Brisbane: renegade parish to fly right or be shut down

There is quite a stir in Brisbane, Australia.

Apparently St. Mary’s parish is competing with St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis for most "Weirdest Parish Tolerated".

St Mary’s Church told to toe Vatican line or be shut down

By Margaret Wenham

August 25, 2008 12:00am

THE death knell has sounded for St Mary’s South Brisbane after Archbishop John Bathersby warned the church to toe the Vatican line or shut down

In a three-page letter delivered to parish priest Father Peter Kennedy on the weekend, Archbishop Bathersby said St Mary’s was operating outside practices and policies acceptable to the Roman Catholic Church.

Matters came to a head after a parishioner claimed the church contained a small statue of a Buddhist monk praying.

The church – where women can preach, homosexual couples can be blessed and social justice is championed – has a congregation of about 700 that would be the envy of many parishes.  [Notice that the writer seems to be supporting the parish.]

About 300 church members at Sunday morning’s Mass listened stunned as Fr Kennedy read out excerpts from Archbishop Bathersby’s ultimatum.

"The question for me," the Archbishop wrote, "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."

He cited a number of issues including allegedly unorthodox masses being practised and the hierarchical authority of the Church not being respected.

If the church were forced to close by the Brisbane Archdiocese it would be a first for the Catholic Church in Australia.

"In reality St Mary’s South Brisbane has taken a Roman Catholic parish and established its own brand of religion," he said. "Undoubtedly it does good, it promotes a strong sense of community, opens its doors to all who wish to come, but its own style of worship and sacramental practice can hardly be described as Roman Catholic."  [And that makes a difference.]

In 2004 St Mary’s incurred the Archbishop’s ire after a disaffected person reported baptismal liturgies were being changed slightly[Slightly?  It seems to me that they were using an invalid baptismal formula.]

The Archbishop’s intervention this time was sparked by complaints made directly to The Vatican by a conservative parishioner who raised several issues, including the Buddhist monk statue[Notice that a person had recourse directly to the Holy See and that sparked action.]

The little figure – which has since been stolen from the church and smashed – was provided for a Buddhist meditation group which meets weekly in St Mary’s.

Fr Kennedy said the first meeting of the church community to discuss the church’s future would be held tonight.

Asked whether he was hopeful St Mary’s could resolve the issues to the Archbishop’s satisfaction, he said: "I’m not particularly hopeful myself, but it’s up to the community … they will find the right solution.[What leadership!]

Archbishop Bathersby has not set a deadline for the church. He told The Courier-Mail he not only needed to tell Rome what action had been taken, but also wanted time for personal reflection and prayer on the matter.

Having only just communicated his views to the St Mary’s congregation, he expected they would need "a bit of time to seriously consider the situation".

The Archbishop’s letter is worth reading: interesting!

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  1. Richard says:

    Enough games. Shut it down already.

  2. W. Schrift says:

    Is this the same church with the “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” invalidity issue?

  3. TomG says:

    His Excellency is in need of a proofreader: there are some grammatical howlers in his missive. Or maybe we need to translate from the Australian.

  4. TJM says:

    Sounds like St. Joan of Arc, southern hemisphere. When I saw the headline I first thought it was going to be about the gay parish in San Francisco. The authoress is obviously biased and, hence, not an objective source. Tom

  5. Andy Milam says:

    Apparently the ghost of Harvey Eagan is carrying on…..Seriously though, it baffles me that Catholics don’t want to be Catholic. They have this misguided sense of “action.” While I would hold the parishoners who are actively participating as being culpable, I hold the pastor even more accountable, precisely because it is his responsibility to make sure things like this don’t happen.

  6. Sean says:

    I applaud the bishop for doing something, but everything he wrote seems so measured, “pastoral,” nuanced. This parish has been dismissing the bishop, rejecting Catholic teaching, and performing invalid sacraments–they must be shut down, for the good of souls.

    It is high time for bishops to grow backbones and lay down the law.

