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St Mary's 'beyond compromise'


When the South Brisbane parish of St Mary's made public its response to Archbishop Bathersby's letter of 22 August 2008 asking them to reassure him on some matters of faith and practice, I found myself very disappointed, in spite of being sympathetic to at least some of their concerns.

Since then surprisingly little thought has been given to the parish's written response to the Archbishop.

It seems to me to be badly put together, with no evidence of theological awareness; it has careless errors, including misspelling the name of a Latin document, strange ways of referencing documents, and the illusion that Galileo was excommunicated.

But I was disappointed by more substantial matters.

The letter seems to go out of its way to avoid claiming that baptisms are now fully orthodox: baptisms now 'include' the Trinitarian formula; and 'Rome's preferred words' are used 'at' Baptism' — not 'for' Baptism.

Regarding priesthood, the parish claims they 'focus not on what, if anything, is different between priest and lay'; this absolutely disparages the ancient distinction (reiterated in Lumen Gentium, which they cite in this context) between the ordained priesthood and the priesthood of the laity. (The question is not whether St Mary's is right, but whether they share Rome's position.)

The letter defends the parish's liturgical practices on the grounds that preserving any distinction between priest and people is to be non-accepting. This sets the bar rather high, as if all distinctions imply rejection. One hopes the crowd at a cricket international don't feel rejected because they aren't invited to lunch with the teams or to join Richie Benaud in the commentary box.

It seems to me that the appeal of St Mary's, as a mark of their membership, to the things they do well (about which there is much admiration and no concern) is an insult (unconscious, no doubt) to other people of good will and good works who would spurn the title Roman Catholic.

Moreover, it is an implied criticism of every other Catholic parish in the country to insist that liturgy according to the Roman rite (especially where it touches belief) is so deficient that the present debacle is a price worth paying.

The most disappointing aspect of all, however, is a naïve or cynical approach to evidence.

The parish is making much of the words Pope Benedict used at Lourdes, speaking to the bishops of France: 'Everyone has a place in the church. Every person without exception should be able to feel at home and never rejected.' The immediate context was his encouragement of the Latin Mass, and his next topic was marriage and family, which included the statement that 'initiatives aimed at blessing irregular unions cannot be admitted'.

It would be hard to find a clearer example of disregard for meaning or intention, unless it is where Cardinal Newman's support is claimed regarding the many channels of Apostolic tradition; he is prevented, mid-sentence, from continuing: 'granting at the same time fully that the gift of discerning, discriminating, defining, promulgating, and enforcing any portion of that tradition resides solely in the teaching Church'.

Similar comments apply to the appeal to Lumen Gentium regarding the priesthood of all believers, ignoring the insistence of paragraph 10 that the priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood 'differ from one another in essence and not only in degree'. (One could add, from Benedict at Lourdes, 'Where their specific missions are concerned, priests cannot delegate their functions to the faithful.')

In the light of all of this, the letter's reference to the parish's 'in-depth consideration' of Archbishop Bathersby's letter looks very thin. It seems to me that whoever wrote the letter, and Father Kennedy who signed it, found they had little to say to defend their orthodoxy.

I think it is tragic that the Church has refused to countenance ongoing discussion about homosexuality, women priests, and a host of other issues; and, worse, that it has tried to say the Scriptures are definitive on these things. I can't see how Rome is not undoing the work of Vatican II. But neither can I see how the stance taken by St Mary's over the words of Baptism and these other matters can advance the causes of religion or reason.

Since the parish letter, the secular press has done much to muddy the waters: it is their muddling that makes one hope that some statements recently attributed to Father Kennedy have been equally badly reported.

More than anything else, however, the parish letter remains for me the key reason why I believe the Archbishop is right to object. Earlier, I had hoped that compromise could be reached: since reading the published letter, I fear that the point of no return has been reached. I hope I am wrong.





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Existing comments

Why do critics of St Mary's and those cheering for greater orthodoxy in this matter generally, continue with the "sport" and "club-coach" type analogies to support their arguments? To do so is simplistic at best and a gross distortion at worst.Our Church is about faith and following the examples of Jesus,it is above being trivalised into a mere political or sporting power game.

Tom Cranitch | 23 February 2009  

"Advance the causes of religion or reason" - two things Jesus never set his sights on. How about "advance the causes of love and forgiveness"? Are we following Jesus anymore, or caught up in a heady world of dogma, doctrine and institutionalism?

Tim | 24 February 2009  

Why do misty images assail me of those angels dancing on the tip of a medieval pin? Forget the typos and the ridiculous ubiquitous cricket similes. Get with the creator, liberator and giver of light and hope.

Carmel Maguire | 24 February 2009  

is this guy a shill?

richard | 24 February 2009  

Is not the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath? And how can there be no hope? Isn't that what the Christian message is about? Or is it just a nonsense and corporate stricture the priority? Where's the fullness of life Jesus promised?

Hilary | 24 February 2009  

It is my hope that the the author of this article is a St Mary's Parishioner and speaking as a community member rather than yet another outside critic of a Parish embracing many broken people. Schools have policies and programs to ensure flexibility and compassion for students with "special needs". Surely the Church can be liberated and have enough heart in the spirit of the law to embrace the special needs within with flexibility? My experience of attention to the human experience at St Mary's is not much different to the Catholic Church I experienced in Papua New Guinea as a Lay Missionary in 1969 - also attentive to special needs. The vigilantes would have a field day if they looked further afield.

Narelle Mullins | 25 February 2009  

Great read this article, have been following the situation of St Mary's and I have concluded my thoughts by saying ,'you either are or you are not Catholic'. It's very simple, to somehow try to be totally different and yet say you are Catholic is like saying saying I,m Indian but I want my democratic rights upheld in America, it just does not make sense. And there is no problem if you don't want to be Catholic, no one is being forced.

After reading the letter sent to the Arch Bishop by Fr Kennedy and his parish of St Mary's I really feel he has 'lost the plot'. I wonder if the Buddist tradition would be happy with a temple having exposition of the blessed sacrament and evening rosary, the concepts are appearing that bizzare. As Catholic's we cannot be everything to everyone, we are Roman Catholic.

Robert Allen | 27 February 2009  

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