meeting on 25 August it was decided that the priest would wear an alb and stole and that the locally concocted 'Eucharistic Prayer' would be modified. The Archbishop was informed of these early changes and is said to have given a positive response on 30 August.

A letter from Fr Kennedy and the 'St Mary's Community' to Archbishop Bathersby, dated 22 September, was later circulated in the parish, along with a three-page progress report, Planning for the Future of St Mary's Community.

In the letter, Fr Kennedy writes: 'A steering committee has been formed and has begun to develop a process for engagement with the community. It is the expectation of members of the steering committee that this process will take place over the next 3 months, with the final stages in the New Year ... Given that many people have been worshipping at St Mary's over the past 28 years the steering committee believes that this is an appropriate time frame for such an important task.

'We assure you that as a community it is our faith, our spirituality and our desire to be a Vatican II Community in the modern world that will guide us in reflection, prayer, and actions over the coming months.'

Current practices

Just how this community interprets Vatican II is evident in its Planning for the Future summary. This was to be the basis for a further 'community meeting' on 29 September.

A table is shown which compares 'our current practices with Roman Catholic practices as outlined by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference'.

Among the 'Doing what we have done' practices we find:

Continue leadership role for women, including in homilies.

Continue blessing and welcoming for sacraments gay/lesbian, divorced and non-catholic [sic] community members.

Continue current inclusive language, content and structure of the mass.

Use, and pray together, the St Mary's Eucharistic prayer.

Continue diverse and applicable range of content in homilies and the invitation of homilists from the broader community.

Continue to reinterpret and make relevant responses to Readings that are appropriate to current contexts.

Retain current layout of central alter [sic] table surrounded by pews.

Continue recognition of Indigenous custodians of the land as part of the mass.

Continue making the church available to various groups including Buddhists, unions, Gay and Lesbian Choir, Friends of the Earth.

Remain in St Mary's until we are forced out by the Archbishop.

Under the heading of 'Possible implications for conformity with Rome' we find:

No lay participation in homilies ...

Homilies must reflect official church teaching ...

Drop Shop to sell only approved theological texts and approved goods.

Priest celebrates Mass from sanctuary.

Remove all non-approved artworks from the church (e.g., Indigenous paintings, flags and event posters).

Use of the church exclusively for Catholic worship ...

According to some who attended the community meeting on 29 September which discussed these issues, there was no decision to further address the Archbishop's concerns. Most present seemed determined to dig in their heels and defy the Archbishop to shut down the church.

The Mass sheet for the weekend of 27-28 September, immediately prior to that meeting, conveyed this attitude.

On the front cover is a reproduction of a painting titled 'The First Supper', with twelve women gathered around a table in the manner of the famous Leonardo Da Vinci painting, with an additional woman in the middle sporting an aboriginal flag on her t-shirt.

The text for the Mass has a steady stream of concocted prayers, slightly toned down from earlier texts, but still outside the Church's approved liturgy. The Eucharistic Prayer consists of exchanges between the priest and community with scope for lay people to recite the words of Consecration, although according to observers, at some of the preceding Masses only the priest pronounced these words.

Determining whether a parish is Catholic is not rocket science. The St Mary's situation is a clear challenge to Church leadership and requires a prompt, decisive response.

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