  7. Fr. Angel says:

    Fr. Z:

    Interesting letter, indeed, from His Excellency. I have in my mind the lion from the “Wizard of Oz” trembling and blathering, with tail in hand, as he goes to meet the wizard. The Archbishop is so afraid of this community that he practically apologizes that their Buddhist statue was smashed! LOL

    One does not know whether to be furious with His Excellency for the lack of resolve or to give the guy a hug and tell him, “there, there, it will be all right.” Maybe as a boy on the playground, he got beat up once too many times by bullies and now doesn’t know how to put his foot down and stand up for himself and the Church.

    His Excellency should stop tripping over himself to be sweet and fluffy as a twinkie and lower the boom already. I practically needed an insulin shot to get through his letter. Prayers going up for the church in Australia, once a great success story of the spread of the Catholic faith.

  8. Joseph Dylong says:

    I have a question:

    Why cant the Bishop appoint a new Priest to that Parish, and if the Parionshiers defy the new Priest by engaging in practices that are schismatic, then the Priest and Bishop should look the doors to the Parish until such time it is feasible to re-open.

  9. TNCath says:

    In his letter to the parish, Archbishop Bathersby writes, “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 been directed against Pope John Paul II” Instead of whining about it, how about using some of that authority they don’t recognize and just close it down? Maybe that would get their attention? This may sound a bit extreme, but sometimes I wish we had bishops with the prowess of the late Cardinal O’Connell of Boston who, upon expelling the Sulpicians from the seminary in Brighton, ordered them to also dig up the bodies of the graves of their dead members and remove them from the cemetery there. Right or wrong, at least you knew who was running the show. In this case, I am not so sure. While I realize the Archbishop is bending over backwards to keep this group from being in scism, I am not so sure they care.

  10. James Isabella says:

    I don’t know what the history is between this parish and the bishop (an hence, probably shouldn’t even comment), but it appears that the bishop is trying to balance striking a line in the sand while heading off all the “…but the parish is doing so much good” people.

    While some have commented that the bishop is being a little too nice with his letter, I think it makes sense as a first step. He may save the parish, or at least some of the parishioners by starting off with honey. Only escalate it if they don’t respond.

    Let’s not call down fire from heaven (Luke 9:54) just yet. Give them (or at least some of them) time to pray and repent.

  11. Paul says:

    I went to have a look at their website but only found the Deanery one. Makes rather interesting viewing –

    All rather sad.

  12. TerryC says:

    I too do not understand why the archbishop doesn’t simply replace Fr. Kennedy and request that the bishop of Toowoomba recall F. Fitzpatrick to acocunt for his actions. A similar situation in the U.S. resulted in the removal of facilities from the priest involved.
    Why close down the parish? Obviously there are enough orthodox Catholics in the area to take this to both the dioceses and the Vatican, so obviously they want to see their parish correctly governed. Closing it down is the easy, not the pastoral response.

  13. Joseph Dylong says:

    Was smashing the Buddhist Statue a sin, considering its sacrilege to have it in a Catholic Church?

  14. TerryC says:

    “I went to have a look at their website but only found the Deanery one. Makes rather interesting viewing –”

    Not a Roman collar among them. Are they afraid someone will think they are priests?

  15. Scott W. says:

    Was smashing the Buddhist Statue a sin, considering its sacrilege to have it in a Catholic Church?

    My gut reaction is that it is about as much a sin as Our Lord driving the moneychangers out of the temple with a whip.

  16. Kradcliffe says:

    I agree that it makes sense for him to write a kind, patient, pastoral letter that charitably and clearly spells out what the problem is. Some people will recognize the truth of what he is saying, many will not. But, when he does impose his authority and shut down the parish, the faithful will understand why and not be scattered or lead astray by the dissenters.

  17. Joseph Dylong says:


  18. Joseph Dylong says:

    For those who dont have myspace, there seems to be no pews, what looks like black balloons in what looks like a funeral service or something else, dancing by indigenous. Also, for an ecumenical AIDS event, the altar is covered in a red ribbon.

  19. Sean says:

    The bishop has been in dialog with this parish since at least 2004, it is time to decisively act.

  20. Avus says:

    “..women can preach, homosexual couples can be blessed and social justice is championed…”

    All these abuses and it takes a small statue to get the Archbishop’s attention? How nice! Without any deadline it’s little more than public posturing to cover his butt.

    And yes, social justice becomes an abuse when it detracts from the real mission of the Church to save souls.

