Friday, May 15, 2009

Some more on St Mary's

It's been my hope to write about my recent return to Mass at St Marys over at Sth Brisbane but I've been sidetracked. During a spare moment between tutes this morning I checked out the St Mary's exiles website. It was there that I found a recent homily by Terry Fitzpatrick, the other priest associated with St Mary's, the one who's status was explicitly raised as an issue in Archbishop Bathersby's letter last year but the one you never hear about in the media.

The setting for this homily is that it's the first one in the new building, or at least their temporary space in Trades Hall. Terry's homily is your basic rah rah rally the troops type piece - we've walked out of our church and we've walked out of our Church and aren't we courageous, that type of stuff (and I don't doubt that, for some in the community, it was a courageous act on their part). Terry also does what any good leader does in such a situation and finds parallels for the community's experiences with a narrative from their central myth, in this case from one of the Gospel readings post-Easter. Terry makes an attempt to identify the community with the resurrected Christ (and, of course himself as a leader of the community too). But I was struck by this piece:

But look at my wounded hands and feet, says Jesus. The same wounded, marginalized, persecuted, crucified one is among you. We may then ask ourselves, "Is the same wounded, marginalized, persecuted ones among us at Micah and St Mary's in Exile? Is it not our stance with those same ones why we have been ostracized by the Institution?

Women, the voices of the feminine, who continue to be marginalized by the church,
people who are gay and lesbian or transsexual,
people who are of other faith traditions and cultures such as the Buddhist communities.

We continue to touch and see for ourselves that this same wounded one is amongst us, and with the disciples in that upper room who recognized Jesus.

Now I have several problems with this statement. The 'exiles' haven't been ostracized because they are standing with the persecuted. The exiles went into exile in support of the priests who had been rightly called to task for no longer celebrating the Eucharist in any recognisable form. So perhaps, Terry is claiming that he and Peter Kennedy have been persecuted and ostracized by the Institution and going further and claiming an identity with women and LGBT people and Buddhists (?!?) who have been marginalised by the Church.

Now Terry is a white, male, by all accounts very heterosexual priest. I have no idea of his class background but Peter Kennedy who is also white male etc was earlier this year bragging about his family's wealth, saying his brother could buy him a Cathedral. So whatever else, Peter is certainly upper class. And, of course as priests, they are very much up on the top levels of the Catholic pecking order and from what I hear they don't muck about with any false modesty when it comes to their priestly prerogatives.

Women and LGBT people are definitely marginalised by the official Church. I'm a gay man. I am very much aware of my own marginal status within the institution. I've lived with it all my life. Along with every other LGBT person I get regularly reminded of my marginality, most recently by the pathetic attempts to keep gay and bisexual men out of the priesthood through extraordinary psychological screening and profiling of priestly candidates. I also have to endure the constant heteronormative family imagery and language in official Church discourse, including at St Mary's in the past, too. And there's all other manner of ways the Roman Catholic Church like just about all the Churches marginalises LGBT people. Actually LGB people - trangender people don't even seem to be blip on the church's perceptual horizon. And women, generally, kept always on the fringe but always on hand to do the heavy lifting. Ordination anybody?

So, I make no apologies for saying that neither Terry or Peter have any understanding of what it means to be on the margins, none whatsoever. All that they've experienced is some diminution of privilege.

But what I'm really confused by is "people" marginalised "who are of other faith traditions and cultures such as the Buddhist communities."Are Buddhists any more marginalised by the Church institution than Catholics by the Sangha, for example? And why mention Buddhists? What about Jews (and if ever there's a tragic history, this is one) or Muslims or Hindus? Or, hell, why not mention indigenous Australians who were colonised and missionised and totally screwed over and are very definitely marginalised in both Church and society (including in St Mary's itself). Nope, just the Buddhists.

I don't understand except perhaps when I recall that Terry has been running a Buddhist meditation group at St Mary's for some time. So maybe this is another attempt of Terry's to claim a marginal status. Terry's been marginalised just like myself and my sister and indigenous and poor folk, except he's been marginalised because of his Buddhism. But hang on, Terry's a Catholic priest, how can he be a Buddhist? Well, he teaches Buddhist meditation anyway. Well, it's his version of Buddhist meditation anyway, picked up, I gather, from a bit of reading and some Buddhist retreats. So it's Terry's pop version of Buddhism, which from what I've seen of some of Terry's other oratorical efforts is really a form of new age Buddhist lite.

If anything, what strikes me most is Terry's religious illiteracy. He's got no understanding of his own religious tradition (a testament to Catholic seminary formation perhaps) and he clearly does not understand Buddhism. Furthermore, given that he's set himself up as some sort of Dharma teacher he shows no real respect for Buddhism either but rips it off in typical colonial fashion. But even ersatz Buddhism is cool these days and no doubt Terry has lots of adoring fans, or so I've heard anyway. That's what you get when you augment your Catholic priestly authority with the aura of spiritual teacher.

But Terry marginalised? Uh uh, no way. As my friend, Mad Hatter, would say LOL wut.

UPDATE My flatmate, Mark Bahnisch, has written a superb piece on his Facebook page about St Mary's and the situation with the exiles and ongoing non-exile community to which he has returned (return from exile?). Even though it's on Facebook I believe it's publicly accessible and you don't need to be signed in to Facebook to read it. I strongly recommend you check it out.


  1. lol wut indeed, Michael, and kudos, I think, for your admirable restraint. Terry's speech, just like his Buddhist attire, is a triumph of the capitalist, humanist, rationalist construct of the "spiritual marketplace". I also find these sorts of plaintive cries of the ruling class - "Hear my struggle, hear my martyrdom" - to be crass at best and brutally delusional at worst. Writ large in every struggle of the ruling class exiles is the latent antipathy for the genuine suffering of the marginalised that they presume to champion.

  2. Maybe the Buddhists reference had something to do with the controversy over a statue of "Buddha" that was in the church building last year. Though it was in fact a statue of a monk, it was referred to as a statue on Buddha in correspondence from the Arch Bishop. The Arch Bishop believed that the statue should not be in the church. In the end someone smashed it.

  3. It sounds to me like Terry has re-inscribed it as a statue of Buddha then. That a statue of a monk should give rise to such controversy demonstrates to me that there is a centre lacking at the St Mary's of Terry and Peter, giving rise to ambiguity and confusion. I would imagine that the monk image (and why not a nun) did not represent monks of the Western or Eastern churches, otherwise there could not have been confusion as to whether it was a statue of the Buddha. In which case what was the purpose of the image? Was it related to Terry's own ersatz Buddhism? Or the naive and ignorant notion that the only spirituality comes from the East? It simply demonstrates all the more, the extraordinary religious illiteracy that was fostered by the priests while they remained at St Mary's. Such illiteracy simply augmented their traditional priestly authority with the appropriated kudos of the religiously 'hip' and 'cool'.

  4. Just because Peter Kennedy has a wealthy brother, don't jump to the conclusion that he is from an upper class family. Peter's father was a primary school teacher, who did his time in the backblocks -Texas etc before before being transferred to a Brisbane school, as, I believe, Assistant Principal, towards the end of his working life. Peter's two sisters were teachers. Pretty much middle class, I would say - not that this matters either way.