Sunday, March 29, 2009

St Mary's 4: The drama comes to a conclusion

I saw it on the ABC news on Friday night and yesterday's Courier Mail covers the story here. It appears an agreement has been reached by the St Mary's Council and the Brisbane Archdiocese. Peter Kennedy will give his last service at St Mary's on 19 April. Dean Ken Howell will assume responsibility from 20 April and will be given the keys at 8am on that date. The council itself will resign as at midnight of the 19th. A pdf of the agrement can be obtained here. (Since I first posted this piece the agreement has been taken down from the St Mary's website)

The agreement acknowledges that Peter Kennnedy has been dismissed and that the property belongs to the Archdiocese. I note that there is no mention of the other priest, Terry Fitzpatrick, in the agreement. My understanding is that he is not a priest of the Brisbane Archdiocese but still theoretically attached to Toowoomba. Presumably he's been on long term unpaid leave. I presume any role he has at St Mary's will come to an end. I don't imagine Ken Howell will want to continue Terry's 'hippy masses' as one person I know describes them. In my opinion they were neither hippy nor a mass but the person, who likes Peter Kennedy and wanted him to stay on, did not have the same feeling for Terry. I don't know if his Buddhist meditation group met at St Mary's. If it did it probably wont any longer as under the agreement "St Mary's shall be restored solely for Catholic worship and for such other complementary purposes that Dean Howell approves."

Under the agreement the Dean will have full access "to all the books and records of the parish" - I have heard all manner of allegations re the handling of the finances at St Mary's by Peter Kennedy. If half of what I've heard is true then it seems the parish was run as his own sinecure, more reminiscent of US tele-evangelists than anything else. And presumably Kennedy's bottled water business, Heavenly Drop, will no longer operate from the church.

Oddly, Micah Project is able to continue to operate from the church house until the end of June. Micah director, Karyn Walsh, was quoted in the ABC coverage on Friday night as saying that Micah would move from St Mary's at the end of June. I don't understand why that has to happen, unless, of course, the Archdiocese plans to appoint a new adminustrator who would once more live in the church house. It's important to note that St Mary's social justice reputation was based on two things: Micah Projects being based there and the Ozcare homeless men's hostel located next door to the church. Micah operates on a $5million budget and if every parish had something similar they would all be very much social justice parishes. The Ozcare hostel is very much a separate operation and while Ozcare came out of St Vincent de Paul it now seems to be a curious business welfare hybrid. (I was disturbed to hear reports that it is planning to relocate the hostel to Logan City and put its South Brisbane site to more commercial uses. If that's true it's absolutely outrageous and should be prevented if at all possible.)

As someone who used to attend St Mary's I find is very sad and all so unnecessary. What happened there was a case of priests being carried away with their own self-importance. Despite all the rhetoric of a new paradigm of a congregationally driven church, that was not true. It was no more than the reinscription of the old priestcraft model but under the sugar coated veneer of social justice concern and a progressive paradigm. But on what I've heard Peter Kennedy was not much different to George Pell in terms of controlling the show. And both Kennedy and Pell show the paucity of theological training for priests in the Australian Roman Catholic church. Terry Fitzpatrick's efforts are even more woeful. When I first went to St Mary's, Peter was doing a good job of transmitting some contemporary theological and biblical debates to the congregation there, surely part and parcel of what a priest should do. But as I would discover through my own studies, Peter got stuck and not only did not continue to follow the developments of these discourses, but himself eventually got sidetracked into such extraneous ideas as Eckhardt Tolle and other new age bourgeois thought. All so Benny Hinn, really. And in a sense St Mary's was turning into a kind of Catholic version of the wierd New Mystics and Latter rain phenomena that are so blighting US Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity today.

UPDATE On the ABC News tonight came the news that Peter Kennedy announcded today that he will continue his congregation outside of St Mary's church. He has accepted the offer of the Trades and Labor Council to use meetng space there for Sunday services. Kennedy calls it a community in exile. Effectively he's taking the Independent Catholic route. There really is no other option, although in his case I'd say it's more an Independent option as really there didn't seem to be much that was Catholic left in what Peter or Terry were doing. But going Independent has some implications. Peter has no other option but to seriously plan for the community's long-term survival which also includes a time beyond Peter. This fact also means that the community must look beyond Peter and towards the future. Whether it be a community in exile or an Independent community they have to decide what model they want and start instituting it. It can't just revolve around Peter, as it has been, or it will wither and die. Furthermore being part of the official church gave Peter an out when it came to implementing various possibilities such as women's ministry. He could always say that it was not possible as it would mean an open breach with the Church. The breach has happened now so there is no longer any cause to resist implementation. It all depends on what model of community they adopt - a more Protestant model or a more Catholic one. If the former there is nothing to prevent appointing women as ministers to lead the communion service. If the latter, then Peter can ordain women and men as deacons. He could even ordain them as priests given the extraordinary and emergency circumstances or he could seek assistance from other Independent Catholic denominations either to seek consecration as a bishop himself (or of someone else in the community) or to affiliate. There are two such denominations in Brisbane as well as the Liberal Catholic church. My advice to them would be to provide assistance , if asked, for the 'community in exile' to become self-sustaining rather than to affiliate with them. My concern is that Peter Kennedy has moved to the very edges of what it means to be Catholic and perhaps beyond. It might be better for this community in exile to remain its own entity and I suspect any such affiliation would not be a happy one. But, judging on the rhetoric so far of both Peter and Terry (will he likewise walk out and minister at the TLC?) they will probably not take any such Catholic route. My real concern is that this has already become a cult of Peter Kennedy and I note that on the ABC news report he couldn't resist once more comparing himself to Christ. And according to this report in the Brisbane Times there are members of the congregation who also compare him to Christ (taking too far the Roman position that the priest is alter Christus?). I also note from the report Peter's fantasy of buying the Cathedral (with his brother's money - he's a wealthy "director of a public company") so I suspect that any offers of supportive affiliation might lead to a takeover bid in return from these exiles.

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