Andrew Fraser; 21/2/09; (4 Items)
A legal battle over the future of rebel Catholic priest Peter Kennedy from St Mary’s parish in Brisbane is headed for the Supreme Court after a last minute injunction to stop his dismissal from today failed last night. While the injunction, filed by legal members of St Mary’s congregation, failed to stop Father Kennedy’s dismissal from today, judge James Douglas adjourned the case for further submissions on his behalf. The argument advanced for Father Kennedy is that Brisbane Archbishop John Bathersby breached canon law and did not follow correct procedure in his actions in sacking Father Kennedy. Further submissions on behalf of Father Kennedy are expected in the next few days, but Judge Douglas indicated that he wanted the Catholic Church to respond to the claims before he heard the case.
Argentina moves to expel rogue bishop
Paola Totaro; 22/2/09
The ultra-conservative British bishop who has denied the Holocaust — and mortified the Vatican — has been ordered to leave Argentina within 10 days or be deported. Bishop Richard Williamson, who heads the traditionalist Society of St Pius X seminary at La Reja, outside Buenos Aires, has been told by the Argentinian Interior Ministry to leave after failing to declare his “real job” on his immigration forms. But a statement by the Minister for the Interior, Florencio Randazzo, said Bishop Williamson had not only failed to declare his true position as director of the seminary on his immigration papers but his denials of the Holocaust had also “profoundly insulted Argentinian society, the Jewish community and all of humanity by denying an historic truth”.
Report: Vatican readmits society that propagates anti-Semitism
Cnaan Liphshiz, 20/2/09
In lifting the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson who has been accused of Holocaust denial last month, the Catholic Church also readmitted a priestly society that openly propagates virulent anti-Semitism, according to a probe by a Belgian Jewish newspaper. The Roman Catholic Church excommunicated The Society of St. Pius X in 1988 along with Williamson and three other member priests, declaring their consecrations were “unlawful” and “schismatic.” In January of this year the Vatican lifted the excommunication. On the same day, a Swedish television station aired an interview with Williamson in which he denied the existence of gas chambers during the Holocaust.
What would Jesus do?
Andrew Fraser; 21/2/09; Andrew Fraser is The Australian’s Brisbane bureau chief.
No Internet Tex; The Australian Magazine.
As Mass begins at St Mary’s Catholic Church in South Brisbane, there is no sign of a priest. Peter Kennedy, who the Catholic Church calls the parish priest but who is called the “Mass presider” in the St Mary’s newsletter, is walking around, but there’s no dog collar, vestments, or any of the other orthodox trappings of a Catholic priest. On this muggy January day, Father Kennedy wears white trousers and a loose, short-sleeved white shirt.
The interior also looks different from most Catholic churches. Instead of sitting in rows of pews facing the altar, the congregation gathers around a central table, turning its back on the 19th century sanctuary at one end of the church, with its stained-glass windows, pictures of Mary and Jesus, and marble statues. In this church-in-the-round, the most eye-catching symbol is an Aboriginal flag.
When the service starts, it is led by a voice seldom heard in this role in the Catholic Church – that of a woman. She asks the congregation, which numbers about 200 on this Saturday evening, to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and the wrongs done to them by the newcomers to this land. Then she leads the congregation in prayer.
After the prayer comes Father Terry Fitzpatrick, another “Mass presider” of St Mary’s but not recognised as such by the Queensland division of the Catholic Church. His official archdiocese is the Darling Downs, but he has been attached to St Mary’s for more than 15 years. Tonight he talks to the congregation not of the Bible, but of meditation techniques.
Then he rings a bell that signals the start of 12 minutes of contemplation, after which there is a reading.
But this is not a reading from the Bible. It is, instead, from a letter by one of the congregation, although here, the congregation is called the St Mary’s community.
“I don’t come to St Mary’s because it is a Catholic place of worship,” the letter reads. “I come because it has everything I seek in my own life – love, truth, authenticity, integrity, justice, unity, compassion, openness and friendship.”
After the reading there is a sermon, or homily, which is almost never given by Father Kennedy. Homilists in recent weeks have included Sean Leahy, the cartoonist at Brisbane’s The Courier Mail newspaper, who spoke about his previous (failed) experiences with religion before he found the spiritual nourishment he was looking for at St Mary’s, as well as indigenous activists Sam Watson and Dennis Walker, the son of the late, celebrated poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker).
For the first 45 minutes of the service the only connection with the standard Mass is a short Bible reading. For communion, there is no queue of people lining up to be given bread and wine by the priest in front of an altar. Instead, it’s a bit of a free-for-all, with parishioners gathering around to receive bread and wine from various lay people, while many of the congregation emulate the priests by waving their hands over the table.