  21. Dominic says:

    How did the situation get so bad? Hasn’t there been a 3-yearly visitation? How long has the bishop been aware of problems, which he has refrained from addressing properly?

  22. Luke says:

    I may be in the minority but I found the Archbishop’s letter to be very inspiring. What a successor to the apostles! He does not wish to lose any of those entrusted to him, but makes it clear that they have, through their own actions, left his care. I was touched by the sorrowful tone at certain points. I was not struck by a saccharine tone but rather by words of sincere love.

    If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.


  23. Chironomo says:

    What a truly bizarre place! Went to the MySpace page… I too can’t understand what is the fascination of these people with being called “Catholic”… there are millions around the world satisfied with the label “Unitarian” or even “Spiritual”… do they just like the fancy building?

  24. Chironomo says:

    On another note… this is SO similar to the situation at Joan of Arc, and once again, the solution to the problem will be incredibly more difficult than if the Bishop had written such a letter when the first Woman started preaching, or when the first indigenous dancer began to shake their “groove-thing” down the center aisle… when such practices are allowed to continue, they become normative in the minds of the faithful, and when corrected after being allowed for so long, it gives the appearance of heavy-handedness.

  25. Sean says:


    He has been talking at them for 4 years. I am willing to bet that this letter will get as much response as his earlier ones have.

  26. James says:

    Okay, why complicate things? All the bishop has to do is suspend the offending priest and appoint a new pastor to clean things up.

  27. Joseph Dylong says:


    The difference between now and then is that this time Holt Mother Church in the Vatican is involved.

  28. Joseph Dylong says:

    Transcript from The World Today:

    ELEANOR HALL: A Catholic parish is fighting for its survival after being issued with a “please explain” letter by the Archbishop of Brisbane.

    Parishioners from St Mary’s at South Brisbane admit that their church is unconventional.

    Members of the congregation stand around the altar for mass, there are women preachers and gay couples receive blessings. And according to the Archbishop of Brisbane, these practices separate the parish from communion with Rome.

    In Brisbane, Donna Field reports.

    DONNA FIELD: With a congregation of 700 St Mary’s South Brisbane is a Catholic church that’s thriving. But it’s not winning fans at head office.

    JOHN BATHERSBY: I’ve asked them to, more or less, work out whether they want to be in communion with the Roman Catholic church or whether they want to stay as they are. I haven’t put a time frame on it.

    I know they’re having a meeting tonight. I would hope that wisdom will prevail as they discuss these very, very important matters.

    DONNA FIELD: Brisbane’s Catholic Archbishop John Bathersby.

    He’s written a three-page letter to St Mary’s parish priest, Father Peter Kennedy.

    In it he says St Mary’s South Brisbane has taken a Roman Catholic parish and established its own brand of religion. He says undoubtedly it does good, promoting community, opening its doors to all who wish to come, but its own style of worship and sacramental practice can hardly be described as Roman Catholic.

    JOHN BATHERSBY: In the area of liturgy they make their own particular rules in regard to the way in which we worship god.

    Now Rome itself has set certain requirements about worshipping God, about the prayers we can say or the prayers we can’t say at that particular time.

    DONNA FIELD: In his letter the Archbishop mentions a Buddhist statue that was displayed in the church. He says that just doesn’t make sense. But he doesn’t specify other church practices that make St Mary’s unique – like allowing women to preach and giving blessings to homosexuals.

    Brian O’Halloran has been worshipping at St Mary’s for nearly 30 years. He admits the church isn’t conventional.

    BRIAN O’HALLORAN: Nothing tragically or revolutionary, heretical or anything like that. That is why I am finding it hard to answer your question.

    But the mass itself, we stand around the altar or the table. We don’t sort of have the mass up the front of the church and everyone sitting in pews.

    When we come to the celebration of the Eucharist, we come and stand around the table and the priest conducts the sacrifice of the mass from there.

    DONNA FIELD: What about the involvement of women? Do women play more of a role than they would in other Catholic churches?

    BRIAN O’HALLORAN: Probably.

    DONNA FIELD: And what about…are homosexual couples blessed in your church?

    BRIAN O’HALLORAN: Yes, well that is not done as a ceremony and it is not done by the church community but there are homosexual people and couples who participate in the celebration of the church.

