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Archbishop Bathersby’s December 22 letter to the Administrator of St Mary’s Parish, South Brisbane

Addressed to Rev Fr Peter Kennedy at St Mary’s Catholic Parish, South Brisbane

Dear Peter,

Thank you for your letter written on the 30th November suggesting that the parish of St Mary’s, South Brisbane is in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. As you said the community of St Mary’s has sought proof of communion by means of discussion, debate, reflection, meetings, and workshops. Yet despite its best efforts St Mary’s has not yet adequately given proof of its communion with the Archdiocese of Brisbane and the Roman Catholic Church. Critical matters are overlooked in the report that makes it almost impossible for South Brisbane to be in communion. At no stage did I ever want the present drama to be played out in the media. That was a decision that you made, probably with the approval of the community. My first letter of the 22nd August received balanced and accurate publicity. My second of the 20th October received little publicity apart from the fact that I was seeking an answer by the 1st December. That answer arrived as a result of South Brisbane’s industry and application. However the significant problems indicated in my second letter received neither answer nor publicity. The problems that need to be addressed remain. They include:

1. The disregard of the Church’s demand that baptisms use only the traditional Trinitarian formula of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. After my complaint in 2004 I had been led to believe that no invalid formulas would be used again. In a public speech to South Brisbane you yourself admitted that you had not told me the full truth and that the formulas being used were not accepted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Despite St Mary’s boast that it welcomes all, its misuse of the baptismal formula has significant ecumenical implications.

2. Having initially changed the celebration of Eucharist at St Mary’s the parish then once again encouraged the congregation to proclaim the words of consecration and reject the use of vestments. Both actions are contrary to the liturgical norms required by the church.

3. The distribution at South Brisbane of “Jesus the Avatar” a chapter from the book, “God is Big. Real Big” written by Fr Peter Dresser of Coonamble NSW was extraordinary. The chapter claimed that Jesus was not Son of God and Saviour. When this news broke in the media Father Dresser immediately apologised for the article and disowned it. However no comment was made by South Brisbane. Even Lutwyche parish which was also using Dresser’s book immediately stopped its sale. That such an article could be distributed in South Brisbane and promoted by its leadership made me wonder how South Brisbane could possibly claim Communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The action raised a well founded suspicion among many people that South Brisbane was not a Christian community much less a Roman Catholic one.
4. Possibly to indicate that South Brisbane was on side with the Pope, St Mary’s filtered words from his address to the French Bishops on 14 September and printed them on a banner in front of the Church. It stated: “Everyone has a place in the Church. Every person without exception should be able to feel at home and never rejected.” These words of the Pope were taken selectively out of context. Delivered to the French Bishops at Lourdes the Pope’s statement largely promoted harmony between Catholics seeking the vernacular Mass and others seeking the Latin Mass. St Mary’s would hardly applaud the latter. In a paragraph adjacent to the words selected by South Brisbane the Pope stated: “It can never be said often enough that the priesthood is indispensable to the Church, for it is at the service of the laity. Priests are a gift from God for the Church. Where their specific missions are concerned, priests cannot delegate their functions to the faithful.” Those words are reinforced by the Catechism of the Catholic Church that states in no.1142 “The members of the Church do not all have the same function”. Certain members are called by God in and through the Church to a special service of the community. Those servants are chosen and consecrated by the sacraments of Holy Orders, by which the Holy Spirit enables them to act in the person of Christ the Head, for the service of all members of the Church.” Again such words would hardly be accepted by South Brisbane. In the paragraph immediately following, the Pope writes, “The Church, which cannot oppose the will of Christ, firmly maintains the principle of the indissolubility of marriage while surrounding with the greatest affection those men and women who, for a variety of reasons, fail to respect it. Hence initiatives aimed at blessing irregular unions cannot be admitted.” Again, such statements would hardly be approved by South Brisbane and yet words of the Pope are selectively chosen from the very same statement for the benefit of South Brisbane.

5. In the matter of faith it is frightening to hear that seven to nine hundred people attend the three liturgies at South Brisbane, yet there seems to be little instruction about Trinitarian theology. While it is admirable to read that St Mary’s focuses on social justice, its looseness of theology leaves much to be desired. St Mary’s boasts that it proclaims a Second Vatican Council vision. At the same time it seems to be caught in a time warp, rightly emphasising social justice but neglecting the theology that underpins it. It maintains strong belief about Jesus as carer of the poor but little emphasis about Jesus as Son of God, the second person of the Trinity made man. This vagueness about Christ’s communion in the Trinity is not true to Catholic faith. It suggests that one can be a Christian disciple of Jesus yet reject belief in the dogma of the Trinity and its implications. Ultimately all communion has to be linked to the union of love that exists in the Trinity. God as Trinity will always remain mystery but such mystery is undermined when Jesus is portrayed largely as a man of action overlooking his profound relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. I have mentioned before that in Luke 5:16 Jesus leaves sick and suffering people to pray to His Father because prayer lay at the very heart of His existence. For Him the will of the Father was paramount always. Also, regarding matters of Faith, some other statements in your report from St Mary’s are also puzzling. Of course they may be accidental mistakes e.g. pg 4 “We hear (of) readings from scriptures …..” Does the word “readings” refer to more than words of the Bible or do they include readings from other religious traditions? Again, the suggestion that the Church was congregational in the first 300 years of its existence does not sit easily with the leadership of Paul the Apostle as described in his letters. One could hardly define the early Church led by Paul as “congregational.”

Peter I appreciate your summing up of the statement delivered to me and your appeal to respect South Brisbane’s “decision to declare (themselves) to be in communion with the Catholic Church and a valid Catholic community”. Sadly the South Brisbane report cannot prove the reality it claims. Over many years South Brisbane has attacked the Church and Pope from the pulpit and attacked me, perhaps more gently, as Archbishop. Such attacks hardly indicate communion with the Church. At times I am treated with scant respect not including for the moment the abusive language of South Brisbane people directed at me over the past few months from the front gates of my house. In much of its communication South Brisbane seems inflexible about liturgical matters and in doing so seems determined to keep the parish out of communion with the Archdiocesan Church. There is not the slightest indication that South Brisbane will change its baptismal formula or Mass practice despite the fact that a significant number of people want that to happen. At the moment I do not wish to make a final statement regarding South Brisbane because I will be away from the Archdiocese in January and it would be unfair of me to make a statement that I cannot explain. When I return at the end of January I will seek to do so. I would like to thank all of those who have been involved in the report. Sadly however communion cannot possibly become a reality until the major questions are resolved, which leaves me with not a great deal of hope.

I would like to add that my actions are not driven by Roman Congregations. Rome is rightly aware of what is happening in South Brisbane but when I first heard the facts about St Mary’s I acted on my own behalf and will continue to do so. Most remarks I have received from South Brisbane are courteous and constructive. Some are rude and unhelpful, written by people who should know better.

My prayers and best wishes remain with the parish and I will most certainly pray to Mary the mother of Jesus, after whom the Church and parish are named, that she will ask God’s Holy Spirit to bring wisdom and courage to South Brisbane at this critical moment of its existence.

Sincerely in Christ

Most Rev John A Bathersby DD

December 22, 2008

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