All of these departures from the traditional Catholic service are justified by Peter Kennedy as serving the needs of the St Mary’s community.
But the head of the Catholic Church in Brisbane, Archbishop John Bathersby, believes Kennedy has lost his way. He goes so far as to question whether some in the church still believe in God.
Two weeks ago, Bathersby ruled that whatever it is that’s going on at St Mary’s, it is not a Catholic service. He issued an ultimatum and effectively sacked Kennedy from today, although early last week the dismissal remained under negotiation. This weekend, after almost 50 years in the church, Kennedy has said he will sit in the congregation instead of celebrating Mass at St Mary’s.
Peter Kennedy is the first Catholic priest in Australia to lose his job for failing to conform to orthodox liturgy. Yet he and many of the congregation feel there is a broader agenda. St Mary’s is a strong and growing church, with more than 1000 people attending the three services there on Saturday evening and Sundays. Parishioners confidently assert that they receive spiritual nourishment and succour from their attendance.
St Mary’s champions social justice issues, embraces homosexual couples and allows women to preach. The Gay and Lesbian Choir uses the church for its rehearsals.
The church gives communion to openly gay couples, rejecting the polite fiction maintained at many other churches that turn a blind eye.
Out of the church has sprung Micah Projects, a group that runs programs for the homeless and employs more than 100 people. Micah is based at the church and relies on the strength of the congregation to keep it going.
Bathersby insists these issues are not behind his move against St Mary’s; his major complaint is the behaviour of Peter Kennedy. “He’s the shepherd, the leader of the orthodoxy of the church,” he says.
The traditional Catholic belief is that priests lead the congregation and only they may undertake certain tasks. St Mary’s breaks this practice regularly, for example by allowing lay people to give the sermon.
The changes in layout of the church and its service have been devised by Kennedy with, he says, the support of the congregation, but the archbishop sees this as the antithesis of a priest’s role. “He’s set up a completely different structure altogether to what exists at other churches. The church has never had a problem with consulting, but it’s the priest who makes the final decisions. And that’s not happening at St Mary’s.
They seem to think they’re outside the Catholic Church,” says Bathersby.
In a letter to Father Kennedy last year, Bathersby set out some of the reasons the wider church could not tolerate St Mary’s practices.
“St Mary’s seems to be an authority to itself. Despite the good that it does, it places itself outside the practice of the Catholic Church. Therefore, we might well ask, is it a parish in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, or a community in schism? There is no doubt that St Mary’s promotes a strong sense of community, but so [do] many other communities such as Hillsong in Sydney that welcomes all and reaches out to the poor, but understandably is not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church.”
In his letter, Bathersby says that “often nowadays too little attention is paid to God and worship and too much attention to action” which needs to be linked to prayer and worship. “It is amazing the number of people who satisfy themselves by asking, ‘What would Jesus do?’
Only very humble and holy people would dare to try to answer that question, and if they did they would do so with the greatest caution. It is amazing how some people feel certain that they know what Jesus would do, at the same time neglecting the 2000-year-old wisdom of God’s Holy Spirit available in the Church.”
Sacking Father Kennedy will change St Mary’s dramatically. Bathersby and his supporters believe that restoring traditional practices will encourage a flock of lost sheep to return to the fold. But many of those attracted to the unconventionality and informality of St Mary’s will leave.
And that is a problem for the Catholic Church.
There’s no denying St Mary’s is popular. Its congregation is younger than most, and it is growing. It has high-level political support.
The church is in the electorate of Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, who may be an atheist but admires St Mary’s social justice work. The local Federal member is Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who has attended the annual general meeting of the church and sat on the floor during services.
The Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, is also a supporter.
Two weeks ago, when Bathersby said he would be sacking Kennedy unless Kennedy resigned first, scenes of 1000 people in an overflowing church loudly applauding Peter Kennedy were shown on national television.
Former Catholic priest and religious commentator Paul Collins says sacking Kennedy and coming down hard on what is a popular church will be a disaster for the Catholic Church. “At the moment there’s somewhere between 10 and 12 per cent of people
who claim in the census that they’re Catholics who actually go to Mass. [St Mary's] is a lively church with a modern community – you break that up and numbers are going to drop even further.”
Collins says the timing of Kennedy’s sacking is also terrible, following the re-admission overseas of several priests who were excommunicated because of their opposition to the reforms of Vatican II.
