In a letter dated 22 August 2008, Archbishop John Bathersby of Brisbane demanded that St Mary's Church, South Brisbane, bring its practices into line with the Catholic Church or face closure (see October AD2000, page 3).
In 2004 the Archbishop had written to the parish about its invalid baptisms, and other problems cited over time have included women preaching, the blessing of homosexual couples, gay and lesbian choir practices inside the church, irregular prayers used during Masses, and the presence of a Buddhist statue in front of the altar.
In order to assess the impact of Archbishop Bathersby's letter, two of us visited St Mary's for Sunday Mass on 7 September 2008.
It was my first visit to St Mary's, which is a large, beautiful, heritage-listed church set on a hill and is one of the most impressive in Brisbane. However, this impression was marred by a large politically-inspired poster 'All Different All Equal', displayed in front of the church.
Upon entering the church one was immediately awed by its beauty but shocked by the partial camouflaging of its grandeur, with the ornate imposing altar left unused in semi-darkness while in front of the life-size statues of Our Lord and Our Lady were political posters and strange prayers, the kind seen at political rallies.
During Mass, the Administrator Fr Peter Kennedy explained the role of the stole he was wearing. It represented, he said, the hierarchical Church and its authority. 'To subvert that message,' he added, 'we wear an Aboriginal stole or a stole of East Timor which represents the fact that we are in solidarity with those who are poor, excluded and suffering ... so we subvert that authority by wearing Jesus' stole.'
It was evident that the priest was thumbing his nose at his superior, the Archbishop, who the previous week had sought to impose order in the religious ceremonies at St Mary's.
During Mass, the presiding priest, Fr Terry Fitzpatrick, did not wear the prescribed vestments, sporting instead a blue T-shirt and blue-jean pants while giving a sermon in which he repeated St Mary's claim to independence and the right to be different.
At the Consecration, Fr Fitzpatrick invited everyone to gather around the table as he spoke the words of Consecration. After Mass, we witnessed five baptisms by Fr Peter Kennedy. In one of them he used the words: '[Name], we baptise you in the name of God, the Creator, the Redeemer, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the God of Love, the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of life.'
Will St Mary's close itself down? It seems disinclined to do so with its priests continuing to defy the Archbishop and to stonewall, in the hope that their few 'concessions' will be enough to satisfy the Archbishop.
The ball is now very much in the Archbishop's court.