    DONNA FIELD: And you don’t see that that is out of line with Rome?

    BRIAN O’HALLORAN: On the contrary, we would see that very, very much as the way that Jesus acted in his mission.

    DONNA FIELD: Mr O’Halloran says St Mary’s is just a dynamic Catholic church and its practices are in keeping with Vatican II.

    BRIAN O’HALLORAN: The church isn’t just something that stands still. It evolves.

    DONNA FIELD: But the clock is ticking for St Mary’s. There’ll be a meeting at the church tonight to discuss the Archbishop’s letter and his request that the church conform.

    Archbishop Bathersby says the church’s future is in its parishioners’ hands.

    JOHN BATHERSBY: It’s their own option in a way. I mean they either want to belong to the Roman Catholic Church or want to establish a church of their own.

    ELEANOR HALL: That is Brisbane’s Catholic Archbishop John Bathersby ending Donna Field’s report.

  29. James Isabella says:

    “He has been talking at them for 4 years. I am willing to bet that this letter will get as much response as his earlier ones have.”

    You might be right (about their response), but – I think – this is the first time he’s drawing a line in the sand, and forcing them to make a decision. I’m not saying he shouldn’t assert his authority, but he needs to start off charitably and humbly with this, otherwise he will just entrench them further.

  30. patrick f says:

    There is one roman collar down there…the Last priest, its that less common white shirt/collar setup.

    If Priests refuse to act like priests, how is a parish supposed to “get it”? Thank the good Lord, that the new crop of priests coming out atleast in the St. louis diocese, are regarded as very orthodox, and in time will replace people like these.

    I think from our own experience in St. louis, just simply replacing the priest doesnt get the job done. The parish has from what I seen become so gridlocked, that nothing short of Excommunication will get a response, and that is exactly what got things moving in St. louis.

    Just curious, does this place have a “Lay Board” ? We have one parish in st louis that all the lay board did was bully their way into a position of supposed power.

  31. Bob says:

    Amazingly, that church appears to have its high altar and communion rail intact, as well as a number of statues.

  32. Joseph Dylong says:


    Are you getting the Anglican Saint Marys Brisbane mixed up with the Catholic one.

    Catholic Schism one:


  33. Sean says:

    What has put my feathers in a ruffle is that this bishop has been talking at them for four years when they were administering invalid baptisms. The bishop should have shut down the parish so that parents would have to baptize their children with a priest using the proper formula (or brought in another priest to that parish).

    Baptism is kinda an important sacrament, don’t ya think??

  34. Ricardo Aleixo says:

    I am absolutely sure in saying, that the people who sacrificed to build this church in ages past would be outraged, not to mention horrified that this house of prayer has been turned into a circus of sacrilege!!

  35. Fr. Angel says:

    Joseph Dylong:

    Bob has it correct. The Catholic parish, not the Anglican one, has removed all of its pews and put a wooden table in the middle to give a pleasant, picnic feel to Mass.

    However, the beautiful marble, high altar, sanctuary, and communion rail are still intact, with a gorgeous tabernacle flanked by beautiful marble angels. Also, all the niches till have their traditional, pre-Vatican II statues and even the traditional 14 Stations of the Cross have been untouched.

    The pastor who built the church and adorned it had beautiful tastes, and the present incumbant has thankfully spared all the beauty from wreckovation. The Fraternity could go in there tomorrow and with a mere addition of pews, and Mass cards on the High Altar, have a beautiful setting for the Tridentine Mass.

  36. Fr. Angel says:


    As you said, this is what blows the mind. The dialogue, with exchange of letters, has been going on for four years. Even now, we read that the letter (heaven forbid) should not be seen as an ultimatum because there is no “time frame.”

    In other words, St. Mary’s has been put on an ecclesial “time out” so that they can “figure out” what they want to do. If they understand that this is their “bad” then the dialogue will continue until they sort out their identity. If they do not understand that they are being bad, then ….. the dialogue will still continue, but with the understanding that their archbishop is very, very displeased with their ignoring him but happy that they are such a wonderful, vibrant, inclusive, tolerant, and justice oriented community of faith and spiritual affirmation.

  37. Joseph Dylong says:

    Fr Angel

    Indeed, I just noticed, its shocking considering what they are doing!