These include Richard Williamson, a holocaust denier, whose re-entry into the church has caused a storm in Europe. “So in the very week that they allow back into the, church someone like Williamson – who thinks that only 300,000 Jews were killed during the war, as though only 300,000 is OK – they’re expelling someone who is running a lively church which does a lot of good for the community around it and has an active, involved group of people who attend.
That’s not a very good message to send out,” he says.
Peter Kennedy is an angry man. He is concerned for the future of St Mary’s and for those who worship there, but he and his supporters feel that what is also at stake here is the very soul of the Catholic Church.
They argue that the Catholic Church should have a “bottom-up” approach consistent with Vatican II, in which individual parishes, if they choose, should be able to formulate their own means of worship and service within the broad confines of the Catholic Church. He sees a form of worship that is devised by congregation members and relevant to their lives as being far more meaningful than one imposed on them from above.
Kennedy says the Catholic Church is becoming increasingly centralised, with more meetings of priests to lay down the law about correct liturgy and how to conduct a service. “It’s the McDonald-isation of the church,” he complains.
“They want this arrangement that if you go into a church anywhere in the world it will be exactly the same experience, regardless of the community in that church or what’s around them. And if that happens, you get the same result as McDonald’s. It might give you a quick reprieve from hunger, but it’s not nourishing and ultimately it’s not really good for you.”
Paul Collins sees what is happening at St Mary’s as a local manifestation of a global trend, with the Vatican becoming considerably more centralised in its procedures. When Joseph Ratzinger was chosen as Pope in 2005 he was known as “God’s rottweiler” for his work as the church’s theological watchdog, but he hasn’t been as hardline as some liberal Catholics feared. Collins says, however, that there are hardliners at the Vatican who expect a consistent line to be laid down, and this attitude flows down through the church.
Peter Kirkwood, a freelance religious journalist and a former senior producer at ABC-TV’s Compass program, says there has long been a tension within the Catholic Church between the demands for Church unity and the commitment to local religious expression.
“There’s a central teaching of the Catholic Church that there will be a local, different expression,” he says. “But I think it is fair to say that under the last two Popes there’s been a shift towards a more unified Church, and I see this [St Mary's experiment] as a reaction to that shift.”
Kennedy insists that St Mary’s is a community church that is acting in the spirit of Vatican II in being driven by the congregation. He parts company with Bathersby in that he believes the role of the priest is to help guide the congregation, not dictate to it.
Yet here’s a contradiction: Kennedy insists that while St Mary’s is about the community rather than him, his presence there is vital. “This community will die when I leave,” he says. “After that, they will either appoint a priest who’ll toe the line and deliver exactly the Mass they want, which will mean a lot of people will leave, or it will be absorbed into another parish.”
Interestingly, the two men in this increasingly bitter theological struggle are not all that different from each other. Kennedy, 70, and Bathersby, 72, have known each other for 50 years, since they were schoolboys together at Brisbane’s Nudgee College who then entered the seminary at Banyo in Brisbane’s northern suburbs in the early ’60s.
Both men are from well-known Queensland families. Kennedy’s brother is Brisbane company director Jim Kennedy, who has served on the boards of corporate giants such as Qantas, the Queensland Investment Corporation and Suncorp, as well as many federal and state statutory authorities in his long business career.
The Bathersbys are not quite as starkly divided between God and Mammon, but they arc a well-known family on the Darling Downs, and John Bathersby’s brother Michael is a prominent solicitor in the border town of Stanthorpe. They are an old-style Catholic family, big on horse racing, rugby league and the ALP – the Bathersbys stuck with the ALP after the split of the ’50s.
Both Jim Kennedy and Michael Bathersby have stood for parliament as ALP candidates.
Peter Kennedy and John Bathersby travelled on similar paths throughout the ’60s, with Kennedy a traditional young priest. He laughs now that he took a full Latin Mass at St Mary’s shortly after he was ordained. “To do that I had to face the sanctuary and turn my back on the people,” he says. “I couldn’t do that now.”
Kennedy’s turning point came in the early ’80s when he was appointed chaplain to Brisbane’s Boggo Road jail, (which closed in 1989). St Mary’s came with the jail appointment, and an indication of the church’s size then was that the prison congregation was larger than that of St Mary’s.
For Kennedy, being prison chaplain was a radicalising experience; he became closer to his charges in the wake of jail riots, when he identified that his mission in life was to help the outcasts in much the same way Jesus had.
He started to apply these principles to St Mary’s, with one of the first changes being to rearrange the furniture to the format around the table rather than facing the sanctuary.
Old-style Catholics found Kennedy’s modifications hard to cop, but many of the area’s newer residents thought it was refreshing that a Catholic church was prepared to change to blend in with the local community.
