April 26, 2009 | Graham

The caravan moves on

I’ve been following the St Mary’s saga with detached interest. Having once been to a mass there I found the service powerful, but I’ve been fascinated that Peter Kennedy thought that he could stay there as a Catholic priest at the same time as he defied and criticised the church.
So when Mark Bahnisch suggested I go with him to the 6:30 Vigil Mass last Saturday, the first under the new dispensation, I was keen to see exactly how the hierarchy would deal with its prodigal parish.
The indications are that while Kennedy obviously had a large following, many of whom have moved with him to the Trades and Labor Council building, the parish will continue as a viable entity, probably retaining much of its character.
One of the parishioners joked with us that the only difference between a “liturgist” and a terrorist was that you could negotiate with a terrorist. He described the new administrator of the parish Ken Howell, who is also the dean of Brisbane’s St Stephen’s Cathedral, as a good liturgist.
So, perhaps St Mary’s wasn’t so far outside the Pale, because it appears to me to have retained many of the practices that it had under the old dispensation. And if Howell is such a stickler for the traditions, then they seem to have been able to be sufficiently flexible to accommodate many of the innovations. The altar is still in the centre of the church, and the pews are grouped around it. Before the service there was an acknowledgement of the prior aboriginal owners of the land. The Aboriginal flag is still flying outside the church as well. Individuals were invited to come up and offer their own prayers during that part of the service.
I think there would have been 100 people there. That compares favourably with the 50 to 60 or so who front to the 9:00 o’clock service at my Anglican church most Sundays, and that is our major service, so you’d have to think the parish should be financially viable. Talking to some of the other members of the congregation after the service it was obvious that a significant number of people had attended out of curiosity or solidarity, as we had, so it is hard to say how many might have been regulars or not.
There was a degree of charming disorganisation. Mark, not a parishioner at this stage, although he used to be and promises to return, was asked to read the prayers of the people just before the service. And Fr Howell admitted at communion that he hadn’t quite thought through the logistics of how the congregation would circulate, and he also had to ask for additional ministers for the wine.
He had also brought some of the resources of the cathedral to bear, with the organist and the cantor both visitors from across the river. It was a simple and elegant service with some sung responses.
Fr Howell dealt with the issues fairly directly, and during the prayers of the faithful one of the parishioners rose to pray about those who had left. It was unclear whether he was in sympathy or not, but it seemed important that he said what he did and that it was allowed to happen.
While Mark spotted someone at the door wearing a St Mary’s in exile T-shirt, the closest we got to a disturbance was just before the reading of the Gospel, when a woman came into the church demanding that someone move their car from across the driveway so she could get home for her dinner!
The Roman Catholic church is the strongest of the Christian denominations in Australia. This is despite them seeming to have a greater shortage of priests and ministers than the rest of us. That suggests that the pull of their organisation is much stronger than it is in the other churches where it is fairly common for worshippers to move between denominations.
In which case it will be interesting to see how Kennedy’s defectors fare over time as St Mary’s continues, demonstrating that it is not the church that is in exile, just some former members of its congregation.

Posted by Graham at 6:10 pm | Comments (5) |
Filed under: Religion


  1. Nice piece, Graham – a fair assessment I think. I thought it was a really nice liturgy so I’m looking forward to following the parish’s progress in the future. And worshipping there!

    Comment by Mark Bahnisch — April 26, 2009 @ 9:15 pm

  2. Well I suppose it is one step at a time cleaning up St Marys starting with the priest. Maybe down the track they can straighten out the furniture and liturgy further. Once those who went far out of their way to go to St Mary’s because it was so in revolt realise that it is Catholic again, I predict they will drift away. Maybe to more progressive nonCatholic churches. Then the parish will get things back true to the faith. If the only thing that changes is the priest and not the practices then a little (or a lot) more cleaning up will be required… It will be interesting to see how the clean up develops. Keep us posted.

    Comment by Joe — April 26, 2009 @ 9:28 pm

  3. You’ll have to rely on Mark for your updates Joe. I doubt whether I’ll be back to St Mary’s for a while. While I’m fond of Catholicism for sentimental reasons – 10 years of going to Catholic schools, and generally being the only protestant in the class – I’d forgotten the unconscious arrogance of many Catholics.
    One lady was very concerned to let me know that she had noticed I didn’t take communion, but that I could have a blessing if I wanted. I felt like asking her why I would want a blessing from an organisation that withholds communion from me, because despite being a practicing Christian, I’m not their particular brand.
    If she were at my church, or most others I’ve been to, she would have been invited to take communion, even though not a member of the church.
    But of course I held my tongue.

    Comment by Graham Young — April 27, 2009 @ 9:09 am

  4. Like Mark I too have been there and like you I have been following the story. It was rather amazing that someone who claimed that he didn’t believe in a deity (an atheist?) and who was so hostile to the Catholic religion and system demanded the right to have the role of priest in a Catholic Church.
    It would not surprise me if virtually nothing changes except the priest and the hostility toward the Catholic Church. Kennedy manipulated concern people have about the Catholic Church and pretended to have a monopoly on addressing them. Even the Church layout can be found in other Brisbane parishes.
    I strongly suspect that the Archbishop only had a problem with an atheist running the show and taking every opportunity to hiss at the Church. A normal priest running the same community probably would be tolerated.
    Your title was extremely apt. Kennedy sure was turning the situation into a circus.

    Comment by Deni — April 29, 2009 @ 12:50 pm

  5. I am amazed, at the amazement of people who thought the catholic church was going to react differently….. I grew up in the catholic faith, and I suppose I am what you would call a semi-lapsed catholic.
    If Peter Kennedey, wants to have an eclectic multi-faith, new age congregation that has a real sense of community and does good works, then I applaud him!! However his teachings and practice now fall outside those of the catholic church.
    If he was an imman who wanted to preach at a mosque but questioned the literal meaning of the qoran or the teaching that mohameed was the final prophet, I doubt he would last very long in his post. I doubt he would last very long at all, as he would be branded an apostate and subject to the penalty of death under sharia law.
    Archbishop Bathersby was more than fair and tolerant in his handling of this issue with in the confines of the fundamental teachings of the catholic faith.
    To use another analogy, it would be like the Broncos, being an NRL franchise, and deciding that they wanted to unilaterally change the rules of the game to suit their local supporters (10 tackles, no offside rule, etc, etc…) it just wouldn’t happen.
    The outcome of Fr Kennedy moving premises and becoming plain old, Peter, is the right and fair outcome.

    Comment by Chris — May 10, 2009 @ 2:58 pm

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