  38. Luke says:

    I guess what I\’m trying to say is that if I had a pastoral responsibility for these people, my mind would be on the millstone more than the gavel. While orthodoxy and orthopraxis are necessary, orthodoxy at its best comes through teaching.

    It is entirely possible that the parish council will continue with business as usual and in that case the Archbishop has made it clear that they have cut themselves off from Holy Church. But the persistent kind tone of the Archbishop may inspire some of the fence-sitting members to find a legitimately Catholic parish. And if there are members of the parish orthodox enough to report the abuses to the Vatican, then there must certainly be more moderate members who could be swayed.


  39. tertullian says:

    Actually, if you think about it,these two “priests” are quite clever, assuming it was their intent all along to create their own “church”.Do you have any idea how much it costs today to go out and build a church from scratch? They saw a shortcut and seized it.Given the years they’ve been there,and the little pain they’ve felt for their actions, it looks like they’ve pulled it off.

  40. Jane says:

    The sooner this parish is closed down the better. I am an Australian who lives in Sydney and when our family went to the north coast of New South Wales to a beach location for a holiday in February of this year, we had to endure a couple of awful parishes for the month. This one even further north in Queensland is rock bottom.

    Why is the archbishop of Brisbane so slow in acting. The letter should have been to inform the parish that they are being closed down, not to warn them to be in tune with the Church. They are obviously too far gone for that!

  41. Matt says:

    Quick note, if the FSSP is to move in, perhaps they should consider having the Bishop reconsecrate the whole place (throwing in some extra exorcisms perhaps).

    God Bless!

  42. An Actual Queenslander says:

    This comes from an Queenslander commenting on the state of CHurch in his home state.

    Queensland is the worst state in Australia, and one of the worst in the world on various Catholic issues.

    ABJB is notoriously weak and wishy-washy. The Liturgy Office is run by progressive barbarians – go to the Cooees from the Cloister blog for various details, or just look at what they did to St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

    The traditional mass is celebrated by only one priest on a regular basis – in the whole of the state. (I have heard that the Pauline fathers celebrate it every so often).

    ACU in Queensland has has lecturers proposing the old story about Mary being raped by a Roman soldier as the true story behind the Virgin Birth.

    Catholic Education results in students knowing everything but Catholicism.

    Bishop Morris of Toowoomba has been known to celebrate Mass in a clown suit, and has been quoted in support of actively gay priests, women priests et al. The cup of tea after mass at the Toowoomba cathedral is served in the cathedral itself, within about five to ten metres of the sanctuary.

    Liturgical nonsense of every stripe is occuring in almost every parish.

    Many of students at Campion College Australia (a vibrant ex corde ecclesia Liberal Arts college with strong connections to FSSP) consider themselves as ‘refugees’ from Queensland.

    However, to be fair, there is a shortage of priest and the hierarchy doe have a good solid orthodox position on life matters, social justice issues, ethics and morality.

    This may come across as a rave but it is not meant as one. The issues raised is simply the ways thing are in this state.

    The besetting sins of Queensland, not just on religious issues but also on arts and politics etc., are braindead stupidity, ignorance and complacency. This is the state that has the longest serving mayor in the Southern Hemisphere, and a premier that ruled for about twent years uncocntested.

    It is possible that Bathersby’s recent experience at World Youth Day (and the comparison with the Lambeth comference, which he also attended) plus the Vatican’s steady pressure has galvanised him to reclaim his Catholicism. I hope so.

    Please pray for us.

  43. Dion says:

    Coincedentally I re-read several of the Epistles last night, including those of St Paul, St John, St Jude and St John Men who were in constant danger of martyrdom. How could the clear abuses of 2,000 years re-emerge today, without any sanction? Why does the Archbishop wait? Why do we have Bishops’ Conferences when they do not address clear cases of heresy or schism? How many souls have to be imperilled before this nonsense is undone? To have to invoke Rome is a clear indictment on the local authorities. When the shepherds are asleep whom do we call upon?

  44. Martin says:

    “He cited a number of issues including – allegedly- unorthodox masses being practised and the hierarchical authority of the Church not being respected.”

    In my tiny grasp of cannon law it would seem that as the Bishop is the judge if he said it is so then it is not “alleged” but true.

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