The changes in the church reflected the suburb around it, as South Brisbane, like most inner-city suburbs around Australia, was being transformed. Once a working-class area, the ’80s brought an influx of students attracted by cheap rents in old houses near the city and the university. When the students graduated, many bought houses in the area and started families.
Karyn Walsh, a parishioner at St Mary’s who is also president of the Queensland Council of Social Service, is typical of this influx. She has been attending St Mary’s almost since Peter Kennedy started in 1982 and has seen – and been a part of – most of the changes there. “I could probably go to the odd friendly Mass at another church, but I couldn’t see myself ever having an involvement with another church as I do with St Mary’s,” she says.
“There’s the whole issue of women for a start – there are hardly any other churches in which women can play such a major role. I like the public nature of our stand and the way we support gay people and indigenous people. We also have many victims of childhood sexual abuse by the clergy who attend St Mary’s because they feel comfortable here. It’s very nurturing, personally and spiritually.”
What is especially galling to Walsh and many others at St Mary’s is that Bathersby has not been to the church himself but acted only after he received correspondence from the Vatican about it.
And for the Vatican to act, they too must have received complaints from people who have been to the church.
The level of paranoia inside St Mary’s has risen considerably in recent months. There is talk of “spies” secretly filming services on hidden video cameras and quietly lurking in the shadows. And some of the fear is justified: video of baptisms and services has appeared on YouTube, supposedly to show that Kennedy or Terry Fitzpatrick did not use the correct form of words in a service or when conducting a baptism.
Bathersby says he acted on a range of complaints he received directly. “They’re not all right-wingers, you know, they’re just people concerned about what’s happening there.”
One man who did complain to the Vatican is Richard Stokes, who lives 50km away but says he began to go to the church because it is close to his work in South Brisbane. Stokes says he has nothing against Father Kennedy or any of the practices at St Mary’s but was concerned that it wasn’t a true Catholic service.
“Peter Kennedy can preach whatever he likes and the people there can do whatever they like, but it’s not a Catholic service,” he says.
Stokes wrote early last year to Archbishop Bathersby and got only an acknowledgement but no substantive reply, so he and “like-minded friends” started visiting St Mary’s last year to gather “evidence” to send to Rome.
In one celebrated incident last October, Stokes had a mobile phone on which he was taking pictures knocked from his hand by Kennedy while he was conducting a baptism. Stokes said then
that he wanted an accurate record of the sort of practices being undertaken at St Mary’s so he could send it to the Vatican – at the time he claimed that Kennedy “smote” him.
Kennedy’s response was that his main concern was for the child being baptised and their family – they didn’t really need to be put on YouTube or used in evidence against the church.
Stokes stresses that, while he acted with other people, there were no priests in the group and they were not an organised group within the Church such as Opus Dei. He said the package sent to the Vatican contained hundreds of photographs of the inside of the church and sound recordings of some of the services.
Bathersby main complaint against St Mary’s is simply that it does not conform to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
He even doubts that some of the congregation believe in God. “I mean, that’s non-negotiable, the belief that Jesus our saviour was the Son of God, but there are some over there still wrestling with that, and they pander to them. They are not teaching what I would regard as Catholic doctrine or orthodoxy within the Catholic Church.”
But the lack of a formal process to examine exactly what is happening at St Mary’s means that some of the information that Bathersby has been given is wrong.
The incident that sparked the Archbishop’s first letter to Father Kennedy in August last year was an allegation that a statue of Buddha had been placed in the church. This was smashed with a hammer by a visitor to St Mary’s, but the statue in question was of a praying monk, not Buddha.
One of the main allegations is that baptisms do not refer to the “Father, Son and Holy Ghost” but instead to “the Creator, the Liberator, the Sustainer”. Kennedy says both terms are now used in baptisms after an earlier complaint.
Bathersby says there are doubts about the validity of many of the baptisms performed at St Mary’s and he will soon nominate a day when baptisms can be performed at St Stephen’s Cathedral and certificates issued to concerned parents or adult converts because invalid baptisms must be “corrected”.
But Bathersby won’t attend St Mary’s to see for himself what is happening as he feels that if he did so, that would “legitimise” the church. “I mean, they sit there and tell me to go jump, then say: ‘Come over here and see what we’re doing,’” says Bathersby. “What would I do, be paraded around?”
Peter Kennedy says he only wishes that the Brisbane archbishop would cross the Brisbane River to come to a service at St Mary’s. “I know John Bathersby, he’s a spiritual man,” says Father Kennedy. “If he could see for himself what’s happening here, I know he wouldn’t be doing this.”