Parish “out of communion”: Bathersby

28 Aug 2008

By The Record

By Anthony Barich
An entire parish in Queensland has effectively excommunicated itself through liturgical abuses and the placing of a Buddhist statue in its church, says Archbishop John Bathersby of Brisbane.

Archbishop John Bathersby of Brisbane

In an August 22 three-page letter to Fr Peter Kennedy, administrator of St Mary’s parish in South Brisbane, the archbishop said that it has rejected apostolic authority, and in doing so has put itself “out of communion with the Roman Catholic Church”.
He said that his authority as archbishop in the Archdiocese of Brisbane is “scarcely recognised” by the parish, which he noted is “not unusual considering that criticism at St Mary’s has been directed against Pope John Paul II”.
He said that an underlying criticism of the Church seems to flourish in the parish, but said that that despite its faults and failings, “Catholics know that the supreme meeting place with Jesus is in the (Catholic) Church”.
He said that “ad hoc” decisions have been made by St Mary’s about liturgy, “certainly with the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, marriage and especially the Eucharist”, and that some marriages seem to take place “without the slightest respect for Canon Law”.
“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,” the archbishop wrote.
Though the parish originally began in communion with the Archdiocese and the Roman Catholic Church, “sadly that communion of St Mary’s with the Church no longer seems to exist”.
“St Mary’s exists independently of the Archdiocese. My hope is that once again St Mary’s will place itself back in communion with the Roman Catholic Church to which it was originally linked and in which it rejoiced,” he said.
“In reality, St Mary’s Brisbane has taken a Roman Catholic parish and established its own brand of religion. (The parish) seems to be an authority unto itself.
“Therefore we might well ask is it a parish in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, or a community in schism?
“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.”
He added that the parish, which has a congregation of about 700 according to Brisbane’s Courier Mail newspaper, also has governance problems.
Archbishop Bathersby said that while Fr Kennedy was legitimately appointed as parish administrator, Fr Terry Fitzpatrick, who is listed on the parish’s website as “priest-in-residence”, has never been appointed to St Mary’s.
“Despite his lack of authority, on numerous occasions he has spoken to the media about St Mary’s as if he were the parish priest,” the prelate said, adding that the parish tends to be “congregational in governance and culture”.
Trouble has been brewing as early as 2004, when the archbishop questioned whether a parish that changes the structure of the sacraments could remain part of the universal Church.
The archbishop’s 2004 comments came after a concerned grandparent told him that Fr Kennedy and Fr Fitzpatrick changed the words of baptism from “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” to “Creator, Liberator and Sustainer”.
The archbishop declared the baptisms invalid and instructed Fr Kennedy to use only the valid baptismal formula.
Though the priest had reportedly said he did not believe the baptisms were invalid, the parish had told the archbishop ‘some time ago’ it would use the traditional words.
Things came to a head recently when a parishioner reportedly stole a small statue of Buddhist monk praying and smashed it to pieces.
While the archbishop condemned the violent act, he said that placing such a statue in a Christian church confused the notion that Jesus Christ is actually “Lord and Saviour”, not “just another prophet like Buddha or Mohammed”.
“Only extreme recklessness would place a Buddhist statue in a Christian church,” he said.